Thursday Jan 08, 2009

Consumerism & Sedimentation in the IT industry

Is there an opportunity as we build the Future Internet for a convergence around the general purpose, and the development of software appliances which can differentiate their functionality. i.e. one hardware box which assumes a role depending upon the software it loads. What's happened with cars? I suppose the consumer dimension of cars (and home PCs) continues to permit non (welfare) optimal differentiation, so the economic history of car production is not necessarily a good predictor of the future of IT. People buy cars and even desktop/laptops because they're pretty or have status value. I have never heard of data centre manager influenced by these criteria for the contents of a data centre. However, cars are built from common components and the world class manufacturers' cars are beginning to look very similar

Will IT stay|move into the factory, so consumerisation becomes irrelevant? There is/will always be the developer/deployment platform feedback loop, but Mac has no server platform. The developers want Mac OS, but where do they deploy. Much of Apple's developer strategy is about using their eco-system as both attractive to developers, partly on their merits, but also because they have users. An example is that the iphone is developing a consumer/service user community which looks to mac.com for its software services; they're locked in.

T-Mobile, the mobile phone subsidiary of Deutsche Telkom launched a Google phone in Sept. Who are they're looking to escape from? Actually who makes it for them? Or is this merely a consumer play, trying to compete with the iphone and get the consumer conversation back. iphone users love Apple, T-Mobile G1 customers at least know who their Telco is, and Google might be one of the few brands capable of taking Apple on today.

This article was inspired by the R&D in Europe round table at ICT 2008 last November and blogged by me under the title Can Europe keep up?, which was posted today, but backdated to 25th November. Its been written from notes taken at the time and worked on sporadically since then. Since it is not immutably tied to the events of the time, but reflects ideas provoked by the event, I have posted it as at today's date.

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Wednesday Dec 12, 2007

So what is wrong with the Internet?

On Day 2, of the NESSI AGM, we broke into seminar groups. The first session I attended was called the ' Future of the Internet', it was led by Mike Fisher of BT [Google him], who presented about the forces for change on the internet, both historic constraints and changes being brought about by technology innovation, and demand. Again a key view of the future is the the internet evolves from a network of computers, beyond a network of things to a network of services. Since Mike comes from a network company, and a large one at that, and so understands how poorly IT is ready to manage the challenge of scale raised by these factors.

In the afternoon, I attended the 'Service Orientated Infrastructure' session. Some aspects of the problem domain are very broad and interesting, but the discussions seemed focused around today's grid solutions in academia and commerce, although I arrived late. This working group's documents are also available on the NESSI web site SOI work group page, and their own web site. The GRID Strategic Research Agenda is available from the NESSI Site [.pdf].

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Tuesday Dec 11, 2007

NESSI's Research & Projects

There then followed a series of presentations about the current approach to research and most interestingly presentations from the leading strategic projects. These can be found on the NESSI's AGM page on their web site.

This was followed by cocktails. Very nice!

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Coming soon...servicenet

A EU funded attempt to create an academic Network of Excellence, led by University of Dusberg-Essen, called S\*Cube. There are 16 partner universities who will all participate equally, the UK partner is City University, London.

Dr. (Klaus) Pohl, predicted that the nature of the Internet was going to change so radically, that its name should be changed. His vision is of a network of services. Will the transition from a network of computers to a network of things require new network paradigms and protocols? Will it challenge the Atomic locking single write-ahead log database?

Dr. Pohl exposed a research framework, that analysed Service Technology as the existence and interfaces between business processes, Service Components and Service engineering. These need to be created which requires engineering knowledge and science and monitoring and adapting, which are classified as Service Engineering. It is felt that interfaces between these domains can also be developed and the S-Cube research is looking at developing knowledge from current intellectual property around BPM, grid, systems engineering and service management.

S-Cube have a web site coming on line with a pre-registration feature.

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The ambition of Open Systems

Prof. Carlo Ghezzi, of the Politecnico di Milano, presented on Academic/Corporate collaboration and among other things examined the drivers of macro-change in open world. He argued that inter-operability is not enough, and that both a series of what he called self-\* qualities are required such as self-healing, self-configuration etc. He also again identified the self-advertisement as a new problem to allow services to be discovered and used.

I wonder if these ambitions are contrary to the classic inspection and vote that takes place in today's clusters.

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Software, economics and society

We have just heard from Dr. Frans De Bruïne and Ken Ducatel, the former talked about the need for Security, to guard against global warming and the demographic time bomb; Europe is not just interested in health care because of the socialists. The ageing population is a jeopardy to the wealth engine of work and the various governments and commission all have different responses (Oh Boy!).

He stated that for instance in Holland, they're playing with a government 'Facebook' page. Will this lead to you having to document your car insurance, child support liabilities and private pension provision on-line in a government portal. The latter might help keep track of what the insurance companies owe you, but do you really want this hackable, or publishable at the will of politicians and civil servants? Despite these fears it is a possible first step to a real EU Web 2.0 and user created content, I am not sure what value one can create through communities in such a portal. It would also need some serious investment in reaching all the EU's citizens, both in the network and server infrastructure to reach everyone, but also in client access ubiquity. Not everyone has access to a computer, although most have phones and the ipod touch with its wi-fi is an interesting and probably popular innovation of the internet hand held device. Wi-fi is neither as ubiquitous, nor as cheap as in the US yet, and I suspect it varies massively with the EU.

He also spoke about how in Germany, networked medical care systems in the home allowed patients to be discharged earlier, thus saving money. Presumably the IT reduces the number of relapses.

Ducatel argued that the US uses its its (minimal, except for defense) public requirement to seed ICT innovation. I wonder if this is because US business has a greater appetite to build its own code. The flip side of this is that "Europe under uses Software". Its an opportunity for growth, and an opportunity for supply, but commercial stove piping inhibits the growth opportunity.

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Driving change on the internet

The first key note was from Dr. Joao Schwarz Da Silva, a Director from the Commission's ICT. He envisioned a network of services driven by trends easily observable today. These are,

  • Social Networks
  • Digital Production
  • Virtual Worlds
  • Internet of Things

Much of the consideration around social networks seems around how to monetise the size of the network. The value created by cooperation seems always to be under valued. Dr. Da Silva predicted that the growth of social networks and user created content would lead to the growth of what he calls Digital Production. At its most simple, this will be just allowing mashups on a home page, however more complex models such as the tools for machinima or audio manipulation are clearly here today, it'll be interesting to see where this goes.

I am more questioning that virtual worlds will become ubiquitous and powerful problem solving tools. It is clear that World of Warcraft is a hugely popular both social network and digital world, but we have spent 1000's of years devising two dimensional representations of most of the problems we seek to solve. We need new representational metaphors before 3D rendering and virtual worlds become serious problem solving devices. I mentioned this earlier in the year. These criticisms are before considering that a Social Network needs to leverage the wisdom of crowds, or at least the wisdom of huddles. Facebook's visual {book/DVD} shelf works because you can see what both your close friends and strangers say about the books and films you're interested in. You can see what everyone, or at least your friends recommend. An interesting counterpoint though is that if you consider electronic gaming to be a social network, then sharding reduces the wisdom of crowds; you can only learn  from the wisdom of a shard. There's lots of work to do before 3D and/or Virtual Worlds truly take off.

He then looked at how in a network of services, one discovers anything useful. So this is partly how does one discover any content, such as images (tags), houses (attributes) etc., but for services we expect a directory solution. There isn't yet a directory of internet services.

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Tuesday May 22, 2007

New Business Models for the Particpation Age

Today, Don Tapscott, author of "Wikinomics" presented a keynote about how mass-collaboration is changing the way that value is created in the world economy. This stems from both software functionality and network economies of scale. Obviously the enablement of new forms of economic co-operation is also a factor at continuing to drive specialisation. Tapscott quotes Carr's "IT does matter" and mentions that he has often debated with him, which is hard because Carr is good, but he (Tapscott) says "I have an advatage in this debate, he's wrong". The last three days has made me question about how one can innovate in corporate IT.

He told a story about being on TV, "Surfing the Net" and his kids cut him down to size by suggesting it was on par with surfing the TV or fridge. "I'm browsing the fridge for content!". (I thought this was really funny, but my kids tell me its not!) Amongst the younger generation, time online is at the expense of TV, and online activity is today a more creative & participatory act than watching TV, going to the Movies or a Play, or using the early web. The drive to participation makes all content collaborative and he has banned the term "web site" due to the owning author implications.

He then examined what Google, Ebay and Amazon really are, and argued that they are digitial conglomerates. Google sells ads, which makes it a media company, but its also a retailer, broker and bank. "This is not a bubble!". The creation and existence of new-age conglomerates, requires the examination of why a firm exists. Classically, its about transaction costs and the benefits of specialisation. As people cease to be labour in a knowldege economy and accounting costs drop to zero, the costs of doing business across the corporate firewall drop and business have created extended enterprises and latterly business webs. The next transformation will be mass collaboration and peer-production. (Interestingly, Tapscott quoted a mutual fund example of a folksonomy based co-operative, but I didn't write it down. Can any readers add those they know as comments?)

He summarised his presentation with an examination of the seven new business models he's identified as enabling in the new world of mass collaborations and pointing to his use of a Wiki to develop the ideas, much to the chagrin of his publishers, who are trying to work out how and if they can publish a volume two. They shouldn't worry, I certainly intend to check out the wiki and probably get the book.

This article was written over time from contemporaneous notes and back dated to near the time of occurance.

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More Futurology, Gartner's "Emerging Trends"

I am in Barcelona, attending Gartner's European Symposium and Expo. They have two of these each year and the spring event is positioned as broader and more forward looking. It was opened by a tour de force from Peter Cole, (CEO) and six of their top researchers. Later discussions brought home to me that one needs to be very carefull when listening to clever people, as sometimes one (i.e. I ) can assume that they mean the same things as yourself, this isn't always so.

I do wonder however whether their Macro-economic analysis is based too strongly on financial volume and on their boundary definition of IT. Just because our children don't see what they do as using IT, doesn't mean that it is not IT.

Another key insight I obtained here, is that there is a debate between those who think that IT as an industry is entering a maturity stage and those who don't. I should really have known this. Some IT companies are (very successfully) betting their future on the first view. I believe that because IT is dependent on software, which is not constrained by the laws of physics, it will continue to evolve rapidly and that its evolution will remain a source of value and wealth creation in the developed world for a while to come. This means that IT and most importantly, company's software portfolios will remain a source of differentiation and competitive advantage. Another point made to me is that peer based collaboration or community development may inhibit, ignore or exclude the genius that provokes radical change. It's an interesting point of view and one that community wranglers may need to think about.

A fair amount of time has been spent talking about "Green IT". Gartner's late arrival to this issue can be forgiven due the bravery of launching thier programmes in the USA, where they may be able to begin to remove the partisanship from the issue. 

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Monday Feb 12, 2007

Designing both sides of the coin!

At Sun' we've just returned to profitability with our third quarter of revenue growth in a row and as some very famous economist said, three data points are a trend. One of the insights underpinning our strategy is that Sun innovates and monetises intellectual property. We are also one of the last technology companies to own the design and engineering of both CPU and operating system.

Solaris/SPARC is and will remain a key driver of innovation and competitive advantage in the data centre, because we can design both sides of the coin! To us it is obvious...., but what do others think?

Sun sponsored IDC to write a White Paper, Sun's Solaris 10 for x86: A platform for Enterprise Applications, which is hosted on http://www.sun.com/solaris. This is a very good and short statement about the techical capabilities of Solaris and the attractions it has for applications developers and ISVs. In the summary panel, they state that applications enablement is key and that Solaris and Windows have the advantage over Linux; they both have more applications available.

Another IDC paper is hosted by Fujitsu, entitled Linux & Solaris : A marriage in the Data Centre states i.e. predicts that UNIX ( from which they exclude Linux) will consolidate and that Solaris will be a survivor. This paper is dated March 2003, but it also undertakes a functional comparison and comes to the conclusion that Solaris is functionally superior to Linux as a server operating system.

However, one of the best pro-Solaris endorsements occurred last month with the announcement of the Sun Intel alliance. The Intel Web Site has a series of resources, including a press release, in which Paul Otellini, president and CEO of Intel says

"We're thrilled to be working with Sun to make Solaris on Intel Xeon processors a great solution for our enterprise customers worldwide," said Paul Otellini, president and CEO, Intel. "Bringing together the best technologies from both Sun and Intel will result in innovative products for years to come."

While Paul is not an analyst, his views of the market's developments should be respected. Additioanlly Intel have endorsed Solaris as their mission critical operating system of choice and agreed to become a Solaris OEM. The ROI calculations for an organisation like Intel are not calculated over a 12 month period. However, we can hear more from Paul as Intel have posted Jonathan and Paul's press conference as a podcast [html page]. This is really interesting and  is just short of 40 minutes long, at about 11:15, Paul Otellini, states

"Solaris is evolving as a mainstream operating system."

He continues

[ is to be ] the mission critical UNIX for Xeon....feature sets people, buyers are focused on, availability, reliability, demand based switching and virtualisation .... can be [only] unleashed from the microprocesser through the operating system.

He also makes the point that Sun designs the OS and system and that this is of value to customers and to Intel.

Jonathan also makes the point that only if an operating system exposes the functionality of a CPU can it be utilised and its clear that for some of Intel's ideas of the future, they expect Solaris to do this best.

I'm curious that one of his last statements is that

"We'd love to have Solaris on Itanium"

I wonder if that'll happen? 

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Thursday May 18, 2006

Food for Thought

Just looking back on Tuesday reminded me of various science fiction films and books. From William Gibson who in particular wrote about the Network, bio-feedback systems and AI, and obviously influenced the Wachowski Brother's Matrix, to James Cameron in Terminator 2: Judgement Day also spoke about how the network came alive. Marginally more benignly, Heinlen wrote about another computer that woke up in "The Moon is a harsh mistress". Some of John Ames presentation brought "Minority Report" to mind, at least the scene where John Anderton (Tom Cruise's character) is using the computers, but not anything to do with precognition.

It just goes to show, some of this is a lot closer than you might think.

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Tuesday May 16, 2006

An iconoclast's glimpse into the future

The day ended with another glimpse into the future from Graham Whitehead of BT. He is a passionate and enthusiastic speaker and while I've neither met him before or heard him speak he is well known. He started with

"There will be more change in the IT in the next 10 years than in the previous 100"

and then asked who agreed. After the day we'd had we were all ready to do that, so he contradicted himself and stated that actually it'd only take eight years. (For the aficionados of the history of the Soviet Union, very reminiscent of the Five Year plans.)

Graham mentioned the revolutionary nature of BT's 21st Century Network (see also here...) as an enabler of the internet of things. He obviously thinks this is important, the Register reported a speech of his at the Irish Internet Association's Congress last year

"that the anarchic and hazardous nature of the public internet meant that companies were now constructing supervised private IP networks. These private networks would be able to handle the amount of traffic that would be generated when broadband was ubiquitous, phone networks were IP-based, and common household objects had their own IP addresses. "The internet is dead, or dying; it's full of viruses, worms and porn, you have to wear a kevlar suit before you go online," he said. "BT is creating a private network, which will be joined to other private networks, to which we will add voice over IP.""

He described the new paradigm (my word not his), as AORTA, "Always on Real Time", which goes down a storm in the healthcare industry.

One of the things he examined was around customer care, "there's never a queue in virtual reality", I bet he didn't try and file his income tax online in the last week last year. He suggests that machines don't say "Sod Off! I'm busy.", but actually they do. While he argued that people will deal with machines if they're better than people, (Bank ATMs are a proof point), if you want to speak to a person, that's it! People with machine generated scripts are as helpful as the machine, as Graham says, while no machine has ever passed the Turing test, many people have failed it. This is actually quite rude (what me worry!) and the problems with customer care call centre staff is often that their systems aren't good enough to help and the automated telephone menus absolutely infuriating. However the headline he offered that people will use machines if they're better than people is true enough and we'll probably get better at trusting and delegating stuff to them, which leaves the question as to what people are going to do?

He took this to a travel agency and asked them where he thought they'd be in 2015 and posed a not desperately unreal scenario that flight (well, aviation fuel) will be very expensive and rationed (anyone watch Dr. Who last week, the return of the airship) but that today's text/messenger kids will (or did he say may) be prepared to take virtual reality holidays. It wasn't at this point that he talked about a scent generator but it is an example of the extension of virtual reality to all five senses. (This is also a device that was not demonstrated during the day.) I'm really unsure about VR holidays, but some people go to Murder Mystery weekends today!

He was also quite keen on Robots, which put the demo of Sony's robot dog in a context in the Home 2.0 showcase. For him, robots extend the network's capability, and while the dog is not very useful, the programming packed into the AI is pretty amazing.

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Monday May 15, 2006

The Wireless Doctor

We then visited a demonstration of the Healthcare supply chain, showing the use of database and proximity technologies (RFID & Barcode) for people, data and drugs. The real interest here is how the proximity technology enables cleverer and new applications which reinforces the demonstrations given by John Ames (See here...).

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Home 2.0

On the site, BT have built a demonstration suite illustrating one view of how new technology will change the home. The home is quite cute, but I'm not sure if its because I'm a sucker for these things. In retrospect, I'm not sure how truly futuristic the their Home 2.0 really is, but it does have a bunch of great toys.

The demonstration showed a Wifi LAN with a computer on it and demonstrated the maintenance and configuration of a numer of household items, including the lights (using the phone as the switch), and more obviously various home entertainment devices. I know that my new phone can act as a remote control handset for bluetooth enabled devices, but managing devices by the phone could be quite usefull as a security device if away, or returning home late, or as suggested by one of the other vistors for monitoring your older kids. "Stand away from the cookie jar".

Also, multi-streaming was demonstrated with one sound track for the kitchen and one for the bedroom. (You can't do that with Sky).

This all rather fascinates me, as I had been coming to the conclusion that for electronic/digitial entertainment, a Home LAN is becoming necessary, with the various devices playing traditional client, server and console roles. This is a step beyond the computer network's required to play multi- or massivly multi-player online games, and my views began to form as I realise how limited my options are as a Sky basic subscriber, and the difficulty in putting a second screen into the bedroom. Sadly, we were not demo'd BT's IPTV service, but we were shown an IPTV feed from Spain, with High Definition.

Now, once upon a time, I'd have thought it a good thing to be able to use my phone to program the VCR, but in the world of multi-channel, I don't know when anything's on, so it doesn't matter.

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Intelligent Paint?

We were introduced to John Ames, one of BT's Futurologists who took us on a little journey from Constable's horse & cart stuck in the mud (here... @Wikipedia), through the canels to the railways, arguing that innovation disrupts by destroying business models. He talked about real internet pervasivness (, we're talking intelligent paint here) and then showed us a bunch of RFID based applications, including printed paper.

He then moved from the RFID applications which allow computers to know where something is, to Bio-feedback systems. He demonstrated a game in which the two players wear finger gloves which measures how relaxed they are, and their relaxation drives two animated dragons in race (on a screen). If the players get really relaxed, the dragons fly. They're both technologies that lower the barriers between the real and virtual worlds. What interested me in the speech, was the breadth of vision offered, as he suggested that the nature of work will change as machines begin to be able to undertake "Professional" work. The previous presentation and demo had raised the question as to which Sci-Fi sources they were using, but it reminded me of Neuromancer, Minority Report and the Matrix.

John also quoted "Clayton Christiansen", the author of "The Innovator's Dilemma", first pointed out to me by Kieron Bradley, so I'm going to have to read it now! I've checked him out on Amazon and put it on my wish list.

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