Nigerian Electricity: The Ultimate Argument for Hosted Microsoft Exchange?

CGNET’s Tim Haight recently visited Lagos, Nigeria, to consult for a couple of clients. While he was there, he discovered what he believes is the world’s strongest argument for hosted Microsoft Exchange, or something like it. Here’s his story:

The state of electrical power supply in Nigeria is terrible. The national power grid is run by the PHCN (Power Holding Company Nigeria), but people there tend to call it by its old name, NEPA (National Electric Power Authority). Only they say NEPA stands for “Never, Ever Power Anywhere.”

So it seems. In Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city with a population of about 20 million, the lights go out many times a day. Over the years, people who can afford it have dealt with this by buying generators. Even for successful businesses, however, this is not a great solution.

One of our clients occupies three floors of an office building. During the day, the generators kick in when the grid goes out. In the data center, uninterruptable power supplies fill in the gaps. But from about 6 pm to about 6 am, the generators don’t come on. Since most workers in the building have gone home, running big generators for the whole building all night would be prohibitively expensive. Diesel is not cheap.

The result is that the data centers have to shut down each day at six. Their email and other servers in the data center have to be brought down in an orderly manner and then restarted the next morning.

Not only does this mean no services at night, such as email services to homes, travelers and smartphones, but also it means that any backups have to be completed before the juice stops flowing, even if this affects service.

Yes, the company could buy a separate generator for its data center. But this is more complicated than simply wheeling one in. A lot of new electrical wiring is necessary, something we all know and love. So, while the company has finally decided to do this, the project will not be simple, and then there are those ongoing fuel costs.

Interestingly, the power outages do not affect Internet access that much. Of course, if your switches and routers are down, your Internet link will be, too. But the independent status of one client’s Internet link for the last three months was 99% availability.

The other client trusts its connectivity less, and they’ve opted for a business continuity solution we offer. The way it works is that all mail is routed first to a server in the USA, where spam and viruses also are removed.

When the local server is up, mail is sent on to the Lagos server. When the Lagos server goes down, users can get their mail from the server in the US. When the Lagos server comes back up, the mail is synchronized so that the Lagos server gets a full set. This provides 24/7 mail support for any users who can reach the Internet, including smartphones.

We believe, however, that in most cases, it will be less expensive and more effective simply to move to hosted Microsoft Exchange. Not only do you get 24/7 service over the Internet, but you no longer have to bother with the local server. If your connectivity is good, and if you use notebooks or other computers with their own power, you can keep working.

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