Untapped: Why the developing world must treat IT as a national resource

Cloud-streaked sky

Cloud-streaked skyThe open source movement has the potential to empower developing countries to use IT as an important national resource — to communicate to its citizenry, expand its educational platform and address national disasters. Open source software is not only free from license restriction; it is also free to be used as a basis for innovation, allowing custom solutions for the unique context of specific issues faced by developing nations. But for many nations, software is not enough.

In August 2007, the E.P.A. issued an influential report which estimated that U.S. national energy consumption by computer servers and data centers would nearly double from 2005 to 2010, totaling roughly 100 billion kilowatt hours of energy at an annual cost of $7.4 billion. In the Unites States alone, the centers’ demand for power would rise to the equivalent output of 25 major power plants by 2011. This has not occurred, largely due to a combination of the global recession and power-saving technologies.

IT solutions for nation-building require a substantial amount of computing power, storage and networking assets. It is imperative that these efficient technologies are made available to the second and third world. Lack of capital and the prevalence of aging, arcane power infrastructure are even bigger obstacles than access to cutting-edge technology. Every single Gigahertz, Gigabyte and Megabit must be maximized.

And so, companies like Morphlabs and the VCE alliance are working to lower barriers to efficient computing solutions by simplifying the hardware and software configuration requirements for implementation. As low-cost plug-and-play cloud solutions became a reality, a handful of members of the World Economic Forums’ Young Global Leaders (WEF YGL) launched the Open Cloud Initiative earlier this year to determine how cloud computing can bridge both digital and economic divides in the developing world.

An experiment in the Philippines

For example, the Philippine Development Foundation (PhilDev) has provided increased perspective on the myriad governmental and societal needs of countries racing to bring sustainable, poverty-reducing economic development through technology.

One specific example of efforts being made to encourage economic growth through technology is ULAP, the University Learning Acceleration Platform, which also means “cloud” in Filipino dialect. ULAP is a cloud computing infrastructure designed to be shared across the seven designated research universities of the Philippines. The universities are focused on increasing the number of PhDs and students in advanced science and technology through scholarships and grants. This creates demand for research infrastructure as professors and advanced science students require computing resources for research projects.

ULAP is built using open source virtualization technologies like KVM and Xen and is managed using the EUCALYPTUS and OpenStack cloud management platforms. The platform runs the most efficient commodity hardware, and is assembled using an open hardware blueprint model to accommodate continuous improvement. This is critical, as the needs of users often outpace traditional infrastructure. ULAP is expected to launch in October this year with an initial capacity of 1 million compute hours in partnership with the local telecommunications vendors in the Philippines.

Morphlabs, my company, will be collaborating with other computing space vendors (to be announced at the end of the year) to donate the initial hardware, software tools and know-how to initiate technology transfer so that the system can be fully managed by the universities’ resources.

The mission of ULAP is to provide researchers with a scalable computing infrastructure that provides open access to the research within and across the seven universities. The long-term goal is to continually increase its capacity to approximately 10 million compute hours annually. The combination of open source building blocks with an open hardware blueprint aims to attract technology philanthropists and bright minds to help sustain technological advancement in a developing nation’s university program.

As a Filipino-American Technologist, I am grateful for the opportunity to expand the benefit of my experience in Silicon Valley, assisting in the technologically driven economic development of the Philippines and the ASEAN nations by democratizing access to IT resources for all. My hope is that we can fuel a global shift from the consumption of power-dense, efficient computing to best practices driven by lower barriers to adoption and the cost benefits of leveraging open source solutions and commodity hardware worldwide.

This example proves more and more that there is enormous potential for technology companies of all types to contribute thought leadership, IP and solutions to this revolution. What is your organization doing to realize this new era beyond the reach of Silicon Valley?

Winston Damarillo is the founder and CEO of Morphlabs.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user magnusfranklin


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