It’s not that a Zim company hosting web their services outside the country is anything new. A few weeks ago we were explaining how we gave up and moved Techzim’s hosting to neighbouring South Africa. And just a few days ago, my colleague was recommending Google Apps to SMEs.
It’s really that when this is done by a company the size of Econet, the impact on the ICT ecosystem is not insignificant. Especially when you consider that Econet, through subsidiary Ecoweb, is an Internet Access provider as well as an Internet Service Provider.
International hosting of a service whose primary users are local Zimbabweans exerts an enormous strain on international bandwidth. International bandwidth doesn’t come cheap in Zimbabwe and Econet, itself a wholesaler of international bandwidth (through International subsidiary, Liquid Telecom) knows this. If this mail system’s uptake is as good as Econet would like it to be, this will just create `more demand for international bandwidth.
To explain this more, say you have a private Zimbabwe hosted mailbox sitting on your company mail servers, or hosted at a local ISP; right now if you send an email to an Econet Mail address, you’re really sending that email to a server in the US. And every time an Econet Mail customer retrieves their email, they’re really connecting to servers in the USA to do so. Compare this to a situation where a locally hosted email would send to a Zim hosted Econet Mail mailbox; this email exchange that would cost next to ‘nothing’. Nothing in bandwidth terms because moving local traffic is so cheap that ISPs like ZOL and Yo Africa don’t charge your bandwidth account when you connect to local sites.
We contacted Econet with some questions on the issue: why Econet chose US hosts, if they tried other non-Econet local ISPs and using a hypothetical number of 250,000 users subscribed to Econet Mail, how much Econet would pay Rackspace per mailbox.
In the response Econet explains that they couldn’t find the capacity locally and that security was also a factor. There’s no mention of stability but we suspect this was chief factor. Strangely, Econet says ‘speed’ was one of the reasons for selecting a US host.
Here’s the full text of the Econet response:
There are several reasons as to the current choice of host. Our choice was informed by the need to provide a service that provides the best capacity, speed, and security for our customers.
For instance, spam was a concern with the name that we chose, and the current host has one of the best anti-spam solutions.
We were also able to contract with the host on a SaaS basis, and this allows us to expand very quickly with the growth in users. It offers class leading storage per box of 10GB and allows up to 50MB attachments.
We have negotiated a massive discount and we are not paying anywhere near $2 per box.
If, to take your example, we were to offer the 10GB of storage to your 250k users, that would translate 2.5 Petabytes, capacity that may not yet be available locally at this time but that we are working towards.