Several years after IT gurus first spoke about cloud computing, it is still something of an ethereal concept. But as the availability and affordability of African bandwidth increases, corporations are beginning to see how the cloud can help them expand their physical presence without equally heavy investments in IT infrastructure.
The result is a compelling opportunity for companies that need IT to support their expansion into Africa, says Lizelle Christison, manager of the upcoming IP EXPO exhibition. The event will focus on cloud computing, virtualisation and IP infrastructure, which are attractive technologies for growing companies, as they provide the flexibility to move into new regions without building a sophisticated IT infrastructure. Since the infrastructure is in the cloud, it follows them wherever they go.
Christison is witnessing a new enthusiasm for cloud solutions because they are finally feasible for African businesses. The foundations have been laid quite recently with the landing of undersea cables to deliver increased international bandwidth, and national fibre backbones being laid by several operators. A healthy competitive environment is also making bulk bandwidth more affordable.
Even so, many companies are wary of cloud computing, and often cite the perceived security risks. Christison believes it’s not really an issue of security, since strong solutions exist to keep information in the cloud secure. It’s more a matter of mindset, which never changes as rapidly as technology.
Companies are simply not used to accessing their data, applications, processing power and archives online, since they have always resided internally. Nor are most employees familiar with creating and sharing documents and information with their colleagues over the cloud. So human behaviour and habit may prove the stumbling blocks to the solutions that technology is offering.
Yet things will change, Christison believes, as the economic benefits are clear. Globally, the early adopters are small and medium businesses attracted by the cost savings of not having to install and support complex IT systems.
Key factors now driving larger enterprises to adopt cloud computing include our ‘always-on’ attitude of expecting to access data and applications around the clock. Cloud computing permits this, and equally importantly, allows the workforce to be mobile and access the cloud from any device in any location.
Another welcome factor is that the cloud comes in many different shapes, so companies can entrust it to deliver their software only, or use it to access infrastructure such as processing power, or their entire databases. These choices allow for flexibility, lower IT costs, improved scalability and a step-by-step approach. For small organisations these are critical for survival, while for large organisations they can boost the bottom line.
The value will therefore soon outweigh the concerns and lead to a dramatic increase in uptake.
Christison expects to see many more South African businesses move their IT operations and information into the cloud, particularly as the range of services increases.
Not every organisation is ready for cloud computing, since many are reliant on legacy infrastructure and many more are mired in legacy thinking. But for those with the right attitude and right technical savvy, the opportunities for quick wins and quick geographic expansion are enormous.
Lizelle Christison, Manager IP EXPO at Montgomery Africa