Cloud Computing in South Africa

So maybe this doesn’t concern you right now but it will. In about 12 months.

Cloud Computing is Web-based processing, whereby shared resources, software, and information are provided to computers and other devices (such as smartphones) on demand over the Internet. Cloud Computing is probably one of the fastest growing development sectors in the world due to the expected demand. There are many pseudo cloud computing services already available, such as Evernote and DropBox. Both these services allow you to store data in the “cloud”.  Many pundits are betting against Cloud Computing becoming mainstream but they have it wrong. The pure convenience of being able to store your data centrally and being able to access your data from anywhere using any device is fantastic. You don’t have to use your email as your filing system, as most people that travel a lot are forced to do. You don’t have to worry about redundancy and disaster recovery. It’s all taken care of.

That’s all about data storage. What about using applications on the web and storing the data in the cloud? Google are certainly front-runners at this point with their suite of applications that include Google Docs etc. No doubt that these aren’t really “serious” applications yet. They are more for convenience and anytime, anywhere access. But boy, there are some really cool “Cloud” applications out there already! PicNik was recently acquired by Google. It’s a fully fledged photo editing application that runs from your web browser. There are literally thousands of start ups that are building Cloud Computing applications that will be launched into the market in the next few months.

So why is this important? Because the hardware companies are following suit. It’s a known fact that “hardware follows software” in much the same way as “form follows function”. In this case the guys in Cupertino (Apple) are very big influencers. The iPhone was the first, the iPad the second and now the ultra portable Macbook Air. These devices really don’t have hard drives. They are primarily for consumption, although some would argue that the Air is not. The iPad can hardly store anything more than your applications, music and photo’s. If you want to store stuff then you must get an online storage service such as DropBox. The Macbook Air is not much different. It comes with either 64GB or 128GB Flash storage. Solid state storage is in, hard-drives are out. It’s just a matter of time before computing will change forever, where you will use applications over the web and store your data in the cloud. The Netbook is another example of a “dumb terminal” that can almost only access the Internet.

The reason why this is particularly important in South Africa is because of our really poor connectivity. South Africa’s Internet connectivity must rate as one of the worst (from a performance point of view) and one of the most expensive. Our ADSL coverage is very poor, WIMAX is only provided in major metropolitan areas and 3G is prohibitively expensive, if you can get connected.  I am concerned that our connectivity to the Internet will not be able to able to keep the pace with international computing developments. If devices such as the Macbook Air become completely Internet dependent and the bandwidth requirements are extensive then we will certainly not be able to use these devices effectively. Netflix is a subscription-based movie and television show rental service that offers media to subscribers via Internet streaming and it is not available in South Africa probably due to licensing issues. Even if Netflix was available in South Africa we would not be able to use it due to the poor international bandwidth in this country. Let’s face it, our broadband sucks.

Watch how hardware developments are going to take quantum leaps in the next year and watch how we, at the southern tip of Africa, are going lag behind. Unless the South Africa government takes some serious action against the companies that continue to exploit and overcharge us for bandwidth and unless the government facilitates serious investment to get more and better bandwidth, we are in going to be in real trouble.

Marthinus Strydom

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