Data storage for the future

digital storage media 1443484 1920(Image source: Photo-Mix/pixabay)Barry Mansfield looks at the factors driving the growth of next-generation data storage in Africa

Businesses operating at the cutting edge of the data storage market are constantly investing in research and development. For example, HP has produced an affordable flash drive that works at very high speed. Smartphones, wearable electronics, smart batteries, games, advertisements, movies, smart homes, smart city technology - all of these generate data, and they're not limited to Europe, North America and Asia, as Africans update their infrastructure for the 21st century. Once a concern for high tech hubs like Cape Town, storage is now a priority for African development.

This trend has brought upheaval to the IT industry, as technicians set their sights on a ‘next generation’ data storage technology that provides a safe place and enables fast recovery of information in a more efficient manner. The conventional data storage technology simply cannot handle the large chunks of data that will be produced in future. Additionally, the proliferation of input-output devices will continue to power the next-generation data storage market in the coming decade or two. Now, data is produced in vast quantities in practically every sector.

Next generation storage takes the form of cloud-based disaster recovery, all-flash storage arrays, hybrid array, holographic data storage and Heat Assisted Magnetic Recording (HAMR). These emerging technologies will help to store, secure and recover huge volumes of data that older legacy systems would have struggled with. Hybrid array and all-flash array are highly popular storage techniques. At the enterprise level, EMC is working hard on R&D, while Intel and Micron have developed 3D NAND technology to ramp up the data processing speed in solid state drives.

The overall outlook for storage appears slightly different in Africa compared to other parts of the world. For example, cloud storage clearly offers many advantages over traditional digital data storage in the African setting. Most notably, it is exceptionally flexible, because it allows data access from anywhere and can be expanded as much as required as storage needs grow. It is extremely simple and cost-efficient, since there is no hardware to maintain and no staff to employ. That may explain why start-ups, such as Digital Cabinet have secured funding for their foray into cloud storage. 

Africa’s technical legacy also lends itself to cloud storage as the de facto choice. The continent still contains some of the poorest countries in the world, with power and telephony infrastructure often years or even decades behind first-world countries. However, as Digital Cabinet’s Daniel Kritzas points out, there is an ironic twist, because African markets are often in a position to ignore much of the developed world's historical dependence on older technologies (such as fixed-lines and on-site servers) and leapfrog directly to cellular infrastructure and cloud-based solutions. 

“Africa is seeing a dramatic rise in innovative entrepreneurial activity, and governments are looking to nurture and promote such activity as vital to enabling their own economic growth,” said Kritzas. He believes cloud services offer businesses in developing countries a number of advantages, beyond cheap access to enterprise-grade infrastructure and resources. They offer consistency from a technological point of view (network and power infrastructure) and also protection from political instability (upheavals, changing legislation or civil conflict). 

Another benefit of the cloud approach, says Kritzas, is the possibility of comprehensive data security, backups, and protection from theft or natural disaster. Scalability is a plus point, too, as virtualisation allows for predictable growth models. Then there is the fact of support and maintenance, and that cloud technology allows developing countries to leverage first-world solutions in targeting new markets: “In the document management and storage space…unparalleled efficiencies can be realised through cloud storage and online collaboration.” 

Kritzas believes that small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) across the region are desperate for affordable technology to help them survive and thrive in an increasingly competitive environment. “The market for simple digital services, particularly document management and business process workflow, is huge and growing at a phenomenal rate throughout Africa,” he says. “Software companies with the right products and technology at the right price are extremely well positioned to take advantage of this growing need in emerging markets.”

From a legal point of view, national or local online backup often makes more sense than using international providers - even if this turns out to be the slightly more costly option. This is another factor powering the adoption of cloud services on a more local basis. For example, if a business carries out online backup in South Africa with a South African company - then the laws of that country govern the contract. If doing backup to a cloud backup company located outside of South Africa, then that service is governed by the laws of the country in which they are based.

If a business uses international cloud backup services, then its data could be located on servers in a country whose laws and methods are totally out of sync with expected standards and norms. Local backup frequently offers superior bandwidth in terms of cost, in terms of speed of data transfer for each backup, in terms of speed and efficiency of data restores, and simply the security of knowing where any critical business data resides. By contrast, the ability to speak to top management and get a speedy response can be extremely difficult with an international service.

African businesses may appreciate the presence of a fully staffed call centre operating in their own time zone, and therefore able to provide rapid-fire local support. There is also the possibility of closer in-person assistance from the service provider's dealer network, including actual visits to the physical business premises where necessary. In Australia the law states that a business must back up data to servers in Australia. Executives from Irontree reckon South Africa will see very similar legislation enacted in the near future. 

Even if local cloud storage ends up being a more expensive solution, it’s important that companies make an informed comparison between an anonymous service and one where the business owners are assisted at every stage.