Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Outsourcing IT Jobs... to the U.S.!

Could cloud service providers help the U.S. become a destination for tech outsourcing, instead of an exporter of technology jobs? Grupo Posadas has five data centers supporting more than 100 hotels and other lines of business, but it is moving almost all of those operations to a service provider in Texas. The data center migration will be completed in November. Most of Posadas' data center equipment is leased and is due to expire this year, so it created an opportunity to make a move. Interestingly, a big obstacle to the re-patriation of IT work is that the U.S. finds itself on the receiving end of protectionist legislation in other countries that discourages use of non-domestic IT service providers, says the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation.

Monday, July 30, 2012

If you are standing still, you are falling behind

This article in Vanity Fair seems to capture a defining moment in the tech sector, where the great monopoly of the desktop falls by the wayside. Not to a cooler, more secure, more stable OS (yes, I'm talking about Unix), but to a new paradigm. Just like mainframes gave way to the PC,
Cool is what tech consumers want. Exhibit A: today the iPhone brings in more revenue than the entirety of Microsoft.
No, really.
One Apple product, something that didn’t exist five years ago, has higher sales than everything Microsoft has to offer. More than Windows, Office, Xbox, Bing, Windows Phone, and every other product that Microsoft has created since 1975. In the quarter ended March 31, 2012, iPhone had sales of $22.7 billion; Microsoft Corporation, $17.4 billion
The lion's share of Microsoft's profits come from Microsoft Windows and a host of programs included in the Office Suite (Word, Excel, Powerpoint). Apple vs. Microsoft vs. Google: Round 2 -- Mobile
Apple slogs ahead with the "design to win" philosophy. Google is doing something similar to what same Microsoft did in the last century, with the Android mobile operating software, except they giving it away for free instead of with a for-profit license.
In this new world, open source, free and cool trumps the pay-for-it model. Google just wants us to use Android so they can sell advertising. Apple wants consumers (not businesses) to buy their products because they are designed flawlessly and they are awesome.
Some companies rise, some fall. Not every one is a winner. But as long as we keep getting cool new toys, cool new ways to interact with each other, better ways to live and work, we -- the consumer -- win.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Freaky Fri, er, Saturday: I'm giving a shout out to FoxNews

Amazing, but Fox News admits President Obama is right about business needing the government,

"If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business. you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet. The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together."

It’s not either/or. The president was clear: We succeed because of our individual initiative but also because of the public investments that help springboard that success. Don’t believe me? Then go start a business in Pakistan or Russia. American entrepreneurs succeed in part because they’re in America. And in America, we don’t get ours and then yank away the ladder of opportunity for the next generation.

Of course, some infrastructure development (highways, invent the Internet, etc.) and setting the "rules of the road" are good ideas. Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2012/07/17/obama-right-americans-cant-succeed-without-government/?intcmp=obinsite#ixzz21uubdzU9 and see what the Prez said here...

- Posted by Tom/Bluedog

Friday, July 27, 2012

Near-Field Radio Communications Used to Hijack Android Phones

The Black Hat conference at Las Vegas is an annual event for techno-savvy programmers to strut their stuff -- and do us all a favor by showing the vulnerabilities and shortcomings of the technology we rely on.

Risks for mobile phone users of the Android platform are not new.

Seeing an Android phone give up the owner's secrets with little or no end user compromise is, of course, disconcerting.

While Near Field Communications (NFC) has been popular in Japan for awhile -- converting peoples' mobile phones into their wallets for retail transactions -- the technology has been slow to catch on in the states and Europe.

- TT/Bd

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Apple's Patent Dispute, Simplified

So why is Apple suing Samsung up, down, and all around? As this guy sums it up,

The debate of patents will continue, no doubt. But summing this argument up so succinctly is a great tribute to the king of information depiction.

Yes, Virginia, the US Government *did* Invent the Internet

Some people just wanna be haters. the WSJ's Gordon Crovitz revisits the question ofr who invented the Internet (sorry, Al) with a column Monday calling out the notion that it was the government as an "urban legend." This is pure bunk.
This is an excellent write-up of the history of the net, and debunks many myths. As Hitlzik points out, Crovitz confuses some other internet with THE Internet -- the one we are all using today. The one the World Wide Web works over -- also invented by way of government funding. Vint Cerf commented that the ARPANet, on which he worked, "led, ultimately, to the Internet." So give credit where credit is due -- sometimes basic R&D, funded for the common good by the government -- pays off. Just not in ways we can always predict.

Classic Attacks Still Work -- that's why they are classic!

The brouhaha over a recent hacker's assault on Apple's walled garden reveals that the classics still rule. Using a "man in the middle" vulnerability in the DNS, the Russian computer jockey spoofed Apple's commerce server, and intercepted in-application purchases.
The iPhone/iPad applications would send payment data through an encrypted SSL channel, but due to a sloppy implementation of public key infrastructure, said apps would trust *any* server with the appropriate reverse lookup host name. The point of the use of certificates is a handshake verification.
The Russian's methods are crude, but in the end, it's the vulnerability of the DNS infrastructure that enables this to work. That, and Apple not using certificates from its commerce server properly. How is a man-in-the-middle attack possible if the PKI certificate from the commerce server is validated by the client (phone/iPad)? As for "clear text", the uid and pw traverse the Internet via an SSL connection; it's that connection that has been compromised.
Read more on ZDNet...
- Posted by Tom/Bluedog

Monday, July 23, 2012

Vm? That's old news... Vn is the next Cloud frontier

Virtual machines are a staple of cloud service provider offerings -- software-only servers that enable running whatever appropriate technology stack s required. But data center virtualization has lacked a crucial tool, the ability to virtualize network routing and traffic management.

Virtual networking provides for a managed abstraction layer between end hosts and an existing network. Managed by a distributed controller system this layer transforms the physical network into a pool of network capacity and enables the programmatic creation of thousands of isolated virtual networks to connect traffic in a cloud.

In order to build its virtual network controller, Nicira created a “tunneling protocol” called Stateless Transport Tunneling, which lets users run one network protocol over a network that is built for another. This lets users transport data inside packets that use the Internet Protocol, the protocol that connects machines on the internet.

This Virtual Network approach means bandwidth, firewalling, and service bus protocols can be managed in software -- furthering the flexibility of cloud architectures.

- Posted by Tom/Bluedog

Friday, July 20, 2012

US government data center consolidation chugs along

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports federal agencies are slowly making progress towards data center consolidation goals. The report is aimed at goading action -- federal agencies reported limited reuse of data centers, along with server utilization rates dipping as low as 5 percent.

The GAO report features agencies claiming several challenges on the way to data-center consolidation. These included accepting cultural change as part of the consolidation; funding the consolidation and identifying the resulting cost savings; operational challenges including procurement and resource constraints; and difficulties in planning a migration strategy.

In spite of such obstacles, the report listed 20 agencies identifying a variety of areas of success, “although only 3 of those areas were reported by more than 1 agency.” Success areas included focusing on virtualization and cloud services as consolidation solutions; overcoming internal politics; and implementing new services to expedite consolidation projects.

- Posted by Tom/Bluedog

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Get Kitted Out for your Home Office Adventure

So a friend asked -- why should I get an iPad over [some Android thing]? That got me thinking about my custom set-up at my secret bat cave location. I will admit, if you don't know already, that I am an unabashed Apple person (been an Apple developer since the 1980s, etc.). I also have been an AT&T person (well, AT&T then Cingular, then back to AT&T) since I gave up on Bell Atlantic/Verizon to move to Nextel (remember Nextel? They won me over with the walkie-talkie feature that nobody ever used).

So let's start with infrastructure. I am a FiOS-from-day-one person. My neighbors hated it when Verizon (wait, didn't I just say I hated Verizon? Well, not when it comes to 25gig up/downstream!) dug up all their front yards just so I could have the fastest fibre optic (only?) on the market. After all, nobody wants a dirt road as the on-ramp to the Information Super Highway (what happened to that appellation?

Now, I serve up my WiFi (one locked-down network for me and mine, and a guest network just because) using an Apple Airport Extreme, mostly because, well, it has the USB connector for shared drive (roll-your-own NAS, anybody?), all the security features needed, and an easy-to-configure port mapping utility so I can pass web and other traffic right through its firewall.

Clearly the AT&T coverage problem needs to be addressed -- hence, the installation of the 3G Microcell. Read (a somewhat older) review here, and you will avoid the no-bar syndrome.

I go with the iPad as my personal media consumer device (and occasional workhorse for writing, of course) because, well, the iOS interface is the ne-plus-ultra of touch screen navigation. I also like the thin form factor and excellent battery life. Finally, apps, apps, apps. Safari on the iPad renders web sites much nicer, IMHO. The aspect ratio of the screen, the pure beauty of the Retina display, and the overall form factor are big reasons why people choose to watch videos, read books or surf the web from the Galactus of the tablet universe.

Clearly, the app market is a big differentiator -- but why has it gotten that way? This guy has a good position -- developers like to stick with what they know. I can say, from my own experience, that the single OS platform (OS X, iOS) based on NeXTStep/BSD Unix is compelling for a variety of reasons: its been around a long time; Objective-C is not a bad language for development, the WebKit interface provides easy entree into iPhone/iPad apps; and I love the core services both operating systems offer.

When it comes to sharing data, of course you've got your DropBox account, right? But did you know that iCloud (the successor to MobileMe) gives you oh-so-many synchronization opportunities? For example, bookmarks between your MacBookPro and your iPad and iPhone? Or calendars, or whatever? I know, "But Tom, I use GoogleWhatevers for all that." Well, more power to you. But I'll stick with iCal and all the other Apple crap that just plain works.

iCloud service looks much like the original iTools in some ways. This Internet service is free (well, for now)and may offer an e-mail address with iOS 6, I think. Plus, it features the updated core applications evolved from .Mac and MobileMe offerings. But iCloud is forward looking, as Apple seeks to unify offerings and better integrate the cloud into evolving new ways that Apple customers are using iPhones, iPads, and Macs.

Don't forget AirPrint and AirPlay… you want to get that awesome PDF into hard copy format, while listening to Pandora on your gigantic speakers, right?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Another in the series: Services You Can Use, IRL

In real life, the World Wide Web can be used for entertainment, information gathering, socializing and more. For small businesses, the Web can be a whole new avenue for sales. Tackling a web site (that merely advertises what a business is all about) is one aspect of using the Web to grow a business. But the most direct means of leveraging the Web to expand is via e-commerce. Of course, roll-your-own solutions abound, if you have a talented IT staff and dedicated highly
available internet connection to wire your servers up to.

At Bluedog we define e-commerce as any online business that runs a website where customers can purchase goods or services directly. In the best case, account management, order processing, and perhaps even warehouse/order fulfillment are in someway integrated.

Or you can take the software-as-a-service approach and use a service such as eDirectHost ecommerce website builder. This approach makes excellent sense for a business new to the web, or one that has limited technical resources to maintain an e-commerce site. Medium size enterprises can take advantage of the service provider's infrastructure, for higher traffic situations.

With a service you should expect a complete web site with reliable up-time, a store management front-end, a product catalog, and of course a shopping trolley. Secure processing of orders and payments protects you and your customer. If you look at how the big boys handle e-commerce, you will quickly recognize that a complete feature set from an e-commerce provider is the standard these days.

I've advised a number of ventures with that old saw, "'It's no use changing for changes sake…" But be aware that if your business is not embracing change, you can bet your competitors are.

Bicycle Highways - Suburban/Urban Routes Prove Popular

How far would your ride your bike to work? In Denmark, planners strive to increase the average approximate 3 mile trek to upwards of 14 miles, by linking dedicated bike paths into contiguous routes -- and in some cases creating "bicycle super highways."

While criticism of the routes exists ("Nothing about this rout is super," says Vagn Jorgensen), the idea that the suburbs can be linked to downtown via long paths is commendable. And exists here in the states as well. Around Washington DC, the Crescent Trail provides a 10 mile bike-only route from Bethesda into Georgetown. In Chicago, the Lakefront Bike Trail is an 18-mile north-south route into central Chi-Town. In Portland, Oregon the Springwater Corridor and the Eastbank Esplanade combine for 18 miles of mostly off-road paved multi-use trail. In Dublin, Ireland, you can cycle on a dedicated route from Dun Laoghaire through Blackrock and into city centre.

Read more in the NYT

- Posted by Tom/Bluedog

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Does Your Cloud Effort Meet These Five Requirements?

A recent review of a major U.S. government agency's cloud efforts shows that moving towards a cloud model is not easy. The National Institute of Standards and Technologies (NIST) defines characteristics for federal cloud compliance, and lists five that they say are necessary:
- on-demand self-service,
- broad network access,
- resource pooling,
- rapid elasticity, and
- measured services
According to the official NIST definition, "cloud computing is a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction." A recent report on the State Department's cloud efforts reveals just how hard it can be for federal agencies to meet this simple-sounding checklist. While the Department of State has some problems with their approach, according to the a report by Deputy Inspector General Harold Geisel, he asserts that, for the most part, State’s Systems and Integration Office executes its duties appropriately. Read the full article here at GCN, or go straight to the Inspector General's report.

Monday, July 16, 2012

What Standards Are Needed in the Cloud?

While some are concerned about privacy in the cloud, or data export standards, it's my opinion that we can all benefit from a few specific standards -- ones that would benefit both providers such as Amazon, Google, etc., and consumers of cloud services. While SAS 70 and a few U.S. government (FIPS, FISMA, etc.) standards supply a level of due diligence on cloud or outsourced IT services, a global approach would be most successful. Ed Ferrara of Forrester Research advocates Cloud and Managed Service Provider (MSP) certifications, as opposed to vendor specific certifications, “...understanding the cloud provider’s underlying capabilities, resources, security processes and safeguards, as well as the provider’s overall financial health will be very important for organizations who want to safely and successfully utilize cloud computing.” Data standards such as HIPAA and others is a good first step. A Cloud Standards Customer Council has been formed, with enterprise members that include IBM, Kaavo, CA Technologies, Rackspace, Software AG. More than 100 of the world's leading organizations including Lockheed Martin, Citigroup, State Street and North Carolina State University have already joined the Council. Some private organizations offer certifications that, if more widely adopted, could form the basis of PAAS certifications. When one considers security failures in some cloud-based products and services, CIOs should look closely at how a particular provider measures up. Breaches at Sony, Citibank, the International Monetary Fund and others show that determined attacks by hackers can result in serious problems. Understanding the conflicts between countries' laws can also be part of the transparency needed (think about how the US Patriot Act may be at odds with EU Data Privacy laws). Read more at the WSJ… http://blogs.wsj.com/cio/2012/07/13/cloud-providers-the-case-for-universal-standards/

Friday, July 13, 2012

Finally, a Serious Contender for the School Run

Ask my kids -- I am king of the school run drift. There's no thrill quite like beating the big yellow bus to the car park, with time to nosh a breakfast treat at the Parkway Deli. Alas, the days of the Supra or AE86 seem to be in the past. Or are they? With the advent of modern sports cars, Toyota's president (and grandson of the company founder), Akio Toyoda, surely asked himself, “Where is the passion in our lineup? I want to build a sports car.” The all-new Scion FR-S is just such a car, and is available in June 2012. This graph shows the specs and the evolution of the car from predecessor Toyota models. Inspired by rear-drive Corolla of the ’80s that became the darling of drifters, this new sports car is light, agile, and affordable.
Delia, Damon and Jason will certainly concur -- Scion has succeeded in making the FR-S agile. From the quick steering to the responsive chassis, the FR-S responds to driver input in a way that reminds me of rear-wheel drive sports sedans of yore. Depress the stability control button for three seconds and things liven up even more. Although the chassis is neutral, it will slide appreciably with the right inputs. In my opinion, suspension, steering and power in the FR-S works with harmony. The stock tyros allows for accessible explorations of the FR-S’s behavior at the edge of the envelope -- the sort of exploration that makes getting to school in the morning fun.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Branson Leaps Ahead in Commercial Space Travel!

Totally awesome - Burt Rutan and SpaceShipOne win the X Prize and is the first civilian reusable space launch/recovery, then

Richard Branson teams up for civilian low orbit travel, now,

Virgin Galactic announce "...the next step of the Galactic journey: revolutionary new satellite launch vehicle LauncherOne. The pieces are all in place to transform the business of satellite launch, which will open up space to everyone."

Read more about the next leap forward...

- Posted by Tom/Bluedog

Want Power When it Storms? Here's Some Ideas

When I designed Bluedog's data center, I made sure it was a tier II facility, with adequate power conditioning and backup generator capabilities. But what could consumers do to keep the lights (and AC!) on when Mother Nature throws us a curve ball?
Government needs to help, by writing the rules so it makes sense to go green. And not penalize you if you invest in new technologies -- if you install solar or other supplemental power systems in your home in the Maryland suburbs of Washington DC, you can not sell power back to Pepco (the local utility) if you are net producer (make more electricity than you use). Unlike many other jurisdictions. This is a major reason recovery costs for investment in green or other alternate power solutions have such a long payback period in Maryland.
In Germany, specific pricing guidelines that encourage investment have helped make that country a leader in the uptake of solar.
The government should re-evaluate all the perks Pepco receives -- and incentivize them to bury lines, maintain repair crews on staff, etc.
Getting power from solar farms in the west would be practical with a nationwide power grid made with a superconductor-based grid.
Another approach might be to utilize fuel cells, small hydro or micro-nuke generation facilities spread out in neighborhoods to Decentralize power production -- making terrorists ineffective in attacking big infrastructure, lowering costs, and making our grid more resilient.

What's Behind Apple Abandoning Environmental Standards Compliance?


Apple on Tuesday responded to concerns that it asked to have its products removed from EPEAT, the U.S. government’s list of environmentally friendly products, as reported in the WSJ.

“Apple takes a comprehensive approach to measuring our environmental impact and all of our products meet the strictest energy efficiency standards backed by the US government, Energy Star 5.2,” Apple representative Kristin Huguet. “We also lead the industry by reporting each product’s greenhouse gas emissions on our website, and Apple products are superior in other important environmental areas not measured by EPEAT, such as removal of toxic materials.”

It’s important to note that in addition to not measuring toxins and other environmental areas, EPEAT also doesn’t measure smartphones or tablets. Clearly these are two areas that are vitally important for Apple and not covered by EPEAT.

Companies like Dell have 171 products listed on EPEAT, but yet if you look on Dell’s Web site, none of their computers are even Energy Star Compliant.

By its own admission, the EPEAT certifications are old.

“Part of it is expanding EPEAT’s global reach through the multiple certification [process]; as well as moving into new, additional products; as well as updating the EPEAT [certifications], because they’re a little long in the tooth. [Each of those] is a huge project on its own,” Christine Ervin, an EPEAT board member told GreenBiz in March.

The hubbub over Apple pulling out of EPEAT is interesting because the products that were listed as gold products by the environmental organization are the same ones Apple is currently selling.

As Loop Insidernotes, Apple has done more than any other technology company in recent memory to be environmentally friendly. What’s more, Apple publishes everything that makes up its carbon footprint on its Web site. Again, this is something EPEAT doesn’t measure.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Improved Way to Torrent - Right from the Browser

Using BitTorrent to share (not just pirate) makes a great deal of sense. I worked on a project at the National Institutes of Health years ago to share the "open source" human genome database.

A new, improved method of sharing torrents via browser is explained here. While the Opera browser has had this capability, the JavaScript libraries in the Torque project,

... is a JavaScript interface to a custom torrent client that exposes all the power of BitTorrent to web developers. Simply put, it allows anyone to utilize our powerful technology to create completely fresh and new experiences for users with just a couple lines of code.

Being able to stream video more efficiently, drag-n-drop files, and other innovations could come about. One issue remains -- there is no Pirate Bay for legit torrents. By design, there is no single BitTorrent network; the protocol has no provision for search. Generally, an organization wishing to offer a file via BitTorrent would place the .torrent files on a website in the place of the usual HTTP download link. Searching for .torrent files can be accomplished through web search engines, but this is external to the protocol -- trading of copyrighted (pirated) material is not inherent in the technology.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Software-based Radio - mobile's next great leap forward

Imagine a mobile phone that works anywhere in the world -- including Antarctica. And is the size of your iPhone. How? By the software of the phone switching the range of signals from the radio spectrum it receives, auto-"magically".
This approach to mobile devices would enable an entire new breed of wireless devices, using the same chipset and antenna (think: economies of scale in production).
Per Vices has introduced software-defined radio gear that Ars Technica thinks will usher in this new era. E company's software radio can broadcast and receive nearly any radio signal on nearly any frequency at the same time. The Per Vices Phi is one of the first devices aimed at the mass hobbyist market to take advantage of this technology. Read more here...

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Backups - just how many options are too many?

Bill French over at this blog is wondering about the value of over-the-air backup services for iPhone:
The idea that telco’s want to provide backup and sync services suggests Wirefly is on the right path. Typically large companies don’t white-label tools like this unless customers want them. And cloud services are emerging as the one thing every major tech company has in their sights. Apple’s forthcoming iCloud service features backup and synching capabilities and this is certainly a competitor as far as the iPhone backup market is concerned.
But Wirefly has some unique features – the biggest being the ability to backup over a 3G connection; not a feature in iCloud. This seems like an important one given the backup scenarios listed below. But it is also quite limited – it appears to only backup contacts, calendar, music, and photos, whereas Soonr backs up many document types – especially business documents

Monday, July 2, 2012

Surface tablet Less Zune, more "meh"?

With business-class apps such as Numbers or Pages (or Office?) on iOS, why would the iPad not be a suitable device for general business use?

Plenty of business apps on iPad show up regularly in the App Store. I'm fond of writing, so I use a Bluetooth keyboard/case combination like this.

Getting a finished product from an iPad for me means an Acrobat PDF. With the NeXT-era display postscript legacy, NeXTStep, cough cough, OS X, ahem, iOS does plenty with PDFs.

To all those waiting for MS to unseat Apple, it doesnt take an MBA to figure out: the App Store is the iPad secret sauce. Integrated hardware is the Apple trademark. Gesture-based navigation is the legacy of Hartmut Essslinger/frog.

-- posted from one of my six iPads, three iPhones, two Newton MessagePads, or my obsolete Nokia web appliance

EU expected to endorse self-policing for cloud personal data privacy

The European Commission’s panel on privacy is expected to endorse the concept of cloud computing as legal under European Union privacy laws. It will likely recommend (for the first time) that large organizations police themselves to assure that personal information kept in remote locations is protected.

The panel, known as the Article 29 Working Party, is expected to make the recommendation as part of its long-awaited guidelines on cloud computing, which have the potential, some industry experts say, to allay concerns over data privacy and pave the way for wider adoption of the remote-computing services that are more common in the United States.

Cloud computing is on full afterburner in the states, but uptake is lagging in Ireland and other EU nations, in part over privacy concerns.