James Governor's Monkchips

How Apache Open Source is contributing to the Sri Lankan economy

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Regular monkchips readers will know how much I love Sri Lanka. You will also know that I believe that open source can create new economic opportunities in globalising economies.
Well here is a good example of same. Just a month or so after I wrote about the FOSSSL (Free and Open Source Software Sri Lanka) conference, comes news of a direct investment by a California company, Covalent, into the local economy.
This is a recap from what I posted about FOSSSL:
Some Sri Lankan organisations last week ran a free and open source software week.

I was knocked out when I saw that the Apache Synapse press announcement came from Sri Lanka. This is the first mainstream IT news story I have ever seen with a location that said Colombo, the national capital of Sri Lanka. This was potentially a big step forward for a small country. WS02 is the local start up around which a network is clustering. The name WSO2 is “web services oxygen”. Covalent and SourceLabs, two LAMP stack adoption players, are supporting WSO2, which adds some California credibility… from a VC and networking perspective. Middleware players supporting Synapse include  Blue Titan, IONA, Infravio and Sonic Software. Anyway, good luck Davinum, Sanjiva, and Paul

I found out a couple of days ago that Covalent, the Apache stack management specialist, is is opening a Sri Lanka office, established in the shape of Covalent Technologies (Pvt) Ltd.
Covalent, in case you haven’t heard of it- has been offering hardening services for Apache deployers since long before VC companies started throwing money at firms services for OSS, helping to blow the open source investment bubble.
Covalent actually has a ton of paying customers already, which tends to be a good basis for a business…
But back to Sri Lanka. Lets understand something here folks. Its less than 12 months since vast swathes of its shores were washed away by the Tsunami. Fishing boats turned into toothpicks. There is always a danger that aid money will end up in the hands of those that don’t really need it most, which is why real economic investment, rather than aid, is so important at the moment.
Covalent isn’t investing as a charity. I can tell you for nothing that real estate is somewhat cheaper in Colombo than San Francisco, and salaries are far lower…. [duh]. But Covalent is making an investment in skills, and an investment in infrastructure. Hopefully an economy can cluster around it.
India and Sri Lanka are creating their own digital revolutions. How about an Indian distro of OpenSolaris… step forward Belenix. The Indian software industry is fairly well established.
Sri Lanka has lagged its far bigger and more populous neighbour somewhat. The primary industry is textiles, but China is increasingly eating that particular breakfast, lunch, and dinner (much to US and European chagrin). Unlike the superpower trading blocs though, Sri Lanka can’t run around imposing sanctions left and right to sustain local markets. So the country needs to “run the stack” economically, moving into “higher value services”.
Why shouldn’t it? It has very smart people. Anju, a Tamil pal of mine, said yesterday that Lankans are “hard-wired for binary.” Well that’s an asset to take advantage of, isn’t it?
Well done Covalent. I look forward to hearing more what’s going on, and hopefully getting a chance to talk to Sanjiva soon. How about a Sri Lankan software development industry blog, to encourage further investments and help establish contacts between people?
To close I just wanted to point to Prabhath Sirisena’s words on Nidahas again. Next time you are whining about the speed of your internet connection or something I suggest you consider them.
I was sitting, as usual, at my home computer (piece of shit with a 14? monitor that shows signs of failing) playing with a comp for a website when I heard the kids’ laughter. Our little neighbours, brother and sister, were playing with polythene bags. They had attached strings to make the bags look like parachutes, and were throwing them up in the air. Every successful landing was cheered with a squeal of delight.

Those kids live in a single room house, made out of rough wood planks, sitting on illegally acquired government land. One wall faces a stinking canal, the kind that would make a sensitive first world citizen puke. They get water from an illegal extension from our own water supply line. As far as I know, they don’t have anything resembling proper sanitation. Life doesn’t get much more difficult than that even in a so-called third world country (unless you’re from a forgotten nation in Africa, where you’re destined to die your unheard death from starvation).

But these kids go to school. They play. Once I saw the little sister swinging like a monkey on a rope hung from the roof. They send parachutes. They laugh. They remind me of my early childhood, those beautiful days I spent in a remote village among my always-smiling third world relatives.

You see, these mundane difficulties don’t make us laugh less. Sometimes, they are the reasons why your achievements are sweeter. I see it happening everyday at work, when fellow geeks try desperately to update a site over a failing internet connection.


One comment

  1. Chennai, India is where Infravio has it’s development center, and this is an hour’s flight from Colombo. We are happy to work with WSO2 on Synapse and have had sessions on this project both in Chennai and in Colombo.

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