Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Google Glass Competitors Beginning to Emerge - Will It Matter?

When Google first announced their plans for a wearable computer headset a number of years ago, the world's techno-geeks went berserk over the thought of being able to wear their computers on their faces.  Nevertheless, reality came shining through when Google's prototype hit the streets in 2012.  It turns out that Google Glass is not all some expected it to be.  So why are we seeing a number of competitors starting to emerge?

According to ZDNet's Charlie Osborne, competition for head-mounted displays (does such competition really exist?) is all about fashion rather than technology.  Osborne cites US-based tech manufacturer Laforge, and its Icis headset, as an example.  Apparently, the only bad thing Google Glass has going for it is the fact that it looks like a tech gadget rather than a pair of fashionable eyeglasses.

Laforge hopes to compete directly with Google by providing a head-mounted display that no one will ever know is capable of taking your picture or recording video.  As far as unsuspecting bystanders are concerned, you are just wearing fashionable eyewear.  So what if the frames are little bulky?  That might just be the latest thing out of Hollywood.

All kidding aside, Laforge is very serious about putting out a headset that will compete directly with Google Glass.  So much so that they have begun an $80,000 fund-raising campaign via Indiegogo – to date, they have raised about 10% of their goal.

Another big difference with the Icis product is that it puts the display directly in the line of sight.  Users will be looking through what appear to be a standard pair of eyeglasses, but with a computer display overlay that does not result in the unnatural eye movement that would give away what you're wearing.  Laforge believes that this is the perfect way to create a headset display that’s incredibly discreet.

Security Concerns


What has not changed is the fact that head-mounted displays still come with plenty of security concerns.  It is not that consumers are worried about someone at the next table accessing IT services or e-mail during dinner; they are worried about becoming the subject of someone's next reality exhibition on social media.  They are worried about unauthorised photography and videography in places where a reasonable expectation of privacy exists.  In simple terms, people are afraid that head-mounted displays would allow them to be spied on at will.

When you consider what the US National Security Agency has done, it is a reasonable concern.  There is no way to know if the person on the other side of the head-mounted display is doing something he or she's not supposed to do.

Google Glass and any future competing products sound like a great idea in concept, but this kind of technologically advanced networking might not be so grand in reality.  Many of us seriously question whether products like this will have any commercial viability at any point in the near future.  Some believe they will – others, not so much.  We suppose that only time will tell…

Sources:

ZDNet – http://www.zdnet.com/does-this-headset-look-like-google-glass-no-thats-the-point-7000026496/

Thursday, 20 February 2014

IBM Test Boosts Internet Speeds and Sets Record

IBM stunned the networking world late last week after setting a record for Internet data transfer speeds. They did so with a brand-new device that is able to boost speeds to up to 400 GB per second by improving data communications between data centres and cloud environments.  In addition, their device can achieve these remarkable speeds even at low power.

According to sources, IBM presented their analogue-to-digital converter (ADC) at the recent International Solid-State Circuits Conference (ISSCC) in San Francisco.  The tests they conducted showed data transfer speeds nearly 4 times faster than anything now being used.  At a maximum speed of 400 GB per second, the average ultra-HD film could be transferred over a fibre network in a matter of seconds.

IBM and its research partners have achieved their high-speed goals by creating hardware and software that can convert analogue signals into digits.  Their converter can also equalise digital signals across extensive fibre networks in order to reduce bottlenecks within the system.  It is similar to the idea of automating vehicle traffic on congested roads in order to prevent incidents that would disrupt traffic.

The project is being driven by the ever-increasing need for faster data speeds.  Between cloud computing, virtualisation and the concept of Big Data, the amount of information being transferred across the world's networks has increased some 20 million times in the last two decades.  Higher transfer speeds are essential if we are to keep up.

The trick to making ADC workable as an everyday technology is making sure it is precise.  In other words, digital converters transform analogue signals to numbers based on an approximation of the correct combination of digits.  If the approximation is not correct, converting the data back to a usable form at the other end becomes more difficult.

IBM hopes to increase the amount of web traffic we are capable of accommodating with their ADC technology substantially.  If they succeed, they will be opening the door to many global networking possibilities.

Reaching the Limit


As technology continues to grow at breakneck speed, one must ask whether we will ever reach the limits of what we can do. For example, no mode of human transportation has an unlimited potential in terms of the speeds it can reach.  At some point, every vehicle we have ever created reaches a speed at which it becomes unsafe to operate.  Until we overcome some fundamental principles of design and engineering, we have reached the limit of how fast we can travel.  Will we ever see that same kind of limit for data transfers?


The fact that the IBM technology approximates digital data when converting analogue signals suggests that some limits remain.  Until that approximation is replaced by exact replication, there will always be some data 'noise' capable of corrupting the stream of information.  Such noise is something that cannot be afforded when you're talking about highly critical data important to things like security and financial stability.  Nevertheless, we shall see…

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Brussels Finally Joins the 4G Era

Imagine working at the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, knowing you had no access to 4G Internet even as the rest of Belgium was enjoying it.  That has been the scenario in the Belgian capital for quite a while, thanks to regulations that prevented wireless data communications providers from installing the technology necessary for 4G networking.  However, things have finally changed.

Brussels and her residents finally joined the 4G era as Proximus began its rollout of a brand-new LTE network.  It will be a year before everyone in the city has access, but at least the change is now underway.  It is unfortunate that the situation required intervention from EC vice president Neelie Kroes in order to be resolved.

The problem in Brussels was not related to infrastructure or hardware limitations.  It was the direct result of regulations that did not allow for the installation of the towers and antennae needed to provide 4G access.  Those towers exceed the 3 volts per metre output cap currently in place within city limits.

The lack of 4G access in the city that hosts the European Commission eventually became a political and public image problem that the EC could not ignore. Now it appears that the European Parliament is ready to institute a new ordinance tripling the allowable output to 6 volts per metre.  In anticipation of the new ordinance, service providers are making plans to get their antennae up and running.

Despite the good news, telcos are warning that citywide 4G access is far from a done deal.  They still face the prospect of gaining all the necessary permits required to place towers and antennae in the right locations. Provided there are no more delays, they expect the rollout to be complete by early next year.

Regulatory Update Needed


It is ironic to note that a prohibitive regulatory environment in the European capital prevented the EC from joining the rest of the world in high-speed data communications.  The 3 volt per metre limit on communication tower output is 200 times lower than what is recommended by both the World Health Organisation and the European Union, yet it took a handful of EC politicians getting upset before any action was taken.  Should things have really come to that?

If Europe is to lead the way in pushing global communications into the future, the regulatory environment across the continent needs to be flexible and as easy to change as possible.  It should not take an embarrassing situation like the one we have seen in Brussels to make the powers that be understand how stifling unnecessary regulation is to innovation.  These types of scenarios only hurt our efforts to maintain our position as world leaders in high-speed Internet, IT services and other technologies.


As for the residents of Brussels, we are happy for them and their newfound access to 4G.  A year from now, everyone living in the city will be enjoying all the benefits of 4G Internet, including higher data speeds and greater access to on-demand Internet services. 

Friday, 14 February 2014

Guest blogger Terry Vergon's "Building Mission Critical Facilities Organizations"

Dictionary.com says that “culture” is “the behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group.” But if you examine the process of culture – or how culture works – you find that culture is the set of shared values that drives common behaviors and goals. This is why culture plays a vital role in mission-critical organizations: Your culture is the reason people act and behave the way they do.
Mission-critical organizations are differentiated by their performance, which is a reflection of the organization’s culture (behaviors and beliefs or philosophies). The high-performing mission-critical organization values the responsibility, authority, and respect/appreciation that they derive from accomplishing tough jobs. By living the motto “Failure is not an option,” they accomplish goals with a unique perspective. They are extremely risk averse. Not to say that they won’t try to accomplish the impossible or merely tough to do, but rather they will work to mitigate all the risk so that these tasks have the greatest probability of success.
How to decide on culture
When it comes to mission-critical facilities, what values and, hence, what culture do you want?  What should a leader look for, what actions should the leader take, and what values are critical to this type of organization’s success?
Each organization has a unique mission — so, for this exercise, let’s assume you are running a data center where failure of the facilities would be very detrimental to the health of the company. For this type of organization, it’s all about risk mitigation; so what are the values and behaviors that support risk mitigation?
  • Attention to detail – In an engineering setting, very small changes can signal impending system failure. You need people who pay attention to detail, who intrinsically understand why it’s important to make sure all the Ts are crossed and the Is are dotted. They like hobbies where the devil is in the details – restoring cars, flying airplanes, developing software, and fine woodwork to name a few.
  • Pride in one’s work – These people will literally sign their names to their work product.  They associate their performance with their self-image. They are proud of what they have accomplished and are willing to share their accomplishments with you … because in their minds, it’s who they are. Because of this, they become their own taskmasters with perfection most often being the only acceptable goal. This sounds like the kind of people I would want running my multi-billion-dollar data center.
  • Curiosity – Along with the attribute of paying attention to detail, curiosity becomes very powerful when averting failure.  People that pay attention to detail notice things like a slight change in sound, and a curious person is driven to find out why it failed.  When a pump fails, they investigate why … and learn how to prevent it.  Curiosity may have killed the cat – but in these situations, it can save the data center.
  • Constant learning – All this curiosity drives constant learning.  While they may not have been to college or any school past a secondary education, they are constantly learning.  They read constantly – manuals, websites, books, and pretty much anything they can. Their favorite channel is the Science Channel. They will trace out pipes just to know where they go and what they do. With data centers normally being such very large, complex places, wouldn’t you want someone that is constantly learning about it?
  • Teaching – Most data centers don’t have a full training organization that supports them.  Many times training is relegated to vendors or the management staff. This daunting task is made much easier when the staff cross-trains themselves. Most great mission-critical people I know love to teach and share. They believe it makes the organization stronger and better able to handle any emergency. I agree.
  • Honesty – Honesty is a vital value that must be held by the staff.  They need to hold honesty above all. When something doesn’t go as expected, it is critical to understand exactly what went wrong and how to correct it. Being honest is the only way to really correct the actual problem. People that I have met in mission-critical operations are honest, usually brutally so. Would you want them to be any other way?
While definitely not a comprehensive list, these are some of the values that support risk mitigation in this type of organization. These values also drive behaviors that help organizations accomplish their goals efficiently. They drive behaviors that help mission-critical organizations perform successfully.
Where does organizational culture come from – and who decides?
Who decides what the culture will be for an organization? From an overall organizational perspective, leadership defines and sets the culture for their organization through their own behavior, their acceptance of (or lack of response to) the group’s behaviors, and the values that they support and foster. But what happens when you hire people?  How does hiring affect the desired culture?
People naturally bring their own “culture” with them. This personal culture is based, like the organization’s, on their own values and beliefs.  Personal culture is what drives each person’s behavior. This also means that if you want the person you are hiring to accept the culture of the organization, they either must come with those values and beliefs already or you have to get them to change. From experience, I can tell you it’s easier to hire people with the right culture to begin with, so hiring becomes a very important component in developing the culture of your organization.
Culture is vital to mission-critical organizations.  It’s what drives the decision-making process, which in turn drives people’s actions.  And when it comes down to it, actions define the organization’s performance. So if you need to improve performance, culture is an important place to start.
Guest blog by industry veteran Terry Vergon

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Google Glass Being Considered by New York Police

When the first test versions of Google Glass were shipped to techno-geeks for testing in 2012, there was plenty of speculation as to whether the head-mounted computer devices had any real, practical value.  Now it turns out at least one American police agency thinks some legitimate value might be there.

According to various sources, the New York City Police Department now has two Google Glass devices in its possession, actively investigating whether they have any potential for law enforcement applications. The devices were acquired as part of a normal practice of investigating the viability of new technologies.

Police spokespersons have not revealed anything about how Google Glass is being looked at for police work.  The department also has not said whether or not the devices have gone with officers on patrol and, if so, whether tests are being confined to a limited number of officers.

Should the police agency find some practical use for Glass, significant training would need to be implemented in order to make sure such use does not violate America's due process laws or any number of civil rights laws.  That seems to be a tricky proposition at any level.

Raising Legitimate Concerns


Those keeping a watchful eye on the NY Police Department have raised some legitimate concerns regarding head-mounted computer displays like Google Glass.  Among those concerns are:

  • Privacy – A Google Glass wearer in Seattle, Washington was asked to leave a local restaurant this past December because he refused to remove his Glass device. The restaurant was concerned about customer privacy issues. Those same issues will undoubtedly come up should police officers begin wearing Google Glass devices on patrol. There will simply be no way to know whether officers are surveilling without cause.

  • Distraction – There is much debate over whether or not a head-mounted display could be a distraction when driving.  Knowing what we know about mobile phones in relation to road crashes, it is hard to believe drivers would not be distracted.  Is it smart to have police officers driving patrol vehicles while wearing Glass?

  • Security – The risk of a police issued Google Glass device being misplaced or stolen is rather high when you consider the data available to police officers would become instantly available to whoever possessed the device – at least until an officer could notify someone to lock the device out.  Moreover, while the threat already exists via car-mounted laptop computers, it would be a lot easier to get hold of a head-mounted unit.

We can easily see the potential of the Google Glass device in police work.  It could streamline data communications, give officers greater access to data in the cloud and make some of the routine paperwork tasks more streamlined through automation however the risks associated with the devices seem too unreasonable to take at this time.  Until Google addresses those risks, we do not expect police agencies to adopt the technology for routine use.

Sources:
1.     http://www.techweekeurope.co.uk/news/new-york-138707
2.     Mail Online – http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2516417/Nick-Starr-rants-Seattle-cafe-bans-wearing-Google-Glass.html


Monday, 10 February 2014

Cable Calls for New Cyber Security Measures

Business Secretary Vince Cable called for new cyber security measures in response to a growing threat against the UK's IT systems.  He voiced his concerns at a recent meeting of intelligence experts and government regulators.  According to Cable, potential cyber-attacks now pose a very real threat to the normal operation of the banking system, railways, mobile communications and a number of things most of us are involved in on a daily basis.

In voicing is concern, Mr Cable referenced a 2012 cyber-attack that shut down 30,000 computers belonging to Saudi Arabia's Aramco oil company. The attack was perpetrated by someone with the credentials to install a virus that wiped out a tremendous amount of data, including important corporate documents, e-mails and spreadsheets.

Cable also spoke about recent attacks experienced by a number of banks in the US.  He noted that the increasing sophistication of modern networks is creating more vulnerabilities that need more sophisticated security measures.

The Secretary told the group that consumers are demanding faster and more powerful communication systems involving everything from their hosting companies to ISPs to the local data centre on the edge of town.  And with that increased demand comes more complex systems with more vulnerabilities.  Cable stressed how important it is to make sure that “industries providing essential services such as power, telecommunications and banking are adequately protected to avoid disruption to our everyday lives.”

During the meeting, the government made three pledges regarding cyber security improvement for the future:

  • increased system testing through more live exercises
  • induction of enhanced security standards measured against GCHQ
  • increased information sharing among the various stakeholders.

Government regulators also pledged to work closely with commercial enterprises that may have significant contributions to make to national cyber security. The idea is to take advantage of all the best each stakeholder has to offer and combine it into a comprehensive cyber security plan that benefits everyone.

The IT Trade-Off


What we are seeing in regards to cyber security and advanced computer systems should not be a surprise. One of the fundamental laws of technology states that the more complex a system is the more vulnerabilities are created by that system.  It certainly holds true in the world of information technology and global network communications.  Never before have the world's IT systems been as sophisticated as they are today – never before have they been more vulnerable.

This seems to suggest that greater cooperation is needed among the public and private sectors in order to deal with ever-greater threats.  That cooperation will have to include better communication, better training and a willingness to listen to and develop new ideas, regardless of where they come from.

If we are to maintain a level of security that will prevent widespread network disruptions, we must be willing to take advantage of every opportunity that presents itself.  The government is on the right track thus far; let's hope they continue to stay on it.

Sources:


1.     BBC – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-26046720

Thursday, 6 February 2014

US Administration Unveils New Broadband Initiative for Schools

US President Barack Obama is quickly making good on his threat to use his telephone and pen to enact those parts of his second term agenda for which he is unable to secure congressional support.  His latest move has been the introduction of a brand-new initiative allegedly aimed at making sure America's poorest students have access to broadband Internet connections.  The president plans to spend some USD $3 billion to provide high-speed Internet access to some 20 million American students who do not currently have it.

In order to achieve his plan without congressional approval, Mr Obama has directed several federal agencies to divert some of their budgeted monies to the programme.  Moreover, while the US Congress can direct how much each federal agency receives in annual funding, those agencies choose how to spend the money allotted to them.

Under the plan, the Federal Communications Commission will supply the initiative with $2 billion in funding while the Department of Agriculture kicks in another $10 million.  The administration has also secured commitments from a number of commercial entities that have agreed to contribute in a variety of ways:

  • Apple will spend $100 million on laptop computers and tablets to be donated to students in poor school districts
  • AT&T will spend $100 million to provide Internet access to underfunded schools
  • Sprint will spend $100 million to provide free Internet access to disadvantaged students for four years
  • Verizon will contribute $100 million in cash to the programme
  • Microsoft will provide operating system software at deeply discounted prices

Mr Obama maintains his ConnectED programme will virtually guarantee 99% of America's students have high-speed Internet access within the next five years.  He believes the programme is vital if students are to receive a high enough level of education to compete in the global marketplace.

Where to Go from Here


On the face of it, the programme appears to be very similar to programmes already established in several European countries.  However, the larger question is where to go from here…  Over the last few decades, the United States has consistently performed poorly in terms of globally accepted educational standards.  It's hard to believe that the failure of the American education system has anything to do with a lack of broadband Internet access among poor students.

The Internet is indeed a great teaching tool and one that should be available to as many students as possible.  Nevertheless, computer networking and high-speed communications can never take the place of a solid curriculum, performance standards and personal responsibility among parents and their children.  No matter how much money the government spends on high-speed Internet access for poor students, there are deeper problems for some families that require much deeper solutions.

For now, Mr Obama has the power of the executive pen to direct federal agencies in how to spend their allotted funding however, when that funding dries up, will anything have really changed?  For the sake of America's parents and schoolchildren, we certainly hope so.

Sources:


ZD Net – http://www.zdnet.com/obama-hooks-up-new-school-broadband-plan-7000025964/

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Google's Renewable Energy Consumption Grows yet Again

The forward-thinking strategies that Google has been known for since the company's inception continue to play out all over the world, including the Nordic region.  The Internet giant recently agreed to purchase the entire output of four new Swedish wind farms in order to support its data centre in Hamina, Finland.  The data centre is located in a former paper mill that Google purchased in 2009.

In order to provide Google's power needs for the data centre, Eolus Vind AB will construct four brand-new wind farms near the Swedish towns of Alered, Mungseröd, Ramsnäs and Skalleberg.  The combined capacity of the farms is expected to be 59 MW using 29 state-of-the-art turbines.  Eolus hopes to have them operational in just over a year.

By agreeing to purchase all of the power from the four wind farms, Google does not have to compete with other industries that might be interested in getting into the game however, and more importantly, they are protecting themselves against price hikes for the next 10 years.  This allows better management of their energy budget as they continue to develop and expand the Finnish project.  Google earlier agreed to a similar deal when they purchased the entire electrical output of another wind farm in northern Sweden.

Google sees its willingness to purchase renewable energy as a way to encourage more producers to create the infrastructure needed to expand the reach of renewables.  The company said in official remarks that their renewable power strategies are enabling producers to increase the amount of electricity they add to the grid.

Perfect Environment in Nordic Region


It should be no surprise to see what Google is doing in Sweden and Finland.  The Nordic region is the perfect environment for cross-border energy deals thanks to cooperation among Nordic governments.  Over the years, the integration of Europe's energy supply has created various initiatives that make it possible for Google to purchase power just about anywhere in Europe they desire.

Thus far Google has targeted more than USD $1 billion in renewable energy projects to underpin its expanding data communications capabilities.  In addition to the Swedish project, they are working on additional projects in Germany, South Africa and the United States. That said, their Hamina data centre seems to be one of the hotbeds of the company's investments.

In addition to being primarily run on renewable energy by 2015, the data centre is also home to a revolutionary cooling system using water taken from the Bay of Finland.  The company has already invested more than $1.7 million in the ever-expanding facility, with the goal of eventually being operated on 100% renewable power.


The race toward renewables is one the entire data centre industry is now fully engaged in.  Nevertheless, at this point, it looks as though Google is way out in front.  Moreover, the more investment they make in renewable energy, the more influence they will have in future development.  So much for Google just being a search engine...