Author Archives: Humayun

IBM CloudSmart Docs: Recipe To Dethrone Office 365, Google Docs?

IBM CloudSmart Docs: Recipe To Dethrone Office 365, Google Docs?

IBM has its eyes set on enterprise level end-user cloud services. The IT deployment and consultancy giant has recently sprinkled the essentials to its cloud arsenal with one core intent – to take out similar offerings from Google and Microsoft once and for all. This time over, its a novel cloud-based software suite studded with office productivity applications.

Dubbed the IBM SmartClouds Docs, the compendium provides online environment for collaborative (plus solo) creation, editing, sharing of word, spreadsheet and presentation documents – stuff you’re probably used to getting done via Google Docs or Microsoft Office 365.

The offering sits at a flat rate of $3 per user per month, and comes as an additive module on top of the Big Blue’s (IBM’s alias coined by security analysts) SmartCloud Engage Standard. “We feel like our portfolio in the collaboration space is now very complete,” boasted Ed Brill, director of product line management for Collaboration Solutions at IBM.

Advanced users of SmartCloud Docs will get to experience a single-click integration with social sharing channels. The social gel-in has primarily been fueled by IBM’s commitment to morph office productivity product model from document-centric to people-centric.

A mobile variant of the product is also in the conceptualization phase. It would be interesting to note which mobile platform IBM would principally target. iOS is going to taste the goodness for sure. Android, again, too big of a market share to ignore. Windows Phone should join the party too. Forgetting something? Big Blue has been in good terms with RIM for quite some time now; the intrinsic availability of SmartCloud synchronization with BlackBerry devices is a clear indicative of the blossoming love story. So, we can safely count BlackBerry devices in as well.

IBM plans of no longer sticking with the SmartCloud Docs as merely being another SaaS platform. Instead, an on-premise version for ventures committed to having the suite run and managed in their private cloud, is in the works. IBM even demonstrated a proof-of-concept for the said private approach by validating their proposed design for a German financial services company.

The SmartCloud Docs offering has already started receiving attention from retail and manufacturing sector. Panasonic for instance, the pioneer endorser of the IBM SmartCloud initiative, is particularly excited about opting in for the Docs feature.

The long term goal for IBM has to be adoption of its novel SmartCloud Docs by new customers as well by at least 70 percent of its existing SmartCloud consumer base, all at a rapid rate. With stupendous obstacles likes of Google Docs and Office 360 it would surely be an interesting showdown to witness – off to grab a bowl of popcorn.

By Humayun Shahid

The Storage Wars: Microsoft Hops Onto The Price-shed Bandwagon

The Storage Wars: Microsoft Hops Onto The Price-shed Bandwagon

Last week’s wrap-up of the on-going cloud storage price wars between Google and Amazon ended off with a humble suggestion for Microsoft: wait for nothing and plunge straight into the cloud storage price-drop showdown. It turns out that the software giant actually did make up its mind to join the party real soon, responding to the soaring market competition in style.

Microsoft made a pronounced entry into the ballroom by announcing price sheds for its Windows Azure Storage, and that as well, as much as a hefty 28 percent (how’s that for a stunner).

Reducing prices is only part of the story”, explained Steven Martin, General Manager at Windows Azure Business Planning Division, in an official blog post. Microsoft has also complemented its cloud storage offerings by incorporating significant value addition in a multitude of ways.

Owing to the ingeniously formulated 400 plus miles separation between the constituent replicas, the corporation’s Geo Redundant Storage architecture remains to be the market lead in terms of reliance and durability. That’s just about perfect for mitigating the impact natural disasters are known to have on ventures. On top of that, commissioning of high bandwidth network connectivity across all of its datacenters and increase in scalability targets for Windows Azure Storage continues to strengthen “Microsoft’s commitment to (providing the) best overall value in the industry”.

Based on Microsoft’s new formula, the first terabyte of geographically redundant Azure storage is priced at $ 0.095 per GB per month, while the same in the locally redundant flavor comes for $ 0.070 per GB per month. The figures are all set to fare pretty well against those laid down by Amazon and Google.

Microsoft took a step further and revealed a handful of compelling usage statistics within the same post. The Azure Storage service, house to over 4 trillion objects, has about 270,000 requests processed per second with peaks as volumetric as 880,000 requests every second. The figures are comparable to Amazon’s peak measures of 835,000 requests per second (talk about being neck-to-neck).

Critics argue that the recent price drops from Amazon, Google and now Microsoft might just be more than a mere race to the bottom. There has to be ample logic behind the cost teardown. And logic there sure is – sheer method in the apparent madness. The most effective way to lure corporate clients (and budding startups) on board the cloud is to offer them unbelievably inexpensive cloud storage, making them crave for pricey computing services follows shortly.

Whether you think of the price lowering trend as a marketing gimmick or a corporate bait, the crux remains the same: cloud computing is here for good and here to stay. Cloud service providers have proved their point in making ventures realize that in cloud rest savings. It’s about time the critics learn the same – better late than never.

By Humayun Shahid

Robin Hood Gone Evil: Loophole Leading To Cloud Pickpocketing Identified

Robin Hood Gone Evil: Loophole Leading To Cloud Pickpocketing Identified

Researchers at North Carolina State university and University of Oregon have proposed a jaw-dropping price tag for performing heavy duty cloud computing task – as low as zero dollars. Experiments reveal that cloud-based web browsers can be exploited to hijack the underlying computational power, and that as well, in total anonymity.

The result could be as unforgivable as cloud computing time theft of mammoth proportions. The pickpocketed resources, once fallen into the wrong hands, can be used for just about anything, including brute force password crack attempts, denial of service attacks and other genres of cycle-hungry attacks.

Contrary to relying upon the end-user’s device to perform the number crunching, cloud-based browsers make the most out of cloud resources to process and deliver web pages. This functionality of cloud-based browsers (likes of Opera Mini, Amazon Silk and Puffin) can be imitated by creating customized variants that have the potential to trick servers into performing word counts, string parsing, text search and other tasks for free. The above is accomplished by a neat hack termed as the browser MapReduce, BMR.

BMR spawns from Google’s MapReduce, an alternative mechanism to manage parallel processing of utterly large datasets. In simple words, Browser MapReduce operates by amassing free JavaScript processing cycles, in unison with a punctilious scheduling plan to effectively work around the processing bounds enforced originally by the cloud-browser providers.

The team has proved their point by saving chunks of data on URL-shortening sites, effectually deceiving them and the cloud browser providers into processing about 100MB of data for free. “What we were able to do was chain together a bunch of requests to make a larger computation“, Enck, the primary research investigator, explained.

Things are not all gloomy though. The team also presented ways to fix the cloud exploitation problem, the most effective requiring a check on the number of requests that can be directed towards the core server cluster originating from a single user. A user-authentication mechanism built into the browser should do the trick pretty well. Enck pointed out that “Instead of allowing anyone on the Internet to make requests of their servers, end users should have accounts.”

Such a methodology would allow for the service providers to notice whenever one account is generating requests that are enormously volumetric for a genuine human user. The team is all set to present their research findings at the Annual Computer Security Alliance summit to be held in the first week of December 2012.

The title of the research work, “Abusing Cloud-Based Browsers for Fun and Profit” almost says it all – cloud security measures associated with mobile devices require further fortification.

Loopholes of such sort continue to assist the bad guys in using cloud computing horsepower for not-so-noble purposes. Its about time that cloud-browser service providers take note of such weak links in the mobile cloud computing chain before the tables are turned on them.

By Humayun Shahid

The Storage Wars: Google And Amazon Battle It Out, Microsoft Turns Turtle

The Storage Wars: Google and Amazon Battle It Out, Microsoft Turns Turtle

The past week witnessed Google and Amazon slashing the price tag associated with their respective cloud storage services one after the other. Interestingly, the price lowering spree from both the giants seems more like an immediate business reflex rather than a thoroughly chalked out pricing plan.

Google started the sequel by introducing to the world a novel storage form, the Durable Reduced Availability, priced at a mere $ 0.7 per gigabyte per month. This translated to a price reduction as significant as 20 percent on Google’s storage solutions, setting off shockwaves at the Amazon base camp. Amazon was prompt to respond. Its web services division bit back by announcing a price cut as much as 25 percent on its S3 services, sprinkling the essential ‘economies of scale’ flavour to its cloud recipes. What was Google’s take on the move? Dave Barth, product manager at Google, reiterated in an official blog post that the company is committed to deliver on the “best value” in the market to ventures and developers set to carry out operations in the cloud. Google meant exactly what it said, and (to our delight) sprung back with an additional 10 percent shed on its cloud storage pricing, effectively raising the price-cut bar to a whopping 30 percent.

Surprisingly enough, things at Microsoft are headed quite the other way around. Instead of coming up with a pricing offer that would pin Google and Amazon to the ground, Microsoft has, as Amit Singh puts it, “increased their price by 15 percent for no (apparent) reason“. Singh, president of Google enterprise, deems the competition posed by Microsoft nothing serious to be worried about.

Google’s pricing structure sure is competitive, and the associated migration procedure a piece of cake. The consumer base is now looking up to Amazon in hopes of a compelling reason for them to stay on-board. For Microsoft, it needs to haste in re-formulating the pricing model for its cloud offerings in response to the recent price cuts by Google. Sure, Microsoft is known for being ever-loyal to its pro-enterprise product design philosophy. However, in a market studded with blossoming tech startups, failure to capitalize on the small business consumer segment might land the software a serious blow.

There you have it. This one-of-a-kind war between Google, Amazon and Microsoft has painted a significantly vibrant and competitive cloud-storage landscape for consumers to breathe in. The consumer folk can only hope for other service providers to plunge into the battlefield, an occurrence that would ensure further price drops – fingers crossed.

By Humayun Shahid

Land Of Opportunities: Irish Cloud Centre Secures €5m In Funding From The Government

Land Of Opportunities: Irish Cloud Centre Secures €5m In Funding From The Government

The government of Ireland has seeded about €5m to fuel the state-of-the-art cloud technology initiative – the Irish Center for Cloud Computing and Commerce.

A whooping 8,500 new jobs are expected to spring from the Irish government’s decision. The centre is set to be primarily established at the Dublin City University, with supplementary research support dispersed to sister institutions: University College Cork and Athlone Institute of Technology.

At the very core of the initiative lies an utterly strong industrial linkage with giants likes of Microsoft, IBM, Intel and Fujitsu constituting the technology panel. The centre is anticipated to lead cloud innovation in the Irish region.

The IC4 was inaugurated by Richard Bruton TD, the minister for enterprise and jobs. Bruton is a strong advocate of cloud computing mainly owing to the potential within to create mammoth job opportunities that are likely to strengthen the economy. Bruton reiterated the staunch commitment of the Irish government towards banking profitable research areas in Information Technology in terms of economic growth and novel employment opportunities

We must ensure we continue to support cutting-edge scientific research, but also that we put in place measures to ensure that we can turn the good ideas emerging from that research into good jobs,” explained Bruton. Bruton declared cloud computing as being on top of the list of such potential research areas.

That is why we have developed this industry-led (cloud) technology research centre, to bring industry and researchers together so that they can focus on creating viable businesses and ultimately create the jobs we need,” he expounded.

The research to be carried out at IC4 is centered about three main themes.

The first theme, Design for Growth,aims at boosting the establishment of Irish cloud service providers and to speed up the endorsement of Cloud technologies by Irish organizations. In addition, the theme also covers conducting relevant business research to leverage cloud based services as a clear-cut competitive edge and to highlight Ireland’s stronghold in Cloud
technology.

Design for Best Service Provision, the second theme, focuses on formulating recommendations, directions and new approaches to augment cloud reliance. Designing tools to measure cloud quality of service and simplifying enterprise cloud adoption falls within the umbrella of the same theme.

And finally, the last of the threefold theme, Design for Widest Acceptance, targets to ensure cloud system inter-compatibility, cloud migration ease, cloud application portability, cloud data security and cloud risk assessment.

The move by the Irish minister should serve as an eye-opener for IT policy makers from countries that are yet to make up their mind regarding cloud computing adoption, this holds particularly true for developing economies. The cloud is the key to job creation – its only a matter a time when those who call the shots in budding economies realise.

By Humayun Shahid

Air Traffic Management Set To Meet Cloud Technology

Air Traffic Management Set To Meet Cloud Technology

After revolutionizing domains like industrial design and engineering simulation, cloud computing is now set to drastically modify air traffic management technology.

In a recent proceeding, General Electric Company and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (that’s NASA) have teamed up to undertake a project aimed at incorporating cloud computing into conventional air traffic management solutions. The multi-million dollar arrangement will permit airline personnel and air traffic experts to carry out their usual (and utterly critical) business in an efficient manner.

As an outcome of the project, flight critical real-time information will no longer be the only valuable data presented to air traffic controllers and airline staff. Novel data analytics framework and assessment support tools would also be made readily available, streamlining airport operations, and enhancing overall aircraft safety. According to Liling Ren, project leader at the GE Global Research Division,

“Cloud computing has the potential to fundamentally change how air traffic management operates today. With the transition to it, airlines, pilots and air traffic controllers will be able to achieve increased information exchange, sharing of decision support automation capabilities that tell them more accurately and reliably about a plane’s current position and future flight path.”

GE is confident that the project will lead to improved traffic flow and streamlined route configuration contributing significantly towards seamless, resourceful, and on-time travel for air commuters.

Understanding how air traffic control personnel, airline staff, and cockpit team can coordinate more efficiently within the context of a cloud-powered setup remains the main research question of this project. The traditional air traffic management architecture relies heavily upon systems managed and hosted independently by each of the three sections. However, a cloud-fueled setup would permit the parties to access practically inexhaustible computational resources and storage space. It is speculated that the project would hasten the evolution of air traffic management technology, elevating it to a level that would have taken years without the mighty cloud push.

Cloud endorsement has already directed commercial airlines towards billions of dollars in the form of returns, savings, reduced maintenance expenses, and condensed operational costs. The concept of fusing cloud computing into air traffic management will continue to bring fiscal gains for the companies. For the passengers, it would mean a superior degree of predictable air travel, both in terms of timeliness and comfort.

In addition, the project would bring GE a step closer to the real-world realization of its ground-breaking initiative—the Industrial Internet. The initiative signifies a disruptive progression in product design and development, a sophisticated network of smart machines that redefine efficacy and operational resourcefulness.

By Humayun Shahid

Autodesk Cloud Offering To Slash Simulation Cost, Startups Rejoice

Autodesk Cloud Offering To Slash Simulation Cost, Startups Rejoice

In a move aimed to strengthen its cloud computing solution product line, Autodesk has recently revealed the latest in its cloud based simulation offerings. Called the Autodesk Simulation 360, the tool set provides a diverse suite of online core-engineering analysis software based on a pay-as-you-go billing mechanism.

The product mounts on top of prior cloud initiatives like the Autodesk PLM 360, a collection of collaborative cloud based subroutines for quality enhancement, product introduction, conformity management and expense control. Other significant players belonging to Autodesk’s cloud computing arsenal are Project Cumulus and Project Centaur custom tailored for features as extensive as plastics simulation and conventional design optimization respectively, all executed via the Autodesk Labs site.

Autodesk Simulation 360 makes the most out of the inexhaustible computational power punch that cloud computing inherently packs. Offering the said via a single mouse click from within the Autodesk 3D design tool stack integrated development environment, the incorporated cloud computing feature aims to spearhead sophisticated design and testing scenarios at full throttle. Achieving the same feat without the cloud would have required unmatched dexteriority at dedicated simulation tools that are clearly beyond the reach of even established design ventures (over-expensive and difficult to obtain), let alone design startups and enthusiasts.

Deploying Simulation 360 means the utterly burdensome and resource hungry computing being performed up in the cloud, liberating the user work station of the severe number crunching task and enabling parallel accelerated design activities to take place. Simulation 360 adaption also translates to the alleviation of the utterly expensive requirement of having an in-house server farm to perform the relevant simulations – a requirement that usually arises only at the late evaluation stage within a design cycle and usually not in between.

Scott Reese, VP at Autodesk cloud platform simulation and design division, boasted “There has never been a model where the software is affordable for the masses or where you never have to worry about what hardware you have to handle complex models. With Simulation 360, you don’t use much, you don’t pay much.”

Simulation 360 empowers small design ventures to contend with government agencies defence contractors and established design studios – all bearing multi-million (or should I say billion) dollar budget heads.

The software solution was acclaimed by Dmitry Tseliakhovich, CTO at Escape Dynamics, startup striving to bring down the mammoth costs associated with deep space exploration. “Building rockets is hard; simulation lets us simulate thousands of geometries and reject 99 percent of them before we come up with just the right technology without spending money on physical prototyping. This opens doors and democratizes the space market for us” explained Tseliakhovich.

To let you in on the associated savings – studded with mechanical and computational fluid dynamics capabilities, a single-user unlimited-jobs usage license costs about $ 7,200 annually. Now that’s only a minute fraction of the one-time cost for establishment and on-going expenses for operation of a dedicated server farm.

Cloud computing is bound to be a game changer for the computer aided design and simulation industry, and the best part of this all is end-users and small ventures being benefitted at large in the form of utterly significant price cuts.

By Humayun Shahid

Towards Intelligent Cloud Diagnostics: Well Researched Software Marvel

Towards Intelligent Cloud Diagnostics: Well Researched Software Marvel

A devoted group of researchers at North Carolina State University have painstakingly developed a novel software tool aimed at addressing performance disarrays in cloud computing systems. The tool functions to automatically classify and respond to potential network disruptions before they actually occur.

Cloud computing provides the freedom of creating numerous virtual machines provided to the end-users across a single computing platform – all that functions autonomously. Performance issues with such an approach are bound to occur. In case of a software glitch or a closely related hiccup, problems arising across a single effected virtual machine may end up bringing down the entire cloud down on its knees.

Determination of various contingencies across a system can be simplified by sensing and keeping a track of numerous machine related variables. The software does exactly that. By calculating the current network traffic, extent of memory consumption, CPU utilization, and several other parameters of data within a cloud computing infrastructure, the tool is able to estimate an effective measure of the overall system health. This renders the software flexible enough to formulate an adequate data-range characterization that can be safely considered as being normal. The processor usage, for instance, reflects the amount of computational power being required at any instant of time. The software outlines normal performance for every virtual machine in the cloud, and reports deviation of almost any sort. Based on the aforementioned information the tool predicts incongruities that might potentially affect the system’s capacity to provide service to users.

This particular approach is immensely beneficial in terms of associated benefits, including the all-important savings inherent with the alleviation of personnel training requirement. The software, being entirely autonomous depicts aberrant behavior on its own. In addition, the ability to predict anomalies is a feat that has never been achieved before. Not only that, upon sensing abnormal behavior in a virtual machine, it executes a pre-defined black box diagnostic test that determines which variables (memory usage, for instance) might be affected. The diagnostic data is then used to prompt the suitable prevention subroutine without making use of the user’s personal data in any form.

Helen Gu, co-author of the paper articulating this research marvel and an assistant professor at North Carolina State University explained: “If we can identify the initial deviation and launch an automatic response, we can not only prevent a major disturbance, but actually prevent the user from even experiencing any change in system performance.”

Most importantly, the software is not resource hungry (power in particular) and does not consume considerable amount of processor cycles to operate. It has the ability to fetch the preliminary data and classify normal behavior much quicker than the existing tactics. With CPU power consumption less than 1% of the total and a mere 16 megabytes of memory, the software is bound to pack a punch.

During the testing phase, the program recognized up to 98% of incongruities, which is the utmost as compared to existing approaches. It prompted a mere 1.7% of false alarms. Gu says: “And because the false alarms resulted in automatic responses, which are easily reversible, the cost of the false alarms is negligible.”

The software does sound like a real game-changer altogether. However, commercialization of the said research would eventually reveal the true benefits this tool has in store for the cloud computing industry – fingers crossed.

By Humayun Shahid

 

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