Digital Africa 2010 and Cloud Computing in Developing Countries
March 9, 2010 1 Comment
At the Digital Africa Summit 2010 in Kampala, Uganda, discussion is rightly focused on both telecommunications policy and economic development. Cloud computing is a topic heard among sidebar discussions, although it has yet to hit the mainstream of conference programming.
We will bring a series of reports from Digital Africa – it is a very exciting group of people who truly have the best interests of Africa as their key objective. Kicked off by Dr. Gilbert Balibaseka Bukenya, Vice President of Uganda, the conference also included ministers of communications from Uganda, Niger, Cameroon, and Burkina Faso. Other nations are well represented with representatives from the private sector, government, and education.
With that many politicians, you would think protocol would prevent any level of innovation or open discussion. Not the case, it was a very cooperative environment.
Why is cloud important in developing countries?
It is a reasonable question, and a reasonable answer. The basic requirements in developing countries (beyond clean water and food) are infrastructure, education, jobs, and eGovernment (including banking). Nothing works without the infrastructure in place. In countries without stable electricity and limited telecom infrastructure, this has to be a high priority.
When building out the basic infrastructure in countries with a tremendous amount of sunlight, wind or solar energy makes a lot of sense. A lot more sustainable than running diesel generators, and as an unfortunate byproduct of global warming, more sunny days each year are available to provide power.
In rural areas we are talking about enough power to provide electricity for schools, internet kiosks or cafes, and wireless access points in city centers. 15kW would do it, and that is not unreasonable. It is not unreasonable if we are looking at low-powered NetBooks and terminals that do not have a large burden of local resources for processing power, memory, storage, and high performance video applications.
According to several presentations at Digital Africa, there is strong evidence that with each 10% of any population in Africa having access to mobile or Internet technologies, there is a corresponding 1.8% increase in that nation’s GDP. Evidence that simply bringing Internet and education to the rural and unwired population will increase the national wealth, and quality of life, by a an annual increase of 1.8%
Bring the cable to the school, wire up a NetBook-based LAN, connect via wireless to a local access point, and you have an entry-level connected school. An entry-level school that can access Stanford classes online, from rural areas of Niger. Once that is available, and children are able to diffuse wired intellectual exposure into their intellectual tacit knowledge library, and we are creating a much more level playing field.
OK, let’s drop the physical fiber runs and electricity planning for just a moment. We’ll save that for a future article.
Cloud Computing Driving the Community
If we can build a data center in a couple of national locations with stable power, and with international or local funding build out a basic data center infrastructure, then with a bit of creativity and planning we will expect Infrastructure virtualization (IaaS) as a basic component of the data center.
Utility processing, storage, and memory available for the community. With a bit of further planning, adding one or more good PaaS models on the infrastructure, and we have a resource that can be used to host academic applications, business applications, and government applications. Remember this is the early days of development – in most cases there is no infrastructure to start with, so we can design this as a best practice from Day 1.
Take the burden of infrastructure away from the schools, startup companies, and existing SMEs and offer a virtual data center utility to server both their office automation and IT needs, as well as granting access to the global marketplace.
A Novel Idea – the Mobile Data Center
UConnect is a project run by several independent souls who want to bring education to the small rural school children in Uganda. A panel truck, lined with computers, and a server hosting a wide variety of eLearning applications, UConnect drives to schools and lets the children work on computers for a couple hours each week. A project bringing education to areas where just a year ago there would be no opportunity for children to be exposed to either computer technologies, or formal education materials.
This is creativity, and a refusal to let the children grow up in a world where they are completely out of touch with their global community counterparts. A technology baby step for us, a giant leap for Ugandan children. But not good enough. We need to inspire children to succeed, and to do that children need exposure to the same intellectual tools as a child in Calabasas, California.
Cloud computing can, should, and will be part of that plan. It makes sense.