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Cloud Computing

Kili interview: Business cloud infrastructure for Kenya

Getting access to cloud computing services in a third-rate economy like Kenya is something that many companies have contended with. In fact, many organizations in Kenya and East Africa that need these services have been sourcing these from foreign and developed economies, London being the favorite.

We talk to Adam, the founder of kili, the startup with an ambitious dream to change things.

Can you tell us about the basics of your company, what is the size of your company in terms of employees, who are your target customers and clients etc.? 

We are a nimble startup with a three person team.  All we offer is infrastructure so most of the work is outsourced to our providers and of course to the internal IT departments that use the service. We only offer compute and storage services in Kenya, so we're focused on that, and don't need a big team. 

We target organizations with at least two to three high quality people in their IT department, which isn't every organization. We're also reaching out to large organizations who want to sell cloud to their existing customers on a revenue share basis.

When did you start, has the idea been with you for long and nurtured through time? 

It was after I moved to Nairobi last year that I saw the very obvious need for cloud infrastructure in Kenya.  Websites, mobile apps, corporate applications - they're all slow and unresponsive.  It's an easy thing to fix - just move the servers closer to the users.

Have you been in an accelerator/business incubation program? 

No.

What is the technology behind your operations? 

We use OpenStack so everything is consistent with the clouds that Rackspace, IBM, and HP use in the rest of the world.  A complex organization can use multiple clouds - including us.

What products/services do you offer? 

We offer servers and storage. Users pay based on usage.

Do you target even those cloud computing clients situated abroad, say London for example?

Some clients are based in London but are deploying something for East African users. Groups like that prefer to use the tools that they're used to but still get the benefits of having their assets local.

Why would you consider your business idea and company unique? What gives you an edge? Pricing maybe? 

We have better performance and higher perceived uptime than most providers.  For instance, I live in Nairobi and when JTL was disconnected from the rest of the world earlier this week; our clients' sites were still accessible.  Amazon, Rackspace, and IBM were not.  We also allow regulated industries and governments to host in-country.  Our pricing is globally competitive.

Who are your competitors and what makes you better/worse than them? What technology are they using that you do not have access to, if any?

Most of our competitors are legacy providers which use fixed-hardware in their client's data centers or cloud infrastructure from abroad.  

Can you please comment on the ICT sector in Kenya and East Africa in general? 

The ICT sector is getting stronger every day - but it still has a long way to go.  I'd like to see the sector become more globally competitive at the same time as I would like to see more ICT workers given elevated responsibilities, career opportunities and higher pay. Whether it's a bank or an insurance company or a government agency - ICT people need to be elevated to the top ranks within those organizations or those organizations will fail.

What is your take in terms of ICT policies in Kenya and East Africa? 

ICT is a constantly evolving sector so the important thing isn't the policies themselves, but how quickly they adapt to change.  The critical thing for Kenya is to open up its borders and let people work here more easily. If a Rwandan Oracle developer wants to work for a company in Nairobi, it should be made as easy as possible with virtually no paperwork.

How has your company impacted the ease at which low income earners are benefitting? In Kenya (and elsewhere)? What structures have you put to reach even the rural dwellers?  

We are focused on corporate and government clients and don't work with consumers.  What is helpful is that for rural dwellers using a 3G signal connecting to a site on our service is that it's still faster for them.

Are there any challenges in your operations, any obstacles that you feel are dragging you in terms of business? How have you addressed them?

The venture capital environment in Kenya is terrible.  So much money can be made by investors but they need to focus on $500,000 to two million investments.  Nobody is going to make money on $50,000 investments.  Smart investors would be raising $50 million funds for venture capital.

There is a misconception that servers situated in places like London and the like are more trustworthy for clients even in places like Kenya, what is your comment? How true/false is this? Any measures that you have taken for the local market to trust local servers? 

A well-architected solution should not be affected by a single server going down. If a company loses an important service because of the failure of one server - it needs to increase the quality of its application.  Anyway, as I mentioned above, local servers are often 'up' more frequently than those in London because there's so much packet loss and failure between here and there.  Perceived uptime is much higher for a local solution than it is for one hosted in London.

Would you say that Kenyans and East Africans are good at embracing technology? Is this reflected in your operations? 

Kenyans are extremely good at embracing anything new, not just technology.  The important step is to get more technology here by lowering duty, reducing bottlenecks and corruption at the port in Mombasa and Jomo Kenyatta International Airport [in Nairobi] and increasing security to facilitate commerce.

Would you say that the internet connectivity and reach in Kenya and East Africa (especially in rural areas) is sufficient for your business to thrive? 

Yes. For every billion dollar business, there's $5 - 10 million being spent on ICT infrastructure [such as employees, offices and data costs].  We can take a chunk of that pie regardless of connectivity to rural areas.  Rural connectivity is critical for Kenya's long-term success, but we are focused on near-term growth right now.

What is your greatest achievement so far? Any statistics in terms of reach? 

My greatest achievement has been building a three person team and simply getting started.  We've only just begun our work so we have a long way to go.

What are your shorter and long-term goals? Any plans to spread your wings to other countries?

We are looking for partners with sales channels and capital to help us expand to other markets in Africa.  We believe a pan-African cloud is the only sustainable footprint.

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Daniel Muraga

Daniel Muraga is an experienced online writer and communications professional based in Kenya.

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