Speaking at OSDC 2011 on OLPC Australia

I am speak­ing next Thursday at the Open Source Developers’ Con­fer­ence 2011 in Can­berra. The title is Australia’s Toughest Linux Deploy­ment. Yes it’s a play on the rug­ged­ness and flex­ib­il­ity of the XO’s design to meet the needs of remote communities.

Here’s the talk abstract:

A 300,000 seat Linux deploy­ment is noth­ing to sneeze at. What if those seats were actu­ally children’s laps? By provid­ing a flex­ible learn­ing plat­form, OLPC Aus­tralia aims to cre­ate a sus­tain­able and com­pre­hens­ive pro­gramme to enhance oppor­tun­it­ies for every child in remote Aus­tralia. What’s more, we plan to achieve this by 2014.

In focus­ing on the most remote areas of the con­tin­ent, the mis­sion is by no means easy. These areas are typ­ic­ally not eco­nom­ic­ally viable for a busi­ness to ser­vice, hence the need for a not-​​for-​​profit in the space. Expert­ise for hard­ware and soft­ware is vir­tu­ally non-​​existent. Set­tle­ments are small and spread very far apart. Envir­on­mental con­di­tions, cul­tures and life­styles vary wildly. They are very dif­fer­ent worlds from the coastal cit­ies where the bur­eau­cra­cies are based.

Even within com­munit­ies, dif­fer­ences abound. Schools often stand in stark con­trast to their sur­rounds. Gov­ern­ment and busi­ness interests have also made their marks.

This talk will out­line how OLPC Aus­tralia has developed a solu­tion to suit Aus­tralian scen­arios. Com­par­is­ons and con­trasts will be made with other “com­puters in schools” pro­grammes, OLPC deploy­ments around the world and cor­por­ate IT projects.

For example, stand­ard sysad­min prac­tice typ­ic­ally man­dates tight, cent­ral­ised con­trol over all sys­tems and infra­struc­ture. The OLPC Aus­tralia approach is the exact oppos­ite. By pro­mot­ing flex­ib­il­ity and ease of use, the pro­gramme can achieve sus­tain­ab­il­ity by enabling man­age­ment at the grass-​​roots level. The XO laptops them­selves are built espe­cially for edu­ca­tion. They are extraordin­ar­ily rugged as well as being inex­pens­ive. They are also totally repair­able in the field, with min­imal skill required. Train­ing is con­duc­ted online, and an online com­munity allows par­ti­cipants nation­wide to share resources.

Key to the ongo­ing suc­cess of the pro­gramme is act­ive engage­ment with all stake­hold­ers, and a recog­ni­tion of the total cost of own­er­ship over a five-​​year life cycle.