Tencent Africa: Moving from messaging app to connectivity platform

About Tencent Africa

Tencent Africa is dedicated to making every day easier for customers and brands. Opening its doors in 2013 as WeChat Africa, the company is responsible for WeChat operations on the continent.

Industries: Technology
Location: South Africa

About Siatik Systems

Founded in 2008, South Africa-based Siatik Systems is a leading Google Cloud Platform solutions provider with a focus on cloud integration services, information technology consulting services, and bespoke software engineering solutions.

When Tencent Africa began to grow beyond the limits of its infrastructure, it turned to Google Cloud Platform to provide a stable, highly scalable solution, which cuts costs and latency.

Google Cloud Results

  • Reduced latency in its service from 180 to 35 milliseconds with powerful hardware and a fast, global network from Google Cloud Platform
  • Cut costs with per-minute billing and sustained use discounts
  • Increased the speed of provisioning new servers with easy-to-use interface of Google Compute Engine

Slashed service latency from 180 to 35 milliseconds

As one of Africa’s leading technology companies, Tencent Africa is responsible for WeChat operations on the continent. WeChat Africa has successfully launched a number of features including the WeChat Wallet, a mobile payment service for smartphones, which enables seamless and secure transactions for friends to send money to one another, cash money out at Standard Bank ATMs, use at accredited retailers, and make purchases from any SnapScan merchant in South Africa. Under the new name, Tencent Africa recently launched two new mobile products, JOOX, a mobile music streaming application, and VOOV, a social live streaming application.

When China’s Tencent brought its hugely popular instant messaging service WeChat to South Africa, it faced a near saturated market. To gain traction, Tencent Africa had to showcase WeChat’s versatility as a platform that goes far beyond just instant messaging. Engaging with local financial partners helped WeChat launch a WeChat Wallet to facilitate electronic payments, while providing exclusive content from South African cultural figures helped bring the platform extra publicity.

As WeChat started to grow its customer base, its on-premises infrastructure was stretched beyond its limits and the company looked for a cloud-based solution. After evaluating all its options, Tencent Africa found Google Cloud Platform best suited its needs.

“We’re a growing business and constantly upgrading our infrastructure. Getting new servers was becoming quite expensive so we wanted a cloud-based solution to reduce costs,” says Christoff Albertyn, Head of Technology at Tencent Africa. “When we did some latency testing, Google came out on top, so it made sense to go with them. Everybody loves Google, it’s a great brand. Just knowing a company like Google is behind it gives you peace of mind.”

“Siatik was a great partner to work with. Any questions I had, I could just pick up the phone and whatever it was they’d help me out. They were also able to get some of the team from Google to come to our offices and see how we worked, which was really good.”

Christoff Albertyn, Head of Technology, Tencent Africa

Building a platform to scale

Instant messaging services need a stable infrastructure, the ability to scale at speed, and lightning fast performance. When Tencent Africa built an Official Accounts API to run a number of services on WeChat, to help companies engage with users on the platform, latency was its main concern. The Official Accounts services had to deliver replies over WeChat in under five seconds or the connection would drop.

Between the API on-premises servers in South Africa and WeChat’s main servers in China, Tencent Africa’s services regularly hit the limits of the permissible response time. In addition, by 2015, WeChat was starting to garner more customers across South Africa and Tencent Africa had to provision more servers. The on-premises servers were simply being asked to do too much, and expansion was proving expensive, so the company looked for a cloud-based solution.

Before committing to anything, Tencent Services did a thorough latency test of several cloud-based solutions. Google Cloud Platform came top. Tencent also engaged the help of Siatik, a Google Partner, to gauge what solutions best fit the company’s needs and help implement them. Siatik customers span both the public and private sectors and its consultants are regularly engaged in the health care, education, financial and technology industries. In order to provide leading technology solutions, it partners with industry leaders, such as Google, to provide best-of-breed infrastructure and cloud platform solutions to its customers.

“Siatik was a great partner to work with,” says Christoff. “Any questions I had, I could just pick up the phone and whatever it was they’d help me out. They were also able to get some of the team from Google to come to our offices and see how we worked, which was really good.”

“From day one, it was very smooth. The interface was amazing—Google must have spent a long time perfecting it because it was so easy to use. I set up the first virtual machine in no time without any struggles.”

Christoff Albertyn, Head of Technology, Tencent Africa

With a simple, clean interface in Google Compute Engine, the company was able to spin up virtual instances very quickly and begin migrating its stack to Google. When it became more comfortable with Google Cloud Platform features, Tencent used Google Cloud SQL and Google BigQuery to manage its data streams, and Google Cloud Storage to store them safely.

From day one, it was very smooth. The interface was amazing—Google must have spent a long time perfecting it because it was so easy to use says Christoff. “I set up the first virtual machine in no time without any struggles.”

In addition to powerful hardware from Google Compute Engine, the fast, global network from Google helped to speed up performance. With the infrastructure ported over to Google, Tencent also brought in G Suite as an office productivity solution, which eased the pressure on its servers even more. Throughout the process, Siatik were on hand to advise and provide technical guidance whenever any issues came up.

What I really like is how quickly you can spin servers up. There’s no messing about and the interface is really easy to use, says Christoff. “You can have a virtual machine running in just a few minutes. It’s very impressive.”

Cutting costs, raising expectations

Google Cloud Platform helped Tencent Africa to slash its latency. Before the migration, pings to the Chinese servers and back would regularly take 180 milliseconds. Afterwards, this fell to around 35 milliseconds, helping to ensure smooth service to Tencent’s South African customers. Google offers innovative pricing, such as per-minute billing and sustained use discounts, which helped significantly cut server costs compared to an equivalent on-premises solution.

As its customer base grew, and Tencent Africa began to release new products, the ease of use of Google Compute Engine meant that spinning up new servers took minutes instead of hours and allowed the company to scale up and down at speed. Exploring products such as Kubernetes for rapid deployment or TensorFlow for machine learning, Tencent Africa continues to evolve and experiment with new products to keep WeChat a growing success in South Africa.

“Initially, we just used per-minute billing, but when I saw how much work we were doing with Google BigQuery and Google Cloud SQL, we started to generate sustained-use discounts, which helped save us a lot of money,” says Christoff. “The other great thing is, Google Cloud Platform monitors how you’re using it and tells you what else you can do to reduce costs.”

About Tencent Africa

Tencent Africa is dedicated to making every day easier for customers and brands. Opening its doors in 2013 as WeChat Africa, the company is responsible for WeChat operations on the continent.

Industries: Technology
Location: South Africa

About Siatik Systems

Founded in 2008, South Africa-based Siatik Systems is a leading Google Cloud Platform solutions provider with a focus on cloud integration services, information technology consulting services, and bespoke software engineering solutions.

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