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A business guide to cloud computing in SA

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Rick Parry recently had the pleasure of hosting a business forum at the AIGS Progress Africa Conference where he asked the question: what is the cloud? Suffices to say, there were a diverse range of answers and questions flying back and forth.
Cloud computing involves the delivery of computing and storage as a service to a community, essentially entrusting services with a user’s data, software and computation over a network.
The most common examples that the public would interact with includes services like Dropbox or Gmail, but there are more complex services such as renting servers (known as infrastructure as a service or IaaS) or application software and databases (software as a service, or SaaS). Essentially, this allows for economies of scale and access to improved services, particularly for small business owners.
The broken promise of the cloud
As “moving to the cloud” became a widely accepted and promoted marketing phrase, many CEOs and business owners have been caught up in the hype of adopting cloud services, and been disappointed. Chantel Lindeman, an analyst for Frost and Sullivan, pointed out five ways that the cloud is not living up to its promise.
* Cost – firstly, the perception exists that using a cloud platform will instantly reduce costs, whereas the reality is that this is not always the case. Some companies find themselves running two systems: one on-site for core applications and one off-site with non-critical data.
* Ease of use – the implementation of cloud is not as easy as portrayed and requires a good support structure of the company implementing the system.
* Reliability and performance – this is a key issue in South Africa as connectivity is not forthcoming and leaving information on the cloud is potentially hazardous to the redundancy of a company.
* Control and trust – there is a major trust issue with cloud implementation and this is where private clouds have managed to ease the concerns of companies looking to implement a cloud solution.
* Security risk perception – there is a perception that information on the cloud is not necessarily protected as well as if it was on-site for companies to manage directly.
However, that’s not to say that using cloud computing is flawed or should be avoided. In fact, if the cloud is used correctly, it can revolutionise a business.
South Africa and the cloud
Frost and Sullivan has revealed that there has been an uptake in the cloud solutions, specifically in infrastructure as a services due to the fact that people are noticing the direct coloration on their CAPEX to invest in virtual machines versus investing in infrastructure on-site.
Findings show that the uptake of other solutions in the cloud sector is still in its nascent stage and will require another three years before seeing a significant uptake – the key to the uptake of cloud solutions will ultimately be better established connectivity throughout the country.
It is crucial that businesses start preparing to implement cloud-based services and solutions in their organisation within the next few years if they hope to compete.
Perry’s advice to businesses that are considering using cloud-based solutions is to examine their motives for doing so very carefully. In many instances, the cloud has been a solution looking for a problem, and companies have been getting caught up in the hype. The question to ask is: is the cloud solution the company wants to implement meeting a problem?
The technology has to meet the business needs and be driven by that alone.
Perry has no doubt that the expansion of the cloud will be widespread and all-encompassing very soon. But he always knows that whatever users think it will look like in a few years will be quite different in reality. Plan for the cloud, but tread carefully and use the needs of the business as a compass.