Author Archives: Luchi

The Cloud, Week In Review: November 9th, 2012

The Cloud, Week In Review: November 9th, 2012

The presidential elections and the aftermath of hurricane Sandy have turned the past week in one of the most significant weeks of this year. These events have had a significant influence on most of our lives and some of them have even influenced the existence of the Cloud as we know it. If the results of the elections may not have had that big of an influence on the Cloud, other types of politics did emerge this week from Amazon that directly influence our perception of what the cloud is. And also we are beginning to see more and more evidence of how Microsoft is trying to make a significant mark on the future of the cloud.

Amazon Proposes New Closed “.cloud” Domain

Perhaps the most significant news about the cloud this week is the proposition from Amazon for a new closed registry .cloud gTLD. To put it simply Amazon proposed that they would manage a newly created top level domain such as .com, .net or .org but with a difference: the .cloud domains would not be purchased by third party companies or individuals. Instead the domains would remain under the complete control of Amazon. The new domain would be used by Amazon to promote their own brand and protect their intellectual property. Furthermore the new platform would allow them to create an entirely new architecture that would provide a more stable and secure environment.

Sandy Proves the Importance of the Cloud

The hurricane Sandy has certainly been one of the most destructive phenomena to hit the US this year and yet, due to the security measures set in place by Google, Apple, Amazon, Dropbox and Netflix all of whom currently operate large data servers in the areas that were scheduled to be hit by the hurricane. Every security measure possible had been set into play before the storm hit including the installation of massive power generators. Thus, even if the storm had taken out the power grid functionality of the data servers would not have desisted.

And nowhere was the importance of the cloud more obvious for business continuity than in New York. Here companies that had moved the majority of their business to the cloud were able to continue operations without any interruptions. Others, however, were forced to completely shut down their servers to prevent damage and suffer hours of downtime. And last there were companies that did suffer partial downtime but who were able to communicate with their business partners and their employees via email.

Microsoft to Start Selling Answers in the Cloud

After Microsoft has announced plans to release a very inexpensive student version of their Office package including the 365 online apps and a license for the computer based system, they are now talking about introducing an intelligent software capable of using the algorithms that are now analyzing textual, behavioral and sensorial data to form predictions and patterns that are currently powering Bing. But the new system would only develop on those features, integrating them with the entire Microsoft infrastructure to produce answers to questions that people or smaller companies simply could not produce. The service would exist in the Azure Marketplace and would be accessible to every company needing its services.

The Acquisition of Ariba by SAP Is Concluded

SAP decided to purchase Ariba this spring paying $4.3 billion in the hopes of developing their cloud income. Currently their online revenue accounts for only 2% of the company’s profit but the simple incorporation of Ariba will give them a boost. Furthermore they are hoping to turn Ariba, which is currently a marketplace for businesses selling to other businesses into a type of business Facebook. The only difference is that here the status updates will be about new products, status of payments or situation of products still in transit.

Microsoft May Enter the Cloud TV Market

Lastly Microsoft may also be interested in entering the Cloud TV market. Following the success stories of such well known companies as YouTube or even Netflix, Microsoft has started recruiting engineers to work on the new platform. It may be just an attempt to test the market but if Microsoft has proven anything in the last decade or so is that, if they want to launch a new system, they do have the capability and the financial stability to do so.

By Luchi Gabriel Manescu

Can Cloud Security Be Doubted When Even ThePirateBay Is Sailing There Now? – The Complex Answer (Part 2)

Can Cloud Security Be Doubted When Even ThePirateBay Is Sailing There Now? – The Complex Answer

The fact that ThePirateBay, the most infamous bit torrent site, has moved its servers to the cloud is a fact that has already rocked the internet. A quick analysis of the reasons why they made the move would indicate that the cloud is now the safest place to store your data. Not only are most data servers locations completely unknown to the public, so a lot more challenging for a hacker to attack, but they are also hosted in different countries so it is very difficult for any one legal system to pursue them. Furthermore there is no doubt that the custom made firewalls that data servers use are more difficult to hack and since the systems are usually monitored by specialists, even if an access route could be found, it will be immediately blocked.

However, ThePirateBay did a lot more than just move to the cloud in order to ensure their data security. Besides uploading their sensitive data to the cloud they have kept the transit router and the disk balancer under their own management and they are installed in two different countries. This means that they are able to hide the data they own even from the server providers that host it. And even if either the servers or any police force might discover the servers that are hosting the traffic, data is encrypted so that the users are still protected.

Yet the technical specifications themselves are not that important to us, regular cloud users, but what they represent should give anyone pause for thought. For example the load balancer is a diskless server. That means that every bit of software only exist in the RAM memory of the system. The major difference between a hard drive memory and a RAM memory is that the RAM memory can only hold data if it is under power. So the moment that servers loses power every bit of sensitive information it holds is instantly lost.

Needless to say the effort and ingenuity of creating such a system is difficult to match by any other system we use today. Just think of how much space your current Windows installation needs on your hard drive, that is on a permanent hardware memory structure, and you will begin to understand the efforts the guys from ThePirateBay are putting into securing their data.

Considering the security measures they have put into place, setting and memorizing a password that is long enough and respects the basic rules of password security becomes frivolous. We rarely need to set any drastic measures to keep our anonymity about the data we keep on the cloud and there are many server systems that provide a very elaborate data securing algorithms so that the data is untouchable even by the server provider.

So is cloud data secure? Well, if anyone needed any more convincing, the fact that one of the most hunted virtual enterprises have decided that cloud security is better than keeping everything on their own servers should convince everyone else of this fact.

By Luchi Gabriel Manescu

Can Cloud Security Be Doubted When Even ThePirateBay Is Sailing There Now? – The Simple Answer (Part 1)

Can Cloud Security Be Doubted When Even ThePirateBay Is Sailing There Now? – The Simple Answer (Part 1)

Can Cloud Security Be Doubted When Even ThePirateBay Is Sailing There Now? – The Simple Answer

Perhaps the strongest reason deterring people from moving their virtual assets to the cloud is the feeling that their data may not be secure there. The IT world is already building myths about security hackers that could and still can get at any data they want. And, as far as the beginnings of the internet are concerned, it was certainly true that a specialist could get at any data he or she wanted. But the times are changing and every lesson in security systems is now quickly shared throughout the system so it is getting increasingly difficult to for anyone to get at secured data.

And what better proof of that concept than the fact that The Pirate Bay is moving its servers to the cloud. In fact they have already moved to the clouds because they have already acquired the services of several data centers in two different countries. Now, you may or may not support the efforts of the BitTorrent use, but what is undeniably true is that basically the entire entertainment industry has a vested interest in taking them down. And that means that virtually limitless economic resources and political lobbying are being thrown against them.

So what is it about the cloud that has convinced them to move there and trust other servers instead of their own? Well, one of the most important things about server security is to keep the actual physical location of the server a secret. It is not only a matter of keeping secure the actual hard drives from being seized but virtual attackers also need to know in what country and, preferably, in what exact location a data server is before they can attempt to hack it. Even more important in this situation is the fact that The Pirate Bay is using the servers of several companies so even if one of them should fall prey to an attack the others would take up the slack with no user disturbance whatsoever.

Of course not many of us can afford to use the services of two server storage systems let alone several of them but the idea of having a backup in a secure location is certainly worth considering. And since most of us do not need to fear that our data will be automatically deleted by the police it is worth to take into account the costs involved in buying an extra hard drive and linking it in a RAID configuration that would allow automatic backups.

And there is a second reason why The Pirate Bay moved to the cloud and it has to do with the fact that, last month, the entire torrent community got a big scare when the site was down for over two days. The downtime had to do with internal problems and not with any federal action but it did prove just how dependent they were on their hardware. So by moving to several servers they have spread that vulnerability to the point where it is almost negligible. And since every one of us has at least on story where we’ve lost all of our important data due to faulty hardware it makes sense to back up on systems that nothing short of a global disaster could terminate.

Stay Tuned For Part 2 (The Complex Answer)

By Luchi Gabriel Manescu

Is The Xbox Music Project Dead On Arrival?

Is The Xbox Music Project Dead On Arrival?

Microsoft has recently come up with a service that allows you to handle all your music collection with one single app across as many platforms as you have that are working under the Microsoft license. The program, called Xbox Music, is a bundle of two services, the Xbox Music Pass and the Xbox Music Store. The latter is pretty self-explanatory and the only relevant thing to add about it is that it allows you to pay with money and not Microsoft points. The Xbox Music pass has both a free version and a paid subscription of $10. The free version will allow you to stream about 18 million songs if you leave in the US and can go as high as 30 million songs in the global market.

Of course the free version is not permanent and will most likely last for only the first 6 months of use, after which you will have to move up to the paid version. However many users will probably opt to go pro from the first month simply because the free version only works on PCs and Tablets using Windows 8 and you need to upgrade in order to be able to stream music over your smartphone or Xbox.

However Xbox Music was designed to be the exclusive service lunched with Windows 8 and that means there is no cross platform support for it. In face you won’t be able to use the service on any system running Windows 7 or even 7.5. So Microsoft is really playing for the end game with this lunch is counting on really making money on the system a few years from now when Microsoft 8 will have been adopted by most PC users that are now using Windows 7.

The problem is that, the way things look today, Windows will not own that much of the mobile market even in 10 years from now. So the system may be great and, as is the case with almost every Windows product, as long as you accept its limitation, it does work great. And even in this situation there is a problem with syncing hard drive based songs to the phone and it will take you a bit of effort in the beginning to learn how to navigate the program. The biggest problem, though, is the fact that most people today like to stream music over their phone more often than they use their PCs or tablet PCs.

So the Xbox Music may be the perfect choice for listening to music under Windows 8 but the only question will be just how many systems will you be using working on this particular platform. For PC users, yes, it is probably the future, but for smartphone users, unless Microsoft adds in a cross platform module, they are probably going to lose a lot of their customers to other services. And obviously Zune users are going to migrate naturally to the Xbox Music but except for them there isn’t really anything about the software that will get users to abandon their favourite music streaming software in favour of the new Microsoft app.

By Luchi Gabriel Manescu

Apple’s Oregon Data Server: If A Green Cloud Rumbles And No One Hears It, Does It Make A Sound?

Apple’s Oregon Data Server: If A Green Cloud Rumbles And No One Hears It, Does It Make A Sound?

You can say whatever you want about Apple, Android vs iOS, iPad or Samsung Galaxy, but where you have to give it to them is in the genuine effort they have put into going green. Their data centers in Cork, Ireland, Austin, Texas, Sacramento, California and Munich, Germany have already made the switch to 100% renewable energy and the new data center that they have started building in Oregon promises to be “every bit as environmentally responsible as our Maiden data center”.

You may argue that they are only giving in to the pressures that Green Peace and other such nonprofit organizations are putting on them but then again these organizations have been putting pressure on ever other company as well and very few have reacted as promptly as Apple.

If we were to look at the Maiden data center we would see that it currently pulls in 20 megawatts of electricity when it’s working at full capacity. And that energy is developed by a 100 acre, 20 megawatt solar array that was built on the same site as the data center. There is a second array being built that will encompass a similar area and will provide the same amount of energy. Together they will be producing 84 million kilowatt-hours of electricity every year. And because solar panels are very much dependent on the sun Apple is also scheduled to finish building a 5 megawatt fuel cell on the same site. The cell is also green since it is using biogas to generate electricity and has the advantage of being able to start generating at maximum capacity at any moment.

Apple’s efforts to go green with their massive power sucking data centers is also beneficial to many of the green power companies in the area because their “in house” production of electricity only covers about 60% of their needs. So, in order to stay completely eco friendly, they are sourcing the rest of the energy they need from local and regional companies that are obviously excited about the partnership with one of the most renowned companies in the world.

What is even more impressive about Apple’s efforts to keep a green profile about their iCloud support is that they are also implementing eco measures in the way they run their data centers. And the reason why that is so impressive is that these are the kind of measures that very few of the other data centers are willing to implement since they prefer to run at maximum performance all of the time. Apple’s Maiden facility is already using passive air cooling for almost 75% of the time, variable speed fans for when they do need to use them, a white cool-roof design and a chilled water system that will further help to keep the temperatures as low as possible.

Should we all start singing praises to the green policies Apple is setting in place? Maybe and maybe not! There are debates built on other debate built on what going green really means but it is only when you compare them with what the other major data centers are doing that you begin to realize just how small Apple’s carbon footprint really is. And for that reason alone they have our utmost respect.

By Luchi Gabriel Manescu

Can We Afford The Resources We Spend On The Cloud?

Can We Afford The Resources We Spend on the Cloud?

We often think about the Cloud in terms of security, services provided, storage space and price so it is fairly easy to forget about the resources that are needed to keep the Cloud floating in the blue, virtual sky. And yet even our home computers are sucking enough power that if you did not use them for a month and you and would set in place green measures like auto sleep, you would see a significant improvement in your electrical bill.

So how much electricity does the Cloud eat up? It is nearly impossible for any one person or business to tell because the Cloud is made up of thousands of data centers and they are all owned by different entities. Even more significant is that one of the best ways to secure those data centers is to keep their physical location secret. Needless to say, the details about their makeup are closely guarded secrets.

Still there is one thing that can be said about how much power the least of these data centers consumes: it would be enough to power a medium-sized town.

The worst thing about it is that the priority of these data centers is to operate at peak efficiency. That means that they could save almost 90% of the energy that they currently use if they agreed to power down unused parts of the system until it is needed. But, since that would affect both the security of the system and its efficiency, the power keeps going in.

Yet we have never shied away from making great sacrifices when they were made for a good cause and, despite what some may argue, the cloud can be more than just a fad. There are more and more applications that are available for free or for a fraction of the cost it would take to buy them privately. And letting more people make use of them at any given time means that there are more chances for some fantastic works of art to be created or for some outstanding medical breakthroughs to be made.

Even as we speak the fantastic computing power that Watson, the Jeopardy winning super computer created by IBM, represents is being prepared to be uploaded on the Cloud. Watson is already using its 90 servers and 16,000 gigabytes of RAM to go through hundreds of peer-reviewed cancer research papers to become one of the best diagnosticians that oncologists can use.

The only problem is that we, as humans, already need to set aside our preconceptions about computers. There are doctors who will regard Watson as trustworthy as any other of their tools. Yet, since it does not merely provide a sharper hearing, but perhaps a broader knowledge of symptoms, there will undoubtedly be doctors who will feel threatened by it and reject it.

However, if history has thought us anything, is that we need to be flexible and learn to use the smarter tools at our disposal. So the Cloud is here to stay and Watson will certainly be just the first super computer to change the way specialists around the globe do things.

By Luchi Gabriel Manescu

How Good Do You Feel About Your Cloud Security?

How Good Do You Feel About Your Cloud Security?

When most of us think about our online security, we tend to feel very pleased about ourselves because none of our friends are able to guess our password. And, as far as personal privacy is concerned, we are right to assume that our friends, acquaintances, and the occasional stalker are all that we have to guard against. However, with the great advantages of the cloud comes great responsibility.

The cloud is making available for free a fantastic array of tools and apps that make life more beautiful. But each one of these tools means a new path that hackers can use to access our online data, and if they can break one barrier, it is likely that they can break all.

A couple of months ago, Gizmodo, an IT news site, started to post all kinds of garbage over Twitter. Obviously it wasn’t their own doing, but that of a hacker who was able to hack the iCloud account of one of Gizmodo’s former contributors. From there, the hacker was able to change the Google password of that user, wipe the data on his MacBook Air, iPhone, and iPad, and further hack the contributor’s and Gizmodo’s Twitter accounts.

So there are two questions that you need to ask yourself: How interesting a target are you? And how interesting targets are the people and businesses you are even in the least bit connected with? The answer is crucial not only for your partners but also for yourself because hackers will usually smash your data too just for the fun of it or for making sure that there is nothing leading back to them.

And once you begin to realize that everything, from the smallest iPhone or Android app to a website you contributed to, is a possible gateway to your other, more private online endeavors, you begin to realize how important it is to have secure passwords. And the operative word here is passwords because we already know how to create a strong password, but we rarely create more than two or three for our entire online life. In fact, most people will use one password for their vital accounts, those connected to banks or to online businesses, and the second for their private lives. But the problem is that even the most secure password can be cracked in time and the best thing you can do is to make sure that only one of your online resources will be exposed.

There is also a second lesson in Gizmodo’s tale of security—they were attacked through one of their former contributors. And yet they had not removed the contributor’s access privileges. And that is something we often do: we keep connections to sites and apps that we no longer use and thus we keep open doors to our private lives that translate into even more opportunities for hackers to access them.

So if you want to keep your private affairs private, take the time to create secure passwords for each one of your accounts. And, just as importantly, once you are done with an online connection, make sure to delete all ties to it for both your and their security.

By Luchi Gabriel Manescu

A Flash View In The Building Of The Cloud

A Flash View In The Building Of The Cloud

How often did you want to share a picture, a favorite song, or even a movie with a friend but suddenly realized that you had deleted those files from your laptop and only had them on a backup hard drive at home? Probably not very often, but often enough for you to begin thinking fondly about the cloud. And now that the IT world is becoming more and more mobile, with smartphones, tablet PCs, and mini laptops, we are bound to see how more personal data will begin their cloud existence.

But what we call “the cloud” is not so different from the devices we have at home. The cloud is more powerful, has infinitely better Internet connectivity, and enough storage space to boggle any imagination. The image from The Matrix, with the farms of people being harvested for their BTUs is a much better comparison, except that here we have hard drives instead of humans. The hard drives are just as neatly stacked in storage pods and these pods fill “acres of farmland” in corporate and private offices.

They grow at an incremental rate in order to stay ahead of our needs and that is why it is so difficult to picture this growth. Google does a pretty good job of it with the ever-growing storage count that they show you on the left column as you log into your Gmail account, but the flooding in Thailand last year created the opportunity for us to have much better visual understanding of this growth.

The floods in Thailand created not only a huge humanitarian disaster but also drove the prices of hard drives through the roof because most manufacturers had built their plants there. That almost meant disaster for many small startup companies, but one of them, called Blackblaze, found an ingenious way to stay afloat.

They noticed that the prices for the 3 TB consumer hard drives had stayed relatively unchanged and that they could modify those hard drives and use them in their storage pods. However, even the consumer network was close to being depleted and Blackblaze’s new sources, Best Buy, Fry’s, and Costco set up a limit that only 2 HDDs could be bought by one person at a time. Yet, the company needed 50 TB more space every day so they reached out to their friends and family and asked them to buy as many drives as they could on their behalf.

So the guys from Blackblaze, their friends, and their families went out or online and bought as many hard drives as they could. One of the guys had his own “paper route” where he would drop by as many shops as he could, driving about 212 miles in total, and buying the 2 HDD allowed ration from every shop. An innovative friend of the company would order two hard drives on his behalf with his own credit card, wait until they were shipped, and then order another two with his wife’s credit card, having them shipped to their office.

Ultimately the company survived and actually thrived because of the effort that went into buying affordable storage space. Yet the most spectacular thing about their story becomes apparent when you start picturing a small army of people buying 3TB hard drives every day for days and days just to meet the demands of a small cloud storage company.

By Luchi Gabriel Manescu

CloudTweaks Comics
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