Currently, the jargon lingering in the IT pot is cloud computing. The cloud brings with it a whole new way of acquiring and using ICT services, but it also presents a negative side that cannot be ignored.

Traditionally, businesses in Kenya have owned their ICT infrastructure. The company would acquire personal computers for its staff, software applications that run the core functions of the company, as well as certain business support functions such as accounting, human resources and payroll administration.

These ICT systems relied upon data and applications servers to run, so each medium-to-large business also had, of necessity, a data centre housing its database and application servers, as well as email and internet-related hardware and software. Such a data centre would obviously consume significant energy resources, both for computing and for cooling the all-important servers.

On top of it all, of course, was the significant cost of purchasing applications and their related software, as well as paying ICT professionals to manage the investment in hardware and software, and keep it running.

And the costs didn’t stop there: hardware and software investments incurred depreciation costs, and disaster recovery was usually touch-and-go. If there was a serious problem, one could only hope that the company’s ICT administrators had remembered to back up data and applications.

The inbuilt inefficiencies in this model are obvious – the silo-like nature of ICT investments means that each company incurs significant capital expenditure (CapEX) in hardware and software purchases, as well as having to put up with expected operating expenditure (OpEX) associated with running the ICT systems purchased.

Additionally, connectivity to company systems is extremely expensive to set up. If a CEO wants to connect to her company’s ICT systems while on the move, expensive custom connections have to be set up.

But ICT needs are changing rapidly, driven by user-oriented revolutions in connectivity and access to the internet. Virtually every employee now has a personal mobile device connected to the internet and this opens up new possibilities to improve and increase productivity, even as it also opens up enterprise ICT investments to new risks.

The old models under which software applications and hardware were stand-alone acquisitions are on the wane, with new models that deliver software, hardware, and infrastructure as services. Cloud computing makes this possible.

In a basic cloud setting, a company’s data is “hosted” by a remote cloud service provider, with users able to access the data through an internet connection and via a normal web browser.

Access to applications such as core-business software, accounting, payroll and human resources software is also provided through a normal browser. The impact of cloud computing is enormous, affecting everything from costs to systems availability and security. First, ICT investment costs are cut heavily.

Companies no longer have to purchase expensive hardware and server software resources and licences. There is no need to employ ICT administrators to manage the servers, as well as the expensive data centres needed to house them.

And in the cloud, companies pay only for what they need to use, usually a flat monthly fee. This also allows as-needed scaling of software and hardware, eliminating the time and expense needed to replace hardware and software. Software in the cloud is always up-to-date.

Any upgrade is automatically available to all users. Availability is much higher, too: Cloud providers have to adhere to Customer Service Level Agreements that require virtually 100% uptime.

Real-time changes can be made to software and applications without any downtime at all, which is not possible in traditional ICT set-ups. Productivity is improved a lot when users can connect to the Cloud with all sorts of devices, rather than being limited to desktop connections from the company’s own premises.

Finally, backup and recovery is simplified and made more reliable in the cloud: the Cloud Service Provider handles all the backup and recovery needed, removing the cost and administrative oversight – as well as the worry – from the company using the services.

There are, of course, challenges to be faced with cloud computing – such as guaranteeing security when users can access sensitive data outside the office, and dealing with slow internet connections.

But these can be controlled and managed – and the advantages to cloud computing are such that it is the next revolution in workplace ICT in Kenya.

By PETER WANYONYI: The author is an ICT consultant working for Saudi Telecom Corporation in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.


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