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Study reveals Africa solves tech problems differently

A stark contrast between African and western technology methodology is revealed in a new report by the IDC, Red Hat and HPE, write BONGANI SITHOLE and BRYAN TURNER

There is a stark contrast between African and western technology uptake, according to the IDC’s State of African Enterprise IT report, commissioned by Red Hat and HPE. The study looks closely at how enterprises across the Sub-Saharan Africa region innovate and deploy new technology.

One of the biggest stand-out findings in the study is where organisations are going to invest to solve IT challenges. The top factor, cited by over half the sample (56%), is data analytics products and services. This is followed by cybersecurity technologies (45%), and security skills (43%).

“Artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities gain more efficiency for a modern enterprise,” says Johan Scheepers, Red Hat senior manager of solution architects for Sub-Saharan Africa. “Data is like gold at this point, and if enterprises aren’t finding ways to mine this gold they’re sitting on, they will be left behind. 

“We were surprised not to see security at the top, since we hear so much about the spend that’s going on. We still see security as top of mind for enterprises, because it features in the top three factors.”

While data analytics remained in demand overall, drilling down at country level reveals where economic priorities sit. Nigerian enterprises are, by far, more likely to invest in cloud workloads and migration (54%), compared to countries like Kenya (36%) and South Africa (19%). 

“Cloud adoption depends heavily on available skills,” says Scheepers. “We talk about Africa and the skill shortage, but it mirrors a global skills shortage. It spans several areas as well. If you look at application development as a key area, there’s a skill shortage there. Cybersecurity, once again, is a skill shortage there as well.”

Dion Harvey, regional general manager of Red Hat Sub Saharan Africa, says: “When you look at some of the concerns about the use of open source, that was why Red Hat was born. Open source is good technology, but you have to work with the vendor who can give you the phone number to call, to help, to integrate, to help you with the skills availability.”

Although there are concerns about open source technologies, the report revealed that 9 in 10 enterprises are using them. This speaks to the pervasiveness of the technology, and its strengths in different technology spaces. Over half of enterprises say they use open-source networking solutions.

In terms of support structures, over 3 in 5 enterprises have in-house support (hired internal professionals) to manage their open source software. Half reported they have a support contract in place. These figures combined suggest that a mixture of in-house and support contracts through companies like Red Hat, SuSE, or IBM, create a comfortable software management ecosystem.

On the flip side, 17% are using open source to supplement, support, or extend their existing proprietary solutions. This may speak of the difficulties enterprises may have in integrating their (possibly legacy) proprietary solutions with open source software.

The rise of containerisation, and cloud containerisation, in particular, has seen an uptake in the region, as virtualisation reaches its peak. 

“Virtualisation technology is still mostly on-premise today,” says Scheepers. “The adoption curve of virtualisation has reached its peak. With containerisation becoming increasingly adopted, virtualisation is moving to its legacy phase. In future, containerisation will pick up the workloads that virtualisation generally serviced, since it’s more efficient. The trick now is to containerise and manage these containers through orchestration.”

Bruce Busansky, hybrid cloud specialist at Red Hat, says we’re seeing massive adoption of Kubernetes over Docker.

“Docker was the first to popularise this technology, but Kubernetes came along with a method to not only containerise, but simplify the orchestration process,” he says. “What we see now in South Africa is that, for some of the customers that wanted to go with containers earlier on, they went straight to Docker and then Docker Swarm as an orchestration method. Now, they see that local docker skills didn’t really exist. We, as Red Hat, are helping them move onto current technology and you’ll see today that most players in the container world are using Kubernetes as the orchestrator.”

The technology gap between Africa and the rest of the world is closing fast, says Harvey.

“There is an interesting quote: ‘I can’t pay digitally for my taxicab in New York, but I can pay with my phone in a taxi in Kenya. There is leapfrogging of technologies. 

“When we say that Africa is lagging, it’s not because we are slower. It’s because we are accelerating in some areas, but because some of our initiatives started perhaps 12 to 18 months later than they would have in the rest of the world. That gap will only close in the future.”

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