Kick ‘Em Jenny & the value of cloud computing

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The recent rumblings at the undersea volcano known as Kick ‘Em Jenny off the coast of Grenada, West Indies apparently damaged the undersea fiber optic cables operated by Telecommunications Services of Trinidad and Tobago LTD (TSTT) during its recent spate of activity. According to the article several individual fibers were broken, attenuating bandwidth for the entire network.

According to the Senior Manager Brand, Public Relations & External Affairs Graeme Suite there were no specific physical indicators as to what caused the damage. Suite said, “It was not stated what specifically caused the damage – ocean floor movement, rocks or extreme heat etcetera so I cannot speculate”.

Suite said the cable contained several individual strands of fibre which collectively provide a great deal of bandwidth. He said that some of the fibres were broken and the remaining intact fibres is what resulted in customers having less bandwidth for uploading and downloading.

On July 23, TSTT was made aware of the damaged cables on the sea floor near the volcano, which is located eight miles north of the island. It is managed by regional communications company, part of which is being used by TSTT for international data and Internet traffic.

It was my experience with this phenomenon of easily-disrupted internet that presented my primary professional challenge in trying to set up a global, internet-based, collaborative program from the island of Grenada. In the three years I did business in Grenada the entire island’s internet went completely dark twice, and operated with critically diminished capacity at other times. When it happened in the midst of our first year of operations our clients –connecting from the US, UK, Africa, and India– were thrown completely offline: with no access to important online resources including our essential digital collaborative space. As long as the internet was out we were functionally out of business.

We did cobble together enough off-island functionality to allow work to continue, but to even consider applying these technical band-aids going forward –let alone continue to suffer the embarrassment of a data-driven business with no control of its data– was inconceivable.

The longer-term solution I devised was to shift our technical operations into the cloud: to a massively-protected, distributed, redundant cloud service based in the US with global server distribution, in our case one conveniently paired with collaborative tools. It had not escaped my notice that the API offered by our cloud partner was already known to jibe perfectly with the internal software overhaul we were planning.

By shifting our critical operations to the cloud we were able to take a door that was sometimes closed to us and kick it off its hinges. Our clients had access to important data 24-7, our collaborative spaces stayed open, and our transition to a new internal software system was demystified all in one fell swoop. Of course it’s impossible to administer cloud spaces from an island without internet, but a trusted assistant posted outside the area of outage will have recourse both to voice telephony to communicate with on-island partners and internet service to effect instant changes in the business’ cloud spaces.

The value of cloud services to developing economies can not be overstated. Adoption of cloud services ameliorates infrastructural woes, preserves and protects data and access, and avails developing businesses of highly advanced APIs and online tools they might not otherwise enjoy. Locating your data, server functions, or e-commerce solutions in ‘backbone’ countries dramatically cuts down on latency and keeps both internal and public-facing aspects of your business available even when you are not.

Addendum: a neat map of the undersea cables serving Grenada can be found here.

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