Digital Africa 2010 and Cloud Computing in Developing Countries

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 Near Kampala Uganda and Digital Africa 2010discussions, 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

Bringing education to the students in UgandaUConnect 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.

Hero bringing education to children in rural UgandaThis 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.

About johnsavageau
Another telecom junkie who has been bouncing around the international communications community for most of the past 35 years.

One Response to Digital Africa 2010 and Cloud Computing in Developing Countries

  1. Sri Prakash says:

    Excellent article; just chanced on it so my late comment.

    I share similar views on the topic:

    A cloud strategy in Africa makes absolute sense. The reasons below will justify my view of the trend towards the cloud paradigm in Africa over the next few years to help it join the information super-highway.

    GEOGRAPHY: A large continent with a number of countries with disparate levels of access to education and commerce. This makes it exceedingly hard for the standard distributed computing model to proliferate. Cities that can and centers of excellence are too few and spread too far apart to seed this kind of development. A faster and more practical model for growth would be to establish a cloud infrastructure clustered in the few cities that can actually host it.

    DISPARATE INFORMATION NEEDS: Let me explain what I mean – given that a majority of the population is still extremely poor and requires access to basic needs – the kind of information that will be most helpful and be readily consumed by the larger population is that which is related to healthcare, hygiene, literacy, safety, micro farming, small business, micro business, and basic social development including village and small town development; in this scenario, the majority of the population are going to be “consumers” of information rather than “producers”. In such a model, a cloud approach makes more sense since these population centers cannot really afford to maintain their own data centers from a logistical, financial, and know-how perspective.

    INTERNATIONAL INVESTORS: International investors are one of the major drivers for helping Africa get onto the information super highway. Profitability is a key objective for these investors; the only way they can see the quickest ROI (Return on Investment) is to follow a cloud model. By piggy-backing on Africa’s current major broadband initiative, investors can establish clouds that are physically located in the few major cities scattered across Africa and make the cloud services available to the entire population over cellular-data networks that are proliferating across Africa at a much more rapid rate than any other technology. A cloud strategy is also the cheapest way for information services providers to keep costs low – so it’s a no brainer that this approach trumps the more traditional information services models. Proof of this happening is further seen in the participation at “Capacity Africa 2011” at Nairobi where most of the world’s leading telecommunications companies are showcasing their cellular and broadband efforts in Africa.

    SEEDING AFRICA’S GROWTH THROUGH INFORMATION: Who better to seed Africa’s growth than the people of Africa themselves. Like I pointed out, the populations is scattered over an impossibly large geography. The centers of excellence are few and far apart. But it is these few centers that are best positioned to seed development of the rest of the continent by disseminating information that is most relevant at a cost that is minimal. The cloud will allow Africa to achieve this in the most technical and cost feasible manner.

    If you enjoyed this post, you may also like my posts on:

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