From Broome to Port Lincoln, the challenges for cloud in regional Australia

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This article appeared in the September 2017 issue of CRN magazine.

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From Broome to Port Lincoln, the challenges for cloud in regional Australia

While technology vendors have been touting the benefits of cloud-based solutions, their enticements don’t always translate for those users in regional Australia who are still locked in the grip of the data drought.

The NBN is slowly providing some relief, but for many would-be cloud users, it’s been a long time coming, and doesn’t always solve all  their problems when it arrives.

For residents of the Western Australian town of Broome, NBN availability is currently limited to a handful of areas on an FTTP network, with full deployment using FTTN technology planned for later this year.

According to Nicola Walters, managing director of Leading Edge Computers in Broome, the experience for those clients still stuck on ADSL has been getting progressively worse, and  nothing has been done to hasten the adoption of cloud services.

“We have tried putting everything up in the cloud, but ADSL in this town is slower than it’s ever been, and drops out frequently,” Walters says. “I work from home, and my internet drops out twice a day, every day. That has definitely made people very hesitant to adopt the cloud as a solution for their business use.”

As a result, positive arguments regarding the benefits of some cloud-based services are falling on deaf ears, or at the very least, a market which is still early in its education cycle on cloud.

“We have been trying to talk about security with our business clients, and how cloud is important, but it just doesn’t resonate with them,” Walters says. “They understand when it’s slow and when it’s fast, and that’s about it. And with the cloud solution, as much as it is a cheaper option for some small businesses, they’re still very suspicious of it providing better efficiencies.”

One group that has seen benefit from the NBN are users in remote areas that have moved onto the Sky Muster satellite service. Walters says this has delivered a significant upgrade to previously available services.  

“The thing that we haven’t really got off the ground is cloud-hosted server, because it’s too slow for that. And people are still running a hybrid system with a server on‑premises with their data.”

Barely scraping by

Greg Williams, the owner of South Australian business Lincoln Computer Centre, also labels broadband speeds as the culprit behind the slow uptake of cloud services in his region. Williams says the NBN’s different technology solutions of satellite, fixed wireless, FTTN and FTTP will create very different cloud experiences for his customers.

“We have seen people go to the Sky Muster satellite, which is a better service than what has been available by satellite before, but it is a pretty ordinary connection compared to what you can get in more populated areas,” Williams says. “That is one segment where they are quite limited in what they can do, because the speeds aren’t as good as other connections, and their data allowance is poor in comparison to other types of connections.”

For those clients on fixed wireless services, Williams says the results have been mixed. He is now waiting to see the response of clients in residential areas, with more than 7500 Port Lincoln premises to be connected to FTTN services from the end of August.

“We want our customers to be on FTTN, and we want to be able to sell them services based around the cloud – in particular, cloud data backup and storage, and security cameras,” Williams says.

Frustration with broadband speeds in regional Australia led Nick van Namen, director of Geraldton-based reseller LogicIT, to begin building his own fixed wireless telco network in 2012. Since then, the NBN has come to town, and van Namen has connected his network into the NBN wherever possible. But he continues to build out wireless links to outlying areas to help clients overcome limitations of the satellite service, and has even taken his network into Perth to assist users still stuck on ADSL connections.

He says  that the issue is not just one of speed and latency, but of service dropouts and restrictive data caps. Has knows of a nearby mine site that defaults to 3G whenever satellite service drops out.

“They have the Telstra 3G network as their backup if the Sky Muster goes down, which happens regularly,” van Namen says. “So they chew through that 3G data. They require things like Office 365, and all of that is done online. Having the reduced capacity of reliability definitely effects cloud-based applications.”

Some entrepreneurs have not let the data drought stand in their way, however, despite ongoing challenges. For Keith Poole and his team at Computer West in Busselton, WA, dissatisfaction with existing cloud services led them to develop their own SMB-focused cloud solution, which went live in 2013 and was launched commercially as Australian Cloud Solutions in 2015 (and subsequently white-labelled by Leading Edge Computers for use by its members).

While Poole says the uptake among LEC members has been good, with new resellers being onboarded every quarter, connectivity remains a challenge.

“NBN rollout has greatly assisted resellers in moving both themselves and their customers to cloud-based solutions, but even that is plagued with problems due to the frequent dropouts, congestions, and so forth,” Poole says. “Right now – and until NBN actually works – we’re pushing more hybrid cloud models than anything, otherwise recommending an on-premise appliance configuration that has NBN-to-DSL-to-4G failover to provide near-guaranteed connectivity.”

Poole suspects that growth would also be faster were it not for regional business owners being more hesitant to adopt newer trends and technologies, as there are fewer people around them taking the plunge first.

“At Computer West, we work around this by having on‑premise, hybrid and pure cloud solutions for customers, which we recommend and implement depending on their operating structure and business requirements more than anything,” Poole says.

The bigger picture

Despite the efforts made, slower cloud adoption may have significant long-term implications for regional Australia, where economic growth is generally lagging behind the capital cities.

Telecommunications consultant Paul Budde says the importance of high-speed broadband goes well beyond fast access to the internet or to Netflix, with the social and economic benefits being equally important. While failure to adopt the cloud will see regional businesses miss a resultant 30 percent reduction in IT spending, regional Australia has other needs that make high-speed broadband – and the cloud – critical.

“Farmers will be among the largest users of IoT technologies, and most of those services will be based in the cloud,” Budde says. “All of this requires not just high speeds, but even more importantly, infrastructure that delivers resilience, robustness, low latency, security and so on.

“One of the key problems going forward is that the broadband network in regional Australia will be second rate to services that become easily available in metropolitan areas. It’s arguable that rural Australia depends even more than other areas on high quality broadband services, as they are often further away from healthcare, education and business facilities.”  

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