Editorial: The Sky is Falling! Where Will You Be When the Cloud Goes Down?

I don’t know about you, but the whole “cloud” thing is starting to get a little old. I feel like we’re in the 1980s again, when all you had to do was slap “2000” on anything and it was instantly cool. Don’t believe me? Would you rather have Windows or Windows “2000”. The next fad came with the lowercase “i” on everything. iPods needed iSpeakers and iTunes etc… Now, we have “cloud”. If you want to instantly make your business sound legitimate, just add some kind of “cloud” service to the title and you’ll garner instant fame, at least that’s what some seem to think it will do. Don’t get me wrong, cloud computing is serious business, but as cool as it sounds to have your business “in the cloud”, where are you going to be when it all comes crashing down?

Cloud Computing’s Appeal

Some of you may be wondering what the “cloud” actually is. Isn’t a cloud a white puffy thing that floats in the earth’s atmosphere? Believe it or not, that’s the second result you’ll get if you search for “cloud” on Google. In very simple terms, the cloud is a service that is delivered to you via the internet. If you look below, you will see a representation of a laptop at the bottom of the picture. The laptop connects to the internet via it’s Internet Service Provider, which could be DSL, 4G, cable etc… The internet is represented with a cloud. The reason for this is because once you get past the physical boundaries of your home or work-space, the route that your computer’s data takes is very complex. You have probably been using cloud services for years and didn’t even realize that’s what it was called. For instance, if you use Hotmail or Gmail for your email service, then you are using software as a service. It is provided to you via the internet, rather than something being stored on your computer.

cloud

There are many things to like about cloud computing. Probably its greatest appeal is how easy it is to access your information. For instance, one of my favorite applications is Dropbox. I can create a grocery list on my laptop at home and save it to my Dropbox folder. When I go to the grocery, I use the Dropbox app to open the grocery list and do my shopping right from my phone. From a business standpoint, there are a lot of great advantages to using cloud services too. For instance, I work in the construction industry and we deal with blueprint designs all of the time. Most blueprints are designed using a program called AutoCAD and the files it creates are usually enormous in size. Even if you convert them to PDF format, the drawings are usually still to large to transfer via email. Using a service like Dropbox allows our project managers to share these files with field personnel, which saves the cost of printing the files and putting them in a truck and driving them to a job site.

Live@Edu for 7.5 Million Users–Microsoft’s Biggest Cloud Deployment Ever!

All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), the governing body for technical education in India as part of India’s Ministry of Human Resource Development, has adopted Microsoft Live@edu as one solution amongst many such initiatives with IT majors and Industries. The cloud adoption with an aim to improve technical education and prepare students for the workforce of tomorrow would see deployment over the next three months to more than 10,000 technical colleges and institutes throughout India.

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Live@edu is a hosted communication and collaboration service that offers email, Microsoft Office Web Apps, instant messaging and storage to AICTE’s more than 7 million students and nearly 500,000 faculty members, for a total reach of 7.5 million users. The numbers clearly make AICTE Microsoft’s largest cloud customer ever. The implementation is managed by Microsoft and a set of Live@edu partners. Full deployment is expected to be complete by summer 2012. In 2010, Microsoft rolled out Live@edu to some 700,000 students in Kentucky, United States which was considered the largest cloud deployment in the US at that time.

“India is seeing rapid economic activity and growth. Developing India’s youth and their skills is going to play an important role in the country’s inclusive growth. The PPP model (public-private partnership) is most essential in running and managing training institutions to address the skill gap most efficiently. I congratulate both AICTE and Microsoft on this significant milestone.”

– Mr. Kapil Sibbal, Union Minister for HRD

Live@edu is the first step in cloud computing for AICTE, as it further plans to deploy Microsoft Office 365 for education when it becomes available later this year. AICTE believes that the cloud deployment will expand students’ access to high-quality technical education and collaboration and is a step in supporting broader educational reforms. In India, both the higher education and IT industry are becoming increasingly vital to the economy.

“Microsoft’s cloud platform will make for a truly progressive ecosystem and contribute to the country’s technical education by providing a better communication and collaboration platform for institutes and students.”

– Dr. S. S. Mantha, Chairman, AICTE

Live@edu is the leading cloud suite for education, with more than 22 million people using the service worldwide (Google’s similar offering has around 14 million users) in more than 10,000 schools in over 130 countries. Live@edu is a no-cost hosted platform for student communication and collaboration. It provides students with the professional tools to prepare them for college or work and is easy to set up, administer, and manage.

Microsoft and IDC Forecast Cloud Computing To Create 14 Million Jobs By 2015

A study conducted by IDC — and commissioned by Microsoft — forecasts that spending on cloud computing will generate roughly 14 million new jobs by the year 2015, along with an additional $1.1 trillion per year in business revenues produced by “IT innovation”.

“The cloud is going to have a huge impact on job creation,” says Susan Hauser, Microsoft corporate vice president of the Worldwide Enterprise and Partner Group. “It’s a transformative technology that will drive down costs, spur innovation, and open up new jobs and skillsets across the globe.”

To visually present the information of the study, Microsoft also released an infographic that depicts cloud computing’s role in job creation in the U.S. along with the press release, as you can see above.

With an array of both consumer-focused — such as SkyDrive — and enterprise-focused cloud technologies — such as Office 365, Azure, and its upcoming Windows Server 8 release — Microsoft is certainly no stranger to the industry. And by the looks of things, they have plenty to look forward to in the coming years and cloud computing becomes more and more utilized.

What Happened to Cloud Computing?

Cloud computing has slowly but steadily become firmly integrated with almost any IT company who cares to use it. It is a strange new world that has everything on the internet. Today there are companies and there are cloud-computing companies.

Initially, cloud computing services were regarded as little more than some fad that provided interesting conversations over a coffee machine. It has become so much more. The multiple gains that companies have attained in productivity and profitability have been drivers for its use. Having everything on-the-go and being able to use the cloud for day-to-day operations has become an inevitable reality for many companies.

Some issues that are still faced in terms of security and privacy of data are being ironed out. We currently still do not know how and when cloud based companies will use the data in future. It is a relationship that is based on trust. But the line blurs when we get profits into the picture.

We have to remember that this is not a physical and tangible entity, so the issues that we will face will be more abstract. We will lose out on reliability but gain on convenience. The issues with it being 100% reliable cannot be addressed at this point of time. We have seen how downtimes with Google mail had closed down operations for almost 6 million people who were affected by it right in the middle of the work day. Nonetheless to their credit, these are anomalies in their performance. Attaining 6-sigma standard of perfection is something they must definitely dream about.

The growing competition between various cloud providers and the increasing bandwidths available to a growing number of people has set the base for the use of cloud computing. This industry is almost doubling in size every year.

For businesses, there are issues on the reorganization of existing business processes. We have so many “trends” that we forget about what to do with those that actually live through once the phase is over. There are many nay-sayers who believe that cloud computing has reached its peak and will move out of the system. As a trend, cloud computing has definitively peaked; but it is so widely used and integrated in so many current and  future products that is entirely impossible that cloud computing is being driven by hype alone.

As it is, using these services saves companies all over the world almost $13 billion in server and power costs. We cannot begin to imagine what an impact a mass migration to cloud computing will do to the IT world. Either way, the cloud is becoming our backyard. Time to brace for impact.

So whats next for cloud computing? Stay tuned.

 

How US Government Defines Cloud Computing

National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), a non-regulatory agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, is responsible for developing standards and guidelines, including minimum requirements, for providing adequate information security for all Federal agency operations and assets. These guidelines may be used by non-governmental organizations on a voluntary basis. The guidelines are not subject to copyright, although NSIT expects attribution. NIST is headquartered in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

NIST

NIST has drafted a whitepaper to provide the definition of cloud computing to enhance and inform the public debate on cloud computing. Since cloud computing is an evolving paradigm, an over-arching debate would refine its definition, use cases, underlying technologies, issues, risks, and benefits. Cloud computing is a model for enabling ubiquitous access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.

Essential Characteristics

  • On-demand self-service
  • Broad network access
  • Resource pooling
  • Rapid elasticity
  • Measured Service

The model was initially adopted by the government and industry in response to the economic slowdown a few years back. However, it is now seen as an obvious technology progression. It provides IT agility but debates hover around security, interoperability, and portability. NIST aims to shorten the adoption cycle, which will enable near-term cost savings and increased ability to quickly create and deploy enterprise applications. The cloud computing paradigm involves three key enabling technologies:

  • Fast wide-area networks
  • Powerful, inexpensive server computers
  • High-performance virtualization for commodity hardware

Service Models

  • Software as a Service (SaaS)
  • Platform as a Service (PaaS)
  • Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)

Deployment Models

  • Private cloud
  • Community cloud
  • Public cloud
  • Hybrid cloud

Data Analytics on Windows Azure

Project Daytona is designed to support a wide class of data analytics and machine learning algorithms. The project, code-named Daytona, is built on Windows Azure and employs the available Windows Azure compute and data services to offer a scalable and high-performance system for data analytics. Project Daytona is part of an active research and development project in the eXtreme Computing Group of Microsoft Research and made its debut at the Microsoft Research Faculty Summit  last week.

Researchers in a wide range of domains, such as healthcare, education, and environmental science, have large and growing data collections, and they need simple tools to help them find signals in their data and uncover insights. Project Dayton is available, as a free download, so that researchers can use it to set up their own large-scale, cloud data-analysis service on Windows Azure. Almost any application that involves data manipulation and analysis can take advantage of Project Daytona. Project Daytona explores a specific use case: Data analytics as a service on Windows Azure.

Project Daytona is designed for the cloud, specifically for Windows Azure and for cloud storage services. It consumes data with minimum overhead and with the ability to recover from failures. Project Daytona is horizontally scalable and elastic. This allows you to focus on your data exploration without having to worry about acquiring compute capacity or time-consuming hardware setup and management. Since algorithms in data analytics and machine learning are often iterative, Project Daytona provides support for iterative computations in its core runtime.

The current release of Project Daytona is a research technology preview (RTP). The team continues to tune the performance of Project Daytona and work on adding new functionality.

Microsoft’s Cloud OS To Streamline Experience Across Your Phone, Desktop & TV

I decided to skip writing about these patents because gesture patents don’t really excite me since I don’t think they should be granted. However, now that Tom at Winrumors has taken the trouble of sharing the information, I thought I’d share some details.

cloud-os

Gesture patents having cloud in their descriptions get my attention. Last time around, I came across a patent that explained custom Kinect gestures as roaming profiles (it is as cool as it sounds). Reading through patents I found the relevant cloud part that explains some very intriguing possibilities. Microsoft is rumored to be working towards a one-codebase across the Xbox, Windows Phone and Desktop/Tablet after Windows 8 and these patent applications fit in that vision. (I wouldn’t be surprised if 4 years from now I tell someone that I knew about this feature.)

The engineers try to explain how Natural User Interfaces are now being used to interact with the television (Xbox Kinect), touch phones and tablets. These screens have different user interaction experiences and so does the desktop. Microsoft hopes to have all your devices connected to a cloud server farm. This server farm will push out gesture profiles based on the device you are using (or something like that).

the central computing device is a “cloud” server farm […] this interconnection architecture enables functionality to be delivered across multiple devices to provide a common and seamless experience to the user […] Each of the multiple devices may have different physical requirements and capabilities, and the central computing device uses a platform to enable the delivery of an experience to the device that is both tailored to the device and yet common to all devices.

The cloud is illustrated as including a platform for web services. The platform abstracts underlying functionality of hardware (e.g., servers) and software resources of the cloud and thus may act as a “cloud operating system.”

For example, the platform may abstract resources to connect the computing device with other computing devices.

Accordingly, in an interconnected device embodiment, implementation of functionality of the gesture module may be distributed throughout the system. For example, the gesture module may be implemented in part on the computing device as well as via the platform that abstracts the functionality of the cloud.

As I said, the possibilities described are exciting. Nilay Patel wrote about the one Windows for all screens and the patent explains the benefits of the concept – load balancing, malware protection and performance scalability.

Microsoft’s patent also explains how they plan to implement stylus and finger touch working together in their multi-touch products. Based on the spread-size of the object touching, the system will be able to distinguish between the stylus and the fingers.

Patent Application

8 Things You Need To Know About Google Chromebook

The much awaited laptop powered by Google Chrome (a cloud-based operating system) is all set for launch on June 15.

Here are few things that you need to about the all new Chromebook.

Chromebook

How does it work?

The Chromrebook should always be connected to the Internet in order to make use of its functionalities. In other words, everything will be on cloud and you’ll need Internet to access all of the apps, documents, photos, movies etc. Installing software or updating them, making backup of files or running anti-virus checks and all other PC related tasks will be eliminated as everything will be done over the cloud.

Who will release the laptops?

Google has tied up with Samsung and Acer which will release laptops powered with Chrome OS.

The Samsung device will come with 12.1-inch screen with an 8-hour battery life and will retail for $429 (Wi-Fi enabled) and $499 (3G enabled laptop), while Acer’s device will be an 11.6-inch display and a 6.5-hour battery life. Acer’s notebook will start at $349 and up.

No storage

Since Chromebook is Internet based, all of the files and folders will be stored on the cloud. The laptops will be highly integrated with cloud services and there will be no storage space available. However, the laptop will have slots to plug in other storages devices.

Boot-up Time?

According to Google, Chromebooks will boot in about less than eight seconds. Once it is up and running it’ll check for any updates and will reboot up with the latest version.

Offilne mode?

Yes, you can work with your Chromebook if you’re not connected to the Internet. You can access Google Docs, Google Calendar and Gmail accounts without an Internet connection. (However, you won’t be updated with new notifications/mail if you’re not connected to the Internet)

Security

Chromebooks uses the principle of “defense in depth” to provide multiple layers of protection, so if any one layer is bypassed, others are still in effect. Your files and folders will be protected and will be kept safe.

Availability

Chromebooks will be available for sale from June 15.

Laptop Specs

Acer Specifications:
11.6″ HD Widescreen CineCrystalTM LED-backlit LCD
2.95 lbs. | 1.34 kg.
6 hours of continuous usage 1
Intel ® AtomTM Dual-Core Processor
Built in dual-band Wi-Fi and World-mode 3G (optional)
HD Webcam with noise cancelling microphone
High-Definition Audio Support
2 USB 2.0 ports
4-in-1 memory card slot
HDMI port
Fullsize Chrome keyboard

Samsung Specifications:
12.1″ (1280×800) 300 nit Display
3.26 lbs / 1.48 kg
8.5 hours of continuous usage 1
Intel ® AtomTM Dual-Core Processor
Built in dual-band Wi-Fi and World-mode 3G (optional)
HD Webcam with noise cancelling microphone
2 USB 2.0 ports
4-in-1 memory card slot
Mini-VGA port
Fullsize Chrome keyboard
Oversize fully-clickable trackpad
Oversize fully-clickable trackpad

Click here for more details.

Amazon’s North Virginia Data Center Goes Down, Takes FourSquare, Quora, Reddit Along With It

Amazon AWSAmazon’s Cloud Computing Platform as a Service(PaaS) solution, Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) and it’s related services, Elastic Block Storage (EBS) & Relational Database Service were severely affected today as a result of downtime in North Virginia data centers.

This incident has brought down several of Amazon’s high profile clients, including FourSquare, Reddit, Quora, Heroku and several other startups relying on EC2. The problems started at about 01:00 PDT and Amazon is still working on it to recover and bring the services back on their feet. While Amazon hasn’t yet provided the full details of the outage, they have however posted an update saying that a networking event resulted in large re-mirroring of EBS volumes in US-EAST-1 region, which is catered to by the North Virginia data center.

Amazon AWS Status

This re-mirroring resulted in significant latency, making sites hosted in this region go offline. At the time of writing this, Reddit was under emergency read-only mode, Quora & FourSquare have put up a static “We’re having technical difficulties” page, while Heroku was crawling.

Amazon’s EBS has come under fire off late due to their elevated error rates, so much so that reddit’s admin jedberg has mentioned about “figuring out ways how to not use EBS anymore”. EBS’s last outage was just about a month ago, taking reddit down for a good part of the day.

It is, however, important to note that some other services using AWS, such as Netflix & Twilio have not suffered downtime due to their use of AWS instances from multiple availability zones, ensuring that even if a data center goes down, the instances from other availability zones are able to continue serving the websites.

 

mSpot: Dropbox For Music Syncing & Streaming

mSpot is a cloud based music streaming service that lets users play their favorite songs across multiple devices like PC, Android phones and Mac.

1. Download the mSpot client for your device and install it.

2. Once the installation is finished, you will be asked to sign up. Go through the steps to sign up for a free account.

Sign Up

3. After registration is complete, you will have to choose the sync settings. You can choose to sync Windows Media Player or iTunes library or just select some specific folders. Since I am using the free plan that allows only 2GB cloud storage, I will be selecting a single folder.

Sync Foledr

4. Whenever you choose to upload a song to mSpot cloud, just copy it to the synced folder. You will notice an animated icon as the uploading starts.

Mspot Sync

If you wish to play the songs, just open your browser and point it to www.mspot.com and sign in to your account. You will now see the list of songs in your account. Double click to play them.

mSpot Player

The browser based media player is equipped with basic controls. You can create playlists, unload items from the playlist. You can also download the mSpot app for Android from the Android marketplace.

Android

Techie Buzz Verdict:

mSpot is a perfect tool to stay tuned to your favorite tracks anywhere. With 2GB free storage you can carry almost 1500 songs, which is a good score for me. If you are still not satisfied, go for the 40GB plan for just $3.99/month. I wish the service brings support other popular mobile platforms. The tool is a must for every music lover.

Techie-Buzz Rating: 4/5 (Excellent)