Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Amazon Web Services Building New Data Centre Wind Farm

In a bid to eventually run its entire global infrastructure using only renewable energy sources, Amazon Web Services (AWS) has just announced the latest piece of exciting data centre news. According to AWS, they have contracted with EDP Renewables to build a 100 MW wind farm in the United States to be called the Amazon Wind Farm US Central. EDP Renewables will also operate the farm as a contractor for AWS.

Current plans call for the project to be completed by sometime in 2017. All of the energy generated by the wind farm will go to the grid to supply energy for Amazon Web Service data centres. Officials expect the farm to be able to produce up to 320,000 MWh once up and running. The wind farm will be the centrepiece of current and future cloud data centres in the US AWS network.

Slow and Steady Progress

When AWS announced its ambitious renewable energy plants years ago, there was no telling how long it would take the company to finally reach a point of operating on 100% renewable energy. The company still does not have any solid dates in mind. However, they did release data earlier this year showing that they have already reached the 25% threshold. They expect at least 40% of their energy consumption to be based on renewables by the end of 2016. That number will jump considerably once the new wind farm project is online.

AWS vice president Jerry Hunter said that his company continues “to pursue projects that help to develop more renewable energy sources to the grids that power AWS data centres, and bring us closer to achieving our long-term goal of powering our global infrastructure with 100 per cent renewable energy.” He went on to explain how the new US wind farm project will help drive them closer to their goals.

New Construction in the UK

In addition to the wind farm project, AWS has also said they plan to build at least one new UK-based data centre to service those customers who are required to keep information stored domestically. Currently, AWS customers in the UK are served by cloud data centres in Ireland and Germany. The fact that multiple data centres are being used to serve customers suggests the company will be constructing more than one facility here. All eyes are on AWS to see whether the new facilities will be up and running in 2016 or 2017.

We are also interested to see how AWS will employ renewable energy strategies to their new UK data centres. Being that they have a goal of eventually being 100% renewable, it would not make sense to construct new data centres here without also finding a way to power them using alternative means. Whether that means wind, solar, water, or a combination of all three remains to be seen. Whatever the finished product, it is quite likely that AWS will be setting standards for future data centre development.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Victims Learning Even Hackers Make Coding Mistakes

We have come to think of hackers as being coding geniuses who never get anything wrong. Yet to the dismay of some victims, we are learning that even the best hackers make coding mistakes. A case in point is a recently discovered variant of Power Worm.

Power Worm is a piece of malware also known as ransomware. Those responsible for creating ransomware have developed a model of hijacking websites and databases and then holding them hostage, electronically speaking, by using encryption to lock owners out. Only after owners pay a specified ransom is the data decrypted. In the case of Power Worm, however, decryption is easier said than done.

Experts say that a coding error in a new variant results in an encryption key being discarded once data has been encrypted. It matters not whether the victim is a single customer of a very large data centre or a corporate entity with its own cloud computing environment. Once the worm is planted and activated, any data within its path can be locked down with encryption. Security experts are warning people not to pay the ransom if hit by Power Worm or one of its variants.

Apparently, not all forms of malware have a coding issue. But there is no way to know once you've been victimised. Experts say that if the ransom is paid but the encryption key used to get data back had been disposed of, victims will have lost both their data and their money. It is far better to report being victimised by Power Worm to the authorities than to pay the ransom and hope for the best.

For the record, Power Worm and its variants primarily target Microsoft Word and Excel documents. But security experts are seeing new versions of the malware targeting larger data sets associated with other software applications.

Ransomware Big Business

In a world of expensive IT services and costly security initiatives, it may seem reasonable to pay one Bitcoin (approximately £250) to get back ransomed data and get on with the business of the day. But experts say it is exactly that thinking that is fuelling this segment of the cybercrime community. Ransomware is big business in which hackers are making money in volume. One Bitcoin here and another there quickly adds up to a lot of money.

According to a BBC report, the perpetrators of the well-known Crypto Wall ransomware and its variants have already racked up more than £215 million as a result of their activities. They are doing so one Bitcoin at a time. When businesses and other data owners acquiesce to the demands of ransomware creators, they are simply making the market for this kind of software more lucrative. And as with any other crime, a lucrative market will merely attract more players over time.

Hackers do make coding mistakes, as lots of people are now learning. Unfortunately, the Power Worm coding error means data potentially lost forever if ransoms are paid.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Google Ready to Move Internet Access to the Clouds

In the latest twist on cloud computing news, Google stands ready to take high-speed internet access to the next level with a full-scale launch of Project Loon next year.  If the project meets expectations, Google may have an airborne flotilla of high altitude balloons providing internet access to areas of the globe underserved by standard wire connections.  Not only that, the balloons may just provide faster and more reliable access than we get here in the UK.

According to Google, the Loon Project has successfully completed test runs of the high-tech balloons even while upgrading and developing the technology over the last several years.  The new system involves high atmosphere balloons equipped with enough technology to be incredibly useful.  Each balloon, which experts say can remain aloft for as long as 187 days, is equipped with:

·        an altitude control system
·        flight computer and GPS tracking system
·        two radio transceivers and a third backup
·        solar power system to keep it all running

Engineers designed the altitude control system to raise or lower a balloon in-flight to take advantage of wind systems.  Google uses the stratospheric winds to determine course and direction.  The flight computer and GPS tracking system ensure the balloon goes where it is supposed to go.

Connecting the World – At Least Part of It

It would seem that Google has the edge on Facebook in the race to determine who will be the primary provider of data communications and internet access in the Third World.  The only question that remains is whether or not the internet giant can keep enough balloons in the air, on a continuous basis, to ensure subscribers never lose connectivity.  Google claims it has the speed and technology to do just that.

The systems used to launch Google's 30 test balloons from New Zealand required as many as 14 people and 60 minutes to launch a single unit.  Now engineers say they can get a balloon up in 15 minutes with just two people.  Combined with an extended life more than 18 times the project's original 7 to 10 days, Google is confident it can meet the needs of customers.

Their system already has commercial acceptance as evidenced by a number of contracts Google has already managed to secure.  Sri Lanka will be utilising the system beginning next year (2016), as will three of the mobile networks operating in Indonesia.  We expect Google to announce additional contracts as soon as it has ink on paper.   They are going to want the world to know that they are the first to bring high-speed internet access to parts of the world that have previously been closed.

Although Google's Project Loon is not technically cloud computing in the strictest interpretation of the term, their plans are exciting nonetheless.  Who would have thought a decade ago that internet access would be brought to some of the most remote parts of the world without high-cost construction?  Nicely done, Google!