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Friday, April 30, 2010

Cloud Computing and The Internet of Things

What if things could talk to us?  What if your garbage could tell you it was ready to be emptied?  What if a soda machine on the second floor of Building 7 could tell the supplier it needed more Diet Dr. Pepper for slot D2?  What if a river could tell us it was choking on PCBs that were excessively high and could show us the highest levels occurred next to a particular factory?

Once the domain of science fiction, many of these are happening today.

In a 2006 paper titled, A Manifesto for Networked Objects — Cohabiting with Pigeons, Arphids and Aibos in the Internet of Things, Dr. Julian Bleeker of the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Southern California, conceived the Internet of Things: 

"The Internet of Things has evolved into a nascent conceptual framework for understanding how physical objects, once networked and imbued with informatic capabilities, will occupy space and occupy themselves in a world in which things once were quite passive." Dr. Bleeker goes on to ask a fascinating question, "When it is not only “us” but also our “Things” that can upload, download, disseminate and stream meaningful and meaning-making stuff, how does the way in which we occupy the physical world become different? What sorts of implications and effects on existing social practices can we anticipate?"

This is a world envisioned by Joel Birnbaum, head of HP Labs in the 1990s, who spoke often about armies of sensors automatically providing ongoing data to ubiquitous networks to monitor everything from homes to rivers.  That vision is becoming a vibrant reality, if you read Kevin Novak's blog.

Kevin writes Cloud Feedback, Monitoring the Real World with Cloud Computing. It is a terrific source of real time applications of things that talk to us through the cloud.  He begins with the understanding that we can understand things that we once knew nothing about because they were neither measured nor controlled. But when the data is available and reliable, individuals, businesses and governments can achieve greater cost savings, great energy and water efficiency, reduced pollution, and higher levels of cooperation and productivity.

One example Kevin recently cited is  Cantaloupe Systems, a San Francisco company founded in 2002  that provides vending machine operators a device to install inside a vending machine to communicate every transaction the machine performs.  Kevin explains that "The data is sent over cell phone data networks to Cantaloupe’s data centers, allowing operators to schedule visits to the replenish the machines exactly when needed."  The result is cost savings for customers, lower fuel consumption by delivery trucks, improved delivery logistics and more accurate inventory management.

Cloud Feedback also recently looked at BigBelly Solar -- a Needham, MA, company that makes a garbage can for city streets with an enclosed motorized compactor.  Their cans "power the compactor from solar cells, so it doesn’t need an electricity connection.  It also uses sensors to detect and transmit how frequently it is used, and how full it has become.  A cloud computing service records the data and schedules trash collections. The combination of compacting and just-in-time collection saves a lot of fuel and labor; Philadelphia estimates a 70% reduction."
This is dynamic, groundbreaking change being generated through new ways of looking at ordinary problems.  Armed with the right tools, really smart people can change the world quickly and reverse years of neglect, selective listening and downright ignorance.  When billions of objects -- both organic and man made -- starting talk to us, we can do a better job monitoring and protecting the planet AND improve efficiency and profitability. This could not be accomplished without the cloud.

Here at Beyond the Arc, we sometimes get as overwhelmed as the next person when looking at the massive amount of information about the cloud.  While we are staunch advocates, at times we have to fight our way out of what Gartner Group calls the "the Trough of Disillusionment" and remind ourselves that the future of IT is intrinsically tied to cloud computing  But the magic of the cloud is that just when you think you have had enough, something amazing crosses your path -- something that can only happen through the cloud.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

A priest, a rabbi, and a minister...

It happens thousands of times a week all over Silicon Valley. Friends gather after work for a drink at a bar, swap stories about bad bosses or the cool things they’re working on, then they head home. And many times each week, some of these patrons accidentally leave behind a mobile phone on the bar, or at their table.

Unfortunately, when one young engineer from Apple exited a bar in Redwood City last month, it wasn’t just any phone he left behind, it was a prototype of the new Apple iPhone; due out later this summer.

The person who found the prototype phone apparently made several attempts to find the owner, and when he couldn’t, he offered it up for sale to a handful of technology-oriented web sites. bought the phone for $5000. That’s their story anyway.

After thoroughly examining and testing the phone, reporter Jason Chen published a long story about it on the Gizmodo web site. Apple was not happy, and demanded the phone be returned. When Chen and Gizmodo initially refused, San Mateo County investigators broke into Chen’s apartment and seized computers, other electronics and credit card statements.

I’m not going to comment on the legality of this action, although I will say that the search warrant used said that the law enforcement officials who stormed Chen’s home were investigating a theft. From what I can tell, there was no theft, only a lost cell phone.

The entire case is getting a lot of attention in legal and journalistic circles regarding what is protected under the First Amendment.

What is more interesting to me about this story is, why is Apple so upset? For decades, Apple and its CEO Steve Jobs have used controlled leaks and sneak peeks, crafting these techniques into a communications art form designed to build buzz and excitement around pending product announcements. So why get so upset this time?

Maybe it’s because the stakes are higher now than ever before. Just today, Microsoft announced a deal with Taiwanese mobile phone manufacturer HTC. Apparently, Microsoft holds certain patents that are used in devices running Google’s Android operating system. So rather than sue HTC, the way Apple did a month early over similar patent issues, Microsoft chose to make HTC a partner. Why?

HTC started out as a maker of phones that ran Microsoft’s Windows Mobile software. But because the Windows Mobile phone didn’t sell well in the market, HTC dropped the Microsoft operating system in favor of Google’s Android OS. Microsoft knows from its past success that he who owns the OS calls the shots. Losing HTC to Google surely left a bad taste in Microsoft’s mouth. So rather than sue HTC over patent violations, Microsoft convinced HTC that partnering was a better path for both companies.

To no one’s surprise, HTC has announced that it will produce new mobile phones that run Microsoft’s next mobile OS, Windows Phone 7.

And in other news this week, Hewlett Packard announced it was buying Palm for $1.2B. It may seem like a curious move at first, but if you look a little deeper, HP has its eyes set on the Palm operating system, webOS, also known as the Garnet OS. The Palm OS is generally considered to be one of the most powerful and innovative operating systems for mobile devices currently in the market. HP, which has already made it clear that it wants to be a major player in mobile computing with netbooks and tablets, needed an OS to compete with Google, Microsoft, RIM and Apple.

Which brings us back to Apple. One of Apple’s core strengths (no pun intended) with the iPhone is its app store. Those apps are developed by third parties, live in the cloud, and are downloaded for a fee by customers. Being able to dictate how those apps are developed may end up being the difference between who wins and loses the mobile phone wars.

So maybe that’s why the bigwigs at Apple are so wound up over the phone that was left at the bar in Redwood City. Just what’s in that new OS anyway?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Time to Cut Through the Cloud Computing Mania

Every few years a new idea representing a fundamental shift in how a task is accomplished or how a certain category of problem is solved, is introduced. Today, in marketing communications this fundamental shift is represented by social media. Social media has turned marketing communications on its head. Communications agencies everywhere are running hard and fast to stay ahead of the opportunities that the new social media channels present. For most agencies, staying ahead of what's new in social media is like drinking from a fire hose. It's exhilarating and exhausting at the same time. But mostly, it's exhilarating.

Today, in the world of technology this fundamental shift is represented by cloud computing. Cloud computing is the big new idea for how companies access, pay for and deploy technology -- from applications, to infrastructure, to computer power, etc.

Cloud computing is turning the technology world, and the business of technology, on its head.

Cloud computing, to me, is the single most exciting thing happening in technology today. Staying ahead of the cloud computing advancements being announced on a daily basis is also exhilarating and exhausting. But mostly exhilarating, if you're a cloud computing bigot like me.

Yes, the advancements in the mobile technology segment are electric. It's a segment that is growing faster than any other and is more imaginative and lucrative than most. And let's not forget the advancements and opportunities that are ongoing in the more established segments that include enterprise IT and semiconductor manufacturing.

But what these technology segments all have in common is the cloud. Whether it's a mobile technology company selling to other businesses or directly to consumers or both, or a global B2B enterprise IT solutions provider or a manufacturer of semiconductor components, they are retrofitting their existing offerings to leverage a cloud computing environment or they are developing new solutions optimized specifically for the cloud.

Some have referred to the cloud computing market as the "Wild West" or another gold rush on the heels of many before it, like the Internet gold rush of the mid-to-late 90's and the networked multitasking operating systems shoot out of the late 80's and early 90's.

At 3Point, we write a lot about cloud computing because we believe that cloud computing represents a broad transformation of the information technology industry. It's a seismic shift in technology and business, like the Internet was 15 years ago. Heck, local small circulation daily newspapers are even mentioning cloud computing on their business pages.

Cloud computing will be around long after many of the companies who are betting the farm on cloud computing will be around. I'm not talking about the big players, like and Oracle and Microsoft, but the outcrop of new companies who are building their businesses on the cloud computing mania.

The companies that will survive, I believe, will be the ones who battle test their offerings -- of course. But they will also be the companies who communicate most effectively through the hype. They will be the companies who will communicate new ideas that break through the clutter. They will be the companies who educate their markets rather than hype the news. They will be the companies that start with a strong point of view and find ways to take a different perspective. They will be the companies who exploit the new social media channels appropriately and intelligently and not just because it's new and cool.

In the next few weeks, we'll be writing more about cloud computing marketing communications and how cloud computing companies can put social media to work for them.

In the meantime, I'd love to hear your ideas or examples of how you're using social media to cut through the cloud computing hype.