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Continuing this week's theme of doing important things without leaving town, I present our results foran exciting project I started earlier this year.
For seven weeks, my coworker Mark Haye and I voluntarily led a class of students here in Tucson, Arizona in an after-school pilot project to teach the ["C" programming language] using [LEGO® Mindstorms® NXT robots]. The ten students, boys and girls ages 9 to 14 years old, were already part of the FIRST [For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology] program, and participated in FIRST Lego League[FLL] robot competitions.Since the students were already familiar building robots, and programming them with a simple graphical system of connecting blocks that perform actions. However, to compete in the next level of robot competitions, FIRST Tech Challenge [FTC],we need to leave this simple graphical programming behind, and upgrade to more precise "C" programming.
Mark is a software engineer for IBM Tivoli Storage Manager and has participated in FLL competitions over the past nine years. This week, he celebrates his 25th anniversary at IBM, and I celebrate my 23rd. The teacher, Ms. Ackerman, and the students referred to us as "Coach Mark" and "Coach Tony".
This was the first time I had worked with LEGO NXT robots. For those not familiar with these robots, you can purchase a kit at your localtoy store. In addition to regular LEGO bricks, beams, and plates, there are motors, wheels, and sensors. A programmable NXT brick has three outputs (marked A,B, and C) to control three motors, and four inputs (marked 1,2,3,4) to receive values from sensors. Programs are written and compiled on laptops and then downloaded to the NXT programmable brick through an USB cable, or wirelessly via Bluetooth.
In the picture shown, an image of the Mars planetary surface is divided into a grid with thick black lines.A light sensor between the front two wheels of the robot is over the black line.
We used the [RobotC programming firmware] and integrated development environment (IDE) from [Carnegie Mellon University].The idea of this pilot was to see how well the students could learn "C". With only a few hours after class on each Wednesday, could we teach young students "C" programming in just seven weeks?
My contribution? I have taught both high school and college classes, and spent over 15 years programming for IBM, so Mark asked me to help.We started with a basic lesson plan:
A brief history of the "C" language
Understanding statements and syntax
Setting motor speed and direction
Compiling and downloading your first program
Understanding the "while" loop
Retrieving input sensor values
Understanding the "if-then-else" statement
Defining variables with different data types
Manipulating string variables
Writing a program for the robot to track along a black line on a white background.
Understanding local versus global scope variables
Writing a program for a robot to count black lines as it crosses them.
Perform left turns, right turns, and to cross a specific number of lines on a grid pattern to move the robot to a specific location.
Weeks 6 and 7
Mission Impossible: come up with a challenge to make the robot do something that would be difficult to accomplish using the previous NXT visual programming language.
At the completion of these seven weeks, I sat down to interview "Coach Mark"on his thoughts on this pilot project.
This is a practical programming skill. The "C" language is used throughout the world to program everything from embedded systems to operating systems, and even storage software. This would allow the robots to handle more precise movements, more accurate turns, and more complicated missions.
Can kids learn "C" in only seven weeks?
Part of the pilot project was to see how well the students could understand the material. They were already familiar with building the robots, and understood the basics of programming sensors and motors, so we were hoping this was a good foundation to work from. Some kids managed very well, others struggled.
Did everything go according to plan?
The first two weeks went well, turning on motors and having robots move forward and backward were easy enough. We seemed to lose a few students on week 3, and things got worse from there. However, several of the students truly surprised us and managed to implement very complicated missions. We were quite pleased with the results.
What kind of problems did the kids encounter?
Touch sensor required loops waiting for pressing. Motors did not necessarily turn as expected until more advanced methods were used. Making 90 degree left and right turns accurately was more difficult than expected.
Any funny surprises?
Yes, we had a Challenge Map representing the Mars planetary surface from a previous FLL competition that was dark red and divided into squares with thick black lines. An active light sensor returns a value of "0" (complete darkness) to "100" (bright white).However, the Mars surface had craters that were dark enough to be misinterpreted as a black line causing some unusual results. This required some enhanced programming techniques to resolve.
Did robots help or hurt the teaching process?
I think they helped. Rather than writing programs that just display "Hello World!" on a computer screen, the students can actually see robots move, and either do what they expect, or not!
And when the robots didn't do what they were expected to?
The students got into "debug" mode. They were already used to doing this from previous FLL competitions, but with RobotC, you can leave the USB cable connected (or use wireless Bluetooth) and actually gather debugging information while the robot is running, to see the value of sensors and other variables and help determine why things are not working properly.
Any applicability to the real world of storage?
We have robots in the IBM System Storage TS3500 tape library. These robots scan bar code labels, pull tapes out of shelves and mount them into drives.The programming skills are the same needed for storage software, suchas IBM Tivoli Storage Manager or IBM Tivoli Storage Productivity Center.
The world is becoming smarter, instrumented with sensors, interconnected over a common network, and intelligent enough to react and respond correctly. The lessons of reading sensor values and moving motors can be considered the first step in solutions that help to make a smarter planet.
Spend twenty hours a week running a project for a non-profit.
Teach yourself Java, HTML, Flash, PHP and SQL. Not a little, but mastery. [Clarification: I know you can't become a master programmer of all these in a year. I used the word mastery to distinguish it from 'familiarity' which is what you get from one of those Dummies type books. I would hope you could write code that solves problems, works and is reasonably clear, not that you can program well enough to work for Joel Spolsky. Sorry if I ruffled feathers.]
Volunteer to coach or assistant coach a kids sports team.
Start, run and grow an online community.
Give a speech a week to local organizations.
Write a regular newsletter or blog about an industry you care about.
Learn a foreign language fluently.
Write three detailed business plans for projects in the industry you care about.
Self-publish a book.
Run a marathon.
In 2007, 51 percent of graduating college students could find jobs in their field, and this year it has dropped to only 20 percent. If you find yourself with some time on your hands, either recently graduated or recently unemployed, consider volunteerism.Last year, I chose to donate my time and money to an innovative project called "One Laptop per Child" [OLPC]. It was one of my [New Years Resolutions] for 2008. I was actually "recruited" by folks from the OLPC after they read my [series of blog posts] on things that can be done with their now famous green-and-white XO laptop.
The first half of the year, I spent helping "Open Learning Exchange Nepal" [OLE Nepal], a non-government organization (NGO) to help education in that country. XO laptops were provided to second and sixth graders at several schools, and my assignment was to help with the school "XS" server. This would be the server that all the laptops connect to. My blog posts on this included:
Rather than [Move to Nepal], I was able to help by building an identical XS server in Tucson, and provide support remotely. This included getting the "Mesh Antennas"to be properly recognized, having an internet filter using [DansGuardian] software, and working out backup procedures.
For the second half of the year, I was asked to mentor a college student inHyderabad, India as part of the ["Google Summer of Code"] to develop an[Educational Blogger System]on the XS server. We called it "EduBlog" and based it on the popular [Moodle] educational software platform.This was going to be tested with kids from Uruguay, but sending a serverdown to this country proved politically-challenging, so instead, I [builta server and shipped it] to a co-location facility in Pennsylvania that agreed to donate the cost and expenses needed to run the server there with full internet connection. I acted as "system admin" for the box, was able to connect remotely via SSH, while Tarun, the college student I was mentoring, developed the EduBlog software. Twice the system washacked, but I was able to restore the system remotely thanks to a multi-boot configuration that allowedme to reboot to a read-only operating system image and restore the operating system and data.
The students and teachers in Uruguay were helped locally by [Proyecto Ceibal]. We were able to translate the system into Spanish, and the project was a big success, enough to convince local government to provideXO laptops to their students to further the benefits.
I get a lot of suggestions for what to put on my blog.I realize that tweets are limited to 140 characters, so pointing to a video URL without muchexplanation or warning can be dangerous. An email can at least add appropriate warnings,such NSFW (Not Safe For Work) or "sorry if this offends you". The only warning I got fora video posted to YouTube by "StorageNetworkDud" was this short email:
"Sorry about the language they have used in some translations, but not sure who put this. It was on twitter."
Fortunately, I have my browser set up not to automatically play YouTube videos. The titlehelped warn me of the content, which turned out to be a [fan-subbed] scene from a World War II movie with brown-shirted tyrannical leader of an evil empire talking to his top generals. He dismisses all but threewith "Hollis, Burke, and Twomey stay in here" followed by a lengthy recap of EMC's recent troublesin the marketplace. At least in the video, the fuhrer correctly follows Tim Sander's advice:"if you have to tell someone bad news, say it in person."
While I understand that many people don't like EMC, the #3 storagevendor in the world, this type of "geek humor" hits a new low. The video was posted over amonth ago, but in light of the recent [shooting in Washington DC], I felt it was just notappropriate to post it here.
Readers, I appreciate all the suggestions, but give me some better warning next time!
This week I am in Minneapolis, MN, so was hoping that the complicated process of moving this blog over to "MyDeveloperWorks" would happen while I was gone, but alas, that does not appear to be the case.
Meanwhile, my partner in crime, Barry Whyte, has moved his blog [Storage Virtualization]successfully over to the new server.
Perhaps next week. If all goes well, the URL links should redirect correctly, but those of you out there using feed readers might require you to re-subscribe to get the right RSS feeds.
Continuing my blog coverage of the [Forrester IT Forum 2009 conference],I will group a bunch of topics related to Cloud Computing into one post. Cloud Computing was a big topichere at the IT Forum, and probably was also in the other two conferences IBM participated in this week inLas Vegas:
The CIOs and IT professionals at this Forrester IT Forum seemed to be IT decision makers with a broader view. There was a lot of interest in Cloud Computing. What is Cloud Computing? Basically, it is renting IT capability on an as-needed basis from a computing service provider. The different levels of cloud computing depends on what the computing service provider actually provides. How do these compare with traditional co-location facilities or your own in-house on-premises computing? Here's my handy-dandy quick-reference guide:
Cloud Software-as-a-Service [SaaS], Examples: SalesForce and Google Apps.
Cloud Infrastructure-as-a-Service [IaaS], such as Amazon EC2, RackSpace.
Tradtional Co-Location facility, you park your equipment on rented floorspace, power, cooling and bandwidth.
Traditional On-Premises, what most people do today, build or buy your own data center, buy the hardware, write or buy the software, then install and manage it.
A main tent session had a moderated Q&A panel of three Forrester Analysts titled "Saving, Making and Risking Cash with Cloud Computing." Here are some key points from this panel:
Is Cloud Computing just another tool in the IT toolbox, or does it represent a revolution? The panel gave arguments for both. As a set of technology, protocols and standards, it is an evolutionary progression of other standards already in place, and an extension of methods used in co-location and time-share facilities. However,from a business model perspective, Cloud Computing represents a revolutionary trend, eliminating in some cases huge up-front capital expenses and/or long-term outsourcing contracts. PaaS and IaaS offerings can be rented by the hour, for example.
An example of using Cloud Computing for a one-time batch job: The New York Times decided to build an archive of 11 million articles, but this meant having to convert them all from TIFF to PDF format. The IT person they put in charge of this rented 100 machines on [Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2)] for 24 hours and was able to convert all 4TB of data for only $240 US dollars.
Cloud Computing can make it easier for companies to share information with clients, suppliers and business partners, eliminating the need to punch holes through firewalls to provide access.
Since it is relatively cheap for companies to try out different cloud computing offerings with little or no capital investment, the spaghetti model applies--"throw it on the wall, and see what sticks!"
What application areas should you consider running in the cloud? Employee self-service portals-Yes, ERP-Mixed, On-time batch jobs-Mixed, Email-Yes, Access Control-No, Web 2.0-Mixed, Testing/QA-Mixed, Back Office Transactions-No, Disaster Recovery-Mixed.
Different IT roles will see varying benefits and risks with cloud computing. However, by 2011, every new IT project must answer the question "Why not run in the cloud?"
There were a variety of track sessions that explored different aspects of cloud computing:
Software-as-a-Server: When and Why
This session had three Forrester analysts in a Q&A panel format. SaaS can provide much-needed relief from application support, maintenance and upgrade chores. The choice and depth of offerings is improving from SaaS providers. However, when comparing TCO between SaaS and on-premises deployments, can yield different results for different use cases. For example, a typical SaaS rate of $100 US dollars per user per month, with discounts, could be $1000 per year, or $10,000 over a 10-year period. Compare that to the total 10-year costs of an on-premises deployment, and you have a good ball-park comparison. SaaS can provide faster time-to-value, and you can easily just try-before-you-buy several alternative offerings before making a decision.
The downside to SaaS is that you need to understand their data center, where it is located, and how it is protected for backup and disaster recovery. Some SaaS providers have only a single data center, so it mightbe disruptive if it experiences a regional disaster.
Cloud IT Services: The Next Big Thing or Just Marketing Vapor?
Economic pressures are forcing companies to explore alternatives, and Cloud IT services are providingadditional options over traditional outsourcing. Only 70-80 percent of companies are satisfied with traditionaloutsourcing, so there is opportunity for Cloud IT services to address those not satisfied. Scalable, consumption-based billing with Web-based accessibility and flexibility is an attractive proposition. Tenyears ago, you could not buy an hour on a mainframe with your credit card, now you can.
Cloud technologies are mature, and there is interest in using these services. About 10 percent of companies are piloting SaaS offerings, 16 percent piloting PaaS offerings, and 13 percent investing in deploying "private clouds" within their data center. This week Aneesh Chopra, who is Barack Obama's pick as the first CTO for the US Federal Government, [stated to congressional leaders]: “The federal government should be exploring greater use of cloud computing where appropriate.”
IBM is betting heavily on their Cloud Computing strategy, has already gone through the reorganizations needed to be positioned well, and claims to have thousands of clients already. HP has some cloud offerings focused on their enterprise customers. Dell is investing and reorganizing for cloud as well.
Network Strategic Planning for Challenging Times
While not limited to Cloud Computing, companies are seeing WAN traffic doubling every 18 months, but withoutthe corresponding increases in budget to cover it. The Forrester analyst covered WAN optimization management services, hybrid Ethernet-MPLS offerings to help people transition from MPLS VPNs to Carrier-grade Ethernet.
Who should you hire for WAN optimization? Do you trust your own Telco that provides your bandwidth to help you figure out ways to use less of it? Alternatives include System Integrators and Service providers like IBM and EDS.Or, you could try to do it yourself, but this requires capital investment in gear and performance monitoring software.
New workloads like Voice over IP (VoIP) and digital surveillance can help cost-justify upgrading your MPLS VPNs to Carrier-grade Ethernet. The possibility of converging this with iSCSI and/or Fibre Channel (FC) over Ethernet (FCoE) and this can help reduce costs as well. Both MPLS and Ethernet will co-exist for awhile, and hybrid offerings from Telcos will help ease the transition. In the meantime, switching some workloads to Cloud Computing can provide immediate relief to in-house networks now. Converging voice, video, LAN, WAN and SAN traffic may require the IT departments to reorganize how the IT role of "network administrator" is handled.
Navigating the Myriad New Sourcing Models
The landscape of outsourcing has changed with the introducing of new Cloud Computing offerings. However, adapting these new offerings to internal preferences may prove challenging. The Forrester analyst suggesting being ready to try to influence their companies to adopt Cloud Computing as a new sourcing option.
Traditional outsourcing just manages your existing hardware and software, often referred to as "Your mess for less!" However, outsourcing contract law is mature and many outsource providers are large, well-established providers. In contrast, some SaaS providers are small, and the few that are largemay be fairly new to the outsourcing business. Here are some things to consider:
Where will the data physically be located? There are government regulations, such as the US Patriot Act, that can influence this decision.Many Canadian and European customers are avoiding providers where datais stored in the United States for this reason.
What is the service delivery chain? Some cloud providers in turn useother cloud providers. For example a SaaS provider might develop the software and then rent the platform it runs on from a PaaS, which in turn mightbe using offshore or co-location facilities to actually house their equipment.Knowing the service delivery chain may prove important on contractnegotiations. Clarify "cloud" terminology and avoid mixed metaphors.
What is their contingency plan? What is your contingency plan if the system is slow or inaccessible. What is their plan to protect against data loss during disasters? What if they go out of business? Source Code Escrow has proven impractical in many cases. SLAs should provide for performance, availability and other key metrics. However, service level penalties are not a cure-all for major disruptions, loss of revenues or reputation.
How will they handle security, compliance and audits? Heavy regulatory requirements may favor dedicated resources to be used.
Who has "custodianship" of the data? Will you get the data back if you discontinue the contract? If so, what format will it be in, and will it make any sense if you are not running the same application as the cloud provider?
Will they provide transition assistance? Moving from on-premises to cloud may involve some effort, including re-training of end users.
Are the resources shared or dedicated? For shared resource environments, is the capacity "fenced off" in any way to prevent having other clients impact your performance or availability.
I am glad to see so much interest in Cloud Computing. To learn more, here is IBM's [Cloud Computing] landing page.
Forrester analysts kicked off the keynote sessions for Day 1 of the Forrester IT Forum 2009 event. The theme for this conference is "Redefining IT's value to the Enterprise."Rather than focusing on blue-sky futures that are decades away, Forrester wants to present instead a blend of pragmatic informationthat is actionable now in the next 90 days along with some forward-looking trends.
If you ask CEOs how well their IT operations are doing, 75 percent will saythey are doing great. However, if you dig down, and ask how their companies are leveraging IT to help generate revenues, reduce costs, improve employee morale, drive profits, improve customer service, or manage risks, then the percentage drops down to 30 to 35 percent.
What are the root causes of this "perception gap" in value between business and IT? Several ideas come to mind:
Some CEOs still consider IT departments as "cost centers". Rather than exploiting technology to help drive the rest of the business, they are seen as a necessary evil, an extension of the accounting department, for example.
Some CEOs consider IT's role as basically "keeping the lights on". They only notice IT when the lights go out, or other business outages caused by disruptions in IT.
IT departments measure themselves in technology terms, not business terms. CEOs and the rest of the senior management team may not be "tech savvy", and the CIO and IT directors may not be "business savvy", resulting in failure to communicate IT's role and value to the rest of the business.
This conference is focused on CIOs and IT professionals, and how they can bridge the tech/business gap. The first two executive keynote presentations emphasized this point.
Bob Moffat, Senior VP and Group Executive, IBM
Bob Moffat (my fifth-line manager, or if you prefer, my boss's boss's boss's boss's boss) is the Senior VP and Group Executive of IBM's Systems and Technology Group that manufactures storage and other hardware. He presented how IBM is helping our clients deploy smarter solutions. Globalization has changed world business markets, has changed the reach of information technology, and has changed our client's needs.To support that, IBM is focused on making the world a smarter planet, instrumented with appropriate sensors, interconnected over converging networks, and intelligent to provide visibility, control and automation.
It's time to rethink IT in light of these new developments, to think about IT in client terms, with business metrics. Bob gave several internal and customer examples, here's one from the City of Stockholm:
Covering nine square miles of Stockholm Sweden, IBM led [the largest project of its kind] for traffic congestion in Europe. To reduce congestion caused by 300,000 vehicles, the City of Stockhold enacted a "congestion fee" with real-time recognition of license plates and a Web infrastructure to collect payments. The analytics, metrics and incentives have paid off. Since August 2007, traffic is reduced 18 percent, a reduction of travel time on inner streets, and a 9 percent increase in "green" vehicles.
In addition to smarter traffic, IBM has initiatives for smarter water, smarter energy, smarterhealthcare, smarter supply chain, and smarter food supply.
Dave Barnes, Senior VP and CIO, United Postal Service (UPS)
Dave Barnes must act as the "trusted advisor" to the rest of the senior management team. UPS delivers packages worldwide. They put sensors on all of the vehicles, not just to know how fast they were driving,but also how often they drove in reverse gear, and sensors on the engines to determine maintenance schedules.Analytics found that driving in reverse was the most dangerous, and by providing this information to the drivers themselves, the drivers were able to come up with their own innovative ways to minimize accidents.This is one role of IT, to provide employees the information they need to enable them to be better at their own jobs.
Dave also mentioned the importance of collaborating across business units. Their "Information Technology Steering Committee (ITSC)" has 15 members, of which only three are from the IT department. This helped deploy social media initiatives within UPS. For example, Twitter has been adopted so that senior management can get unfiltered customer feedback. This is perhaps another key role of IT, to flatten an organization from cultural hierarchies that prevent top brass up in the ivory tower from hearing what is going wrong down on the street. Too often, a customer or client complains to the nearest employee, and this may or may not get passed up accurately along the chain of command. Twitter allowed executives to see what was going on for themselves.
Dave also covered the "Best Neighbor" approach. If you were going to build a deck in your back yard, you might ask your neighbors that have already done this, and learn from their experience. Sadly, this does not happen enough in IT. To address this, UPS has a "Tech Governance Group" that focused on business process across the organization. For example, they improved "package flow", reducing 100 million miles in the past few years.
Lastly, he mentioned that many technologists are "loners". They have a few like that, but try to hire techies who look to team across business units instead. Likewise, they try to hire business people who are somewhat tech savvy. For example, they have encouraged business employees to write their own reports, rather than requesting new reports to be developed by the IT department. The end result, the business people get exactly the reports they want, faster than waiting for IT to do it. Another role for IT is to provide end-users the tools to make their own reports.
(Dave didn't mention what tools these were, but it sounded like the Business Intelligence and Reporting Tools [BIRT] that IBM uses.)
These two sessions were a great one-two punch to the audience of 600 CIOs and IT professionals. First, IBM sets the groundwork for what needs to be done. Then, UPS shows how they did exactly that, adopting a dynamic infrastructure and got great results. This is going to be an interesting week!
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.
Wrapping up this week's theme on IBM's Dynamic Infrastructure® strategic initiative, we have a few more goodies in the goody bag.
First item: Dave Bricker shows off the XIV cloud-optimized storage at Pulse 2009
Second item: Rodney Dukes discusses the latest features of the DS8000 disk system at Pulse 2009
Third item: IBM launches the [Dynamic Infrastructure Journal]. You can read the February 2009 edition online, and if you find it useful and interesting, subscribe to learn from IBM's transformation experts how to reduce cost, manage risk and improve service.
Whether or not you attended the IBM Pulse 2009 conference, you might enjoy looking at the rest of the series of videos on [YouTube] and photographs on [Flickr].
It seems like [only yesterday] I was talking about IBM's strategic initiatives for the New Enterprise Data Center, including the launch of asset and service management at [Pulse 2008] in Orlando, Florida.
This week, my colleagues are at [Pulse 2009] in Las Vegas, Nevada. (I'm not there this time, so stop asking all my colleagues where I am!)Obviously, a lot has change in the last 12 months: the world's financial economy has collapsed, our delicate environment continues to unravel, and a new US President was elected to fix all that was broken by the former occupant. As a result, IBM's strategy has evolved beyond just data centers for large enterprises.
I can't think of a better time to emphasize the need for a more dynamic infrastructure. And this is not just focused on IT operations, but smarter business infrastructure as well, as the two now are very much intertwined. Everything from smarter healthcare, smarter telecom, smarter retail, smarter distribution, smarter transportation, and smarter financial services. IBM's [Dynamic Infrastructure@reg;] is one of four strategic initiatives to help build a smarter planet.
Let's take a quick look at the key benefits:
Do you remember back to the days that the IT department was like the accounting department in the back office, merely recording what happened in a series of transactions? Not anymore! Today, IT is front and center of most businesses, helping to generate revenue, drive innovation, and provide better customer service. We are finding a convergence between the physical world of running business with the digital world of IT. Intelligence is everywhere, embedded in systems and operations throughout, not just in a data center.
Imagine only 10-15 years ago the primary concern for IT operations was the cost of hardware. Now, thanks to[Moore's law], hardware is cheaper, but other IT budget costs like labor, management software, power and cooling costs are growing faster and becoming more predominant factors. IBM recognizes that you must consider thetotal cost of ownership, not just the acquisition cost of new hardware. But again, this isn't just reducing the costs of IT, but making more effective use of IT resources to reduce costs everywhere else, in schedulingtransportation, in managing manufacturing assets, and so on.
While the world feels much safer now that Barack Obama has taken over, there are still risks and threats out there, and businesses large and small have to manage them. Economic swings like we have experienced lately help weed out those companies that had fixed costs and static infrastructures, in favor of those with more variable costs and dynamic infrastructures. When the marketplace slows down, can your business "dial down" its operations to match? And when the recession is over and business is booming again, can your business "ramp up" fast enough to take on new opportunity? With IBM's Cloud Computing, companies can minimize their fixed investments and use a variable amount of computing as business needs change dynamically.
To learn more about Dynamic Infrastructure, read the IBM [Press Release].
When I was a kid, I used to love old spy movies where they would hide a small microchip or microfiche behind the stamp on a letter or postcard. "Yeah right," I would think to myself, "how much information could that little thing possibly hold."On their post[Bringing the "New Intelligence" Down to Earth: Intro to Semantic Web, Internet-of-Thing], My fellow IBM bloggers Jack Mason and Adam Christensen pointed me to a crazy new product called "Mir:ror" that connects to your PC or laptop.
At first, I thought it was a another product spoof, like Onion News Networks'video of the [Apple MacBook Wheel] that eliminatesthe need for a keyboard.But no, this product is real, from a company called [Violet]. The mir:ror, the internet-connected rabbits, and the tiny postage stamps called "ztamps" with embedded RFID chips that allow everything to be interconnected.I can see a lot of interesting uses for the ztamps. Squishing CD-romsor memory sticks inside presentation folders was always awkward. Butthese are small, flat and discrete. I don't know how many GBs of storage each ztamp holds, but they look cool, don't they?
Just another example of becoming a smarter planet!
IBM's emphasis on "Information Infrastructure" is to help organizations get the right information, to the right people at the right time. This helps them to have the right insights, make the right decisions, and develop the right innovations needed for the challenges at hand.
As the planet got smaller and flatter, IBM led the way. Now, as the planet needs to get smarter--with more efficient health care, energy distribution, financial institutions, and IT infrastructures--IBM will once again take the lead.