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Cloud Expo: Opinion

The Geopolitical Context of Cloud Computing

Technology Vendors Must Be Exquisitely Aware of World Events

Cloud computing is a global phenomenon and exists within a very serious geopolitical context. The technology is not discrete from government policy, and technology marketers must be exquisitely aware of this.

The highest profile example is Google's ongoing sparring with the Chinese government. But in a way, we're all Google and we should understand why. Blackberry's conflict with the Indian government over message privacy is another big example.

When Things Were Simple
International technology marketing used to be simple. Just watch what took off in the US and Canada, then make sure you were in Germany 18 months later, the rest of Europe 6 months after that, and in Japan five more years down the road. The rest of the world could be, in a word, ignored.

The Worldwide Web, modern telecommunications, and their combined global impact has now changed all this. The United States fell behind several countries in the 90s in the area of mobile-phone technology and its use. Then, as computing changed from an early emphasis on expensive hardware and software to lower-cost proliferating devices and free Web stuff, the world suddenly looked to be a much more level playing field (even if it's not actually flat).

The world outside of the United States didn't get caught up in the bogus "New Economy" talk of the late 90s, so didn't suffer as much in the dot-bomb era. But in the current Prodigal Web Returns era, technology marketers face a global village that never sleeps, and one in which everyone wants the latest stuff.

It's been widely noted that netizens of the Philippines (where I'm based for the time being) are the world champion texters, held the MySpace title when it mattered, and are embracing Facebook and other social networking sites with the same enthusiasm. The rest of the major Southeast Asian nations are not far behind.

Facebook et al are seismically active elsewhere as well. About 70% of the FB user base is outside of the US-a reversal of what technology marketers encountered in the long ago Greed is Good Age of the 80s.

Immediate Effect
And here's what I think is the important part: the geopolitical actions of government leaders in Beijing, Washington, and dozens of other national capitals has a direct, immediate effect on the technology industry today.

As the onset of World War I demonstrated, a provocative event in the relatively modest outpost of Sarajevo unleashed simmering tensions among the great powers of the age, resulting in tens of millions of deaths in the two wars that followed.

Today's geopolitical landscape is at least as fraught with tripwires as that of 1914. In almost 100 years, all of our technology has not made us humans any more peaceful or cooperative.

Businesses can ignore nothing today, in the way they could simply pay no attention in the past to what was going on behind the Iron Curtain, and elsewhere.

So, for example, I fear for the rising tensions between the Philippines and China over the obscure Spratly Islands group (and its potential to produce oil). Vietnam is involved here, too.

China is also spending precious diplomatic currency in trying to be ideologically correct in supporting the lunatic in North Korea while being practical in finding an end to Korean conflict after all these decades.

This is occurring as the US and China are engaged in "frank" dialogs about currency and the looming potential for cyberwar. Could a minor incident such as a Chinese ship firing near a couple of Filipino fisherman, which happened a few weeks ago, be the Sarajevo spark of our age?

Harder to Say On Message
Successful businesspeople are by nature and by training able to stay on message, not let extraneous factors smudge their focus, or get wrapped into political theories and governmental pantomime. In the past, this was generally an effective approach.

To be sure, one had to be aware of the big events - revolutions in Cuba and Iran, oil crises spawned by cartels, and the general business climate in any particular place.

But today, businesspeople must have their products and services available almost everywhere in the world, with the knowledge that seemingly small stuff might quickly lead to something to sweat about.

"Don't sweat the small stuff, but none of it is small stuff" might be the mantra of this age.

How concerned should we be about Iran's nuclear program? What major powers (eg, Russia) might eventually come into serious conflict with the US and Europe over this?

What role is an increasingly confident and powerful Turkey going to play, especially as it continues its movement from its modern secular roots? Is Brazil truly emerging as a world manufacturing power, and will it lead to conflict with the US and Canada some day?

Meanwhile, the Arab Spring is turning into summer, with very little decided. Things are far from sorted out in Egypt, which has fast-emerged as an outsourcing power and technology buyer over the past five years. Libya is a huge mess, with Western allies either undecided or lying about whether they really are trying to kill its leader. Syria could be the next Libya. Yemen is very troubled, and the trouble in Bahrain has not gone away.

And folks, what if the spirit of revolution moves to Saudi Arabia? Or Dubai?

There are also issues of government policy. This is a big, fascinating topic, one which I plan to write about extensively over the next year. For now, in this context, I read recent remarks by a top Google executive who downplayed - was even dismissive of - concerns about data sovereignty, ie, the issue of government wanting to keep Cloud data in-country.

He offered a few sound technical reasons for this opinion. But sound technical reasoning is not on the list of most politicians' competencies, in the US or the world. Ruh roh.

Twitter: @strukhoff

More Stories By Roger Strukhoff

Roger Strukhoff (@IoT2040) is Executive Director of the Tau Institute for Global ICT Research, with offices in Illinois and Manila. He is Conference Chair of @CloudExpo & @ThingsExpo, and Editor of SYS-CON Media's CloudComputing BigData & IoT Journals. He holds a BA from Knox College & conducted MBA studies at CSU-East Bay.

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