In depth focus: Zimbabwe needs to embrace cloud computing

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Cloud ComputingInformation management has never been as hot a subject as it is today. In such a context cloud computing is revolutionising the way the world operates by reducing costs, risks and exponentially scaling capabilities. By definition, the term refers to the internet based storage and usage of information such as email, data and applications by individuals and organisations. The term’s origins date back to the 1960’s when John McCarthy (a computer scientist) spoke of computation becoming a public utility in future (like electricity or water supply).

The key proposition of cloud computing is that organisations of any scale can outsource their offline and online data requirements, instead of investing in internal hardware and software assets.  It is a consequence of the ease of remote access to the internet, as well as the commercialisation and mass uptake of virtualisation, service oriented architecture (SOA) and utility computing. It essentially provides a new (and supplementary) consumption and delivery model for IT services through the internet. Traditional in-house data storage requires expensive hardware and software, brings about maintenance headaches and infrastructural risks. As if this isn’t enough, fresh upgrade or replacement expenditure is required to keep up with ever changing standards.

Many organisations in Zimbabwe have lost critical data and equipment as a result of power constraints and are highly vulnerable to information theft (such as hacking).  Cloud computing greatly reduces such threats as offsite data centres manage and archive data on behalf of clients. According to research published by IDC 63% of South African companies are migrating to cloud based solutions. Companies like MTN Business are also providing cloud based solutions for blue chips and SMEs on a Pan African scale.

The following subsets of Cloud Computing are ideal for Zimbabwe and the greater continent:

1. SAAS (Software As A Service)

SAAS is perfectly positioned to transform Zimbabwean and African organisations. It entails using applications stored on a remote site (a cloud), as if they are on an organisation’s system/s. An example of this is Google Apps (Tech Zim uses it). The suite comes with collaborative based ‘apps’ such as an option to Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, and PowerPoint), IM support and a calendar. These can be used with a similar user experience as one would expect from an application running off a PC. When a power outage strikes or system crashes all documents are stored and accessible on any machine in the world through remote access.  More than one person can have access to such data; we were actually impressed by Google Docs as we could work on the same documents at the same time on different computers.

The suite has been successfully implemented by SMEs and even giants like KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, one of the biggest airline companies in the world. KLM’s 11 200 crew employees uses Google Apps Premium Edition as a standard and are able to collaborate in 42 languages at the click of a button. The standard version of Google apps is entirely free while a premium edition is available at a range of between $5 and $50 per employee per year with full support. Over and above various other SAAS applications, an immediate opportunity exists for Zimbabwean ICT service providers to offer Google Apps solutions at an enterprise level.

2. IAAS (Infrastructure As A Service)

IAAS is another highly ideal route for Zimbabwean organisations to pursue as it has been successfully implemented in similar markets on the continent. IAAS is when a service provider (through its data centre/s), avails its storage infrastructure as a service. In essence companies are able to store or backup their data remotely for a nominal fee. In the event of a server crashing, ZESA surge or freak occurrence at a company, its critical information will be safe and sound (offsite). Dropbox has become an international success; an opportunity exists for similar solutions to be provided locally at an enterprise level. IAPS, ISPs and other data centre operators can use their infrastructure for this purpose.

3. NAAS (Network As A Service)

NAAS applies to Mobile Operators, IAPs, and ISPs. It requires them to shift their mindsets from looking at their networks as a core business to building value added services around them. Perfect examples of NAAS with regards to Mobile Operators are M-Pesa in Kenya, MXIT in South Africa and Kingdom Bank’s Cell Card (in partnership with Telecel). Local Mobile Operators need to embrace Value Added Service Providers (VASPS) as partners by offering mutually beneficial business terms. VASPs on the other hand need to form an association to effectively lobby for fairness due to the cannibalistic greed of some mobile operators locally.

In the case of IAPS and ISPs, there is a burning need for them to shift focus from simply providing internet access to SAAS and IAAS type services. An example of this is MWEB’s recent cloud storage service offering in South Africa; MWEB Store It. The sector will experience fierce competition and consolidation as a result of the wave of new players coming in. Simply providing internet access will not be enough as individual and corporate consumers will be spoilt for choice.

We will publish a follow up article exploring NAAS in the near future as the topic warrants a detailed and separate analysis.

The benefits each of the above can impart on organisational and national productivity are immense. Leveraging on superior infrastructure and the focus of established service providers, to concentrate on core business makes for a strong business case. Such solutions are fully managed, make the most of resources and provide usage based pricing (You pay for what you use). They can also be exponentially scaled when growth beckons. On average, companies use only 20% of their server capabilities. In effect cloud computing eliminates the 80% capacity wastage. According to Mike Macharia, the Founder and CEO of Kenya’s Seven Seas Technology, a $15 million revenue IT services firm,  “Most companies will now have an easier way to put services in place through secure cloud computing, which will relinquish the burden of financial pressure on capital expenditure”.

On the other hand, challenges of migrating to the cloud are bandwidth, uptime and security. A cloud security breach exposes an organisation and downtime curtails productivity. However such problems have always existed, even without the cloud computing. Internationally uptime can be 99.9% guaranteed while security is a complex and ever changing area requiring consistent attention. Where bandwidth is concerned, cloud computing can only be built around quality broadband services.

The arrival of SEACOM, EASSY, TEAMS and other undersea cables has placed Africa and Zimbabwe within reach of the cloud. More so the extensive laying of fibre locally by Econet, PowerTel, Africom and Telecontract. The onus is on locals to prepare and build on these developments as the migration to cloud computing is inevitable. An indicator of this is the fact that Hard Drives are on the verge of being replaced by Solid State Drives (SSD).

Low barriers of entry enable any organisation in Zimbabwe to begin migrating to cloud based solutions. Before doing so it is advisable to undertake an impact assessment so as to select the best solutions.



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11 Comments

  1. Kurai

    I agree, I need more infor on the NAAS. Does the mixit “naas” work in zim, would love to mix with felas from remote locations in Zim 

    Reply
  2. Lon

    @clinton:disqus , Awesome article  and detailed to the dot. Zim need to accept change and adopt  the far reaching concepts of technology. Investment in Virtualisation and Cloud infrastructure  requires a total change of mindset  across the business levels. Currently Zim struggles to mature its broadband strategies. the use of cloud infrastructure requires a versatile internet infrastructure, skills and $$$$$. There are some companies  here still using win 98 and 2000 servers, way back ward and till we take the first steps to move forward and when business learn and understand the benefits of investing in  cloud managed services then we will see a big shift.

    Zim has potential, but the basics need to be done and we will become a big hub sooner or later its just imminent.

    Reply
    1. Anonymous

      I agree with you Lon, cloud computing is a serious investment but a necessary and inevitable one. What we need locally is a total shift in mindset (what really stops a company from upgrading from win 98!!!)

      If we look at it from a cost-benefit angle then it becomes apparent that we are hanging our selves by driving businesses and the economy using outdated tools. Its like going to war with bows and arrow…if it was a bad idea 100 years ago then why on earth can it be a good one today today…

      Essentially part of the reason why some companies are not realising their potential (besides the funding excuse), is that they do not have the adequate Business Intelligence (BI) to select and invest in information management processes that spur agile and cost efficient growth. Some of these solutions acutally cost a droplet of their Return On Investment. Its either we bite the bullet and prepare or stay in the stone age. Thank you for your enlightening response @b1414b88d3034b4eca8cab85b1a5d6ce:disqus 

      Reply
      1. Joseph Mahwada

        Well firstly ,is there a real need for such an upgrade.Other than the prestige aspect most systems and programmes will run fine on 98.That and the fact that XP, 7 are all unstable and easily attacked.It makes sense to keep 98.

        Reply
        1. Alfred

          I cant believe you Joseph. You mean Win 98? What of driver support, flexibility, online activity & services. Do you use a pc for typing & printing only?

          Reply
  3. Anonymous

    I beg to differ on some of your points, @ClintonMutambo:disqus. In some cases, it makes sense to migrate to cloud-based services, but you have to weigh the costs vs benefits (it’s not without risks).
    * I don’t think cloud-based offerings are inherently more secure. I could argue it’s less secure. You can put a firewall around your corporate network to restrict access. With cloud services, a hacker can try his luck from…Siberia.
    * How much reliability do you require? Cloud services can go out when you don’t expect them (Amazon’s EC2 infrastructure went down spectacularly some 2 months back. No warnings. No explanations[1]).
    * What most (large) corporations need is redundancy & off-site backups. Zesa fried your server & NAS? Restore backup onto secondary server & move on. What action can you take when Google loses your data[2]?
    * “cloud” services make sense for small-ish operations that cannot afford inhouse personel and/or infrastructure and whose business can go on when the “system is down”. I use Google Apps for your domain -it’s brilliant. But not for everyone.
    * Data privacy. Since your will be hosted outside of the country, it will be subject to the host country’s laws. If, for any reason, the US/French/Chinese government subpoenas Google for your (or your client’s) data, Google has to oblige.

    I propose the following rule fo the thumb: If your business/concern is not adversely affected by a day (or more) without access to your systems, then cloud-based systems might work for you.

    [1] http://siliconangle.com/blog/2011/04/29/everything-you-ever-wanted-to-know-about-the-amazon-ec2-crash/
    [2] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1361334/Googles-email-service-wipes-entire-accounts-150-000-Gmail-users.html

    Reply
    1. Anonymous

      Very interesting points taps. The security concerns you listed are very real and addressable provided professionals are a part of the picture. For slow growing and old economy type companies cloud computing won’t impact them as they are reactive.When we focus on aspects like scalability for high growth and information reliant companies (proactive companies) the cloud is a better alternative. 

      *Google Apps is used by very SMEs and extremely large companies around the world; have a look at some of these http://www.google.com/apps/intl/en/customers/index.html .The point is that this particular product and others can greatly impact companies of any scale. 

      *The cloud isn’t bullet-proof, l agree. However neither are conventional solutions, a server can go down anytime. I believe complementary solutions are possible. 

      *Like any system, its definitely had its hiccups. The Amazon EC2 is a case in point, furthermore this one period of downtime was very magnified due the number of high profile clients the company boasts.

      * It is also advisable for companies to bring in consultants who then evaluate their information management needs in relation to various products on the market. This way they can be able to make informed decisions.
      Apologies for the delay in response, just arrived from the Green Fuel tour…

      Reply
  4. Lon

    @t_api_wa:disqus  it is true  that cloud /virtualisation  technologies  introduces a lot of security  and availability concerns. The security issues in that space are endless and they are just the same as those found in the  already existing non cloud infrastructure. The security concept needs its own domain and focus but what we are talking about here is the change of mindset to view technology  progression into the future so that zim businesses will survive.
    Bigger organisations are migrating into the cloud…Microsoft is about to make a huge shift  to the cloud……soon or latter most infrastructure will be provided from the cloud could it be applications, networking, Data and other services….so  organisations need to  formulate a risk based strategy to strat evaluating whether they need to migrate to the cloud say in the next 5-10 years and if so what are the risks to their business and how are they prepared to secure themselves against the  wide range of security concerns.
    In general  from what I have learnt in helping organisations migrate to the cloud is …they took a strategic  motion and invested in  end to end requirements such as security, DRP, BCP, Risk Management and weigh it  against return of investment, and I tell you 85% of the organisations have seen a big return and this include Large Banks and telcos…

    Zim is  lagging behind a bit  which  may be the wrong approach in 5-10 years as technology shift…….our own organizations will not survive the competition if they fail to set up.

    Reply
  5. Anonymous

    Hello guys, it seems that Microsoft is not to be outdone in the cloud space. They’ve just launched a cloud powered version of Microsoft Office; Office 365- http://www.office365.com . Its pricing is WAY cheaper than a standard version of Office (approx $600) as it will start at $6 and goes up to $27. Companies traditionally have to spend that amount (approx $ 600) for each pc… 

    This company has now become the laggard in ICT, if they FINALLY see the need for this, l believe the same should be true for our nation. We should look for cost effective solutions that positively impact our productivity.

    Reply
  6. Lon

    @ClintonMutambo:disqus  , as highlighted in my earlier post that microsoft is making larger shifty into the cloud. a lot of Antivirus/antimalware providers are also migrating into the cloud, and this is reducing the cost . We hope that the cloud security consortium will  build robust securit baselines to ensure the security of the cloud.
    At one point one way or the other zim companies should  buy cloud solution…..this may bring a better tradeoff on the mula($$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$)

    Reply
  7. Anonymous

    How many of Zims execs are IT literate enough to comprehend cloud/virtualisation. mid level management is worse. how many corporates have more than 1mbps internet bandwidth (how many techs know the difference btwn kbps & kBps). With people still thinking win95/98 is good enough is all evidence the users are only employing 5/10% of pc functionalities, ie type,store & print it. l cant even reply Joseph Mahwada…use that argument in Tsholotsho–i bet u are using a p1 & floppy disks). We claim a higher literacy level than S.A or India yet on the ground its horrendous. what more with the GOP (zpf) in power here. MPs spend half their time playing (discovering) cards on those pcs in parliament. We are decades behind in technology as Biti said. Im in IT support l know this.

    Reply

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