Blue-Sky Business

Cloud computing is revolutionising business around the globe, says David Politis, founder and CEO of BetterCloud. How do African companies stand to benefit from staying ahead of the technological curve?

Words David Politis

Technology is undergoing rapid changes and evolving at an unprecedented pace. This is no less true in the realm of Cloud computing which, in its most basic form, is the delivery of computing as a service rather than a product.

With Cloud computing, information is hosted and stored in large data centres, which house hundreds and thousands of servers. These data centres are huge warehouses managed by large third-party companies. Take industry leader Google, for instance, which has spent years investing in, building, servicing and operating vast server farms spread throughout the world. Google has gained expertise in this field and has the capacity, capital and skills to efficiently and expertly manage these servers.

If an organisation has not moved to the Cloud, its IT infrastructure is on-premise – meaning the servers through which company data runs are actually stored in the office and managed by one’s own IT personnel. Though your business’s IT infrastructure may still be on-premise, it’s very likely your consumer use has already been transferred to the Cloud – think of popular Cloud storage and messaging services like Gmail, Dropbox, iCloud and even Facebook, which all store and manage user information in off-premise servers.

Millions of businesses, educational institutions and government agencies are already reaping the benefits of Cloud-based solutions, and as the technology becomes more advanced and mainstream, Cloud computing will ultimately replace on-premise solutions.

Blue-sky Business

The benefits of moving to the Cloud

Cost Savings Many organisations are turning to the Cloud for the unprecedented cost savings. Rather than spending tens of thousands of dollars to purchase or replace a server and then set up and maintain that system, Cloud solutions outsource server management to a third-party. An organisation run entirely in the Cloud will have an infrastructure consisting of no more than laptops, desktops and monitors.
Furthermore, software licenses associated with Cloud systems are often much cheaper than software associated with on-premise systems. Many providers offer free versions of their software, free trials or discounts for non-profits and educational institutions.

Mobility Users who operate in the Cloud have the unique luxury of accessing all of their data from any device just by entering a set of log-in credentials. Now you can access identical information from your home desktop computer, office laptop, tablet and while you’re out and about with you smartphone.
If you’re travelling without internet access, offline document-editing services are now available from providers like Google, meaning information stored in the Cloud can be accessed and edited even without an internet connection.

Collaboration Cloud-hosted messaging allows users to easily collaborate with one another. Using Google Apps, Google’s enterprise messaging suite, multiple users can edit documents, spreadsheets and even presentations simultaneously, as well as chat within these items for faster, more seamless communication.
Collaboration tools come in particularly useful for frequent travellers, who can easily lose touch with their teams. The ability to collaborate, chat and even video call all from the Cloud in real time is invaluable.

Efficiency Cloud-based systems greatly increase the efficiency of individual users and entire organisations. As all information is filed and stored in the Cloud, quick searches will help you find important information faster, rather than rummaging through filing cabinets or your overflowing inbox. Furthermore, user training times associated with Cloud-based systems are also typically shorter, as many users are already familiar with web interfaces.

Additionally, setting up the account for a new employee is extremely easy. An IT administrator simply assigns certain software to that particular user without having to manually install and update the software on that employee’s hardware.

Lastly, software updates in the Cloud are pushed out regularly in the background, eliminating the need to manually install software and reset your computer.

Security While on-premise systems store data locally on specific devices, Cloud systems store user-created data virtually. In the Cloud, data is not tied to one particular device, but rather to a set of user login credentials, meaning that a user can access the same data across an array of devices.

As mentioned, this comes in especially handy if you travel often. With your login information, it’s possible to access all of your information on your laptop, desktop, smartphone or tablet. The ability to access data from any internet-capable device also comes in particularly useful if a device has been lost, misplaced or stolen. Though the costs of replacing hardware can be steep, you can rest assured that data will appear on the new device as soon as you enter your login credentials. And if you’re questioning the reliability of Cloud services providers like Google, which saw an uptime of over 99 per cent in 2010, several software companies offer disaster-recovery services for user errors.

Additional layers of security are also available to Cloud users, such as two-step verification, which requires a user have both their account password and a unique code sent via text or voice calling. Even if a device is stolen, information cannot be accessed without the these two unique identifiers.

Business on the Hoof

How Cloud computing benefits business travelers

  • Access your data from any device ” laptop, tablet or smartphone.
  • Access your data from anywhere with an Internet connection ” airplane, hotel or airline lounge.
  • Collaborate with colleagues outside of the office via document editing, chat, video and voice.

On the Rise

Cloud computing is used by millions around the world. Oftentimes, moving to the Cloud involves little more than creating an email on one of several free Cloud-based options, like Gmail, which is used by over 425 million people. Though many consumer-facing messaging systems hosted in the Cloud are free, virtually eliminating the traditional cost-related barriers of adoption, the issue of intermittent or unreliable internet connectivity does come into play.

As all data created in the Cloud must be accessed via a viable internet connection, the predominant factor slowing the adoption of Cloud-based products is the lack of reliable internet in certain geographical areas. However, great steps have been taken to bring advanced internet connection to rural areas and particularly West Africa. Additionally, the extremely high prevalence of mobile phones in Africa will ultimately support the widespread adoption of Cloud solutions throughout the continent.

Though migrating to a consumer oriented Cloud-based system may be the first logical step in moving to the Cloud, millions of organisations of all kinds have already left behind traditional on-premise legacy systems and traded up for advanced and cost-effective Cloud solutions.

Cloud Computing in Africa

With the speed of internet and access to bandwidth continuously increasing across the continent, Cloud computing in Africa is on the rise. In May 2012, the fifth submarine cable system connecting South Africa and the west coast to the rest of the world was launched. The aptly-named West African Cable System will enable open access connectivity and aims to reduce telecommunication costs and provide internet access to all who need it by the year 2020.

In the meantime, the high prevalence of mobile phone users, an estimated 600 million according to the World Bank, will foster faster adoption of Cloud technology. Institutes of higher education are leading the way and are proof-positive of this concept.

Though valiant efforts have been made to increase both access to connectivity and the prevalence of mobile in Africa – and I’ve personally seen improved speed and reliability during my most recent visits to Nigeria – Africa as a whole still has great hurdles to overcome. Frequent power outages and interruptions severely hamper the progress that has been made. In order to spread the benefits of Cloud computing throughout the continent, power sources, access to broadband and awareness must arrive in tandem.

Moving Forward

Cloud computing solutions are mainstream among most technology-focused companies, but for many, this technology remains underused. Often, there is a great hesitation and reluctance to adopt to new technology, particularly in the workplace, but end-users have much to gain.

On a larger scale, the research firm IDC estimates that the Cloud computing industry will ultimately create nearly 14 million tech and related jobs worldwide by 2015, generating billions of dollars in revenue and spawning both new industries and vast educational opportunities.

BetterCloud is the leading provider of management and security tools for Google Apps. The company’s FlashPanel application is the fastest-growing tool in the Google Apps Marketplace. Contact or on Twitter @davepolitis.

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