Dennis Wambugu is a very disappointed man. He is disappointed because Kenyans do not seem to host most of their websites at the local Internet Service Provider (ISP).
Wambugu, who heads Get2Net, a local ISP, feels that too many Kenyan websites are hosted abroad yet the same services can be provided locally. He argues that Kenyan businesses and organizations need to make deliberate efforts to support the local industry, like most South African entities do.
Wambugu vented his frustrations when questioned whether Get2net would have the capacity to host a website and guarantee that it will always be accessible.
While he had a right to be frustrated at the lack of faith in local web hosting, the local ISPs have left a lot to be desired, in their support and back up of client’s content. The costs are also inhibitive.
Sample this: yahoo.com charges shs 1,300 ($20) annually to host a site while a local ISP charges at least shs 24,000 ($ 370) to host the same site annually.
But Wambugu defends the local costs saying that yahoo.com can afford to charge shs 1,300 because they have a million sites to host. This means that the company can make $ 20 million from hosting a million sites annually.
Compared to local companies, he says that the higher the number of clients hosting locally, the lesser the charges. This is because companies can invest in better servers and expect to recoup the costs within the year.
But people wonder; why spend a lot of money hosting locally while a minimal cost will give massive space abroad. The answer lies in acts of patriotism.
Most South African companies take pride in having a .co.za website and hosting it locally. Then they ensure that they demonstrate their proudly South African sign. Whether it is a local or regional corporation, they are hosted locally and have South Africa’s country code (.co.za).
In this respect, the issue of cost of hosting seems to lack meaning because we have Kenyan corporations hosting abroad, yet they have the money to host locally.
However, some people hosting abroad speak of lack of reliability and lack of proper support by Kenyan ISPs as the reason they host abroad. For instance, if there is power black out and the building has no generator, then the site will not be accessible.
With hosting companies abroad, they seldom have problems of power failure and when they do, there is always back up. Meaning that businesses progress and there is no information/ content.
But Wambugu defends this position arguing that most ISPs in Nairobi are located in modern buildings with powerful generators, making sure that client support is available 24 hours a day.
Besides, Wambugu agues that most ISPs mirror their server contents with other off shore servers in Australia, US, Canada and UK. This way, the local ISP ensures the websites are available all the time.
The whole hosting debate could be demystified if the government works out a program for educating the public on the amount of money and time it takes to access a site which is hosted abroad.
This will lead to more debate about development of local content and hosting capacity within the district level. Reliable country wide connectivity will allow establishment of ISPs within the local level.
For instance, if a youth group starts up an ISP at the district level and approaches local businesses and government authorities, they can work out a way to host the sites at minimal fees depending on the sites.
This will offer more employment opportunities at the local level and more people can appreciate the essence of developing quality websites.
Connectivity has been a thorny issue and with the promise of the sub marine optic fibre link becoming real, the costs of connectivity will come down. There are also two satellites in orbit –NIGCOMSAT and RASCOMstar, which are bound to improve Africa’s space segment.
Though the two geostationary communications satellites will face challenges of pricing and technical support, they may achieve the objective of lowering cost of bandwidth within the other satellites beaming to Africa.
The cost of bandwidth and support aside, Kenya needs to find a way to support local initiatives and help grow the local industry.
For instance, Safaricom limited made its shs 17 Billion profit out of local calls, not international calls. Indeed, the international calls are mainly made using Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP), available in most cyber cafés.
Kenya needs to remain competitive efficiently and quickly. There is so much potential but there must be deliberate effort to support one another.
That feeling of patriotism must be promoted through marketing by the Kenya ICT Board. But patriotism alone is not going to improve our country’s technical abilities. There needs to be investments by local ICT industry so that services can match those offered abroad.
Local ISPs need to invest in state-of-the-art data centres comprising ultra high-quality connectivity, networking gear, climate control, and security and power systems. Hosting facilities need to be monitored 24/7/365 state-of-the-art network operations centre and if a problem arises, the technical team must be able to help!
To attract more websites, host companies need to have connectivity from several leading Internet hosts, both International and local Kenyan backbone internet providers.
Regarding connectivity, the ISP must be in a position to achieve 99% network uptime for customers based in Kenya. Prices must be competitive and must be in a position to customize websites depending on the customers hosting requirements.
With these developments, Kenyans will have more faith in local web hosting and possibly Kenyan companies can host larger corporation websites as well as upcoming businesses.