Cloud-based and hosted services are showing excellent growth in South Africa, says Kevin Derman of First Distribution, with small businesses and startups leading the move.

“IDC has predicted that the value of cloud services in South Africa will reach $230m by the end of 2014, and judging by our experience we’re well on track to achieve that,” he says. “Among small to medium businesses and startups there’s no longer even a question about whether they’ll use cloud services; it’s the first choice.”

Derman says most of the demand is for software as a service, with storage and infrastructure services following. “Collaboration and communication software is top of the list: Businesses are opting for hosted Exchange servers, hosted PABXs, online conferencing and webinars. The second most in-demand service is security and backup — it’s definitely one of the hot topics.”

“The cloud is becoming an important part of a good data protection strategy,” says Warren Olivier, regional manager for Southern Africa for Veeam. “The 3-2-1 rule says you should keep three copies of your data, on two different media, and one of them must be kept in a different location to avoid data loss. Sending a backup offsite can mean sending a box of tapes to a warehouse, but nowadays it’s often more useful to send a file to the cloud. This moves the focus from mere backup to data availability — a backup is worthless if you can’t restore from it, and cloud backups are instantly available, wherever you are.”

Olivier says Veeam Cloud Connect eliminates the need for customers to own their own second site for storing backups; instead, the service can now be offered by a third party provider. “This makes it easy to send backups into the cloud securely, without the expense and hassle of setting up and maintaining a virtual private network (VPN). “All our backups are encrypted, so all that’s needed is to rent storage from a service provider and you’re all set.”

Veeam Cloud Connect is one of a carefully selected group of cloud applications available from partners through First Distribution’s First for Cloud brokerage, says Derman.

“The brokerage is a way for IT departments to give business users all the flexibility and immediacy they want from cloud services, without losing control of corporate data and resources,” he says. “Trying to prevent employees from using Dropbox to exchange large files, for example, is futile. Rather provide easy access to Dropbox via a corporate shopfront that ensures the account will stay under the control of the organisation, not the individual.”

Derman cautions against choosing backup-as-a-service providers based only on price: “There are a plethora of service providers in the market at the moment – probably too many – and some of them are not going to last long. If the company providing your data protection goes under, what happens to your backups? That’s why we’re extremely careful about who we accept into our cloud services catalogue — they must have a track record that shows their product and the company are reliable.”