Making cloud solutions more accessible to the South African government
Microsoft has worked to make its cloud offerings not only scalable, reliable, and manageable, but also to ensure its customers' data is protected, says Siya Madyibi, Corporate, External and Legal Affairs Director at Microsoft South Africa.
For governments throughout the world cloud computing is fast becoming a key part of their ongoing IT strategy, says Siya Madyibi, Corporate, External and Legal Affairs (CELA) Director at Microsoft South Africa.
Cloud services offer access to virtually unlimited data storage and remove the burden of having to purchase, maintain, and update their own networks and computer systems. Multi-national cloud providers can now offer governments IT infrastructure, platform and software as a service allowing them to scale up and down quickly, as when they need it.
And as governments explore austerity measures and aim to cut spending there is the added benefit of only having to pay for the computer power and storage which they use.
There is one major stumbling block, however, to government's simply accepting this new approach to data storage and that is one of trust. For governments to realise the benefits of cloud computing, they must be willing to entrust their cloud provider with one of their most valuable assets: their data.
How do they do this in an ever evolving environment, while negotiating both local and international legislation at the same time staving off cyber security attacks which have become all too common?
Managing the proliferation of data
As governments continue to take advantage of the benefits of cloud services, they must consider how the introduction of cloud services affects their privacy, security, and compliance posture.
Microsoft has worked to make its cloud offerings not only scalable, reliable, and manageable, but also to ensure its customers' data is protected and used in a transparent manner.
Most government data storage is still based on, on premises solutions which traditionally were very safe platforms to store data. We have, however, seen so much proliferation of data that these platforms are no longer able to keep up with the volume of data being generated. Shrinking budgets also mean governments are not able to invest in increased IT infrastructure and are invariably cutting corners making the information that they hold vulnerable to leaks and cyber attacks.
The sheer scale of data being produced must be stored at a hyper-scale level. Governments simply do not have the budget to invest at this level and must rely on reliable companies like ours to store their data in these new data centres.
South African data residing within South Africa's borders:
Hyper-scale data centres do provide a new challenge when it comes to storing government data however.
One of the primary concerns expressed by the South African government in recent times has been the residency of these data centres.
Understandably, governments are very sensitive about where there data is stored. The reason for their concern is linked to the regulation of data. Until recently SA's closest hyper-scale data centre was situated in Ireland.
Data which resides in Ireland is not governed by South Africa laws but by the laws of that territory, making access to said data by South African legal and judiciary bodies for the purpose of investigation difficult.
In June Microsoft responded to government's sensitivity and became the first multi-national to bring hyper-scale data centres to South Africa. The two hyper-scale centres based in Cape Town and Johannesburg are scheduled to go live in 2018.
This new investment is a major milestone in the company's mission to empower every person and every organisation on the planet to achieve more, and a recognition of the enormous opportunity for digital transformation in Africa.
The result will mean that should government choose Microsoft's cloud solution for data storage all its data will reside in South Africa and would subject to local authorities, to local laws and to local regulations.
So, if any entity requests access to the information in these data centre it will have to subject itself to South African subpoenas and laws which govern access to privately owned and stored data.
The combination of Microsoft's global cloud infrastructure with the new regions in Africa will connect governments and businesses with opportunity across the globe, help accelerate new investments, and improve access to cloud and Internet services for people and organisations from Cairo to Cape Town.
It broadens the options available to Microsoft in its modernisation journey of Government ICT infrastructure and services. It allows it to take advantage of new opportunities to develop innovative government solutions at manageable costs, as well as drive overall improvements in operations management, while improving transparency and accountability.
At the announcement of the data centres in June, Jon Tullett, senior researcher manager, IDC MEA, was quoted as saying: "By establishing hyper-scale cloud data centre capacity in South Africa, Microsoft is directly addressing customers' concerns, and demonstrating commitment to the delivery of cloud services within the country and the region as a whole. The presence of local facilities will be greatly encouraging to South African customers, particularly those in regulated industries such as financial services and the public sector where data sovereignty concerns are paramount."
A key advantage of having a hyper-scale data centre within South Africa's border is that it will diminish the costs associated with cloud data storage.
An integrated approach to ensuring data is protected:
The South African Government has recently shown a huge commitment to investing in information technology solutions that create cost savings and efficiencies in the way it operates.
In June State IT Agency CEO Dr Setumo Mohapi confirmed the Master Agreement with Microsoft, to standardise on Office 365 across all government departments and institutions.
It followed the signing of government framework agreement between Sita, National Treasury and Microsoft in December, which aimed to deliver cost savings to government through the standardisation of software - as well as cloud service costs and the associated implementation of these services and platforms.
Government is building an ecosystem which will drive efficiencies, empower its workforce and in the long run improve its service delivery to citizens. Cloud computing is the next step in realising these goals and the South African government can finally tap into these opportunities thanks to ongoing investment by Microsoft.