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Cloudless Skies for Australia: Could connectivity differences rain on cloud computing?

G’day, all!  I returned today from a three week journey all about the globe, but mostly down under in Australia.  Those of you that follow my tweets (@danholme) know that I was at TechEd Australia, in Gold Coast, which is Australia’s version of Fort Lauderdale/Miami, with a bit of Vegas thrown in.  Plenty to do and see. 

But for me, it was all work, as I spent my off-hours researching an upcoming book for Microsoft Press and on-hours at TechEd.  I presented my Designing Governance session, which focuses on aligning information management requirements, SharePoint governance controls, and logical architecture, at the AvePoint Interactive Theatre.  

I also sat on two SharePoint panels. And I spent time at the AvePoint booth doing my best to answer SharePoint questions from attendees.

It was both heartening and disheartening to see that the SharePoint market in Australia is in many ways very similar to that in the United States. IT Pros and their managers are grappling with the same issues, including sorting out the Microsoft hype about SharePoint Server versus the often-perfectly-suited (and much kinder-to-the-budget) SharePoint Foundation… or determining the most effective way to deliver common solutions to users… or grappling with the magnitude of moving an organization from working around files on file servers to items and documents in SharePoint.  Same issues, same problems, same feeling of “overwhelm-edness”.

One of the most surprising takeaways for me was the difference in connectivity down under. Based on my own experience and on the discussions I had with peers in Australia, it was evident that, unlike in the United States, high-throughput, anywhere-available connectivity to the Internet is not a “given” in this geographically sprawling nation. The internet connectivity and bandwidth market in Australia is not rife with supply and suppliers offering tremendous connectivity—wired and wireless—at rock bottom prices. 

In fact, I would venture to guess that the vast majority of Australian businesses would kill a koala for the type of connectivity enjoyed by residential FIOS customers in New Jersey. The landscape is changing quickly, but Australia seems to be, today, a very different market in terms of the Cloud.

This leads to an interesting challenge for cloud-based solutions such as Google-anything or even Microsoft’s Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS). If you can’t count on the cloud being available, fast, and cheap, how can you possibly consider relocating business applications to the cloud?  There was more than one conversation to be heard, the gist of which was, “What cloud?” 

Solutions like BPOS face additional challenges down under because the “cloud” servers are located in datacenters far away from Australia—in fact, in other nations, which leads to skepticism and fear about privacy and confidential information, particularly for important government customers.

On the flip side, cloud-challenged markets present a tremendous opportunity for… Microsoft. Unlike Google or even Apple (my iPhone had lousy data connectivity in many Australian locations as well), Microsoft is pushing its Software + Services model through which an organization can host components of its business internally on premises, externally in the cloud, or both.

The value of hosting services both internally and externally, and to be able to cache data locally on physical devices such as PCs and phones, is particularly salient in a place where you can’t always be assured of being connected.

I certainly don’t want to paint Australia as being technically “behind”… it most certainly isn’t… but the results of its less competitive telecommunications market did open my eyes to the fact that there are big parts of this world—even in such advanced nations as Australia—in which the cloud is a fickle if not downright hostile place to do business.  It will be interesting to see how the Cloud and the new “Personal Cloud” of Windows Phone speak are marketed to such places.

A cloudy future for the cloud aside, I have to say that I am exceedingly grateful for the opportunity to experience the beautiful nature, vibrant cities, and exceptionally friendly people of Australia.

After a week at TechEd, I escaped to the Great Barrier Reef for a three-day liveaboard dive trip.  This was a life dream of mine and the Reef was truly spectacular.

I’ll leave you with a photo, and a challenge to come up with the best SharePoint-related caption!

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