The Foreign Service Journal, September 2009

S E P T E M B E R 2 0 0 9 / F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L 47 espite tremendous global growth over the last few decades, social and eco- nomic development has eluded huge swaths of the world. In recognition of this imbalance, the United Nations adopted a set of eight Millennium De- velopment Goals — including eradicat- ing extreme poverty, achieving universal primary education and reducing child mortality — at its Millennium Summit in 2000. More than midway through the 15-year timeframe set to realize the MDGs, however, progress continues to be un- even at best. The current financial meltdown and the world- wide economic recession are only exacerbating this situation, as there will be even fewer resources available to close the development gap. Historically, development agencies and nongovernmen- tal organizations, especially in developing countries, have not been able to take full advantage of information technology, primarily because of the significant cost and complexities in deploying and managing it. Because IT systems have tradi- tionally been run on an “ownership” model, they require in- vestment in all the underlying infrastructure, ongoing maintenance of systems and, every few years, expensive and time-consuming upgrades. Now, however, a new development in the information technology industry offers the possibility of accelerating so- cial and economic development, even in this time of limited resources. Cloud computing, as it’s called, involves tapping into computing power over the Internet — that is, over the “cloud.” This creates enormous economies of scale, sub- stantially lowering the cost and eliminating the technical complexities and the long deployment cycles of planning, in- stalling, maintaining and upgrading IT systems. Although ubiquitous, affordable Internet access — or even reliable electricity — is not yet a reality, there are many pockets of the developing world that are equipped to take advantage of this new approach to delivering and consuming information technology. The Rise of Cloud Computing The Internet has made possible a new, “utility” model of information technology. Instead of having to buy and set up IT systems — the servers, the storage devices, the network- ing, the software and the databases — users can tap into ca- pabilities and solutions over the Internet, regardless of where they are located in the world, simply by going to a Web site and logging in. The actual computing — the processing and storage of data — does not take place on an individual’s computer or at a company’s own IT facilities. Rather, it is done remotely, often thousands of miles away, in large data centers that process and hold data for thousands of companies or millions of users. This shift in how IT is delivered and consumed is analogous to the evolution in electricity use a century ago, when businesses began purchasing electricity as a service from utility companies, rather than owning and running their own power generators. Cloud computing was first pioneered in the consumer world by companies such as Google, Yahoo! and Ama- U SING C LOUD C OMPUTING TO C LOSE THE D EVELOPMENT G AP A PARADIGM SHIFT NOW OCCURRING IN THE IT INDUSTRY OFFERS THE POSSIBILITY OF ACCELERATING SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT . B Y K ENNETH I. J USTER Kenneth I. Juster is executive vice president of and a former under secretary of Commerce. D