Consider an emerging market like India. Think of all the places computers could be used and are not, and think of all the services that computers could enable. (After all, what people need is not a quarter-inch drill, but a quarter-inch hole.) From providing basic computing for the current non-users in enterprises so that the common denominator shifts from paper to electronic process to enabling learning-centric education in schools and colleges, computers can help lay the foundation of real-time enterprises and build the foundation for dramatically enhancing the capacity and quality of the educational institutions. In addition, by providing an interface between government and citizens through neighbourhood computing centres in both urban and rural India, computers can remove pain points from peoples lives in their interaction with the state. Finally, by providing a platform for basic computing, communications, entertainment and education, computers can be at the top of the must-have list for the growing Indian middle class. Computers can thus lay the foundation for our increasingly digital life.
But this is not going to happen with the current architecture and business model of the computer industry. The next users are much less savvy about managing their own systems. Affordability is another challenge both of hardware and software. Without the necessary base of computer users, local software developers and content providers do not have an incentive to create relevant solutions. In short, there is a market failure. What can we do to shift the market to a higher, better equilibrium? This is where centralised computing comes in.
By shifting processing and storage to centralised servers over broadband connections, the user access devices can now be simplified and made cheaper. Because the devices are now network-centric and require zero-management, service providers can now consider bundling them as part of a whole solution one that combines the device, network connectivity, services and support. The service provider relationship can be extended to also include a billing relationship this way, value-added services from third-party providers can be layered on top of the basic offering. This creates the necessary ecosystem for everyone to thrive.
From a customer perspective, a large capital expenditure is converted to a smaller monthly payment on a usage basis. Also, there is no hassle of managing the device. In other words, one can start using the digital car without becoming a new age mechanic! From a network provider view point, it now becomes possible to leverage all the back-haul fibre and other infrastructure that has been deployed by getting a large number of users very much like what has happened in the telecom industry. In fact, network providers in India are likely to also look at triple plays combining voice, video and Internet access via the network commPuter. Finally, for the service providers (the software and content developers), there is now a way to get compensated rather than ripped off!
The world of centralised computing will thus usher in the next-generation utilities. Just like previous utilities which brought transportation, water, electricity and telecom to transform the lives of the masses, so also this utility has the potential to realise the hidden potential of todays forgotten masses in emerging markets.
Tomorrow: What should Microsoft do?
TECH TALK Microsoft, Bandwidth and Centralised Computing+T