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The opportunity for Microsoft’s African data centres

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Chris Hathaway, founder and director of Soarsoft International, explores the opportunities and implications of local data centre availability for African enterprises already using Office 365 and Azure.
Microsoft’s May 2017 announcement detailing their plans for new data centres in Cape Town and Johannesburg was met with much excitement in the IT world. For the first time ever (as of 2018), African enterprises will be able to take advantage of the many benefits of Microsoft’s Cloud while maintaining full data residency on local soil.
Now, that may not seem like such a big deal at first glance. After all, many South African – and African – businesses have already migrated to the cloud using existing international data centres. So why the fuss over the launch of an African alternative?
Firstly, with data protection legislation tightening up all over the globe, avoiding Chinese, European and/or American datacentres could be an attractive concept for certain enterprises from a security and governance perspective.
Secondly, by having your data stored relatively close to your (and your customers’) physical base, businesses can largely bypass the oversubscribed international data channels and enjoy a dramatic reduction in latency for a faster, smoother user experience.
For most African businesses, these benefits are likely more than enough to sway them towards local rather than international datacentres when planning a cloud migration.
For enterprises already in the cloud, however, things are a little more complicated.

Changing data centres post-migration
Most South African businesses who have already migrated to Microsoft Office 365 and Azure host their tenants in data centres in the UK, Ireland and the Netherlands. These have, until now, been the most geographically and legislatively convenient.
Having options in Cape Town and Joburg, however, may well trump those benefits, meaning more businesses are going to be investigating ways to make a data centre swap.
While there is, sadly, no magic button that can cloud-transfer a tenant from Data centre A to Data centre B with a click, that doesn’t mean tenant-to-tenant migrations are impossible – or even all that inconvenient anymore.
Previously a relatively rare occurrence seen almost exclusively during mergers, acquisitions and divestitures, tenant-to-tenant migrations used to be an arduous process. They required redeploying full, onsite infrastructure and migrating the content back “home” before re-migrating to the cloud in the new, preferred data centre location.
Luckily, we can now combine tools and services that make it possible to “cut out the middleman”, facilitating cloud-to-cloud migrations without needing to bring any data back onsite. Perhaps even more importantly, they make it far easier to do a gradual tenant-to-tenant migration, avoiding the many risks of a “big bang” approach by enabling a hybrid-style coexistence between tenants.
The result is almost zero impact to ongoing business workflows, with email and calendar free/busy lookup continuing to function perfectly throughout the migration. Primary network traffic is also unaffected, since the migration takes place entirely in the Azure cloud. Gone are the days of delays and frustrations due to clogged, mid-migration, corporate communication lines or availability of scalable hardware.

Is switching datacentres worthwhile?
Just because changing datacentres is possible doesn’t always mean it’s necessary or worthwhile, however. A lot depends on your business’s operational, security and governance requirements.
The easiest way to evaluate the opportunities a local deployment would create for your enterprise is to chat to a migration expert and get a professional’s insight into the potential pros and cons.