South Africa’s plan to launch state-owned cloud computing mega-network

Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, has published a proposed National Data and Cloud Policy, setting out government’s plan to consolidate its disparate network assets and cloud computing capabilities.

“The Data and Cloud Policy seeks to strengthen the capacity of the State to deliver services to its citizens, ensure informed policy development based on data analytics, as well as promote South Africa’s data sovereignty and the security thereof,” the draft policy states.

“The envisaged overall policy framework on data and cloud must be biased towards open standards and open systems, including open source frameworks rather than closed and exclusive systems.”

High on the agenda is a strategy to merge the existing networks of state-owned enterprises such as Sentech and Broadband Infraco to form a State Digital Infrastructure Company (SDIC).

The SDIC will form the foundation of network connectivity for government’s cloud computing and data sovereignty ambitions.

“The SDIC will have access to the excess capacity of government-funded ICT infrastructure,” says the proposed policy.

This includes the telecommunications networks of Eskom, SANRAL, Transnet, PRASA, and SANREN.

Cloud computing, high performance computing

The policy proposal also states that a High-Performance Computing and Data Processing Centre (HPCDPC) should be established, which will include cloud computing capacity.

This HPCDPC will consolidate existing public funded data centres.

“The HPCDPC will leverage the existing computing capacity and technical capabilities of the CSIR and SITA, and will operate in conformance with international best practice,” the draft policy states.

“The HPCDPC shall have access to the excess capacity of public funded data centres of entities such as Sentech and Broadband Infraco, Eskom and Transnet.”

According to the policy, the HPCDPC will provide cloud services for state entities, national departments, provinces, municipalities, metros, SOEs, universities, research centres, civil society organisations, and businesses registered in South Africa.

The connectivity and interconnection of the HPCDPC to all other public data centres will be provided by the SDIC.

“The HPCDPC shall be replicated with two similar centres to ensure the availability of backup and business continuity in instances where the main centre comes under cyberattack,” the policy proposal states.

The draft policy also makes the following additional proposals:

  • SITA will drive the adoption of digital government services.
  • Digital/ICT Special Economic Zones will be established to support local and foreign investment in data and cloud infrastructure and services. Multinational firms investing in data centres will be required to make provision for skills and digital technology transfer to ensure benefits and gains from foreign direct investment.
  • Data centres may make provision for self-generation energy capabilities to ensure uninterrupted and sustainable operations while reducing total dependence on the strained national electricity grid.
  • SITA must adopt strategies and interventions such as digital hubs and digital transformation centres, supported by open compute and open software to support small, medium, and micro enterprises and the digital economy through enabling locally developed applications.
  • Investment in data centres and cloud services shall comply with the provisions of broad-based black economic empowerment.

Talk of merging Sentech and Broadband Infraco dates back ten years and plans to consolidate the two state-owned enterprises resurface every few years.

Those interested in commenting on government’s proposed National Data and Cloud Policy have 30 working days from 1 April to do so.

Now read: Concerns over super-regulator for media and telecoms in South Africa

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South Africa’s plan to launch state-owned cloud computing mega-network