Project Cauã: Jon "maddog" Hall on creating a sustainable network of entrepreneurs from system administrators in Brazil |

Project Cauã: Jon "maddog" Hall on creating a sustainable network of entrepreneurs from system administrators in Brazil

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I've been hearing Jon "maddog" Hall talk about Project Cauã for a while now, and I've seen mention of it here and there. But his Ohio LinuxFest keynote, "Project Cauã: Creating Sustainable Computing Jobs in the Developing World," was the first time I got to hear a full description of the plan. In case you haven't had a chance to read about it either, here's the plan he outlined.

In Latin America, 80% live in an urban area. São Paulo is not only the largest city in Brazil (which it is) or the largest city in the southern hemisphere (which it is). It's one of the largest cities in the world. But it's hardly the only large city in Brazil. And there, unlike in Africa where the OLPC is the popular technology to discuss, the Internet isn't 500 miles away. It's fifty feet away. And stretching that last fifty feet means jobs for people who very much need them.

Project Cauã aims to create those jobs through the following goals.

Create millions of new, local, private sector, high-tech jobs in Latin America and millions more worldwide.

Simply put, Project Cauã aims to enable people to become system administrators and then to become business people--to become their own bosses. A well-trained technology person might not know much about a business plan or marketing materials. But Project Cauã can do that for them through a skeletal package. They can provide training materials online or on a cheap DVD so that they can train themselves. And they can offer apprenticeships for system administrators to get training.

Those people would also be entrepreneurs--system administrators/entrepreneurs, or SA/E. They will own their business and be their own bosses. Later on, as they move into retirement, they'll be able to sell off their businesses and retire on the money.

Project Cauã also wants to try to employ the "unemployable," like single parents and the physically challenged. This SA/E job can be done from home. By bringing training and money to these people, welfare and unemployment recipients turn into taxpayers.

Create more environmentally friendly computing

The second of Project Cauã's goals is to reduce electrical usage, lengthen life of computers, and create active resale.

Itaipu Dam is the world's largest hydroelectric plant. And even with that capacity, by average estimates, it could drive only about 70 million computers. Brazil has 192 million people. It's also often estimated that for every watt of power it takes to run a computer, it takes two to cool it, especially in Brazil, being near the equator. All of that adds up to a math problem.

Computers need smaller footprints. They're full of bad chemicals and take up a lot of space. Then they cost a lot to buy and a lot to dispose of.

Enter the Project Cauã Recycling Program.

The plan is a return to thin client/server computing--a highly available server in the basement of a building with connections to thin clients with 1 Gbit or 10 Gbit wired Ethernet. No programs or data would be stored on the thin clients at all, and there would be no fans or moving parts. If it breaks, there's nothing to recover. As a rule, this will all run on free software, but FAT clients will also be supported at an additional cost to the user.

Thin client details:

  • Less than 10 watts - 12 volts
    • Multi-function (with virtualization)
    • Wireless mesh router and back-haul capable (802.11/WiMAX)
    • 60 GHz wireless Ethernet
    • Cellular modem
    • USB 3.0/SATA
  • No noise (no fan or moving disk)
  • Long life

Make computers easier to use About differing levels of computer users, maddog remarked, "My dad's idea of backup is something you do with a car. My mom's idea of a virus is something you treat with chicken soup. They can use a computer; they just can't maintain the computer."

And it's not just them. A lot of people lose time and money to their computers--maybe only 15 minutes every day. But if you say that's $5 of time, that's $6,250,000,000 we're losing per day to the world economy. If in a company of 300 knowledge workers, all using computers, each lost 15 minutes one day, that's the equivalent of nine people not showing up for work. And that's exactly what happens every day.

But if you can take one of those "nine people" and turn them into a sys admin, then maybe three or four of those "people" will show back up at work.

So what does that person's job look like? It's someone who can maintain the software, monitor usage and install updates, as well as eradicate viruses and perform backups. In addition, it's someone who will be able to teach classes to end users and to support end users.

Decrease cellular wireless contention

Project Cauã wants to aggregate networking. By aggregating feeds coming into the server, instead of 1.5 Mbits/second/apartment, you would have 300 Mbits/second/apartment house.

This creates what's known in networking as back-hauls. Back-hauls provided through the wired Internet to servers creates reduced latency over traditional wireless mesh.

Create gratis WiFi bubble over urban areas

Next Project Cauã wants to create free WiFi through urban areas on the FON model. Limited free bandwidth around 1-2 Mbit would be available per use client with greater bandwidth available for purchase. The result is free (Hall uses the word gratis) Internet available all the time, everywhere.

For privacy, the public mesh network runs as a virtualized network on thin clients in a virtualized container. The connections from the thin client to the server are encrypted virtual networks, and all the data is encrypted.

Create low-cost or gratis SuperComputing capability

Project Cauã aims to create a virtual environment on the thin client and another one running the wireless mesh network. The two would be completely separate. You could move your virtual environment to the server for greater CPU, memory, or data. And if you still needed more, you could buy services in the cloud. Your data can be stored anywhere--on a thumb drive, local server, or in the cloud.

Using sustainable, private-sector funding

Project Cauã relies on no government money. The thin clients are about $200, and servers are reusable, recyclable, and resellable. Quality is important to lower the number repairs, but the hardware isn't the most expensive part. Providing good service and good Internet is.

In the end, it will cost about $6/month for the hardware, including servers, and the rest of the money will be for service, which is still less than people pay today.

So how does this SA/E afford to buy the business? In Brazil it's difficult to get a business loan because the banks are risk-averse. You can either allow the SA/E to borrow from friends and family (common in Brazil) or you can create an underwriting program. In the latter case, there's a small charge per loan to cover the cost of the program, and the banks don't lose.

One of these sys admins will make about $1800/month base salary. But they can get additional revenue from special services, training classes, sales of hardware, side programming, etc.

The job isn't too difficult because they're dealing with fixed configurations and automated processes. There are a lot of tools like OpenNMS for monitoring, and training and support will be available. They can network with other SA/Es through forums and training. An they'll also, of course, have access to 2 million developers through SourceForge along with the myriad applications there.

And that's how to become a Cauã Entrepreneur:

  • Learn free software system administration
  • Get certified, licensed, bonded
  • Read and understand plans
  • Get letters of intent from potential customers
  • Take plan letters of intent to bank
  • Get underwritten loan
  • Buy materials and install
  • Start delivering services to customers

The implementation of Project Cauã is completely open. It's a community project, completely published and owned by the community and funded by sponsorships and advertising.

The timeline: They're currently doing surveys on which vertical to address first and getting funding for hiring. Later this year, pilots will measure effectiveness and customer satisfaction. Next year there will be courses on entrepreneurship and certification of the first entrepreneurs.

Learn more at

About the author

Ruth Suehle - Ruth Suehle is the community leadership manager for Red Hat's Open Source and Standards team. She's co-author of Raspberry Pi Hacks (O'Reilly, December 2013) and a senior editor at GeekMom, a site for those who find their joy in both geekery and...