Clouding the Internet: Multiple Asian Stakeholders
The Internet of Things, 3D-printing, big data, global virtual currencies, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). These are developments happening at lightning speed, disrupting everything from traditional manufacturing through to medicine, education, banking and beyond. Dramatically lowering costs and increasing reach through cheaper access, cheaper storage and ever greater computing power. This is the basic premise of Cloud Computing. But more than that, these changes are levelling the playing field, making access to technology and tools more affordable and more equitable, like the Internet and the Web did before them, and rapidly extending inclusion to the poorest or most challenged – improving financial access, medical access, education access. And, as we’ve seen in many parts of the world over the last few years, access to information and ideas of freedom and democracy.
Underlying these models of access is a basic assumption of all-to-all connectivity, driven by the two remarkable successes of the late twentieth century: the Internet and the mobile phone. Success in cloud computing and next-generation technology development will be based upon bringing these two systems, the Internet and extended access through mobility, together and, as with any merger, there are inevitable culture clashes. One such clash is taking place now and will determine the shape of development in our industry and all those that we impact.
The telecommunications system is a 19th Century system based on national operators and centralized access. The Internet is a 21st Century system of organic growth based on disaggregated participation. At a technical level, sustained Internet participation and growth has been made possible by ICANN overseeing the unique identifier numbers that determine IP addresses and coordination of the root servers and databases, and that in turn mean that my email can get to you halfway around the world, instantaneously.
ICANN’s administrative oversight has been made possible through a contractual relationship with the United States Government, a relationship which in recent years has been subject to increased scrutiny. However, as of 14 March 2014, that existing setup is to end with stewardship being shifted from the US Government to the global community.
With the USG handing off oversight, the question is who will step in to play that oversight role, with some from the telecom world seeing an opportunity for a return to centralized administration, to provide some order to the unruly and chaotic operations that can often seem to define the Internet and its protégé, the World Wide Web.
To many, including some cloud computing providers, greater control and administrative centralisation can sound quite attractive. After all, many of our businesses require assurances, if not guarantees, of 100 percent uptime and non-failure. This is particularly true when it comes to, say, medical systems or electric power grid support. But it is the all-to-all connectivity and open architecture that has allowed cloud computing and the vast changes being ushered in possible. Jeopardising that connectivity threatens to balkanize the underlying architecture, removing the prospective benefits from billions of people.
The Asia Cloud Computing Association (ACCA) recently released our 3rd Cloud Readiness Index (CRI), tabulating the readiness of countries around Asia to support and adopt cloud computing. We are delighted to report that Cloud Readiness across the region continues to rise steadily, with some countries such as Australia, New Zealand and the Philippines making dramatic leaps up the chart. Key parameters in the Index included connectivity and access to information. And while fears continue to exist around issues of data access such as data sovereignty, security, and privacy, the cloud computing community has put in significant work to address concerns and sees productive and rewarding paths ahead based on common frameworks and upon principles of open connectivity. Anything less will only retard development in the region and take Asia back down in terms of competitiveness.
Over the next few months, the first rounds of discussions on the future governance of the Internet will take place in meetings such as ICANN’s 49th and 50th Public Meetings in Singapore and London respectively, at NetMundial in Brazil (just concluded between 23-24 April), as well as various online fora. These are momentous times, and now is the time for the community – meaning those who use cloud computing services such as email, YouTube, WhatsApp, Google Docs, Office365, Amazon Web Services – to get involved and be heard.