Developing Countries in the Cloud
April 6, 2010 1 Comment
Developing countries may be in a great position to take advantage of virtualization and cloud computing. During a recent visit to Indonesia, it was clear the government is struggling with the problem of both building a national ICT plan (Information and Communications Technology), as well as consolidating a confusing array of servers, small data centers, and dearth of policies managing the storage and protection of data.
When we consider the need for data protection, considering physical and information security, decentralization of data without adequate modeling for both end user performance, as well as data management is essential in giving the national tools needed to implement eGovernment projects, as well as fully understand implications ICT planning will have for the future economic and social growth of the country.
Considering an E-Government Option Using Cloud Computing
If, as in the case of Indonesia, each governmental organization ranging from the Ministry of Education, to the Ministry of Agriculture, to individual licensing and tax administration offices are running on running on servers which may in fact be connected to normal wall outlets under a desk, you can see we have a challenge, and great opportunity, to create a powerful new ICT infrastructure to lead the country into a new information-based generation.
Let’s consider education as one example. Today, in many developing countries, there is very limited budget available for developing an ICT curriculum. Classrooms consolidate several different classes (year groups), and even text books are limited. However, in many, if not most developing countries, more than 95% of the population is covered by mobile and cellular phone networks.
This means that while there may be limited access to text books, with a bit of creativity we can bring technology to even the most remote locations via wireless access. This was very apparent during a recent conference (Digital Africa), where nearly every country present, including Uganda, Rwanda, Mali, and Chad all indicated aggressive deployments of wireless infrastructure. Here are a couple of simple ideas on the access side:
- Take advantage of low cost solar panels to provide electricity and battery backup during daylight hours
- Take advantage of bulk discounts, as well as other international donor programs to acquire low cost netbooks or “dumb terminals” for delivery to remote classrooms
- Install wireless access points or receivers near the ubiquitous mobile antennas, and where necessary subsidize the mobile carriers to promote installation of data capacity within the mobile networks
- Take advantage or E-Learning programs that provide computer-based training and lessons
- Centralize the curriculum and student management programs in a central, cloud-based software as a service (SaaS) model in a central or distributed cloud architecture
Now, we can further consider building out two or three data centers in the country, allowing for both load balancing and geographic data backup. Cloud storage, cloud processing, and a high capacity fiber optic backbone interconnecting the facilities. Again, not out of the question, as nearly all countries have, or are developing a fiber backbone that interconnects major metropolitan areas.
So, starting with our eLearning SaaS model, let’s add a couple more simple applications.
If we can produce terminals and electricity for small schools anyplace in the country, why can’t we extend the same model to farmers (eAgriculture), local governments, and individuals through use of “Internet Kiosks” or cafes, possibly located near village offices or police stations? We can, and in fact that is a model being used in countries such as Indonesia, where Internet cafes and kiosks called “WarNets” dot the countryside and urban areas. Many WarNets supplement their electricity with solar energy, and provide Internet access via either fixed lines or wireless.
Cloud Computing Drives the Country
While some may reject the idea of complete standardization of both government and commercial applications at a national level, we can also argue that standardization and records management of the education system may in fact be a good thing. In addition, when a student or adult in Papua (Indonesia) gains the necessary intellectual skills through local eLearning programs, and is able to spend the weekend watching videos or reading through transcripts from the Stanford Education Program for Gifted Youth, the Center for Innovation, or Entrepreneur series.
However when a nation is able to take advantage of an economy of scale that says compute capacity is now a utility, available to all government agencies at a fixed cost, and the nation is able to develop a comprehensive library of SaaS applications that are either developed locally or made available through international agencies such as UNDP, the World Bank, USAID, and others.
With effective use of SaaS, and integration of the SaaS applications on a standardized data base and storage infrastructure, agencies and ministries with small, inefficient, and poorly managed infrastructure have the opportunity for consolidation into a centrally managed, professionally managed, and supported national ICT infrastructure that allows not only the government to operate, but also support the needs of individuals.
With a geographic distributed processing and data center model, disaster recovery becomes easier based on high performance interconnecting backbones allowing data mirroring and synchronization, reducing recovery time and point objectives to near zero.
The US CIO, Vivek Kundra, who manages the world’s largest IT organization (the United States Government), is a cloud believer. Kundra supports the idea of both national and local government standardization of applications and infrastructure, and in fact in a recent Government Technology News interview said he’s “moving forward with plans to create a storefront where federal government agencies could easily acquire standard, secure cloud computing applications.”
This brings a nation’s government to the point where online email, office automation, graphics, storage, database, and hosting services are a standard item that is requested and provisioned in near real time, with a secure, professionally managed infrastructure. It is a good vision of the future that will provide tremendous utility and vision for both developed and developing countries.
I am thinking about a school in Papua, Indonesia. The third year class in Jakarta is no longer in a different league from Papua, as students in both cities are using the same lessons available through the national eLearning system. It is a good future for Indonesia, and a very good example of how cloud computing will help bring developing countries into a competitive, global society and economy.