A lot of myths pervade when it comes to Cloud in Africa. In the not-so-distant past, to get their technology infrastructure up and running, companies would purchase or license all their business software and run applications from work PCs or access these programs from the company’s server, located inside the building and protected by a firewall. Today we see more and more businesses moving over to online services to access the same applications over the Internet through Cloud Computing, because of the convenience and cost savings advantages that come with online services.
Some of these advantages include the fact that a service provider can host and manage most businesses solutions, which immediately translates into cost savings as companies no longer require costly internal IT. Businesses that opt to go this route also no longer need the same kind of extensive tech disaster recovery plans as they did when their services were being managed on-site, because these services are being managed and backed up off-site and in the Cloud (online).
Cloud Computing is becoming popular with many African small-and-medium firms (SMEs) due to businesses being able to subscribe to various solutions as and when they need them, as opposed to purchasing full software bundles. This means that these companies only pay for the services they need and when the company grows in size or has to downsize their solution needs, they are easily and quickly able to increase or decrease their subscriptions as the needs for the business evolves.
Another big benefit of Cloud services is that a subscriber always has access to the latest versions of the solutions that they use and are not required to update their software or make large hardware investments in order to ensure that their hardware can support the latest version of the software programs.
Cloud computing offers a service avenue for Africa’s IT needs
Cloud computing services have traditionally been made available to businesses in one of three ways, namely via software (software-as- a-service or SaaS), infrastructure (infrastructure-as-a-service or IaaS), and platform (platform-as-a-service or PaaS).
SaaS can be described as cloud-based application services which are delivered to companies over the Web and are managed by a service provider or software vendor. Subscribers to these services normally access the software they need from their web-browsers, thus eliminating the need for them to install, run or update programs. All they need to do is to log-in from their workstations, which also makes these services easily accessible for road warriors since they can log-in to the solutions they require from anywhere, anytime, and by using many different devices including tablets, smartphones or laptops.
IaaS goes one step further than SaaS in that a company does not simply utilise a vendor’s software solutions on its own hardware, but now also outsources the equipment it uses to support its day-to-day operations such as networked storage, servers, as well as the actual workstations or company issued laptops. This model provides a company’s IT staff with more flexibility, allowing them to, for instance, shift their focus from managing the businesses’ data centre and hardware to adopting innovative new ways to make use of cutting edge technology.
Flexibility is truly introduced in the picture when IaaS is adopted within a company. Here, a business with a lot of laptops and workstations can, for example, deploy a server from which all the staff can save and access crucial data without the initial capital outlay for hard- and software or additional staff – IaaS enables businesses to rent the infrastructure and services they require.
PaaS is a set of development tools and services that have been purposefully designed in order to make the fine-tuning and deployment of SaaS applications as easy, fast, and efficient as possible. An example of such as platform is the SAP HANA cloud platform, which is a cloud based platform that enables developers to develop applications by using the Java programming language. Programmers are able to develop new solutions or complex extensions for their existing SaaS offerings.
Cloud computing takes another leap forward
More recently, another facet of Cloud Computing has added itself to the business IT jargon lexicon and that is XaaS (anything-as-a-service or everything-as-a-service). XaaS is a collective term and represents various services being provided to companies and users through the web to anywhere, at any time, and by way of any device.
How does XaaS differ from SaaS, IaaS, and PaaS? Well, it doesn’t since XaaS is simply an amalgamation of these services. The forces enabling and reinforcing XaaS includes the proliferation of smartphones and tablets, the advent of cloud computing, plus other technological developments, which all culminate in various new services that can be delivered to anyone through the Internet.
Cloud computing is not a flash in the pan trend set to die out sometime in the near future, but has now become the way in which services will be delivered in future. African consumers are already experiencing the benefits thereof in their personal lives as they utilise SaaS through services such as Gmail, Google Maps, online banking services, and music streaming services like Simfy as well as Nokia Mix Radio. Forward-looking African businesses are already realising the benefits and cost savings involved in having their solutions, infrastructure, and even their developer platforms being delivered as a service. These include the fact that companies that utilise a cloud-based system are able to receive access to their business analytics (BI) faster and for much less money, since organisations can subscribe to BI as a service rather than having to invest in the hardware, database administrators and developers, business intelligence tools, and training required to make more informed decisions.
By Chris Willcocks