The Changing Face of Technology and Innovation

GlobalReach A friend of mine’s son recently returned from an extended absence which basically removed him from nearly all aspects of technology, including the Internet, for a bit longer than 5 years. Upon return, observing him restore his awareness of technologies and absorb all things new developed over the past 5 years was both exciting and moving.

To be fair, the guy grew up in an Internet world, with access to online resources including Facebook, Twitter, and other social applications.

The interesting part of his re-introduction to the “wired” world was watching the comprehension flashes he went through when absorbing the much higher levels of application and data integration, and speed of network access.

As much as all of us continue to complain about terrible access speeds, it is remarkable to see how excited he became when learning he could get 60Mbps downloads from just a cable modem. And the ability to download HD movies to a PC in just a few moments, or stream HD videos through a local device.

Not to mention the near non-need to have CATV period to continue enjoying nearly any network or alternative programming desired.

Continuing to observe the transformation, it took him about 2 minutes to nail up a multipoint video call with 4 of his friends, take a stroll through my eBook library, and prepare a strategy for his own digital move into cloud-based applications, storage, and collaboration.

Looking back to my personal technical point of reference at the point this kid dropped out, I dug up blog articles I’ve posted with titles such as:

  • “Flattening the American Internet” (discussing the need for more Internet Exchange Points in the US)
  • “IXPs and Disaster Recovery” (the role IXPs could and should play in global disasters)
  • “2009 – The Year of IPv6 and Internet Virtualization”
  • “The Law of Plentitude and Chaos Theory”
  • “Why I Hate Kayaks” (the hypocrisy of some environmentalists)
  • “Contributing to a Cause with Technology – The World Community GRID” (the cloud before the cloud)
  • “Blackberrys, PDA Phones, and Frog Soup”

And so on…

We have come a long way technically over those years, but the amazing thing is the near immediacy of the young man absorbing those changes. I was almost afraid with all the right brain flashes that he would have a breakdown, but the enjoyment he showed diving into the new world of “apps” and anytime, anywhere computing appears to only be accelerating.

Now the questions are starting to pop up. “Can we do this now?” “It would be nice if this was possible.”

Maybe because he grew up in a gaming world, or maybe because he was dunked into the wired world about the same time he learned to stand on his own feet. Maybe the synaptic connections in his brain are just much better wired than those of my generation.

Perhaps the final, and most important revelation for me, is that young people have a tremendous capacity to exploit the technology resources developed in just a few short years. Collaboration tools which astound my generation are slow and boring to the new crew. Internet is expected, it is a utility, and it is demanded at broadband speeds which, again, to somebody whose first commercial modem was a large card capable of 300 baud (do you even know what baud means?) is still mind boggling.

The new generations are going to have a lot more fun than we did, on a global scale.

I am jealous

Adopting Critical Thinking in Information Technology

The scenario is a data center, late on a Saturday evening.  A telecom distribution system fails, and operations staff are called in from their weekend to quickly find the problem and restore operations as quickly as possible.

Critical Thinking As time goes on,  many customers begin to call in, open trouble tickets, upset at systems outages and escalating customer disruptions.

The team spends hours trying to fix a rectifier providing DC power to a main telecommunications distribution switch, and start by replacing each systems component one-by-one hoping to find the guilty part.  The team grows very frustrated due to not only fatigue, but also their failure in being able to s0lve the problem.  After many hours the team finally realizes there is no issue with either the telecom switch, or rectifier supplying DC power to the switch.  What could the problem be?

Finally, after many hours of troubleshooting, chasing symptoms, and hit / miss component replacements,  an electrician discovers there is a panel circuit that has failed due to many years of misuse (for those electrical engineers it was actually a circuit that oxidized and shorted due to “over-amping” the circuit – without preventive maintenance or routine checks).

The incident highlighted a reality – the organization working on the problem had very little critical thinking or problem solving skills.  They chased each obvious symptom, but never really addressed or successfully identified the underlying problem.  Great technicians, poor critical thinkers.   And a true story.

While this incident was a data center-related trouble shooting fail, we frequently fail to use good critical thinking in not only trouble shooting, but also developing opportunities and solutions for our business users and customers.

A few years ago I took a break from the job and spent some time working on personal development.  In addition to collecting certifications in TOGAF, ITIL, and other aerchitecture-related subjects I added a couple of additional classes, including Kepner-Tregoe (K-T) and Kepner-Fourie (K-F) Critical Thinking and Problem Solving Courses.

Not bad schools of thought, and a good refresher course reminding me of those long since forgotten systems management skills learned in graduate school – heck, nearly 30 years ago.

Here is the problem: IT systems and business use of technologies have rapidly developed during the past 10 years, and that rate of change appears to be accelerating.  Processes and standards developed 10, 15, or 20 years ago are woefully inadequate to support much of our technology and business-related design, development, and operations.  Tacit knowledge, tacit skills, and gut feelings cannot be relied on to correctly identify and solve problems we encounter in our fast-paced IT world.

Keep in mind, this discussion is not only related to problem solving, but also works just as well when considering new product or solution development for new and emerging business opportunities or challenges.

Critical Thinking forces us to know what a problem (or opportunity) is, know and apply the differences between inductive and deductive reasoning, identify premises and conclusions, good and bad arguments, and acknowledge issue descriptions and explanations (Erlandson).

Critical Thinking “religions” such as Kepner-Fourie (K-F) provide a process and model for solving problems.  Not bad if you have the time to create and follow heavy processes, or even better can automate much of the process.  However even studying extensive system like K-T and K-F will continue to drive the need for establishing an appropriate system for responding to events.

Regardless of the approach you may consider, repeated exposure to critical thinking concepts and practice will force us to  intellectually step away from chasing symptoms or over-reliance on tacit knowledge (automatic thinking) when responding to problems and challenges.

For IT managers, think of it as an intellectual ITIL Continuous Improvement Cycle – we always need to exercise our brains and thought process.  Status quo, or relying on time-honored solutions to problems will probably not be sufficient to bring our IT organizations into the future.  We need to continue ensuring our assumptions are based on facts, and avoid undue influence – in particular by vendors, to ensure our stakeholders have confidence in our problem or solution development process, and we have a good awareness of business and technology transformations impacting our actions.

In addition to those courses and critical thinking approaches listed above, exposure and study of those or any of the following can only help ensure we continue to exercise and hone our critical thinking skills.

  • A3 Management
  • Toyota Kata
  • PDSA (Plan-Do-Adjust-Study)

And lots of other university or related courseware.  For myself, I keep my interest alive by reading an occasional eBook (Such as “How to Think Clearly, A Guide to Critical Thinking” by Doug Erlandson – great to read during long flights), and Youtube videos.

What do you “think?”

Burbank Takes on Puppy Mills – Part 1

On October 16, members of the community, animal rescue organizations, and local pet store owners gathered at the Burbank City Council meeting to weigh in on the highly emotional issue of the sale of dogs and cats in Burbank, with a focus on commercially bred animals sourced from “puppy mills.”

While there are numerous local, state, and federal laws regulating pet shops and animal sales, animal rights groups contend those regulations are either not adequately enforced, or  are not sufficient to protect the rights of animals shipped to Burbank from commercial breeders (mostly from out of state, sourced in Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas).

Pet shop owners believe their animals are well-cared for, checked upon receipted by veterinarians,  come from reputable breeders, and comply with all applicable regulations and laws.

Over the next three weeks BurbankNBeyond will look at the issue in detail, from the positions of animal rights groups such as Best Friends Animal Society and Burbank CROP, as well as from the position of pet store owners.

As with any highly charged and emotional issue, there is certainly room for arguments on both sides of the debate.

BurbankNBeyond will look at the following issues leading up to a planned Mid-January council meeting and decision on the issue:

  • The regulatory environment
  • Position of pet store owners
  • Positions of council members
  • Issue of online (Internet) pet sales
  • Position of animal rescue and animal rights groups
  • Public opinion or polls

BurbankNBeyond believes this, like all issues, should be decided on the basis of facts.  We welcome comments and opinions, as well as factual experiences that will help highlight the issue.  Please send any comments, leads, experiences, or recommendations on the issue to savageau@pacific-tier.com.

Links to references related to the debate on Burbank Pet Sales are at:

City Council Meeting Agenda – 16 Oct 2012

City Council Meeting Agenda – 27 Mar 2012

Taking Aim at the US Broadband Deficit

During his October 6th speech on Universal Service Fund (USF) and InterCarrier Compensation (ICC) reform, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski admitted the United States has not adequately fulfilled our obligation to deliver broadband Internet and communications services to all areas of the country.   Genachowski noted “harm from not having (access to) broadband – the costs of digital exclusion – already high, are growing every day.” He continued “The broadband divide means economic opportunities denied for ordinary consumers who lack broadband access; educational opportunities diminished; health care access reduced; and public safety
compromised.”

The deficiencies in broadband deployment within the United States are well known, and widely discussed on media and blogs.  The Organization of Economic  Co-operation and Development (OECD) dropped the US to 14th place on the global broadband penetration list, with Western European countries and South Korea leading the world in delivering high speed Internet and broadband services to their citizens.

In a global economy moving ahead at Internet speed, can the United States afford to allow ourselves to continue sliding our ability to deliver the basic tool of communications, this “Fourth Utility” of broadband communications to our citizens?  our young people and students?  our businesses and entrepreneurs?

The FCC of course publically claims they have “harnessing the power of broadband Internet to benefit every American” at the core of their mission, however Genachowski also admits there are cities, with the example of Liberty, Nebraska, as examples of small towns which as of summer 2011 still had no access to broadband internet services.

Let’s consider a model that bypasses the political hype of projects such as the FCC’s Connect America Fund, and turn the responsibility back to private companies, entrepreneurs, and other Americans who given the opportunity may be able to use creativity, energy, and a desire to bring the US back in front of the world’s broadband penetration ratings.

Its All About Fiber and Wireless

In a 2010 article on wireless Internet access in Moldova, Pacific-Tier Communications wrote an article describing wireless access in Chisinau.  In that article we reported wireless internet access in Moldova, up to 50Mbps, was available for about $45 USD.  Testing between Chisinau and Burbank (CA) indicated throughput of more than 10Mbps.

Subject: End of the world/Fin del Mundo – Telefonica performs excellently!

Hi guys,

I’m in Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. On vacation – not work. Except … I had to work for an hour, or at least have a Skype video call from my iPad yesterday. I was at a hotel with Telefonica Argentina xDSL.

It worked perfectly into northern Europe. No problems! Now the point is not the wonders of Skype; but the quality of the network down here at “Fin del Mundo”. Quite excellent! (Email from Martin Levy, Hurricane Electric)

Subsequent testing from hotels and hotspots within the United States showed a fraction of that performance, putting the US in a category somewhat less than Moldova.  The problem in many cases is the local Internet Service Providers (ISPs) simply cannot provide, or afford the broadband “bandwidth” needed to connect users to other locations throughout the global Internet-connected community, resulting in restricted services for many local users – even in large cities such as Los Angeles.

“Just as there is a need for new roads, sewers and power infrastructure, there is a need for new communications infrastructure” explains Hunter Newby, CEO of Allied Fiber.  “Can anyone imagine driving a 10 year old car, or using a 10 year old cell phone with no ability to upgrade. This is the sad state of our National fiber infrastructure. New investment is critically necessary in order for the USA to be competitive.”

It is, all about, fiber.  While smaller countries like Moldova or South Korea may find construction and delivery of fiber optic and wireless infrastructure manageable, North America is a huge land mass, and interconnecting major population areas requires hundreds, if not thousands of miles of infrastructure to deliver broadband communications services to each population center and rural area.

While wireless technologies such as 4G, LTE, and WiMAX are becoming very effective at delivering broadband to mobile users and even local loops (end users and consumers), the issue is more how to get content and real-time communications interconnecting the wireless towers and local loops located throughout the 50 states.  A tremendous amount of capital is required to “sew” all the end distribution points together, and that thread is fiber.

While Allied Fiber is focusing on building new infrastructure on the long distance routes, other independent and neutral fiber optic infrastructure companies are now scrambling to build “metro” fiber infrastructure needed to deliver high capacity infrastructure to distribution points closer to end users.

“The independents (fiber carriers) are the only way our country will remain competitive, innovative, and offer value” advises Glenn Russo, President of Zayo Networks, an independent provider of fiber optic network services.  “The incumbent ILECs and CLECs cannot offer the agility and innovation required to move ahead.”

Speaking of Zayo’s contribution to the US market, Russo continues “our infrastructure helps promote innovation within a variety of industries and enterprises.   We (Americans) are impatient, we hear of things technologically possible, of things being done in other countries, and we want it (those services) delivered now.  The other companies (ILECs and CLECs) cannot respond to a rapidly developing and changing market.”

John Schmitt, VP of Business development at Fiberlight would agree.  “That’s when the business gets enjoyable, when you are forging ahead and opening new territories” says Schmitt.  “Fiberlight is completely neutral in delivering a high capacity product to (telecom) carriers, networks, and even private enterprise. “

Fiberlight, a metro fiber optic infrastructure provider,  is committed to delivering “super high fiber counts” within their metro networks, providing high capacity fiber to buildings, towers, and carriers.  That infrastructure can serve not only any building within their own metro infrastructure, but also “building up to interconnection points, carrier hotels, data centers, as well as serving the needs of private networks within the metro” informs Schmitt.

“While we are in the metro space, and can deliver to end points within the metro not possible for long distance and backbone companies, we are a good match for companies like Allied Fiber who need to provide their customers access to the local loop, as well as allowing our customers access other markets throughout the US with other metro providers connected to the long haul guys.”

What is Means to Americans and Global Competitiveness

The World Bank has published reports that indicate “Broadband networks can support long-term innovation-led economic growth. Recent research by the World Bank finds that for every 10 percentage-point increase in the penetration of broadband services, developing countries can see an increase in economic growth of 1.3 percentage points.”

There is a clear correlation between giving citizens access to broadband communications and Internet access with economic growth.  The United States, falling further behind the world each year in broadband penetration and access, is not providing sufficient resources to Americans to allow the country to remain competitive in an aggressive global Internet-enabled market.

Russo is optimistic.  “We need to keep a sharp eye on the stimulus networks.  Many of the new networks are middle mile (connecting metro areas), and offer many synergies to our (Zayo’s) business model.  If all the networks proposed are actually built, I have to believe we will catch up to the rest of the world pretty fast.”

And while the Broadband.Gov website (FCC’s official website) has not been updated much in the past year, aside from a few blog entries and event videos, the materials published outlining the US Government’s broadband vision and plan are sound.

A Call to Broadband Action

For Americans the main task is to ensure broadband infrastructure is built.  No more excuses from ILEC/CLECs finding excuses to throttle down broadband, rather than enable hyper-growth of broadband.  No more franchises given to telecom providers who lacking competition have little or no incentive to rapidly expand broadband access throughout the country.

High capacity fiber backbones and metro networks, high capacity tower and wireless infrastructure, regulation to support construction, rather than over regulate or establish restrictive licensing requirements.

It does not make any difference if the network will deliver social media, movies, voice, video, support for enterprise information and communications technology, education, intelligent grids, research, or processing “Seti at Home” processing packets.  The fourth utility is essential to our economic survival and national security.

Companies such as Allied Fiber, Zayo, Fiberlight, and dozens of other startup and independent telecom providers must be given our support as a nation and government to build and deliver the tools needed for current and future generations of Americans to retain and extend our leadership in the global network-connected community.

Social Networking through Disaster – Exercise24

A massive earthquake hits the California coast near Huntington Beach between San Diego  and the Baja Peninsula. Of course it was not real, it was an exercise managed by San Diego State University’s VisCenter and InRelief.Org called Exercise24.   Exercise24  was planned as “an open, ‘no fault’ environment for nations, organizations and the global community to explore collaborative technologies and develop solutions to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief challenges,” wrote George Bressler, SDSU adjunct faculty member and lead coordinator of X24.

The Role of Social Media in Disasters

TweetingWe’ve looked at the use of Twitter and other social media tools in previous articles on fires in Santa Barbara, Haiti, Chile, and preparing for the non-event tsunami in Hawaii.  As a tool, instant one-to-many and many-to-many real-time interactive messaging  has tremendous value.  Where broadcast media and law enforcement have shortfalls in the lag time between and event and notifications, instant messaging can give real-time, “as it is occurring” updates to a wide audience.

Exercise 24 (X24) was an attempt at gaining a greater understanding of how to more effectively use tools such as Twitter and Facebook during emergencies.  Objectives included:

Objective One

Utilize the computing cloud to rapidly converge geographically dispersed global experts at the onset of a simulated international incident, deploy a foundation of guidance in concert with community leaders in a manner that empowers community members through education and smart technologies to support mitigation, response, recovery, and a resumption of societal normalcy at a level of functioning an order of magnitude higher than existed before.

Objective Two

Leverage smart phones, ultra-lights (United States), and unmanned air systems (Mexico) for rapid threat/damage assessment of a simulated seismic event that generates a significant oil spill off the coast of Southern California and Northern Baja California, as well as damage to critical infrastructure inland that necessitates mass sheltering of displaced community members.

Objective Three

Leverage the power of NGOs, faith-based groups, rapidly responding government and corporate groups, international groups, social networking communities as occurred in Haiti, and other resilient networks to locate and notionally send aid to Southern California and Baja California

Additional objectives included stressing connections and capacity of social networking sites and Twitter to determine network and capacity load limitations, as well as the ability to filter “noise” from valuable information if needed to ensure the delivery of information and requests for help could be both understood and managed.

Do you remember CNN and the other major news outlets carrying real-time interviews with citizen journalists via Skype immediately after the Chilean Earthquakes?  A laptop computer with a camera and audio kit, and the world was getting on-the-scene reports from Conception as events unfolded – hours and days before news crews could get on the scene.

ISHA SESAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR:  “Indeed, we will have more breaking news coverage of this Chile earthquake, as you would expect. We are going to check on next what’s happening on the Internet. We have social network sites busy talking about the disaster. We’re going to of course bring you what they’re saying.”

We hope to ultimately ‘connect the dots’ for data fusion and pattern recognition in homeland security and homeland defense” said Eric Frost, director of San Diego State’s Immersive Visualization Center (VizLab).

 The Future of Social Networking in Disasters

There are a few obvious problems we need to get through before twitter, or any other instant messaging service such as SMS, eMail, or other means of interactive and non-interactive messaging are completely suited to the task.

Messaging systems require access to network.  Without 3G, LTE/4G, WiFi, or terrestrial Internet access the systems won’t work.

Until every man, woman, child, and automated tripwire has access to a messaging-enabled wireless device, we will still have some shortfalls.

Look how thoughtfully this training simulation has been designed. There are reasons why Californians survive their turbulent environment.” (from Wired Magazine review on X24)

Yes, this is true.  The more prepared we are, the more effectively we can respond, and recovery from disasters.  The more tools available, both intellectual and mechanical, the greater our chances of survival and recovery.

Keep your eyes on organizations such as InRelief.Org, and participate in upcoming disaster response exercises as able.  Maybe trite, but in reality, the life you save might be your own or a loved one.

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.

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 ICT Policy Provides a Success Story for Developing Countries

In the mid-1990s, as an operations manager with Sprint International, I worked in Jakarta to deliver a direct X.25 expansion to PT Indosat from the old SprintNet packet switching network. 15 years ago walking around the streets of Jakarta gave the impression of despair among much of the population, with large groups of unemployed men hanging around street corners. As a relatively well-off foreigner, I drew stares of both wonder and contempt. Internet access was possible through dial-up connections through the X.25 network and a gateway to SprintLink, Sprint’s Internet network.

Returning to Jakarta in 2010 is a shock. While there is still a visible dichotomy of wealth vs. low income population, the changes in Jakarta today are stark. Aside from the rapidly rising skyline, bringing back memories of Shanghai in the 1990s, the other most obvious change is the people. Everybody is going someplace or doing something. Nobody hanging around the street corners (at least from the areas of Jakarta I have traveled over the past few days), and high end shopping malls are everywhere.

An Internet Connection on Every Corner

Advertisement for BizNet IndonesiaJakarta is wired. Sitting in my hotel room I count not less than 20 visible WiFi connections. Along the main routes and shopping malls coffee shops are a standard fixture on just about every main street, and nearly every restaurant boasts a free WiFi connection for patrons. If you do not have the money to pay for an Internet services account, but do have a laptop computer, there is really no reason you would ever be without WiFi access within the downtown area.

And throughput is very good. The World Bank reports that average access speeds for Internet connections within Jakarta hang around 1Mbps. My experience sitting in a WiFi-enabled coffee shop at the City Walk shopping center (near the Jakarta Intercontinental Hotel) gives me around 3.5Mbps on test downloads.

And sitting here I could have run the same test on about 10 available WiFi networks, all serving nearby coffee shops and cafes.

Wiring Indonesia

Indonesia’s National
ICT Vision is
to bring into reality a
modern information society, prosperous and highly competitive, strongly supported by ICT

(Ministry of Information and Communications Technology, Republic of Indonesia)

While you would expect the best Internet access within Jakarta, the capital city, Indonesia is aggressively working to overcome national shortfalls in Internet access around the country. As the world’s fourth most populace nation, and a geography covering nearly 2 million square kilometers, with more than 10,000 populated islands, Indonesia does face challenges.

Mobile phones have shown the greatest success. With more than 140,000 mobile subscriptions, and a quarterly growth rate of 14%, Indonesians are getting connected. However, national broadband access does not share the success of mobile, with only 1.5 million people of a population exceeding 200 million having direct access to broadband – and the majority of those users are in Jakarta.

The government does understand the connection between having broadband access and the potential growth of Indonesia’s economy. Tim Kelly, a policy expert at the World Bank stated in his Digital Africa 2010 speech that for every 10% increase in a nation’s broadband access, the country will experience a 1.3% increase in their economic growth. And of course those countries not hitting that number will continue to fall further behind the rest of world – a statistic that the world’s fourth most populace nation might not find attractive.

The good news is that Indonesia has a very open telecom market, with several companies including Telkom, BizNet, Telkomsel, Indosat, Excelcomindo, Bakrie, and XL making huge infrastructure investments. This includes developing high capacity backbone fiber systems throughout the country, which will allow even better development of wireless and cabled communications infrastructure in rural areas underserved today.

The government is also considering releasing more spectrum to wireless companies that can be used for WiMAX development, primarily in the 700Mhz and 1900/2100Mhz range. In addition, the government will also encourage mobile operators to share common infrastructure such as towers and backbone capacity to reduce the capital expense requirements for building into rural areas.

This includes development of the “Palapa Rings” that will expand existing fiber plant all the way to Papua, although admittedly this will still not meet the needs of most islands, which will still need to use a combination of microwave and VSAT access to interconnect with the rest of the nation and world.

Indonesia also supports use of Internet exchange points (IXPs), including the nation’s largest IXP, the Indonesia Internet Exchange (IIX) to retain most domestic Internet traffic within the country. There are several smaller Internet exchange points located in larger cities throughout the country, including a private IXP operated by a large domestic fiber and Internet provider BizNet.

The Bottom Line

It is easy to look at a country like Indonesia with a critical eye, and come up with lots of suggestions on how the country may more rapidly develop Internet broadband infrastructure. That is until you travel within the country and learn the true meaning of “rural.” Indonesia’s government understands the value of integrating eLearning, eGovernment, eBusiness, and eEverything into the Indonesian socio-cultural DNA. And the government is encouraging Indonesia’s private sector to invest.

As foreigners looking in, we should step back and remember the Jakarta and Indonesia of the mid-1990s, and consider the remarkable development that has occurred over the past decade, and congratulate the government in its current success, while encouraging further growth. A well-educated, well-wired, and productive Indonesia is both important and valuable to the international community, and from what I have seen over the past few days the country is making great progress in meeting their goals.

Rights of a Sovereign Nation or Invasion of an Open Internet?

The headlines are no surprise to those in the Internet business. “Police in Central China have shut down a hacker training operation that openly recruited thousands of members Global Cyber Security and Protection from Hackersonline…” (AP) We’ve know China, Russia, and several of the former Soviet block countries are the source of sophisticated hacking, and those activities have at least been tolerated, if not directly supported, but the host governments.

The recent dispute between Google and China’s government brings another question into the breach – does a national government have the right to censor or control the flow of information in or out of the country? While China may be in the news, citizen journalists in Tehran have been severely punished for attempting to Tweet, email, blog, or transmit cell phone images outside of the country. Under the umbrella of national security do countries like Iran have the right to control that information, or develop teams of professional hackers to go out and look into the accounts of residents and citizens?

Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA): To amend title 18, United States Code, to make clear a telecommunications carrier’s duty to cooperate in the interception of communications for Law Enforcement purposes, and for other purposes.

DCSNet, an abbreviation for Digital Collection System Network, is the FBI‘s point-and-click surveillance system that can perform instant wiretaps on almost any communications device in the US (Wikipedia)

I think we can all agree that any state which sponsors cyber attacks on another nation, either through direct objectives, or by turning a “blind eye” to the activities of criminal groups or organizations is a bad thing, which the entire global-connected world should fight. There is no justification for state-sponsored or state-tolerated denial of service, disruption or access to personal and private data, nor online theft.

The Rights of a Sovereign Nation

As Americans, we can get very sanctimonious in our approach to human rights, national ethics, or national morals. We believe we are always right, based on our religious or cultural beliefs, and other nations and cultures should learn from us and change their errant ways to be more like Americans. This means it is probably OK for the national Security Agency, or other three-lettered government agencies to tap, monitor, or perform other forms of espionage – as long as it is done under the context of national security, or even better if you can throw the word “anti-0terrorism” in the conversation.

Thus activities such as DCSNet, or laws such as CALEA, do not bother us too much. However when China tries to look into the systems using a similar premise of national security, the world has an uproar of indignity, not understanding how those people can possibly violate the privacy of email and other systems.

So the question is – “does a nation have the right to set its own laws, cyber-policies, and regulations regarding the Internet and other information systems?”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has strong opinions on the topic. As a long time advocate (since 1990) for protecting the civil liberties of Internet users, both through protecting the rights of users and educating law enforcement agencies, the EFF includes the following points in its stated mission:

  • Develop among policy-makers a better understanding of the issues underlying free and open telecommunications, and support the creation of legal and structural approaches which will ease the assimilation of these new technologies by society.
  • Raise public awareness about civil liberties issues arising from the rapid advancement in the area of new computer-based communications media.
  • Support litigation in the public interest to preserve, protect, and extend First Amendment rights within the realm of computing and telecommunications technology.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

(1st Amendment to the US Constitution)

Law enforcement and national security agencies of countries around the world would object to the American equivalent of the First Amendment, citing the current world situation, or the sovereign rights of a nation allow it to write, establish, modify, interpret, or change such laws as needed to meet an existing or desired environment.

With global connections to a global community governments are struggling to understand how to control or manage information flows within the country. Twenty years ago it was easy for a government to determine exactly what materials would be used in the education of an 8 year old primary school student. Today, a student in Vietnam, Mongolia, or New Jersey basically have the same access to educational materials as any other student in the world, as well as news, intercommunications, and citizen journalism.

And we must also acknowledge the inherent use of deception by governments and other lobbyist organizations. In the world of governments, what you see is not necessarily what you get. The media is used as a mouthpiece of government policy (when it can be controlled), and without a strong governmental “noise filter” and open citizen journalist community you may not get the real story – only the story a government or organization wants you to receive. They believe it is their right as a sovereign nation’s government of deliver you the news they believe you need to know, or they want you to know.

Some Guidelines for Responsible Cyber-Government

There are priorities. While we all understand national intelligence agencies will always do what they do best – access information they believe will give their respective nation some level of political, economic, or military advantage, the priority should be to protect citizens (including the context of global citizens) from malicious attacks on their personal data and ability to do business and communicate via the Internet.

Hacker schools, such as the China-based Black Hawk Safety Net, cannot be tolerated by a reasonable global community. If a government supports the activities network-enabled criminal activities, then that government should be identified and the world given the means to protect themselves from that risk. The US Government has taken some openly advertised steps in this direction by authorizing the US Air Force to establish the USAF Cyber Command.

The new Air Force Cyber Command “will train and equip forces to conduct sustained global operations in and through cyberspace, fully integrated with air and space operations,” said Major General Charles Ickes.

Of course that capability can both defend – and attack as needed to meet military and national objectives.

Leaving users once again at the mercy of governments to both act responsibly, and in the interest of a global community. Sure, we have our work cut out for us. Like most individual users and people depending on the Internet for our livelihoods and futures, the burden is ultimately on us to protect ourselves from intrusion, theft, and denial of service.

A Developing Country That Can Teach Hawaii An IT Strategy Lesson

Vietnam is in the process of upgrading the entire country’s IT system. With support from organizations such as the World Bank, Vietnam is rebuilding not only physical infrastructure, but also starting from the ground up building new IT systems – including a large scale virtualization strategy.

Hawaii may not be so progressive. The first line of an Associated Press story on Hawaii’s lack of a functional IT strategy goes like this:

“In many ways Hawaii’s government runs its computers like the Internet age hardly happened.” (AP)

The story goes on to expose Hawaii’s lack of IT policy, the fact they are using old systems, a mixture of Apple and PCs for individual users, have a 1960s version of disaster recovery (offsite physical diskette storage), and other parallels with industry that add more discouraging evidence to Hawaii’s IT shortfalls.

Sensationalizing the Obvious

Information Technology in HawaiiI’ve always found it very easy to criticize. Perhaps the role of a journalist is to sensationalize the shortfalls of others, as people do tend to like watching others suffer – as long as the pain stays in somebody else’s life or reputation.

OK, so Hawaii does have some shortfalls in their IT systems. As a user, I have to say my experience using Hawaii’s eGovernment applications hasn’t been too bad. A plus in the Hawaii IT strategy column. I have never had an email rejected from a Hawaii state email server. Another plus. I could probably rack up a lot of pluses, but it is not sensational.

Now let’s look at the difficult side of journalism. Writing something positive and still trying to make it interesting to the readers.

Vietnam is an interesting case study. A larger population, and a lot more government than Hawaii. More problems to deal with – but the government is trying to drive the national IT strategy down to the city level, decentralizing actual applications and access as much as possible to promote the independence of provinces and cities – without disrupting the national IT plan to standardize IT management throughout government.

Nobody would ever suggest the US government try to standardize data strategies down to the state level, much less the city level, however there is still an interesting lesson that can be applied from the Vietnam model.

Data format standards on a national scale can facilitate information sharing and data mining. We won’t go into the personal security issues of that statement in this article, however data format standardization is a good thing for government. The commercial world and manufacturing have had data format/classification standards for many years, including projects such as RosettaNet, XBRL, and UNSPSC.

Thus a driver’s license format in Danang would look identical to the same item in Hanoi – representing 2 very different provinces. Data can easily be shared as needed for identification, reporting, law enforcement, and other data transfer.

Standardization is good.

Enter Virtualization and the Cloud

If a government bureaucracy in a state like Hawaii has extended its inefficiencies into the world of IT, and as stated in quotes the AP article included:

  • Hawaii’s department-by-department way of handling information would not work in the business world, where companies invested heavily in upgrades as the Internet and computers grew in importance.
  • It’s like we had all these little companies and they all grew at the same time, and then when the big company came along and merged everything, it never made the changes.

Beautiful Island - Not So Impressive IT StrategyWell, even in deeply entrenched bureaucracies there has to be a scheduled refresh of technology at some point. Even those precious little Macs and PCs will eventually die, become so old they cannot even load a browser, or the state will grind to a halt because a day will come when no computer in the government will be able to open a Microsoft Word 2010 document.

Maybe, just maybe – much like the government of Vietnam has come to realize, that refresh strategy could include cloud computing. The city of Los Angeles has accepted cloud, and that city probably has a larger government and bureaucracy than the entire state of Hawaii.

The AP article mentions that Governor Lingle has tried to establish an Office of the CIO within Hawaii. Good idea. One that will ultimately save the state a lot of money. Let’s push our representatives to make that happen!

A Proposal

Now select a couple of good data center locations. A couple on Oahu, maybe one each on Maui and the Big Island. Start building cloud computing centers on each island, connect them via dedicated high speed links, synchronize data and applications, then inform the state that all new editions of office automation software will be using a hosted edition of Office 2010, or other high performance hosted package.

Bang – saved money on license fees, labor for installers (those guys who are paid to update your anti-virus software and load service packs on your computer), and high performance desktop and laptop computers.

Start refreshing with dumb terminals and netbooks.

Establish a real state-wide disaster recovery model:

  • Cloud-based virtualized storage
  • Central cloud-based email system
  • Distributed DR model using network-based backups in geographically separated locations
  • Dumb terminals and netbooks backup to the centralized data base and storage – not on local equipment (unless the worker is a traveler). Access to the data is still available from a distant end location through use of VPNs.

Retrain the IT staff on developing applications in the cloud – not on under-the-desktop servers.

Could it really be that simple? Actually – yes. In addition, if the state of Hawaii can build a storefront of applications (including Office 2010-like products), and make those applications available to users on a state-wide basis, and reduce provisioning time for applications to minutes rather than months, why wouldn’t we consider this as an option to what Sen. Donna Mercado Kim (D, Kalihi Valley-Halawa) was quoted as saying, “Every department has IT (information technology) people, and they each have their own way of doing things.”

Nonsense

Very 1970s… So not 2020s…

Vietnam is rebuilding their national infrastructure, the US government under the direction of CIO Vivek Kundra is rebuilding the national IT strategy. Hawaii can rebuild ours as well. And we have great examples and precedent to learn from.

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