by CIO Staff

Via Brings the Internet to Poor Nations: Q&A

Nov 06, 20066 mins
IT Leadership

Scott Phipps, the new international relations manager at Via Technologies, and marketing manager Keith Kowal put a young face on Via’s efforts to provide Internet access to poor villages in the developing world.

They also display an enthusiasm for saving the environment as they talk about building energy-efficient computers for Internet community centers powered by the sun and wind.

So far, their efforts helped Via open its first solar-powered computer center on the South Pacific island of Samoa, in the village of Ulutogia. The Via pc-1 Information Community Centre gives local users access to the Internet for a range of purposes, including education and e-health. The center boasts three power-saving PCs, a Via pc-1 server, and an external fax/scanner/copier/printer, all powered by a dual 175-watt photovoltaic solar panel from Taiwanese supplier Motech Industries. Now, work is progressing on 10 more Via infocenters in Samoa in the islands.

The success of the project so far shows that Via may not be as big as rivals such as Intel and Advanced Micro Devices, but the company isn’t skimping on corporate largesse when it comes to bridging the digital divide.

In an interview with IDG News Service, Phipps and Kowal presented Via’s vision to build sustainable community centers in remote villages, and encourage the use of its energy-efficient products in countries trying to cut down their national electric bills.

IDG: How did you guys get involved in projects like these?

Phipps: I’ve been working at nongovernmental organizations [NGOs] for 10 years now, and I was brought onboard Via to use that experience on digital divide projects. You need the appropriate technology, you need sustainability like alternative energy, you need to have connectivity to remote communities and you need durability, and you need to teach people how to maintain the systems. Otherwise, it’s just technology sales with no long-term benefit.

What we did in Samoa was we set up a pilot community information center in a remote community which runs exclusively off of photovoltaic cells. We tweaked the system so they could maximize the daily sun and get more power out of it, and now the prime minister wants to set more up and has asked the United Nations for funding. We’re also looking at using wind power.

If I had used a different processor [than Via C7D], then this project would not have been feasible. [Note: Via announced the C7D in mid-October, a 1.5GHz to 1.8GHz processor designed to save on electricity, with a maximum power consumption of 20 watts. Via also promises to ensure the processor is carbon free for companies and countries involved in the carbon-free movement, through energy conservation, reforestation and alternative energy projects.]

IDG: What do you mean by “carbon-free”?

Kowal: In a nutshell, it means that—and I’ll use a computer as an example—basically you calculate how much power a computer uses over its lifetime and that power, that electricity is generated by a power plant, and for every kilogram of power it creates, there are figures for how much carbon dioxide it releases into the atmosphere. So the idea behind carbon-free or carbon-neutral or carbon-offsets is that you calculate how much carbon dioxide your product is going to put into the atmosphere by its electricity use and then you offset that with things like tree planting, or programs that encourage people to reduce their use of electricity, or alternative energy, solar, biomass, wind.

So you see a lot of companies going carbon neutral, companies trying to reduce the amount of electricity they use and therefore how much carbon dioxide they put into the atmosphere, or doing something to reduce or offset the carbon dioxide that’s going into the atmosphere.

So for these types of projects, we’re not just investing on the solar side of the project, but also from a technology point of view, we’re offering products that make it very feasible.

Their biggest issue [in Samoa] is that power costs six times more on South Pacific islands than compared to New Zealand, so it makes IT very unattainable for communities.

That’s why you have to be realistic about your power usage in the processors, because power is sacred. You’ve really got to factor in things like cloudy days, and you have to know everything that’s going to be running off that. The systems we’ve developed are designed around the concept of 3, 6 and 12. So a system center of 3 is three or four PCs, LCD monitors and CD ROMs, storage capacity, data server, ideal for a community center. Six would be more for like a school or a larger community center, and 12 would be more for government or an NGO. The systems are all set up virtually identical, from the computer to the power side, to make sure it is the world’s most efficient setup and that the cost is very realistic. We’re trying to help with developing markets who aren’t doing it to be environmentally conscious, but because it’s necessary.

IDG: What else is Via working on in the eco-friendly area?

Phipps: Another thing I’m working on right now is putting together a group, a think tank, of specialized engineers and people from the marketing side to focus exclusively on new energy and how to develop and tweak systems from the computer device side and the power supply side so they work more synergistically.

Kowal: We’re also seeing a huge demand for energy-efficient products, or green products, globally, and especially out of the U.K. where Tony Blair said by 2012, he wants the entire U.K. government to be carbon free. There’s also a huge push for energy reduction, and in U.K. schools they have a green points program. Also, a lot of IT managers say a huge concern for them is the electrical load inside the building [i.e., IT electricity cost, brownouts, meeting the electricity demand for the IT department].

So you see a lot of companies going carbon neutral, companies trying to reduce the amount of electricity they use and therefore how much carbon dioxide they put into the atmosphere, or doing something to reduce or offset the carbon dioxide that’s going into the atmosphere.

What Via is trying to do is take a lead in environmental computing. Via for years and years has had a real low-power focus in all of our products. Honestly, a lot of that has come up because we’ve been strong in the embedded business, and low power with strong performance is what customers in the embedded business wanted.

Dan Nystedt, IDG News Service (Taipei Bureau)

Related Links:

  • Wal-Mart to Sell New Everex Laptop With Via CPU

  • Via, U.K. Computer Makers Offer ‘Carbon-Free’ PCs

  • ‘$100 Laptop’ to Roll Off Production Lines in Q2 ’07

  • Intel Community PC Project Gains Steam in India

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