As part of a trip to attend the 2023 Huawei Connect Event in China, the Huawei Nigeria team treated a group of African tech players to a tour of the company’s cloud solutions exhibition space, the Huawei Cloud Planck Hall.
The tour provided privileged access to the software development pipeline of the Chinese tech giant, provided a thorough insight into the thought process that produced them and gave the African contingent a picture of how prepared the company is to compete for a fair size of the cloud service market share in Sub-Sahara Africa.
The African Cloud Market may be small, but it is already here indeed, and it is growing fast. For the continent, since 2019, cloud, virtualization and the broader evolution towards serverless computing are the most disruptive technology developments since the advent of the mobile payment revolution.
There have been substantial investments in cloud services within the region in the last few years. In Nigeria alone, there were over $ 1 billion in cloud services investments between 2019 and 2022.
These include direct investments in building data centres and cloud services. For example, British fund, Actis acquired a controlling stake in Nigerian data centre provider, Rack Centre, in a $250 million deal. Similarly, a report indicates that Zimbabwean-owned Africa Data Centres have raised more than $300m from institutional investors such as the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the United Kingdom’s CDC.
For instance, AWS opened its first office in Nigeria last year, making it the second country where the cloud giant has a local office in Africa after Johannesburg, South Africa. Similarly, Google launched its first cloud region on the continent in South Africa. This follows the footsteps of Microsoft Azure which has invested in major cloud infrastructure and data centres in South Africa
A Cloud in Africa 2023 research study from World Wide Worx indicates that African enterprises are planning to increase investment in cloud services in 2023. The trend of investment in the cloud continued from 2022 when 61% of enterprises in Africa increased their cloud spend. This implies that there is more pie for the major players to vie for the $7.12 Billion projected spend by 2030.
Huawei Cloud’s Pangu models
Officially launched at the Huawei Connect 2023 event, the Pangu Models 3.0 is a system of pre-trained models that can be quickly adapted to meet scenario-specific needs and address complex challenges across multiple industries.
By leveraging large-scale data sets and machine learning algorithms, Pangu 3.0 has the potential to revolutionise the industrial application of AI in diverse areas such as weather forecasting, drug development, fault identification in trains, and the mining industry. For example, Huawei’s Pangu Weather AI Model team developed a precise and accurate global AI weather forecast system based on deep learning using 43 years of data.
Pangu Weather is the first AI prediction model to demonstrate higher precision than traditional numerical weather forecast methods. The model allows a 10,000x improvement in prediction speed, reducing global weather prediction time to seconds.
Another fascinating application of the Pangu AI model is its use to enhance mining operations’ safety, efficiency, and productivity. Traditional mining operations are inherently risky, requiring extensive manpower and posing significant technical and safety challenges. Our guide, Luo Changpu, explained that the Pangu model was deployed by the Cola mining company, Shandong Energy Group in July.
Drawing from over 4 decades’ worth of data covering over 300 core scenarios in coal mining operations, the Pangu Mining Model enabled faster operations from digging to machinery, transport, and communication.
Huawei’s AI Pangu models will also find extensive use in the railway industry. The Pangu Railway Model can accurately identify 67 types of freight cars and over 430 types of faults found on railways and freight cars. It can quickly scan millions of images captured by the railway TFDS system and filter out 95% of the fault-free images. This way, train inspectors can focus on the remaining images, and this helps them improve both efficiency and accuracy.
Why it matters
The focus on traditional businesses and social infrastructure is unique to Huawei’s approach to AI deployment. Africa is about to experience an AI boom and that will be dominated by new players seeking to help businesses with tech foundations increase productivity and save cost. With tested use cases in traditional businesses and social infrastructure, the Chinese company is strategically positioned.
Off the infrastructure and cloud service offerings, Huawei developed a solution that helps creatives do more. Sara, an AI model that helps with digital content production was announced last year as part of the Huawei MetaStudio setup. All you need to do is set up Sara with a set of data/ queries/ answers and the virtual human can interact with users on your behalf.
In fact, our guide explained that the goal is to train the virtual robot to hold live sessions for business owners while they free up time to do other important tasks. Imagine an African holding an explainer session for potential Chinese customers in Mandarin without having to be present during the session.
The was also designed to facilitate automated film and television production, from editing to 3D modelling and rendering. It also features cutting-edge technologies such as virtual humans, 3D space, and cloud AR.
A unique achievement of the Metastudio workstation is its ability to reduce the rendering time for movie productions by a significant mile. For example, it is said to reduce the rendering time for a 90-minute 3D movie from 6 months to 2 weeks.
Why it matters
Radically different from other cloud offerings by its competitors, the Metastudio workstation by Huawei Cloud is a yet-to-be-popular but useful utility for businesses in the creative sectors, for e-commerce players and for thousands of SMBs with limited bandwidth to focus on customer service. Since all it requires is broadband availability and an onboarding time to train the models to fit for customised use, the adoption rate is bound to be widespread with the proper positioning from the Huawei team.
Blockchain for data security, settlements and connectivity
The Blockchain Service (BCS) is one of the least, yet exciting innovations of the Huawei cloud team. Built on an open-source Hyperledger framework, BCS offers an enterprise-grade blockchain platform, with high availability, scalability, built-in security, and high performance.
On it, developers can build customized enterprise blockchain applications using innovative open-source frameworks, tools, and libraries: Hyperledger Fabric framework, Docker containers, and Kubernetes container-orchestration system.
Broadband availability, cost and quality remain suboptimal thus limiting the ability of SMBs across the continent to use cloud services.
A conversation with the Huawei Nigeria team shows that aside from offering efficient and scalable solutions, the Chinese tech giant has the patience capital to offer African businesses a flexible scaling plan that will handle spikes in demand, bill clients in local currencies as well and allow a pay-per-use pricing.
Concerns about data security
Notwithstanding the success of cloud services in SSA, considerable challenges continue to threaten the growth of cloud computing on the continent. A major deficit in supporting infrastructure across the continent has resulted in over 80% of the continent’s data being stored outside of Africa.
Laws around data management also pose a risk to cloud services as many governments on the continent are insisting that their citizens’ data be stored locally and, in some cases, insisting on the use of physical servers for data storage.
But feelers from the Huawei team indicate that plans are underway for building a data centre for its users in Lagos, Nigeria. If done, this puts paid to the concerns around compliance with data regulation requirements for many institutional users.
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