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IT Trends: The silver lining of cloud computing

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How many people know they are using the cloud for their computer activity? Do you use Gmail, Dropbox or Outlook.com? If so – you are already in the cloud. Microsoft Office 365 products are also making big inroads with personal users – the main advantage being the cost effective way to legalise their pirated office to the latest always updated version. Piracy is widespread in Malawi – I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when attending a fundraising event this week in Blantyre to see an Office product activation fail message on the projector screen. How embarrassing?

As a company, small or large, have you considered the advantages and opportunities cloud services offer you? Have you looked at Software As A Service (SAAS) or Infrastructure As A Service (IAAS)? Some of the more agile and successful businesses in Malawi have already adopted this technology for all their users. I would strongly urge you to do the same for a number of reasons.

For a start, adopting cloud services allows companies to reduce their capital and licencing expenditure drastically. The need to purchase server and data hardware and pay for ongoing support for this is immediately negated. Software licences are available as a subscription rather than being purchased in totality for a fraction of the price. For companies that are growing fast, and organisations with distributed offices and taskforce, the ability to remotely offer and manage essential services such as email, financial accounting and business critical data is best served by cloud services.

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For startups too, it is a lot easier and faster to sign up for a cloud computing application than to buy a server, get it up and running and install software on it. And because you don’t need to buy hardware and software, your start up or expansion is cheaper, too.

Costs are also drastically reduced in support services. You no longer have to employ or pay for someone (or a team of someones) to do things such as install and update software, install and manage email servers and/or file servers, run backups – the beauty of cloud computing is that the business of maintaining the service or application is the responsibility of the cloud vendor and related local partners. I have heard of at least three very established organisations in Malawi, that, in the last two months, have lost their in house email service for up to five days. I wonder what the actual cost of such developments are.

Bear in mind that not having internet access will restrict user access to these services. With Office 365, the whole Office suite is on offer and downloadable onto up to five devices per user. So, losing emails becomes a thing of the past. However, if the internet service is down, we do still have an advantage in Malawi with the choice of at least three other phone operators that offer data services at a reasonable entry level price – albeit extremely high ongoing data charges. But purely as a backup solution, there is no reason why you or your organisations internet services should be down for longer than an hour.

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Online backup is fast becoming the norm, with some companies using it as a secondary backup option. There is no need for expensive external backup devices such as tape or hard drives, nor a daily or weekly backup routine that is carried out by your IT support team. Think about it – if all your personal or business critical data is held securely in the cloud – the dependency on hardware or your device is gone. This data can be accessed from anywhere and from any device you choose.

There are many other advantages including big data processing and safe application development and testing all in the cloud. Project management, and financial analyses with remote offices or a globalised workforce is efficient and fast.

Consideration needs to be given to security and reliability of your cloud services provider, and service level agreements are essential pre-requisites. But with most of the established IT companies in the world now offering this services – including Microsoft, Google and Sage – amongst others – ignoring these services is a high business risk.

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