August II 2007

31 August 2007

Fredric Morris, Editor-In-Chief, Connect-World
Fredric Morris
Editor-In-Chief
Connect-World

The future is black – boxes, holes, clouds, hats, eyed peas, Sabbaths and magic – hoorah!

A look at the future of computing, extreme computing, cloud computing, secure computing, cosmic and not so cosmic energy levels
Free association is not so free – it follows well-worn mental groves. I started sliding along some of those grooves after reading the latest edition of Scientific American. I’ve been reading SciAm so long that the monthly feature, ‘50, 100 & 150 Years Ago in Scientific American’, which traditionally opens the magazine, is just a bit of personal reminiscence.
The latest issue, August 2007, had an article called, “Data Center in a Box”. Although, this is not exactly a new idea, this is the first time that so much computing power was packed into a container and the first time it was designed to be mass-producible. Earlier versions were one-off, much lower power, special purpose deals. I had heard recently that Sun Microsystems had done something of this sort, but I never looked into it; I never realized just how awesome and significant it might be.
The data centre, the result of Sun Microsystems’ Project Black Box, is a study in extreme computing. Indeed, the whole centre is crammed into a standard 8x8x20 foot (a bit less than 35 cubic meters) shipping container.
Okay, they stuffed a lot of computers into a box – what’s noteworthy about that? To start with, the boxes have more computing power than most traditional corporate – big corporate – processing centres. Anyone who has followed corporate computing trends in recent years can tell you that managing the energy consumption and heat output of their centres so they can expand is one major concern that CIOs regularly moan about.
A rack of servers uses about 25 kilowatts of electricity. Most of that energy turns into heat – enough heat to turn a rack into a molten puddle. Squeeze racks, the Black Box has eight, into a small box and the problems increase exponentially as the box gets smaller. It all reminds me – okay, I’m a physicist and this is my free association – of the enormous heat and energy concentrated when a star implodes into a black hole. This black hole, though, comes with a very sophisticated system to vent and channel the hot air generated into heat exchangers cooled by water – a tremendous bit of engineering, a marvellous technological feat.
The self-contained system is complete; it needs only electricity, a data line and water to work. Of course, you can’t plug it into a wall outlet; it needs a direct connection to the power grid – a 600-amp industrial-grade power feed. Your telco’s DSL also falls a bit short of what this 250-server box needs to gulp down fresh data and spew out results; it needs a big, fat broadband pipe – a dedicated fibre connection is recommended. The box also needs 60 gallons of chilled water each minute to keep it from melting down. Other than that, the box is ready to go with seven terabytes of memory and two petabytes of storage, enough they say to support ten thousand desktop users.
According to the article, the data centre can be up and running for one-hundredth the cost, and a tiny fraction of the time, of a traditional centre of similar power. Each centre, by itself, has enough computing muscle to rank among the world’s top 200 super-computers. Need more computing power? Just drop in another box. It would help if you are located next to a major telco, a good-sized power generation facility and a sizeable waterfall, but if you can supply the power, communications and water, even a rooftop, a ship, an offshore platform, a basement or parking lot will do.
Why are these centres, the Black Boxes, so significant? Well, according to the article, the boxes are an ideal, truly cost-effective, way to quickly expand the Internet’s computing capacity and drive us into the next phase of the information revolution, ‘cloud computing’ – also called utility computing, where users rely on software and storage from the Web that they access anywhere – including from their personal, hand-held, carry everywhere, devices. If that sounds familiar, then you have been reading some of my recent eLetters.
The black boxes, then, may be the critical – quite providential – piece of the infrastructure that was missing in the plans to make mobile, personal computing the driving force in the next phase of the information revolution. Practical, mobile, personal computing may just be the glue to put together a truly worldwide information society.
Black also reminds me of the recent Black Hat hacker’s conference. I’ve never been to one, but they are increasingly significant, increasingly crowded events. Some four thousand people were there this year.
Hackers, for those who still don’t know it, are not the bad guys – those are crackers. Serious hackers perform an extremely important public service. Hackers poke and prod software to find the vulnerabilities to correct them before the crackers (the black hearted bad guys) exploit them – and you.
The keynote speaker at Black Hat was Richard Clarke, a 30-year veteran of the US Government and Bill Clinton’s chief counter-terrorism adviser on the U.S. National Security Council. Since his retirement, Clarke has been writing books. Clarke was quoted as saying at Black Hat that, “we’re building more and more of our economy on cyberspace 1.0, yet we have secured very little of cyberspace 1.0.” He went on to talk about the software that splits processing between the Web site’s server and the client – the user’s browser, and how this has re- opened Web 2.0 to some standard, long-used, attacks. Wireless broadband access, is one of the areas where this lack of security is most evident. This is a real danger facing the expansion, the expected explosion, of mobile personal computing.
Errata Security’s CEO, Robert Graham, demonstrated this danger during his presentation at Black Hat. According to the reports, he used a software tool called Hamster and Ferret to examine the airwaves for Web 2.0 sites. Graham quietly used the software, while speaking of other matters, to ‘sniff’ the wireless packets transmitted and received by those in the audience. He ‘grabbed’ their Web 2.0 clear text session cookies, and pasted the captured URLs into his browser. According to the report, the cookie eliminates the need for a password. As a vivid demonstration of the dangers, Graham opened his Hamster tool at the end of his talk and very rapidly displayed and cleared – on the conference room’s screen – a Gmail account that someone in the audience had accessed during his talk.
A great demonstration, a scary demonstration, of one of the security problems facing the growth of wireless, cloud computing, mobile personal computing, Web 2.0 communities and all the other services and applications the information society depends upon.
The security problem won’t go away, but with better defensive software, prudent habits, encryption and the like, the risks can be managed.
All we need is a bit of traveling music to get the mobile computing show on the road. How about something from the Black Eyed Peas or Black Sabbath? Maybe the old standard, That Old Black Magic, should be the theme song.
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Our next Connect-World Europe, Middle East & Africa (2007) Issue will be published later this month. The issue will be widely distributed to our reader base and, as well, at shows where we are one of the main media sponsors such as: Carriers World, London, UK, (25-28 September, Victoria Park Plaza, London), Eastern Europe Broadband Convention, (27-29 September, Kiev), Broadband World Forum Europe, Berlin, Germany, (8 -11 October, Berlin, Ukraine) and Broadband Russia, (21-22 November, City: Moscow).

The theme of this issue of Connect-World Europe, Middle East & Africa (2007) will be Access technology trends

Access was once a question of stringing copper – or a string between two paper cups. Wireless access has, in a few years, outpaced wired access so that mobile phones now outnumber all the traditional fixed phones in the world. Today, fibre brings TV, broadband and inexpensive voice. Even power lines are now being used by utilities, or locally at the office, on the factory floor and at home to provide broadband access. Much of the change, the revolution in telecom, is the result of better access technologies. Technologies already in the pipeline, and others on the way, promise to change the way we communicate, work and play to an even greater degree than anything we have seen.

This issue will explore the consequences of these new technologies.

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August I 2007

31 August 2007

Fredric Morris, Editor-In-Chief, Connect-World
Fredric Morris
Editor-In-Chief
Connect-World

Little by littler …
Little is getting big, but less, as architect Mies Van der Rohe said so many years ago, is definitively more – at least in the ICT world.
In the eLetter at the end of May this year, I commented that Microsoft’s parallel interest in on-line advertising, in online-software usage, widgets and mobile computing was far from coincidental, that all the signs point to a grander scheme and a tight interconnection between these spheres of interest.
Reports from Microsoft’s recent Financial Analysts Day at their headquarters, only served to confirm my suspicion that we are witnessing the birth of a major trend – doing more, affordably, with less. According to a variety of published reports, Steve Ballmer, told financial analysts that they will be investing heavily in online advertising, online services, consumer electronics and: “software plus services”. Microsoft, it seems, is transforming its business model orientation; apparently, it will now centre upon software plus online services.
Another focus of its business model will be online advertising. The last time I felt such drive, such enormous determination to change, was when Microsoft jumped on the Internet bandwagon. Microsoft is taking on a potentially disruptive technology – its enemies, I am not one, might say like a snake changing its skin – and make it its own. If the MS Internet Explorer serves as an example of what a fundamental change in Microsoft’s strategy portends, the sector is about to undergo a major shift in direction.
“We are hell-bent and determined to allocate the talent, the resources, the money, the innovation to absolutely become a powerhouse in the ad business,” Steve Ballmer is quoted as saying. Ballmer outlined their commitment to advertising supported Web services.
The command centre for hell might well be the new centre dedicated to online advertising and search services announced by Bill Gates. Hell’s command centre, Microsoft renamed it the Internet Services Research Centre, will concentrate upon searching scanned images – especially print publications, fighting spam, determining new ways to build the relevance of search results, and who knows what else.
Ballmer made it clear that the markets targeted – advertising-supported Web services, online services in general and consumer devices – are all leading markets for the company’s software. Online Services and the Microsoft Entertainment and Devices division have never done well, but Microsoft has a record of betting on losers for years – look at the history of its server software – before they become major revenue generators.
I’m not as good as they are at predicting winners, but when I drop mobile services and mobile Internet devices into the equation with the above strategies and multiply, I see a new model for the sector emerging with Microsoft, once again, at the forefront.
Microsoft, notoriously, has never focused upon advertising revenue as much, or at least as successfully, as companies like Google. Now, though, according to Steve Ballmer, they will be an “advertising and devices” enterprise.
The most significant idea found reading Bill Gate’s presentation, was not the perennial promise of more powerful user-oriented functions for slicker devices coupled with a better user experience. The noteworthy concept, the one that I believe centres the MS strategy, is that of reconsidering the traditional computing model that confines processing to the device, a computer of some sort, and moves much of the processing to the Internet. It’s not a new idea, but now, with the blessing of hell, its time may have come.
The Internet-as-the-processor is ideal for handheld, always-carry-it-with-you, mobile computing. So too is an ad-based revenue model for the massive majority of users that are always a bit strapped for cash. With billions of users throughout the world, you don’t need to hit users with high prices to earn fantastic profits from advertising and micro-fees-per use.
The business model works, and there are several additional advantages. Software, for one, is much harder to pirate with this sort of model. Most important, though, is the change this makes in the way people use the Internet, in the equipment – the devices they use and the way the whole value chain of the industry slips and slides off the road it’s been following.
This type of computing needs a lot of bandwidth. Current mobile broadband is too slow and too expensive, but WiFi, WiMesh, WiMAX and, perhaps, LTE (Long Term Evolution – UMTS mobile broadband) promise faster and cheaper wireless broadband.
Since the storage and computing power can reside on the Web small, handheld, mobile devices with full keyboards can serve as full-function computers. The screens are small and the keyboards cramped, but these devices, potentially, can do anything larger more expensive equipment can do. Add a full-size keyboard and a box to connect it to a television or monitor and you have a set-up that many people – perhaps most eventually – will be using, especially in developing regions.
In a few years, powerful, low-cost, slip it into your pocket, computer and communications devices will become a common sight everywhere in the world and this ‘personal mass-media’ will be a force to be reckoned with.
Today, in some age groups and communities, communications through sites such as Facebook that describes itself as, “a social utility that connects you with the people around you”, and MySpace, “an online community that lets you meet your friends’ friends”, are rapidly taking over the functions of more traditional Internet email communications. These kids just don’t use email much, except to talk to adults! This is happening not just in the USA, the EU and parts of Asia, but in Latin America and probably other parts of the world as well. These on-line communities let one network, exchange messages, share photos, and clips with other members of your personal community of friends and acquaintances.
Nowadays, many students are starting to log into Facebook through their cell phones. In a few years, as mobile broadband availability grows, I expect mobile access to predominate. Also In a few years, these students will be adults, and bring at least some of their communications habits with them to the business world. Although email is still the standard for business, the millions upon millions of Facebook, MySpace and other similar networks
With millions and millions of members each, MySpace and Facebook are among the frontrunners to control a huge chunk of this promising market. Of course, they have a small problem coming up – the Microsoft elephant will soon be barging in on this market and, oh yes, so will Sprint Nextel teamed up with Google.
A few days ago Sprint Nextel announced they would develop a new mobile portal to provide Web searching and social networking using WiMAX. The announcement said Sprint’s wireless broadband network, together with its ability to detect location will be combined with Google’s email, chat and other applications.
Couple all this with over-the-air software and Web services and lower subscriber costs financed by ad- based revenues, carry-at-all-times, mobile Internet devices and little by little… anyone ready for a revolution?
_____________________________________

Our next Connect-World Europe, Middle East & Africa (2007) Issue will be published later this month. The issue will be widely distributed to our reader base and, as well, at shows where we are one of the main media sponsors such as: Carriers World, London, UK, (25-28 September, Victoria Park Plaza, London), Eastern Europe Broadband Convention, (27-29 September, Kiev), Broadband World Forum Europe, Berlin, Germany, (8 -11 October, Berlin, Ukraine) and Broadband Russia, (21-22 November, City: Moscow).

The theme of this issue of Connect-World Europe, Middle East & Africa (2007) will be: Access technology trends

BPON (broadband passive optical network), FTTx (fibre to the x?), PLC (power line communications), Wireless, 3G WiFi, WiMAX, Satellite, other..

Access was once a question of stringing copper – or a string between two paper cups. Wireless access has, in a few years, outpaced wired access so that mobile phones now outnumber all the traditional fixed phones in the world. Fibre brings TV, broadband and inexpensive voice, and even power lines are being used by utilities, or locally at the office factory floor, or home, to provide broadband access. Much of the change, the revolution in telecom, is the result of better access technologies. Technologies already in the pipeline, and others on the way, promise to change the way we communicate, work and play to an even greater degree than anything we have seen.

This issue will explore the consequences of these new technologies.