Microsoft sees opportunity in Africa's IT industry and startup scene. The Redmond, Wash. technology titan this week announced the planned opening its first cloud data centers in the African continent.
"Few places in the world are as dynamic and diverse as Africa today," wrote Scott Guthrie, executive vice president of the Cloud and Enterprise division at Microsoft, in a May 18 blog post. "In this landscape, we see enormous opportunity for the cloud to accelerate innovation, support people across the continent who are working to transform their businesses, explore new entrepreneurship opportunities and help solve some of the world's hardest problems. For these reasons, I'm very excited to share our plans to deliver the Microsoft Cloud from data centers in Africa."
Johannesburg and Cape Town have been selected as the sites of these data centers, which will begin delivering cloud services to the region in 2018. Microsoft Azure, Office 365 and Dynamics 365, the company's blended customer relationship management and enterprise resource planning business application platform.
The new cloud data centers will raise the total number of Azure regions to 40, more than Microsoft's rivals noted Guthrie. They also give the company a cloud footprint that encompasses every continent, except for sparsely-populated Antarctica, of course. The expansion is also part an effort to spur entrepreneurship and promote opportunity with the help of African non-governmental organizations and startups.
To date, more than a half million small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) in Africa are using the company's cloud services. Microsoft has helped more than 728,000 SMBs cross the digital divide and 775,000 Africans learn new skills, according to the company's figures.
When the new data centers open next year, they'll face competition from IBM's cloud.
Big Blue beat Microsoft to the punch last year by launching its first cloud data center in South Africa, also located in Johannesburg, in partnership with area IT services provider Gijima, telecom operator Vodacom and German business software maker SAP.
"We're working to drive cloud adoption that best leverages a customer's existing IT investments,' said Hamilton Ratshefola, IBM Country General Manager in South Africa, in a statement. "Our new Cloud Data Center gives customers a local onramp to IBM Cloud services including moving mission critical SAP workloads to the cloud with ease. It also gives customers the added flexibility of keeping data within country which is a key differentiator for IBM."
Earlier this year, the company announced a $70 million investment in its IBM Digital—Nation Africa initiative. The aim is to provide free, cloud-delivered training for up to 25 million African youths, helping them develop "New Collar" skills.
New Collar describes a career in artificial intelligence, cyber-security, data science and other desirable skills that don't necessarily require completing a four-year degree. The IBM Digital—Nation Africa learning environment is powered by IBM Bluemix, the firm's PaaS (platform-as-a-service) offering for enterprises.
Meanwhile, Amazon and Google have yet to announce plans to open data centers in Africa.