“Windows Azure is facilitating the democratisation of IT in South Africa by giving developers enterprise-grade building blocks to create solutions at only a fraction of the traditional cost,” says Cliff de Witt, development and platform group (DPE) lead at Microsoft South Africa and part of the company’s BizSpark and 4Afrika projects. “Even technically complex and previously expensive capabilities such as big data media services can be rapidly deployed at only a few Rands per hour.”
De Witt says uptake of Windows Azure in South Africa has largely seen growth with smaller companies. “Start-ups are usually the early adopters of new technologies, but we’re also seeing a number of independent software vendors using the platform to create Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions.”
De Witt adds that the South African market is about 18 months behind global adoption trends, which has seen Windows Azure achieve mainstream enterprise adoption. “Generally, we see that smaller companies are more comfortable running business-critical software in the cloud. Enterprise customers are concerned about security and compliance, which does limit usage patterns on the public cloud.”
South Africa is also faced with the dual challenges of bandwidth and trust. “The introduction of POPI should provide some clarity on how companies should manage customer data in offshore data centres, which will remove the current uncertainty and instil a greater degree of trust in cloud-based services. Companies are also seeking innovative ways to overcome broadband limitations – for example, the Whitespaces initiative will boost broadband penetration by providing high-speed access even to remote parts of the country.”
Independent software vendors develop their own SaaS solutions using the platform capabilities of Windows Azure, which include compute, storage, messaging and security services, as well as niche services such as mobile, media, high performance computing and big data.
“The newly re-launched Private Property website is a good example of cloud-first portal. In Johannesburg, Flowgear has created an Integration-as-a-Service solution that enables developers to rapidly integrate various solutions via Windows Azure. And Cape Town –based business process automation company Exclr8 has created CloudCore, a rapid application development platform for Business Process Automation,” explains de Witt.
The Windows Azure platform was launched in South Africa in June 2012, but prior to that a few handpicked companies were provided a special access pass, among them Framework One.
Alexander Mehlhorn, CEO of Exclr8, says the platform has enabled them to rapidly develop solutions for clients across a broad spectrum of industries. “We were selected as one of the few BizSpark companies in SA to qualify for the special programme for high growth potential start-ups, which allowed us free high capacity access to Windows Azure’s functionality. Today, we use our CloudCore platform as a springboard for quick, robust and scalable business process automation solutions at a greater speed and lower cost than was possible before.”