AWS data centres 'particularly meaningful in SA'

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Details of the planned Cape Town AWS data centres remain hush-hush.
Details of the planned Cape Town AWS data centres remain hush-hush.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) expects its new infrastructure region in Cape Town, planned for early 2020, to "radically" improve latency for local customers.

This is according to Peter DeSantis, VP of AWS global infrastructure, speaking to select journalists at a roundtable on the side-lines of the company's annual re:Invent conference in Las Vegas.

"I think that Cape Town is unique because it's a long way to get to Europe, so I think [the new region] will be particularly meaningful in South Africa where the latencies are going to change radically. We are pretty well covered in the rest of the world and there is almost nowhere else where we can make that big of a change in latency, so I'm pretty excited about Cape Town for that reason," he said.

In October, AWS announced it would bring its data centres to SA, opening an infrastructure region in Cape Town in the first half of 2020.

Each AWS region has multiple 'availability zones' and the new AWS Africa region in the Mother City will consist of three availability zones. AWS currently provides 57 availability zones across 19 infrastructure regions worldwide.

"When we think about regions, generally we think about latency and where we need to be to deliver the right latency for customers. Today our global footprint is fairly well distributed, and I would say probably the most glaring problem we have is Africa, and Cape Town is going to be a big help there. Having lived in SA for a period of time, I know Europe is pretty far away," DeSantis said.

"In the fullness of time, we think that almost every country will probably have an AWS region. We are thinking that over time there is a lot of computing that needs to happen in the world and it makes sense for most medium to large countries to have their own AWS region inside."

What to expect

Details of the planned Cape Town data centres remain hush-hush, but DeSantis said when AWS builds regions in new geographies "they are pretty significant investments; we don't just launch a data centre".

"There are three independent availability zones that we build, we procure redundant fibre between all of those facilities, we have redundant transit centres to connect those to the world, and we have our global backbone that we bring into the area so they are very large investments.

"When some of our competitors talk about regions, they might mean they are launching a data centre or they have some space in a colocation. When we bring a data centre to a new geography, we bring a pretty big infrastructure investment. We then have a fully self-contained infrastructure region inside that country," he explained.

Having worked in Cape Town between 2006 and 2008, DeSantis said he has for a long time wanted to bring an infrastructure region to Cape Town.

"We have a number of customers from SA that are running on the platform in various parts of the world and it's really just been a matter of working with them to figure out when their demand locally was higher. We feel pretty good about this timing because the South African market seems very interested in moving into the cloud in a much bigger way and that is why we are [going] there and we would love to be there as soon as possible, so we are going to work to do that."

When asked whether the strategy for Africa will be different to other parts of the world, he said from an infrastructure perspective, AWS likes "to be very consistent", but "when we are talking about how we engage with customers and what is the go-to-market strategy, that is different everywhere in the world and we try to meet the needs of the customers where we are".

"Certainly, when we are thinking about how we engage with local customers, we take the local market [into consideration] and we hire local people that understand the local market to help us there, because that is super-important everywhere," DeSantis added.

"We are excited to be in Africa, and Cape Town is going to be our first meaningful region in Africa and I doubt it will be our last. But I would say our understanding of Africa, in terms of applications running in Africa, is still fairly new given that we don't yet have regions there. So we are going to learn a lot and that is going to inform how quickly we move to add more capacity or more regions. So we are looking forward to interacting with customers to learn," he explained.

AWS CEO Andy Jassy said on Wednesday that the company expects to launch more infrastructure regions in Africa after the planned Cape Town region.

Amazon has had a development centre in Cape Town since 2004, which focuses on building pioneering networking technologies, next-generation software for customer support, and the technology behind Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud.

In 2015, AWS opened an office in Johannesburg, and in 2017, brought the Amazon Global Network to Africa through AWS Direct Connect. In May 2018, AWS continued its investment in SA, launching infrastructure points-of-presence in Cape Town and Johannesburg.

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