Business IT users in Africa are increasingly demanding that the online services and applications they consume be hosted on the continent, and preferably within the borders of the countries where they do business. That's according to Albie Bester, GM of SEACOM's cloud services subsidiary, Pamoja.
He says that a growing proportion of African Internet traffic is staying within the continent rather than moving outside its borders today. This marks a massive shift from five years ago when most traffic for even basic Internet services, such as email, needed to be routed to Europe or the US.
Bester says that there are a number of reasons for this trend. The first of these is the amount of investment that has gone into building telecommunications infrastructure, internet exchange points (IXPs) and data centres in Africa – making it more viable than ever before for companies to host content and applications on the continent. Local hosting costs have tumbled in many countries, while data centre services are rapidly becoming world-class in performance and resilience. Secondly, there is a growing list of political and regulatory reasons for African IT users to store data in facilities within their own countries.
“South Africa's new Protection of Personal Information Bill demands that organisations protect personal information they collect and process, and similar laws are soon to be passed in many other African countries. Though these laws don't preclude data from residing outside the country's borders, many data owners find comfort in being able to interact with a local service provider with facilities they can inspect and who will be held accountable under local laws”, says Bester.
“Thirdly, companies are looking closely at the performance of cloud services and find that they experience reduced data transfer latencies (20-70 milliseconds vs. 200-900 milliseconds) when these services are located closer to their operations than when they are hosted a continent away”, says Bester.
Performance and response will be far better if the data centres hosting the services and applications are closer than London or San Francisco. And as end-users start to use locally-hosted online services and applications, they will demand that these cloud services offer a high quality of response and a good user experience.
"The more we talk to African organisations, the more apparent the need for local cloud services becomes," says Bester. "The first question many organisations ask when contemplating adoption or reselling of a cloud service is whether the service will be hosted in-country."
Bester says that online services such as VOIP and web conferencing platforms are rapidly becoming mainstream for many companies in Africa.. The next step will be for these companies to start leveraging rich media repositories for cloud-based education, training and entertainment services.
That will place enormous pressure on the last mile infrastructure, demanding that telecommunications and Internet service providers start pumping investment into this vital link in the telecoms infrastructure. But the money will be well spent. Locally-based cloud and online services offer African service providers a not-to-be-missed opportunity to move up the value chain, and grow their revenues and profitability, says Bester.