Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Clouds, Smart Phones, and Virtual Machines

Having recently participated in forums on both Mobile and on Cloud Computing, both well run, intellectually stimulating, and attended by hundreds, you might infer that I have been discussing which technology will be more significant. The forums, in Cambridge MA, were held only eight days and 12 minutes walking distance apart, yet appeared to attract disparate audiences. Outside of myself, the only person I saw attending both forums was Mike Werner, Platform Strategy Advisor- Cloud Computing, Microsoft.

Ask me to declare a winner, I say virtual machine concepts. The combination of Smart Phones and Clouds, connected through a revived belief in virtual machines, will be the new paradigm. It needs a new name, maybe McCloud (the Mobile Computing Cloud).

Meanwhile, some parties are battling over ownership of the old paradigms. From CIO.com:

VMware CEO Paul Maritz took another jab at IBM, sometimes called a pioneer of virtualization because of its use of the technology in its mainframes.

"Even IBM, which likes to claim to be the inventor of virtualization, didn't fully realize and anticipate what could have been done with this technology," Maritz said. "It's not about individual machines but about how groups of servers relate to each other."

First and foremost, Virtual Machine operating systems were invented at IBM’s Cambridge Scientific Center by a team led by Bob Creasy. I would give much of the credit for extending the virtual machine outside the bounds of its host to my friend Edson Hendricks, who developed the RSCS networking subsystem, which he described in a seminal paper in the IBM Systems Journal. Ed’s subsystem became the basis for VNET, IBM’s internal network which in the 1970s became one of the largest computer networks in the world.

This is not to disparage the fine work done by VMware and others extending the virtual machine concept, but putting the virtual devices on the network opened up many of these possibilities. You can do more today with a multi-gigabit packet switching network than you could with a 2400 bit dial-up line.

I referred to Ed’s paper recently while I was preparing an SBIR proposal for a virtual machine security subsystem; his approach holds up very well, thirty years later.

The scramble for credit reminds me of my old friend, Eddie Bernays, who organized a festival commemorating the 50th anniversary of Edison’s invention of the light bulb. Attendees included President Hoover, Henry Ford, Orville Wright, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and Madame Curie.

I fondly anticipate that most of you will participate in the 50th anniversary of Cloud Computing, honoring me as the inventor of the concept. What’s that you say: I didn’t invent Cloud Computing? Well, Edison didn’t invent the light bulb either; you can look it up in your Wikipedia. Then again, Thomas Edison and I both knew Eddie Bernays, the Father of Modern Public Relations; Long life to all.

Friday, April 24, 2009

What is Near Field Communications?

Near Field Communication or NFC is a short-range high frequency wireless communication technology enabling the exchange of data between devices over about a 10 centimeter (around 4 inches) distance. NFC is primarily aimed at usage in mobile phones. The technology is a simple extension of the proximity-card standard. An NFC device can communicate with existing contactless smartcards and readers, and is thereby compatible with the contactless infrastructure already in use for security, public transportation, and payment.

Plenty of applications are possible, such as:

Mobile ticketing in public transport — an extension of the existing contactless infrastructure,
Mobile payment — the device acts as a debit/ credit payment card,
Smart poster — the mobile phone is used to read RFID tags on outdoor billboards in order to get info on the move.

Future applications could include:

Electronic ticketing — airline tickets, concert/event tickets, and others,
Electronic money -- stored on the card and used like cash,
Travel cards—parking, museum discounts, tourist passes,
Identity documents -- student IDs, recreation pass, dump sticker,
Mobile commerce -- ads, coupons, payments, gifts, loyalty programs,
Electronic keys — car keys, house/office keys, hotel room keys, etc.,
NFC can be used to configure and initiate other wireless network connections such as Bluetooth or Wi-Fi.

The MIT Mobile Experience Lab recently issued a 45-page report on NFC and student life:

“We developed the following directions in which new innovative ways of using NFC with the mobile phone could be developed: Ubiquitous information, Health/Safety, Networking, eMoney, Smart Mobility, Entertainment, and Smart Objects. An example of ubiquitous information would be a virtual tour guide where the user could tap his/her phone on the tags as they toured a place, and thus consult the information pertaining to the site, as well as receive information about next items on the itinerary, where to eat/drink, and also the main commercial activities in the area. This system could easily be ported to libraries, museums, stores, etc. In regards to Health, a person could easily use NFC to record their workout data from exercise machines, as well as monitor their daily calorie consumption when ordering from smart menu boards. With this information, your phone could give timely diet suggestions, gym programs, and doctor alerts.”

The hot application for NFC, which some believe will be the killer app, is using the cell phone as a credit card. VISA and MasterCard have both recently announced a number of large-scale pilot implementations worldwide. Nokia has announced new NFC enabled phones. Blaze Mobile has announced the Blaze Mobile Wallet as an iPhone App, while also announcing a joint effort with MasterCard Worldwide to promote an NFC based mobile payment sticker that can be affixed to any cell phone, allowing “Tap & Go" purchases at any of the over 141,000 merchant locations currently accepting PayPass. To my surprise, there are already 20 PayPass locations in Portsmouth, NH, and 30 in Portland, ME. You can search for merchants in your own town here.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

iPhone: the Dreadnought of the 21st Century?

I found such a well written post on the iPhone by MG Siegler in TechCrunch that I felt a need to send you a couple of excerpts.

First a few facts: “People can downplay the actual number of iPhones in circulation all they want — the fact of the matter is that it has changed things. While there were some third-party mobile app developers before Apple’s App Store, they received almost no attention, and as such, it wasn’t really a viable business. Now, everyone and their mother is flocking to develop for the App Store. And every major mobile player is rushing to make their own app stores. But Apple’s already has over 35,000 apps — and in a few short hours, there will have been one billion apps downloaded in just 9 months.”

Now a strong opinion: “The fact of the matter is, that iPhone is simply the best all-in-one device that I’ve ever owned. I cannot imagine my life without it now. I would be lost — sometimes literally — without it. I say that because I know that of the 21 million iPhone owners out there — there are a great deal who feel the exact same way. That may be annoying, and may even sound pretentious to those who don’t own an iPhone — but I’m giving you my honest take as someone who has owned and/or tried a lot of the so-called “smartphones” out there.”

As I write, MG’s post has generated 125 comments, some of which are very insightful. Take a look.

As for Dreadnoughts, The British battleship HMS Dreadnought had such an impact when launched in 1906 that battleships built after her were referred to as 'dreadnoughts'. The arrival of the dreadnoughts sparked a technology-based arms race, principally between Britain and Germany but reflected worldwide, as the new class of warships became a crucial symbol of national power.

Monday, April 20, 2009

What is a Smart Phone?

I wish to post some thoughts on smart cards as payment devices: possible replacements for credit cards or even a possible electronic wallet. To do so, I feel I have to write about Smart Phones, about NFC (Near Field Communication), and about the two in combination. Rather than prepare one long multi-topic post, I’m dividing this topic into three parts to make it more reader friendly. The three parts will be:

What is a Smart Phone?
What is Near Field Communications?
My Quest for a Smart Phone with NFC

Here is the easy part. By my definition, a “Smart Phone” contains at least the following elements:

· Powerful hand-held computer, with integrated keyboard and display,
· User programmable, with a large library of applications available,
· Allows attachment of a wide variety of input and output devices (e.g. Bluetooth),
· Attaches to multiple high-speed networks selecting the best for the job (e.g. GSM, 3G, WiFi),
· Can sense its location,
· Battery powered,
· Can back-up data or synch data with a computer,
· Can be linked to a computer for data and program downloads.

I recognize that some of these terms are subjective. For example, “powerful” and “high speed” are clearly defined by the alternatives available today. Kevin Short from UNH helped me with this definition.

Another view can be found here in the Wikipedia. This is my blog, we’ll use my view. Comments encouraged.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Silver Lining in the Cloud

A standing room only crowd approaching 400 crammed the auditorium of MIT’s silliest looking building last night for the Innovation Series program on Cloud Computing featuring Amazon’s Adam Selipsky, VP Product Management and Developer Relations, Amazon Web Services.

The full title of the event was “Sunny Days Ahead for the Cloud Environment: What’s Real for You,” and Amazon certainly appears to have found the silver lining in the “cloud ecosystem.”

Rather than a standard sales presentation, wherein the speaker provides a self serving definition of cloud computing, to which his products compare favorably, Adam Selipsky very credibly built his case from the bottom up.

At Amazon, they felt they were very good at developing loosely coupled systems and applications, using low-cost hardware, and were clearly very experienced at eCommerce applications. Building on that base, they set the following design principles for their cloud offering:

· Reliable
· Elastic
· Low-Latency
· Secure
· Easy-to-Use
· Pay-as-you-Go

Adam cited the two major advantages the Amazon cloud offers are speed of development and low cost. Speed of development comes because Amazon provides self-service interfaces to their modules that are both simple and intuitive. As for cost and pricing, Adam points out that buying services rather than hardware allows a young company to turn potential capital expenditure into variable expenditure. And pay-as-you-go allows users to start small, confident that capacity will be there when needed.

Even today, Adam feels that his cloud can provide capacity, such as disk storage, at very favorable rates compared to the industry at large. From what I have seen, I agree. But to continue to provide competitively low prices, Amazon will have to become a low cost provider of cloud services and capacity.

I recall once seeing a framework, based on Michal Porter’s writings on competitive advantage, mapping the growth of a company through four stages:

· Technology Leader
· Market Leadership
· Financial Leader
· Low Cost Producer

Were I a financial analyst, I would wonder if Amazon can truly become and maintain a position of low cost producer. As an entrepreneur, I worry that the low cost producer is seldom much of an innovator. But perhaps the Amazon cloud and its 540,000 developer accounts is an innovation engine not seen before in industry. And the developer number grows by 50,000 every quarter.
Local companies, speakers, and panelists included:

Chair: Sim Simeonov, Polaris Venture Partners
Fumi Matsumota, CTO, Allurent
Spike Washburn, CEO, Stax Networks
Frank Gillett, VP, Forrester Research
Roman Stanek, CEO, GoodData
Richard Reiner, CEO, Enomaly
Josh Fraser, VP, RightScale

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

It’s 9PM, do You know where YOU are?

Today, 1500 iPhone apps use Skyhook’s XPS for location-finding service. Ted Morgan, CEO of Skyhook Wireless, described the rapid growth of his company to the recent Xconomy Forum on Mobile Innovation.

XPS is the world's first true hybrid positioning system. By combining the unique benefits of GPS, Cell Tower triangulation, and Wi-Fi Positioning, XPS delivers the same level of location quality whether indoors or outdoors, in the country or downtown.

The key advantages of XPS are that it is:

Fast:1 second location lookups,

Accurate:Ranges of 10m - 20m, indoors and outdoors,

Dependable:Everywhere you live, work and play.

To build its location data base, Skyhook today employs 500 contract drivers roaming the planet mapping Wi-Fi access points. Their location base has grown from 50 thousand to over 100 million points.

Skyhook had been struggling along on a combination of bootstrapping and angel financing until the day that Ted Morgan received a call from Steve Jobs. Actually, Ted was out of the office, so what he received was a phone message, which he was convinced was a prank. At the urging of his employees, Ted returned the call several hours later. Skyhook had a deal with Apple in six weeks and XPS was running on the iPhone in a few months. Today, XPS can run on most smart phones, but Apple still provides ninety per cent of Skyhook’s business.

Monday, April 13, 2009

iPhone: a billion application downloads!!

The Apple APP Store is rushing toward one billion downloads; you can watch the countdown here.

My mind boggles at the thought. My imagination staggers. Congratulations to all involved.

Friday, April 10, 2009

"Mafia Wars" now available on iPhone

I spend very little time playing games on my computer or my iPhone, but the blogs were flying this week about iPhone availability for “Mafia Wars.”

Social gaming developer Zynga released “Mafia Wars” on Apple’s App Store, bringing the company’s incredibly popular game, which has over 9 million monthly users on Facebook alone, to the iPhone. You can grab the free game here (iTunes Link).

The game revolves around building up a virtual mafia family with other members, earning virtual cash to buy weapons, and performing ‘jobs’ to earn more. While the game play is primarily text based, Mafia Wars has an impressive interface and array of graphics that make it feel very polished.

Should I apologize to my grandson, Nicolai Innocenzia Agosta, for blatant ethnic stereotyping? Or should I just lie back, play the Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra channel on Pandora, and celebrate diversity?

More if you need it on TechCrunch.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Report from the Mobile Innovation Forum

Yesterday’s Forum on the Future of Mobile Innovation in New England attracted an enthusiastic standing room only crowd. Organizer Wade Rush describes the program in his post, Exciting but Tricky Times for Mobile Entrepreneurs.

Some personal observations:

First, I had no idea that the New England Region was so prominent in the emerging Smart Phone applications industry. Although the cell phone was invented in the US, leadership quickly passed overseas. When Kevin Short founded Groove Mobile to download music, he signed up half a dozen European carriers before Sprint followed along. Not so with Smart Phone applications. The US is the leader, with New England a top regional contender.

Second, Harvey Tuch from VMware both announced and demonstrated MVP, the Mobilization Virtual Platform, a virtual machine implementation running on a Smart Phone. Harvey was able to load two operating systems and run two applications simultaneously. My prediction: this may be an extremely significant advantage for Enterprise Applications, a segment that was much praised but little discussed at the Forum.

Third, not one speaker mentioned Near Field Communication as the technology that may propel the cell phone and the smart phone into the commercial marketplace. NFC is an adaptation of contactless smart card technology to the cell phone, allowing applications such as transit payments, credit card transactions, building access, and numerous others to reside on the phone. The MIT Media Lab recently produced a white paper and a video on potential NFC applications.

I’ll post more on these topics in the future.

Monday, April 6, 2009

SecureID on the iPhone, and it's Free!

For a quarter century now, the security standard for logon access control has been the SecurID card from RSA Security. The card generates a random number, which when combined with your password, provides what is called two-factor authentication: the password being something you know, and the random number proving you have the SecurID card in your possession. This random number, sometimes called a passcode, changes every minute so even a man-in-the-middle attack is likely to fail.

You can get make your iPhone into a security card by downloading a free application, VIP Access, developed by VeriSign. And VeriSign has already signed up AOL, PayPal, and eBay as sites that will verify both your password and passcode when you log in.

When I read about this new application in the NY Times I immediately called Ken Weiss, the inventor of the SecurID card, and we both downloaded it. The installations went flawlessly. I also checked the comments on the iTunes site, and almost every reviewer gave it five stars.

VeriSign’s strategy is to provide the iPhone software for free. They intend to sell the server-side software to banks and other consumer oriented sites that demand extra identity verification. If you are developing your own application with both a server and smart phone component, you could do the same thing.

When introduced, the SecurID cards cost $50 each; the price has come down, but still far exceeds zero. How can VeriSign support this price breakthrough? Easily, because the SecurID cards are provided by RSA Security, a division of EMC Corp. But the original patents have expired, so VeriSign is now free to exploit the technology.

Incidentally, as the mathematically trained know, no machine-generated number is truly random, but it can be truly unpredictable, which the passcode is. Another application would be for you to start your own lottery, with a payoff every sixty seconds. Give it a try.

Dr. Kenneth Weiss was the inventor of the SecurID card and developed the framework of one, two and three factor authentication which is almost universally used today. Ken was the founder of Security Dynamics; I was the original CEO. Security Dynamics later purchased RSA Corp., the inventor of Public Key Encryption. The resulting Company was renamed RSA Security, which became the first computer security company to have a public stock offering.

iPhone: "Stop Me Before I Kill Again"

Everyone seemed to have so much fun with my earlier post, “The iPhone as a murder suspect,“ that I thought I’d give more scrutiny to this topic. The death of the phone booth pales in significance compared to the possible death of the PC industry.

Based on its success with the iPhone, AT&T now wants to sell “netbook” computers on a subsidized basis, bundled with a service plan, similar to the way it sells iPhones and dumb phones.

And, as is obvious, these netbooks could easily be extended to notebook and even desktop computers.

Were AT&T and other carriers to succeed in this approach, it would kill the personal computer industry as it exists today. Say goodbye Dell, Lenovo, HP, and others.

One Blogger, Faultline, questions whether or not Apple itself will bother with a netbook. “(Steve Jobs has said the iPhone does everything a netbook does anyway, and was reported as saying ‘We don’t know how to build a sub-$500 computer that is not a piece of junk’), the issue really is whether or not you belong to the school of thought which says every network needs to have specialist operator supplied equipment or whether instead, you are a believer in open networks.” You can find Faultline’s entire post here.

Meanwhile, AT&T is rushing to rollout a major upgrade to its 3G mobile data service in anticipation of a tenfold increase in network traffic from new iPhone hardware expected to go on sale in June, as reported here by appleinsider.

Last month, AT&T Mobility CEO Ralph de la Vega said in an interview that "we have the infrastructure capability to go to 7.2 [Mbit/s], and we'll have the capability to go 14.4 and 20 in the next couple of years, so I think there's coverage we're going to improve, there's quality we're going to improve, and there's speed that's also going to get improved."

The current iPhone 3G only supports a maximum of 3.6 Mbit/s, so these plans would require you to purchase a new iPhone.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Learn iPhone Programmng

If you agree with my comments regarding the importance of iPhone software, you might want to consider taking a free Stanford course on developing iPhone software.

From Dan Stober of the Stanford News Service:

“Want to know how to write programs for the iPhone and iPod touch? Beginning this week, a Stanford computer science class on that buzzworthy topic will be available online to the general public for free.

“The 10-week course, iPhone Application Programming, is a hot ticket. It begins today and videos of the classes will be posted at Stanford on iTunes U two days after each class meeting (http://itunes.stanford.edu). Copies of the slides shown in class will be available there as well.

“The proliferation of third-party applications for Apple's iPhone has changed the device from a popular cell phone to a miniature computer. The Apple App Store offers more than 25,000 titles, dealing with everything from maps to business tools, games, photography, fishing and restaurant recommendations based on your location.”

For more, click on the link above.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

You can do more with Steve Jobs and $100 million than you can without either

One of the most amazing aspects of the iPhone is its ability to attract developers and applications. For perspective, Apple sold 11,000,000 3G iPhones in 2008, while 500,000,000 applications were downloaded.

Since smart phones are really powerful and compact hand-held computers, it should come as no surprise that users wish to develop or install new applications. Why did things seem so different before the iPhone?

In 2001, Kevin Short of UNH founded one of the first companies to build a successful business downloading and playing music on cell phones. Preparing software for the cell phones was very difficult. “There was a standard for the Java phones” recalls Short, “but there was enough wiggle room in the standard that no two phones were alike. We had to develop a new app for every phone. This was a bankrupt yourself situation. “

Short remains proud of his company’s technical achievements, starting with his propriety compression and transmission scheme. “We had the first touch screen phones, but the carriers wouldn’t even acknowledge it as a phone unless it had a keyboard. We also developed the capability in the software to select the best available network, but the management brought in by the V.C.'s made us drop that approach.”

Kevin’s company, originally named “Chaoticom,” later “Groove Mobile,” received its seed funding from the eCoast Angels and Kodiak Venture Partners. Groove Mobile was sold in 2008 and operates today as LiveWire Mobile.

As the original Chairman of Chaoticom, I take my hat off to Steve Jobs for taking a proprietary transmission scheme, touch screens, and network selection software and transforming the IT and communications industries, if not the world.

Office on your iPhone?

Blogging from the Web 2.0 Expo keynote, Jason Kincaid reports that Stephen Elop, President of Microsoft Business Division, hinted that we may be seeing Microsoft Office make its way to the iPhone sometime soon. After his interviewer Tim O’Reilly caught him on the comment, Elop backtracked a bit, stating “not yet, keep watching”. But it’s clear that an iPhone version of Office is on his mind.
Rumors of an Office client for the iPhone have been circulating as users clamor for a way to edit their Word and Excel files on the go (the iPhone allows them to view them, but doesn’t include any editing functionality).
I found Jason’s post on TechCrunch this morning; you should check it out for the comments, which were mostly unfavorable to Office. For more levity, you should check out this flickr mock up proposing what Office might look like on your iPhone.