Betting on the cloud

Christo Briedenhann, Country Manager of Riverbed Technology, Africa, spoke to Biztechafrica about cloud computing’s transformational potential and challenges in Africa.

Briedenhann says in Africa, an emerging information technology industry is betting its future on serving customers and businesses through cloud based applications. At the same time, governments and non-governmental organisations are betting that cloud-based technology can help transform their economies and societies, spurring improvements in education, public health, and the environment.

He says the mobile-centric nature of Africa’s future, its current infrastructure, and the scattered nature of much of its information technology industry all make the continent a prime candidate for cloud computing.  Briedenhann elaborated in a Q&A with Biztechafrica:

Why is cloud computing relevant to the African market?

There are many flavors of ‘Cloud Computing’ all with unique characteristics and all offering different value.  Software as a Service (SaaS), Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Private Cloud, Public Cloud, indeed Hybrid Cloud, all offer businesses a number of options dependent on their needs, business culture and budget.  However no matter which option, they all promise the same benefits:

  • Cloud computing is paid for on an opex model rather that an upfront capex model.  This means that organisations will generally pay for what they use at that time;
  • It is scalable -  cloud computing is much easier to scale up and down, depending on the needs of the organisation and the seasonal nature of business.
  • It improves accessibility. You have access to it anytime, anywhere.
  • It is future proof. It is the cloud provider’s responsibility to complete technology refreshes and sizing investment.

The value that cloud computing offers are generic, no matter where you are on the globe, including Africa.  However some benefits that are especially prevalent to Africa.  These include:

  • Cloud computing can compensate for the scarcity of quality IT professionals, as skills become the responsibility of the cloud service provider;
  • By offshoring cloud services, concerns around the powering and cooling of data centres, and the physical security are mitigated and again become the concern of the cloud provider.

What unique cloud challenges does Africa face?

One of the consequences of cloud computing is that the data and applications are now generally much further away from the branch and the ultimate user, and therefore much more importance is placed on the Wide Area Network (WAN) and its performance.

Until recently, two elements of the WAN provided a challenge to cloud adoption across the continent. Firstly, bandwidth was very expensive, and often negated the financial benefits of moving to the cloud. And secondly, the significant distances from the user to the cloud, especially if the cloud service was located in another part of the continent, or even the world.  These distances would cause extreme latency problems on many applications, resulting in extremely slow performance, and unproductive users in the branch.

How should these challenges be overcome?

In these and other cases, WAN optimisation technology between the cloud and the branch improves the user experience and increases productivity in exactly the same ways it does for traditional branch office-to-data center deployments.  For applications that aren’t sensitive about placement but fail miserably over high-latency links, WAN acceleration can address these problems. 

Application streamlining decreases the effects of latency by reducing the number of application-level round trips across the WAN. Application-specific optimisations remove much of the chattiness and overhead associated with common applications that normally behave fine on LANs, giving these applications a local-like feel even though they’re running at a distance.

What is the cloud computing adoption rate across Africa? How fast is it growing?

Because mainly of the bandwidth challenges, cloud adoption in Africa has lagged behind that of the rest of the world. However, we have seen a large surge of interest in the past 12 months, particularly in South Africa.  This has been driven by favourable consumer and mobile use and experience of cloud-based applications.

More and more enterprises are adopting various cloud elements as they can enjoy the cloud benefits. 

Also, there are also drivers from outside the traditional IT function. Businesses are utilising cloud from other business units, such as development functions that can adopt the cloud and be ring fenced from the traditional corporate network, or the adoption of SaaS platforms like Oracle and Sales by sales and marketing teams. This is known as ‘Cloud Sprawl’.

The cloud works best when it’s invisible to end-users. In many scenarios, it’s an ideal deployment model—but one that can introduce network-related performance and productivity problems. Solving these problems requires WAN optimisation services that are well-integrated with cloud providers and their business models.


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