Seacom’s Pamoja aims to build an IT-as-a-service market through African resellers – Not should I go but when and what?

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With African international bandwidth going down to commoditized prices, everyone has been talking for several years about higher margin, value-added services that can be used with the new bandwidth. But it’s only now that things like the clould market has begun to be something more than hype. Russell Southwood spoke this week to Regional Channel Manager, Pamoja Cloud Services.

If I could have a hundred dollars for every time someone mentioned “the cloud” to me I’d be sunning myself on a beach somewhere and not writing about it now. All the cloud consists of is the ability to access data and processes in a server somewhere else through the Internet rather than on your own machine.

Brian Herlihy, Seacom’s founder and ex-Googler and serial entrepreneur Stafford Masie were talking about the future of connectivity on the continent. They saw the possibility of cloud computing services being delivered in Sub-Saharan Africa. So in 2011, they launched Pamoja.

Based in South Africa, the company has three of its own data centres, one at the Mutunzini landing station, another in the Johannesburg suburb of Midrand and one in Nairobi. Each of the South African data centres could cater for 10-12,000 users and the one in Nairobi for 8,000 users.

The majority of the business currently comes from South Africa but that will change as markets change in other parts of the continent. All sales take place through resellers who are able to offer the services without making up-front financial commitments. It sells in 43 countres including, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mauritius, Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Djibouti:”Once South Africa and East Africa are working well, we’ll go north and west.”

The company’s services break down into four areas: IT as a service; productivity services; security services; business services; and vertical services. These are best illustrated by examples. IT as a service includes virtual servers, Microsoft’s Azure product that can create local and international clouds (increasingly popular with arguments over where customer data is housed), and back-up as a service. Productivity services include the Microsoft range of products: Exchange, Link and Sharepoint.

Security services are delivered through a relationship with Symantec and Pamoja peers with their Amsterdam server to offer their suite of services. This is things like email security and archiving:”This is closest to the original thinking (about the company). You get services from elsewhere and you have one view of security, not several,” says Bester.

The business services include Microsoft’s Dynamic CRM, Blue Wave’s CRM and a local CRM which has a much cheaper operating but lower functionality. It also has a governance risk and compliance platform used by DHL, SAB and Kenya Ports Authority.

The vertical services include things like a locally developed Personal Emergency Response Service that has been sold to a medical aid service. You have an app on your cellphone and if you get into trouble, you hit the app. The cellphone is tracked and can deliver services like ambulances and the police. They also have Internet of Things applications. Bester gives the example of a remote security application for warehouses in the DRC used by a security company. It does everything from being able to show pictures of who’s accessing the building as well as monitoring diesel levels.

So how does he think the market will look in five years time?:”It will resemble what you now see in Europe. It’s not should I go to the cloud but when and which services? The cloud is not for everybody but it can do a lot for many people.”

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