Does cloud computing work in Africa?

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Cloud computing today has graduated from being a marketing buzz-word to a reality so much so that now ordinary users use the Technology without even knowing it.  Technologies or cloud services like iCloud, Google drive, Skydrive, Office365, Ubuntu one, Dropbox, App stores among others use the cloud technolgies to keep users data synced across different devices without users installing additional software or acquiring specific skills. As Steve Jobs said “It just works” while commenting on Apple’s iCloud services.

However, as you might have already noted, none of those services listed above is brewed in Africa. Now, this doesn’t mean that there’re no cloud solutions offered in the continent and in Uganda in particular, they’re. But one has to admit that they’re scarce.

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Now before I continue, I may get into hot soup with some of you as what exactly cloud computing is, but for the purposes of this discussion, we’ll keep it simple. So I posed this question to a couple of ICT experts through twitter and email starting with Jake Markhus, who is a Software Developer & Manager Customer Support at LumJo Consultants and he had this to say;

 And YES. One Solution has been offering cloud serves for a while and Dan Odongo has been running around Kampala like a headless chicken marketing it. Recently Datanet has joined the fray with their own solution.

What I think will give cloud services the boost they deserve is different pricing for access. So far I like the pricing for access to One Solution but I am yet to hear about pricing for Datanet (which has a bigger client base). It is a shame for Uganda as a whole to have more emphasis on developing access to the outside world than on building a credible internal structure. When you see civil servants communicating using excite, yahoo and Google IT IS PATHETIC.

The concept of a cloud though is still foreign to much of Africa and most of Uganda. If we could use our tech for a to publicize it really and push it. Then have or ISPs and Tech stakeholders support it (instead of milking it) then maybe something can happen.

I would agree with Jake on the poor publicity or marketing of these solutions. Until I read this comment, I absolutely didn’t know that One Solution or Datanet for instance had cloud solutions. I could name over 5 different cloud computing service providers like Amazon, Google, Rackspace,digitalOcean, Linode but I can barely come up with one service provider in Africa except MTN Uganda which recently commissioned a Data centre in Mutundwe.

But the problem is way beyond just the marketing of these solutions. According to Stephen S Musoke, a re-known software developer who currently works as the program coordinator for Mercy Corps and an ardent reader of the TechPost;

Africa is ready to consume cloud computing, however, it’s not ready to provide the infrastructure for it. Sorry Dan Odongo who is promoting this, but we do not have the economies of scale and relevant expertise to do so at “reasonable” prices. In order for cloud computing to become ubiquitous, it has to be embedded into relevant solutions that solve the problems for African small and medium businesses.

About 9 months ago, I provided a cloud based solution for a civil engineering laboratory to share information with their clients using Dropbox. What I did was:

a) Create the dropbox account, install and configure it on the 3 computers that were being used.

b) Train the users with a standard file system structure Client -> Project -> Invoices, Test Results, …

c) Teach Operations manager on how to share the folders with the respective clients, and send links to download specific files

It is currently working because they know how to use the cloud based solution, and it solves their problems of having to email large files and attachments. If you told them they were using cloud they would look at you with a blank poker face

Solve client business problems using the cloud, and it becomes normal, cut out the tough technical jargon

I do agree with Stephen on the point of simply providing clients with the “Cloud experience” that solves their problems without having to dive into the technical jargon.

Also “we do not have the economies of scale and relevant expertise to do so at reasonable prices” is something yet another reknown ICT expert, Simon Vass who is Managing Director at E-Tech Uganda Ltd and Public/private Communications Director at Uganda Internet eXchange Point seems to agree with when i asked him on the challenge of local hosting of websites in the following comments;

Economies of Scale, companies like godaddy are huge.
Power , here you need investment in power backup systems.
It is a chicken and egg scenarios until companies invest in local hosting there will never be a market and so on.

Currently Simon runs a local gaming website called GamersNights.com and he says they do this to showcase the benefits of local hosting as opposed to international hosting as some games can’t be played over high latency links. When he told me this, I asked myself, “what if the TechPost was actually hosted at Datanet or MTN datacentres?”, wouldn’t this mean faster page load speeds for our readers as opposed to the current status where our website is hosted in the US? It immediately clicked to my mind, the most obvious and immediate benefits of having a local cloud provider, yet this, because of the reasons already mentioned above by the experts, won’t be realized in the near future.

What are your experiences or thoughts? Let us know in the comments.

  • afrofa

    like “In order for cloud computing to become ubiquitous, it has to be embedded
    into relevant solutions that solve the problems for African small and
    medium businesses”
    Posted it on linkedin

    Is Africa really ready for Cloud Computing?