Managing Disasters with Internet Utilities

Fire season is here. Southern California fire departments and forestry services are urging residents to cut back brush on their properties and create “defensible space” Burbank is in a High Risk Period for Wildfirebetween the dry chaparral and their homes. Local news stations have spooled their resources to bring fire-related journalism to the population. And, we have already seen extreme technology such as DC-10s and 747s dumping insane amounts of Foscheck and water to quickly knock down fires which have popped up early in the season.

Southern California has fires, just as Kansas has tornadoes and Florida has hurricanes. Disasters are a natural part of nature and life. How we deal with natural disasters, our ability to survive and overcome challenges, and how we restore our communities defines our society.

Technology tools in place or being developed are having a major impact on our ability to react, respond, and recover from disaster. In the early stages of any disaster, communication is key to both survival and response. As nearly every person in the world is now tethered to a wireless device, the communication part isDefensible space to avoid brush fires becoming much easier, as even the most simple handset will support basic features such as text messaging and voice communications.

Getting the Message Out

Over the past 25 years the world has adopted Internet-enabled communications in a wide variety of formats for everything from email to citizen journalism. It is hard to find an event occurring anyplace in the world that is not recorded by a phone camera, YouTube video, blog, or real time broadcast.

In the 2008 Santa Barbara Tea Fire students from UC Santa Barbara used Twitter to warn fellow students and local residents to get out of the fire’s path as it raced through 2000 acres and more than 210 houses within the city limits. While it is not possible to put a statistic on the value of Twitter on evacuations and emergency notification, interviews following the fire with students revealed many had their initial notification through Twitter lists, and indicated they were able to get out of areas consumed in the fire (while screaming the heads off to others in the neighborhood to get out) before public safety officials were able to respond to the fire.

NOTE: I was driving through Santa Barbara (along the ‘101) during the initial phase of the fire, and can personally verify the fire moved really, really fast through the city. It looked like lava streaming out of a volcano, and you could see houses literally exploding as the fire hit them and moved through… I wasted no time myself getting through the city and on the way to LA.

Houses in Burbank's Verdugu MoutnainsThis article will not review all the potential technologies or software becoming available for emergency notifications, however we will look at the basic utility enabling all the great stuff happening to keep our citizens safe. The Internet.

Internet’s Utility is Now Bigger than Individuals and Companies

We all remember the infamous interview with Ed Whitcare, former CEO at AT&T.

Q: How concerned are you about Internet upstarts like Google, MSN, Vonage, and others?

A: How do you think they’re going to get to customers? Through a broadband pipe. Cable companies have them. We have them. Now what they would like to do is use my pipes free, but I ain’t going to let them do that because we have spent this capital and we have to have a return on it. So there’s going to have to be some mechanism for these people who use these pipes to pay for the portion they’re using. Why should they be allowed to use my pipes?

The Internet can’t be free in that sense, because we and the cable companies have made an investment and for a Google or Yahoo or Vonage or anybody to expect to use these pipes [for] free is nuts!

This statement, clearly indicates many in the internet network and service provider business do not yet get the big picture of what this “4th Utility” represents. The internet is not funny cat videos, porn, corporate web sites, or Flickr. Those features and applications exist on the Internet, but they are not the Internet.

Internet, broadband, and applications are a basic right of every person on the planet. The idea that two network administrators might have an argument at a bar, and subsequently consider the possibility of “de-peering” a network based on personalities or manageable financial considerations borders on being as irresponsible as a fire department going on strike during a California wildfire.

From http://www.wired.com/autopia/2009/09/evergreen-supertanker/As a utility, the Internet has value. Just as electricity, water, or roads. The utility must be paid for either before or after use, however the utility cannot be denied to those who need the service. When a city grows, and attracts more traffic, residents, and commerce, the intent is normally not to restrict or control the process, you build better roads, better infrastructure, and the people will eventually pay the price of that growth through taxes and utility bills. The 4th Utility is no different. When it gets oversubscribed, it is the carrier’s responsibility to build better infrastructure.

Disputes between network administrators, CFOs, or colocation landlords should never present a risk that SMS, Twitter, email, or other citizen journalism could be blocked, resulting is potential loss of life, property, and quality of life.

Communicating in the Dangerous Season

Fire season is upon us. As well as riots, traffic congestion, government crackdowns, take downs, and other bad things people need to know so they can react and respond. The Internet delivers CalTrans traffic information to smart phones, SMS, and web browsers to help us avoid gridlock and improve our quality of life. Twitter and YouTube help us understand the realities of a Tehran government crackdown, and Google Maps helps guide us through the maze of city streets while traveling to a new location.

We have definitely gone well past the “gee whiz” phase of the Internet, and must be ready to deal with the future of the Internet as a basic right, a basic utility, and essential component of our lives.

Net neutrality is an important topic – learn more about network neutrality, and weigh in on how you believe this utility should be envisioned.

Google as the 5th Estate

Wikipedia lists the “5th Estate” as an ambiguous addition to the traditional “estates,” including the clergy (1st Estate), nobility (2nd Estate), commoners (3rd Estate), and the press (4th Estate). The term (according to Wikipedia)has been used to describe Max Headroom in Our Ethertrade unions, the poor, the blogosphere and organized crime. It can also be used to describe media outlets that see themselves in opposition to mainstream (“Fourth Estate”) media.

If you believe Larry Page, a co-founder of Google, their vision is to marry artificial intelligence with search engines so powerful they would understand “everything in the world.” A couple of years ago Google further stated a corporate vision to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

A very compelling and interesting vision, until you begin to understand the extent of that capability. On a positive note it gives us a way find and access codified knowledge we’d never gain exposure to under normal conditions (pre-Google and Internet “normal conditions”), but on the other end of the spectrum personal information and confidential information is also collected, indexed, and made available to anybody with access to a search engine.

Posting a blog entry may get you indexed within seconds, as would posting pictures of your family. Your tax records, home information, educational records, and other personal information, if not guarded with near military discipline (oops, forgot about wikileaks.com), will expose parts of your life never expected to the other 4.5 billion people around the world who may have a voyeuristic or nefarious interest in your life.

Going Nose-to-Nose with a Sovereign Nation

However, perhaps the most interesting step into uncharted territory with Google is in their recent conflict with China.

Google took issue with China’s censorship of search engine results, as well as cyber-terrorism it alleged was raged by Chinese government hackers, who obtained confidential information and email data from Google as well as at least 20 other private companies in what Google described “as a highly sophisticated attack.” (Red Herring)

The issue here is not censorship, the issue is the rights of a sovereign nation, versus the development of a global utility that transcends the control of a nation over its citizens. Kind of a new United Nations of Cyber managed by Google.

China is a good target, as self-righteous citizens of western countries reject the socialist political/cultural environment in the world’s most populous country. Of course those who believe in western conspiracy would note that Google has been linked to the CIA and other global intelligence agencies since inception (1), (2), (3), etc., by a variety of mainstream media and private websites.

But what does happen when a private company reaches a level of power that allows it to set both foreign and domestic policy in sovereign nations? Is there a point when the UK, must check with Google for approval before signing privacy or security policy into law? At what point does a private company “cross over the line” of providing a global utility and become a global “big brother?”

Max Headroom Returns to Our Ether

We’ve written about Max Headroom in the past, and he recently pop-p-p-p-ped up in conversations and magazine artiocles, including Wired Magazine. Max Headroom’s world, although brought to us in 1985, is almost creepy in its relevance to modern times. Just swap Television, studios, and TV with Internet and SEO ratings.

“In the post-apocalyptic future where television sets are more important than food, TV ratings are the all important currency of the nation. A new technique of preventing viewers from channel surfing proves somewhat detrimental to particularly sedentary couch potatoes. The top studio becomes concerned: dead viewers make for low ratings. Edison Carter, top news reporter, is sent to find out more. After a motorcycle accident, his mind is preserved by wizz-kid Bryce and becomes his wise cracking, computer generated alter-ego: Max Headroom, who manages to boost ratings above those of any live hosts to date…”

Is Google and Google SEO the new global currency? Is Google search engine placement more important to a company than Euros, RMB, or Dollars? Is Google the next Max Headroom, an omnipresent component of all aspects of our life, more important than our national or cultural identity?

Maybe it is Time to Change

Our lives are now wired with laptop computers, smart phones, Netbooks, Twitter, Facebook, Google, Yahoo, and Internet. You cannot walk a block without being presented with license plates, billboards, handouts, or airplanes pulling banners or skywriting URLs flogging some Internet site or service. Part of every person’s life in our current world. And Bluetooth has drilled it into our heads with Skype and other applications transcending the government controlled communications infrastructure with packetized everything-over-IP applications.

Binding this together brings Facebooks and Googles into the basic infrastructure of the new world, almost to the point of transcending the value of fiber optics, wireless networks, routers, servers, and switches.

While uncomfortable to us 50-somethings, we are witnessing a harbinger of the future. The future is wired. The future is a global community with little respect for borders and culture. The wired world is the 5th Estate. Only question is if Google or Facebook will join the first four estates as individual companies as representatives of the 5th Estate.

Social Media Enabling Asia

The Huffington Post recently posted a blog by Thomas Crampton highlighting some of the differences between social media use in Asian countries vs. the United States. Much of it driven by broadband deployment in technically advanced countries like South Korea, Japan, and Hong Kong (yes, I know…), much of it a burning desire by young people in developing countries who want to expand their social and intellectual evolution.

Indonesia is now the second largest user of Facebook in the world. Poor broadband access (generally), low disposable income to buy personal computers, and moral guidelines pressuring young people to follow religious values. How is it possible they could develop that fast?

Growth rates in broadband and mobile access are astounding, with statistics such as Vietnam’s mobile Internet users growing 846% in 2009, 84.3% of Japanese online to the Internet with a mobile phone, and 48.6% of Hong Kong mobile users connecting with a smart phone.

Oh, and mobile phones in Asia are inexpensive. Really, really inexpensive. Almost anybody can afford a mobile phone, and many do – occasionally at the expense of clothing, food, and shelter. In fact, I was able to buy a prepaid phone with around 250 minutes in Jakarta for less than US$20, with messaging, simple data access, and other net-enabled applications.

So the mobile phone represents a means of communication, added to a basic social status issue, and a door to emotional and intellectual exploration and freedom.

What is different in Asia than in the US?

Well, a couple of things for certain. When you start with nearly zero social and technical penetration, and you have the benefit of receiving a relatively mature technology, then it is easy to statistically go from zero to nine hundred miles an hour.

Also, consider the average young person in a country like Indonesia or Vietnam. You go to the occasional movie, you have an opportunity to watch foreign television shows, and you realize it is a very, very big world. Lots of diversity you would not be exposed to without the benefit of technology. Even more, you understand there are real people living in that huge world who are not simple digital renditions of a movie producer’s fantasy.

The Internet helps bring a young person in Jakarta, Samarinda, Semarang, Banda Aceh, or Merauke to Paris, Cape Town, or Burbank. Facebook puts a name and face to distant lands, cultures, and people. And when that young person goes home to their dormitory, house, or relocation home they have a glimmer, even if it is a faint glimmer, of hope that life could be better than it is today.

And Internet access, with social networking provides an additional escape. Whether it be joining a virtual gaming community, or chatting with persons on a different continent, you are able to escape your surroundings for a brief moment. That moment may be in an Internet café (WarNets in Indonesia), it may be in a home, or it may be at school.

Of course, not everybody in Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Cambodia, or Laos are poor or underprivileged.

Social Freedom

Asian culture is different than western culture. In many countries it is not easy to be open with relationships, activities, or personal preferences. While American kids certainly find their escape in gaming and social networking, it is even more of an outlet for many young people in Asia.

If you live in a strict religious environment – as many in Asia do, which restricts your ability to freely express yourself in the local “real” community, being able to develop new ideas, discover new ideas outside the control of your “thought leaders,” is an attraction. Facebook and other social networking sites offer a global conduit of hundreds of millions of other people who may also desire to share experiences and ideas.

And the Future

In the past, Americans enjoyed a fair level of economic and social security based on high levels of education, and the desire to increase their status and quality of life. We looked at developing countries with little interest, and in fact many Americans still cannot find more than a dozen countries on a world map.

Young people in developing countries such as those in Asia, who are included in those astonishing statistics of locations rapidly embracing technology and social networking, are hungry. Hungry not only for knowledge, but also hungry to improve their quality of life, with an added hook of national identity and pride.

The intellectual skills gained through accessing Internet and diffusing global communications into their life will give those persons in developing countries the same intellectual tools American enjoy, putting them on a level intellectual playing field. With the additional ability to participate in eLearning, those intellectual tools become more important – particularly when compared to the dwindling education levels and achievements in America’s education system.

Social networking sites may help draw young people to the Internet, but once there the skills learned far outweigh the social value Facebook or other sites provide. With the largest countries in the world representing the fastest growing component of the internet (China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand), within another generation or two those young people may intellectually match or exceed the capabilities of their age group counterparts in the United States and Europe.

This is all good, as educated people generally are much more likely to quickly recover from disasters, are less likely to become involved in extremist movements, and are more likely to break down political, cultural, and secular barriers that have polarized nations in the past.

It is scary to Americans, as we will need to prepare ourselves to accept the rest of the world as our intellectual and economic equals. It is inevitable.

Indonesia’s Wireless Vision Goes High Speed

In Los Angeles we are pretty happy with our Android phones, iPhones, and other smart handheld devices. We can buy EVDO card for our laptops, and now 4G cards are starting to POP up in some locations. In Jakarta people laugh at such nonsense. With high speed wireless infrastructure covering HSPA Sales Media in Jakarta Mall Ambassadorover 95% of the addressable Indonesian population, the country has leap-frogged not only America, but also much of Asia in delivering high speed wireless service.

If you take a walk through Jakarta’s Mall Ambassador you are presented with a dizzying array of high speed wireless access options for both smart phones and USB flash modems – and oh yes, even EVDO if that is what you really want. So you select your option, is it HSPDA? HSPA? HSPA+? In Jakarta you can easily buy HSPA+ flash modems and base stations that actually deliver between 21~42Mbps to an end user device.

While the highest speeds may not be affordable to the masses, nearly all smartphones and base stations are more than adequate for web browsing and streaming media. In fact, Indonesia has the largest number of mobile FaceBook users in the world, and that number continues to grow at an astonishing rate, as more Indonesians invest in internet-enabled devices as a tool for their future.

But let’s go beyond the city limits of Jakarta, and look at what this means toHSPA Flash Modem Sales Jakarta other rural and remote parts of the country.

If 95% of the population is covered by wireless antennas, and all of those antennas are capable of supporting at least some level of Internet access, then the need for laying copper cable to end users in remote locations becomes less important. An HSPDA base station that connects to a 7.2Mbps data stream can easily connect a LAN of dumb terminals (NetBooks) to a school in remote parts of Sumatra or Papua. eLearning, including remote transmission of lectures, lessons, podcasts, or other means of delivering knowledge becomes possible, giving a level academic playing field to anybody in the country.

City offices, commercial businesses, and even individual homes can connect to the HSPDA signal, allowing Internet access with the same or better performance many users experience with cable modems or organizational LANs connecting to a local ISP or carrier. Add a bit of cloud computing offering a suite of hosted SaaS applications and secure storage in a data center available to users throughout the country, and we have the beginnings of national access to the 4th Utility (marriage of broadband access and cloud computing resources) in Indonesia.

WarNet in Samarinda IndonesiaBut probably the most interesting, and useful example of delivering Internet access to those who need it most is the WarNet. The Warnet is the Indonesian version of an Internet Café. In many rural communities and urban inner-city areas people do not have the money to afford buying their own computer, or do not have the ability to connect to the Internet from their homes or offices. The WarNet may connect a small Internet Kiosk to wireless Internet in a remote location, offer some basic printing services, and that kiosk becomes a social, educational, business, and entertainment hub for small communities.

Schools could follow the same model as WarNets, connecting to broadband wireless through a local base station and extending an access LAN to student workstations and terminals. Again, with eLearning those terminals can be dumb, with the applications and student working storage on a data center hosted platform.

HSDPA Base station in JakartaHigh speed broadband wireless is effectively bringing the Internet to nearly all Indonesians. Now the effort needs to be making access devices more affordable and more available, as well as producing high quality content and content delivery into the wireless networks. As most of the wireless networks are still not exceeding ~30% of their transmission capacity at peak, there is ample room for growth.

Backbone fiber networks owned by the wireless carriers and wholesale providers will continue to expand, enhancing the wireless operator’s ability to increase their capacity to meet the potential of future wireless technologies such as LTE and 4G. And Indonesians will continue to approach the Internet’s technical edge.

Not bad Indonesia… not bad at all

A Cloud Computing Epiphany

One of the greatest moments a cloud evangelist indulges in occurs at that point a listener experiences an intuitive leap of understanding following your explanation of cloud computing. No greater joy and intrinsic sense of accomplishment.

Government IT managers, particularly those in developing countries, view information and communications technology (ICT) as almost a “black” art. Unlike the US, Europe, Korea, Japan, or other countries where Internet and network-enabled everything has diffused itself into the core of Generation “Y-ers,” Millennials, and Gen “Z-ers.” The black art gives IT managers in some legacy organizations the power they need to control the efforts of people and groups needing support, as their limited understanding of ICT still sets them slightly above the abilities of their peers.

But, when the “users” suddenly have that right brain flash of comprehension in a complex topic such as cloud computing, the barrier of traditional IT control suddenly becomes a barrier which must be explained and justified. Suddenly everybody from the CFO down to supervisors can become “virtual” data center operators – at the touch of a keyboard. Suddenly cloud computing and ICT becomes a standard tool for work – a utility.

The Changing Role of IT Managers

IT managers normally make marginal business planners. While none of us like to admit it, we usually start an IT refresh project with thoughts like, “what kind of computers should we request budget to buy?” Or “that new “FuzzPort 2000″ is a fantastic switch, we need to buy some of those…” And then spend the next fiscal year making excuses why the IT division cannot meet the needs and requests of users.

The time is changing. The IT manager can no longer think about control, but rather must think about capacity and standards. Setting parameters and process, not limitations.

Think about topics such as cloud computing, and how they can build an infrastructure which meets the creativity, processing, management, scaling, and disaster recovery needs of the organization. Think of gaining greater business efficiencies and agility through data center consolidation, education, and breaking down ICT barriers.

The IT manager of the future is not only a person concerned about the basic ICT food groups of concrete, power, air conditioning, and communications, but also concerns himself with capacity planning and thought leadership.

The Changing Role of Users

There is an old story of the astronomer and the programmer. Both are pursuing graduate degrees at a prestigious university, but from different tracks. By the end of their studies (this is a very old story), the computer science major focusing on software development found his FORTRAN skills were actually below the FORTRAN skills of the astronomer.

“How can this be” cried the programmer? “I have been studying software development for years, and you studying the stars?”

The astronomer replied “you have been studying FORTRAN as a major for the past three years. I have needed to learn FORTRAN and apply it in real application to my major, studying the solar system, and needed to learn code better than you just to do my job.”

There will be a point when the Millenials, with their deep-rooted appreciation for all things network and computer, will be able to take our Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), and use this as their tool for developing great applications driving their business into a globally wired economy and community. Loading a LINUX image and suite of standard applications will give the average person no more intellectual stress than a “Boomer” sending a fax.

Revisiting the “4th” Utility

Yes, it is possible IT managers may be the road construction and maintenance crews of the Internet age, but that is not a bad thing. We have given the Gen Y-ers the tools they need to be great, and we should be proud of our accomplishments. Now is the time to build better tools to make them even more capable. Tools like the 4th utility which marries broadband communications with on-demand compute and storage utility.

The cloud computing epiphany awakens both IT managers and users. It stimulates an intellectual and organizational freedom that lets creative people and productive people explore more possibilities, with more resources, with little risk of failure (keep in mind with cloud computing your are potentially just renting your space).

If we look at other utilities as a tool, such as a road, water, or electricity – there are far more possibilities to use those utilities than the original intent. As a road may be considered a place to drive a car from point “A” to point “B,” it can also be used for motorcycles, trucks, bicycles, walking, a temporary hard stand, a temporary runway for airplanes, a stick ball field, a street hockey rink – at the end of the day it is a slab of concrete or asphalt that serves an open-ended scope of use – with only structural limitations.

Cloud computing and the 4th utility are the same. Once we have reached that cloud computing epiphany, our next generations of tremendously smart people will find those creative uses for the utility, and we will continue to develop and grow closer as a global community.

Giving Ourselves a Broadband Facelift for the 2010 Matrix

Of all the memories the telecom community has of the 80s and 90s, one of the most vivid is the sight of long haul fiber optic cable systems being buried throughout the United States. A product of deregulation, competition, and the birth of the Internet, American telecom companies saw a desperate need for greatly increasing transmission capacity, and responded with investments in long haul fiber, metro fiber, and digital switching needed to meet all visions of what we knew in those wonderful days of innovation.

Globally, broadband Internet, 3G + wireless, and the convergence of everything from entertainment to telephony into digital formats is driving not only Internet technologies, but also physical telecom transmission systems to the threshold of existing capacity. This explosive growth in information and communications technologies creates an interesting dilemma for telecom companies.

Do you spend your efforts finding ways to control the use of existing capacity? Or do we acknowledge the fact our network-enabled global community is not likely to get any smaller, and the world now needs our telecom thought leadership to both greatly expand what we already have, while aggressively investing in developing transmission technology that will enable, not restrict, growth in all things digital.

Not a US-Only Challenge

When a child in South Africa, Hanoi, or Denpasar has equal access to Hulu TV, Skype video chats, and eLearning systems from either a fixed workstation or mobile phone, it can be argued technology is serving the purpose of enabling and providing a new generation with the intellectual tools they need to flatten the geographic and political barriers we have lived with since the beginning of time.

All great, benevolent thoughts. Our children may need the tools to correct the problems we’ve created through irresponsible use of fossil fuels, exploitation of natural resources, human transmitted disease, war, and creation of toxic “stuff” that continues to restrict our planet’s ability to create an acceptable quality of life for all.

Face it, educated people in general do not make as many BIG mistakes as those who blindly follow others due to ignorance or lack of exposure to a wide variety of knowledge. Internet and telecom-enabled technologies may facilitate some people who thrive on physical or ideological control, however that is also diluted as the percentages bring their own knowledge of fact, and exposure to a liberal dosage or prism of different perspectives.

Or in other words, we can hope primary school students from different countries and cultures who meet each other through chatting or cooperative educational projects will be more likely to collaborate on useful endeavors in later life than those who are only exposed to a narrow view of society, culture, ideologies, and leadership.

Getting to the Vision

All this is great. An altruistic, warm, and fuzzy view of the future. Getting our vision to reality requires a tremendous amount of work. The current caretakers of industry and leadership do not have all the intellectual tools needed to keep up with a developing generation of children who were birthed in the Internet Age.

However we (the current caretakers) are pretty good at building things. Among those things are fiber optic transmission systems spanning oceans, continents, cities, and now even homes. We are good at building wireless transmission towers, and are still pretty good at building devices that can connect all this fiber, tower, and wireless infrastructure together.

And the younger generation is beginning to envision ways to exploit the transmission “matrix” that is beyond the comprehension of our current caretaker generation.

“The world is becoming one, big, ubiquitous, homogeneous system because of “the network” and the network exists and needs to exist because it exists (in other places) already. This is the justification to build. It is a self-fulfilling chain reaction.” (Hunter Newby, CEO Allied Fiber)

The Republicans in the US like to scream the need for Americans to “Drill Baby Drill,” exploiting domestic sources of fossil fuels, reducing our dependence on foreign sources for energy. In the telecom industry we are beginning to feel the need to “Dig Baby Dig.”

We need to increase our ability to continue delivering the network transmission capacity required to give our next generation the tools needed to really make a “Matrix-enabled” future, rather than spend our efforts scrambling, as in the energy analogy, to control or reduce our dependence on existing sources of telecom capacity.

How it is Going to Happen

In the US, for the past 30 years deregulation has allowed the telecom industry to build their infrastructure without any oversight other than what local or state governments impose for licensing and access to rights of way. Most debates have surrounded topics such as net neutrality, control over markets, or conduct of both content and users connecting to the Internet.

The US National Science Foundation inadvertently created the current, sometimes restrictive environment within the US Internet community by passing control of the NSFNet backbone to a select few commercial providers (AT&T, MCI, and Sprint). This award increased incentives for carriers to control their part of the US Internet space, and reduce incentives to aggressively build out physical capacity needed to meet the exponentially increasing demands for bandwidth and capacity.

It did not greatly meet infrastructure requirements needed to support the convergence of everything that can, does, should, and will travel over Internet Protocol (IP) networks over the next 25 or 30 years. While there are some positive developments in the local loop (FiOS, LTE, WiMAX, Uverse, etc), Newby cautions in the US there is a dearth of long haul and metro capacity needed to string all the local initiatives together.

The answer is to dig. Dig more conduits around the United States and Canada, drop the highest existing capacity fiber cabling within the conduits, connect wireless towers supporting LTE/4G+ to the high capacity backbone, connect buildings and homes, and develop new even higher capacity transmission technologies to parallel or exceed similar models of growth such as Moore’s Law and Metcalf’s Law.

But to give us the space needed to develop those technologies, for now, dig baby dig. Give fiber optic long haul, metro, and local digs the same tolerance we give to filling potholes and expanding lanes on a freeway system – while in the background we hope our leadership designs high speed rail, better road construction materials, and better ways to move from point “A” to point “B.”

Consider broadband, hyper-band, and uber-band development the true 4th Utility justifying extreme social priority, without which we will suffer the same fate as losing electricity, water, and roads. As with roads, everything we do going into the future will ride the broadband “matrix,” and without enough available lanes we will reduce ourselves to a frustrating gridlock of intellectual, business, and social development.

Dig baby dig…

NOTE: I was first introduced to the concept of the “Matrix” in the early 1990s, when a friend of mine suggested I read a book by John S. Quarterman entitled “The Matrix: Computer Networks and Conferencing Systems Worldwide.” 20 years after, and it is still the most enlightening view of the Internet, what the internet cloud and should be, as well as look into the future as anything I have ever read on the topic. It takes William Gibson, Neal Stephensen, and translates their fiction into a reality which continues to become part of our day to day lives. Or maybe it gave both authors additional ideas needed for them to develop fiction…

Expanding the 4th Utility to Include Cloud Computing

A lot has been said the past couple months about broadband as the fourth utility. The same status as roads, water, and electricity. As an American, the next generation will have broadband network access as an entitlement. But is it enough?

Carr, in “the Big Switch” discusses cloud computing being analogous to the power grid. The only difference is for cloud computing to be really useful, it has to be connected. Connected to networks, homes, businesses, SaaS, and people. So the next logical extension for a fourth utility, beyond simply referring to broadband network access as a basic right for Americans (and others around the world – it just happens as an American for purposes of this article I’ll refer to my own country’s situation), should include additional resources beyond simply delivering bits.

The “New” 4th Utility

So the next logical step is to marry cloud computing resources, including processing capacity, storage, and software as a service, to the broadband infrastructure. SaaS doesn’t mean you are owned by Google, it simply means you have access to those applications and resources needed to fulfill your personal or community objectives, such as having access to centralized e-Learning resources to the classroom, or home, or your favorite coffee shop. The network should simply be there, as should the applications needed to run your life in a wired world.

The data center and network industry will need to develop a joint vision that allows this environment to develop. Data centers house compute utility, networks deliver the bits to and from the compute utility and users. The data center should also be the interconnection point between networks, which at some point in the future, if following the idea of contributing to the 4th utility, will finally focus their construction and investments in delivering big pipes to users and applications.

Relieving the User from the Burden of Big Processing Power

As we continue to look at new home and laptop computers with quad-core processors, more than 8 gigs of memory, and terabyte hard drives, it is hard to believe we actually need that much compute power resting on our knees to accomplish the day-to-day activities we perform online. Do we need a quad core computer to check Gmail or our presentation on Microsoft Live Office?

In reality, very few users have applications that require the amounts of processing and storage we find in our personal computers. Yes, there are some applications such as gaming and very high end rendering which burn processing calories, but for most of the world all we really need is a keyboard and screen. This is what the 4th utility may bring us in the future. All we’ll really need is an interface device connecting to the network, and the processing “magic” will take place in a cloud computing center with processing done on a SaaS application.

The interface device is a desktop terminal, intelligent phone (such as an Android, iPhone, or other wired PDA device), laptop, or anything else that can display and input data.

We won’t really care where the actual storage or processing of our application occurs, as long as the application’s latency is near zero.

The “Network is the Computer” Edges Closer to Reality

Since John Gage coined those famous words while working at Sun Microsystems, we’ve been edging closer to that reality. Through the early days of GRID computing, software as a service, and virtualization – added to the rapid development of the Internet over the past 20 years, technology has finally moved compute resource into the network.

If we are honest with ourselves, we will admit that for 95% of computer users, a server-based application meets nearly all our daily office automation, social media, and entertainment needs. Twitter is not a computer-based application, it is a network-enabled server-based application. Ditto for Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIN, and most other services.

Now the “Network is the Computer” has finally matured into a utility, and at least in the United States, will soon be an entitlement for every resident. It is also another step in the globalization of our communities, as within time no person, country, or point on the earth will be beyond our terminal or input device.

That is good

Wiring Indonesia with WARNETs, Wifi Hotspots, and Mobile

Jakarta is a city of cafes, coffee shops, and mobile phones. With a mobile penetration hitting nearly 62% of the population, the world’s 4th most populace nation represents a huge market, and tremendous infrastructure challenges. With more than 50% of the country making less than $50/month, the percentage of people with access to mobile phones and the Internet is astonishing.

WarNet in Samarinda IndonesiaThis is very apparent when driving through villages that are well under the poverty line, such as you will drive through on the way from Balikpapan to Samarinda (in Eastern Borneo, East Kalimantan Province). A large percentage of the “homes” you pass would not have a prayer to hold water out of the “house” during a heavy rainstorm, but you will see many, if not most, of the residents carrying a mobile phone.

Most of the mobile phones are pre-paid, meaning of course the user pays up front for the handset and phone minutes, however even the poorest people have access to handsets.

The next interesting item is the ubiquitous “WarNet.” WarNet is actually a combination of two words, Warung (Café) and Internet. While not as available as mobile phones, nearly every village has one or two WarNet rooms, which (from my observation) have most of the available terminal stations filled with users.

As a large percentage of the population lacks disposable income needed to purchase their own computer, or Internet access, the WarNet is the only place young people (and older folk) are able to access and take advantage of either computers or network-enabled communications.

Strolling the streets of Samarinda after 2200, in an entirely unscientific poll, I was able to count about 2 WarNets per city block in the downtown area. A similar stroll earlier in Batam (a free port near Singapore) yielded similar results, with Jakarta only slightly less, probably due to the fact my unscientific strolling poll was confined to a relatively opulent area with more WiFi hotspots available at coffee shops such as Starbucks and the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, with patrons carrying their own laptop computers.

This did drop the number of WarNets to a scarce one per city block when you are off the main roads.

WarNets are Not Just for Fun

While the Korean Internet Café experience of the 1990s was fueled by insatiable demands for higher performance multi-user gaming networks, the Indonesian experience appears to be much more broad in scope. According to Mr. Ibenk, an official with the Indonesian Government’s Kominfo (national ICT organizer), WarNet’s serve the community by providing both exposure and low cost access to the Internet for students, business people, as well as access to social media and entertainment.

WarNet is downtown Batam Indonesia“Access to a WarNet costs users less than 3000 Rp (Indonesian Rupiah, around $.35) per hour. While still a reasonably high cost to a poor user, nearly everybody can afford at least a couple hours per week to access the network” added Ibenk.

WarNets are used by students, professionals, and from my observation a lot of foreign tourists trekking through both Jakarta and other more remote locations. Students spend a lot of time on the Internet, and it appears schools encourage use of WarNets for some students to access research, write reports (most WarNets also have sideline services such as printing, copying, and faxing), and as one student told me, they are now even submitting some homework assignments through the Internet.

You may question why this would be necessary, and the answer is simple – most schools in poor sections of Jakarta and most rural areas do not have sufficient budget to build ICT within their school or curriculum. However both students and teachers know that for a child to be competitive in the new wired world, they need exposure to Internet technologies to gain skills critical to their future success in a global economy.

Porn, hacking, and other nefarious use of WarNets

While it may seem unbelievable, most WarNet operators claim use of WarNet’s to access pornography and conduct illegal activities occurs, it is probably at a level much lower than we’d expect. “Niki,” a former WarNet operator in Sumatra now working as an ICT manager in Jakarta, explained “Indonesia is a Muslim majority country. Muslim’s may have a stricter social manner than in some other countries, and thus the negative uses of WarNet’s may be lower than you would expect.”

Not sure if that is entirely true, however most of the WarNet’s I visited during the past 10 days in Indonesia appeared to be meeting the objectives noted above. Just a lot of people chatting, researching, doing email, or using word processing programs (including Google Docs and MS Live Office). Cloud computing, whether the users know it or not, has actually made a very positive contribution to the community by providing applications and online storage that would not have been available just a couple years ago.

WarNets are a Positive Contributor to Indonesia

A report by Rudi Rusdiah, from APWKomtel, claims WarNet’s account for more than 40% of all Internet access in Indonesia. I’d believe that number is actually higher, given the number of WarNets I observed in rural areas throughout Java, Sumatra, and Kalimantan.

Rusdiah’s report includes a listing of the positive social impacts of WarNet’s, including:

  • Extending public Internet access to serve people with no computer or Internet access at home;
  • Providing value-addition to small and medium businesses in the community, strengthening the economy by creating employment and business opportunities;
  • With the support of the Ministry of Industry and Trade, setting up of Warsi (Warung Informasi or Information Centers) near small traditional industry clusters;
  • Providing Internet access and literacy to the small businesses in the community and cluster;
  • Promoting the products and services beyond local and traditional markets, to global and national reach;
  • With Open University and OSOL, programs to promote the use of IT as a tool for education;
  • Providing tourists, travelers and commuters with Internet access.

In a world where many governments struggle with bringing broadband Internet to every home as a public utility, developing nations need to exercise great creativity in delivering “any” internet access to the community. The WarNet provides that utility, and the creativity of Indonesians to find ways to deliver Internet to nearly every community in the country through use of satellite, microwave, mobile phones, DSL, and telephone access should be applauded.

Not the final solution, but with the world’s fourth most populace nation getting wired, we will expect a lot of new ideas from a lot of motivated Indonesians in the near future.

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.

A Tsunami of Global Disaster Communications through Citizen Journalism

The news started hitting California early Saturday morning with an SMS alarm on my mobile phone – a major earthquake struck Chile, and there was a potential of tsunami activity in California and Hawaii (as well as the rest of the Pacific). First Citizen Journalism Transforming Mediastop – CNN. The news source was right on the story, with real time information flowing into the newsroom from, not on-scene journalists, but through Twitter and Facebook updates.

Another SMS message hits the phone letting me know there was a Twitter list at #hitsunami, and the discussion would include all the most current news related to tsunami preparations in Hawaii. Also gave a link to a web page that was broadcasting a live feed from KHON in Honolulu until the station integrated their feed on the KHON home page.

Back to CNN, cell phone videos began pouring in from Santiago and Concepcion. CNN began broadcasting directly from Chile – not from a CNN journalist, but from a Chilean citizen streaming video through a Skype connection. KHON also began streaming video and audio from a private citizen through BJPENN.COM in Hilo, as KHON also did not have a real time video feed of their own, or a journalist on site that could provide adequate real time information from the city.

Then, the same stream from BJPENN.COM in Hilo showed up on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC.

Citizen Journalism is here to Stay

News media is changing forever. Citizens now have the technology, and savvy, to provide the world with real time, unedited news feeds 24×7, 365 days a year, and from nearly any single location on the planet. Neither mainstream news media outlets nor governments can fully control the presentation of events occurring around the world. With nearly every mobile phone equipped with a camera or video device, and the ability to send images through both the mobile networks and Internet, reality can once again be reality.

Government actions, law enforcement actions, and individual actions are now more likely to be recorded than not – ensuring that at a raw level, fact will become available to the world without government or media corruption of the source.

While the mainstream news media may still add “expert” commentary and attempt to interpret events, those events can no longer be controlled or hidden from the global community. There are exceptions, such as embedding journalists within military operations. The government will still control what the public views or learns from those journalists, and propaganda will still be part of our lives. Mainstream media will still try to interpret events in a manner supporting their political views (if in doubt, watch the US stations Fox, MSNBC, CNN, and BBC America for a variety of interpretations of a single event).

But that line of deception, or use of propaganda, becomes thinner every day as the diffusion of recording devices and communications continues to become available to nearly every person on the planet.

“We are getting Twitter reports and photos from the Big Island…”

With residents of the Big Island scattered along the shores of Hawaii, and nearly 100% of them with a mobile communications device, people on the island were kept up to date by the second of tsunami activity hitting the island. Emergency services broadcast information upon receipt of updates, and if there was ever a “dry run” for emergency communications, the people of Hawaii showed the world how it should be done.

As Governor Lingle stated in a pre-event news conference (broadcast to KHON studios via Skype), “the eyes of the world are now on Hawaii.” Gov. Lingle, and the people of Hawaii should be proud of the way they set a new standard for integrating citizen journalism, broadcast journalism, and emergency services into a single, integrated community.

CNN, Fox, and MSNBC had one theme in common throughout the rapidly unfolding Chile earthquake events, and preparations for a tsunami event around the Pacific – “send us your images, reports, and video, but do not put yourself in danger.”

Mainstream media gets it. They may not like it much, but they get it. iReports, real-time Skype and Twitter reports, SMS messages, and mobile imaging have given us the potential of having around 4 billion citizen journalists available to produce news content. CNN, Fox, and MSNBC are more than welcome to collate and interpret those events, but now we have a choice of making our own interpretations, listening to the mainstream media’s interpretations, or listening to the government’s interpretation of local or global events.

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