By John Walubengo
Over the last decade, technology products have shifted and been re-engineered to take advantage of Cloud Services. Many public sector ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) have also made baby steps towards adopting cloud-based services, but the approach seems haphazard and uncoordinated.
At the national government level, one senses some duplication as each MDA tries to procure and commission a data centre with cloud capabilities. From my last count, government and its agencies already have several data centres, each with the capacity to host all their cloud needs.
Count governments are also not to be left behind, with each of the 47 counties trying to construct and commission individual data centres – even when they could collaborate and use the existing national-level data centres or even agree to share one between several counties.
Could there be a demand for more data centres, or is it simply a procurement opportunity and its attendant ‘kickbacks’ that come with most public sector infrastructure projects?
To answer this question, we need to understand what exactly is ‘the Cloud’ and its benefits.
Many Kenyans only hear about ‘the Cloud’ once every five years – during the general elections. IEBC has had to adopt cloud technology because of the nature of its operations, which scales rapidly from low to very high in one week, once every five years.
In general, IEBC ICT systems host several millions of Kenyan voter records whose activities or transaction volumes hit a high note once every five years during the general elections. To sustain this high transaction volume, one would require to avail and deploy massive ICT infrastructure support in computing, storage and networking resources.
However, this demand would only last for a week or two, which reflects the day’s activities before, during and immediately after the general elections.
Rather than procure these resources upfront and incur the subsequent running cost of their idle capacity, IEBC rightly chose to lease the computing capacity and pay for it – as and when required.
This is one key benefit of cloud computing. It allows organisations to scale up or down computing resources according to the business demand cycles while converting the otherwise high, upfront capital expenses into lower operational costs knowns as ‘pay-per-use.’
The cloud model is simply the ‘Uber model for computing infrastructure’. If you need a ride, you order and pay for the ride without having to incur the cost of buying, running or maintaining the car.
The Data Center is the Cloud
But to provide this computing flexibility, one entity must own and run the infrastructure.
This would be the cloud provider – the organisation that owns the huge physical computing infrastructure configured to be leased out to tenants like IEBC, Ministry of Education or any other client organisation needing to leverage cloud technologies.
That physical computing infrastructure that the Cloud provider owns is called a data centre and is simply a huge server room, built with redundancy for everything from the power supply, internet supply, storage, and software, to computing, amongst others.
The data center can be located anywhere on the planet but provides redundancies that guarantee 24×7 service level provisions to the tenants of the cloud provider. Hence the term – the cloud.
This means that in the event of any technical failure such as power, internet, or any other technical failures common with on-premise server rooms, the cloud facility can sense and automatically overcome or swap workloads without the client or their customers realising any downtime.
Should Government be a Cloud Provider?
This brings us back to the earlier question – should the government build data centres or lease out computing loads from existing local or global cloud providers?
I think It depends.
In some instances, there may be a case for building a government data centre to provide cloud-based solutions to the public sector. The bigger question, however, is how many data centres does the government need and for which workloads?
Additionally, the capacity to run and maintain the cloud infrastructure and the appropriate type of cloud deployment (public, private or hybrid cloud) should be investigated.
These questions can only be conclusively answered if the government had some form of cloud strategy similar to other governments. It is high time we had a cloud strategy for the public sector to streamline all the various isolated cloud initiatives that are popping up everywhere.
John Walubengo is an ICT Lecturer and Consultant. @jwalu.
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