Floodwaters swell Thai cloud

30 Nov 2011

It has often been said that without the Great Fire of London, the capital of England would still be a mess of dark, narrow alleyways. The fire gave city planners a chance to widen and straighten streets, fix any bottlenecks and ultimately, gave rise to an architectural golden age. The great Thai flood of 2011 is potentially doing the same for Cloud, especially in the usually painfully conservative public sector.

One of the synergistic offspring of technology and connectivity is telemedicine. The benefits have long been extolled and how it can benefit the poor to improve lives and make better use of limited, valuable doctor’s time, contribute to GDP growth and save the world. However, resistance has been fierce from the bureaucracy and old, non-IT savvy doctors who are risk averse. Yes, it might help, but who would be responsible if something went wrong? Nobody really wants to take the chance.

During the floods, Cisco has installed a full HealthPresence solution at one of the refugee camps north of Bangkok. Every day, doctors and psychiatrists from Ramathibodi Hospital in inner Bangkok log on to the system and remotely diagnose patients to the tune of 500 cases a day. Specialised cameras provide high-definition close-up pictures of skin rashes, which due to the putrid water that has covered half the country, are the most common form of ailment along with eye and ear infections.

Dr Tatchapol Poshayanonda, Cisco Thailand country manager, explained that a total of 20 HealthPresence units are being rolled out across the country in flood effected areas, all for free. Connectivity is provided by state-owned TOT corporation.

HealthPresence is more than just a souped-up video conferencing solution, but medical equipment from blood pressure sensors, stethoscopes, close-up cameras and all sorts of other remote health sensing units are provided. Doctors, being as stubborn and resistant to change as they are, still will want to write out a prescription on paper. That is not a problem as e-pens are available for a doctor to write and for the prescription to be printed on the other end at the refugee camp.

The question is what will happen after the floods recede. Will the equipment all be returned and forgotten? Or will the doctors, the telcos and the people actually appreciate the benefits of telemedicine and demand more? Will the need to travel hundreds of miles to large cities and queue up for hours still be the norm in a few years time? This could be the thin end of the wedge. The floods have forced doctors and nurses into adopting new technology in an extended emergency. The question is will they revert to pen and paper once it is over.

Elsewhere, Cisco has loaned out 44 Tandberg video conferencing units (plus 40 more redeployed from TOT) to a number of universities. While most have postponed the beginning of term from early November to mid-January, some specialist classes - especially those in cooperation with overseas universities - need to continue on schedule with lecturers often overseas and students dispersed all over the country.

Network and video-conferencing equipment for the official Flood Relief Operations Centre (FROC) has also been loaned for free and is used between the centres and the governors of affected provinces.

The move to Cloud has also been given a boost due to the floods. The National Electronics and Computer Technology Centre’s data centre was flooded out the agency had to migrate many of its legacy applications into virtual servers, among them Traffy, a popular home-grown live traffic information solution and the official Thaiflood.com site itself to a commercial cloud provided by CS Loxinfo.

For the manufacturing sector, the company is running campaigns in Thai, English and Japanese whereby anyone affected by the floods can apply for a WebEx account that will be free until the end of the year to help businesses get back on their feet. 70 companies have applied for over 200 accounts so far.

Poshayanonda also said that Thailand now has priority for stock for any equipment ordered on 14 key SKUs and will offer generous trade-in prices for water damaged units. He has been authorised to offer the “deepest discount ever” to flooded out clients. Whatever that means.

Naturally, he was cagey about how much of a sales opportunity rebuilding was. The figure is definitely high and with the government plans to relocate many government agencies to higher ground as part of the “New Thailand” rehabilitation project, the pickings for any network vendor in Thailand now are rich indeed.

Poshayanonda said that the Cisco has launched a funding drive whereby every dollar would be matched by corporate, and this has been endorsed by John Chambers himself at a global level to help with post-flood cleanup and reconstruction.

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