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Tony Pearson is a Master Inventor and Senior IT Specialist for the IBM System Storage product line at the
IBM Executive Briefing Center in Tucson Arizona, and featured contributor
to IBM's developerWorks. In 2011, Tony celebrated his 25th year anniversary with IBM Storage on the same day as the IBM's Centennial. He is
author of the Inside System Storage series of books. This blog is for the open exchange of ideas relating to storage and storage networking hardware, software and services. You can also follow him on Twitter @az990tony.
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Recently, IBM and the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) [launched an effort] using IBM's World Community Grid "virtual supercomputer" to allow laboratory tests on drug candidates for drug-resistant influenza strains and new strains, such as H1N1 (aka "swineflu"), in less than a month.
Researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch will use [World Community Grid] to identify the chemical compounds most likely to stop the spread of the influenza viruses and begin testing these under laboratory conditions. The computational work adds up to thousands of years of computer time which will be compressed into just months using World Community Grid. As many as 10 percent of the drug candidates identified by calculations on World Community Grid are likely to show antiviral activity in the laboratory and move to further testing.
According to the researchers, without access to World Community Grid's virtual super computing power, the search for drug candidates would take a prohibitive amount of time and laboratory testing.
This reminded me of an 18-minute video of Larry Brilliant at the 2006 Technology, Entertainment and Design [TED] conference. Back in 2006, Larry predicted a pandemic in the next three years, and here it is 2009 and we have the H1N1 virus.
His argument was to have "early detection" and "early response" to contain worldwide diseases like this.
A few months after Larry's "call to action" in 2006, IBM and over twenty major worldwide public health institutions, including the World Health Organization [WHO] and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], [announced the Global Pandemic Initiative], a collaborative effort to help stem the spread of infectious diseases.
One might think that with our proximity to Mexico that the first cases would have been the border states, such as Arizona, but instead there were cases as far away as New York and Florida. The NYT explains in an article [Predicting Flu With the Aid of (George) Washington] that two rival universities, Northwestern University and Indiana University, both predicted that there would be about 2500 cases in the United States, based on air traffic control flight patterns, and the tracking data from a Web site called ["Where's George"] which tracks the movement of US dollar bills stamped with the Web site URL.
The estimates were fairly close. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [H1N1 Flu virus tracking page], there are currently 3009 cases of H1N1 in 45 states, as of this writing.
This is just another example on how an information infrastructure, used properly to provide insight, make predictions, and analyze potential cures, can help the world be a smarter planet. Fortunately, IBM is leading the way.
Wrapping up this week's theme on Cloud Computing, I finish with an IBM announcement for two new products to help clients build private cloud environments from their existing Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) deployments.
IBM WebSphere CloudBurst Appliance -- a new hardware appliance that provides access to software virtual images and patterns that can be used as is or easily customized, and then securely deployed, managed and maintained in a private cloud.
IBM WebSphere Application Server Hypervisor Edition -- a version of IBM WebSphere Application Server software optimized to run in a virtualized hardware server environments such as VMware, and comes preloaded in WebSphere Cloudburst.
With more than 7,000 customer implementations worldwide, IBM is the SOA market leader. Of course, both of these products above can be used with IBM System Storage solutions, including Cloud-Optimized Storage offerings like Grid Medical Archive Solution (GMAS), Grid Access Manager software, Scale-Out File Services (SoFS), and the IBM XIV disk system.
IBM is part of the "Cloud Computing 5" major vendors pushing the envelope (the other four are Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Yahoo). In fact, IBM has a number of initiatives that allow customers to leverage IBM software in a cloud. IBM is working in collaboration with Amazon Web Services (AWS), a subsidiary of Amazon.com, Inc. to make IBM software available in the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2). WebSphere sMash, Informix Dynamic Server, DB2, and WebSphere Portal with Lotus Web Content Management Standard Edition are available today through a "pay as you go" model for both development and production instances. In addition to those products, IBM is also announcing the availability of IBM Mashup Center and Lotus Forms Turbo for development and test use in Amazon EC2, and intends to add WebSphere Application Server and WebSphere eXtreme Scale to these offerings.
For more about IBM's leadership in Cloud Computing, see the IBM [Press Release].
Continuing this week's theme on Cloud Computing, Dynamic Infrastructure and Data Center Networking, IBM unveiled details of an advanced computing system that will be able to compete with humans on Jeopardy!, America’s favorite quiz television show. Additionally, officials from Jeopardy! announced plans to produce a human vs. machine competition on the renowned show.
For nearly two years, IBM scientists have been working on a highly advanced Question Answering (QA) system, codenamed "Watson" after IBM's first president, [Thomas J. Watson]. The scientists believe that the computing system will be able to understand complex questions and answer with enough precision and speed to compete on Jeopardy!Produced by Sony Pictures Television, the trivia questions on Jeopardy! cover a broad range of topics, such as history, literature, politics, film, pop culture, and science. It poses a grand challenge for a computing system due to the variety of subject matter, the speed at which contestants must provide accurate responses, and because the clues given to contestants involve analyzing subtle meaning, irony, riddles, and other complexities at which humans excel and computers traditionally do not. Watson will incorporate massively parallel analytical capabilities and, just like human competitors, Watson will not be connected to the Internet or have any other outside assistance.
If this all sounds familiar, you might remember some of the events that have led up to this:
In 1984, the movie ["The Terminator"] introduced the concept of [Skynet], a fictional computer system developed by the militarythat becomes self-aware from its advanced artificial intelligence.
In 1997, an IBM computer called Deep Blue defeated World Chess Champion [Garry Kasparov] in a famous battle of human versus machine. To compete at chess, IBM built an extremely fast computer that could calculate 200 million chess moves per second based on a fixed problem. IBM’s Watson system, on the other hand, is seeking to solve an open-ended problem that requires an entirely new approach – mainly through dynamic, intelligent software – to even come close to competing with the human mind. Despite their massive computational capabilities, today’s computers cannot consistently analyze and comprehend sentences, much less understand cryptic clues and find answers in the same way the human brain can.
In 2005, Ray Kurzweil wrote [The Singularity is Near] referring to the wonders that artificial intelligence will bring to humanity.
The research underlying Watson is expected to elevate computer intelligence and human-to-computer communication to unprecedented levels. IBM intends to apply the unique technological capabilities being developed for Watson to help clients across a wide variety of industries answer business questions quickly and accurately.
This week's theme is alternative sourcing through Cloud Computing.
I thoughtI would start off the week interviewing an owner at a Small or Medium-sized Business [SMB] that recently adopted this approach.
Meet Fred, one of the new co-owners of my singles activities club, TucsonFun and Adventures, known affectionately as [TFA]. TFA recentlyadopted a new "Software-as-a-Service" [SaaS] for the company's Web site.
While the experience is still fresh in his mind, I thought this would be a goodopportunity to illustrate some of the concepts of alternative sourcing through Cloud Computing byusing a local example.
Give me some background on the company. How long has it been around? How many employees?
TFA has been in business since 1997, and has six employees, including an office manager, event planners and event coordinators.
How critical is "Web presence" to the business?
It's very important in several ways.First, the TFA staff plans 25 events per month, and our hundreds of members register for these events mostly through the Web site. Second, we have it connected to our bank accounts, so that it can process credit cards to collect the funds for renewals and event registrations.Third, it serves as a way to communicate upcoming events to our members, especially trips, so they can save the date on their own calendars. And fourth, the Web site serves as a "landing page"for all of our radio spots, newspaper ads, and other marketing efforts.
TFA had a Web site before, and now you have helped launch this new Web site. What motivated this change?
Our members were complaining about our 1999-era Web site. The pages were written in HTML, ASP (Active Service Page) and SQL (Structured Query Language) connected to a Microsoft SQL Server 2005 database. It was mostly text-based, with the only animation being text scrolling horizontally across the screen. The Web hostingprovider offered reliable access, but was located in New York state on East Coast time. If a member signed up for an event after 9pm or 10pm here in Tucson, it was marked as the next date, which could change the price of the event, or indicate the deadline was missed.If there were any changes to the pages or logic needed, or new columns required in the database, it gotexpensive. The TFA employees don't know how to program in ASP or SQL, so we hadto hire outside professionals each time.
Does this new Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) Web site address these problems you were trying to solve?
Yes. The new Web site is hosted by [Memberize] which provides a hosted membership management application. The TFA staff can nowmanage its membership, plan events, and communicate them with graphics, videos,and links to maps. They don't need to know ASP or SQL programming, because a built-in[WYSIWYG] editor is simple enough for anyone with standard word-processing skills. The database allowed the optionto add customized fields for each member we have in our club.
Was it difficult to switch over?
Not at all. Memberize gave us a 60-day free trial, and we needed all that time totransfer over our membership records, customize the style of the overall templatefor all pages, and then copy over the content from our old Web site. Wehad to transfer over our e-commerce service over, and contact GoDaddy to transfer the domain. The employee training required was fairly minimal.Cost-wise, it was only a few hundred dollars one-time setup fee, and then we pay a monthly fee,based on a tiered pricing structure based on the count of our active members.
How has the reaction been from your membership?
I've gotten a lot of positive feedback. The learning curve was minimal. Ourmembers found the new Web site intuitive and interactive. For example, thecalendar of events can be shown in a single month-at-a-glance format, with greendots showing the events you are signed up for.
And from your perspective, Fred, is the new Web site easy to administer?
Yes, I can now easily generate standard reports, and create my own ad-hoc reports as needed. This wasn't possible with the old system unless I hired an ASP programmer.
Hopefully, this provides some insight on how even the smallest SMB enterprises can adopt a Dynamic Infrastructure through alternative sourcing. Cloud Computing takes many forms, including Software-as-a-Service managed offerings.
People are confused over various orders of magnitude. News of the economic meltdownoften blurs the distinction between millions (10^6), billions (10^9), and trillions (10^12).To show how different these three numbers are, consider the following:
A million seconds ago - you might have received your last paycheck (12 days)
A billion seconds ago - you were born or just hired on your current job (31 years)
A trillion seconds ago - cavemen were walking around in Asia (31,000 years)
That these numbers confuse the average person is no surprise, but that it confuses marketing people in the storage industry is even more hilarious. I am often correcting people who misunderstandMB (million bytes), GB (billion bytes) and TB (trillion bytes) of information.Take this graph as an example from a recent presentation.
At first, it looks reasonable, back in 2004, black-and-white 2D X-Ray images were only 1MBin size when digitized, but by 2010 there will be fancy 4D images that now take 1TB, representinga 1000x increase. What?When I pointed out this discrepancy, the person who put this chart together didn't know what to fix.Were 4D images only 1GB in size, or was it really a 1000000x increase.
If a 2D image was 1000 by 1000 pixels, each pixel was a byte of information, then a 3D imagemight either be 1000 by 1000 by 1000 [voxels], or 1000 by 1000 at 1000 frames per second (fps). Thefirst being 3D volumetric space, and the latter called 2D+time in the medical field, the rest of us just say "video".4D images are 3D+time, volumetric scans over time, so conceivably these could be quite large in size.
The key point is that advances in medical equipment result in capturing more data, which canhelp provide better healthcare. This would be the place I normally plug an IBM product, like the Grid Medical Archive Solution [GMAS], a blended disk and tape storage solution designed specifically for this purpose.
So, as government agencies look to spend billions of dollars to provide millions of peoplewith proper healthcare, choosing to spend some of this money on a smarter infrastructure can result in creating thousands of jobs and save everyone a lot of money, but more importantly, save lives.
Short 2-minute [video] argues the case for Smarter Healthcare
For more on this, check out Adam Christensen's blog post on[Smarter Planet], which points to a podcast byDr. Russ Robertson, chairman of the Counsel of Medical Education at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, and Dan Pelino, general manager of IBM's Healthcare and Life Sciences Industry.