During IGF 2010 Workshop 136, a proposal was made to convene a multistakeholder workshop for African countries interested in cloud computing to address the unique challenges of developing the understanding and confidence to embrace this technology. While there is no question that the ‘cloud’ represents a major step up in computing (as it enables governments, businesses and individuals to access super-computing power, analysis of massive amounts of data, and applications much more cost effectively), African ICT markets are facing a set of unique challenges which can slow the roll-out of these services. Some of the key barriers in most African countries are a lack of server infrastructure and data centers, bandwidth, localization and support. In addition to infrastructure reliability issues, many African economies have suffered from political instability and the challenge to attract international companies and to have them utilize local services. However, several submarine cables over the last two years have restored some confidence in the regions telecommunications infrastructure.
Interestingly, some of these challenges may actually speed up the adoption of cloud services throughout Africa. While people and businesses in many African countries is are facing tight budgets and are constrained in their ability to acquire technology due to high costs, the low cost advantage of cloud computing can help them overcome this handicap. In particular, the synergy between cloud computing and mobile broadband is very promising. The large scale proliferation of mobile devices among the people in Africa and the ubiquitous availability of data and apps through cloud computing offers significant opportunities to overcome the economic divide. Benefits also include faster time to market, which is drastically reduced.
The GIIC and WITSA will bring together a broad array of stakeholders to discuss these issues and opportunities. With a focus on practical and pragmatic issues, the workshop will feature users and providers of cloud services in order to highlight efforts already underway in Africa to use cloud services as a tool to overcome developmental and economic barriers, and to discuss what further steps need to be done to ensure that Africa not only catches up to developed countries, but use these technologies leapfrog past long-standing barriers to growth and prosperity.
For the sixth time, the Global Information Infrastructure Commission (GIIC) and the World Information Technology and Services Alliance (WITSA) were pleased to host a successful workshop at the 2011 Internet Governance Forum (IGF) meeting held in Nairobi, Kenya.
The workshop, “A Practical & Pragmatic Look at Making Cloud Successful in Developing World”, built on the IGF principle of multi-stakeholder participation by including panelists which represented the business community, government and civil society. For this particular IGF meeting, there was also a strong emphasis on ensuring participation on representation from Africa in the discussion.
The panel discussion included: Philip Verveer, United States Coordinator for International Communications & Information Policy, U.S. Department of State (Government); Mr. Jeff Breuggeman, Vice President for Public Policy, AT&T (Business); Mr. Burt Kaliski, Chief Technology Officer, Verisign (Business); Mr. Jimson Olufuye, President, Information Technology Association of Nigeria (Business); Mr. Waudo Siganga, National Chairman of the Computer Society of Kenya (Business); Ms. Coura Fall, Senegalese Information Technology Association (Business); Mr. Robert Guerra, project director, Internet Freedom program, Freedom House (Civil Society); and Mr. Grady Johnson, Association for Progressive Communications (Civil Society).
The workshop discussion was moderated by Dr. Imad Hoballah, Acting Chairman and CEO Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, Lebanon.
The workshop discussion seemed to reach a good agreement on the opportunity that cloud computing provides for Africa and other developing economies. There was considerable discussion surrounding the idea that cloud computing is the only practical way to deliver services to the large number of users who have mobile devices but not general-purpose computers.
In order to accomplish this, there was agreement that all interested parties needed to work together to ensure that the legal and the business environment is “fixed”. This was intended to speak to the importance that the governments will play in establishing an environment to allow the industry to grow while providing the necessary protections to attract business and ensure civil society that rights are being protected.
Some of the discussion areas on this topic included: improvement to transparency; engagement with the full range of stakeholders; and a commitment by governments to recognize the value of these inputs in creating an environment for cloud to prosper in Africa.
Importance of developing expertise in cloud computing regionally, whether within centers of excellence, online communities, or a “network of excellence” as Burt Kaliski of VeriSign suggested. Not only could knowledge workers in developing economies reach a global market for their services through the cloud, but also that challenges within those economies could draw from a global base of talent for their solution.
Discussion about users’ need for confidence in the cloud infrastructure, especially by human rights organizations, which are looking for software and services that provide the highest level of protection to sensitive information.
Capacity building was also an issue for discussion by the panel. There was agreement that both developing and developed countries and the private sector must work on detailed plans to improve capacity building for the developing countries if cloud is to be fully realized.
On this point, Kaliski added that it is his view that developed countries need to work with the developing countries on a ”Network of Excellence” to make sure that they do not only become consumers but rather producers in the cloud space.
There was clearly an optimistic view toward a “sunrise in the cloud” in Africa at the conclusion of the workshop. While challenges on both the provider and user sides were highlighted, all of the panelists were in agreement that cloud would be a large contributor to Africa’s future.
There was a clear consensus that government, business and civil society must continue to push for great penetration of cloud computer in Africa and throughout the developing world. The discussion illustrated that a key is for this success is the continued engagement with national governments to ensure that policies are put in play which provide adequate protections and privacy while creating an environment which is attractive for investment.