Is there a ‘Cloud’ in Asheville and Western North Carolina’s Future?

The Asheville, N.C.-based Community Cloud Computing (CCC) Project will be the nation’s first open-source “Community Cloud Computing” platform. It is being planned by the nonprofit Mountain Area Information Network (MAIN), a coalition of local nonprofits and agencies, and Red Hat, the North Carolina-based open-source software company and global leader in cloud computing design.

Funding for a 24-month implementation grant is being sought via federal broadband stimulus. The application deadline is March 15.

Cloud computing allows a user to operate software and services via remote servers rather than their own computer. Instead of purchasing a CD loaded with software, the user accesses the application via the Internet for free, or at greatly reduced cost. Google email and Google Docs are very simple examples of cloud computing.

A community-based cloud computing platform can level the playing field for individuals, local businesses, and nonprofits which, unlike Fortune 500 companies, do not have affordable access to advanced information technology (IT) expertise and infrastructure. As the nation’s first cloud platform designed for a grassroots community, CCC is a strong example of the innovative uses Google is seeking for its Gigabit broadband demonstration network.

For example, the CCC project will provide advanced services like routine data-backup (hourly, daily, weekly, etc.) to prevent the catastrophic loss of one’s business or personal data when a computer hard drive fails. Another possible offering is merchant credit-card services (in partnership with a local bank) with a “buy local” points/rewards program to encourage support of locally-owned businesses.

Imagine a local artist who wants to build her own website but cannot afford an expensive website- builder program (e.g. DreamWeaver) that will be used once and then put on the shelf. The CCC will provide a free open-source alternative, or purchase multi-user licenses of DreamWeaver. The local artist could then access the software via the CCC for only the amount of time she needs it, paying just a fraction of the full purchase price.

This same scenario applies to other professionals (e.g., videographers, web programmers) and at-risk populations (e.g. citizens with disabilities and special needs students) who could benefit from advanced Web applications and greater computing power, if only they could afford them.

A Platform for Local Innovation and Collaboration

The CCC will provide a low-cost “collaboration” platform for our digital media producers and web developers. For example, local videographers could collaboratively assemble and edit “shared-source video,” allowing them to tackle more complex projects and complete them faster and more efficiently. The bandwidth required for large, complex video productions – especially in high-definition – exceeds the capacity of most local professionals. The CCC will provide this additional bandwidth “as-needed,” plus advanced editing and other production tools that – if purchased or leased individually – would be cost-prohibitive for most local video professionals.

A major CCC goal is to empower a region-wide shift from “outsourcing” to “local-sourcing” among business, nonprofit, and governmental sectors. The CCC will employ “single sign-on authentication” so that users can move easily and securely through the entire CCC ecosystem without having to repeatedly provide a username and password. As privacy concerns nationwide continue to rise, this locally-controlled CCC will be increasingly valued as a privacy oasis.

We are currently seeking input from key agencies and organizations to determine specific needs the CCC platform could meet in the project’s 24-month phase-one implementation (details below).

Federal broadband stimulus is also available for Public Computing Centers (PCC) and Sustainable Broadband Adoption (SBA) projects to expand broadband access and adoption. The CCC will host tools, applications, and training modules for PCC and SBA projects to help extend broadband access and digital-literacy training to citizens bypassed by the digital revolution. Basing these tools and services on a CCC platform will reduce project start-up and operating costs, thereby enhancing their long-term sustainability – a primary requirement for federal broadband stimulus funding.

The PCC and SBA projects will also include an innovative use of low-cost “thin client” (stripped down) laptops configured for exclusive use only when connected to the CCC platform. The laptops will feature a GPS-enabled (and/or IP-based) tracking capability to ensure that vulnerable populations can use these laptops with a reduced concern for theft.

Asheville and WNC are well-positioned to sustain complementary PCC/SBA stimulus projects beyond the 24-month funding period. We may be the only region in the United States with both a nonprofit “last-mile” wireless broadband provider (Mountain Area Information Network, founded in 1995) and several nonprofit “middle-mile” fiber providers (NC-REN, ERC Broadband, Pangaea, BalsamWest, and French Broad Electric Co-Op). These complementary wireless and fiber networks have the IT security expertise and robust, scalable infrastructure to implement sustainable CCC and PCC/SBA projects.

Phase-One Participation:

* Vulnerable populations (public housing residents, citizens with disabilities, the homeless, at-risk youth, special needs students, native American and immigrant communities, elderly, and other at-risk residents)

* Public libraries and community centers;

* Local job-creation, “buy local” and “smart-grid” efforts and agencies, locally-owned businesses, microenterprises and “green” enterprises;

* Local digital media entrepreneurs and web developers;

* Local nonprofit and for-profit media (newspapers, bloggers, public access TV, low-power FM radio, and community broadband providers).

Participating agencies (to date) are: Housing Authority of the City of Asheville (HACA), Asheville City Schools, City of Asheville, Asheville-Buncombe Library System, Asheville-Buncombe County Christian Ministries (ABCCM), Children First, ERC Broadband, Partners Unlimited Inc., Burton Street Community Center, Western Alliance, WNC Media Center, and Mountain Area Information Network (MAIN).

Public Computing Centers (PCC) will be expanded at the Burton Street Community Center, the ABCCM Job Training Center, Western Alliance (citizens with disabilities), and at city-run and/or public housing neighborhood centers [preliminary list; more sites possible].

Sustainable Broadband Adoption (SBA) programs will be based at the proposed PCC sites, at public library sites, and other locations (e.g. after-school study sites operated by the Asheville City Schools and Children First). MAIN will also offer digital storytelling and community journalism training in partnership with select PCC sites and MAIN-FM, a community-based low-power FM radio station serving Asheville and WNC.

Broadband network capacity, support and project management will be provided by MAIN, which has a 14-year record as a nonprofit ISP and technology partner for Asheville and western North Carolina region. MAIN launched in 1995 via a grant from NTIA’s original Technology Opportunities Program (TOP) and is one of NTIA’s longest-surviving grantees. Red Hat will produce a case study of the CCC project and will assist MAIN in developing a replicable model to share with communities nationwide.

Please review the following community sectors on which phase-one of our PCC/SBA/CCC projects are focused. The examples of CCC tools and services are still sketchy and incomplete, so we need your help! Let us know of any tools, applications, and services that you, your business, or your agency would like to see hosted by the proposed Community Cloud Computing (CCC) platform.

If your agency is interested in becoming a partner in this effort, or if you know of potential CCC services, tools or applications that could benefit your agency or locally-owned business, please contact project coordinator Wally Bowen at by March 5, 2010.

PLEASE NOTE: If there are proprietary applications that you consider essential for your work, let us hear from you so that we can search for comparable open-source products or low-cost licensing of proprietary products. The list below will be expanded and refined based on your suggestions.

Proposed Phase-One Sectors and Sampling of CCC Applications:

* Vulnerable Populations: Low-income, elderly, at-risk youth, homeless, citizens with disabilities, special needs students, immigrants/non-English speaking residents, et al.



* Small Business/Microenterprise/’Buy Local’: Locally-owned businesses are the heart and soul of our regional economy. Not surprisingly, we have a strong and growing “buy local” ethic. (“Buy Local” Rewards Program, business mgt. tools, etc) Another possibility is a “merchant account” credit card service in partnership with a locally-owned bank. This and other CCC applications aim to boost local economic growth and create “living-wage” jobs by shifting from “out-sourcing” to “local sourcing” via the CCC.

Jaspersoft: Business intelligence reporting tools.

FreeMind 0.8.0: FreeMind is an open-source tool for all steps of project management.

GnuCash 2.3:

GnuCash is open-source personal and small-business financial accounting software. Keep track of income and expenses from all of your accounts.

OpenOffice 3.0 — OpenOffice is an alternative to commercial office suites. It comes with word processor (Writer), spreadsheet (Calc), presentation (Impress), drawing and graphing tool (Draw), tool for creating equations and formulae (Math), and a database tool to build reports and forms (Base). All components are multi-platform and multi-lingual.

SugarCRM 5.2 — SugarCRM is an open-source customer relation management (CRM) system to help track and share opportunities and manage existing customers.

Digital Media Production/Web Developers: This is one of the most promising small business sectors in our local/regional economy. Shared applications could include special effects, animation; editing, post-production, etc.

JBoss — JBoss is an open-source “middleware” development platform supported by Red Hat. Middleware is widely used to allow multiple applications to interact and execute complex transactions such as online airline reservations.

Drupal – Drupal is an open-source software package for individuals or communities of users that need to publish, organize and manage a website’s content – also known as a content management system (CMS).

Gimp — GNU Image Manipulation Program, or Gimp, is probably the oldest and best-known open-source graphic application.

OpenLaszlo — OpenLaszlo is an open-source development platform for web applications, especially those generating macromedia flash files and AJAX/DHTML for web pages and sites.

* Community Journalism: This is another promising growth sector that includes both commercial and nonprofit media.

Zimbra – Zimbra is an open-source server and client technology for next-generation enterprise messaging and collaboration.

Pidgin 2.6 — GroupWise Messenger and Lotus Sametime.

Environmental/Public Health Organizations: Our region has a wealth of these nonprofit and municipal agencies/organizations.

Advanced fundraising applications?

K-12 Education: Western North Carolina has more than 20 public school systems, most of which cannot afford advanced Web applications. Aggregating the needs of these rural, cash-strapped school systems would enable the CCC to deliver advanced Web applications affordably.

A helpful article on open-source in education.

The open-source movement has produced many learning management system (LMS) tools and learning applications. LMS tools are used mostly to create and manage learning content on the Web. Examples include:

Moodle — Moodle integrates pedagogical features missing in many LMS tools, allowing instructors to construct customizable, online courses, or a wide range of course modules on a flexible platform.

Bodington — This Java-based virtual learning environment was developed by the University of Leeds to provide a flexible learning environment for large, complex institutions with numerous departments. Bodington complies with the Special Education Needs and Disability Act of 2001, allowing people with physical and visual impairments people to take part in digital courses supported by Bodington VLE.

Claroline — Built on free technologies such as PHP and MySQL, Claroline addresses the pedagogical needs of teachers and learners, emphasizing training technologies and well-structured online courses.

Dokeos — Dokeos is a web-based application developed on free technologies such as PHP and MySQL. Designed to facilitate e-learning and course management, it provides a flexible, user-friendly platform to simplify the e-learning process.

.LRN — Pronounced “dot learn,” .LRN is a popular tool developed at MIT and based on AOLserver and OpenACS. It supports online learning and other interactive digital systems. Originally designed to meet the needs of universities, it was later implemented in schools, organizations, and corporations.

ATutor, OLAT, and Sakai — The ATutor learning content management system was developed by the Adaptive Technology Resource Centre at the University of Toronto. END

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