The cloud is no cure-all for poor nations

The cloud may seem a cheap way to deploy tech, but it requires expensive infrastructure that developing countries don't have

That bastion of journalism, the Huffington Post ran a story on cloud computing and the emerging markets. You pretty much know what these stories say before you read them: Cloud computing is ready-made for emerging countries, is the great equalizer, and all the rest. "This transformation [to the cloud] has great implications for places such as China, [South] Korea, Hong Kong, Brazil, Russia, and India. It will allow them to leapfrog outdated markets and take advantage of lower costs for building out infrastructure, as the cloud bulldozes all sorts of costly technology barriers."

It's not that simple.

[ From Amazon Web Services to Windows Azure, see how the elite 8 public clouds compare in the InfoWorld Test Center's review. | Stay up on the cloud with InfoWorld's Cloud Computing Report newsletter. ]

Certainly, the ability to provide enterprise infrastructure and application services over the open Internet, per drink, is game-changing for many parts of the world that can't afford to build a data center. However, many obstacles still remain, and some of these will take time and money to address.

The core problem is that the network infrastructure in most of these countries is lousy to nonexistent. A lack of access to broadband and data servers in developing countries limits the scope of cloud computing, as a United Nations report explains: "Many low-income countries rely on mobile broadband networks that are not ideal for cloud computing because of their low speed, and access to affordable broadband is especially poor in the least-developed countries."

Cellular networks are the best way to get connectivity in emerging countries these days, but the lower speeds and higher latency of those networks don't support the use of most cloud-based platforms. Cloud providers still assume bandwidth is cheap and plentiful, so they don't have good solutions for those countries when the bandwidth is not there.

What's needed is a focus on building cloud-based platforms specifically for these emerging markets. They call for cloud services that are defined and designed to run over low-speed networks, as well as deal with specialized security concerns -- all at a very low price, which means the payoff for the effort is iffy.

Although many cloud providers pay politically correct lip service to the use of the cloud in emerging countries, there isn't enough money to create new versions of their cloud services for this low-revenue market. The best approach would be for international organizations to fund these types of clouds and offer them to those in emerging markets at a greatly reduced cost. At some point in the future, perhaps they could be spun out as private companies. That model worked well in the United States for large swaths of the tech industry whose basic funding came from the Defense Department and was later commercially productized, but the scale needed for emerging-world cloud is much larger.

Don't let the warm and fuzzy vision of cloud computing magically solving all of poor nations' ills. Instead, let's focus on solving specific problems there.

This article, "The cloud is no cure-all for poor nations," originally appeared at Read more of David Linthicum's Cloud Computing blog and track the latest developments in cloud computing at For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.