The internet disruptor could be the guy in the garage, #Internet@50

internet at 50

The internet is 50 years old, long live!

Most of us probably come from a time when the internet is so fundamental that we cannot imagine life without it. But what could have inspired the ‘birth’ of this today’s friend of everybody?

October 29th 1969, one professor of computer science at UCLA, Leonard Kleinrock, and his graduate student Charley Kline wanted to send a transmission from UCLA’s computer to another computer at Stanford Research Institute through ARPANET. Kline successfully sent the first digital data transmission to Bill Duvall, a scientist at the then Stanford Research Institute (now known as SRI International) marking the beginning of ARPANET, the small network of academic computers and a precursor to the internet.

Daniel Njuguna, the CEO at Atlancis, talked to CIO East Africa about the evolution of ARAPNET to present day internet and how Atlancis, on a quest to pioneer for open technology in Africa has introduced the Open Compute Project (OCP) in data centers in the continent.

“The internet was originally programmed for the US defense through a program called RPA and was majorly meant for communication between the different military units in the US,” says Njuguna.

Njuguna adds that the internet as a solution was designed to help the different military departments communicate using computers, but would afterwards be adopted by various players who appreciated the need for better communication including the government departments in the United States. It would then be released into the public whence it grew faster than the original plan.

The early adapters thought of how to patent and/or license the internet, what led to the development of the transport control protocol standards, to help govern the use of the internet. These then became the communication standards; the rules of the internet that give the ability of different computers to communicate, including message sending and receiving.

“The internet has developed fast that we are not able to interact with the technicalities of the back end of it, yet it still rides on the Transport control protocols/IP (TCP/IP),”  Kinyua notes.

NJuguna talks about the technologies that have left indelible marks in the journey to the Internet as is today. That today, everything from smartphones to garage door openers are nodes on the network that descended from the one test of October 29th, 50 years ago.

In the early 90’s, when the various Linux based operating systems became mainstream, as Njuguna notes, the internet exploded completely. A lot of technologies have since evolved that make internet searches quick and flawless.

He says, “After the birth of Linux in 1992, there was an internet explosion due to the open technology model it was built on.”  “The lots of open technologies and other development tools like databases and software tools that power the internet to this day are still open source based.”

Other technologies used in the industry and that Atlancis use as a company, include Open Compute.

Open compute shares the values of technology being open so somebody can easily adapt to it, and take it, change it and improve it,” notes Kinyua.

Having been left open and free of patent, the net continues to draw interest of use by literally everyone that knows how. Open source technologies have been a key driver to the growth and fast adoption of internet. In Kenya as Kinyua recalls, connection may have begun in around early 90’s whence the ADSL broadband connectivity cables first landed in the country. The first big mainframe servers were imported by Nairobi city county and Central Bank of Kenya.

“Digital life has become a human lifestyle that is not going away soon but on the spectrum of machine learning and artificial intelligence, there will be more and more of humans interacting with technology and the internet.” Daniel Njuguna

Atlancis, the company Mr. Njuguna manages, advocates for the development of open compute practices for customers, where customers can develop, improve, and change the original product without being vendor locked in. He gives an example of global players like facebook, youtube,etc that do not charge for accounts opening but rather make money from advertisements.

His advice to technology vending companies is to embrace this model (Open Compute) for the propulsion of their businesses.

Set backs

The adoption however came with major challenges the biggest being internet addiction so that a lot of functions can no longer work without internet connection.

“Because today everything is cloud based due to the first adoption strategy, internet has become so much basic that without it people will generally not work.” Daniel Njuguna

Other challenges especially in Kenya include poor connectivity in rural areas. Places that have not good broadband services, face an adoption setback whereas in urban areas, there is the element of cost. Payments to service providers locks out those unable to afford the monies out of connection. Also, because the use of internet requires a level of technology literacy, people who lack the knowledge are by default locked out of connection.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) did a survey in 2016 jointly with the Communications Authority (CA) and reported an excess of 90% adoption of internet services in businesses in the country with another about 85% in consumption for domestic purposes. This wide adoption gives internet service providers (ISPs) the key metrics to incorporate into their products. This wide penetration has brought the problem of security or the lack of it.

Security issues come from phishing attacks that Kinyua explains as being the fraudulent attempt to obtain sensitive information such as usernames, passwords and credit card details by disguising oneself as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication.

By default, all internet consumers – individual or organisations, are victims of such vulnerabilities.

“If you have not done something, do not expect any reward. Don’t be excited when you see a link asking you to claim money,” says a Daniel Njuguna adding, “It starts with an email or link you have no clue about that when you click on, leads you into well-orchestrated attacks that could comprise a lot of confident data.”

His stern warning against such attacks is that no one gets to enter information on any site that is not secure over the internet. The general users need knowledge about such attacks.

“Security starts with you, there is no amount of technology that can stop you from clicking those links, so it comes down to an individual,” he adds.

Importer of tech, exporter of talent

He believes that alongside importing technology, Kenya also exports jobs. He avers, “I have always had the belief that we (Kenya) are the net importers of technology, we are also a net exporter of jobs.” “Whenever we import one line of code, or equipment, that we can assemble locally, it means that we have exported that job.”

This narrative has continued happening unchallenged and without care from the industry players and the system integrators. Njuguna however vows to change the narrative by building solutions around cloud.

Atlancs first cloud platform that is fully self-service and running in Africa, is called savannah that offers learning and management solutions as well as digital content. Creating value locally as well as jobs.

“We have set out to develop platforms and solutions in the country, where we create value and maintain that value. In the midterm, we start exporting that solution to other countries. Exporting open computing platforms to other countries, enlist online developers through crowd sourcing, to create solutions for us, let’s say our learning systems, then export that,” adds Njuguna.

He points out to the readily available talent from university students in the country that he urges his peer industry players to leverage on to start building local solutions, that disruption is always coming from that guy in the garage that people do not know about.

“At Atlancis, a tech innovation company, we develop and deploy customer solutions for different sectors, so we have sector solutions that are pivoted on our open complete revolution,” he adds.

Where development is open with a drive to make all  solutions as open as possible, the  aggressive growth and prevention from jobs exportation is achieved as concludes Daniel Njuguna, CEO Atlancis.

“Every CEO says IT is expensive, we are trying to manage this by bringing in open compute and make sure that what we are delivering to the customer is not locked in,” he observed. Adding; “Essentially allowing our customers to run their businesses at optimum level, using the least of costs but getting much more value than they would with traditional off the shelf systems.”


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