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The Margin’s guide to South Africa’s datacentres

We give you the low-down on the issues and factors to consider when running a datacentre or looking at local datacentres to partner with.

As the ICT industry’s love affair with the cloud continues, there are growing calls for customers to move everything to the cloud. However, before organisations shift the lifeblood of their business – their most valuable data – over to these specialised datacentres, they need to ensure that whoever they are handing it over to will be able to take care of it.

How should customers ensure that they choose the right datacentre partner; one who will not only help them to leverage the real benefits of the cloud, but also provide the necessary assurances that the datacentre will always remain operational and thus ensure that the data and applications moved into the cloud will always be available and accessible?

“In my opinion, it is important that the customer looks at the integrity of the business and ensures that they partner with a company that has a proven and credible track record. It should be one that is able to provide services that follow best practice guidelines in industry-certified datacentres. There is little value in trying to make key business decisions such as these based on price only. The total value proposition needs to be considered,” says Kanagaratnam Lambotharan, Chief Enterprise Business officer at MTN Business, but formerly CTO at MTN South Africa.

Multiple challenges

Of course, he adds, it is equally critical to choose a datacentre partner who has the capabilities to overcome the challenges that the local industry still faces in regards to the delivery of true cloud services.

“These challenges include increasing power costs, CO² taxation and the supply of available floor space, not to mention the issues around bandwidth costs and connectivity,” Lambotharan says.

Greg Montjoie, executive for Cloud Services at Internet Solutions suggests that power costs are a crucial challenge for companies supplying datacentre services.

“When the rapidly increasing power pricing, driven by Eskom, is coupled with the ongoing expectation from the market that IT prices should be decreasing, it puts these players between a rock and a hard place,” he says.

“Another challenge faced by many datacentre players lies in the ability to integrate network, security and cloud services seamlessly, since not many offer this breadth of services. Getting the necessary integration between the network and the cloud is often where the big oversight occurs – there are many good network players who can run a capable network service, and equally, many strong cloud providers who can offer their own fantastic services, but there are far fewer entities that can effectively integrate the network with the public and private ecosystems.”

According to Dudley Page, pre-sales manager at Bytes Systems Integration, bandwidth costs also remain a major factor in large-scale datacentre deployments. After all, he says, long-haul gigabit and 10Gb links are expensive.

“Of course, with service providers such as Vodacom, MTN and Neotel laying their own fibre, these costs should start reducing over time, although outlying areas that don’t have access to fibre may have bandwidth restrictions,” says Page.

“Longer term threats may also include the bigger overseas players such as Google or Amazon extending their offerings into SA and providing capacity at low cost.”

GROWING ACCEPTANCE

Despite these challenges, Page believes that the acceptance of cloud technologies is clearly growing, with Bytes witnessing an increasing uptake of its services.

“While Bytes can provide public cloud offerings too, the main driver currently is private cloud; our larger customers are utilising Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and hosting services to run their Line of Business applications. This enables them to move their infrastructure costs from a capital purchase to an operating cost.

“They are clearly seeing the benefi ts of turning infrastructure into a utility, much like water and lights. By turning to a specialist provider that has invested signifi cantly in skills and resources, they are able to simplify their support footprint and reduce the complexity of their infrastructure,” says Page.

At MTN South Africa, it is much the same, with Lambotharan indicating that the company has also seen a huge movement in its IaaS environment, with demand continuing to grow.

“The future of converged ICT solutions is no longer something that is distant, it is happening around all of us today. The next step for us is to enable markets across Africa to grow and take advantage of this development.”

“We have also seen an increase in customers moving up the value stack, which is naturally great news for the hosting provider,” he states.

Montjoie adds a word of caution, however.

“The growing uptake of cloud is clearly driving additional business the way of service providers like Internet Solutions. Of course, this is offset by the fact that every time a client takes on an internationally-provided SaaS product like salesforce.com, this is then one less piece of infrastructure that will be provisioned locally.”

The channel, of course, is mostly concerned with the viable opportunities the move to the cloud presents for their businesses. So what are the real business opportunities for this market segment?

VIABLE CHANNEL OPPORTUNITIES

The current opportunities are still in private cloud solutions and hybrid solutions, says Page.

“The hybrid offerings incorporate line of business applications in private cloud, with commoditised services being deployed into the public cloud such as backups, e-mail archiving and Office365.

“Moreover, the supply of disaster recovery infrastructure as a service allows this equipment to be supplied as a service with capacity on demand, allowing for additional value-added extras such as data replication, backups and geographic separation.”

As the datacentre and cloud offerings continue to mature, he infers, the end user will become more mobile and in some cases work remotely altogether. This means that security of the end-point and ‘bring your own device’ have also become key opportunities.

“Then, of course, ‘big data’ is looming, so the opportunity here lies in offering infrastructure on demand. Consumption-based billing models will allow customers the flexibility and scalability to scale up storage as required, while only paying for what they use.”

“Lastly, there is the green component; companies today have green targets, which are being fed back to board level. With virtualisation and optimised low power compute platforms, they will be able to significantly reduce their carbon footprints in the IT space,” he concludes.

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