How cloud computing has supported the COVID-19 response

By ITU News

The global COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to reinvent how we work, learn, help, engage and socialize.

Cloud computing has played a crucial role in enabling businesses and governments to quickly apply solutions to respond to the crisis and maintain continuity.

Cloud computing, often referred to as ‘the Cloud’, is defined by ITU as a paradigm for enabling network access to a scalable and elastic pool of shareable physical or virtual resources with self-service provisioning and administration on-demand.

“Cloud computing represents the catalyst and the enabler of the important technological shift that was already well underway before COVID-19,” said Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT) during a recent Cloud for COVID-19 Response webinar. “And it’s likely to be key to business resilience in the aftermath of the pandemic.”

The Cloud for COVID-19 Response webinar highlighted use cases designed by public institutions and private players in response to connectivity challenges and needs of all kinds that have emerged amid the crisis, as well as how cloud computing can contribute towards social goals and enable fair innovation opportunities.

Deploying life-saving solutions quickly

“Every time we use an App on a smartphone or hit important Web App, chances are high that the back-end that powers this App is a Cloud. The Cloud is becoming the new invisible power thar drives many of the IT systems and Apps that we consume on a daily basis. Every day, we touch multiple Clouds multiple times without even noticing,” said Nasser Kettani, Rapporteur of ITU-D Study Group 1 Question 3/1. “As we speak now, a cloud is enabling this conference!”

“Cloud computing represents the catalyst and the enabler of the important technological shift that was already well underway before COVID-19” – Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director, ITU BDT.

One commonly referenced cloud use case has been the shift to remote education – such as has been enabled by platforms like Microsoft Teams. Nada Ihab, Government Affairs Lead for Microsoft MEA, explained how by working closely with the UAE’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA), Microsoft was able to connect over a million students in the UAE to an entirely digital experience within 10 days.

“During this crisis we see many innovation startups coming with solutions to help citizens and governments face this – and have a true impact,” said Mehdi Alaoui, CEO of LaStartupFactory and VP, APEBI Morocco.

Alaoui explained how in addition to remote medical consultations and remote education, the cloud was used to facilitate 3D printing of critical respiratory equipment that could be used by hospitals, which were running low on this life-saving equipment.

Regulatory readiness?

But before these innovative solutions can be implemented, “there are a lot of conversations that we still need to have in order to grasp the true opportunities that the cloud can bring,” said Nada Ihab.

But this is an ongoing process.

The cloud market was increasing – by multiple digits – long before COVID-19.

This had been forcing key questions about how governments can adjust their regulatory environments to best enable cloud computing use cases that could greatly improve citizens’ lives.

The pressing need to find solutions to keep societies and economies running during COVID-19 is accelerating the urgency of these questions across the industry.

And because a similar crisis is not impossible in the near future, policymakers and regulators should turn their attention to futureproofing; creating the right infrastructure to quickly deploy and adopt necessary cloud solutions.

Spurring investment in ICT infrastructure

Panelists agreed that this largely rests on developing an enabling regulatory environment and infrastructure connectivity, which remains a key barrier for many.

“I think it’s going to be increasing in the next few months, but that requires the need for digital infrastructure connectivity,” said Kettani. “I think that’s going to be one of the key elements of how successful this is going to be.”

Because a similar crisis is not impossible in the near future, policymakers and regulators should turn their attention to futureproofing.

“Connectivity varies significantly between the countries that we’ve looked at in response to the crisis, but one thing that we see in common is the need to invest in our connectivity infrastructure,” said Hussein Abul Enein, Policy Manager, Access Partnership.

Ihab pointed out that Microsoft “are working on expanding Wi Fi coverage to rural areas around the world, with the aim of supporting near-term educational needs.”

Working together to enable cloud-based solutions

One other positive outcome of the crisis is the increased willingness to work together.

“A common trend between all the responses that we’ve seen from a regulatory perspective to the COVID-19 crisis in relation to cloud tools, is that there’s a significant increase in the willingness to engage in multi-stakeholder conversations,” Abdul Enein added.

He hoped that this will lead to a quicker and more robust deployment of these transformative cloud services.

“The relevant outcome of this webinar will be reflected in the Final Report of ITU-D Study Group 1 Question 3/1, which includes the succinct analysis from the four-year work of ITU Membership on Emerging technologies, including cloud computing, m-services and OTTs, through the ITU-D Study Group platform,” said Fleur Regina Assoumou-Bessou, ITU-D Study Group 1 Chairman, in her closing remarks.


Follow the work of ITU-D Study Group 1 Question 3/1 “Emerging technologies, including cloud computing, m-services, and OTTs”.

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Learn more about ITU-D study groups.

More information on ITU development work on Policy and Regulation is available here.

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