Many South African businesses are excited by the potential of advanced Cloud services – opening the doors for everything from artificial intelligence to virtual reality, to advanced analytics, connected sensors, real-time customer insights, and much more.
But, even with the imminent launch of hyper-scale Cloud datacentres on the African continent, there is one remaining challenge preventing local businesses from embracing the latest in Cloud-delivered services:
This one word has been our national ‘Achilles heel’ since the Internet revolution began reshaping markets around the world in the early 1990s. We’ve battled through many issues: a lack of undersea cables, monopoly market structures, delays in local loop unbundling and spectrum allocation, and high imported infrastructure costs.
Though many of these challenges have been mitigated and overcome, local businesses operating numerous branch sites nationwide (such as retailers and banks for instance) remain hindered by connectivity woes.
To truly take advantage of Cloud Computing’s power, we need bigger, better, faster internet connections, capable of hauling masses of data from different branches, back and forth between Cloud environments.
So, just what are the connectivity challenges and how will we overcome them?
Challenge #1 – Performance
Whether locally- or internationally-hosted, it can be a challenge to deliver reliable Cloud services to certain regions – particularly in smaller towns and rural or remote areas. For national chains, this poses a problem. When it comes to certain activities, such as financial transaction processing, companies simply cannot afford downtime, even just for moments.
Challenge #2 – Cost
Uncontended, enterprise-grade networks can be extremely expensive, often blowing the business case for Cloud services out of the water. With many of the major components of telecoms and networking infrastructure being priced in dollars, the gradual slide of our local currency in recent years means that enterprise connectivity costs have remained stubbornly high.
Challenge #3 – Availability
For many businesses in outlying areas, the availability of internet connection, in general, is a huge problem. South Africa still has vast patches that are underserved or entirely unserved. Certain mining and agricultural sites, or fisheries industries, for example, experience problems with basic telephony and crude internet connections – which makes high-powered Cloud services seem like an impossibility.
Resolving these three problems is certainly no easy feat. When talking high-end, fixed-line business connectivity that unleashes the true power of the Cloud, we seem to be in a similar position to that of cellphone connectivity for consumers in the early-1990s. Some geographic areas have great coverage, while others are struggling, left behind in the ‘digital divide’.
We certainly need stronger regulations to stimulate reduced connectivity prices – to ultimately help South African businesses keep pace with our international peers.
For instance, we should continue to stimulate the growth of open access service providers, which have so far found fertile business models in higher-income, urban, residential sectors. Through policy-making, we’ll encourage these companies to break ground and lay fibre, all the way to those businesses that are off the beaten track.
Something which is more directly in our control, is the efficient use of new technologies to maximise the bandwidth into branch sites. Through the latest innovations in hybrid WAN infrastructures, companies can build an architectural layer atop the network, which consolidates all forms of incoming connectivity. Hybrid WANs bring together fixed-line connections like fibre and DSL, as well as wireless services like 3G, LTE and satellites.
From dial-up to DSL, and now to our faster mobile and fibre networks, it seems our networks never quite keep up with the latest demands and opportunities. We always seem to be one step behind.
But as businesses continue to grapple with this, they must act smartly and use the latest enterprise WAN technologies – getting the most of the bandwidth to their site, and starting to capitalise on the Cloud’s benefits.
By Louis Kirstein, Portfolio Manager for Connectivity and Networks at T-Systems South Africa