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Futurity - Ed's journal
You're possibly starting to see the first echoes of it. Perhaps you've been there from early on. But you can't really have missed that smartphones are becoming 'big'.
It's an interesting trend - I know many more people who can see the virtues of mobile internet, who never really appreciated mobile telephony.

But there's another trend, coming from the other end of the iceberg* that is IT. Virtualisation and the cloud. If you're already nodding, then bear with me, as I give a brief idea of what it is. Virtualisation is when you take a 'computer environment' - like your desktop, or perhaps a web server - and package it up, so it can run anywhere. It does create an overhead - a virtualised desktop will be a bit slower than a 'real' one.
But it does mean you can run it anywhere, and do some very clever tricks, like being able to snapshot and clone your virtualised system - so I can take my 'main' desktop, I can create a complete copy of it, install a new bit of software, and run them both in parallel. And then, if I decide the new software does or doesn't work out, just ... make the one I didn't like, vanish.
But the important thing is, you don't need two bits of hardware any more. That inefficiency for running 'virtual' is balanced by the fact that you can get more 'systems' in a given bit of hardware. Many computers now, have performance that means it's responsive when the load is high, which gives them a lot of head room. Run 'taskmgr' now (or whatever the equivalent is on your system). Mine says '15% processor use, 50% memory use'. So actually, there _would_ be room to do all the stuff I'm doing twice.
It's a really cool sort of thing, when you start talking on a datacentre scale - you need the head room in you computer, so it doesn't chug when you do something intensive. But when you talk about lots and lots of computers, they don't (usually) all need that head room, all at the same time.
So you 'share' loads, and cater for peak demands, whilst needing less hardware overall.
All green and good.

But the next thing that's starting to become a reality, is known as 'the cloud'. That's partly market-speak, so you'll be forgiven if it sounds like so much nonsense. But what it is, is taking this virtualization idea, and making it world wide and dynamic. Those two systems I could run on my laptop. Why shouldn't I be doing that most of the time? I mean, I use _slightly_ more power if my processor is always running flat out, but compared to 'everything else' it's actually not that big a deal.
And if I've got the distribution working right, the stuff I'm doing on 'my' computer, can be passed on to a server in the datacentre, to do much the same thing - in effect, you already do this if you've ever used google mail, google documents, google maps. Perhaps you've used drop box.

Which is where things start to get exciting - you see, even now, I could use my laptop as a 'terminal', for stuff in a datacentre, and have access to a vast amount of hardware, all at once. But if I don't have to own the hardware, to cater for my peak demand, I can do a lot more - imagine if I could 'borrow' a million servers for 10 minutes. What could I do with that?

And ... it's very nearly at the point where you can do that sort of thing from your smartphone - my Desire HD has a better processor and memory than quite a few of my early computers, higher res screen and more internet broadband.

The possibilities are pretty mind blowing. We're just on the cusp of a big shift - businesses are starting to adopt 'cloud' type technologies. Just starting to think about the massive operational advantage they can get by being able to reduce their overall investment in computer systems, for more net gain. But I think it's not too long before we'll start to see it entering the home and the smartphone. A smartphone is ... nearly the perfect platform, for enhancing with on demand compute resources. Portable devices, with net connections, screens, cameras, speakers and microphones, are the ones that will benefit a lot from not having to accept the compromises - in terms of size and cost - that having high performance, high capacity computing resources available would mean.

*I've always felt a iceberg to be a good analogy for what goes on in IT. Most users see the top 10th, and don't really care what lies beneath the water, until they run into it. That's good though - because they shouldn't need to. Information technology is at it's best when it's not dominated by the 'technology' half of the phrase.

Some interesting stuff:
Amazon offering a 'micro' Linux instance, free for 12 months. (Select 'micro' not 'small' because otherwise you'll be charged) http://aws.amazon.com/free/
Drop Box referral link - 2Gb of 'cloud' storage, accessible from ... pretty much any computer or smartphone. (Seriously, if you're an Android/iPhone user, this is really useful)
12 comments or Leave a comment
glamwhorebunni From: glamwhorebunni Date: January 11th, 2011 09:40 am (UTC) (Link)
Iceberg not glacier?
sobrique From: sobrique Date: January 11th, 2011 09:41 am (UTC) (Link)
Sigh, yeah. Well spotted. I've edited.
glamwhorebunni From: glamwhorebunni Date: January 11th, 2011 10:15 am (UTC) (Link)
Sorry, first degree was in Geography. And all the talk of glaciers was making me think "Does he mean technology advances slowly? Or that it's said to be retreating across the world? Or that it's got deep crevasses?"
sobrique From: sobrique Date: January 11th, 2011 10:21 am (UTC) (Link)
That's fine. The quote I was thinking of goes something like:
IT is dealing with the other 9/10ths of the iceberg, for people who just want to play with floating bits of ice.

Or something like that.
I have no idea why it got transposed into a glacier though. Maybe I should pretend that that was a deliberate metaphor - the steady inexorable progress of technology, marching across the land and pushing aside (or crushing) anything that gets in the way, before breaking off bits into the sea, that float away and have hidden depths and can end up in unlikely places... but tend not to, because the warmer waters of 'conservatism', and the fickle currents of 'opinion' make it hard for a big chunk of ice to drift into the Mediterranean.

Hrm. Let's go with that, shall we, and pretend it wasn't just an inadvertent word transposition...
purp1e_magic From: purp1e_magic Date: January 11th, 2011 02:32 pm (UTC) (Link)
So you mean like using my phone as a physical screen/keyboard/speakers etc to reach out to my desktop, and have my desktop remotely do all the work, have all the storage space and processor?
sobrique From: sobrique Date: January 11th, 2011 02:50 pm (UTC) (Link)
Essentially, yes.
But also taking it the step further, and allowing your desktop to do the same - accessing storage and processing from other places, as you need it. (And potentially sharing this with phone, netbook, laptop, PDA, etc.)
phlebas From: phlebas Date: January 11th, 2011 03:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
So another step towards a glorious future in which the user isn't allowed to own or control anything, just lease services from the megacorps? I can barely contain my excitement.
sobrique From: sobrique Date: January 11th, 2011 03:58 pm (UTC) (Link)
Tell me, how much control do you have _now_ over your mail server? What about websites you access? Like livejournal, or facebook perhaps?

There's nothing stopping you from installing and configuring your own mail servers, your own DNS domain, and hosting your own mail services. It's just most people tend not to, because things like gmail are cheaper (free to home users, actually pretty cheap for business use) and generally better - especially for someone who's not as technically capable.

Like or not, the average user does not want to have to understand how the mail infrastructure of the internet works, they just want to read their email.

The problem isn't that 'you can't own or control things' - because that's nonsense. You can. There's all sorts of reasons that that is NEVER going to change, as well - not least being things like security, auditing, that kind of thing. I assure you, corporations are very serious about such things, where home users (typically) are not.

But what changes, is the options. As a home user, you suddenly become able to have access to the kind of resources that traditionally needed a massive data centre. Do you _want_ do own a several billion pound piece of infrastructure? Or more importantly _have_ to own such a thing, if you want to be competitive?
Or is it more use to a small enterprise to simply be able to treat processor time, memory, disk as utilities, in much the same way they do electricity, water, and their internet connection?
To save on operational overhead of building an exchange environment for a few hundred employees, and just create service level guaranteed mail accounts instead?

Because that's really what it boils down to. The line of work I'm in, generally treats 'storage' as a service. I don't sell you a disk. I sell a terabyte of storage, which is then provided from a disk array, backed up, with hardware maintenance, monitoring etc. It's in an air conditioned data centre, with a clean power supply. It's on a rolling upgrade program, so that as new tech becomes available, we automatically upgrade that disk. And if you ever decide you don't like the service, you're still the owner of that data, and can help yourself to it, and decommission the storage service pretty trivially.

Or perhaps you fancy running a web server - do you:
buy a server, arrange for it to be hosted somewhere, pay for connectivity, and hope your product 'takes off'? This'll cost a significant amount of capital outlay, you'll have to worry about backups, maintenance, software licensing, and ... simple things like who's datacentre is it in? Yours? In which case, we're back to that billion pound investment, or ... just running a server in a broom closet somewhere.
Oh, and from ordering to installation and delivery you're probably looking at a few weeks.

Alternatively, you can go to - e.g. amazon AWS, but increasing numbers are doing it 'under the hood' for hosted services - and get yourself a virtual machine. It's 'yours' to control and manage as you like, but it's cheaper, because it doesn't require it's own bit of hardware. It's using a slice of a bigger system, and because it's virtual from 'order' to 'deploy' is ... minutes, not weeks.

That's what we're talking about here - not just 'applications on demand' but 'infrastructure on demand'.
I hate to break it to you, but 'owning and controlling' most of a computer system is simply not something the average user wants to do. They don't want to have to mess around with routers, firewalls, backups, hardware maintenance contracts, etc. But similarly, they want it to 'all just work'.

That's what this way of thinking can deliver - something that _can_ 'all just work' and still be a sensible price.
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sobrique From: sobrique Date: January 11th, 2011 11:01 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yes. Most cloud providers would shy from the comparison, but that's exactly what it is. An incredible amount of computing power, just waiting to be harnessed.
The password crack is actually a really good example - a simply defined task, that's relatively easy to do in parallel, but 'infeasible' due to the amount of time taken.

But perhaps a more politically correct example might be image/video/voice recognition and analysis. The xbox kinect is ... really just the tip of the iceberg. Imagine if you can do something similar for real, in the real world.

Have a camera recognising people, and reminding you who they are, what they do, and digging up their latest facebook status.

Or when shopping, it reads barcodes/product packaging as you go, and lets you know if it contains something you're allergic to? I mean, google shopper/goggles can identify packaging already.

Or even as simple as a free form voice query:
"Computer, when's the next bus that'll take me home" and have the processing power to interpret the sentence, parse it, figure out what it means, and give you an answer in real time.

Google voice search is getting pretty close, but ... again, _nearly_.
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necessitysslave From: necessitysslave Date: January 12th, 2011 08:10 am (UTC) (Link)
That looks really interesting.... Now all I need is a project interesting enough to bother actually learning to program the two together.

The only use I can so far think of that uses a mobile device and off-site processing/data housing and isn't WAY beyond my current programming skills is some sort of basic game (as yet to be decided). Extra points if it is multi-player.
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