Delivering services from the cloud is touted as being far more affordable, because of the flexibility of the pay per user model, which enables such services to be instantly and easily scalable.
However, the availability of data and services delivered through the cloud has been of some concern, because Internet connectivity in South Africa is still prone to instability. Local Internet connectivity also remains slow in comparison to the majority of first world countries. Since cloud servers are sometimes located outside of the country, lack of international bandwidth capability can cause performance issues on certain tools.
Security of information, as well as privacy issues, have also come to the fore, since disclaimers need to be signed when agreeing to cloud services.
In the local legislative environment, the companies using these services are held liable for any breaches, not the service provider, and would have to ensure that they mitigate the security risk.
These factors have limited the uptake of public cloud services, particularly in sectors such as banking, where transmission of sensitive information is part and parcel of the business and high availability and performance are crucial. As a result, the ‘private’ cloud has emerged to allow organisations, such as banks, to take advantage of the benefits of cloud services while maintaining adequate levels of control, security and risk management.
These private clouds share similarities in terms of features and functionality with public clouds, but exist within the boundaries of individual organisations and are owned and controlled by them. This means that resources are accessed solely by users within the organisation and enables the technical and technological advantages of cloud services to be harnessed, while controlling access to data and negating the risks of public access and performance issues experienced on the global Internet. The private cloud sits behind the firewall of an organisation, so if properly set up the threat of attack can be minimised and security can be tightly controlled.
The major issue with public cloud computing in South Africa is that bandwidth needs to be available to wherever the servers are located in order to have adequate response times, and the users need reliable local network access too. In a private cloud scenario, higher levels of control exist over the ability to guarantee response time.
On the other hand, the private cloud is significantly more expensive in terms of total cost of ownership, which requires a lot more involvement from the internal organisation with regard to setup, implementation and maintenance, whereas with the public cloud the services are ready and waiting for use and greater economies of scale can be leveraged.
Using a public cloud service also enables device agnostic access from anywhere in the world through a universal front end and web client, enabling a truly mobile workforce. However business processes need to be adapted to the software and services that are available, unlike in the private cloud where these can be customised for individual organisations.
Cloud computing is a growing technological trend in the South African environment, as organisations look to push applications and services into the cloud. Data centres in particular have seen significant growth in this space, as organisations move their storage off premises into hosted data centres, and the technological makeup of solutions sets is changing to support virtualisation and collaboration. Cloud based service providers are adapting their business models to meet the increasing demand for agility and responsiveness. After all, to remain competitive users must be able to quickly respond to changes in the market and their cloud based business tools will become a key enabler in this regard.
The technology around cloud computing and virtualisation enables improved cost effectiveness and greater mobility, two aspects which are becoming increasingly important in the local and global business space. However, due to aforementioned security and connectivity concerns, cloud computing in the public form is not yet ready to be embraced by South Africa.
For the moment the private cloud seems to be the best of both worlds solution to this dilemma. In future, however, we can expect to see more and more applications and services pushed into the public cloud as these issues are resolved.