Why we urgently need to build out the local cloud.
What do I mean when I say “the cloud” or “clouds”? Well, basically, the term “cloud” is derived from the term “cloud computing” which is basically Internet-based computing. Many of us already use cloud computing on a regular basis for accessing services like web-based email (e.g. Gmail or Yahoo Mail) and Business Applications (e.g. Google Apps). The term “cloud” is therefore normally used as a metaphor for the Internet.
The beauty about the cloud is that services are accessed directly via a web browser and there is hardly ever any need to install software on your computer or server(s). In addition, it means that an organization does not need to invest in its own servers and applications so that instead it may use free or subscription based cloud services – thereby saving lots of time and money in the process. Another upside for using the cloud is its highly scalable and low cost which makes it highly attractive for businesses of all sizes. Which brings me to the reason why I wrote this post – that we urgently need to build out the local cloud.
Just a couple weeks ago East Africa experienced a major Internet outage due to a fault on the Mediterranean section of the SEA-ME-WE 4 cable. This cable connects cables like SEACOM and TEAMS onwards to Europe which is why we we’re affected. This came as something of a surprise for many in the region as we have more or less enjoyed uninterrupted broadband for the better part of a year. It was shocking to experience speeds that we’re even slower than what we had a year ago before TEAMS and SEACOM went live. It was Internet as we knew it, circa 2000. It was like being on a dial-up Internet connection once again.
The outage required Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and Telcos to re-route their bandwidth via expensive satellite connections so as to maintain some semblance of connectivity – this tended from very bad to quite slow depending on your choice of service provider. It is for this very reason why we urgently need to have local clouds that function even when international bandwidth and cloud are not available. This way, essential cloud-based services will continue to function locally.
The consequences, which we are already aware of is what happens when most of your business applications sit in the international cloud? What happens when you cannot get email or access your accounting service in the international cloud? The outcome is that you can’t work when this happens and the worst part is that you absolutely can’t do anything about it until international bandwidth and cloud are restored.
Given that its a well-known fact that undersea cables regularly do get cut or damaged, its likely that we will see more of the sort of outage we had two weeks ago. It also means that ISPs and Telcos will retain their costly satellite-based Internet connections for redundancy – just in case. Therefore, even if SEACOM and TEAMS have made broadband Internet a reality in East Africa we still really need reliable, high quality and world-class local cloud-based services.
The biggest caveat to setting up local cloud-based services are the massive financial investments required to set-up and operate data centers and applications. Data centers are also notorious for consuming large amounts of electricity (which is often unreliable in this part of the world) and require continuous technical monitoring and management on a 24 X 7 X 365 basis.Â There are companies in the region that have set-up data centers to co-locate customer servers and provide bandwidth to the Internet. However, pricing tends to be rather prohibitive for most businesses.
Going forward, in terms of local cloud-based services as well as the applications and services offered, this could be best addressed via a three way strategic partnership model. In the first instance Government would provide the required incentives for businesses to set-up local data centers and cloud-based services. In the second instance local private sector players would provide the needed investment to make the local cloud take off. In the third instance international cloud players such as Google and Microsoft could provide the best practices and co-invest in building local cloud-based services. Ultimately, the local cloud build out would ensure service continuity even when International bandwidth or cloud are “offline”.