Bridging the digital divide with National Knowledge Centres

They can be used to share content and provide useful services in remote and less developed areas of the country

Updated: Feb 25, 2015 08:35:25 AM UTC

We have started witnessing new directions and trends in the streams of networking, virtualisation and cloud computing in the recent past.  Traditional networking functions executing in hardware appliances can execute as software appliances in virtual machines. Such software appliances can execute in VMs (virtual machines) in data centres either in the cloud or in the network. As in-network data centres emerge to provide computing and storage support in networks, such data centres can be used to support applications and services as well. There are numerous advantages to this approach. For example, a mobile user service hosted in an in-network data centre can search a local database in the network for information that is relevant to a mobile user query, and quickly respond to the question. Alternatively, such architecture can be used to deliver telecom services more efficiently or apply content more efficiently. This requires the infrastructure to be programmable, to support software appliances, functions and services in networks. Thus, applications, services, and network functions could be virtualised and deployed in a distributed and hierarchical manner to realise Distributed Function Virtualisation (DFV) across cloud data centres and in-network mini data centres.


Figure 1:  Distributed Function Virtualization (DFV)

The availability of computing and storage capabilities in-networks can provide new services to users, particularly those living in remote areas or on the wrong side of the digital divide, with limited access to the internet. Such in-network and edge services can be brought closer to users to help users in such communities. For example, one can consider distributed architectures for educational services, where educational videos can be hosted on Jnana (knowledge) edge servers closer to users, where VMs on such edge servers could pull knowledge and information relevant to the users in a community interacting with VMs in other remote servers. The content could be downloaded from other servers when connectivity is available, allowing for disconnected operations. For communities with no connectivity or very limited connectivity, content could be merely delivered on a USB drive (using non-traditional data transport such as a bullock cart) and transferred to a local server that serves the community. In general, VMs related to distributed services can interact with each other in the background to fetch information closer to users. cloud_centre

Figure 2:  National Knowledge Centers (NKCs)

Looking at India in particular, besides creating a National Knowledge Network (NKN), it would be desirable to create National Knowledge Centres (NKCs) or have Jnana Centres overlaid on top of the NKN, in order to host content and provide services to users in remote and less developed areas across the country. Such architecture should help the national knowledge network to deliver useful services when data centres with computing and storage availability are deployed within the network in the foreseeable future. Each NKC could store relevant knowledge for the communities that the data centre serves. For example, each NKC could host tutorial videos replicated across the country, where videos in a specific language can be stored as needed for a given geographical region. Renewable energy such as solar power could be utilised to power the NKCs.

In general, the NKCs could host services related to education, health care, disaster management, or skilling to assist the communities. With the new emerging focus areas under Digital India and education and skilling for the masses, deployment of such infrastructure with such distributed information and knowledge-sharing services can make a difference for underprivileged communities. It is also estimated that such edge services hosted by in-network data centres and edge servers can enable people in the remote communities to go vibrant and communicate with each other with local social networking or email or news sharing services. This will also enable them in interacting globally with the rest of the internet as well, based on available connectivity and needs of users in such infrastructure-challenged areas and under-served communities. Such distributed architecture and systems with distributed knowledge centres and services can help not only communities in India, but also in other countries across the globe.

-By Dilip Krishnaswamy, Senior Research Scientist at IBM Research, India

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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