As we look towards the digital future of 2030 and beyond, the global landscape is evolving at an unprecedented pace.

At Vertiv’s recent Accelerate 2.0 event in Durban and Cape Town, Jon Abbott, technologies director and industry advisory for strategic clients in EMEA at Vertiv, highlighted three pivotal factors reshaping society in Africa and across the rest of the globe.

* Digitalisation – Across the world, digitalisation has permeated every facet of our lives, and Africa is no exception.

* Decentralisation – A paradigm shift towards decentralisation is underway, heralding a new era of distributed networks and resources. This decentralisation is not limited to industries but extends to communities and workforce dynamics as well.

* Decarbonisation – As the world grapples with the imperatives of sustainability, decarbonisation emerges as a paramount concern. Replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy sources and mitigating carbon emissions are imperative for the health of the planet.

Forecasts and expectations for 2030

Abbott explained that, by 2030, the global population is expected to swell to over 8,5-billion people, with the global internet population set to increase by a factor of five over the next six years, to 7,5-billion. Connected IoT devices are also anticipated to grow to 29-billion, with mobile traffic increasing by a phenomenal amount – up to 563 exabytes per month by the end of 2029.

All of this growth and development means that one thing is certain: there’s going to be a veritable tsunami of data coming.

In 2022, the term ‘yottabyte’ was coined – measured at one septillion (1 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000) bytes – becoming the largest unit approved as a standard size by the International System of Units (SI). To put this into perspective, if you measured the internet in its entirety today, it would equate to one yottabyte. And downloading a yottabyte of data, using a gigabit fibre connection, would take something like 11-trillion years.

Where is all of this data coming from? In 2023, over a period of one minute, 241,2-million emails were sent across the globe, while 2,4-million Google searches were executed, 3,47-million snaps were created, 6,9-million emojis were sent, 18,8-million text messages delivered, and close to 700 000 YouTube videos were being viewed.

Data is being amassed, and at speed, said Abbott, looking at how much faster organisations are now able to reach 50-million users. “It took airlines 68 years to reach the 50-million user mark, compared to the telephone (50 years), the internet (seven years), Facebook (three years) and WeChat (one year).

“Pok√©mon Go took a mere 19 days to reach 50-million people,” he added. “And, in line with Amara’s Law, which states that we tend to overestimate the impact of technology in the short term and underestimate the effect in the long run, we now need to measure this by the time taken to reach 100-million users. This incredible benchmark was achieved with the introduction of Instagram Threads in mid-2023 within just five days.”

AI adoption transforming the IT stack

In the realm of technology, Abbott emphasised the transformative potential of AI adoption, driving accelerated IT performance and reshaping infrastructure requirements. From advancements in compute power to the burgeoning demand for data storage and networking capabilities, Africa must adapt to meet the evolving needs of digitalisation and AI functionality.

Moreover, tangible developments in network infrastructure and cloud migration underscore the continent’s growing focus on efficiency and carbon accountability. And as Africa navigates the convergence of digital trends, there’s a pressing need for robust infrastructure and agile architectures to support the rapidly increasing demands of a digital society.

This would include:

* Compute power: Central processing unit (CPU) advancements have slowed, but graphics processing unit (GPU) progress has allowed accelerated IT performance to grow 1 000-times in 10 years, enabling the AI revolution of today.

* Memory: Complex calculations with billions of parameters require large amounts of data available, travelling to the chip quickly at speeds of x15 compared to conventional memory.

* Storage: Data created yearly has broken the 100-zettabyte mark, and generative AI will only accelerate the trend with vast amounts of synthetic data being generated.

* Networking: All models run in hundreds of nodes, and networking can be a bottleneck for calculations.

Abbott used the example of the retail environment to highlight what the future could look like, explaining that we should expect a combination of physical and virtual environments.

“In this new consumer experience, shoppers will be able to ‘check in’ once they pass a shop’s physical threshold, permitting targeted, personalised offers to be shared via the retailer’s app, the ability to place shopping in a virtual basket, digital displays, smart shelf stocking, and being able to leave the store without having to queue to make payment.

“In order to make these on- and offline experiences possible though, the networks must be able to keep up.”

The education sector is also expected to undergo a significant overhaul, he commented, moving from traditional to ‘flipped’ learning. This environment would see a change from teachers reviewing homework and presenting new content in class, with students then completing homework out of class, to a new scenario, where students instead would be learning new content out of class, via video and technology, and then discussing the content and collaborating in class, shifting from a current 65 percent teacher-based instruction to around 20%.

“Africa boasts a rich tapestry of technical infrastructure, from subsea cables to a growing number of local data centres, positioning the continent as a key player in the global digital landscape,” Abbott concluded.

“And, as data is increasingly created and consumed over the next few years, local stakeholders must collaborate to harness the transformative power of technology for growth, sustainability and prosperity for all Africans.”