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Internet Governance 16 September 2010

More on Cloud Computing…

Perhaps it was the fact that cloud computing is a big issue or that there was a Kenyan speaker on the panel or simply that the invitation to this workshop had the Kenyan coat of arms on top. Whatever the reason, Workshop No58 on Implications of Cloud Computing in the IGF today seemed to attract a lot of Kenyan participation, both in situ and remotely.

The idea of the workshop was to focus on developing country perspectives and true to that, there were pointed questions on the same. A remote participant from Kenya asked, “Can Kenya Support a cloud infrastructure and how soon? What will be the relationship between government and corporations in implmentation of the cloud?” Others were interested to know whether it is better to have data centres locally or abroad and the progress that had been made in making the prerequisite legal and security mechanisms.

The panellists made a good attempt to give pointed responses but it emerged that this is one of the areas where not all is clear. For instance, while many agreed that the legal and security challenges associated with data storage which is integral in cloud computing are complex, there was a general agreement that this was the direction of the future. Solutions therefore have to be worked out. On the other hand business practitioners were of the view that cloud computing is mostly associated with big corporations because of the trust they have built through their brands and small enterprises will consequently face a harder time getting into the cloud.

Apparently, developing countries face many challenges in this field: cloud computing (CC) requires bandwidth and network resources- many developing countries do not have adequate access let alone the speeds required for comfortable uploads and downloads. Again, data centres call for skilled personnel, capacity which these countries lack. The issue of infringement of civil liberties is also very key as privacy, among other rights, can be easily infringed. So why would a developing country want to adopt cloud computing?

The panellists presented as case for cloud computing as the future. This is because business is moving to models that treat Internet services as products presented as a package to customers. Governments, businesses and individuals do not need to be concerned about softwares and hardware but rather about products or solutions for their business problems. It was also noted that cloud computing presents an opportunity for use of cheaper open source softwares that are good for developing countries. Additionally, CC can use open standards that prevent vendor locking, affording more choice for the consumer.

Was a balance found between the merits and demerits? Many attempts were made at this. One speaker even suggested that we should adopt a model of an orbit where every counrty is allocated a cloud and operators would approach countries for a share of space in the cloud!

However, in the end Kenyans left without getting an answer to the age old question of fair division of Internet revenues- Cloud computing directs traffic outside of Kenya, (as opposed to Internet Exchange Points) thereby losing revenue, and in fact costing the country. Be that as it may, the interest in this topic will continue beyond the IGF as more ideas come to the fore….private versus public clouds and their interrelation being just one among them.

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Disclaimer: Viewpoints expressed in this post are those of the author and may or may not reflect official Internet Society positions.

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