[ The following text is an excerpt from an email written to the Skunkworks mailing list - a list for Kenyan technologists]
Nairobi County and any government agency should use whatever services allow them to get the most value for their money. That is taxpayer money and it should be spent wisely. I'm no fan of governments blindly buying local and Amazon has an extremely good product. I'm actually really happy that they're on Amazon and not on GoDaddy or something low grade like that. I'm also very happy that they're on Amazon and not one of the entrenched local vendors with terrible service and terrible value. The choice of Amazon shows that the tech people who implemented the Nairobi County site have some chops.
However, there is no county or agency budget that is so thin that a difference of a few thousand shillings a year for better hosting isn't worth the extra money. I can guarantee that the weekly airtime allotment for a high level Nairobi county employee is more than the annual hosting bill for this website - no matter where it's hosted. Developers must demand top tools for their work when it comes to paid projects. I understand that if it's just a hobby one wants to get the cheapest possible solution - but when it comes to a professional site, hosting is going to cost somewhere between 2-5% of the annual budget. For a one-off project, hosting is probably going to cost 100k Kshs ( 15k for the hosting provider and 85k for the people to do all the security updates, monitor the site, make sure updates are made to support new browsers, etc...). And then of course, for really complex websites, you're talking about $1M/year in operations costs and on up from there. Hosting is not where you want to be cheap because the entire cost is under 5% of the budget and because the right choice with hosting can really have a significant impact on your metrics.
Of course, there are cheaper options. For instance our main homepage is totally free because it's hosted on Github.
Here's the site: http://kili.io
Here's the code: https://github.com/kili/kili.github.io
But it's not 'free' really. James and myself at Kili keep that thing running - and we consume money. Github does the hard work but we make sure that the copy is up to date, that it renders well, etc...
There are three reasons to consider a local host.
First off, you might have trouble even being able to pay for Amazon. What if you're a local SME that wants to pay with direct wire, or you're a developer without a credit card. No problem, Kili accepts both wire transfers and MPesa.
Second, what about data? At some point, Nairobi County is going to want to allow citizens to see information about tax payments on a plot of land. Is it really smart to keep that data in Europe where about a thousand different entities can sue to access that data? It's probably safer in Kenya where Nairobi County has a stronger ability to manage the data as they see fit. When we're talking about health and financial data this becomes pretty serious.
Third, let's talk about latency. Within Nairobi, it's not 50ms to reach the Kili host, it's 10ms. To reach the Nation, it's 140ms. People say that nobody notices milliseconds but what about when a website has more than 100 HTTP requests, and they block because browsers will only do so many at a time. What about streaming - which really suffers? The Nation takes 6.65 seconds for the DOM to be available and 7.26 seconds for the site to be fully loaded. That's not including async stuff that happens afterwards. There are over 200 requests by that time. For them to host on Kili would drop the site load time down to under 1 second and probably boost the number of page views by twofold. Page views are how media companies make money.
This third point should not be lost on the government side either. It's obvious that local media business will make more money once they move locally and the managers who make that happen will DEFINITELY be rewarded with promotions. The government sites don't make money, so who cares? That misses the point because civil servants and consultants who build and maintain those sites can improve their careers immensely. You don't think that if the person in charge of that site, when he or she shows Kidero that page views went up 30/40/50/100% won't get rewarded for that? Those are voters and that website is the platform by which elected politicians and their staff get their message out and advance in their own career. This stuff really matters and it's not just milliseconds - it's votes and agendas.
Anyway, this has been a long post and I just wanted to thank everybody for reading it. Since I do know some of you are using VPSes on unpaid projects with minimal budgets, or are students, we're offering a very special deal. Anybody who signs up (click 'Sign Up' on http://kili.io) and tops up with $15 (Credit Card) or 1,200 Kshs (Mpesa) will get a $100 credit. All you have to do is send me an email to request the credit and ideally point out one thing you would like us to change about Kili. This is as cheap as it gets because we know that when people see how much better it is to be local, they'll never go back.