HP Industry Standard Servers managers, Rory Green and Andrew McNiven, make virtualization and cloud computing seem so easy, that you start wondering when Africa will become a huge “cloud” itself. Turns out it is a matter of why not, not when.
“In South Africa we are little bit behind the rest of Europe. For example, in the adoption of virtualization, there are some benefits and disadvantages to being a little bit behind. The guys in Europe burned their fingers with challenges or problems, which by the time we catch up, would have been solved and the roadblocks taken away. So there is an advantage from the African perspective to be a little bit behind the curve”, thinks Rory Green, Sales and Business Unit Manager for HP Industry Standard Servers (ISS).
South Africa is, from a virtualization perspective, probably one year to 18 months behind Europe and US when it comes to virtualization adoption. The challenge is not the time gap, but the ways in which these cutting edge technologies can benefit African businesses throughout the continent.
“When we look at virtualization, we think- what can we do today that gives customers the amount of bandwidth that they need?”, explains Rory.
“What’s causing us to be behind is the bandwidth, it sets us back in South Africa and Africa significantly. The deployment we have seen so far are private clouds, rather than the true sense of cloud, people are just buying methodology in the cloud. Whether things will be better with SEACOM, we can’t tell yet”, adds Andrew McNiven, Business Unit Manager for HP ISS.
The two server gurus are confident in Africa’s approach to adopting virtualization, with new generations of hardware products on the market designed with virtualization in mind.
When talking about virtualization, things have progressed from lots of servers with a little bit of memory on each or maximum one or two network cards to a single platform with more networking cards to access and embedded processing power, memory and connectivity.
“Whether physical or virtual, traffic doesn’t really change. You still need that connectivity. From this perspective, there’s a lot changing throughout 2010, various vendors are talking about different technology like Fiber Channel over Ethernet (FCoE), merging LAN and SAN into a single network. Then another technology is Converged Enhanced Ethernet, same concept, but different implementation”, Rory told ITNewsAfrica.com.
Some milestones for HP and the server industry itself were reached last year with the launch of Virtual Connect Flex10, which comes with a blade system and allows taking an Ethernet connection and “cutting it up”. Rory sums it up like this: “I’ll take my Internet connection, cut a little bit of bandwidth (1/10) and allocate to that”.
This will heat up things in 2010 even further, since the technology was available in South Africa since last year, thanks to HP’s global presence which makes sure Africa gets access to the same technologies as the rest of the world.
“For virtualization you typically need a separate network for migration, a separate network to handle traffic, so now we can customize the amount of bandwidth we can allocate to that roll. In essence we have a CPU blade that comes standard with up to 8 network cards to configure straight out of the box, whereas before we had one or two network cards standard. So that’s how we are building more connectivity”, commented Rory and Andrew.
The next big step will be “an industry standard server later this year, that will support
half a Terabyte of memory, which two or three year ago would have never been heard about, when that amount of memory was reserved for the high-end risk-based systems”.
In the storage market, building tonnes worth of storage and deploying last year’s technologies is a costly option that fortunately begins to change. Using the example of a client whose email server is duplicated and also backed-up, resulting in data on a number of high storage servers, Rory and Andrew explain that, even for Africa, there are much cheaper options in the market today, with even the capacity of hard drives increasing and the costs coming down dramatically.
Say the HP server managers: “We have seen a lot of change in the market around storage strategies. We purchased a company Lefthand Networks and we integrated that into our products, so now for an SME customer or even an enterprise customer we have low-cost storage iSCSI- based: you buy one module, then you just add the next module etc. Upfront you don’t have to incur this massive cost, you can just add as your demand for storage grows. Built-in redundancies and replications come standard, from a data protection perspective”.
As for cloud computing, Rory believes that it creates a market in South Africa for better hosting, while not having to compete with “the guys in Europe”. Of course, a service provider and a hosting company will hunt for a cloud solution instead of buying a server, operating system, additional hardware, looking for a preloaded, pre-installed and ready to go “email machine”, that is if it means reducing costs and reducing the links in the chain.
But cloud computing in Africa is not necessarily evolving because of its “trendy” factor – there are logical reasons to it. Take for example e-mail.
“A number of people are looking completely at e-mail for outsourcing, giving it to a cloud provider. The bandwidth requirement is reduced, the provider is now buying wholesale Internet, so local bandwidth prices are definitely coming down. The bandwidth protects the company from competing with European organizations., creating a market in South Africa for hosting”, agree the HP server experts.
According to Rory and Andrew, we will most probably never reach an era when cloud computing will dictate the way we handle our IT – in fact, costs, hardware requirements, bandwidth, administration and management will ultimately determine our IT decisions.
“I don’t think we will get to a point when I do not own IT and everything is hosted by someone else. That is how cloud computing is going to roll out, it’s not going to be – take it all away – I don’t think will ever get to that point. Some people think the cloud will change the way we do IT, I don’t think so. Virtualization can be a way of reducing costs, cloud computing can complement that and improve efficiency”.
The potential in Africa is huge for virtualization and cloud computing solutions. In South Africa, 2010 will bring a recovery in the market versus last year, “but not near 2008 levels yet”. The business is not what it was in 2008, but it’s definitely starting to recover. With maybe one major “disruption” around the World Cup, dubbed to be another Christmas shutdown when some industries will actually freeze – and networking solutions might just be one of them.
As for the rest of Africa, well behind SA’s networking technology, it might be a little difficult to foresee. “South Africa is still ahead of the curve compared to other African countries, in terms of virtualization adoption and other challenges as well. There are international companies based there (e.g. other African countries) leveraging skills and knowledge from SA, but they’re probably not adopting virtualization much at all”.
But again, never say never, since being behind gives you the opportunity to leapfrog, as it happened in the case of Nigeria’s growing cellphone market, almost skipping the landline and going straight to mobile. After all, the future of virtualization and cloud computing will be driven by necessity.
As Rory puts it, “In the future we won’t go to the shops asking for a “cloud” solution”. And neither will other Africans.
by Denisa Oosthuizen