Africa’s telecommunications operators, systems integrators and software developers should work closer together on creating cloud computing solutions that are tailored to the needs of the continent’s technology users.
That’s according to Nashua Mobile’s executive head of marketing, Tim Walter. He says that interest in cloud computing is starting to pick up among African blue-chips companies, SMEs and public sector organisations. As a result, the potential market for providers of cloud applications and services is expanding at a rapid rate.
However, there is still a dearth of cloud services that are truly created to address the needs of African businesses and consumers, and that are hosted on infrastructure in Africa, says Walter. The upshot is that many companies are embracing cloud services that are designed and priced for European and American organisations rather than ones in Africa.
“There is a real risk in depending too heavily on infrastructure in the US and Europe for cloud services,” Walter adds. “Many of these services are priced in dollars rather than a local currency, which exposes an African business to currency risks. What’s more, there are complex issues around data ownership when the application and related information are hosted in a different country.”
In addition, accessing data hosted in a data centre on the other side of the world inevitably means that the application will not offer the same level of performance as one might expect from a locally hosted alternative. But perhaps the biggest drawback of offshore developed and hosted services is that they are not necessarily relevant for African needs, says Walter.
“In Africa, we have an urgent need for mobile learning and education, for example,” he says. “We need to bring public services closer to the people and help SMEs to flourish. Services developed in America might not necessarily address the requirements of a mobile phone user in Africa.”
Africa’s technology industry has a good opportunity to develop its own intellectual property and infrastructure, keeping technology spending within the continent and helping the region to flourish, argues Walter. This is essential to the future development and prosperity of the continent.
Walter says that cloud computing is an attractive model for Africa because it saves money and boosts efficiencies by pooling computing resources. In a continent where many small businesses cannot afford to install large servers or complex applications of their own, it can help drive productivity while reducing the costs of doing business.
With prices of smartphones, tablets and notebooks all dropping fast, the potential to deliver services to users in a cloud model is growing by the day, says Walter. But the telecommunications infrastructure remains a challenge in parts of the continent.
Though undersea cables are pushing international bandwidth into the continent, there is still great deal of work to do around linking cities to each other and in providing affordable and reliable last-mile access, Walter says.
But even so, high-speed cellular connections – 3G and beyond – are becoming cheaper and more widespread in Africa. Once the connectivity is there, the cloud will be the most cost-efficient way to provide services, information and application to African consumers and businesses, Walter says.