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Reach new heights with the cloud

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Organisations from the public sector to the private sector are undergoing a fundamental shift with the advent of cloud computing.  The shift is disrupting the traditional way of working and the old way of thinking, writes Dr Werner Vogels, chief technology officer of Amazon.com.
As the cloud continues to level the playing field for organisations, both large and small, we are seeing fast adoption that has helped to unleash great ideas and innovations from start-ups to enterprises to government organisations.

Transforming industries
Over the last few years we have seen that cloud is becoming a catalyst for changing industries as organisations are able to access vast amounts of compute resources on demand in order to help them innovate.
Globally, we are seeing industries like oil and gas being transformed as organisations, like Royal Dutch Shell, use the cloud in order to help with oil exploration.
The financial services sector is being transformed as institutions like Aviva, the largest insurance company in the UK, use the cloud for calculating insurance premiums and the consumer goods industry is being transformed as organisations like Unilever use the cloud in the research and development of new products.
In the public sector this transformation is happening at an equally rapid pace. Researchers are using AWS to speed up science, using the vast compute resources at their fingertips to run more experiments, at a lower cost. Non-profit organisations, such as Cancer Research UK, are using the cloud to stop paying for computing power they aren’t using meaning they can focus more of their resources on the important work.
We are also seeing cities and governments using AWS to transform the lives of citizens. Through smart, and collaborative, city initiatives, such as those we are seeing in cities as diverse as Chicago in the US, Peterborough in the UK and Paris in France, local governments are innovating with the cloud to enable citizens to enjoy higher standards of living.
This transformation isn’t just happening at the global level, it is also happening at the local level here in South Africa. South African organisations were amongst the earliest adopters of cloud services when AWS launched in 2006.
Customers based in South Africa are using AWS to run everything from development and test environments to big data analytics, from mobile, web and social applications to enterprise business applications, public sector and mission-critical workloads. AWS now counts some of Africa’s fastest growing businesses as customers including, Entersekt and PayGate as well as established enterprises such as MiX Telematics and Medscheme.
A great example of a South African company that is transforming the travel sector is Travelstart.
Started in 1999, Travelstart has grown to become Africa’s largest travel booking website offering flights, hotel bookings, car rental, vacation packages and a range of insurance services. The company operates in more than 15 countries across Africa and the Middle East.
By using the cloud to rapidly grow its business, and expand to the Middle East, Travelstart is able to take on the world’s largest companies in their field while also increasing their reliability and levels of customer service.
Using AWS, Travelstart has been able to rapidly grow its Middle Eastern business while reducing downtime by 25%.

Incubating innovation
We are also seeing tremendous rise in entrepreneurial activities in South Africa and across EMEA. Many start-ups are driving hard to innovate and get their product in the hands of customers at breakneck speeds.
For example, with millions of smart phone users worldwide, and multitude of applications, mobile developers and the businesses they serve need scalable infrastructure to develop and host the backend services.
With the cloud, mobile developers are no longer worried about managing infrastructure resources, which is often either not their core competence or they simply don’t want to spend time on it.  They are now able to focus on building sophisticated, scalable products and accelerating their time to market.
In addition, mobile developers are able to leverage the cloud for fast, complex processing of their application services before delivering the presentation layer across multiple form factors and devices to ensure great user experience.
A local Cape Town example of a company that has offloaded the managing of infrastructure to the cloud so they can focus on delivering customers a great experience is music streaming platform, NicheStreem.
Using AWS, NicheStreem has launched their business focusing on niche music genres for music lovers catering for tastes as diverse as Afrikaans music and Naija Gospel. Their first app, called Liedjie, caters to Afrikaans music.
Since launching in December 2015 the app now has streamed tens of thousands of tracks to thousands of registered users. By offloading their heavy lifting of managing infrastructure to the cloud, the team at NicheStreem can focus more of their resources on delivering music lovers the best choice in niche music, not on running data centres.
The reason we are seeing success stories, like NicheStreem, in Africa is because cloud computing gives businesses of any size access to storage, compute, database and many other technologies on a pay as you go basis from anywhere in the world.
This is democratising the business world by giving small companies access to the same vast amounts of technology that were only in the realms of the world’s largest organisations in the past.
Having immediate access to technology infrastructure is also allowing researchers to turn their ideas into businesses quicker, and at a lower cost, than was previously possible.
We are seeing this come from South Africa, with a great example being Hyrax Biosciences.
Developed at the South Africa National Bioinformatics Institute at the University of the Western Cape, Hyrax Biosciences has developed HIV drug testing technology in the cloud.
Starting as a research programme, the company developed an AWS based technology called Exatype which rapidly and accurately tests HIV drug resistance.
Traditionally it costs $300 to $500 to do a single resistance test but, with the AWS based system, Exatype can do this at a fraction of the cost.  The reason this is important is currently 10% of patients on antiretroviral treatment, to combat HIV, do not respond to the drugs provided to them because of drug resistance.
Exatype solves this problem by showing clinicians which drugs would be most effective for each individual patient to increase response and improve treatment. By using the cloud Hyrax Biosciences was able to take their research from idea to business in a short amount of time and at a fraction of the cost it would incur before.
Whether it is Travelstart, NicheStreem or Hyrax Biosciences, I’m excited with the innovation we see coming from South Africa. I look forward to see the cloud continue its rapid growth in the country and look forward to see more South African start-ups expand their businesses around the world.