Thursday, February 28, 2013

When is a cloud not a cloud? When it is a 'private' one

ComputerWorldUK reports on a recent Forrester analysis that shows how much confusion over cloud computing remains:

If an enterprise data centre has a highly virtualised environment, a web portal for business users to request and access virtual machines and a method for tracking how many of those resources are being used... that's not quite a private cloud.

If there is enough capacity to supply employees with almost any amount of compute resources they need, and scale that capacity up and down dynamically, but it requires IT workers to provision the systems, then sorry that's not a private cloud either.

The line between virtualisation and a private cloud can be a fuzzy one, and according to a new report by Forrester Research, up to 70% of what IT administrators claim are private clouds are not. "It's a huge problem," says Forrester cloud expert James Staten. "It's cloud-washing."

In Forrester's reading, a private cloud is an extrapolation of server virtualization by providing self-service mechanisms where network/systems administrators can deploy services. From this perspective, a service is a business application comprised of components like Apache, MySQL, virtual machines with operating systems, application components (Java, database, and web content), and additional edge network configurations like load balancer and perhaps network-attached storage. However, a human being from the unit that manages IT still must deploy the virtual infrastructure that needed to meet a business need.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Mobile computing -- smart phones like the iPhone are re-defining the personal computing space

At the Barcelona mobile event, U.S.'s AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson says potential for combination of emerging technologies is sure to mean growth for business, and a better experience for consumers. He sees his company (and other mobile providers) expanding services to enable users to stream stored data and content from the cloud at faster rates and with lower delays. The net result: increased data usage and necessary additional investment in spectrum and network infrastructure (towers, repeaters, routers). Stephenson pointed out that the Texas-based AT&T experienced a 30,000 percent increase in data traffic in the past six years as more customers use mobile phones to check e-mails, watch video, and surf the web.

Regulators should use a “light touch” and keep taxes “very, very low” to encourage new investment and allow more data traffic, Stephenson said. His sentiments were echoed today by the CEO’s of Telecom Italia SpA and Telefonica SA who called for a change in the regulatory environment to allow more consolidation among European carriers.

By the end of 2017, there will be 9.7 billion wireless connections worldwide as the industry brings mobile communications into cars and other consumer electronics, according to the GSMA industry association.

No argument that mobility is important -- people need to be able to access applications and data any time, anywhere.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Automation and Work - and Freelancers

Automation was once considered the bane of the laborer. We have seen, however, how factory automation has not fully replaced humans. For example, China's "outsourced" manufacturing (and Mexico's) has led to more products, more cheaply available. And a marginally better standard of living in that country.

But automation is still a challenge. As this article discusses,

In the early nineteenth century, David Ricardo considered the possibility that machines would replace labor; Karl Marx followed him. Around the same time, the Luddites smashed the textile machinery that they saw as taking their jobs.
CommentsView/Create comment on this paragraphThen the fear of machines died away. New jobs – at higher wages, in easier conditions, and for more people – were soon created and readily found.

In the growing knowledge worker sector, automation can help -- collaboration across time zones is more practical. Engaging teams with better productivity can result in more work, done more effectively. Results of collaborative efforts are often of higher quality, and delivered more quickly. Collaborative knowledge worker automation allows geographically dispersed teams in an extended enterprise work smarter, faster, and more effectively together.

Robert Skidelsky's conclusion is worth considering:

If one machine can cut necessary human labor by half, why make half of the workforce redundant, rather than employing the same number for half the time? Why not take advantage of automation to reduce the average working week from 40 hours to 30, and then to 20, and then to ten, with each diminishing block of labor time counting as a full time job? This would be possible if the gains from automation were not mostly seized by the rich and powerful, but were distributed fairly instead... Rather than try to repel the advance of the machine, which is all that the Luddites could imagine, we should prepare for a future of more leisure, which automation makes possible. But, to do that, we first need a revolution in social thinking.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

White Roof = Lower Temperature

Can light-colored rooftops and roads really curb carbon emissions and combat global climate change? The idea has been around for years, but now, a new study by researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory that is the first to use a global model to study the question has found that implementing cool roofs and cool pavements in cities around the world can not only help cities stay cooler, they can also cool the world, with the potential of canceling the heating effect of up to two years of worldwide carbon dioxide emissions.

“Cool roofs are one of the quickest and lowest cost ways we can reduce our global carbon emissions and begin the hard work of slowing climate change,” said U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu. “By demonstrating the benefits of cool roofs on our facilities, the federal government can lead the nation toward more sustainable building practices, while reducing the federal carbon footprint and saving money for taxpayers.”


Monday, February 18, 2013

Dolphins Protest Off Coast of California

The protesters in Washington DC were joined in spirit by our watery brothers, a huge gathering of dolphins who showed brotherly sympathy for those wanting to save this planet. When will we show the largest-brained mammals reciprocal respect?

- Posted by Tom/Bluedog

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Health care and capitalism -- together like haggis and stout

The basic need for insurance and pension arrangements stems from personal risk and uncertainty -- and it is not a modern phenomenon. Even ancient civilizations fostered early versions of the concept of the insurance fund, with the grant of pensions in ancient Greece and the formation of burial societies in ancient Greece and Rome. In the Middle Ages it was sometimes possible to secure one's old age with a pension or even to purchase a room at a monastery with board and lodging provided. Marine insurance was invented, in order to help the expansion of trade, and this was followed by the beginnings of life insurance. Inevitably this is partly a book about "firsts".
Of course, the concept of deceit is not new, either. The earliest insurance fraud apparently was attempted in 350BC, when the owner of a ship tried to sink it.

Other examples of early insurance can be found: The earliest insurance policy seems to have been issued in 1350, on a cargo of wheat supplied from Sicily to Tunis. Life insurance goes back at least as far a 1399, when a policy was issued covering someone on a voyage from Barcelona to Italy. Astonishingly, the first occupational pension fund was established as early as 1590, the Chatham Chest, which paid pensions to disabled seamen and was financed by members' contributions deducted from their pay.

There was a great concern about the losses which people suffered in the Great Fire of London and in other fires in towns, and the first British fire insurance company was founded in 1680.
Many believe Napier, the Scottish inventor of logarithms (1614), may have been inspired to do so by studying the properties of compound interest tables. And Scotland provides the source of many a source about the use of insurance: the grant of pensions by Edinburgh Burgh Council in the 17th centuries; the pensions payable by Leith Trinity House in 1747; and, of course, the pioneering pension fund for Scottish ministers' widows (established 1743). Later, some prominent Scotsmen gathered in the Royal Exchange Coffee Rooms in Edinburgh to discuss setting up ‘a general fund for securing provisions to widows, sisters and other female relatives’ of fundholders so that they would not be plunged into poverty on the death of the fundholder during and after the Napoleonic Wars. Scottish Widows Fund and Life Assurance Society opened in 1815.

One might recall that Scotland is the home of Adam Smith, father of capitalism. Today's state of capitalism might, for Smith, demonstrate not the intrinsic faults of the system, but what happens when the moral dimension is neglected. In his 1759 book, Theory of Moral Sentiments, Smith takes on social and moral psychology and sociology: how one might understand how individuals and societies function not in separate compartments, but as parts of a complex whole. One of the key themes of the book is an opposition to the view that all morality or virtue is reducible to self-interest, as if individuals operated in isolation only concerned with their own particular well-being. Failure to craft an insurance approach to our society's medical needs is one such example of moral failure -- we need to look out for one another. When Smith later wrote The Wealth of Nations, he made it clear that the 'wealth' lay in the well-being of the people.

Want to learn more? Read Pensions and Insurance Before 1800: A Social History By C.G. Lewin and look up Adam Smith.

- Posted by Tom/Bluedog

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Business Climate in Washington is as Cold as the Weather

With so much of the Washington DC economy wrapped around work for the U.S. federal government, it is no surprise there is a chill in the air, even for a brisk February. President Obama is asking Congress to stave off "sequester", but many are bitterly resigned to the across-the-board budget cuts that seem inevitable. After 18 months of uncertainty (well, mostly) over an administration change, many were ready to get back to work on valued contracting opportunities such as Eagle II and others.

Defense contractors are pulling an "ostrich" move -- seemingly in total denial about the impending tsunami.

The sequester is a package of automatic spending cuts that were part of the Budget Control Act, which was passed in August of 2011. The cuts, projected to total $1.2 trillion, are scheduled to begin in 2013 and end in 2021, evenly divided over the nine-year period. The cuts are also evenly split between defense spending, with war spending exempt, and discretionary domestic spending, which exempts most spending on entitlements like Social Security and Medicaid. The total cuts for 2013 will be $109 billion, according to a White House report.

Austerity hasn't helped other governments deal with the economic downturn, particularly in my adopted homeland of the Republic of Ireland. In fact, such measures may be more than a bitter pill -- they may in fact retard growth overall.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Follow-up: Free WiFi

On the heels of the U.S. FCC's interest in free wifi for all, here's an article on municipal wifi in my favorite *other* home, Dublin.
If Leopold Bloom could have availed of free wifi as he engaged in his citywide perambulations all those years ago, we might have got a very different version of Ulysses, with added hashtags, LOLs and OMGs, but still of course displaying the same cavalier attitude to punctuation.
Dublin City Council has chosen some well-known landmarks to set up its brave new service: Temple Bar Square, Wolfe Tone Square, Smithfield Square, Barnardo Square, Clarendon Street, St Patrick’s Park, Merrion Park, Grafton Street, Henry Street, outside the GPO on O’Connell Street, in front of the Convention Centre on City Quay, and in the outdoor amphitheatre at the Civic Offices at Wood Quay.

In my current station, you can find free wifi around the city. But it is typically not the urban dwellers who need such access (think: Starbucks). Fixed wireless broadband from some companies is a step in the right direction, but again the market focus is on high-population urban centers (where, naturally, there are more potential customers per square mile). Finding info superhighway on-ramps in the countryside is still difficult. Let's hope that the spectrum proposed for ubiquitous wifi works well across long distances, so everyone truly has freedom of access.

Ars Technical indicates this is just the White Spaces proposal that's been around for a few years -- and not described as "free Wi-Fi for all". White Spaces may well be an important step toward expanding Internet access, but it is not going to bring free Wi-Fi to every major US city. White Spaces takes the spectrum from empty TV channels and allows the airwaves to be used for Wi-Fi, or "Super Wi-Fi" as it's sometimes called. Using lower frequencies than traditional Wi-Fi, White Spaces signals would be better at penetrating obstacles and thus travel farther.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Land of the Free... wifi

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission proposes free wifi access...

"Internet access is an essential need on par with education access, but at what point do regulators recognize that? When will government officials acknowledge that widespread, guaranteed access is essential to fostering growth in the country? Somewhat surprisingly, that time is now, as the FCC is now calling for nationwide free wi-fi networks to be opened up to the public. The FCC proposes buying back spectrum from TV stations that would allow for what the Washington Post is dubbing 'super wi-fi,' as the commission wants to cover the country with wide-ranging, highly-penetrative networks. Essentially, you can imagine the proposal as covering a majority of the country with open-access data networks, similar to cell networks now, that your car, tablet, or even phone could connect to. That means no one is ever disconnected, and some folks – especially light users and the poor – could likely ditch regular Internet and cell plans altogether."