Tag Archives: cloud computing

The Beginning of the End of the World Wide Web?

Outline map of world overlaid with razor wireI wrote a blog post recently on the fallout of the revelations about the US National Security Agency (NSA) spying last year. One of my concerns at the time was the balkanization of the Internet. Balkanization is the process of drawing national borders around the Internet, much the same as physical borders. We would no longer have the World Wide Web, instead it would be broken up into the Web of Germany, the Web of Japan, the Web of Chile, and so on. This would be done to protect a nation from activity such as spying on another nation. National Internet traffic would stay within country boundaries and a strong national firewall would be constructed for traffic that had to move across the border. I have been reading stories the past week that have confirmed my fears: nations are slowly moving toward just such a model.


A recent article out of the UK reveals that Germany is floating plans for a European communications network meant to bypass the US and prevent spying by the NSA and the British counterpart, the GCHQ. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is quoted as saying:

“Above all we’ll talk about European providers that offer security to our citizens, so that one shouldn’t have to send e-mails and other information across the Atlantic, rather one could build up a communications network inside Europe.”

The Germans are particularly incensed by revelations last year that the Chancellor’s cell phone was monitored from the US Embassy in Berlin. This is just the beginning of a proposal, but it feels like the beginning of walls being built.


According to a recent article in IEEE Spectrum, Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff is pushing legislation: “… to force Internet companies such as Google and Facebook to store local data within the country’s borders. She also wants to build submarine cables that don’t route through the United States, set up domestic Internet exchange points, and create an encrypted national e-mail service.” Now, those are not just switches and routers that would be directed inward but national cables would be off limits, too. In other words, Brazilian traffic could only flow over Brazilian cables.


The Great Firewall of China already exists; it restricts Chinese citizens’ access to the full Internet. There are censorship mechanisms in place to ensure that information going in and out of China meets government standards. The same filters are already in place in Russia although not to the same extent. India is also looking for ways to close the borders of the Internet. All of these efforts counter one of the basic premises of the Internet—the fact that it is open and accessible to all.

My Thoughts

I agree with a recent open letter to President Obama from Peter Singer and Ian Wallace of the Brookings Institute. They state in the letter:

“The sooner that we can articulate a clear, robust case for a U.S. vision for the future of the Internet, the better. And that needs to be one that, while acknowledging the natural shift away from U.S. control, makes both the pragmatic and principled arguments for preserving the values that have made the Internet such a successful driver of positive global economic, political and social change.”

The Internet is not US-centric, although history and some countries would suggest otherwise. It must remain an open exchange without borders, without censorship, and without state oversight. The whole metaphor of the “cloud” transcends borders and allows the Internet to operate efficiently and openly. Advancements in networking technology have allowed us to operate across the globe and I believe that it would be a giant step backwards to erect artificial barriers where they don’t belong.

Are you concerned about a splintering of the Internet? Let me know your thoughts.


Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.


From Green to Blue… and Beyond?

Today’s post is written by Jake Pollack, program manager for the UO Sustainability Leadership Certificate Program.

Over the past few years I have carefully followed not only the colors that are affiliated with sustainability, and their implications, but how sustainability is paired (or not) with technology. So, while it may seem elementary (or primary in the case of blue, and secondary in the case of green—apologies for the educator jokes) the colors point to deeper implications of culture and the blending of different approaches to sustainability and technology. Back in 2009, when I read Andrew Kirk’s Counterculture Green, I started thinking about the historical aspects of the traditional rift between the environmental movement and the world of technology. Having grown up as a nature lover and digital native, I understood the tension between appreciating ecological systems and playing video games, but this, of course, is a much deeper discussion that can’t be covered in one blog entry.

However, what I can chart are some of the recent trends that are promising and point out a few challenges that I see in the future as we move ever deeper into virtual realms where machine-to-machine conversation is the norm, and our dependency on technology is assumed as “natural.” The first of these is the realization that cloud computing has an enormous environmental impact, whether you measure it in terms of water, e-waste, energy consumption, or any other concrete service that is required for large server centers. A recent webinar on Sustainable Industries describes this infrastructure and examples of the continuous improvement and innovation required to make these ventures efficient. A GreenBiz article describes a Stanford study which found that one-tenth of all electricity consumed in the US goes towards the Internet, and reports on the Future of Internet Power group, which is a response by Adobe, eBay, Facebook, HP, salesforce.com, and Symantec to “identify and publicize best practices around low-carbon power-sourcing for data centers in the United States.” Finally, Apple recently announced it will build a giant solar farm to power its Nevada datacenter.

This aspect of greening the cloud is important as big data seems to be on course to grow continuously, and it shows that the major players in both hardware and cloud-based software recognize this as an opportunity in the midst of an unpredictable and volatile energy market. The main challenge actually goes back to the deeper implications of culture and thinking about what all this computing power is actually used for and who is using it. In other words, the question remains whether to put this incredible computing power to use for further preservation and maintenance of the living systems of our planet, or to continue disseminating kitten videos across the Internet. At this time, that seems an oversimplification, but my guess is that in the future, we’ll be paying much more careful attention to the end uses of data and have to make some difficult decisions about these results. In light of cities moving to models of resilience and the recent release of President Obama’s climate commitments, there will be major implications for technology resources as well as the information that is passed through those networks.


Jake Pollack

Jake has worked in sustainability leadership settings internationally for the last six years in higher education and is currently the program manager for the UO Sustainability Leadership Certificate Program. He has mentored and trained students and professionals in aspects of sustainability ranging from cross-cultural communication to organizational transformation. His PhD research examined interdisciplinary and collaborative models of sustainability and a new triple bottom line of resilience, integrity, and commitment. Though his work in the field began in ecovillages and grassroots centers of innovation, he is now interested in the scale of cities and cultivating a cross-sector platform for professionals who wish to accelerate and incubate projects that address our most significant sustainability challenges.

The Internet of Things: Is Your Refrigerator on the Internet?

I have been thinking lately about “The Internet of Things.” This is really more a concept than a tangible device or product. It is kind of like the cloud. The theory is that physical objects will each have their own identity and will be connected to the Internet and be able to communicate with other physical devices also on the Internet. This is all possible today but here is the thing that concerns me: if each device creates and broadcasts data such as its location and condition, how do we process all of that information? We are already drowning in man-made data as it is.


According to Techopedia, “The Internet of Things (IoT) is a computing concept that describes a future where everyday physical objects will be connected to the Internet and will be able to identify themselves to other devices.”

Current State

According to TechTarget, “The technologies for an Internet of Things are already in place. Things, in this context, can be people, animals, servers, applications, shampoo bottles, cars, steering wheels, coffee machines, park benches, or just about any other random item that comes to mind.” Can you think of physical objects that you would like to be connected? Can you think of objects that you hope never become connected?

All That Data

With all of the data pouring in from all of these physical objects, how are we going to be able to process everything? How are we going to be able to make sense of everything and characterize all of this data into a form that we can understand? Can this all be boiled down to a visualization? Does it need to be? Am I thinking too humancentric?


I believe that it is no accident that “Big Data” and “The Internet of Things” are being discussed in the same space and time. It is almost as if they are meant for each other. The Internet of Things will create Big Data, but we need to look beyond our human construct. We need to work on ways to automate the extraction and filtering of data as well as the decision making based on that filtered data. If we think beyond the notion that we as humans have to touch and understand and make every decision, then we free ourselves to apply our unique capabilities to the intractable problems of the world. Physical objects can make rational decisions that benefit themselves. For example, could your coffeemaker consult your calendar to determine the likelihood of your presence? Could your calendar broadcast to other devices as well? Consider the efficiencies gained by stepping out of that decision-making process. We are cognitive beings that can better spend our time on real problems.

Do you take a utopian or dystopian view of this future? Are we headed toward the Jetsons or toward 1984’s Big Brother? Can we really figure out what to do with all of the data that is coming? Let me know your thoughts.


Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT topics that keep him up at night.

Looking Through the Google Glass: Trends in IT

Trashed computer hardwareI have been thinking lately about trends in IT and specifically about Google Glass. The prototypes are out now with full introduction expected in 2014. I think that the introduction of Google Glass and other alternative computing platforms and applications points to a world of much smaller computing devices and the separation of the client and the processor/data storage.


Throughout history, each new computer model has generally been smaller, more powerful and came with a friendlier, more intuitive interface. Compare today’s smartphone with the room-sized ENIAC computer of the early 1950s. It is smaller, friendlier, and far more powerful. We came from a room-sized computer to a computer that you hold in your hand within fifty years. How far can we take this paradigm? What does the future hold? How much smaller can we go?


With desktop computers, we have by and large mimicked the typewriter, which was commercialized in the 1860s. The typewriter in turn was just a portable printing press, which was developed in the 1400s. When we needed a portable version of the computer, we came up with the laptop and the tablet and the smartphone. It has the same display and often still a QWERTY keyboard. So, in effect, we are still modeling 600-year-old technology! With Glass and other similar technologies, I feel like they are finally trying to break that cycle. It is voice-activated and the heads-up display is integrated into the product itself. If you did need to create a document using Glass, I am not sure how you would do it (voice recognition?) but I am ever hopeful we can finally break our dependence on a 150-year-old keyboard design.

Processing and Storage

Because client devices are becoming smaller, they cannot maintain the level of on-board processing and storage that we have enjoyed in earlier versions. This is where the cloud comes in. It is almost as if smaller clients and the cloud were meant for each other. Remove the computing power from the client and move it to the cloud. Now, all you need is a client that can stay connected to the cloud and can find your setup and storage. With megadata centers hosting everything in the cloud, and increasingly reliable network connections, computing suddenly becomes much more efficient and clean. Small client, large storage and processing.

Trends For The Future

What does it take to break our dependence on the “product that came before”? How can we break out and truly reinvent how we communicate with each other and with our world? Can we find clues about our future in current and historical science fiction? We have been discussing a utopian “paper-free” world for at least thirty years. With new trends in IT, will we finally realize that utopia? Can we finally break free? These are things that I wrestle with and ponder as I envision the future of IT. How do you see the future unfolding? Are you hopeful or skeptical? For more on IT and internet trends, see the report from a recent All Things Digital conference.


About Kelly BrownAuthor Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT topics that keep him up at night.


A Path to a Greener IT

Business man with laptop in green fieldEver since the early days of the Hollerith tabulating machine, computing has relied on electricity. Computers in the 1940s and 1950s were based on vacuum tubes, which used a lot of electricity and displaced enormous amounts of heat, thus requiring even more electricity to cool them down. As transistors and integrated circuits came into use, the amount of needed electricity went down but the amount of data and associated computing went up. IT continued to be a large power consumer.


As computers entered into the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, they transformed from a mainframe to a minicomputer, to a workstation, and finally, to the personal computer. We went from one computer in a room to several computers per rack. What we saved in size, we made up in volume. We were able to consolidate the number of computing centers that we built but increased the power and cooling needs of each computer room and data center. IT continued to be a decidedly “non-green” industry.

Current Trends

Through consolidation, we now build and operate mega data centers. According to the Data Center Journal, “Mega data centers sprawl over hundreds of thousands of square feet and can exceed 10 megawatts of power, with some approaching a million square feet or 100 megawatts” (http://www.datacenterjournal.com/dcj-magazine/the-rise-of-mega-data-centers/). These data centers provide computing and data storage for small and large companies as well as individuals through services such as Dropbox. Through consolidation, many of these data centers are placed in areas that enjoy cooler temperatures, thus reducing the cooling and power requirements. Many are also placed in areas that enjoy close proximity to inexpensive clean hydroelectric power and wind power. An increasing number of companies are reducing their data center exposure in areas served by coal power, partly to save costs and partly to reduce their environmental footprint.


The current trend is more towards mobile computing and away from desktop computing. This trend moves our client computing away from large fan-cooled systems, towards more efficient laptops, tablets, and smartphones. These battery-based computers still require electricity but are much more efficient than their desktop counterpart.

On the other hand, because of the diminished storage capacity of mobile systems, they rely on cloud computing and mega data centers for their processing and storage needs. The key to a greener IT future lies in maximizing the efficiency of data centers. Computer manufacturers such as IBM and Hewlett-Packard are innovating ways to cool computers through the use of increased airflow and even liquid cooling. Data center operators such as Google and Amazon are aggressively pursuing techniques such as virtual computing so that they reduce the physical computing footprint while increasing the amount of data that they can house and process. A gallery of Google data center technology http://www.google.com/about/datacenters/gallery/ shows the physical infrastructure that Google maintains. Businesses are trying to save money and reduce their computing and environmental footprint by consolidating their computing needs into cloud computing solutions. Data center providers are trying to save money and reduce their environmental footprint by reducing their power consumption. Together, we can all move toward greener, more sustainable computing.

What have you done lately to improve your computing impact on the environment?


About Kelly BrownAuthor Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT topics that keep him up at night.

Am I in Heaven Yet?

shutterstock_127066418Cloud computing has been a buzz-word for a number of years now. Perhaps because it is such a nebulous/ethereal term (cloud?) that has been used to describe a number of different configurations and scenarios. You are most likely using some sort of cloud computing already but it is worth asking the hard questions to make sure you have the basics covered.


Cloud computing refers simply to the fact that your application or data is no longer on a computer that you can touch. It is hosted in a remote computer room in another city, another, state, or another country. In the “cloud”. What brought about this change, and why haven’t we always done it this way? One of the big reasons is the rising abundance and speed of networking. It used to be that your computer or terminal was tied directly to the computer in the computer room. Through better networking technology, the machine in the computer room and the computer in your hands became further and further separated until it was no longer necessary to have a dedicated room in every building. Better network security schemes has also increased this geographic gap.

Is cloud computing all tea and roses or are there still some lingering concerns? Think about these issues when creating or expanding your cloud computing strategy:


If you contract with a large service provider such as Google or Amazon or IBM to host your application or data, your confidential information will be sitting in the same data center as another customer or perhaps even your competitor. Is the “wall” around your data secure enough to keep your information confidential. When your information is traveling to and from the data center over the network, is it secure? Has it been encrypted for the trip? Do you trust all of your information to the cloud or just the non-critical pieces?


Is your application and data usage large enough to warrant cloud computing? If you are a small company or non-profit agency, the setup for hosting your applications and data may swamp your entire IT budget. Some application service providers only cater to large customers with millions of transactions per month. If you don’t fall into that category then perhaps your IT person is just what you need. At the other end of the scale, some small companies or agencies use free services such as Dropbox or Google Docs. If this is the case, then check your assumptions about security.


Some applications such as customer relationship management (CRM) or simple e-mail or backups may be easily offloaded to another provider. Other applications may be complex or proprietary to the point where it makes more sense to keep them closer to the vest. They might still be a candidate in the future as you peel back the layers of legacy and move toward standard applications.

These are all questions to consider when formulating your cloud computing strategy. It can be a real cost savings to offload your computing to another provider but without careful consideration, it can become a complexity you did not bargain for. What keeps you up at night in terms of your cloud computing strategy?


About Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT topics that keep him up at night.