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INTERVIEWS
By 7 March 2019 | Categories: interviews

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In the wake of yesterday’s announcement about Microsoft’s new data centers going live, we sat down with the MD of Microsoft South Africa, Lillian Barnard, and Yousef Khalidi, corporate vice president of Azure Networking at Microsoft, to delve a bit deeper into the positive impact of the  launch.

Why do the new data centers matter? And what impact will they have on businesses in particular and the country in general? Those are questions that Barnard commented have been top of mind. In a nutshell, she enthused that having local Azure data centers will further enable businesses to focus on innovation and build digital businesses at scale. This, she added, is set to have a “huge impact” on the SME market, with it spurring some 112 000 local new jobs over the next five years. For the country, net revenues for the adoption of public cloud is potentially R80 billion rand, according to a recent survey by IDC, she noted.

Innovation counts

Khalidi added that we can also anticipate the growth of an innovation culture locally. This won’t be the same scenario that was enjoyed by Silicon Valley a decade ago, because what has changed now is that innovation is what matters more.

“Ten years ago if an entrepreneur wanted to create a startup in Silicon Valley, they would go to a venture capitalist (VC) and beg for ten million dollars. Nine million of that would be spent on servers and hardware, with the entrepreneur then writing code and taking their offering to market in the hopes of succeeding.”

“No VC today would give you money for servers  and hardware, they would give you money to innovate, to write code, to do something new. The same could happen here. If you have an idea, you can take it into the cloud, and not have to worry about sourcing hardware. That is why this cloud business is an enabler of innovation,” he continued.

Lillian Barnard, MD, Microsoft South Africa

Fostering great ideas

In other words, having access to local cloud, like Azure, means that the focus can be more completely on innovating. So clearly, having a great idea is key. Ashley Fenwick, the public relations and communications lead for Microsoft South Africa, added that is why Microsoft has invested quite a bit in its Headstart programme, which aims to identify those innovative startups that are born in the cloud and assist  them in bringing their idea to market.

If the infrastructure requirements are in place via access to a local cloud, then the question becomes, how do we foster an innovation culture in South Africa?

For Khalidi, part of this is removing the hindrances to innovating, and then secondly enabling creators, innovators and developers to innovate quickly. To this end, he noted that Microsoft’s Azure cloud does not just give access to a virtual machine, but offers users to avail themselves of more than 200 services with which to implement their idea, and take it to market, quickly.

Yousef Khalidi, corporate vice president of Azure Networking at Microsoft

Digitalisation for all

Even though the company focused on agriculture and manufacturing as the prime focuses for digitalization locally at its press briefing, Barnard stressed that there are a variety of other industries that could similarly avail themselves of what the new data centres have to offer.

What this means is that we can expect to see more digital businesses being built, a prospect in itself that could have exciting potential for fostering innovation locally and creating new employment.

The final question to emerge out of yesterday’s news was why South Africa was chosen as the destination for the data centres as opposed to another country on the continent. Part of the reason, explained Khalidi, was South Africa’s connectivity infrastructure, its climate, the fact that it is still viewed as a hub to other African countries, and the local receptivity towards cloud. “The decision speaks to our mission to empower every person on the planet to achieve more and as well as Microsoft’s commitment to this country and the continent,” added Barnard.    

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