Twenty-two students and lecturers from the Faculty of International Relations of the Belarus State Economic University gathered at the UNDP office in Minsk March 17 to discuss the findings of UNCTAD's Information Economy Report (IER) 2013. The report, entitled “The Cloud Economy and Developing Countries,” was presented by one of its authors, Scarlett Fondeur Gil of UNCTAD's Division on Technology and Logistics.
The Permanent Mission of Belarus in Geneva was represented by its Counsellor, Aleksandr Tselyuk, who also contributed actively to the discussion.
Scarlett Fondeur started by explaining the rationale behind the theme of the report: the cloud economy is an emerging trend in the ICT sector, which has also raised a number of questions among policymakers, particularly in the past year.
"Cloud computing is a way to deliver services, content and knowledge in a remote manner", said Fondeur, "but the metaphor of the "cloud" is misleading because cloud computing relies on physical hardware, networks, storage, and interfaces needed to deliver computing as a service".
The size of the market for cloud computing is sure to grow tremendously in the years ahead. According to various estimates, cloud revenue for 2015 could be as low as US$ 43 billion or as high as US$ 94 billion.
At the moment, cloud traffic is generated mainly by users in developed countries but developing countries' share is growing fast.
Cloud computing is dependent on broadband access. In this sense, the penetration of fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) technology, which will sustain the development of cloud computing in the future, is growing rapidly in some countries. For instance, the United Arab Emirates increased their FTTH penetration from 59 per cent in 2012 to 85 per cent in 2013. Transition economies and developing countries may have an advantage with respect to developed countries: they are not constrained by the legacy of past infrastructures and can therefore introduce new technologies more rapidly.
At the moment, Belarus fulfils the minimum requirements for basic cloud services but rapid investment in new technology may allow it to qualify for advanced cloud services in the very near future.
However, the real area of concern for cloud computing relates to regulatory issues. "As data flows in the cloud can be subject to multiple jurisdictions, this may raise issues of control, effective oversight and audit", said Fondeur. "The key legal issues to address are: data protection, privacy and cybercrime".
"The report clearly welcomes the cloud economy but countries need to start by making an assessment of their readiness for the cloud and then devise a strategy based on that assessment", Fondeur explained. "Each country should consider its particular circumstances while at the same time recognize the supply side opportunities of the cloud economy", she concluded.
The presentation triggered a number of questions regarding the situation of Belarus with respect to cloud computing. Among the questions raised were: How could Belarus address the issue of security, in particular given the costs of protection?, Can too much information available online affect the efficiency of cloud computing?, or What would the way forward be for Belarus with regard to the development of cloud computing - foreign investment or development of national companies?