Thursday, 27 August 2015

Ashley Madison and the Data Protection Act

More than a few eyebrows were raised earlier this year when hackers revealed they had breached the Ashley Madison adult dating site and stolen personal data relating to tens of millions of subscribers. Things were made worse when that data was finally dumped online a couple of weeks ago. The data dump has already led to two possible suicides as well as plenty of PR trouble for celebrities, politicians, and business professionals. It has even led the Information Commissioners Office to issue a warning to journalists.

The Information Commissioners Office’s (ICO) Group Manager for Technology, Simon Rice, published a blog post on the agency's website on August 21 letting it be known that accessing and publishing the Ashley Madison data dump may not be allowed simply by claiming the journalism exemption of the 1998 Data Protection Act. The Information Commissioners Office offers a detailed explanation of how and when the journalism exemption can be applied to personal data.

Rice says that in cases where the journalism exemption cannot be claimed, and that will be the case most of the time, accessing the data dump information becomes a violation of individual privacy and the Data Protection Act. Any publication of that data would be a further violation of the law. Rice encourages any journalist who believes the exemption applies to their activities to consult with the Information Commissioners Office before accessing or publishing the data.

Protecting Consumers and Their Privacy

When the government implemented the Data Protection Act in 1998, the purpose was to bring the UK data protection laws in line with earlier European directives from 1995. The goal of lawmakers was to prevent the invasion of privacy through the investigation, analysis, or publication of personal data by parties with no legal or legitimate need for that information. The Data Protection Act applies across the board to individual data communications, website data mining, data centres and their day-to-day operations, and every other instance in which personal data is collected and stored.

The Information Commissioners Office is currently working with Canadian officials to make sure the Data Protection Act is strictly adhered to in the UK in light of the Ashley Madison breach. They are determined that no illegal exhibition of data will go unanswered. Hopefully, they will be able to make good on this commitment.

On a broader scale, the Ashley Madison hack should be a wake-up call to consumers all across the UK and, for that matter, the world. Although some may disagree with the intent and content of the Ashley Madison website, the activities of both the site's owners and members is legal under Canadian law. A moral or philosophical disagreement with the content of the website is not sufficient reason for hackers to steal and publish personal information having to do with upwards of 37 million people.

This attack is less about Ashley Madison and more about the fact that we are all vulnerable to such malicious activity. If this can happen to Ashley Madison users, it can happen to each and every one of us.


Monday, 24 August 2015

Micro data centres: Rubik’s Cube of the Industry

Every once in a while a product comes along that breaks through industry standards.  In toys, for example, it’s not the usual suspects like Barbie or Monopoly – the biggest seller was Rubik’s Cube with 350 million units in just a few years.  In the data centre industry, it’s micro data centres.

Hundreds of millions of units is a stretch for now, but these new solutions are creating a buzz and there is speculation that they will be widely deployed.

Micro data centres are contained, secure computing environments from 1 to 100 kW. They ship in one enclosure and include all necessary power, cooling, security and associated data centre infrastructure management tools (DCIM). They also include all the storage, processing and networking necessary to run applications.

Another advantage — micro data centres are assembled and tested in a factory environment. This is, in part, because of their physical size, as virtualized IT equipment in cloud architecture that used to require 10 IT racks can now fit into one.

Servers, storage and networking equipment are also being integrated with software for more of an out of the box experience. This all reduces latency, helping to meet business or critical needs and speeds deployment for competitive edge and security. In many cases, micro data centres can utilize “sunk costs” in facility power (switchgear) and cooling (chillers or DX) to be more cap-ex friendly as well.

Micro data centres are ideal for colocation and can sit at the edge of network infrastructures. Use cases will be particularly relevant in manufacturing and retail, and in enterprise and industrial settings.

A Rubik’s cube has 43 quintillion different possible configurations and it would take 1400 trillions of years to go through them all.  Data centres have fewer, but untold structure possibilities as well, and businesses must meet demands as quickly as possible. With seemingly endless possibilities, micro data centres are the Rubik’s cube of our industry.

Guest blog by Steven Carlini, Senior Director, Data Centre Global Solutions, Schneider Electric

Friday, 21 August 2015

Is Technology a Job Destroyer or Creator?

There are some critics of technology that believe humanity could be threatening its existence by creating artificial intelligence that could eventually make machines interested in their own survival. They may have a point. However, artificial intelligence aside, technology has not been the threat it has been made out to be for generations. It has actually been very good for society by making the things we do easier. It has even created more jobs.

Technology is often seen as a job killer because it is viewed only in the short-sightedness of the here and now. Nevertheless, is technology really so bad? Economists at Deloitte wanted to know once and for all, so they undertook an extensive research project looking at data stretching back to 1871. They looked at census records from England and Wales, among other data, to determine the kinds of jobs people were doing in the midst of advancements in technology. To the surprise of many, the research shows technology to be very favourable.

For example, consider automation in the agricultural industry. The advent of modern machinery not only paved the way for replacing horse-drawn ploughs with motorised tractors, but it also enabled farmers to work extensive areas of land without the need for additional labourers. This was hailed as job-killing technology at the time. But what happened?

Equipment manufacturers needed to hire workers to manufacture the new tractors that farmers needed. Thus, new jobs were created. Automation also made farming cheaper, causing a drop in food prices. People then had more money to spend on other things, thus stimulating the economy and giving rise to new services and products and the jobs necessary to produce them.

According to the Deloitte research, the number of farmers, laundry workers, and other manual labourers has fallen drastically in England and Wales since the late 19th century. Farming labour fell 95%; the laundry industry went from 200,000 workers in 1901 (with a population of 32.5 million) to 35,000 in 2011 (with a total population of 56.1 million). By contrast:

·        nursing and auxiliary positions are up 909%
·        teaching and educational support positions up 580%
·        welfare, housing and social service positions up 183%
·        home care worker positions up 168%.

Technology Changes for the Better

The Deloitte report is far too extensive to cover all the details here, but the results are clear: technology has changed things for the better. It is made commercial operations more efficient, management more effective, and infrastructure more productive. The improvements of technology also give us more disposable income that enables society to enjoy a better standard of living. Moreover, with that better standard of living come new products and services that lead to continued economic expansion.

Technology may be a job killer inasmuch as it eliminates the need for labour intensive work, but it creates more jobs than it destroys. We need not be afraid of it until the day we start making it intelligent enough to see to our disposal.

Monday, 17 August 2015

The cloud revolution: Driving efficiencies in 2015 and beyond

We live in a true information age, with cloud-based services taking a firm precedent over traditional IT networks. Terms like “big data”, “internet of things” (IoT), “cyber-security” and “cloud” are frequently used when talking about the dominance of data in the world. Consumers are becoming more information-hungry than ever, devouring social media applications, shopping, banking and working online.

In light of this, organisations are now making plans to address the explosion of enterprise data and how this will affect data-centre operations. Indeed, statistics show that the UK is set to become the biggest data-centre market in Europe by 2020.

By its very nature, the cloud is more efficient than using traditional servers, as it offers a flexible and scalable way of working. By 2017, world spending on the cloud is set to reach more than $100billion, a figure which will more than likely increase as businesses see the benefits of storing information digitally. Efficiency is vital in this data-driven age, with the need to work quickly and with minimum downtime. Even the shortest of power failures can result in large financial losses for a business and so is something that should be prepared for as part of enterprise life. Smart businesses get ready for these instances of downtime by having uninterruptible power supply (UPS) equipment in place.

Explaining this, Leo Craig, general manager of Riello UPS Ltd, says: “When the mains power fails, the UPS kicks in to provide instant emergency power – running for a few vital minutes to bridge the gap between emergency generators starting or to allow a controlled shutdown. It also corrects a number of other power problems, such as surge issues, sags and power spikes which are equally as devastating on vital, sensitive equipment.”

The driving force behind the green agenda

The UK government has made clear its commitment to reduce energy consumption by the year 2020. This presents a huge challenge, as data centres storing cloud data typically have power densities more than 100 times that of a typical office building. But no longer can businesses simply tick a box on a form to say they are energy efficient – they must now comply with legislation. The Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme (ESOS) obligates large companies to have four-yearly energy audits from which detailed reports on energy use and the efficiency of their organisation are produced.

“ESOS applies to businesses with more than 250 employees or less than 250 employees and an annual turnover exceeding £40million,” says Craig. “Although it should be noted that businesses which are approved to the energy management standard, ISO 50001, do not need to comply or take any actions under ESOS or need ESOS audits. However, they are still required to register with ESOS.”

Another green scheme to encourage businesses to invest in approved energy saving technologies is the Department for Energy and Climate Change’s Energy Technology List (ETL). This is a list of products which may be eligible for 100 per cent tax relief under the Enhanced Capital Allowance scheme for energy saving technologies.

“Businesses choosing energy efficient technology from the list can claim tax relief and effectively write off the entire cost of the equipment,” adds Craig. “Riello UPS’s Multi Sentry range features on the list – enabling businesses to claim tax relief of over £52,000 for the largest-sized unit in the range listed.”

Choosing the eco-efficient UPS

Many UPS designs are now built with environmental considerations in mind and there are also new ways of using the devices to save energy. Many are now smart-grid ready and can be integrated with the National Grid. At times of peak demand, the UPS can go off-grid and use energy already stored up to keep the data centre running. Using Lithium Ion (Li-ion) batteries with a UPS also presents an opportunity to use the UPS as an energy accumulator, allowing the data centre to again use stored power.

There is certainly industry uptake in the notion of energy storage. Electric car giant Tesla hit the headlines when it announced a Lithium-Ion (Li-ion) Powerwall battery system for storing locally generated electricity. Experts say this technology has the potential to revolutionise the energy systems for homes and businesses.

Maintaining efficiency levels

As with all IT equipment, regular maintenance is an essential part its life – and never more so than for a UPS which needs regular replacement of consumable items such as batteries and fans. Essentially, how a UPS system is maintained over its lifetime will greatly affect its efficiency, how it performs and the length of its useful life.

While planning in regular maintenance inspections for equipment, it is important to consider who carries out these inspections. Within the market there are a number of third-party companies offering maintenance services on UPS equipment who claim to be trained and capable of working on critical power protection systems. But in actual fact, many are not competent to complete the work and some do not even have access to recommended spares. To combat this problem, Riello UPS created a comprehensive network of qualified service engineers designed to protect customers who require competitive third-party servicing and approved spares for their UPS. The Certified Engineers Programme enables customers to cost-effectively check if their chosen maintainers are fully trained and approved to carry out the work on their essential protection systems.

Feeding a power-hungry future

In a world facing uncertainty in its power supply, technologies such as UPS will be key to maintaining continuous operation, particularly for businesses. This technology not only has the power to protect information and equipment but can also smooth the electricity supply and act as an energy generator by feeding power back into the National Grid. If businesses embrace these technologies they will help to power a greener future and a more secure energy supply – keeping the lights shining brightly on business in Britain.

Guest blog by Riello UPS Ltd

For more information please visit or contact Rebecca Blackwell at

Thursday, 13 August 2015

China Working to Overcome Power and Cooling Challenges

Chinese data centre builders are finding themselves in a classic Catch-22 situation.  They are intent on designing new facilities with power and cooling focused on green initiatives in accordance with emission reduction goals, yet the pollution in many regions of China is so severe that it is unwise to use outside air for cooling purposes.  Designers are working hard to overcome such challenges in order to make sure their new facilities are in line with the latest green energy standards.

One such company is currently undertaking extensive research at facilities located in China and the US Silicon Valley. Chief architect of Baidu, Ali Haeydari, recently spoke at a San Francisco data centre conference where he explained the crux of the problem in China.

According to Haeydari, most of the development in China exists in the cities and towns in the eastern portion of the country, cities such as Shanghai and Beijing.  As a result, the most serious pollution problems are also found in those cities.  As new data centres are going up in these primarily industrial and commercial areas, builders have to contend with dirty air that cannot be used for cooling purposes.

Beijing provides a clear illustration of the problem at hand.  Some of the more common pollutants in the local air include things such as sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide; two substances that are terribly corrosive to highly sensitive computer equipment.  If that air were to be pumped into a data centre to keep servers cool, over time it would damage the equipment.  The amount of money spent on replacing damaged equipment would make cooling in this way too cost prohibitive.

Several Possible Options

Haeydari told the conference that one of the options his company is looking into was that of using different methods of air scrubbing.  This technology calls for using filtration and water and chemical spraying to remove pollutants from the outside air.  It is technology that works very well, but it is expensive and requires extra money and equipment to control humidity levels.

Baidu is also researching the possibility of other cooling solutions that do not require outside air.  One example cited by Haeydari is a liquid-cooling solution that uses heat exchanger coils mounted underneath server racks.  It can be controlled and modified according to the volume of equipment present on any given rack.

Even if Baidu gets the cooling issue solved in the near future, they still face the prospect of high energy prices and low power density levels for server racks.  They will have to address those problems as well.

China is investing a lot of time and resources into building its network infrastructure and data centre volume.  They must do so while trying to balance green energy goals with the need to compete in a global marketplace that is advancing at lightning fast speeds.  Will they be able to overcome serious air pollution and energy problems, or will they eventually fail to compete in the global marketplace?