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Microsoft opens two data centres in South Africa

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Data centres in Johannesburg and Cape Town mark the beginning of the software giant’s direct data presence across the continent.

Johannesburg, South Africa – Microsoft has announced it will deliver the complete, intelligent Microsoft Cloud for the first time from datacentres located in Africa. This new investment is a major milestone in the company’s mission to empower people and organisations, and a recognition of the enormous opportunity for digital transformation in Africa.

Expanding on existing investments, Microsoft will deliver cloud services, including Microsoft Azure, Office 365, and Dynamics 365, from datacentres located in Johannesburg and Cape Town, with initial availability anticipated in 2018. The new cloud regions will offer enterprise-grade reliability and performance combined with data residency to help enable the tremendous opportunity for economic growth, and increase access to cloud and internet services for organisations and people across the African continent.

“We’re excited by the growing demand for cloud services in Africa and their ability to be a catalyst for new economic opportunities,” said Scott Guthrie, executive vice president, Cloud and Enterprise Group, Microsoft. “With cloud services ranging from intelligent collaboration to predictive analytics, the Microsoft Cloud delivered from Africa will enable developers to build new and innovative apps, customers to transform their businesses, and governments to better serve the needs of their citizens.”

Currently many companies in Africa rely on cloud services delivered from outside of the continent. Microsoft’s new investment will provide highly available, scalable, and secure cloud services across Africa with the option of data residency in South Africa. With the introduction of these new cloud regions, Microsoft has now announced 40 regions around the world – more than any major cloud provider.  The combination of Microsoft’s global cloud infrastructure with the new regions in Africa will connect businesses with opportunity across the globe, help accelerate new investments, and improve access to cloud and internet services for people and organisations.

“We greatly value Microsoft’s commitment to invest in cloud services delivered from Africa. Standard Bank already relies on cloud technology to provide our customers with a seamless experience,” says Brenda Niehaus, group CIO at Standard Bank. “To achieve success as a business, we need to keep pace with market developments as well as customer needs, and Office 365 empowers us to make a culture shift towards becoming a more dynamic organisation, whilst Azure enables us to deliver our apps and services to our customers in Africa. We’re looking forward to achieving even more with the cloud services available here on the continent.”

Investing in African Innovation

Microsoft says this announcement expands on ongoing investments in Africa, where organisations are using currently available cloud and mobile services as a platform for innovation in health care, agriculture, education, and entrepreneurship.

Microsoft has been working to support local start-ups and NGOs, promising to unleash innovation that has the potential to solve some of the biggest problems facing humanity, such as the scarcity of water and food, and economic and environmental sustainability. One start-up, M-KOPA Solar, provides affordable pay-as-you-go solar energy to over 500,000 homes using mobile and cloud technology. AGIN has built an app connecting 140,000 smallholder farmers to key services, enabling them to share data and facilitating $1.3 million per month in finance, insurance and other services.

Across Africa, Microsoft has brought 728 000 small and mid-size enterprises (SMEs) online to help them transform and modernise their businesses, and over 500 000 are now utilising Microsoft cloud services, with 17 000 using the 4Afrika hub to promote and grow their businesses. The Microsoft Cloud is also helping Africans build job skills, with 775 000 trained on subjects ranging from digital literacy to software development. We anticipate the Microsoft Cloud from Africa will fuel extensive new opportunities for our 17000 regional partners and customers alike.

“This development broadens the options available to us in our modernisation journey of Government ICT infrastructure and services,” says Dr. Setumo Mohapi, CEO at SITA. “It allows us 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.”

Jon Tullett, senior research manager, IDC MEA, says: “By establishing hyperscale cloud datacentre 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. This is a strongly positive development for the cloud industry in Africa, and particularly Microsoft’s ecosystem of partners, ISVs and customers.”

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Did an earthquake take out SA Internet?

Seabed avalanches caused by an earthquake could have cut several undersea cables, leading to one of South Africa’s biggest Internet outages yet, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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Picture by TooMuchCoffeeMan from pixabay.com

There is still no official explanation for freak breaks 11 days ago in two separate undersea cables that provide international access to South Africa’s Internet users. However, as reported in the Sunday Times yesterday, the most common causes of such breaks are damage by ship anchors and earthquakes at sea.

However, the freak occurrence of two separate cables being cut simultaneously far out at sea, as happened on the morning of 16 January, can only be explained by sea-bed activity.  One of the cables was cut in two places, and it is widely believed that a third major cable was also cut.

The cable damage mostly occurred in or near an area called the Congo Canyon, which starts inland and extends 220km into the sea. It is known for having the world’s strongest “turbidity currents”, underwater sediment avalanches over hundreds of kilometers, which are known to destroy undersea cables.

The most likely culprit is a 5.6 magnitude earthquake that struck the Atlantic Ocean near Ascension Island shortly before the cables were cut on the morning of 16 January. The earthquake occurred just before 8am South African time, and local ISPs reported losing international access from just before 10am. The epicentre of the earthquake was more than a thousand kilometres off the coast of Africa, but disturbances caused by seismic activity at sea become more powerful as they approach the coast. Combined with turbidity currents, this could well have taken out all cables in the area.

The West Africa Cable System (WACS) was cut in two places, and the South Atlantic 3 (SAT3) cable in one location. Industry insiders believe that the Africa Coast to Europe (ACE) cable was also cut, but it has not been publicly confirmed.

South Africa is connected to the global Internet via seven such cables, with a total capacity of 42.3 terabits per second (tbps).  These cables, in turn, connect to additional cables connecting the West and East coasts of Africa, with a single cable running from Angola to Brazil providing another 40 tbps.

However, it emerged in the past week that smaller ISPs in South Africa had bought capacity on only one or two cables. In a freak occurrence, two of the most commonly used cables, the WACS and SAT 3 cables, were cut simultaneously, plunging millions of Internet users into data darkness.

Customers of the major mobile network operators – Vodacom and MTN – were largely unaffected, as these tend to have both part-ownership and access to most of the cables running up both the East and West coasts of Africa.

Visit the next page to read about how ISPs have battled to reroute access, how massive resources are needed to deal with these kinds of outages, and when the ship will reach the breakage points.

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Lenovo express-delivers new range from CES to SA

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Lenovo has unveiled its new range of ThinkBook laptops, barely two weeks after they were showcased at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. 

The company’s newest sub-brand, ThinkBook, is intended to meet the demand for more aesthetically pleasing, yet agile and powerful devices.

The new range is aimed at small and medium enterprises. According to the Small Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA), there are more than 2-million SMEs in South Africa – although there are only 667,433 in the formal sector. This tallies with estimates in recent editions of SME Survey, produced by World Wide Worx, which suggest 650,000 active, formal businesses in South Africa. These SMEs employ about 14% of the South African workforce. 

Lenovo argues that access to affordable, yet efficient, technology is a crucial factor in aiding business success and contributing towards the success of the nation. The company has found, in its own research, that younger people prefer working, creating and communicating online “with stylish devices that make a statement”. This means they require streamlined laptops which can be used to collaborate from any remote location, to enhance productivity.

Lenovo said in a statement on Thursday night: “Backed by customer research, ThinkBook is specially designed for SMEs, who typically purchase consumer laptops for perceived design and price advantages but can no longer rationalise their lack of extended services and warranties – core needs of any business. ThinkBook allows growing firms to keep a competitive edge in attracting today’s young tech-savvy execs with trendy yet cost-effective devices. 

Thibault Dousson, general manager of  Lenovo for Europe, Middle East and Africa, said at the launch event: “With the capacity, SMEs have to grow and upskill the country’s workforce, they are perfectly positioned to bridge the gap between the public sector and large enterprise. Bearing in mind the demands of the digital economy, this sector needs skills and resources in order to compete, and that is where devices such as the ThinkBook come in.”

In South Africa, ThinkBook laptops are now available in 13-, 14- and 15-inch variants. The flagship ThinkBook 14 and ThinkBook 15 devices are powered by Windows 10 Pro and up to 10th Gen Intel Core processing, which Lenovo says combines high performance with intuitive, time-saving features. Options include Intel Optane memory, WiFi 6, and discrete graphics.

The ThinkBook 15 comes at just 18.9mm thin, while the ThinkBook 14 is a mere 17.9mm, both with FHD displays and two Dolby Audio speakers, dual-array, Skype certified microphones and a USB 3.1 (Gen2, Type-C) port.

Lenovo has also introduced the ThinkBook S series, including an elegant 13.3-inch ThinkBook 13s. The sleek and light device is constructed of a metallic finish on an all-aluminium chassis, alongside a narrow bezel display. As with the ThinkBook 14 and 15, the ThinkBook 13s also features advanced Intel processing and an FHD display, Dolby Vision and Harman speakers with Dolby Audio.

Visit the next page to read about the design and features of the new ThinkBook range.

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