You always feel good when you are involved in initiatives that help humanity, don’t you? Even if the part you play is small, you are proud of being able to participate. Over the years this has happened to me a couple times. I got dragged into the GS1 food recall initiative a couple years ago. I had the opportunity to give some advice to the team that helped mPedigree address drug counterfeiting in Africa. Both made me proud, I have to admit.
The latter work got me in touch with HP’s Social Innovation team which turned out to be an eye opener for me. So, when the team approached me a couple months ago to discuss education and cloud computing, I was really interested to help them out. Not that I did a lot, but I added my little piece to the great work they do. This time it was about education. Indeed, HP has been running an education program, titled HP LIFE (HP Learning Initiative for Entrepreneurs) since 2007. In 340 training centers across 49 countries they have delivered, with their partners, education for entrepreneurs in 20 languages, using more than 800 certified trainers. In doing so they reached 1.2 million people with training, access to IT and online activities, allowing around 20,000 businesses to be established or to grow, creating approximately 43,000 jobs.
Frankly in the current economic climate this is not bad! But there is only so much you can do with on-site training. So, the team felt they needed to go to the next step. And what should that be? Fundamentally moving to an e-Learning platform. Not knowing how many students there would be, neither where they would be located, using a cloud solution was quickly seen as a no brainer.
The objective of HP LIFE e-learning: to be a cloud-based, free, online training program that enables entrepreneurs and small enterprises around the globe to learn the real-life IT and business skills they need to start or grow a business in the 21st century.
As of today the solution is in pilot and is the first HP Sustainability and Social innovation (SSI) global cloud solution for education, allowing entrepreneurs to learn at their own pace wherever they are, for increased social and business impact. It is also a showcase of strong collaboration with learning content partner, the global non-profit Education Development Center, Inc. (EDC).
The HP LIFE e-Learning platform transforms the current face-to-face training option, offered in 340 HP LIFE training centers in 49 countries, to an online global audience of entrepreneurs and small business owners. The core of the program will remain the same the provision of innovative training that allows potential or existing entrepreneurs to use technology effectively to start or increase their business and thereby improve their life and the life of the community in which they live. The aim is to create a global community where entrepreneurs can interact. Engaged entrepreneurs will now be able to tap into interactive, hands-on courses in an environment that supports peer collaboration and online access to up-to-date resources wherever they are and whenever they want. There is even the opportunity of receiving an e-mentorship from HP Experts, based on levels of engagement with the HP LIFE e-Learning program. The initial online offering is in English, but more courses will come online soon in other languages and on a variety of mobile devices.
The solution also provides a resource for education institutions and trainers to support distance learning for entrepreneurs. Now, here is the challenge. How do we make all of this work around the globe, knowing that our target audiences are in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and South America to name a few? This brings with it a couple requirements. Obviously the environment is expected to be up and running 24/7 and should allow for 1 million students to interact, even if we do not believe that many will use it in the pilot phase.
The design approach
The content of the HP-LIFE environment, provided by content partners, is hosted in HP’s Cloud Services environment. But we all know that users expect instantaneous response when working online. So, the fundamental question of the design team was how to ensure such response time globally. The design calls for the use of web front ends hosted either by HP Cloud and its CDN (Content Delivery Network) or by friendly service providers in an HP CloudSystem Matrix deployment near to the user. The “near to user” concept is not a geographical description, but rather one of low latency, providing the user with a good experience for media-rich interactive content.
HP Cloud manages the data including a single master addressing the single interactive community requirements. The front ends each have a LAMP stack with a web application server and a copy of the database. Memcache is used to replicate the interactive databases to the front ends. Drupal is friendly to this approach and the content providers can manage content on the system easily.
The reason we use HP Cloud and CloudSystem Matrix is that this gives us the flexibility to scale up quickly as required. The service providers have the ability to burst into HP Cloud for additional resources as this is now supported with MOE 7.1 (Matrix Operating Environment), including a standard interface with OpenStack Nova, powering HP Cloud. This is actually a great example of a converged cloud implementation. We get the best of both worlds, a great user experience and a centralized content delivery management.
During the pilot we will ramp up three dedicated infrastructures across the globe:
- North America serving all of the Americas
- Europe serving all of Europe, expanding to the Middle East and North Africa
- South Africa serving the southern African Region
Other infrastructures should be added in the next weeks, post pilot. Those include in particular Asia.
The initial pilot deployment is done through HP Cloud out of North America, but during the coming months the other infrastructures will become available in a transparent manner to the user.
Initially HP-LIFE allows the consumption of the training material that has been successfully used for a number of years now, but it would be a pity not to take advantage of the fact we use a cloud environment to add cloud specific capabilities. We are also tapping into the skills of HP employees by creating e-mentoring capabilities, establishing Q&A centers, etc. Over time , the objective of HP LIFE is to become an entrepreneur social media platform, helping entrepreneurs all over the globe to share their experience, support each other, create new activities and fuel business. That’s definitely something we need at the current time. And by the way, the HP LIFE Facebook page has welcomed its 10,000 fan on June 28th. There you can see how global online interaction is key.
This is another exciting project where technology joins social innovation for the good of society. It demonstrates that, although we often keep looking at cloud as a new environment to deliver our existing functionality, cloud can also be used for innovation. Actually I believe it should be used that way more often than not. HP LIFE shows us how this can be done and how, using cloud, initiatives can cross boundaries and get the best out of people.
I’m sure I’ll share more on HP LIFE as the project moves forward and hope you are as excited as I am about this project. Let’s join forces and wish all the best to the project team.