IBM opens two mainframe Innovation Hubs to target African businesses

New centres for sales and development have opened in Johannesburg and Nairobi.

IBM's zEnterprise EC12 mainframe
IBM's zEnterprise EC12 mainframe. Image: IBM

Following on from last month's 50th anniversary of the mainframe , IBM has unveiled two new client-facing centres for developing applications and systems for the technology in South Africa and Kenya. Located in Johannesburg and Nairobi, the Mainframe Linux and Cloud Innovation Hubs will serve as both demonstration facilities and support centres.

The two new sites form part of a network of 40 similar centres globally.

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IBM South Africa general manager Abraham Thomas says that the company views African expansion in general as a priority, and is also investing in smaller research centres Nigeria and Morocco.

"Africa is an important market for IBM," Thomas says. "We are making big investments in this marketplace. Over the last two years, all of our senior leaders have visited the continent.

"[These hubs are] for clients and partners to come in and experiment on Linux and System z to develop new applications and to reach out to new partners too."

The company has a $100m, 10-year plan for pan-African investment known internally as Project Lucy. Thomas says that demand is huge for infrastructure that can support cloud services and mobile and that key IBM clients in the region include FNB Bank.

FNB says that it now processes more than a billion transactions a month — around 15 percent of which come from mobile phones – using mainframe-based datacentres.

The demand for always-on services, such as banking, is set to skyrocket as smartphone adoption increases across the continent. Both Vodacom and MTN — the two largest mobile operators in South Africa — recorded increases of more than 40 percent year-on-year for data revenue in their latest results.

According to figures from IDC, server sales in the region increased by 5.1 percent year-on-year, despite a hefty decline in South African sales — which it attributes to a 20 percent depreciation in the value of the Rand since the start of 2013. Worldwide, server sales fell by 4.4 percent in revenue over the same period.

Jacques Loubser, GM of ICT provider Business Connexion, says that mainframe-based datacentres are a realistic replacement for x86 applications because of the relative simplicity of infrastructure and power efficiency System z offers. "Electricity supply remains a big problem for us," Loubser says. "We focus on low power consumption."

Business Connexion is the only non-carrier company in Africa to operate two Tier 4 datacentres, both of which are built around System z technology. It is also currently offering 'mobile datacentres', which are built into shipping containers and operate off of the energy grid for rapid deployments in difficult areas.

"With mainframes, anything can run on the one installation," he says. "We are able to take a single instance and put it down in a country and provide everything a customer can require."

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