Businesses, banks and other financial institutions, as well as government agencies spend $450 million to store or host data offshore yearly. However, the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer, Unitellas International Limited, the sole distributor for United States-based Zadara edge cloud in sub-Sahara Africa, Mr. Smith Osemeke, says Unitellas and other indigenous and international ICT companies are in partnership to significantly reduce the humongous spend to store sensitive data in public cloud outside Nigeria. He speaks on this and other industry-related issues in this interview with Assistant Editor CHIKODI OKEREOCHA. Excerpts:
Terrorism and other shades of criminality have become Nigeria’s biggest headache. How can Nigeria leverage Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to combat the scourge?
Terrorism overshadows every aspect of economic, social, cultural, and political life. It brings instability and disrupts peace and coexistence. It is bad for business and economic development thus, causing it to be one of Nigeria’s biggest challenges. Examples of these criminal activities in Nigeria can be seen in the Boko Haram group, the train bomb that happened on Abuja-Kaduna route, the killings occurring in Borno, e.t.c. According to the World Bank, ICT consists of the hardware, software, networks, and media for the collection, storage, processing, transmission and presentation of information (voice, data, text, images), as well as related services. The use of ICT tools has helped many countries tackle terrorism and other criminal problems, and can also help Nigeria as a nation reduce criminal activities. Some of these tools and how they can tackle these insecurity activities include surveillance, whereby with ICT, a surveillance system can be set up by security agencies for Nigeria as a whole to keep close watch on the activities of persons, groups, organisations and institutions suspected of engaging in illegal activities or capable of causing a breach of security; Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) cameras, surveillance cameras, social network analysis, biometric surveillance, satellite imagery etc, or low technology such as postal interception can be applied to track activities of persons or groups of interest. There is also the area of intelligence gathering where ICT tools such as the Internet, mobile telephony system, social media networks and the media can be deployed to help security agencies keep tab and records of illegal activities of suspected groups and organisations.
Globally, cloud computing is playing crucial role in migrating business processes online particularly in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. But its adoption in Nigeria is still rather slow. Why is this so?
Cloud computing is the on-demand access to shared Information Technology (IT) resources and applications over the Internet which makes it possible for businesses to access applications and services online without the associated hassle and costs of owning and managing the hardware. After the COVID-19 pandemic, the use of cloud computing to migrate business processes online increased. As a result, employees could work from home across the world. Cloud computing has received good reviews and huge acceptance in developed countries, backed by the respective governments, but its adoption in developing countries like Nigeria has remained comparatively low due to a lot of factors such as reluctance and resistance to the adoption of new technologies by most businesses and IT staff who are afraid cloud computing will take over their jobs. There is also the lack of awareness and detailed information on cloud computing and its availability locally; lack of technical skills to deploy cloud computing services; myth that cloud computing is expensive.
Other factors include poor quality Internet services, fear of Cyber-attacks if business moves to the cloud, reluctance and resistance towards having IT infrastructure hosted and managed by third parties, privacy and insecurity concerns as result of late regulations on cloud service providers; the need for the establishment of more Data Centers across the country.
Most Nigerian businesses patronise foreign cloud computing firms. How much is Nigeria losing by storing or hosting its data offshore?
Globally, the amount spent on public cloud as at 2021 was forecasted to have reached $323.3 billion, causing a 23.1 per cent increase from the $270 billion reached in 2020.
Storage of data on international public clouds such as AWS, Azure and Google Cloud has caused a lot of revenue to be lost in Nigeria, including $100 million capital yearly expenditure spent by organisations in Nigeria to store sensitive data in the public cloud outside Nigeria. According to the Nigeria Internet Registration Association (NiRA), the country loses up to N60 billion worth of foreign exchange to other countries every year as payments for web hosting services. Many local cloud service providers have urged the Federal Government to enforce local policy on cloud computing to save costs and boost the economy because Nigeria loses $450 million yearly to the adoption and usage of foreign cloud computing services such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) and others which Nigerian banks, financial institutions and relevant agencies subscribe to on a regular basis.
What other benefits will Nigerians and businesses derive from hosting their cloud services locally?
Provision of local access to world-class cloud technology aligns with the strategy of digitally transforming Nigeria. If cloud services are hosted locally, computing power and storage will be closer to the source of data generation and the people who use the data to make data driven decisions, enabling real-time applications by reducing the amount of latency associated with processing and analysing data. It will also ensure data sovereignty, which refers to the rights of countries to regulate the sharing of data that’s generated within their boundaries with entities in other nations. When critical data of businesses and citizens of Nigeria etc. are stored locally, the risk of leaks or access by foreign agents or foreign nation will be eliminated thus promoting greater confidence in local technology and a boom in domestic Tech Ecosystems and economic growth for Nigeria. It will also reduce cost – CapEx spent on purchasing cloud services can be reduced when local cloud service provider are patronised.There’ll be no need for currency exchange and loss of funds during FX if companies patronise local cloud services, as such funds spent on conversion rates can be greatly reduced since most local cloud service providers offer the option of paying for services in naira. There will also be reduced bandwidth cost. Latency is the time it takes a device to send data to the cloud, have the data processed and analysed, and sent back to the device of origin. Internet bandwidth can eat up the cost of accessing and maintaining cloud-based service(s). There will be significant savings in Internet bandwidth because edge computing devices are capable of processing and analysing the data, only transmitting important and post-processed data to the cloud. The farther away we are from the cloud, the more it costs to access the services it supports. These costs can be avoided by hosting data locally, curbing the high bandwidth costs paid by Nigeria enterprises due to its close proximity as opposed to public cloud service where customers have to pay huge amount of money for their businesses to be hosted due to the distance of the foreign nation from Nigeria. There is also the benefit of enhanced data security because data has to move less distance since it’s processed locally, providing fewer opportunities for hackers to intercept the data as it travels through networks, thus lowering possibility that data can be intercepted as it moves through the internet. Enterprises can take advantage of the cost, flexibility and scalability of the cloud since local data centres provide the unique ability to control, localise and secure physical access to data. They’ll also have access to multiple cloud onramps and connectivity options as data centres and cloud technology provide a platform for effective disaster recovery, cloud migrations and hybrid services.
What is Unitellas International Limited and other indigenous ICT companies doing to ensure Nigeria derives these benefits?
To change the narrative of sensitive data being stored outside the country’s borders and ensure domestication of sensitive data thus bring about data insecurity, Unitellas and other indigenous ICT companies have entered into partnerships with both local and international companies to provide cloud services to Nigeria as a nation and its citizens locally, as well as manage their IT infrastructures properly. These partnerships are targeted at empowering all service providers in Nigeria with Zadara Edge Cloud infrastructure as a Service to meet international standards with regards to cloud computing infrastructure, service, pricing and security. Zadara is a United States-based global cloud computing infrastructure provider.
What does the Unitellas, Zadara partnership entail?
The partnership means that West African customers, especially Nigeria have at their disposal a fully-managed IT infrastructure-on-demand, which can flexibly scale their solutions as business needs change, simplifying potentially complex IT deployments so that they can focus on their core business. The partnership is targeted at empowering all service providers in Nigeria to meet international standards with regard to cloud computing infrastructure, service, pricing and security thus enabling government agencies and local service providers to store and protect sensitive data. Furthermore, it will empower Nigerians to meet up with international Managed Service Providers (MSPs) standards with Zadara data storage solution. This partnership would provide local service providers with Infrastructure-as-a-Service and Enterprise-Storage-as-a-Service model, which eliminate huge capital expenditure (CapEX) with minimum operational expenditure (OpEX). By subscribing to Zadara Data Storage services with Compute Capability, local service providers and MSPs can offer data storage and compute services with the latest data protection mechanism, competing effectively with renowned public cloud providers in infrastructure, security, pricing, management and service.
Nigeria recently issued 5G licences to MTN Nigeria and Mafab Communications.Do you think the country has maximised the use of 3G and 4G?
Nigeria has a very large population. During the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns, there was an increase in the use of the mobile Internet for personal and businesses. As a result of this, the coverage gap of the 3G and 4G is unable to cater to each and every one of its citizens in Nigeria, especially the ones at the rural areas, thus bringing about the introduction of the 5G network into Nigeria. Lack of ICT skills is a barrier to effective Internet use especially in its uptake and effective use.
What should Nigerians expect from the deployment of the latest 5G technology?
With3G, smartphones see download speeds of up to around 2Mbps (megabits per second). By comparison, 4G is around 3 to 5Mbps; roughly the speed that many home computers receive via cable modem or DSL. 5G’s peak download speed is up to 20,480 Mbps, a huge leap from any generation previously. With a higher network generation comes higher capacity, meaning it can support a greater number of users at any given time. It will also allow for higher data rates, so that multimedia applications such as video calling or YouTube clips work more smoothly. With a 3G tower, about 100 people can share the signal and get fast, reliable service. From this latest development, Nigerians should expect the capabilities of the network to be so much faster than in previous generations and the 5G network can, therefore, connect more objects than ever before, including things like connected vehicles, connected homes and smart cities, while the speed and reliability of 5G will mean that a new era of e-healthcare becomes possible.
There has been a lot of complaints over poor quality of voice and data services. What do you think is the problem?
The main reason for the cause of poor quality of voice and data services faced by Nigerians is ‘data price war’ among telecoms operators. In a bid to make this voice and data services available to subscribers, the telecom operators cut down data prices drastically, making it impossible for the best services, as in order to do that they will need to increase their data prices. The relative scarcity of mobile broadband spectrum has forced operators to reframe 900MHz spectrum to offer mobile broadband services over 3G, rather than waiting for new spectrum auctions to build LTE networks. Cost of running base stations is also high, which translates to higher billing costs of services.
What must be done to improve service delivery?
For Nigeria to improve its service delivery, it must empower local ICT companies e.g. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to provide uninterrupted and quality services.There is also the need to improve on digital infrastructure development in Nigeria via adoption of services such as Data Storage and Management, Cloud Services, Data Backup Services, Help Desk IT Services, Network Security, IT Consulting, Social Media Consulting, as well as bring about increased socio-economic education reform and research development. Innovation in the ICT entrepreneurship ecosystem and digital skills development will also go a long way to improve service delivery.
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