Cloud Computing for the Poorest Countries

Many people in the developing world do their computing on battery-powered phones.Divyakant Solanki/European Pressphoto AgencyMany people in the developing world do their computing on battery-powered phones.
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In Tuesday’s article on Amazon Web Services, I wrote about lots of different data-crunching companies, mostly in the developed world.

In the long term, however, as companies like Amazon, Google and Microsoft sell computing everywhere, the most dramatic changes may be in places most of us do not now see. Already, places without clean water, decent sanitation or steady electricity are using supercomputers.

Cheki is a used car classifieds business that serves up about a billion page views a month, mostly in Kenya and Nigeria. Most of the one million people using the site are looking at it with Android-based smartphones that cost about $70, according to Thomas Shaw, the company’s information technology manager. Imagine things in a few years, when Huawei, which makes most of the devices, gets those phone prices even lower.

This appears to be changing markets in several other countries as well. “There are people in Malawi, Rwanda and Ethiopia looking at the cars, too,” he says. Tariffs on cars are often high in these places, and a big market in another country may be a better way for them to buy.

Unlike the developed world, where speed, agility and cost are factors that make Amazon Web Services attractive, in the developing world it’s good to be on battery-powered phones and servers in California, instead of relying on an often-brittle electric grid. “For Westerners,” Mr. Shaw says, “the whole thing is a little bizarre.”

Jobberman, Nigeria’s largest jobs and careers Web site, also runs on Amazon Web Services. So does M-Pesa, the mobile payments division of Safaricom, a mobile phone provider based in Kenya. Mobile money has become so big that the Africa Development Bank says the new money may be causing inflation. In South Africa, a luxury goods company called 36Boutiques uses Amazon’s service for e-commerce

In India, there is an online nationwide cab-booking service called Getmecab that uses Amazon servers, though the closest ones are in Singapore. There are consultants that teach other businesses to use Amazon.

Amazon itself holds seminars for start-ups in India, Indonesia and many other countries, hoping to foster more consumption of advanced technology among the developing economies. So does Google, for its business applications, and it will very likely do more once its cloud computing offering, part of Google Cloud Platform, gains traction.

It’s quite possible that there are even Amazon Web Services being used in the Amazon. Amazon Web Servicesoperates several large data centers in Brazil.

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