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

Big Data Skills – Opportunities and Threats

Big data.  There are few conversations in the IT community which do not start, address, or end on the topic.  Some conversations are visionary in nature, some critical, and many considering the challenges we’ll need to overcome in the process of understanding how to deal with big data.

BigData2Definitions of big data almost parallel the 3 V’s of big data, which are velocity, volume, and variety.  We may call it a byproduct of massive data growth, cheap technology, and our ability to save everything.  We may address the enormous volumes of data generated by social media, smart grids, and other online transactions. 

However we also need to compress those ideas into a form we can understand and use as a basis for our discussions.  For simplicity, we’ll use Gartner’s definition that “big data are high volume, high velocity, and/or high variety information assets that require new forms of processing to enable enhanced decision-making, insight discovery and process optimization.”

Enhanced decision-making?  Insight discovery?  Process optimization?  Outstanding opportunities to enhance our decision support process.  Just corral all the data available to us, and voila, we’re competitive on a global scale.

One minor snag – we’ll need to recruit skilled technical and business staff with both the skills and business experience needed to effectively exploit the potential of big data, as well as establish value to business, government, and quality of life.

In a well-quoted study by the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), data is presented supporting the idea big data to ultimately become a key factor in competition, and competitiveness across all public and private sectors.  The study also states that just in the United States we will have a shortfall of nearly 190,000 skilled professionals in deep analytics, coders, and mathematical abilities.

The Australian Workspend Institute acknowledges there is a shortage of talent, and that shortage is getting worse. Stating that the Australian mining, oil, and gas industries have identified a shortfall of 100,000 skilled engineers, the “war for talent” is further running up the cost of labor for staff with deep analytical skills across-the-board.

Boston company NewVantage Partners published the results of an executive survey of leading Fortune 1000 companies adding only 2% of those listed companies felt they had no challenges finding talent and skilled resources needed to understand and exploit big data.

Is it really that important to be on top of big data?

A 29 March 2012 press release from the Executive Office of the President (US) unveiling the country’s “Big Data Research and Development  Initiative” stated “by improving our ability to extract knowledge and insights from large and complex collections of digital data, the initiative promises to solve some of the nation’s most pressing problems.”

Perhaps crime?  BBC Horizon’s aired a special on big data in early 2013, highlighting the efforts of Los Angeles Police Department’s (LAPD) use of big data and analytics in predicting crime.  Collecting crime data from over 30 million records in LA, demographics, geospatial, and other historical data from both LA and around the world, LAPD uses analytics to predict down to 300sqft when and where a crime will likely occur.  With uncanny, almost creepy results.

Health information?  Climate change?  Mining? Earthquakes? Planets which may support human life?

Given the amount of data available, data being created, and the ability of intelligent data scientists to create models of the data value, most believe those who can harvest big data will gain significant advantage.

So what do we do, give up on big data and focus on other activities?

In a recent Forbes article on big data author Ben Woo from Neuralytix wrote ”when it comes to big data, we believe if you’re not doing it, your competitors are!

The United States still holds a significant advantage, leading the world in individuals with skill and experience in deep analytics.  According to the MGI the US, China, India, and Russia lead the world in gross numbers of capable data scientists, while Poland and Romania are graduating the highest numbers of students skilled in deep analytics.

As noted, as the world continues to embrace the science of data, those skilled individuals will continue in demand.  CIO Magazine notes that “CIOs are competing for workers with strong math skills, proficiency working with massive data bases, and emerging database technologies, in addition to workers with expertise in search, data, integration, and business knowledge.”

Those skills CIO believe are the most difficult to find and recruit include:

  • Advanced analytics and predictive analysis skills
  • Complex event processing skills
  • Rule management skills
  • Business intelligence (BI) skills
  • Data integration skills

David Foote, Foote Partner’s Chief Research Officer writes that “many colleges and universities haven’t yet risen to the challenge of teaching the skills that are potentially needed for analytics jobs. 

Industry may be rising to the need, partnering with universities to form the National Consortium for Data Science (NCDS).  According to a paper done by the University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School (UNC), the agenda for NCDS is to better align the university programs with the needs of private sector (and government).

UNC further advises 4 steps human resources and talent management organizations can take to bridge skills and talent shortfalls in deep data and big data analytics include:

  1. Educating themselves about big data.  If the organization does not understand big data at an operational level, it is unlikely they will be able to recruit skilled data scientists who do understand the concept.
  2. Educate managers and senior leaders about big data.
  3. Develop creative strategies to recruit and retain big data talent.
  4. Offer plans and solutions on how to build the talent in-house.

NOTE:  As a particularly positive note for Southern California readers, California State University – Long Beach (Long Beach State ) was identified in UNC’s report as one of the few schools in the world with a strong , focused deep data analytics program.

While there is no immediate solution to the global shortfall in big data talent, we are finally awakening to the need.  The academic community will need to consider, design, and implement curriculum and programs to acknowledge the need for graduates capable of dealing with big data.  This means back to the basic of mathematics, statistics, analytics, and other disciplines which will graduate capable data scientists.

The Internet, computers, and ability to collect data has changed our world, and created many difficult challenges in our ability to understand the opportunities.  Time to step up to the challenge.

Charting the Future of Small Data Centers

Every week a new data center hits the news with claims of greater than 100,000 square feet at >300 watts/square foot, and levels of security rivaling that of the NSA.  Hot and cold aisle containment, marketing people slinging terms such as PUE (Power Utilization Efficiency), modular data centers, containers, computational fluid dynamics, and outsourcing with such smoothness and velocity that even used car salesmen regard them in complete awe.

Don’t get me wrong, outsourcing your enterprise data center or Internet site into a commercial data center (colocation), or cloud computing-supported virtual data center, is not a bad thing.  As interconnections between cities are reinforced, and sufficient levels of broadband access continues to find its way to both business and residences throughout the country – not to mention all the economic drivers such as OPEX, CAPEX, and flexibility in cloud environments, the need or requirement to maintain an internal data center or server closet makes little sense.

Small Data Centers Feel Pain

Small Data Center Cabinet LineupIn the late 1990s data center colocation started to develop roots.  The Internet was becoming mature, and eCommerce, entertainment, business-to-business, academic, government IT operations found proximity to networks a necessity, and the colocation industry formed to meet the opportunity stimulated by Internet adoption.

Many of these data centers were built in “mixed use” buildings, or existing properties in city centers which were close to existing telecommunication infrastructure.  In cities such as Los Angeles, the commercial property absorption in city centers was at a low, providing very available and affordable space for the emerging colocation industry.

The power densities in those early days was minimal, averaging somewhere around 70 watts/square foot.  Thus, equipment installed in colocation space carved out of office buildings was manageable through over-subscribing air conditioning within the space.  The main limitation in the early colocation days was floor loading within an office space, as batteries and equipment cabinets within colocation areas would stretch building structures to their limits.

As the data center industry, and Internet content hosting continued to grow, the amount of equipment being placed in mixed-use building colocation centers finally started reaching a breaking point in ~2005.  The buildings simply could not support the requirement for additional power, cooling, backup generators needed to support the rapidly developing data center market.

Around that time a new generation of custom-built data center properties began construction, with very little limitation on either weight, power consumption, cooling requirements, or creativity in custom designs of space to gain greatest PUE factors and move towards “green” designs.

The “boom town” inner-city data centers then began experiencing difficulty attracting new customers and retaining their existing customer base.  Many of the “dot com” customers ran out of steam during this period, going bankrupt or abandoning their cabinets and cages, while new data center customers fit into a few categories:

  • High end hosting and content delivery networks (CDNs), including cloud computing
  • Enterprise outsourcing
  • Telecom companies, Internet Service Providers, Network Service Providers

With few exceptions these customers demanded much higher power densities, physical security, redundancy, reliability, and access to large numbers of communication providers.  Small data centers operating out of office building space find it very difficult to meet demands of high end users, and thus the colocation community began a migration the larger data centers.  In addition, the loss of cash flow from “dot com” churn forced many data centers to shut down, leaving much of the small data center industry in ruins.

Data Center Consolidation and Cloud Computing Compounds the Problem

New companies are finding it very difficult to justify spending money on physical servers and basic software licenses.  If you are able to spool up servers and storage on demand through a cloud service provider – why waste the time and money trying to build your own infrastructure – even infrastructure outsourced or colocated in a small data center?  It is simply a bad investment for most companies to build data centers – particularly if the cloud service provider has inherent disaster recovery and backup utility.

Even existing small eCommerce sites hitting refresh cycles for their hardware and software find it difficult to continue one or two cabinet installations within small data centers when they can accomplish the same thing, for a lower cost, and receive higher performance refreshing in a cloud service provider.

Even the US Government, as the world’s largest IT user has turned its back on small data center installations throughout federal government agencies.

The goals of the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative are to assist agencies in identifying their existing data center assets and to formulate consolidation plans that include a technical roadmap and consolidation targets. The Initiative aims to address the growth of data centers and assist agencies in leveraging best practices from the public and private sector to:

  • Promote the use of Green IT by reducing the overall energy and real estate footprint of government data centers;
  • Reduce the cost of data center hardware, software and operations;
  • Increase the overall IT security posture of the government; and,
  • Shift IT investments to more efficient computing platforms and technologies.

To harness the benefits of cloud computing, we have instituted a Cloud First policy. This policy is intended to accelerate the pace at which the government will realize the value of cloud computing by requiring agencies to evaluate safe, secure cloud computing options before making any new investments. (Federal Cloud Computing Strategy)
Adding similar initiatives in the UK, Australia, Japan, Canada, and other countries to eliminate inefficient data center programs, and the level of attention being given to these initiatives in the private sector, it is a clear message that inefficient data center installations may become an exception.

Hope for Small Data Centers?

Absolutely!  There will always be a compelling argument for proximity of data and applications to end users.  Whether this be enterprise data, entertainment, or disaster recovery and business continuity, there is a need for well built and managed data centers outside of the “Tier 1” data center industry.

dc2However, this also means data center operators will need to upgrade their existing facilities to meet the quality and availability standard/requirements of a wired global network-enabled community.  Internet and applications/data access is no longer a value-added service, it is critical infrastructure.

Even the most “shoestring” budget facility will need to meet basic standards published by BICSI (Ex BICSI 2010-002), the Telecom Industry Association (TIA-942), or even private organizations such as the Uptime Institute.

With the integration of network-enabled everything into business and social activities, investors and insurance companies are demanding audits of data centers, using audit standards such as SAS70 to provide confidence their investments are protected with satisfactory operational process and construction.

Even if a data center cannot provide 100,000 square feet of 300 watt space, but can provide the local market with adequate space and quality to meet customer needs, there will be a market.

This is particularly true for customers who require flexibility in service agreements, custom support, a large selection of telecommunications companies available within the site, and have a need for local business continuity options.  Hosting a local Internet exchange point or carrier Ethernet exchange within the facility would also make the space much more attractive.

The Road Ahead

Large data centers and cloud service providers are continuing to expand, developing their options and services to meet the growing data center consolidation and virtualization trend within both enterprise and global Internet-facing community.  This makes sense, and will provide a very valuable service for a large percentage of the industry.

Small data centers in Tier 1 cities (in the US that would include Los Angeles, the Northern California Bay Area, New York, Northern Virginia/DC/MD) are likely to find difficulty competing with extremely large data centers – unless they are able to provide a very compelling service such as hosting a large carrier hotel (network interconnection point), Internet Exchange Point, or Cloud Exchange.

However, there will always be a need for local content delivery, application (and storage) hosting, disaster recovery, and network interconnection.  Small data centers will need to bring their facilities up to international standards to remain competitive, as their competition is not local, but large data centers in Tier 1 cities.

Papau Struggles to Level the Internet Playing Field

Papua-NetThe Warnet** was full. Students and adults shared a few old computers running the Windows XP operating system, connecting to Facebook, MySpace, Gmail, and other social networking sites. A few looked at web pages from universities scattered around the world, and a few simply indulged in the escape of online gaming. This is Jayapura, Papua, Indonesia. The provincial capital of Indonesia’s eastern-most province, just a couple of miles from the international border with Papua New Guinea.

Internet access is accomplished via satellite connections, mostly provided by the national PTT Telkom Indonesia through their “Speedy” Internet DSL service. However “Speedy” should be best considered a simple branding term – unrelated to the reality of Internet access that is limited by around 83 Mbps satellite capacity serving the needs of a city totaling more than 350,000 people. That is not likely to change any time soon, as the Palapa fiber optic ring is still on the drawing board, and satellite coverage and capacity over the Papua region is limited.

Connecting to Skype via the hotel WiFi connection (Aston Hotel in Jayapura), you can get a relatively decent video call – depending on the time of day (normally between 0100 and 0700). Not HD quality, but movement is good, and audio quality is good. You wouldn’t want to be downloading files via email, or web surfing on high density pages, however if the computer is basically idle, and the network not heavily in use, you can get the call.

Other Internet access is available through PT Indosat and the mobile carriers, however each have their own limitations, whether it be by location, cost, or services offered to users.

Moving to West Papua

Manokwari, the provincial capital of West Papua, is a different experience. Internet bandwidth to the city is very limited, to the point getting any level of Internet access is considered good. However, while in Manokwari, sitting outside the Blue and White Warnet at 0500 in the morning, connecting to a prepaid WiFi access point – I was able to call home using Skype. Lots of clipping and echo, a few rounds of “hey, say that again, the connection is not very good,” and a bit of frustration, but at 0500 I called home.

papua-blue-whiteThe Blue and White Warnet is probably among the best public access points in Manokwari. It also serves as a mini community center, hangout location for young people, and café. For young people with dreams of a successful, happy life, the Warnet provides a healthy opportunity to explore other parts of the world. They can build their dreams of education, job opportunities, and travel to parts of the world which seem like a science fiction novel compared to their surroundings of jungle and poverty.

Whether it is Jayapura, or Manokwari, or any other remote area in this huge country, the message is clear – “we need more, better, and faster Internet.” Students and young people understand their global competition is children from cities like Sunnyvale or Seoul, where access to the vast world of Internet knowledge and opportunity is taken for granted, at speeds to papua-wifiindividual homes exceeding the entire access capacity of their province.

But yet a crowd gathers at the Blue and White Warnet every day and evening. And students continue to squeeze every bit of value from their low speed Internet connections possible, continuing to grasp at threads of dreams they may someday become full members of the connected global community.

As mentioned in earlier posts on the Warnet culture in western Indonesia, the Warnets in general have no problems with users accessing pornography or trying to hack – most users are genuinely trying to use the resource to learn more, and get a brief glimpse into a better life.

Palapa Ring – East

Bringing the Palapa Fiber Optic Ring to eastern Indonesia is an essential key to connecting the major islands back to western Indonesia and the rest of the world. While satellite capacity begins to run dry, the hope of bringing a high performance fiber system to the shores of Papua would enable bandwidth needed to bring modern eGovernment, education, and capacity for private industry to fully join the global economy, subsequently improving quality of life for all citizens.

As a neutral cable, Palapa Ring – East will also promote competition among Indonesia’s carriers and service providers to extend their networks to Papua and West Papua bringing better price competition, quality of service (including customer service), and variety of services. An Internet Exchange Point (IXP) in the major cities will boost local content and communications performance, without having to make the trek from Papua to Jakarta to Papua for accessing locally hosted content.

That is the good news. The bad news is that Palapa Ring east only exists on Powerpoint slides and meeting discussions. A great idea, which everybody appears to want, but no schedule, and no solid plan for the project. It will happen someday, we just do not know what day that might be.

The Developing World Needs Access

Whether Burma, Laos, North Korea, Somalia, or any other developing region, Internet access is best considered a human right withheld by the government, or limited by technical capability shortfalls within the country. With a child growing up in a city such as Burbank (California) having global Internetworking technologies and applications diffused into their lives from nearly the time they can walk, the digital divide in 2010 has continued to expand to new extremes.

While those hanging out at the Blue and White café are able to use Facebook, some eLearning applications, Twitter, chats, and email – 20 miles into the jungle is a completely different story. The access is cut off, and for hundreds of villages located throughout Papua, Internet is simply not available.

Within the city center in cities such as Jayapura, you do have a scattering of good buildings, and within some of the new settlement areas outside of the city better infrastructure is being produced.  However for the most part, people struggle everyday to learn, to earn, and to meet the most basic requirements in Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs. 

papua-jayapuraImagine if you were sitting in Costa Mesa (California) and you could not connect to the Internet. Imagine that it is simply not available in your area. Hard to imagine. Today each child born and raised in Papua and West Papua is burdened with an environment that simply does not give them the intellectual tools to compete with children in Jakarta, Burbank, or any other wired city.

And in Burbank we consider it a crime if our cable TV provider has less than 100 HD channels available, or every sporting event on planet available in real time.

Instant communications, instant access to information, instant access to thousands of applications and utilities that make life better – a right of all citizens. in reality no immediate communications during disasters, no support for people when they are sick or injured, no WebMD, Wikipedia, or Yahoo Answers. Just “not available here.” As an Internet user, sitting in a hotel room where Internet is simply not available, and my next opportunity to connect is 0500 tomorrow morning – and having lived in a wired world for most of the past 25 years – this is a very strange experience.

An experience that is considered normal for everybody in Manokwari.


NOTE: Wireless access is available through companies such as Telokomsel. They have deployed 3G services to both cities mentioned in this article using flash modems, although the services are more expensive than most can handle for any level of large data transfer, not to mention the cost of user equipment (handsets and mobile/laptop computers). Again, expensive satellite connections must be paid for, and as always the end user carries the cost. But it is a step forward.

**Warnet = A Warnet is similar to an Internet Café.  However it is normally a small room, with around 10 small computer workstations connected to the Internet.  in many locations in Indonesia, the Warnet is the only location people can access the Internet, as most cannot afford their own computer, or in their area Internet access is simply not available.

We should also note that mobile telephony is available nearly everywhere in Indonesia, with the exception of remote villages within the interior of locations such as Papua.  As 3G wireless technology continues to extend into more and more remote locations, the potential of handsets becoming the dominant Internet access device is a high probability, with the only real limitation being the connection will ultimately be completed using satellite links.

John Savageau

From Manokwari, West Papua, indonesia

Wireless Moldova

Business travelers worldwide fight a constant battle of connectivity.  Can I call Home?  Can I “Skype” with my family?  Do I have adequate Internet access?

During recent business trips to Chisinau, Moldova, I have had the pleasure of working in a country with excellent, if not superior, Internet access within hotels, parks, Internet cafes, and really any other location within the capital city you would like to “jack in” to the Internet.

As I watch my Slingbox connecting to Channel 2 Evening News in Los Angeles, I am enjoying anywhere between 500Kbps and 900Kbps throughput, more than adequate to keep homesickness under control and keep up to date on the community.

CH2-cap2 Moldova has several Internet Service Providers available for public access, including StarNet, Orange Moldova, MoldTelecom, and lots of resellers of other company Internet capacity. 

The cost of accessing high performance Internet is a fraction of what you would expect to pay in the United States or other “developed” countries, and the performance is among the best I have experiences traveling in at least 15 countries during the past year.

Starnet and Orange take advantage of new terrestrial fiber optic capacity connecting Moldova through Romania, and then directly interconnecting with the global Internet community at Europe’s major Internet Exchange Points, including the Amsterdam Internet Exchange (AMS-IX), the Frankfurt Exchange (DE-CIX), and London’s LINX.

A traceroute (following the path an Internet packet takes from my computer to my webhost in California) shows excellent routing outside of Moldova:

Microsoft Windows [Version 6.1.7600]
Copyright (c) 2009 Microsoft Corporation.  All rights reserved.

C:\Users\John R Savageau>tracert http://www.pacific-tier.com

Tracing route to sbs-p4p.asbs.yahoodns.net [216.39.62.190]
over a maximum of 30 hops:

  1     3 ms    10 ms     2 ms  itns.md [93.113.118.1]
  2     5 ms     3 ms     3 ms  10.11.16.254
  3     7 ms     6 ms    14 ms  ex-starnet.starnet.md [89.28.1.177]
  4     8 ms     5 ms    10 ms  95-65-3-161.starnet.md [95.65.3.161]
  5    68 ms    49 ms    49 ms  ge-1-3-0.pat2.dee.yahoo.com [80.81.193.115]
6   135 ms   137 ms   136 ms  as-1.pat2.dcp.yahoo.com [66.196.65.129]
7   135 ms   134 ms   205 ms  ae-1-d171.msr2.re1.yahoo.com [216.115.108.31]
8   137 ms   137 ms   137 ms  gi-1-45.bas-b2.re4.yahoo.com [216.39.57.5]
9   136 ms   139 ms   136 ms  p4p2.geo.re4.yahoo.com [216.39.62.190]

Trace complete.

Disposable Income Demands Additional Considerations

Market conditions in Moldova are different from the US and other economically developed countries.  Those living below the poverty line in Moldova, according to the CIA World Factbook,  is around 30% .  Disposable income continues to be low, and a small percentage of the population owns or has access to private personal computers.

Thus the cost of Internet access, to develop market, is possibly artificially low.  or the US Internet access providers are artificially high…

Cost of accessing prepaid wireless Internet per month through Liberty WiFi Internet Access, a StarNet reseller:

Capture

NOTE:  1 US$ = ~12 Moldovan Lei

During a recent visit to Moldova I used Orange’s wireless Internet product, which was about 2 times the price of Liberty WiFi, but with equally impressive performance.

Internet Access is Essential for Moldova’s Development

As Moldova continues to struggle through the challenges of building a market economy, dealing with the issues of a newly democratized country, poor rural infrastructure (roads, telecom, power, etc), and socially coming to grips with their place in the European and Eastern communities, Moldova will need to quickly bring their citizens up to speed with technology and wired everything.

chisinau Cloud-based software, such as Microsoft Live Office, Google Docs, Yahoo Mail, and other hosted services will allow Moldovans access to Internet utilities without the high cost of software licensing, further allowing better use of shared resources in Internet cafes, schools, and other public locations.  The government is aggressively pursuing modern eGovernment projects to help the citizens reduce the burden of bureaucracy on their lives , and children are exposed to technology throughout the education system.

With Moldova’s Internet Service Providers delivering some of the highest performance network access in the world, Modovans will further be relieved of the burden of constructing large and small data centers, taking advantage of cloud and SaaS service providers located within Europe and North America, returning precious funds to building business – rather than ICT server and services infrastructure.

Moldova Supports Private Enterprise

While there are some items that could use some adjustment, such as high tariffs for importing computer equipment, Moldova has at least supported both domestic and foreign telecom companies in developing both fixed line and wireless infrastructure.  Orange (France Telecom), MoldCell (TeliaSonera),   and Starnet continue to build fiber optic and wireless network infrastructure, with nearly 100% 3G coverage throughout the country. 

The entire wireless system is 4G-ready, and deployment is planned within the next couple of years.

Impressive.  Really.

Celebrating Independence in Moldova

Americans like to stress the fact we declared independence from England in 1776, and have been celebrating that event on the 4th of July ever since. No American remembers the struggles our country endured in securing our independence, and for the most part the day represents a great excuse to head to the park and barbeque hamburgers or hot dogs – topped off by a short fireworks display in the evening.

At the Independence Day Celebration in ChisinauIn Chisinau, Moldova, independence is an event everybody over the age of 20 experienced. August 27th marks the 19th year of independence from the Soviet Union. As a newly democratized state, Moldova has faced challenges, whether it is from politicians attempting to understand the dynamics of a democratic state, communists desperately trying to retain some snippet of control, or corruption by leaders who wish to capitalize on the chaos Moldova overcomes while rebuilding their society and economy.

Most Moldovans look to Europe, and their ethnic roots to Romania as a model and direction to build Moldova’s future. European Union flags fly beside Moldovan flags, and automobiles from around the EC routinely fill Chisinau’s streets. It is an exciting and scary time. Like starting a new job in a company that has a different culture and objectives – but a great reputation in its industry, Moldovans welcome the opportunity to make their country and quality of life on par with the rest of Europe, and the world.

But Now it is Time to Celebrate

The streets of Chisinau are filled with Moldovan flags, and you can see people on the street wearing makeup in the shape of Moldovan and Romanian flags on the side of their faces. An enthusiasm for their country, an indulgence On stage at the Chisinau independence day celebrationin celebrating their national identity. Walking into the center of Chisinau the main street is blocked off to accommodate a huge stage, with performers singing Moldovan folk tunes, rock songs, ballads, and anything else that makes young and old well up with pride in their country.

Americans and other western nations will find it a bit foreign to see the energy radiating from people on the street, but then again, we have not recently experienced 70 years occupation by an oppressive government. A government whose army is still entrenched along Moldova’s border in Transnistria, which is internationally recognized as part of Moldova, but in reality is an uncontrolled region that is part Moldovan, part independent, and part occupied by Russia. Unless you were present at Pearl Harbor in 1941, for an American the taste of foreign military encroachment on our own soil is an abstract.

Those over 30 years old will remember that at the time of independence, there was bloodshed, there was a human cost of freedom and independence that is still fresh in the mind of all Moldovans. And a deep-rooted desire to celebrate the sacrifices and courage of their family members and friends who paid the price of freedom.

And celebrate they did. While a large police force was clearly visible throughout the city center during the concerts and festivities, most appeared slightly jealous they could not strip off their uniforms and join in the indulgence of national identity. Others merely focused their energy on ensuring the safety of the people. No incidents such as you would see in Los Angeles or New York such as policeman kicking cyclists off their bicycles, threatening citizens, or trying to intimidate – just keeping it safe.

A Long Way to Go

20 years ago the nation was an infant desperately trying to get to its feet, now, while among the poorest countries in Europe, it is a comfortable place to live and work. While a large percentage of the population lives on a very small income, the GDP is growing at a steady rate, and there is always hope for the future.

Telecoms and Internet access are a very pleasant surprise. As in many developing countries, nearly every man, woman, and child has a mobile phone. On one street in central Chisinau you can find up to four separate Orange distributors on one city block (Orange claims they have more than 2400 distribution points), and most have a line of people waiting to get a new phone.

Wireless Internet is available throughout the city, and in the central park many park benches are filled with professionals and young people accessing the Internet on laptop computers. Orange Telecom claims they have complete national coverage with 3G, and offer wireless access speeds up to 21mbps.

Now, I sincerely wish I could get that performance in Burbank, California. Maybe when Verizon eventually gets around to implementing LTE or 4G…

NOTE: I was able to pick up an Orange prepaid phone in about 2 minutes, for about $20 and 600 minutes. I picked up a wireless internet account at the same time – about $15 for 2 weeks wireless access, and have been averaging just over 1.2mbps download speeds – quite enough to watch my Los Angeles TV stations with very high quality over Slingbox.

Moldova PrideHowever, on the bad side, Moldova has no energy resources within the country, and is completely dependent on Russia and other countries for fuel, natural gas, and power. While relatively self-sufficient on food, energy availability is at the will of Russia, and Moldova holds the same risk as Ukraine and other countries which have had resources throttled due to political issues with Russia.

But today is a celebration. I am almost jealous at the enthusiasm and level of pride Moldovans have for their country. Americans show pride by tying yellow ribbons around a tree in their front yard to show support for soldiers on military duty in a foreign land, we take pride in our economic and industrial achievements, and we show a lot of pride in our ability to show leadership in many ways around the world. Slap an American flag on your pickup truck – and you are a patriot.

But we have lost the scars of revolution, and lost the physiological sensation of emerging from oppression to taking on the challenge of democracy.

Moldovans have not. Happy Independence Day Moldova!

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.

The Utility and Pain of Internet Peering

In the early 1990s TWICS, a commercial bulletin board service provider in Tokyo, jumped on the Internet. Access was very poor based on modern Internet speeds, however at the time 128kbps over frame relay (provided by Sprint international) was unique, and in fact represented the first truly commercial Internet access point in Japan.

The good old boys of the Japanese academic community were appalled, and did everything in their power to intimidate TWICS into disconnecting their connection, to the point of sending envelopes filled with razor blades to TWICS staff and the late Roger Boisvert (*), who through Intercon International KK acted as their project manager. The traditional academic community did not believe anybody outside of the academic community should ever have the right to access the Internet, and were determined to never let that happen in Japan.

Since the beginning, the Internet has been a dichotomy of those who wish to control or profit from the Internet, and those who envision potential and future of the Internet. Internet “peering” originally came about when academic networks needed to interconnect their own “Internets” to allow interchange of traffic and information between separately operated and managed networks. In the Internet academic “stone age” of the NSFNet, peering was a normal and required method of participating in the community. But,… if you were planning to send any level of public or commercial traffic through the network you would violate the NSFNET’s “acceptable use policy/AUP” preventing use of publically-funded networks for non-academic or government use.

Commercial internet Exchange Points such as the CIX, and eventually the NSF supported network access points/NAPs popped up to accommodate the growing interest in public access and commercial Internet. Face it, if you went through university or the military with access to the Internet or Milnet, and then jumped into the commercial world, it would be pretty difficult to give up the obvious power of interconnected networks bringing you close to nearly every point on the globe.

The Tier 1 Subsidy

To help privatize the untenable growth of the NSFNet (due to “utility” academic network access), the US Government helped pump up American telecom carriers such as Sprint, AT&T, and MCI by handing out contracts to take over control and management of the world’s largest Internet networks, which included the NSFNet and the NSF’s international Connection Managers bringing the international community into the NSFNet backbone.

This allowed Sprint, AT&T, and MCI to gain visibility into the entire Internet community of the day, as well as take advantage of their own national fiber/transmission networks to continue building up the NSFNet community on long term contracts. With that infrastructure in place, those networks were clear leaders in the development of large commercial internet networks. The Tier 1 Internet provider community is born.

Interconnection and Peering in the Rest of the World

In the Internet world Tier1 networks are required (today…), as they “see” and connect with all other available routes to individual networks and content providers scattered around the world. Millions and millions of them. The Tier 1 networks are also generally facility-based network providers (they own and operate metro and long distance fiber optic infrastructure) which in addition to offering a global directory for users and content to find each other, but also allows traffic to transit their network on a global or continental scale.

Thus a web hosting company based in San Diego can eventually provide content to a user located in Jakarta, with a larger network maintaining the Internet “directory” and long distance transmission capacity to make the connection either directly or with another interconnected network located in the “distant end” country.

Of course, if you are a content provider, local internet access provider, regional network, or global second tier network, this makes you somewhat dependant on one or more “Tier 1s” to make the connection. That, as in all supply/demand relationships, may get expensive depending on the nature of your business relationship with the “transit” network provider.

Thus, content providers and smaller networks (something less than a Tier 1 network) try to find places to interconnect that will allow them to “peer” with other networks and content providers, and wherever possible avoid the expense of relying on a larger network to make the connection. Internet “Peering.”

Peering Defined (Wikipedia)

Peering is a voluntary interconnection of administratively separate Internet
networks for the purpose of exchanging traffic between the customers of each network. The pure definition of peering is settlement-free or “sender keeps all,” meaning that neither party pays the other for the exchanged traffic; instead, each derives revenue from its own customers. Marketing and commercial pressures have led to the word peering routinely being used when there is some settlement involved, even though that is not the accurate technical use of the word. The phrase “settlement-free peering” is sometimes used to reflect this reality and unambiguously describe the pure cost-free peering situation.

That is a very “friendly” definition of peering. In reality, peering has become a very complicated process, with a constant struggle between the need to increase efficiency and performance on networks, to gaining business advantage over competition.

Bill Norton, long time Internet personality and evangelist has a new web site called “DR Peering,” which is dedicated to helping Internet engineers and managers sift through the maze of relationships and complications surrounding Internet peering. Not only the business of peering, but also in many cases the psychology of peering.

Peering Realities

In a perfect world peering allows networks to interconnect, reducing the number of transit “hops” along the route from points “A” to “B,” where either side may represent users, networks, applications, content, telephony, or anything else that can be chopped up into packets, 1s and 0s, and sent over a network, giving those end points the best possible performance.

Dr Peering provides an “Intro to Peering 101~204,” reference materials, blogs, and even advice columns on the topic of peering. Bill helps “newbies” understand the best ways to peer, the finances and business of peering, and the difficulties newbies will encounter on the route to a better environment for their customers.

And once you have navigated the peering scene, you realize we are back to the world of who wants to control, and who wants to provide vision. While on one level peering is determined by which vendor provides the best booze and most exciting party at a NANOG “Beer and Gear” or after party, there is another level you have to deal with as the Tier 1s, Tier 1 “wanna-be networks,” and global content providers jockey for dominance in their defined environment.

At that point it becomes a game, where personalities often take precedence over business requirements, and the ultimate loser will be the end user.

Another reality. Large networks would like to eliminate smaller networks wherever possible, as well as control content within their networks. Understandable, it is a natural business objective to gain advantage in your market and increase profits by rubbing out your competition. In the Internet world that means a small access network, or content provider, will budget their cost of global “eyeball or content” access based on the availability of peering within their community.

The greater the peering opportunity, the greater the potential of reducing operational expenses. Less peering, more power to the larger Tier 1 or regional networks, and eventually the law of supply and demand will result in the big networks increasing their pricing, diluting the supply of peers, and increasing operational expenses. Today transit pricing for small networks and content providers is on a downswing, but only because competition is fierce in the network and peering community supported by exchanges such as PAIX, LINX, AMS-IX, Equinix, DE-CIX, and Any2.

At the most basic level, eyeballs (users) need content, and content has no value without users. As the Internet becomes an essential component of everybody on the planet’s life, and in fact becomes (as the US Government has stated) a “basic right of every citizen,” then the existing struggle for internet control and dominance among individual players becomes a hindrance or roadblock in the development of network access and compute/storage capacity as a utility.

The large networks want to act as a value-added service, rather than a basic utility, forcing network-enabled content into a tiered, premium, or controlled commodity. Thus the network neutrality debates and controversy surrounding freedom of access to applications and content.

This Does Not Help the Right to Broadband and Content

There are analogies provided for just about everything. Carr builds a great analogy between cloud computing and the electrical grid in his book the “Big Switch.” The Internet itself is often referred to as the “Information Highway.” The marriage of cloud computing and broadband access can be referred to as the “4th Utility.”

Internet protocols and technologies have become, and will continue to be reinforced as a part of the future every person on our planet will engage over the next generations. This is the time we should be laying serious infrastructure pipe, and not worrying about whose content should be preferred, settlements between networks, and who gives the best beer head at a NANOG party.

At this point in the global development of Internet infrastructure, much of the debate surrounding peering – paid or unpaid, amounts to noise. It is simply retarding the development of global Internet infrastructure, and may eventually prevent the velocity of innovation in all things Internet the world craves to bring us into a new generation of many-to-many and individual communications.

The Road Ahead

All is not lost. There are visionaries such as Hunter Newby aggressively pushing development of infrastructure to “address America’s need to eliminate obstacles for broadband access, wireless backhaul and lower latency through new, next generation long haul dark fiber construction with sound principles and an open access philosophy.”

Oddly, as a lifelong “anti-establishment” evangelist, I tend to think we need better controls by government over the future of Internet and Internet vision. Not by the extreme right wing nuts who want to ensure the Internet is monitored, regulated, and restricted to those who meet their niche religions or political cults, but rather on the level of pushing an agenda to build infrastructure as a utility with sufficient capacity to meet all future needs.

The government should subsidize research and development, and push deployment of infrastructure much as the Interstate Highway System and electrical and water utilities. You will have to pay for the utility, but you will – as a user – not be held hostage to the utility. And have competition on utility access.

In the Internet world, we will only meet our objectives if peering is made a necessary requirement, and is a planned utility at each potential geographic or logical interconnection point. In some countries such as Mongolia, an ISP must connect to the Mongolia Internet Exchange as a requirement of receiving an ISP license. Why? Mongolia needs both high performance access to the global Internet – as well as high performance access to national resources. It makes a lot of sense. Why give an American, Chinese, or Singaporean money to send an email from one Mongolian user to another Mongolian user (while in the same country)? Peering is an essential component of a healthy Internet.

The same applies to Los Angeles, Chicago, Omaha, or any other location where there is proximity between the content and user, or user and user. And peering as close to the end users as technically possible supports all the performance and economic benefits needed to support a schoolhouse in Baudette (Minn), without placing an undue financial burden on the local access provider based on predatory network or peering policies mandated by regional or Tier 1 networks.

We’ve come a long way, but are still taking baby steps in the evolution of the Internet. Let’s move ahead with a passion and vision.

(*)  Roger Boisvert was a friend for many years, both during my tensure as  US Air Force officer and telecom manager with Sprint based in Tokyo (I met him while he was still with McKinsey and a leader in the Tokyo PC User’s Group), and afterwards through different companies, groups, functions, and conferences in Japan and the US.  Roger was murdered in Los Angeles nine years ago, and is a true loss to the internet community, not only in Japan but throughout the world.

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…

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.

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