By Michael Langeveld, HPE Emirates & Africa Technology and Business Development Lead
There’s no doubt that public cloud is a catalyst for organisations that are embarking on digital transformation initiatives, to the extent that central governments across the world initially set cloud-first policies and guidance.
But despite some well understood targets, ambitions, opportunities, expectations and trends, it remains the case that an all-in approach is yet to deliver against the initial ambition.
In some cases it has led to some costly and unforeseen challenges.
Many public bodies within South Africa are accelerating change, this is with the benefit of hindsight of other nations’ missteps.
The nation has a unique opportunity to learn from e-government and digital transformation projects across the globe, especially those who attempted a ‘lift and shift’ approach in the hype-cycle of public cloud adoption.
We embarked on a journey of investigation to explore how all levels of the nation’s government can benefit from ‘cloud conscious’ decisions.
The need to maintain control of data through data residency, the incremental modernisation of legacy technology, and creating trusted and secure infrastructure is clearly at the forefront of the nation’s digital agenda.
The government’s 2022 cloud directive demonstrates how policy makers acknowledge that there is no one size fits all approach to cloud implementation.
Resilience through a diverse set of technologies and suppliers is encouraged, this may help avoid over-concentration and over-reliance on a handful of large foreign providers.
This has led to a widely accepted and recognised trend that hybrid cloud strategies are a more advantageous path to accelerate digital priorities.
This trend follows widely documented stories of other nations’ cloud-first approaches, more specifically how departments can find themselves in an unplanned state of flux between existing on-premises infrastructure, public cloud and the edge locations.
This has often been referred to as being ‘unconsciously hybrid’ – hybrid by accident, not by design.
However, embracing or being ‘consciously hybrid’ has many apparent benefits.
Why is public cloud only largely recognised as not advantageous?
South Africa has a unique set of characteristics, opportunities and challenges.
Reliability of services is an ongoing challenge. Whilst often referred to as ‘the new normal’, ambitions and plans to create more robust infrastructure will certainly accelerate digital transformation projects.
Technologists are currently architecting systems to be resilient to the known challenges and the perceived resilience of public cloud data centers offer a level of comfort.
However, many correctly identify that this may be a short term solution in a long-term strategy.
Whilst digital transformation is vital for the nation, existing digital infrastructure and modernisation of legacy systems could be considered a priority for long-term hybrid cloud strategies.
Data sovereignty is a widely discussed but also misunderstood topic across many global regions.
‘Sovereignty’ is typically a political concept, and that doesn’t always align with digital capital or data.
Data residency and data access are often more accurate phrases.
The 2022 cloud directive states that public sector Heads of Department must ensure that, where practically possible, data always resides within the borders of South Africa.
However, a contradiction arises with the arrival of foreign owned public cloud ‘hyperscalers’ in South Africa, resulting in locally built, but still foreign-owned data centers, this poses two distinct issues.
The first is resilience and data center failover.
Unless explicitly stated, agreed and in many cases contracted it is possible that data and disaster recovery happens in a secondary region which may or may not be in the borders of South Africa.
The second concern for some is data access, U.S owned public clouds are still subject to the ‘2001 Patriot Act’ in short, this allows U.S government access to data held by a U.S company when requested.
This seemingly contradictory challenge can be navigated by making conscious cloud and data decisions.
Sensitive, valuable data need not always be stored within public cloud platforms.
Hybrid methodology by definition allows a mix of on-premises architectures, combined with public cloud infrastructure.
This is providing many organisations with peace of mind, control and the ability to prosper from the best of both worlds.
There is a compelling case that it makes sense for day-to-day, functional data and workloads to be stored in the public cloud, whilst sensitive national data remains in domestically operated and owned hardware.
This is referred to as a consciously hybrid approach – choosing the right place, for the right data and workloads, for the right reasons.
It’s time for conscious considered decision making
There is an opportunity for a resilient, efficient and thriving digital economy in South Africa, at its core will be a hybrid model of cloud.
By working together, sharing best practices, public bodies can collaborate to rapidly advance the country’s data economy, security, services and national infrastructure.
A hybrid approach enables public bodies to strategically analyse how they should invest and who they should invest in.
Selecting technology providers that have a shared vision for home grown advancement will likely be key to accelerating change.
Investing in domestic digital infrastructure and services can retain South African GDP creating a hospitable environment to grow the nation’s innovation culture, develop skills and generate career opportunities for citizens.
We explored many of these topics in a unique documentary series focussing on how the nation is developing a new platform for government services to advance South Africa and its citizens.
We believe this is an exciting and pivotal moment as South Africa’s vision enters the fourth industrial revolution.