There’s been a few changes at software giant Microsoft recently, and inevitably what happens in Seattle is going to filter down to South Africa and the rest of the continent. To explain how the vision of new Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella will affect us here, local boss Mteto Nyati sat down with press today to explain what’s going on at the Bryanston HQ.
For those in any doubt at all, the future for Microsoft is all about the cloud. The company’s mantra has moved from the famous “a PC on every desk and in every home” that characterised the boom times of the 80s to “A cloud for everyone on every device” – a slogan unveiled by Nadella back in March.
“In the past, Microsoft was being judged because our cloud services strategy wasn’t clear,” says Nyati, “Now it is clear, and we’re reaping share price growth.”
One area that Microsoft will focus on for differentiation, says Nyati, is privacy – an agenda he is absolutely clear is being driven by the last year’s revelations around intergovernmental spying through documents leaked by Edward Snowden. Last night, the newspapers which broke this story won the prestigious Pulitzer prize in the US.
“We have data centres around the world,” says Nyati, “And you can choose which ones you want to use. No-one else offers that.”
Nyati says that the firm has recently received certification from the European Union around that economic zone’s stringent privacy and data protection requirements, and that as businesses and consumers become increasingly aware of issues around who has access to their data, Microsoft will be pushing the issue as a selling point for Azure.
In terms of the pan-African strategy, Nyati is clear that the 4Afrika initiative will continue to be a primary vehicle for investment.
“Africa is second only to China for [Microsoft] investment at the moment,” says Nyati, “The people we are targetting are small and medium enterprises.”
Microsoft’s South African enterprise head Zoaib Hoosen gave an idea of how cloud services might affect a country like South africa, with an example of public ablution services in KZN. Up until now, he says, these are emptied manually on a rota basis, which might mean they’re emptied too often or not often enough: either inefficient or unsanitary. Adding networked sensors which can alert municipalities when a toilet needs to be serviced wouldn’t just improve the service, it could lower costs too.
This he characterises as the shift from the ‘internet of things’ – a popular buzz phrase to cover the proliferation of of connected devices – to the ‘internet in things’. Naturally in the Microsoft vision this data is captured on Azure servers and processed through Microsoft analytical tools. One minor, but significant, change within Microsoft is the rebranding of its cloud platform from Windows Azure to Microsoft Azure. Seemingly insignificant, but a signal that Azure isn’t a Windows-only platform. It’s perfectly possibly to provision Linux servers using Azure, for example, and very easy thanks to the built-in Store.
In the consumer arena, the firm is focussing on putting ‘Windows Zones’ in stores such as Incredible Connection and Dion Wired. These are cleanly branded areas similar to the strategy Apple pursues in South Africa. It is also working “aggressively” to bring low cost tablets to the country with OEM partners. This will be achieved using the new royalty free licensing for Windows machines with screens smaller than 9inches.
There is, however, one piece of bad news for those hoping all this investment might mean Azure servers will be coming to Africa. Microsoft has no plans to invest in a data centre here as yet, says Nyati. That will disappoint Xbox One gamers, who have found online games like Titanfall aren’t supported locally due to performance issues hitting Azure servers in India.
According to Nyati, the decision not to launch Titanfall in South Africa was taken by EA, and the firm is looking at making specific investments to help ameliorate problems around specific cloud services – like gaming – in the future. As for a timeline, however, he puts it blunty: “don’t go there”.