IBM: flexible computing for Africa

16 October 2009

IT giant IBM has teamed up with open source software firm Canonical to introduce Smart Work, a flexible software package for netbooks and other “thin” client devices, to help businesses in Africa bridge the digital divide by leapfrogging traditional PCs and proprietary software.

Part of IBM’s Smart Work initiative, the new package targets the rising popularity of low-cost netbooks to make IBM’s industrial-strength software affordable to new, mass audiences in Africa.

Businesses that cannot afford traditional PCs for all employees can now use any type of device and low-cost software to enable all workers to “work smarter anywhere” using a variety of devices, regardless of the level of communications infrastructure.

Available ‘across Africa’

The IBM client for Smart Work is now available across Africa, and is being piloted for other emerging and growth markets worldwide. It runs on Canonical’s Ubuntu Linux operating system, and provides the option to deliver collaboration through the web in a “cloud service” model.

The solution includes open standards-based e-mail, word processing, spreadsheets, unified communication, social networking and other software for any laptop, netbook, or a variety of mobile devices.

“The IBM smart client package can help African governments deliver open standards using Open Document Format, which contributes toward the savings of up to 50% per individual seat versus a Microsoft-based desktop based on licensing, administration and maintenance,” IBM said in a statement last month.

Eliminating barriers to access

According to the US-based company, the reduction of personal computing costs may enable governments to transfer information technology expenditures to fund initiatives such as crisis management, education and health care.

“Starting with Africa, we see that this smart client package can help realise our vision of eliminating barriers to computer access for emerging markets,” said Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth. “Our IBM partnership brings together the strengths of collaboration to help our customers work smarter using this new approach.”

With the new package, businesses can cultivate new suppliers and partners over the internet through IBM’s LotusLive.com, which will allow them to expand service to new customers beyond their local area.

In addition, businesses can exponentially increase their computing and collaboration power without additional infrastructure costs, through virtualisation of the collaboration software.

A network of local service providers such as Inkululeko and ZSL Inc. are expected to extend the IBM Client locally throughout Africa to governments, educational institutions and businesses.

New computing models

In addition to local service providers, IBM will also work with leading universities such as Uganda’s Makerere University and academic consortiums to bring this new computing model down to individuals in the employment or attendance of learning institutions.

“Software is an important enabler of the service industry,” said Professor Venansius Barya Baryamureeba of Makerere University’s IT faculty. “However, most of the good software is unaffordable by most of the users in developing countries, hence most users in developing countries have resorted to pirated software and free software.

“But most free software packages can be a nightmare of setup woes, training costs, and processes that just don’t fit your organisation,” Baryamureeba said. “The hope lies in affordable software that is as good as proprietary software, which benefits from economies of scales as a result of targeting a mass market.”

SAinfo reporter

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