For Datasoft, a medium-sized IT firm, plans to migrate their data and applications to the cloud brought with it concerns about which provider to choose.
They found out that while the big international providers offered a wide range of features and capabilities, their services were expensive. Moreover, the data would be stored outside the country and payments would have to be made in US dollars.
On the other hand, local cloud vendors provided affordable packages and additional features such as keeping data within the country and payment in local currency.
In the end they chose a local provider, but were anxious about data security and reliability.
Over the years, however, choosing a local provider proved to be a smart decision for the company, and they were able to get the benefits of cloud services and save money in the process. Moreover, they have yet to face a single security problem.
For big and medium sized businesses, cloud computing — or sometimes just the cloud — has become a ubiquitous term when it comes to handling data. And following the trend of the rest of the world, cloud storage is becoming more popular in Bangladesh as a way of safely and affordably storing and managing data and applications.
In Bangladesh, foreign cloud giants like Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud, IBM Cloud, Oracle, etc. dominate the market. But some local cloud service providers have emerged in the last few years as cheaper alternatives that offer simplicity.
But what is cloud computing?
In layman's terms, the cloud is a virtual (storage) space where people and companies keep their files or run softwares and applications. The cloud is basically made up of servers in data centers spread across the world.
In the cloud, "computing" and "storage" take place on servers in data centers, meaning cloud services and softwares run on the internet rather than locally in your computer or hard drive. This allows the users to access files and applications through any device.
Some examples of consumer solutions include Google Drive and Dropbox and Canva — softwares that average users like you and I are familiar with.
Cloud computing is more advanced; it is the model of delivering computer/IT solutions over the internet in which data or resources are retrieved from the cloud through web-based tools and applications. Such services include storage, servers, databases, analytics, networking, and so on.
It involves a network of remote servers hosted on the cloud to store, manage and process data rather than on the local hard drive or the personal computer. But cloud computing is more than just storage for data. Rather, just like your personal computer's RAM and processor, cloud computing offers "virtual" RAM and processor through which you can better handle your company's large volume of data for purposes like data analysis.
Cloud computing in Bangladesh
Over the last several years, Bangladesh has seen great progress in its cloud transformation efforts. Local firms have joined forces with cloud-based apps to speed up innovation and business transformation across industries, including manufacturing, telecommunications, and financial institutions.
But according to Saroshah Islam, marketing director at Flora Web Services, the Bangladeshi cloud sector is largely untapped.
"For the local providers, there are huge opportunities to explore as more and more companies are coming to the cloud. The services we provide are on par with the international providers. But as our operating cost is less than the international ones, we can provide more affordable solutions. This is the biggest advantage of the local providers," she said.
She added that in the next few years, Bangladeshi companies will have a much bigger role to play in cloud computing as gradually, more businesses are trusting the local providers.
"There are some unfounded fears about local providers' security and reliability, but everyone who has worked with us is satisfied. The reason is mostly psychological. For example, Google or Amazon are household names in the tech world. We have to compete with their brand value. But this is changing gradually," Saroshah Islam explained.
Despite the lack of precise data, some industry experts predict that the domestic cloud storage market is likely to grow to $50 million by 2025 from its present estimated size of $20 million. But Bangladesh's cloud market size is still very small in comparison with neighbouring India's $5 billion market.
"Business growth has been good over the past couple of years and the future also looks promising. Mir Cloud has been providing services like server, storage, autoscaling, data security, etc.," Toufique Ehsan, head of business at Mir Cloud, told The Business Standard.
According to him, when the cloud market expands, the proportion of foreign vendors also grows, having detrimental effects on the government during economic crises like the current one.
"Paying for cloud services from overseas suppliers requires clients to use foreign currencies," he noted.
Local vendors would greatly profit if the government creates a policy to keep data inside the nation's boundaries. However, there are currently no clear instructions for companies about where to locate their data storage facilities.
Additionally, according to Toufique, if regulations were put in place requiring banks and other government entities to keep their data in the cloud, it would significantly boost business for the local cloud computing sector.
In Bangladesh, three different categories of providers now dominate the cloud storage industry.
More than half the market is made up of foreign first-line suppliers, including Huawei, Google Cloud, Amazon, Microsoft Azure, and Oracle. Some 40% of the market is controlled by foreign low-cost players, such as Cloudflare, Liquid Web, DigitalOcean. The remaining 10% belongs to local players.
About their operations, Tanvir Ahmed, Senior Media Manager of Huawei, said, "Huawei is the fastest-growing cloud provider in the Asia Pacific region, earning the position within only four years of development. It has facilitated the government of Bangladesh through assisting over 30 departments and 50 projects with BCC [Bangladesh Computer Council] Cloud ."
He added that for Bangladesh, cloud can be the golden tool to overcome national issues like illiteracy through virtual learning, poverty through digital upskilling, and disaster management through cost-effective DR [data recovery] solutions, besides eradicating relatively lesser critical issues like traffic controlling, transportation crisis, food preparation and distribution management.
According to Mustakim Himel, the chief IT officer at a corporate organisation, unlike businesses controlling their small-scale data storages, data loss is avoided in a cloud storage system since the hosting company saves data on several servers using a mirrored technique. This is the main reason his company keeps all its data in the cloud.
"Cloud storage removes the need to buy storage equipment, pay for space rent, and lowers administrative costs. As a consequence, businesses and organisations are turning more often to cloud services, which provide customers the added advantage of requiring no further hardware investment as their businesses expand," he said.
His company subscribes to the cloud facilities of Amazon Web Services — the biggest cloud player in the world. When asked why they opted for a foreign service provider rather than a local one, he said, "Amazon is one of the oldest players in the market to come. When we started using cloud, there was no Bangladesh cloud company. At least not of a big name that we can trust with our data security. Moreover, Amazon provides some additional analytics tools which are state-of-the-art."
However, Himel added that presently, a few viable names have come forward in the local cloud computing scene who are as good as the foreign players.
"In the future, our company could contemplate the possibility of shifting to a local provider," he added.