Q&A: Can cloud computing benefit Africa’s economy?
Cloud computing is forcing a major change in the global Information Technology industry and African enterprises are increasingly showing interest in cloud computing.
1. Briefly define cloud computing?
The best way to describe the concept of cloud computing is to first consider the NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) definition: “Cloud computing is a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources, for example networks, servers, storage, applications, and services, that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.”
The cloud computing paradigm utilise various service models, for example IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service), PaaS (Platform as a Service) and IaaS within deployment models such as private cloud, public cloud, hybrid cloud, etc. A key element to cloud computing is on-demand services.
2. How does cloud computing actually work?
Cloud computing is the coherent orchestration of the sum of IT resources to provide services. Because the computers are set up to work together, i.e. pooled to provide elasticity, the applications can take advantage of all that computing power as if they were running on one particular machine.
Cloud computing also allows for a lot of flexibility. Depending on the demand, resources can be increased or decreased, without the need for assigning specific hardware for the job.
An application, whether it is an office like app such as a spread sheet or word processor, or a business application like ERP (enterprise resource planning), is installed in a remote computing center and users from multiple companies rent the usage of the app from the provider. They all work in the same system using the same base software, with their individual data kept private from other customers. The idea is to rent, not own. For the provider, it’s a way to keep a revenue stream going indefinitely.
3. Why do you think there’s so much cloud computing hype in the global ICT industry?
The term “cloud computing” has been around for some years now and is now getting increased focus and attention as it enters the mainstream IT solutions.
Cloud Computing is an exciting and new way to deliver solutions that reduce cost to customers, and also increase infrastructure agility. When reference is made to ‘Cloud Computing’, consumers are referring to rented computing services from a service provider that is accessed across the internet.
Consuming this service means the customer needs less IT infrastructure on their own premises which reduce their costs. The underlying infrastructure is shared between many clients.
4. How can African businesses take full advantage of cloud computing?
Cloud Computing is changing the way IT companies provide services. All the large IT manufacturing companies are adding cloud computing to their business. It helps companies to move from capital expenditure to operational expenditure, thus offering an affordable way to access services.
5. What are the cloud computing trends in Africa?
Businesses across Africa are expecting a revolution in Internet access, technology and costs as a result of the rush of new undersea cables connecting the continent.
Decision-makers across Africa are expecting prices to drop and competition to increase dramatically. Meanwhile, African countries remain heavily reliant on slow or expensive forms of connectivity, such as dial-up and satellite. However, they are beginning the move to broadband.
ADSL is fast becoming the standard form of business Internet access across Africa. Once businesses go online, the Internet becomes increasingly more vital to their survival, and having a backup form of access becomes increasingly more important and the take-up will grow exponentially in future.
6. What are your sentiments regarding Africa’s cloud computing uptake ratio?
Africa is a large continent with disparate levels of access to education and commerce. This makes it hard for the standard distributed computing model to proliferate. Delivery and ‘Centers of Excellence’ are too few and spread too far apart to grow and develop distributed networks that are more common in other parts of the world. A faster and more practical model for growth would be to establish a cloud infrastructure clustered in a few cities that can host it.
7. Is cloud computing viable for African businesses?
Given that the majority of the population on the African continent is still extremely poor and is striving to meet basic needs, the kind of information that will be most helpful and be readily consumed is that which pertains to healthcare, hygiene, literacy and education, safety, farming, small business, micro business, and basic social development including village and small town development.
The majority of the population will be “consumers” of information rather than “producers”. In this model, a cloud approach makes most sense since these population centers cannot really afford to maintain their own data centers from a financial, logistical, and knowledge perspective.
8. Can cloud computing work in Africa? Will it revolutionize Africa’s business operations?
A cloud computing model is a viable solution for Africa and makes most sense since the population centers cannot really afford to maintain their own data centers from a financial, logistical, and knowledge perspective.
Cloud computing provides an innovative alternative to bricks-and-mortar schooling, enabling personal and interactive learning. The cloud would allow students to interact and collaborate with an ever-expanding circle of peers, regardless of geographical location. It changes the way people study by means of interactive learning in the primary, secondary and higher education spheres. It also gives greater longevity to information by storing it in the cloud.
The cloud also opens doors for people with nontraditional learning needs. Older students who never finished high school can now get their certification and/or diploma via the cloud.
In commerce, companies paid for the amount of space and resources to handle their IT functions, whether needed or not. This means buying more desktop computers, adding more machines to their internal server rooms.
Once space ran out, the only way to get more was to buy more. With this model, growing companies almost always paid more than they needed, and never for less. However, cloud computing provide an environment in which virtual assets are made to be flexible and dynamic and can be offered on a subscription or on-demand basis. This means that business is only using and paying for actual assets used.
9. Can cloud computing have high adoption in Africa, similar to mobile technology?
International investors are one of the major drivers for helping Africa get onto the information super highway. Profitability is a key objective for these investors; the only way they can see the quickest ROI (Return on Investment) is to follow a cloud model.
By piggy-backing on Africa’s current major broadband initiative, investors can establish clouds that are physically located in the few major cities scattered across Africa and make the cloud services available to the entire population over cellular-data networks that are proliferating across Africa at a much more rapid rate than any other technology. A cloud strategy is also the cheapest way for information service providers to keep costs low.
10. Can cloud computing assist Africa to bridge the digital divide?
The population is scattered over a large geographical landscape. The centers of excellence are few and far apart. But it is these few centers that will be best positioned to grow development in the rest of the continent by disseminating information that is most relevant and at a cost that is minimal. The cloud will allow Africa to achieve this in the most technical and cost effective manner that is relevant to Africa.