VENTURES AFRICA – The continuing progress of cloud computing in Kenya offers SMEs an opportunity to meet their technological needs in a cost effective way.
Various analysts and experts are keen to stress the impact virtualisation and outsourcing of technological needs could have on the costs of businesses. By moving towards buying software, platforms and infrastructure as services and paying on a consumption-based basis, SMEs would make savings of between 50-70 percent in IT costs.
Rather than investing large amounts in infrastructure, licensing and maintenance, it is becoming easier for companies to simply outsource technological needs to companies who already have the resources to provide it. Moreover, by switching to storing data virtually, rather than manually or on their own servers, businesses can take advantage of new cloud-based software to maximise profits.
“We are moving into a time of software as a service through cloud computing,” says Rene Raeber, Technical Solutions Architect at Swiss firm Cisco. Whereas previously firms would go to great expense investing in their IT infrastructure and then maintaining their technological capabilities, the cloud provides storage of data and remote access to it at a vastly cheaper price. Companies can choose between private clouds, hybrid clouds and public clouds dependant on how accessible they want their data to be.
The new way of doing things is seeing an increase in Software as a Service (SaaS), where companies purchase data storage in the cloud in much the same way as they currently access electricity through the grid. With new fibre-optic cables meaning Kenya now has available bandwidth of 5,137,237.12Mbps, less than one percent of which is being utilised, there is great scope for companies to take advantage of free and affordable bandwidth to meet their IT needs, avoiding the need to spending big on this infrastructure.
The other advantage of the cloud is that companies can start using at extremely quickly. “You can get your business up and running in the shortest time possible,” says Eric Mujera, Business Development Manager of Sevenseas Technologies Group. “The next big wave is cloud. You will see a lot of things happening on the cloud.” Sevenseas has recently launched the largest indigenous cloud in Kenya. Because there are numerous companies that already have servers established, businesses that want to take advantage of this technology can do so much quicker than they could establishing their own IT departments. It is also greener than storing data manually. “My company is an SME,” says Jyoti Mukherjee, whose company Software Technologies Ltd is at the forefront of cloud computing in Kenya. “I thought to myself, why not make my business paperless.”
One concern with cloud-based data storage is that the private accounts and documents of companies would not be secure, but Mujera moved to quell those fears by confirming that Sevenseas, in a policy followed by other cloud companies, check user identification at every point of the server, conduct real-time analysis of activity and have logs at every touch point. Once the new technology becomes more pervasive, people may start to trust the cloud to hold their data in much the same way they now trust banks with their money.
Though many companies have been slow to see the potential of cloud computing and SaaS as an alternative to traditional IT, the cost-effectiveness of the new ventures seems to make a gradual switchover inevitable. “There is nothing more constant than the change we are seeing,” says Andrew Waititu, East Africa General Manager of SAP. “In the next 5 years, 80% of all solutions will be available in the cloud.” These calculations are based on the quicker uptake of new technologies in the modern era. While the radio took 38 years to gain 50 million users, Facebook managed the same feat in just two years. It took Africa 25 years to reach 200 million mobile subscribers; the next 200 million are expected to be added in just three years.
What is clear is that the capabilities of cloud computing offer an opportunity for SMEs to make serious savings on technological costs.
“If you want to stay relevant you need to think about where this is going,” says John Jenkins, CEO of South African firm Business Connexion Services. “Infrastructure is growing faster than the number of people that have to manage it. You have to do more with less people”.