Tech giant Google today announced the launch of a cloud region in South Africa, its first on the continent, catching up with other leading providers such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure, which entered the continent a few years ago.

Google said it is also building dedicated cloud connectivity sites, which connect users’ local networks to the Google network, in Nairobi (Kenya), Lagos (Nigeria) and South Africa (Cape Town and Johannesburg), in an effort to provide a fully expanded cloud capabilities for its customers and partners in Africa.

Google plans to use its private submarine cable, Equiano, which connects Africa and Europe to power the sites. Equiano has been in development since 2019 and has so far made four landings – in Togo, Namibia, Nigeria and South Africa.

South Africa now joins Google’s global network of 35 cloud regions and 106 zones around the world, and the announcement follows the recent launch of preview regions in Malaysia, Thailand and New Zealand. Google Cloud Regions allow users to deploy cloud resources from specific geographic locations and access several services, including cloud storage, computing, and a key management system.

“We are excited to announce the first Google Cloud region in Africa. The new region will allow the localization of applications and services. This will make it really easy for our customers and partners to rapidly implement solutions for their business, through which they will be able to use our capabilities in computer artificial intelligence or machine learning and data analysis to make smarter business decisions, as they go forward,” said Director of Google Cloud Africa, Niral Patel.

He added that the new region and interconnection sites will bring cloud services closer to customers, allowing customers to choose where to consume the products.

“What we’re doing here is giving our customers and partners a choice of where they’d like to store their data and where they’d like to use cloud services, especially in the context of data sovereignty.” It allows customers to then store the data domestically if they choose to do so… I guess the most important element for me is that it gives customers the element of choice,” Patel said.

The ability for consumers to choose where to store their data is increasingly critical as countries like Kenya implement privacy and data laws that require companies to store their data within borders and process it through servers hosted on-site.

The decision to create a region in South Africa was motivated by the demand for cloud services and the potential of the market. Still, the company is looking to launch in more markets within the continent as demand for its products grows. Its early adopters include large corporate and e-commerce firms such as South Africa’s TakeAlot and Kenya’s Twiga.

“We continue to evaluate market demands as we work with our customers to see them transform and grow in these markets. We are constantly making these assessments and on that basis we continue to invest,” Patel said.

According to a study by AlphaBeta Economics commissioned by Google Cloud, South Africa’s cloud region will contribute more than $2.1 billion to South Africa’s GDP and support the creation of more than 40,000 jobs by 2030.

Google Cloud, Microsoft’s Azure and AWS are the three largest public cloud storage players in the world, according to data from Gartnerbut it is unclear why Google has been absent from Africa until now.

Microsoft launched two cloud regions in South Africa: Cape Town and Johannesburg (only the cloud region in the latter remains active) in 2019, the same year Google announced it had “no plans to establish a cloud region or data center in Africa,” according to report; however, this does not preclude this from happening in the foreseeable future.

Amazon followed suit in 2020, scaling its AWS data centers in South Africa through Cape Town. Oracle, another major player, also set up its data center in Johannesburg this year. Asked whether Google is catching up to other cloud storage players, Patel and Nitin Ghairia, managing director of Google Africa, painted a picture where each major player is concerned with expanding the Internet ecosystem in Africa through its data centers, not fighting for a more significant market share.

“In terms of where we are on the continent with the Internet, the work that needs to be done is to think about how to get more people and businesses online, how to help more entrepreneurs access capital, etc.” , noted Gairia. “In business terms, it’s less a zero-sum game for market share and more how we work collectively in the private sector, the public sector, civil society to build a large, vibrant Internet ecosystem that helps expand economies and businesses as well as job creation.’

With the launch of Google, South Africa now has four major cloud storage providers on the continent.

Google picks South Africa for its first cloud region in Africa

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