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A Microsoft data center in Cheyenne, Wyo. (Microsoft Photo)

Microsoft is ready to start serving Africa with local data centers, bringing its previously announced South African data centers online Wednesday.

Microsoft had originally promised to bring data centers in Johannesburg and Cape Town online in 2018, but even given that brief delay it will become the first of the major cloud providers to provide local service to Africa. IBM operates data centers in South Africa but doesn’t provide nearly the breadth and depth of cloud computing services that the other companies do, while Amazon Web Services announced plans last October to bring a South African data center online in 2020.

Location matters on the modern internet, as more and more real-time applications arrive and the demands cloud customers place on infrastructure continues to grow. Processing power and networking capabilities have never been more powerful, but the speed of light still governs internet communications, which means that end-user proximity is extremely important when it comes to serving local cloud customers.

Microsoft said it expects demand for cloud computing services in Africa to triple over the next few years, and local cloud availability could spur a startup boom given the experimental possibilities afforded by cloud computing services. Cloud computing allowed enormous U.S. tech startups like Pinterest and Airbnb to grow over the past decade without having to spend capital on acquiring and maintaining servers to power fledgling applications.

Office 365 and Dynamics 365 will also be available out of the South African data centers later this year, Microsoft said.

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