The NBN and cloud computing … a marriage made in heaven?

The NBN promises to be way more than a technology side-show. Theophilos

Now that the hoopla associated with the Australian National Broadband Network (NBN) has died down somewhat, I’d like to discuss one of the significant opportunities by drawing a line between the NBN and cloud computing.

Cloud computing, in simple terms, means you access your systems via an internet browser. Your data is stored in one of the many, vast data centres around the world and you can access your data remotely through any internet connection.

For the cloud to be effective, it needs a fast internet.

The NBN roll-out is starting to gain momentum with the first few regional and urban areas already connected to the national fibre infrastructure. (The entire project is scheduled for completion in June 2021).

As with many major government infrastructure projects, the network has received its fair share of criticism about the cost – estimated at over $35 billion – “return on investment” and the effect on competition within the telecommunications industry. Yet most of this criticism comes from the perspective that the NBN is merely a technology side-show, or for home use.

There’s so much more to the network than the residential market: it has the ability to really transform the way in which we do things across the board. The emergence of cloud computing is one such transformational technology that will be turbo-charged with the deployment of the NBN.

Every day, governments, businesses and individuals are creating more and more data, and this rate is accelerating. (In 2011, this amount of data was estimated at 1.8 zettabytes – the equivalent of nearly 60 billion 32 gigabyte iPads.)

In the business world, this data needs to be processed, and managed for running businesses, reporting, analysis, insight or research.

Massive data sets are becoming a key facet of the finance sector, fundamental to scientific research and important for the everyday running of businesses and government agencies.

The cloud offers a unique opportunity for effective, fast processing of this data through external resources and various IT systems, cloud or otherwise. Australia’s lack of bandwidth has simply created a bottleneck for these services. Given ADSL2+ offers limited upload capacity when compared to the NBN, processing valuable gigabit data sets outside the on-premise enterprise network is just not viable.

Although it’s undeniable the NBN will deliver faster movie download speeds at home, the real economic return will come with the continued uptake by all Australian businesses of cloud computing.

The digital economy has blossomed and is ready for greater adoption; we’re just waiting for the NBN to eliminate the tyranny of distance completely. The only limiting factor remaining is the speed of light!

Julian Smith/AAPIMAGE

When an organisation’s remote offices have the same internet access speeds as their capital-city counterparts, the boost to productivity will be obvious. Data can live in Sydney, backed up in real-time through other data centres at remote locations, while staff across the country work on that data without wasting time waiting for data to be transferred from one location to another. It’ll be as if they were sitting right next to the data center.

Ultimately (and it will still take a few years) these data management, transfer and processing tasks will be managed by cloud technologies in one form or another. Nationwide fibre networks allow business not normally able to access private fibre connections to tap into the cloud’s potential.

Promising pervasive access to advanced and powerful applications at little-to-no infrastructure cost, the NBN allows the cloud an opportunity for growth never before seen in the digital economy.

With the introduction of fibre-to-the-home, the cloud can begin to deliver complex business applications to remote users without compromise in speed or quality. From a socio-economic standpoint, this means rural centres will become as viable for business centres as large capital cities. Populations can begin to decentralise.

Australian business will become much more competitive in the online sphere (whether that be retail or services). Nothing would prevent a few uni students in a country town from starting their own Google competitor!

The benefits cloud computing can offer small to medium businesses are well discussed and numerous, yet high-speed networks need to be implemented to deliver cloud services efficiently and effectively.

The NBN and other infrastructure investments, such as the new Pacific Fibre undersea connections – which will connect Australia to New Zealand and the USA and be launched by early 2014 – should remove the network’s bottleneck, boosting businesses up into the clouds.

So, does the cloud need the NBN or does the NBN need the cloud? I think the answer is both!

Rob Livingstone’s is the author of Navigating through the Cloud: A plain English guide to surviving the risks, costs and governance pitfalls of Cloud computing

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