Joe Lazauskas| Forbes

By 2015, global cloud computing traffic will have increased twelve-fold compared to 2010, according to a study by Cisco. As you might assume, that growth is occurring in tech-savvy metropolises like Silicon Valley, New York and London, but it’s also being driven by the developing world.

Businesses in developed nations have embraced cloud computing for the boost in speed, efficiency and flexibility it provides, but in the developing world, it provides a different set of advantages to young businesses. In lands where the electrical grid is unreliable at best, a combination of cheap, battery-powered smartphones and inexpensive cloud computing servers based in the United States or Europe allow businesses to circumvent the electrical grid all together.

Couple that with the idea that many in the developing world may never have had the chance to put in the infrastructures for older technologies so they don’t have the burden of considering lost investment or conversion costs, and they can move straight to mobile and cloud supported systems including IT support.

Cheki, an African used car classifieds service, boasts a million users and over a billion page views each month. Cheki has quickly built a huge market that spans Kenya, Nigeria, Malawi, Rwanda and Ethiopia, with most users accessing the site on $70 Android smartphones, according to the New York Times.

Cloud computing isn’t just benefiting large multinational corporations. In a recent study, Unlocking the Benefits of Cloud Computing For Emerging Economies, Peter Cowhey and Michael Kleeman of UC San Diego contend that “[c]loud computing can greatly strengthen small and medium enterprises (SMEs), thereby stimulating job creation,” since the cloud reduces the upfront cost and operational complexities of using information technology to grow a business.

“One study in Mexico showed typical reductions in total fixed cost of about 3% in a 45 person firm that switches to cloud computing,” Cowhey wrote in an email. “Lowering costs stimulates growth and jobs, perhaps to the tune of 190,000 new jobs in Mexican SMEs if they adopted cloud computing.”

In Africa, the “most dramatic thing in terms of scale is the widespread use of cloud-based services like Google GOOG -0.98% Docs and Drop Box,” Kleeman said. “Two-thirds of the people I work with across Africa use Gmail.Ten years ago they’d have to have in-house email services, [software like] Microsoft MSFT -1.71% office. Now, all of those applications are there with a decent Internet connection.”

Cloud computing is also having a dramatic impact on public health initiatives. Across the developing world, a set of open source mobile health technologies called MOTECH SUITE is connecting health workers with patients, largely thanks to cheap, Java-based Nokia phones that come pre-equipped with the MOTECH’s mobile health application.

Thanks to cloud computing, MOTECH stays up and running without the help of local servers, allowing “community health workers, village health teams, medical professionals that provide primary care, health and tracking, for things as basic as pregnancy advice, AIDS, and tuberculosis,”  Kleeman said. MOTECH also allows health workers to execute crucial tasks like managing patient data, scheduling appointments, and tracking community health trends.

Despite the promising growth of cloud computing in the developing world, challenges remain. Chief amongst them is the data sovereignty laws in some countries, which restrict the flow of data across borders, stymying service-based trade and larger health initiatives.

According to Kleeman, countries like India and Zambia with strict data sovereignty laws are hampering the potential of the cloud by making it so cloud-based services have to be kept within the country’s borders.

“It’s a very big deal,” said Kleeman. “[Data sovereignty] really inhibits a lot of the benefits when you can’t utilize the full capabilities of the cloud.”


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