The recent presidential petition brought technology right to the centre of the average Kenyan’s life.
Whereas, previously, we covered the technical jargon that was floated during the petition, we left out one important term that remains relevant beyond petitions and elections – cloud computing.
Some of the IEBC election data was ‘in the cloud’ and so we were told access to it was a bit complicated due to the technical teams being asleep.
A few weeks later, we were told that the results transmitted from the polling station got ‘stuck’ in the cloud and never reached Bomas of Kenya.
Both statements betray a lack of understanding of what exactly cloud-based services are, their benefits, opportunities and risks.
I shall try to break it down for you so that by the next presidential petition, you are better informed to flag out the myths and realities around cloud computing.
First and foremost, many people do not know that they are already using cloud-services.
Your web-based email, Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, YouTube, Uber, and other online media content sit on the cloud.
When you want to access them, you do so instantly through the Internet without worrying about downtime or non-availability arising from the ‘server’ being down.
This is one benefit of cloud services. They are by design, ‘always on’ and overcome capacity issues found in traditional ICT services.
Think about the annual ritual of announcing the standard eight examination results which used to sit on one server at the headquarters of the Kenya National Examinations Council (KNEC).
This server would be instantly overwhelmed by millions of requests from parents querying for results. Unable to cope, it would collapse within minutes and become unavailable.
Moving the results from ‘ground servers’ to the ‘cloud’ servers enables KNEC to elastically scale up computing capacity to meet the demand – in real time.
This is possible because the cloud provider, the company that leases out cloud services, has global computing infrastructure that can absorb millions of requests as and when they occur.
SECURITY AND SOVEREIGNTY
Better still, the Cloud provider uses the ‘pay-per-use’ charging model for computing resources, enabling KNEC to enjoy lower rates most of the year, while only paying higher rates during the duration that demand actually goes up. Availability, scalability and the ‘pay-per-use’ model form the core benefits of moving services to the cloud.
So going back to the courtroom drama, it is clear that the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) data being in the cloud should make services much more available and accessible than if they were on the ‘ground’.
IEBC, as the client to the cloud provider, has 24 hour, seven day access to their data just as you and I have similar access to our Twitter or Facebook accounts.
In the same spirit, once in the cloud, the need to have it on the ‘ground’ disappears.
Moving data from the cloud back into the ground servers defeats the whole purpose of having moved it to the cloud, since it brings back the capacity bottlenecks we have in our traditional way of computing – the client server model.
Of, course cloud services have some issues as well, top on the list being security and sovereignty concerns.
BIOMETRIC ELECTION DATA
Sensitive citizen data, like biometric election data should be highly secured and preferably resident within the home country. It is possible to do this without losing the benefit of the cloud.
Local companies, with locally installed data-centres, exist. They can provide cloud services to organisations that require their data to be resident locally. That way, you will still have your data ‘in the cloud’ only that this time around, the cloud is across the street and you can walk there, touch, and feel that your data is safe.
However, more importantly, we, as a country, need to enact the legislation to support and protect the local cloud industry.
Cloud service is all about data and security and so we must take the bold step of enacting the long-overdue Data-Protection Act, in order to provide an assurance framework for both providers and users of cloud services.
Meanwhile, do not fear the cloud. After all you are already using it.
Mr Walubengo is a lecturer at Multimedia University of Kenya, Faculty of Computing and IT. Email: [email protected], Twitter: @Jwalu