Optimism as Nigeria’s $450m cloud service market gets a boost – The Nation Newspaper

Nigeria’s booming cloud services market is about to witness further revolution through a partnership that seeks to bring the cloud closer to private businesses and public institutions, thus eliminating data sovereignty issues in the business environment, reports Assistant Editor CHIKODI OKEREOCHA

The journey to strengthen the capacity of the African business environment, Nigeria’s inclusive, to deliver cloud services that will be beneficial to the unique needs of public and private sector organisations is on course. This time around, Computer Warehouse Group (CWG Plc.), an integrated Information and Communications Technology (ICT) solutions provider, is leading the charge to champion the ‘New Africa’ by bringing the cloud services closer.

Already, CWG Plc., which is one of Africa’s fastest growing ICT companies, is in partnership with two other information technology giants to help drive the increased adoption of cloud computing. They are Zadara, a United States-based global cloud computing infrastructure provider in any location, and Africa Data Centres (ADC), a pan-African data centre services provider. On the strength of their partnership, the trio organised a Zoom conference on Thursday Feb 17, 2022, to address data sovereignty and data domestication issues in Africa. The virtual meeting with the topic, ‘Bringing You to the Future: The Journey towards a Cloud Lifestyle,’ was aimed at eliminating data sovereignty issues and bringing the cloud closer to private businesses and public institutions in Africa, particularly Nigeria.

The meeting brought together a pool of experts with vast practical experience from different spheres who shared knowledgeable insights on the journey towards a cloud lifestyle and Africa’s preparedness for it. And a common thread that ran through their presentations was the need for private and public enterprises to adopt the local cloud approach because of its obvious advantages.

The Chairman, Board of Directors, Nigerian Communications Satellite Ltd. (NIGCOMSAT), Mr. Yusuf Kazaure, set the ball rolling by putting the discussion in perspective, first, by pointing out that cloud computing, in simple terms, was all about the ability to have access to computing services without necessarily making an upfront investment. Kazaure, who is a seasoned professional with over 30 years of experience spanning architecture, construction, banking, government, and IT, said companies do not need to purchase or set up their own infrastructure locally, but can have access through the internet to resources they can use to deploy their applications and their data bases – and institutions can do that for the whole of their IT requirements.

According to him, the advantages of adopting cloud computing are obvious. He said, for instance, that companies or enterprises can pay for their services on the go rather than making an upfront investment. This, he said, is one of the key drivers. He also said under the arrangement, companies have software as a service in which their business applications are delivered over the internet and they pay for the service.

Kazaure, while pointing out that this trend is not abating anytime soon, recalled, for instance, that it was cloud computing that helped companies weather the COVID-19 pandemic storm. “When this journey (cloud computing) started from the 1950s, I don’t think anybody ever fathomed the extent to which this technology will evolve and have such an impact. It has come in a way and manner that is so irreversible.

“Customers have adopted and engineered their lifestyles to expect what can be offered by an all-prevalent cloud platform. So, it’s now being driven from both ends of the scale, from customers at the extreme and also from companies who require the ability to meet that demand,” he said.

The Nation learnt that the partnership amongst CWG, Zadara and ADC will enable enterprises in Africa the ability to spin up dedicated servers on demand (without buying the physical hardware), while also allowing enterprises to build, deploy, and manage their infrastructure on an entirely Operating Expenditure (OpEx) model, which in turn, allows for manageable and predictable costs.

By utilizing CWG hybrid environment, for instance, organisations can lower both Capital Expenditures (CapEx) and the fees associated with increased public cloud utilisation. In addition to reducing total expenses, this yields increased financial flexibility and more predictable costs that are easier to control and forecast.

The Managing Director/CEO of Unitellas International Limited, the official distributor of Zadara data solution in Nigeria, Mr. Smith Osemeke, underscored the cost advantage that come with increased adoption of cloud computing. For instance, he stated that under the latest partnership, what CWG Plc. is bringing to the table in terms of cost makes a lot of sense because, in this case, customers are empowered to pay in naira – not in dollar as it’s usually the case. “You could be in public cloud today and you are paying $400 per month, and tomorrow, there is an increase in dollar, and now you are paying $550, which means the cost is not stable. But in this case, CWG is billing their customers in naira. And the platform that CWG is also bringing can be deployed into two different organisations,” Osemeke explained.

The Unitellas boss, who doubled as one of the hosts of the Zoom meeting, also said many organisations already patronizing cloud computing giant Amazon Web Services (AWS), for instance, who want security and wish to bring their server home, but could not do so, can now bring their server home as a service. “This is what Zadara is bringing with its partnership with CWG,” he said.

In other words, the partnership will help liberalise a customer’s choice of location for his or her cloud. “It can be in any location. So, either in ADC or in CWG data centre or in the customer’s data centre (i.e. on-premises), CWG has the capability to offer cloud service on-premises by bringing full infrastructure to the customer,” Osemeke said.

He added that, irrespective of the size of the organisation or the customer, there is no need to buy server or any hardware. “If, as a big organisation, you want it to be deployed in your own premises, CWG has the capability to do that, and you just consume it as a service; you are not buying the hardware, you are paying for the service,” Osemeke emphasised.

Cloud market and its many benefits

The current discussion around the need to increase the adoption of cloud computing is particularly important for Nigeria. The Chief Technology Officer (CTO), ADC, Dr. Krish Ranganath, brought this reality nearer home when he valued Nigeria’s cloud market at approximately $400-450million. Aligning with Osemeke and indeed, other experts, Dr. Ranganath said because of currency fluctuations, local cloud approach is the way to go to tap into the huge market. “It is local cloud hosting that makes things easier for the customer. It also creates more employment opportunities for the young generation of these countries.

“Considering Nigeria’s population which is approximately 170-180 million, you can imagine the quantum of data it supposed to store and we need to bring it back (localise it) . And to bring it back, it is better that we go with the local cloud approach so that the cost can be shared across multiple people,” he said.

Dr. Ranganath, who has a sound mix of experience in various aspects of management cutting across several sectors, notably in ICT, said: “If you look at the Nigerian cloud hosting market, which is approximately $400-450 million, which is really very huge, I sincerely think that this kind of partnership needs to grow more so that we can really get into the Nigerian market.”

To underscore his company’s appreciation of Nigeria’s huge cloud market, Ranganath said ADC, which is a pan-African data centre, and a part of the Cassava Group, with presence across 13 countries primarily in Eastern, Southern and South Africa, already has a Nigerian data centre located in the Eko Atlantic City, Lagos.

Located in Lagos, in the Special Economic Zone called Eko Atlantic City, the 1.2 megawatt Lagos facility, The Nation learnt, marked a significant step forward in ADC’s ambitious long-term strategy to digitise Africa. Its Nigerian data centre will form ADC’s West African hub. By combining its expertise with cloud partners, it means that ADC is equipped to provide the best technical solution for customers’ cloud connectivity needs.

An IT expert with CWG, Alexander Baba-Jonah, confirmed that the cloud market is indeed, huge and that the adoption of cloud is capable of reducing overheads by up to 25 per cent on the average, while also optimizing IT assets usage. He also said it can reduce IT incidents because it is very proactive.

Interestingly, Baba-Jonah said Nigeria’s public sector space already has policies that indicate that government is working to increase its stake in cloud computing. “We are looking at government’s ability to have up to 30 per cent adoption by 2024. We have the public institutions really picking this up. We have Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) working with federal institutions to enable cloud computing.

“We expect that our policies are targeted at about 35 per cent growth in cloud computing in terms of investment. This is the new boom. We have the likes of PwC telling us a lot more about changes in the landscape and enabling new businesses pick up based on the advent of cloud and cloud technology.”

Recall that the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) had, in August 2019, built on the Federal Government’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (EGRP) objectives by issuing the Nigeria Cloud Computing Policy (NCCP). The policy’s goal was to ensure 30 per cent increase in adoption of cloud computing by 2024 among Federal Public Institutions (FPI) and SMEs that provide digital-enabled services to the government; and 35 per cent growth in cloud computing investment.

In doing so, government was encouraged by the numerous benefits of the adoption of cloud services, which include reduced IT cost, scalability, flexibility, and better security, among others. The latest partnership is expected to help halt capital flights and provide data sovereignty, as well as data domestication for customers in a secure and efficient manner.

It must have been in this sense that the founder, Ausso Leadership Academy and also a Non-Executive Director, CWG, Mr. Austin Okere, described cloud is ‘a catalyst.’ According to him, “Technology has become part and parcel of the business. Therefore, for business to accelerate in growth, technology has to become more available, more seamless and cheaper.”

The challenges ahead

But as booming and exciting as cloud computing is, it is not without some challenges. “It’s not to say it’s all rosy,” Baba-Jonah admitted, pointing out that one of the challenges is cyber security. He said, for instance, that Microsoft tackles up to seven (7) trillion cyber threats a day. Baba-Jonah, however, said service providers are working hard and continuously fending off threats. “If you look at what has happened last year and look at the last quarter of last year and early this year, you realise that there has been a lot less outages based on cyber security. It’s not to say that it’s not there; it’s there, but we will continuously look at fixing that problem,” he said.

He added that one of CWG’s key solutions to cyber threats was to look at CWG as a focal point and partner with Zadara in bringing together architectural framework and infrastructure for information devices for closing that gap. “With our partnership with Zadara, we will be able to give you better insight into how your business will grow and should grow and in what direction. We help you manage your computer challenges. I am not saying they won’t be there; they will be there, but we are there to help you sleep well at night, keep your business up and running and to make sure that you remain profitable and your customers remain satisfied,” he assured.

While also admitting that security is a big issue, Okere said getting round it required investing in security. “We have to invest in security, and we have to adopt the global standards of security. Let’s not say that nothing has happened and therefore nothing will happen; we should always be prepared,” he said. The ICT expert also said there is need to look at the issue of personalisation “because a company doesn’t want to go into the cloud and it doesn’t feel as if it is its own. It’s like renting a house from the landlord but the deco and feel of the house is the landlord’s. No. it has to feel like you. So, personalisation in the cloud is extremely important so that when I put my stuff there in the cloud with CWG, I should see that it represents me.”

Okere listed other issues to include response time and customer service. “The customer service has to be better than what I would have had on my own premises,” he said. With regards to response time, he said: “In today’s world, you cannot afford to slack. The Chinese use the same word or the same expression for challenge and opportunity.

“They say that crisis is made up of danger and opportunity. So, opportunity and challenge are the same sides of the coin. And you may lose the opportunity if you are not prepared. It is only when preparation meets opportunity that you have success. Leadership in business is leadership in technology. Invest in that technology, don’t lose your opportunity.”