Kathy Gibson at VMworld in Barcelona – When Node Africa set up as a cloud services provider in Kenya two years ago, it used a suite of VMware solutions to get going quickly.
Using the full VMware vCloud Platform solution, leveraging the capabilities of the vSphere hypervisor and vCloud Director, as well as NSX, the company was able to roll out hybrid-aware cloud services in record time – and at the lowest possible cost.
One of the main reasons that Node Africa was able to start offering customers services so quickly was the small hardware footprint it had to deploy to offer services to its enterprise customers.
Two years down the line, Node Africa is still offering pure cloud and hybrid cloud services not only to Kenyan companies, but also to regional and even international customers.
And, although its customer base has grown to an impressive 65 individual companies, the system has scaled well, says Phares Kariuki, CEO of Node Africa.
“We have got customers in every vertical,” he says. “And we supply services to customers in Kenya, within the region and even in South Africa.
“The system has scaled well for us. Despite the growth in customers, we have never had to take anything down.”
The core of Node Africa’s solution is NSX, which Kariuki says has matured and improved over the last two years.
“There were some basic issues at one time, but these issue are being patched up,” he says. “And the feature set was initially limited, but it is getting better now.”
Of Node Africa’s 65 customers, about 30 are large enterprises and the balance SMEs, Kariuki says.
The company plans to grow further in the months to come and is looking to set up in new locations. Plans for a facility in Mombasa, offering local customers redundancy, are well underway and should come to fruition in the next few months.
The company will co-locate this data centre with Icolo, which is also the host for its Nairobi facilities.
Future plans include opening in Uganda and then possibly expanding into the rest of the East African region.
Although it has the largest addressable market in the region, South Africa is already well covered by cloud service providers and much more competitive than smaller markets.
“I won’t build by going to the most competitive market,” Kariuki says. Some of the major international players will soon open their own data centres in South Africa to play alongside the existing networks.
“Yes, it’s a large market, but will it be the best return on my capital? I will be fighting against local companies with good brand awareness and major international players.
“Sub-Sahara Africa is a larger market and it’s relatively neglected. Plus we understand the challenges in the African space.”
Cloud computing is slowly taking off in Kenya, Kariuki says, although there are still some companies that won’t move from their legacy data centres.
“We have some customers who get it,” he says. “For instance, there is one investment bank that only wants to have cloud services. On the other hand, there are people who have been nursing data centres for the past few decades and won’t move from them. And there are people in the middle.
“We are not as advanced as the US, but we are moving quite quickly.”
One factor driving a move to the cloud is the constrained credit environment in Kenya at the moment. As companies face dwindling capital reserves and limited access to credit, they are less like to splash out on buying their own computer equipment. Cloud, with its pay-as-you-go model, is an attractive solution.
“This means we are signing up new customers. But on the flip side, it means we are not able to build out our own systems as quickly as we would want to.”
With the economy expected to return to normal by the end of the year, Node Africa has scheduled most of its expansion plans for early 2018, Kariuki says.
Enterprises in Kenya face a number of pretty unique challenges, he adds. Chief among these is a lack of reliable power. Icolo has its own sub-station, so it’s able to guarantee power availability, making it a perfect co-location partner for Node Africa.