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Showing posts from January, 2009

Cloud storage in, consumer HDDs out

There are a lot of rumblings of recent about a possible Google Web Drive offering. Of course, Microsoft has its cloud storage counterpart SkyDrive, and there are a whole panoply of companies with existing offerings with a bias from online file sharing to storage to backups. Just to name a few, there is Box.net, IBackup, Mozy, Iron Mountain’s Connected Backup for PC, and many others.

For consumers, online storage is a lot about convenience -- one of the key values which consumers will pay for, and in this case quite possibly on a reoccurring basis. There's the convenience to access files from anywhere. And to share files with others groups or even with the public. And to have someone else deal with back-ups. Forget buying a NAS box for backups -- backup to a service. What enables this trend to occur is simply network bandwidth availability. It certainly wouldn't have been feasible with a modem dial-up ISP.

It's worth thinking about other trends to which cloud storage …

Utility computing syndication -- evolutionary future

Owning and operating data centers is an extremely complex and expensive proposition. The result, data center complexes often in multiple fixed locations, each with a life span of 15 years or so. And thus tied to locality considerations of power generation, labor pools, real estate, taxes and many others. This is not the epitome of a grand dynamic computer and storage fabric vision whereby capacity can be added, subtracted or moved around as needed. The fact that so many organizations throughout the world have to roll out their own data centers, ought to be the first clue that a huge amount of inefficiencies exist in organizations owning and running their own data centers.

However, wherever significant inefficiencies exist, opportunities are created. It's an unsustainable notion, having each organization build its own data center, even for smaller versions with only a handful of machines. Besides being tied to the locality issues already enumerated, one just can not come close…

The real Windows 7 threat to Linux (desktop)

There's been a recent spate of predictions that Windows 7 will kill off the Linux desktop, especially on netbooks. My favorite title so far is Windows kicks Linux to the curb, which provides a nice visual. Well, I'm not actually going to disagree, at least as far as traditional desktop Linux and netbooks go.

But first, a question to drive a point home. Have you ever used a version of OpenOffice Cloud? Neither have I, because it doesn't exist. The closest you can come is to use Ulteo, a virtualized Linux provider service, started by a previous Mandriva founder -- then everything is running on a VM in the cloud including OpenOffice. If you want to go cloud, you have to use something like Google Docs. And isn't a netbook about the cloud?

Microsoft hasn't been sleeping while the cloud trend has been developing. A few months ago they announced they're extending Office to the browser, with lightweight versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. And they a…

Useful Wi-Fi extension: add user-programmable field for access points

I was doing a little research into Wi-Fi positioning systems (like Skyhook), and it occurred to me we're missing out on huge opportunities in the Wi-Fi space. Skyhook can tell you within excellent resolution where you are, based on a combination of an extensive access point address to physical location database and signal strength information (now even assisted by GPS and cellular radio).

But there's another way to look at this problem, which would give a more democratized and rich solution, however with attendant noise and error. Many access points (APs) are programmed to send out periodic "beacon" packets (unless programmed not to announce their networks). These packets are designed to allow devices to discover Wi-Fi networks before attaching to them, so no transmit capabilities are needed to receive them. Why not allow an extension of the IEEE 802.11 protocols such that a given AP can introduce a programmable payload of data into an extended field in the beacon…

Trusted hypervisors to enable commercial HPC@home services

Volunteer distributed computing projects have been around for a while. You've probably heard of for example, SETI@home, a Berkeley project launched in 1999 to listen for radio signals from ET. Hey, maybe you even run the work manager as your screensaver. Another example would be the Stanford protein folding study project, Folding@home. I call this whole class, HPC@home (High Performance Computing).

These are very cool projects which can tap vast volunteer resources. But it's hard to scale this model to commercial projects which have sensitive data computations. Essentially, there is no guaranteed isolation between a user's general purpose environment, and the sensitive computation.

Imagine then, what could be done if trusted hypervisors were installed on a large base of home PCs. Assume all PCs would have a TPM, and a complete chain of trust from power-on to the hypervisor running. TPMs are working their way into popularity (IDC figures a 90% attachment rate by 2010)…

Server-side rendering to push gaming to the cloud

Generally when something gets pushed to "the cloud", it seems the user experience gets depreciated or new limitations arise. Adobe Flash based games have been a step in the direction of the cloud, being at least delivered from the cloud but run locally. Quality of Flash games have gotten better, although I wouldn't equate them with high intensity DirectX PC games. And in any case, you need a platform which supports Flash.

Then along comes this idea of server-side rendering, using the browser as the canvas. This opens a whole new dimension for cloud gaming, virtual environments and other interactive 3D usage, whereby the rendering computation cannot be done ahead of time. Check out, for example, this excellent article about OTOY. What makes server-side rendering very interesting, is that it can unleash rendering capacity far greater than the CPU and GPU capabilities on the consumer device. So for example, if you're enjoying a game on a smartphone, the rendering …

Future of personal navigation data & software is free & open

A while ago, a cool freebie Android navigation app called AndNav2 became available in alpha. Two things that caught the eye immediately, are first that it supports turn-by-turn directions (not available on the iPhone yet), and second that it now uses the Open Street Map database. AndNav and the app store revolution can't be too pleasing to GPS vendors such as Garmin. But what's also interesting is that OSM "aims to do for maps what Wikipedia has done for encyclopaedias". This is crowd-sourcing brought to mapping!

Until recently, this was the commercial province of companies like NAVTEQ and TeleAtlas. If you look on Google Maps or MapQuest, for example, you'll see copyrights from those two companies on the bottom of the map. What really struck me as an endorsement and signal of the future of OSM, was that recently the French granted OSM access to land registry data! This helps set a precedent, that such data such be shared with the World community, and I wou…

Linux kernel needs more modularity for bare-metal hypervisor viability

I wrote previously about how Linux is notionally a bare-metal hypervisor.

But let me point out a sticking point w.r.t. the Linux kernel being considered a viable bare-metal hypervisor: it's HUGE! Imho, a lot of the debate over hypervisor design types, bare-metal, etc. is largely academic. When you consider the overall footprint size of the management layers, storage, authentication, domain0 stack in Xen-style hypervisors, special guest drivers, etc., the hypervisor footprint is put in a better perspective. However, it is true that modularity and smaller more manageable components are generally better designed and more auditable for errors and security issues.

When the Linux kernel was initially designed, it was a monolithic chunk of code (i.e. drivers could not be modules). Some years later, after various debate, loadable kernel module support was added. That was a big step in the right direction for code quality and modularity -- few people could imagine Linux without it today…

Will Android be Moblin 2.0/3.0?

Intel created and is a large contributor to Moblin, a "Linux-based software platform for building visually rich, dynamic, and connected applications that run on devices based on Intel® Atom™ processor technology", to enhance sales of MIDs and Netbooks. Moblin 1.0, based on Ubuntu Linux, was announced July 2007, but didn't get much traction. Around July 2008, it was reported that Moblin 2.0 was switching to a Fedora base and would be announced at the Fall 2008 IDF. That IDF came and went without a related announcement. In October, it was reported Moblin 2.0 was pushed to the 1st half of 2009.

Aside from the timeline, it's interesting to look at Moblin from the perspective of what it seeks to achieve, which is essentially an Open Source application stack and GUI optimized for mobile devices, and an associated ecosystem of software and hardware vendors to help drive adoption. Those goals are quite similar in nature to what Google's Android platform aims for, and…

Self-encrypting drives to speed up PC boot times?

In the last year, drive vendors such as Seagate, Hitachi and Fujitsu announced self-encrypting drives. The general scheme is that you type in a password during the BIOS boot-up phase, and the password is authenticated by the drive. The drive then decrypts disk reads and encrypts disk writes at native speed, all internal to the drive. So to Windows, Linux or other software, the drive appears as a normal unencrypted drive, as all such software is booted after unlocking the drive.

It occurs to me, if self-encryption becomes a common feature in drives, perhaps one of the banes of a quick boot-up (anti-virus checks) could be eliminated during some or all of the boot-up phase? TPMs are also working their way into popularity (IDC figures a 90% attachment rate by 2010), which would offer a more complete chain of trust to complement self-encrypting drives. If it could be trusted that no modifications have occurred to the drive since the last boot, couldn't a lot of scanning be eliminat…

The Linux desktop could be profitable soon

I've been involved in Linux since the early 1990's, worked at one of the mainline Linux distros some years ago and have been an Open Source author of two projects. Over the years, the Linux environment has made great functional progress, yet mainline Linux vendors have struggled continuously to create a profitable desktop business around it. Many have tried, some have just given up on the desktop.

Given much of the software in the Linux environment is free, it seems a natural corollary that a Linux desktop would not be a profitable proposition. But I contend that not only can Linux be a profitable business, but it will be. Making money selling a shrink-wrapped Linux OS, or ISV apps, I'd agree is a very tough gig. But a number of factors are aligning to make an entirely different kind of Linux desktop business a very viable proposition. The equation:
profitability = build-ecosystem + app-store + reoccurring-revenue
By "build ecosystem" I mean proliferate a give…

Time for pay-to-enable-features computer devices

There is much chatter about the hyper-commoditization of computer devices causing a "race to the bottom". Additionally, the confluence of smartphone and mobile PC markets has not only the potential to disrupt either market, but also adds new hardware requirements to the traditional mobile PC market which are influenced from smartphones. One doesn't have too look far to see new netbook/notebook devices announced which include 3G, GPS, and touch screen. Intel's Classmate design even has an accelerometer, which could open up some really interesting usage.

But then the classic question is, if high-volume low-price devices need to be ever increasingly equipped with hardware features, how to device OEMs and chip vendors make money, especially given the disruption to higher margin devices which used to sit higher on the food chain?

I believe the time has come for manufacturers to usher in a new era of pay-to-enable-features devices. With this comes a necessary shift in bu…

The ultimate iPhone app: try and buy another carrier

Here's a free New Year's idea for Apple. Offer one or more apps on the app store that will let a user try out another carrier for a day or two, either for free or for some nominal price. If they like the service, they can then pay a "switching fee" and sign up for good with the new carrier. I have a feeling carriers like Sprint would offer such an app for free.

The benefit to the user is that they can see if the carrier has good 3G and voice coverage in a particular geographic area. The benefit to Apple and AT&T in America for example, is that they may be able to prevent getting sued. In many people's eyes, they over-promised and under-delivered. Prevent an uprising and bank some pro-rated switching costs before it's too late.

Disclosure: no positions

Killer product combo for 2009: smartphone + Redfly + RDP

The 'net is abuzz with 2009 predictions for the best products. Advancing the challenge a little more, I'm proposing a killer product combo instead.
killer-product-combo = (smartphone + Redfly + RDP)Smartphones

The state of the art includes WiFi, 3G (or better), 3D graphics, multimedia processing, increasingly capable ARM-based processors and thanks to the attractiveness of their sheer market size, a very rich set of applications.

Redfly

What smartphones don't have for the moments when you need to get some real work done or enjoy multimedia at a more pleasing size, are bigger screens and keyboards. The CelioRedfly provides just that, in a $200 extremely thin and light "smartphone companion" package. And an added benefit from carrying the extra (yet respectably light) weight, is that the Redfly acts as an external battery, powering your smartphone via a USB port.

RDP

If you can connect to the 'net, you can attach to a remote desktop, giving access to all the facil…