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Earthquake Aftermath: How Microsoft, Partners Are Rebuilding in Japan

Two months after the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer recapped some of the efforts by Microsoft and its partners to help, and he detailed the role cloud computing could play in rebuilding.

Ballmer's comments came during the Nikkei Symposium in Tokyo on Monday. Nihon Microsoft became Microsoft's first country subsidiary outside the United States 25 years ago, and remains Microsoft's largest subsidiary with 2,500 employees. Microsoft's partner community in Japan encompasses 8,000 companies.

Microsoft initially made what Ballmer described as a "small" $2 million donation to the relief efforts in cash and in-kind contributions and continues to match its employees' donations. The company also distributed more than 3,000 Windows PCs to evacuation workers to help them stay in touch with nonprofit organization headquarters. With so much server capacity lost along with all the other infrastructure destroyed in the area of the quake and tsunami, Microsoft also provided organizations across Japan free access to cloud-based infrastructure, such as Windows Azure, Exchange, SharePoint and Lync Online.

While the free cloud-based services access were available to partners, Microsoft also offered technical support and free temporary software licenses to partners, customers and organizations involved in the response and relief efforts, Ballmer said.

Partners Take Action
One Japanese partner that leapt into action was Digital Office [Japan] Inc., which built a Windows Azure-backed mobile app within five days of the disaster called JResQ. In some ways, the company had been primed to respond to a catastrophe: CEO Kiyoshi Hamada personally experienced the Kobe earthquake in 1995 that killed more than 6,400 people.

"JResQ is an emergency contact mobile application that enables people who were displaced by the earthquake to record a voice message on their phone, and send it automatically to family and to friends," Ballmer said. Integrating GPS data, photo, video and search functionality, "JResQ was used by more than 15,000 people to find each other, certainly a critical need during a time when thousands of people are still listed as missing," Ballmer said.

Toyota, a Microsoft customer so large and expansive that its role sometimes blurs into that of a partner, is also working closely with Microsoft. "Together, we're helping create new maps of passable roads in northern Japan, where people can access water, food, gas, medicine. Those things have all been severely hampered, as you know, by damage to the region's transportation, information infrastructure," Ballmer said.

Using many of the temporarily free Microsoft services, many partners have helped aid organizations and government agencies spin up relief portals. "So far more than a thousand Web sites and applications have been developed and deployed by these important organizations doing their work," Ballmer said.

Examples include a disaster response portal that enables government agencies and nonprofits, such as the Japanese Red Cross, to communicate with each other and to connect with citizens.

U.S.-based partners have also gotten involved. Slalom Consulting, a Seattle-based Microsoft National Systems Integrator, had worked on an Azure-based cloud communication portal infrastructure for future disasters.

Tom Chew, national general manager for solutions at Slalom, said in a recent telephone interview with RCP, "It was intended as a platform that can quickly be customized to support any disaster or any aid need that would exist."

In a blog entry about the project, Slalom consultant Joel Forman wrote that the solution used a custom, Azure-based CMS system that allows for real-time updates of information and was designed to eliminate infrastructure concerns for the local agency.

"With the current situation in Japan, this solution is already being put to use. Second Harvest Japan has created a communication portal for coordination across food donors, transportation providers and distributors involved in the Japan relief effort," Forman wrote in mid-March.

Looking Ahead
Longer term, as Microsoft and its partners help business rebuild, cloud computing will continue to be important, Ballmer suggested. While the remote resources were helpful when local infrastructure was wiped out or damaged, the severe blow to the Japanese power grid will have long-lasting effects.

"Cloud computing also improves efficiency, lowers the demand for energy and power, and supports business continuity. All of these things are critically important for business right now, given the damage to Japan's power grid and in particular for manufacturers in
east Japan where operations have been significantly impacted, as you know, by power outages," he said. "Studies have shown that when business applications move from corporate datacenters to the cloud, energy use can be reduced by at least 30 percent. For small businesses the result is even more dramatic, with potential savings of up to 90 percent."

Posted by Scott Bekker on May 24, 2011 at 11:58 AM


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