A 2015 internet report by the internet society revealed that vast majority of content accessed by local users is hosted overseas. This according to the report posed a number of challenges; local ISPs incurred higher costs in delivering content to local user and secondly latency issues meant poor web user experience for end users. In other words you paid a lot higher for an internet link that buffers YouTube videos. It sucks, right?
That’s where Angani comes in.
Angani is a Kenyan-based public cloud computing provider located in Nairobi, offering services to the entire East African region. They have been busy raising seed funding from Africa’s Talking, Savannah Fund, and Africa Angels Network to boost their operations in Africa. The company joins Kili and MTN Group both of which are providing local cloud solutions to enterprise users in Africa.
I spoke to Rip Sohan, one of the founders of Angani about their services and their experiences so far with providing cloud computing services to their clients.
> #1. What’s the motivation behind Angani?
The motivation for Angani was the observation that there is a need for a local cloud and hosting infrastructure provider. We believe a local cloud provider offers the following major advantages over an international one:
1. Application Performance: With the move to the cloud, both for external (e.g. SAAS/PAAS platforms) and internal (e.g. Enterprise applications) applications, the connection between the cloud (where the application is running) and the device interacting with the application becomes a critical juncture. Specifically, we believe Angani offers performance advantages in the dimensions of latency and throughput.
Consider, for example, the distance between Nairobi and London as the crow flies. The minimum round-trip transmission latency to service a request for a single byte of data is approximately 60ms*. Similarly, round-trip latencies to the East and West coast of the US (where most cloud datacentres are located) are between 120-160* ms. Accessing data at these latencies is equivalent to storing it on a disk drive manufactures in 1981. Conversely, using Angani your round-trip time within Nairobi’s CBD is 60 us and only goes as high as 4.6 ms at the edge of the country in Mombasa.
Higher bandwidth is another advantage of using Angani. International bandwidth is expensive. When companies have lots of (internal or external) users the costs of bandwidth become quite dominant and so user experience can suffer due to insufficient capacity. We provide free local-loop access meaning companies can scale up their user-base without impacting existing user’s service levels.
2. Reduced Capex and Opex Costs: We observed that, for the majority of SMEs, the CAPEX and OPEX cost of running IT infrastructure is a signficant financial burden. For these entities, while IT is a principle component in realising their business goals it does not directly generate revenue. Thus, we realised there is a market for providing solutions that allow SMEs to quickly and efficiently acquire the application tools required to run their business without an up-front and continual investment into keeping the hardware and software serviceable and current. Similarly, the labour cost of running IT is reduced as we handle all the day-to-day administrative tasks (e.g. backups, upgrades, etc) that require expensive manpower to perform. Because we are a pre-pay platform users only pay for what they use. This enables greater efficiencies of service for users.
3. Localised solutions, services and products: The third principle of our foundation is localisation. We believe because we are physically present in the country and have a wealth of local business and operational experience we are best placed to offer solutions and products that add value and address the needs of the local market. Furthermore, we believe our service philosophy of closely supporting the customer every step of the way to cloud adoption means we are best placed to help customers realise the potential of the cloud for their organisations in this region.
*This result assumes a straight-line physical link between Nairobi and the location and does not include inter-hop buffering, switching and congestion overhead. It is therefore an idealistic lower bound. In practice the actual delay is usually 2x-3x higher than the quoted figure.
> #2. Are businesses beginning to shift to the cloud? What would they benefit from moving their infrastructure to the cloud?
While these are definitely early days we are seeing increased interest in shifting to the cloud. This shift is premeditated by two trends: (1) CIOs and CTOs are embracing the cloud due to the efficiencies in economy it affords and (2) most major enterprise applications are shifting to cloud platforms. Thus there is a dual “push-pull” imperative for businesses to embrace the cloud.
The benefits of the cloud vary depending on what the business does and what operational infrastructure is migrated to the cloud but generally speaking we find that businesses in the region benefit from reduced CAPEX and OPEX expenditure on IT, increased economies of scale with respect to servicing users, the flexibility of being able to budget and spend monthly for IT infrastructure (due to our pre-pay model) and increased reliability and redundancy enabled by moving their computation to our cloud.
> #3. What’s been the response so far to cloud adoption in Africa?
So far the response to our service has been overwhelmingly positive. We have worked hard with our early adopters to ensure a smooth transition but the feedback we have is that they are quite happy with the service, the end-result and the process.
> #4. What are some of the barriers to adoption of cloud technologies by IT pros in the E/A region?
In general we have found that in the major cities infrastructure is no longer an issue as there is fibre to most buildings. For smaller cities it can be an issue but our partner, specifically, Liquid Telecom are working hard to ensure fibre is extended to the entire country.
Financially the issue with cloud adoption becomes the major up-front cost required to convert to a cloud based solution. Where the cost tradeoff is obvious (i.e. it’s cheaper to use the cloud) this is not an issue, it is however more of a challenge when there is an entrenched physical infrastructure. In this scenario we tend to work with our clients to migrate in a piecemeal manner allowing them to move to the cloud based on a speed that is comfortable to them.
In execution context we find there is some element of reticence from the users as there is a lot of FUD out there about solutions with vendors and providers pushing hard to sell bespoke and sometimes lock-in solutions. This obviously leads to confusion and reduces clarity which in turn makes people hesitant to adopt the cloud. Given that we provide base-level infrastructure we find that we are well placed to advise clients on tailor-made solutions and often do so.
> #5. How do you compare with global cloud providers such as Amazon, Google, Linode. what’s its unique value proposition that Angani brings to the market?
I would refer you to our motivation. Specifically we offer value with respect to performance, reduced user CAPEX and OPEX outlay and localised products and customer service. In this regard I highlight that we are not the cheapest service nor could we hope to be so at this point as we don’t have the economies of scale enjoyed by the major providers. However, we believe that the specific value we offer outweighs the cost issue for the majority of users in the region.
> #6. What are some of your solutions/packages and how much do they go for?
We have the following broad product categories:
- VM’s, pricing starts at around $20 per month, varies to a few hundred dollars per month, depending on the specifications.
- Voice – we allows companies to run their voice requirements in the cloud
- Media management – our media platform allows for companies to run entirely off our infrastructure. An infrastructure free media company, like Netflix, only locally in Africa.