Cloud computing architecture is a key component of the Guadalajara Cuidad Creativa Digital (GCCD), the first smart city initiative in Mexico and Latin America, and the benefits of such infrastructure are set to benefit businesses throughout the area.
The project, which is likely to take over a decade to realize in its entirety, though construction has begun and is expected to end in 2015, seeks to create an incubator environment for companies in film, television, digital animation, interactive media, mobile applications and software development. The government has set aside 96 million pesos (roughly 10 million US Dollars) for venture capital funding of participating businesses as part of the project, according to a report in Informador. It is the expected infrastructure, though, that is likely to have a much broader and more far-reaching impact.
Bismarck Lepe, CEO and Founder of Wizeline, a binational U.S. and Mexico-based company that assists organizations with product development, stresses that the availability of more and more hosted cloud solutions for specific technological problems is “decreasing the barrier to entry for Mexican companies with less access to capital compared to companies based solely in the Silicon Valley.”
Lepe adds: “As adoption of the cloud grows, Mexican firms will increasingly be competitive in global technology markets. The key advantages for Mexico will be lower cost and higher agility compared to other geographies.”
Prof Victor Larios Rosillo, a research professor in the Department of Information Systems at the University of Guadalajara, explains that the GCCD expects to attract more large companies as well as develop small and entrepreneurial companies. He says that the major influences in Guadalajara City are Intel, IBM, Oracle and HP, all of which have programs to promote entrepreneurial activities at the local universities.
Ricardo Alvarez, a researcher at Senseable City Lab at MIT, who was involved in the GCCD project during the first two years of conceptualization, explains that the original data infrastructure technology plan called for several components:
- An intra-urban optic fiber ring connected to the NIBA (Red Nacional de Impulso a la Banda Ancha)
- The installation of an IXP (Internet Exchange Point) in Guadalajara needed to reduce latency over data transmission abroad, which is an important aspect for digital media companies
- A series of open wireless access points throughout CCD for data accessibility both from users as well as sensors.
- A data processing center that would be attached to the IXP and would serve both for urban data processing as well as for cloud computing capabilities.
“This data infrastructure gives both the city and the technology-based companies in the city a considerable advantage not only for data processing and data transmission, but the presence of a ubiquitous network of access points should also permit a more flexible environment to develop and test urban-based solutions,” Alvarez said.
He added that, in parallel to the telecom/data infrastructure, the plan also called for the development of an UrbanOS, as well as an API and a services marketplace to be open to private developers and used as a strategic platform for city solutions development from a top-down perspective.
The Mexican government has been working to promote the concept of Guadalajara as a digital city through its special secretariat of science and Innovation. Larios says that the cloud is a very good opportunity to consolidate infrastructure for them from the data processing point of view.
“Since the smart city project is under development a second step is a to have a facility shared by the 21 most important local universities with over 150,000 current students in bachelor degrees and the related postgraduate schools,” he said. This will take the form of the Enginium campus to be created this year and finished in the second quarter of next year.
“This Enginium campus will be near the digital creative complex facility and will connect industry with academia and government, [so that they can] work together in order to close the gaps between industry needs, academia to create talent and innovation and government opportunities to attract new business and develop better services for the city,” he added.
Alvarez says that the benefits of cloud computing are fairly evident when you analyze the cost performance curves for processing power growth and connectivity, and understand the benefits of a large-scale shared platform. “It simply makes more sense for a company to leverage a shared platform that is both flexible and scalable,” he noted. This, he says, allows companies to access competitive computing power cycles at affordable prices, which for most companies would be unattainable if they had to fund their own high-end computing environments, especially start-ups and SMEs.
Lepe, who chose to start Wizeline off with an office in Guadalajara from the company’s founding because of his passion for the budding technology industry and entrepreneurial spirit there, said that while the infrastructure is important, if the real benefits are to be leveraged, education is too.
“Educating more companies and developers about new cloud solutions will help improve adoption in Guadalajara,” he said. “Larger numbers of cloud-literate developers and entrepreneurs are necessary for a healthy tech ecosystem in Mexico that can take advantage of this new high-performance, affordable technology.”
Alvarez agrees, adding that to create an open cloud/data processing platform and make it work you need more than the technology infrastructure. “There needs to be an innovation culture in the economic ecosystem that maximizes its use through high level usage,” he said. In addition, he said, the proper legal framework regarding data privacy as well as the security arrangements that ensure that both public and private data are safely stored and processed and can only be accessed by relevant players is key.
The project is evolving to meet the needs of the city. IBM, for example, has a set of solutions and offerings based on its Softlayer acquisition and global footprint expansion on cloud computing services, equating to US$1.2 billion of global investment. “This huge investment includes the plan to open a completely new IBM Cloud Computing data center in Mexico very soon that would open the door for many SMB companies in Guadalajara and in the whole country, so those companies can use and leverage IBM technology including (IaaS, PasS, SaaS, etc.) in a public, private or hybrid modes as needed,” said Manuel Avalos Vega, IBM Worldwide Product Manager of BAO and Storage for The Cloud. Vega is based in Guadalajara at IBM’s Technological Campus and is also a GCCD consultant.
Putting such infrastructure in place is not without challenges, however, as Alvarez explains. “On the one hand, people need to understand the relevance of the investment and its place in a nontraditional urban development project, not only in economic terms but in legal ones as well,” he said. “On the other hand, it takes a while for users to actually maximize its use and justify the investments.”
Alvarez says that, at the end of the day, content is king, and the value maximization of said data platforms is only realized through transmitting/processing content of high value. “If the productive ecosystem doesn’t do this, then the platform gets wasted in lower value activities and the depreciation curve of technology kills the investment,” he said.
He added that the trap of simplifying the data infrastructure into just doing smaller scale but visible things like providing “free” access to Wi-Fi or some storage space on the cloud is always a threat against an integrated platform with a long-term strategic perspective.
“Larger numbers of cloud-literate developers and entrepreneurs are necessary for a healthy tech ecosystem in Mexico that can take advantage of this new high-performance, affordable technology.”
Creating a platform that is flexible enough over time as to remain cost/performance competitive is another a challenge that Alvarez identifies due to the rapid changing nature of technology. “Keeping pace with new standards, protocols and requirements and integrating those changes into an ongoing project is almost never easy,” he said.
As the CEO of a company currently using cloud solutions as part of its business model in Guadalajara and the U.S., Lepe notes that giving control of performance and latency to other companies is difficult occasionally. “Our customers expect speed and availability, however a third party has control when you move to hosted cloud solutions,” he said.
Despite these potential challenges for the GCCD and for the businesses that ultimately will use the infrastructure, the cloud computing architecture that forms part of this smart city initiative is likely to offer innovative and potentially lucrative opportunities to those companies willing to leverage it.
Vega emphasizes that IBM will continue to work closely with IEEE-GCCD projects ensuring best practices and best technology trends options are being considered to implement on those strategic projects in Guadalajara. “We aim to become a ‘role model’ city in the future that is leveraging the best technology available to create a sustainable innovation hub in this part of the world,” he said.