Public health, education, high-tech farming and agriculture, seismic data collection, oil exploration and production, clean energy generation and management, transportation, and disaster management are examples of the many industries that require intense computing resources, often in rural America. SMBs in rural areas, just like in the major cities, are becoming increasingly reliant on cloud services as part of their core operations. Collecting, distributing, and updating information is maximized when widespread coverage, reliable connectivity, and proximal computing power are available.
Take agribusiness for example: agriculture and food sectors contributed $835 billion to the U.S. gross domestic product, placing this rural business opportunity among the most attractive growth markets in the world! Land and water resourcing, logistics, food security, and precision agriculture are some of the other related applications driving the need for computing “at the edge.”
The future of high-tech, agriculture-related industries can only be realized by aggregation of tons of real-time intelligence: from information about soil conditions, location, topology, temperature, water, mineral content, insect populations to supply chain, consumer demand, and commodity pricing. All of this data needs to be processed in real-time, and designed to maximize yields, optimize operations, and manufacture products that go to market at premium prices.
While city dwellers speculate about driverless cars, rural America was truly the pioneer in self-driving vehicles. Let’s look at how John Deere, the agricultural equipment manufacturer, has embraced highly flexible and scalable computing at the edge:
As a pioneer in the industry of self-driving vehicles, John Deere’s latest tractor and combine systems utilize advanced technologies that include the use of unmanned aerial vehicles to collect real-time topology data. This data is then fed to the agricultural combine via wireless connectivity, helping guide driverless combines as they work in the field to harvest crops. The result is an interactive system of communications, real-time data, and improvements driven by advanced tools and technologies, including the cloud for processing. This is a very powerful example of an “Internet of Things” (IoT) on steroids. However, there is another element at play here–the crunching of data has to be done in real time, and with very little latency. A multi-million dollar John Deere combine cannot drift away into a neighbor’s land, nor can it run into a pond, or go too fast or too slow at the risk of damaging the crops.
This is just one example of a technology that requires advanced devices within the equipment, and perhaps more importantly, a way to store the data in a high-performance cloud computing environment at “the edge” so that it’s available with little latency, even in the most remote locations. While there are many other cloud computing use cases for businesses in rural areas, most do not share the same extreme need for low latency as John Deere’s combine systems. Hosting web sites, Software as a Service (SaaS) applications, customer databases, and other related technology are perfectly functional in data centers that may be further away. However, regional IT Consulting companies, value-added resellers (VARs), and rural local exchange carriers (RLECs)/incumbent local exchange carriers (ILECs) need to be able to properly position these hosting options to their customers.
Limited options present a major opportunity for regionally-oriented VARs, Resellers, and RLECs/ILECs.
Despite the growing need for high-performance computing at the edge, hosting options are limited for businesses in rural markets. Large cloud providers are unable to deliver the low latency computing solutions needed to process data for today’s demanding applications (e.g. video, Voice over IP), offering much less futuristic solutions than what was described in the John Deere combine example. More importantly, large cloud providers don’t offer true managed service to support rural customers due to the shortage of technical resources in rural America.
For VARs, and RLECs/ILECs, it will be imperative to offer differentiated cloud products. RLECs and ILECs are in an especially advantageous position to provide transit and hosting to businesses in their markets.
Rural customers are not different than those in urban markets–they want powerful computing, reliability, speed, expertise, and options. It’s important to note that it is not as simple as throwing some cloud foundation into a local data center or repurposed Central Office (CO). If a cloud business were to arrive on the scene with the simple notion that it is “enterprise ready,” it would be entirely disconnected with the market’s understanding and acceptance of the service offering. A local cloud solution needs to be part of the national footprint, and cannot be an island. With a clearly defined product, a direct explanation of how it can improve business, as well as right-sized pricing, RLECs and ILECs can demystify cloud computing for customers who wouldn’t have considered it otherwise.
Packaging cloud along with hosted voice, video, remote desktop environments, application distribution points, tertiary and DR services, and other applications can improve value for customers who might otherwise purchase these services from over-the-top providers. This keeps the RLECs and ILECs in the revenue chain.
Integrating cloud into the product offering
To determine the level of service rural telecom and IT providers will offer their customers, it’s important for them to thoughtfully address critical questions:
- What kind of businesses are in your service area?
- Do you have a major share of your business customers’ IT spend?
- Does it make sense to offer multiple hosting services to your customers?
- Are you going to host and manage the infrastructure or rely on a partner?
- Can your sales team effectively sell these services? Or would they require education and training?
- Being in the unique position of having loyal customers, how will you introduce the product to them without disrupting existing business relationships?
Cloud computing is as ideal a solution for the rural marketplace as it is for major cities. Regional, and RLEC /ILEC customers have a strong need for these services as business owners in these areas realize that they must compete globally, but at a price point that meets their operational realities. By presenting these cloud computing options, RLECs and ILECs are well positioned to package, price, and sell these services. VARs and RLECs/ILECs require a partner that is willing and able to deliver “the cloud” with an exceptional service experience, highly technical support teams, 100% uptime guarantees, and state-of-the-art data center infrastructure with top-branded servers.