System administration in remote areas

Last February I interviewed Rick Richter, CIO of Food for the Hungry, a Christian relief and development organization. This morning I spoke with Rick and was reminded of some of the challenges involved in supporting computers in poor parts of the world.

Traveling to areas most in need of relief is arduous. You may, for example, have two or three days of travel by land or water after your airplane lands. So naturally you want to do as much system administration remotely as you can.

In general you can’t expect broadband in the poorest areas, though there are some surprises. You often have to rely on satellite connections, though these are slow, unreliable, and expensive. Dial-up is preferable, if you can get it. Bandwidth may be adequate for command line access, though even then the latency is annoying. Video conferencing (e.g. for showing someone how to do something) is out of the question. So remote locations need to be mostly self-sufficient.

To read more about Food for the Hungry and their computing environment, see Why Food for the Hungry runs Ubuntu.