Posts with tag "cloud computing"

Breaking down the Mesh

mesh logo All the big news last week was the big announcement by Ray Ozzie concerning Live Mesh and the availability of a limited number (20,000) beta invites that were available. Needless to say those invites became a pretty hot commodity among a portion of folks interested in what Microsoft is doing in the cloud computing space. Needless to say I was kind of anxious to give it a go but as one who hadn’t received an invite directly I had to rely on the possibility that one of my friends would get one.

Well I was lucky in that regard as Frederic over at The Last Podcast did get one sent to him and once I let him in on the secret (shhh .. don’t tell anyone k?) that he now had around five invites that he could share I was soon bustling my way to the Mesh site to sign in.

Some Misconceptions

question1 Now there is a couple of points that need to be clarified here in the hopes to cut through a lot of the bullshit being spewed by people who are regurgitating second hand information based on blog posts they might have read. The first point which seems to be causing a fair amount of confusion is Live Mesh itself.

Live Mesh is not an application. Let me repeat that just so we are clear – Live Mesh is not an application. What Live Mesh is though is a platform upon which Mesh aware applications can be run. It is also intended to be a way for you to synchronize data across all your devices that have been added to your Mesh desktop. As Ray Ozzie said in a recently published memo

Central to this strategy is our embrace of both a world of the web and a world of devices. Over the past ten years, the PC era has given way to an era in which the web is at the center of our experiences – experiences delivered not just through the browser but also through many different devices including PCs, phones, media players, game consoles, set-top boxes and televisions, cars, and more.

It is our mission in this new era to create compelling, seamless experiences that combine the power of the internet, with the magic of software, across a world of devices.

Another point that is being raised is that Live Mesh is too Windows centric meaning that is only accessible from computers running Windows. As well much is being said of how lacking it is in features. To these folks there is only one thing to say – What part of Technical Preview don’t you get?

In regards to the Windows only question this has been answered indirectly many times by both the Mesh team themselves as well as people knowledgeable of the project but nowhere was it made more clearer than when the Gilmore Gang had a chance to interview David Treadwell the lead of the Mesh project. Steve Gilmore repeated what was said in his post on TechCrunch

First, the Coke Classic questions: When’s the Mac version? Two months.

This push to provide an open platform for developers to build Mesh enabled applications; desktop or web based, has also been quite plain from day one when word of the projected started gaining traction. This was pointed out in a post in April on TechCrunch

The basic foundation of Mesh is this feed-centric programming model. A Web developer can build an app using any programming language or tools he likes (Python, Ruby on Rails, Flex) and then sync it across devices and other applications using two-way feeds as the basic data and communication channel. The promise for developers, says product unit manager Abhay Parasnis: “If you Mesh-enable your application, we will let you extend it to other devices.”

Microsoft is offering a set of Mesh APIs that include storage services, membership, sync, peer-to-peer communication, and a Newsfeed feature that tells users the status of different folders and who’s accessed them. The same programming model works whether a developer is building an app for an offline device or for the Web

But what about the user?

What about us? All this clarification about developer and platforms is nice but what’s in it for the user and how’s it suppose to work?

Using the Technical Preview Release

The fact of the matter is that at this point Mesh has no real use to anyone other than if you are lucky enough to get an invite you get to play around a little bit. However moving files around between your local machine and the Mesh desktop gets to be boring pretty quick. I won’t bother posting any screenshots of what you can expect to see as there are already plenty of blogs out there with them; which you will find links to at the end of this post.

The idea of the Technical Preview was primarily to let the world know that Microsoft has something very serious in the works and that they shouldn’t be counted out just yet regardless of some people are saying.

We shouldn’t expect to see anything really happening as far as a Mesh that regular folks can make use of until Microsoft releases the SDK (Software Development Kit) for developers to get their grimy little mitts on. Once that happens and they open up the platform to more people to us then we will probably start to see the excitement begin to build.

The road forward

As excited I might be about what Mesh could be bringing to the table I don’t really think we will see much that will have any impact on users for at least a year to a year and a half. In the meantime though developers will begin to see more and more things for them to play with appear on the horizon. It is almost enough for me to crack open my development tools again.

That said though I am probably more in the same camp as Alexander van Elsas who is more concerned about how this will play out for the user

Does that mean that the launch of Microsoft Live Mesh isn’t a big deal? Sure it is. But I’m not getting excited of the technology announcement. I’m interested in the announcements of companies building great user services over this platform!

The other two things that concern me are the same as the ones that I mentioned in yesterday’s post about cloud computing in general – that being connectivity and security. While I find it humorous that people who use web based email app and other online applications like Google docs are concerned about their data being on Microsoft servers we still need to take a serious look at how our data is going to be protected.

To round this up as exciting as Live Mesh might be we are still at the very beginning stages of the now public project. This means that for the average user there really isn’t anything to be concerned with as it really isn’t a usable platform other than to play around on.

Microsoft could very well be entering the whole cloud computing sector with a big bang as the Mesh platform moves forward but for now it is strictly a wait and see situation.

Other sites

Introducing Live Mesh :: Windows Live Dev
Windows Live Mesh, let’s talk about the user :: Alexander van Elsas’s Weblog on new media & technologies and their effect on social behavior
Live Mesh – The Version You Can Understand :: Mashable
Services Strategy Update :: Ray Ozzie (PDF)
Live Mesh – Windows Meet Cloud :: Windows Connected
Live mesh Microsoft’s answer to cloud computing :: TechWag
Microsoft’s Mesh Revealed—Sync All Apps And All Files To All Devices (As Long As They’re Windows) :: TechCrunch
Live Mesh: Boy have we got questions! :: LiveSide
Ray Ozzie’s latest memo – Software plus Services strategy :: Steve Clayton : Geek in disguise
Mesh Review: A User’s Perspective :: The Last Podcast
Want to try Mesh, but not got access? Find a friend and you can! :: LiveSide
Live Mesh Technology Preview: A closer look – User perspective Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 :: LiveSide
Microsoft Says Yes With Mesh :: TechCrunch

What is cloud computing?

Looking to the clouds With sometimes what seems to be breakneck speed things change in technology with old concepts being thrown to the curb and new ones rushing in to fill the void. Along with those new technologies come all the buzzwords used by marketing departments or folks looking to sound cool as they spout the hot new terms in water cooler meetings. One of the biggest buzzwords to start making the rounds has to be cloud computing.

Along with hot topics like social media or social networking the concept of cloud computing is so relatively new that people still have a hard time figuring out what it all encompasses. For some it is strictly the idea of being able to store files and data on some remote network using the Internet as the transfer vehicle. Then for others it is being able to use remotely hosted software in your local browser rather than having to own and install that software locally.

As well even the providers of cloud computing services appear to have different ideas of what cloud computing consists of. Whether it be Amazon with their EC2/S3 services to the newly announced Microsoft Mesh Live services and a whole bunch of other providers thrown in with their own ideas it can make for a difficult terrain to wade your way through as a user.

So what is it?

And what is it? Like most buzzword technologies cloud computing is often aligned with things like grid computing, software as a service and utility computing so trying to tie down exactly what is meant by the term cloud computing can be difficult. Tech’s Bottom Line blogger Bill Snyder provides us with a definition from the Forrester Research published report on cloud computing by James Slaten’s explanation

“A pool of abstracted, highly scalable, and managed compute infrastructure capable of hosting end-customer applications and billed by consumption.”

Yup … that is the typical analyst techno-babble but Bill himself gives an easier to understand explanation

For many, it simply means “something done outside my walls.” What it means in practice is a collection of resources — applications, platforms, raw computing power and storage, and managed services (like antivirus detection) — delivered over the Internet.

So what it all boils down to is that cloud computing is nothing more than being able to access files, data, programs and 3rd party services via the internet that are being hosted by a 3rd party provider. This includes being able to both push files or data to the cloud as well as pull them from it. It also means that there is depending on the service being provided via these data centers (clouds) some way to synchronize your data and files between whatever machines have access to the cloud account.

Who’s the big players?

At this point and depending on how you interpret what cloud computing is there are three major players that are of concern to the average user. While there are more options for the corporate market; with more joining the marketplace everyday, for the majority in the consumer and web start-ups there really is only three worth going into detail at this point.

Amazon Web Services

Amazon Web Services_ Amazon has been the forerunner in many ways with cloud computing and in the process has become the darling of a very large majority; if not all, web services start-ups. Through its Web Services Amazon offers two ways to utilize their clouds with the first being Amazon Elastic Compute otherwise known as EC2. Through this service customers can effectively create virtual computers on which they can run their software. The advantage here is that EC2 customers can create, launch virtual server computers on the fly as they are needed and then stop them when they are no longer needed.

The second and the most popular among web start-ups is the Amazon S3 (Simple Storage Service) which is basically an online storage for files and data. A number of the new backup services that have entered the consumer market utilize this S3 service from Amazon. The S3 service is also being used for web hosting and image hosting service.

Another service that Amazon has brought online recently is their SimpleDB which is made to work in conjunction with the other two services as well as on its own. The basic idea though is to provide access to an easy to use scalable database through simple API calls and then only pay for what they use.

While most in the consumer marketplace will not directly use these services from Amazon they will end up using 3rd party web services or desktop services that will utilize one or all of these services from Amazon.

Google – Google Apps & Google App Engine

Google Apps While some might say that Google Apps aren’t cloud computing in the same manner as other services I would suggest that the service is what cloud computing will come to mean to the average user.

With Google Apps you have the choice of using the free package but you have to put up with Google display ads where they want to; or you can pick one of the premier packs which will give you more storage space as well as no advertising.

While it wasn’t being called Google Apps back in February 2006 when Google introduced Gmail For Your Domain it wasn’t long before they rolled out what did become known as Google Apps. To date the following web applications make up Google Apps:

  • Gmail
  • Google Talk (or Gtalk)
  • Google Calendar
  • Google Docs
    • Documents
    • Spreadsheets
    • Presentations
    • Real-time collaboration
  • Start Page – also became known as iGoogle
  • Google Sites

Google Apps has enjoyed a growing adoptions of their services over the last year or so especially among the increasing number of people who work on the web. While the features of the applications may not be as feature rich or be ready for serious intensive usage many people are more than happy to use them rather than pay for expensive desktop versions of the software.

Then this year Google went one step further into the cloud when they began offering access to their Google App Engine beta platform. This platform allows users to create databases and manage it via their current Google account. This new service is meant to compete directly with Amazon’s Web Services and will primarily be used by web developers and 3rd party companies providing services to end users.

Microsoft Mesh

Microsoft Mesh While the Live Mesh platform was only just announced and is only available as a technical preview to a limited number of beta testers it can’t be ignored as a future contender in the cloud computing sector as there is just too much money involved; not to mention reputation.

Many people have gotten distracted by the current limitations of the Technical Preview release of Live Mesh which only allows for the transferring of files to and from the cloud. Detractors readily point out that there are already a ton of companies that are providing the same service as is Microsoft with FolderShare. As good a press as this might make this is only a small part of what is planned for Mesh.

The big difference especially from a Microsoft perspective is that this initiative will be cross platform with support for the Mac as well as mobile devices an is intended to let you synchronize your data to and from whatever device you want to. The idea is that the users shouldn’t to care what device they are on or where they are – their data should always be accessible.

Not much more can really be said about Live Mesh at this point because it would only be conjecture on everyone’s part but I think that if Microsoft with Ray Ozzie at the helm of the project does manage to pull this off Microsoft could once more be back in the game as a major force in our new web based world.

Access & Security

Accessing the cloud

For all the talk about cloud computing becoming a persuasive force it relies on one very simple thing – ubiquitous global broadband access. Without this global access for everyone regardless of their economic place in society this move to the cloud on a large scale could end up widening the technological divide that already exists.

Security – User Peace of Mind

Who's guarding the gate? This is the one area of cloud computing that really worries me. Right now we have some control over what happens to our personal data as long as it remains our machines. Granted we still have to be careful and protect against things like viruses, malware and other attempts to steal our data. What happens though when we have to rely on a third party to do that?

There isn’t a day that goes by when we don’t here of either some hacker breaking into corporation’s systems and stealing sometime millions of peoples data; or there is also the specter of employees who decide that they want to get back at the company and steal the data.

I realize that a lot of people; especially among the younger generation who has grown up on the web, aren’t that concerned with it happening to the point that they almost have a lackadaisical viewpoint about it happening. That is all well and fine – until they have to try and resurrect their credit or other damage done by some-one who has stolen their data.

As exciting as something like cloud computing might be it isn’t something that I would be willing to jump into with both feet until you as the user have fully satisfied yourself that your data is truly going to be safe. I am still not satisfied and have a lot of questions regarding this.

Finally

I think that if we can overcome any possibilities of widening the technological divide that is developing and we can rest peacefully knowing our data is really safe then and only then do I believe that cloud computing can make a real difference. This is a space that I am very interested in; especially Microsoft’s moves into it, and one I will be watching to see what develops.

It could be a fun ride.

Disruptive doesn’t always mean smarter or safer

Cloud computing - not without its storm dangers Everyone just love to toss around the word disruptive these days as if it is the all fixing panacea for our software woes and nowhere more is is being used than in conjunction of another buzz phrase cloud computing. The combination of the two is creating a pie in the sky attitude that by relying totally on applications accessed via the internet we are traveling down the road of progress and that everyone is a winner as a result.

The problem is that we aren’t winning anything. On the contrary we are in danger of losing more than we can imagine. AS we get sucked into the idea that we can save money by using all these free services that are running on someone else’s servers we lose sight of who owns that data. Sure we can philosophically believe we own our data that is sitting on some server out of our control but the physical facts speak otherwise.

I have a lot of admiration for people like Brett Nordquist who can so easily move into a world where Google has complete control over all his data and not even think twice about it. To have the ability to switch to a cloud computing world where any ownership or control of what you enter is no longer yours. Sure you can access that data or information from anywhere in the world as long as you have an internet connection and that is the whole ideas biggest selling point. People are willing to use browser based software that is in a constant state of flux and things are added or removed in exchange for not having to pay anything – except having their data used as fodder for advertising.

But what about the security of your data? With cloud computing you are relying totally on some 3rd party to make sure that your information is safe from prying eyes; whether it be the company’s employees; ala Facebook kiddies invoking superuser access and dancing through people’s profiles, or government agencies deciding that they want to know everything about what you are thinking and writing. In this day and age of FBI “Letters” and DHS “requests” that data is no longer yours and no-one has to tell you anything.

Then there is always the case where the holder of you data decides for whatever reasons to make you disappear – literally remove you from any online existence. Whether like Robert Scoble you break some oblique terms of service that can change at a moments notice should the company decide to. Or as Mathew Ingram points to a post by danah boyd who relates how a friend had their Google account hijacked at which point the account was deleted for terms of service violations. A person’s whole online existence was gone in a split second – they no longer existed – their online lifetime of data no longer existed.

Now granted both Robert Scoble and danah boyd’s friend were able to be literally resurrected but only because they had connections. What happens though to those of use that don’t have those types of connections. What happens to Brett if he pisses off the wrong person and suddenly he has government eyes watching his Google accounts and documents or Google decides arbitrarily that he has done something wrong and wipe him from the internet.

In all this warm and fuzzy of being able to be apart of a community living in the clouds of Google, Microsoft and the endless social networks we are forgetting one important thing – basic human nature. As much as these providers of cloud computing proclaim they are secure the first rule of computing is so easily forgotten. What one programmer can lock up behind a so-called wall another programmer can just as easily break through. While we might like to believe that our data is safe in those clouds some-one somewhere; whether they be and individual or an agency, will want to see what that data is.

Is all this really worth having your person information used to feed some advertising platform somewhere?


The illusion of a silver lining

Rough weather ahead There is a lot of talk these days; along with more and more startups targeting the whole area of cloud computing which means nothing more than relying totally on your applications and data being stored on remote locations that you really have absolutely no control over.

I’ve never hidden the fact that I don’t like the idea of using remote applications such as Google Docs etc but the idea of having your data; personal or corporate, being held remotely by some third party is even more troubling. A good example of the negative impact of storing your data in the cloud is perfectly illustrated in a post today by Mathew Ingram.

In his post Mathew points out the possibility of a third party data storage company called OmniDrive going belly up; or to use the popular term these days – headed for the deadpool. According to Mathew the company founder Nik Cubrilovic is reporting that everything is rosy even though a past CTO of the company is telling everything that the truth is exactly the opposite.

While Mathew quite rightly compares the he said – he said nonsense going on to that of Sam Sethi and Blognation, the fact is that if indeed OmniDrive is dead in the water what happens to all that data that customers stored with them. What guarantees do we have that any other company like OmniDrive won’t suddenly be gone, along with all the data stored with them.

The idea that I should trust some Web 2.0 startup with a minimal or no business model with my data might on the surface should very attractive but really with the price of hard drive space being as low as it is and getting cheaper all the time why in the world would I want to risk the chance of my data going poof because the company closed it doors.

OmniDrive may just be a localized instance where the silver lining of computing in the clouds has become tarnished but with an ever increasing amount of companies fighting for those pennies or advertising dollars do you really think it’s wise to risk your data this way.