Month: July 2012

Above the Fray?: The Effects of the Patents Wars on the Cloud

Effects of Patent wars on the cloud

In the most recent phase of the Wireless Patent Wars, the jury trial of Apple’s smartphone patent infringement suit against Samsung began earlier this week in San Jose, California. Apple contends that Samsung stole aspects of the iPhone and iPad for its Galaxy Nexus smartphones. Samsung has argued that it had been developing iPhone-like devices before the iPhone’s initial release in 2007. A federal judge sided with Apple in a June 2012 injunction against Samsung’s sale in the United States of the Galaxy Nexus smartphones. However, earlier this month a British judge decided in favor of Samsung over Apple in a case involving tablet patents, famously ruling that the Galaxy tablet wasn’t “cool” enough to be confused with the iPad.

This graphic captures the complexity of the Wireless Patent Wars, just as the Apple-Samsung dispute reflects the Wars’ ambiguity, pettiness, and significant costs. The main combatants: Apple, Samsung, Google, Microsoft, RIM, and HTC. What they’re fighting over: patents for smartphones, tablets, and all the underlying and supporting technologies of mobile devices. The conflict began in earnest in 2011 when Google purchased Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion for no other reason than to acquire 17,000 technology patents to defend itself from competitors’ lawsuits (or what it classified as “a hostile, organized campaign against Android [Google’s open-source mobile operating system] by Microsoft, Oracle, Apple and other companies, waged through bogus patents”). Google also won the first major legal victory of the Patent Wars in May when a jury ruled that its Android OS violated the copyrights but not the patents of Oracle’s Java application programming interfaces.

Business and technology commentators have criticized the Patent Wars as being harmful to consumers, businesses, innovation, and the economy. L. Gordon Crovitz of the Wall Street Journal pointed out in 2011 that the $12.5 billion Google spent on Motorola’s patents could have been used for research and development or hiring new employees. At the same time, Crovitz warned that a compromise between mobile technologies resulting in collaborative “patent pools” would also stifle innovation by reducing competiveness. He blamed the outdated patent filing system of the United States that fails to account for the complexities and overlapping technologies of software: “Software almost always builds on previous work, so patents rarely reflect the kind of original work that patent law is supposed to protect.” In a more recent article, InformationWeek’s Patrick Houston criticized the Patent Wars for many of the same reasons and offered some statistics on the financial impact of patent ligation: 5,842 patent suits were filed in the United States in 2011 with direct costs of $29 billion, or 10% of the combined R&D budgets of every business in the country. Worse, Houston also notes that most of these suits were instigated against small businesses, with the median revenue of the defendants being $10.8 million. Crovitz and Houston both suggest radical patent reform as a way to avoid costly and counter-productive corporate lawsuits. A 2011 patent reform law (America Invents Act) only adjusted the procedures for filing and challenging patents.

Cloud computing may not be immune to the effects of the Wireless Patent Wars. The cloud lets smartphone and tablet users access their files and powerful applications from anywhere.  The cloud’s mobility and its ability to compensate for the limited processing power of mobile devices (in the form of web-based apps) account for a large percentage of the utility and success of smartphones and tablets. The Patent Wars may affect mobile users of the cloud by raising their costs (indirectly by legal fees and high-priced patent acquisitions) or disrupting their service (if they own a patent-infringing device). Cloud computing technology vendors could also engage in their own patent disputes. But for now the direct financial and technical effects of the Wireless Patent Wars on cloud computing remain fairly limited.

IronOrbit leverages our partnerships with IT industry leaders such as VMware and Citrix to build unique and valuable cloud-based solutions. We combine into many of our products the industry-best features, platforms, and hardware of our various partners. IronOrbit’s focus has always been on building highly-customized cloud-based solutions that match the IT requirements and preferences of our clients exactly, not upon owning and restricting proprietary software. We favor a fair and open exchange of technologies that respects the rights of the patent and copyright holders while leaving open the paths to alternate uses and further innovations.

IronOrbit Partner Focus: Citrix

Ironorbit Partner Focus:VMwareIronOrbit designs, builds, and hosts the most highly-customized cloud-based solutions. We develop individualized solutions for each of our customers that combine industry-best technologies with tailor-made add-ons and adjustments. IronOrbit works closely with our partners—technology giants such as VMware, Microsoft, EMC, and Cisco—in the design and development process. Ironorbit’s partnerships, in fact, are a key component to the quality and uniqueness of our hosted solutions. With our “Partner Focus” blog series we will attempt to better familiarize our readers with IronOrbit’s major partners and the nature and extent of each partnership. Today’s post (the second in the series) will discuss Citrix, the multi-billion-dollar software company.

Casual technology users have probably only heard of one of Citrix’s products: the desktop-sharing collaboration software GoToMeeting. But most of Citrix’s other solutions relate to networking, cloud computing, and virtualization. The company recently announced $615 million in quarterly revenue, with more than half of its sales coming from its Desktop Solutions group that includes the virtualization products XenApp, XenDesktop, and VDI-in-a-Box. An independent survey also calculated that Citrix controls a respectable 15% of the total data center virtualization market. By any measure, the company plays a sizable role in the cloud, virtualization, and data center technology sectors.

Ex-IBM developer Ed Iacobucci founded Citrix in 1989. The company started by developing multi-user versions of operating systems and applications. For example, WinFrame (1995) allowed users to access Windows NT desktops and applications located on a centralized server. By shifting the processing burden away from end-user devices to a managed server, the multi-user product increased performance and oversight while lowering costs. Citrix also assisted Microsoft with the development of its Terminal Server products in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Citrix spent much of the next decade developing its existing products and acquiring smaller companies. Like many large technology corporations, it purchased promising start-ups as an alternative to investing heavily in research and development. Citrix would add new features to its own products this way (adapting them from the acquired products) or adopt the other companies’ solutions as its own.

As part of this strategy, Citrix acquired the desktop virtualization company Kaviza in 2011. Kaviza’s VDI-in-a-Box solution was an SMB-focused virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) alternative to Citrix’s XenDesktop. VDI-in-a-Box’s selling points were its simplicity, speedy deployment, and cost-efficiency. Timothy Pickett Morgan of The Register explained the appeal of Kaviza’s solution in technical terms: “Because PC images are stored on the servers, rather than the SAN [Storage Area Network], a big part of the expense of creating VDI back-ends is eliminated…The Kaviza setup also gets rid of connection brokers, load balancers, and management servers that the typical VDI setup – including Citrix’ own XenDesktop and VMware’s View – require. These extra pieces of backend hardware are what make a typical VDI installation cost between $1,200 and $2,000 per seat.”

IronOrbit deploys all of our powerful and secure virtual desktops using Citrix’s VDI-in-a-Box. We leverage the desktop virtualization solution to provide our customers with a fully-functional and cost-efficient IT infrastructure in a matter of minutes. Like our partners at Citrix, we see VDI-in-a-Box as a means of putting enterprise-level IT resources and technology in the hands of SMBs. In collaboration with Citrix and other leading IT partners, IronOrbit builds customized hosted solutions that match our clients’ exact IT requirements and preferences.

IronOrbit Partner Focus: VMware

Eighty-five percent of data centers utilize virtualization management, according to a recent InformationWeek survey. A majority of these facilities (53%) have deployed a VMware virtualization product. Estimates of VMware’s share of the overall virtualization market range from slightly over 50% to 80%. Because cloud computing depends on virtualization, one could argue that 50-80% of the cloud computing also relies on VMware. But despite the company’s Windows-like market domination of an increasingly widespread and instrumental technology, VMware remains a little-known and seldom-discussed organization to most of the general public.

VMware was founded in 1998. Its first product was the VMware Workstation, a desktop virtualization program that allowed users to run additional operating systems from within Windows or Linux. In 2001 the company introduced its flagship ESX server virtualization product, which allowed data center managers to divide individual physical servers into multiple computing environments (virtual servers). Previously, a single physical server could only support a single application or process. Gartner estimates that, as a result, non-virtualized servers only utilize 10% of their total computing capacity. But with the multiple computing environments of VMware ESX, servers have the ability to exhaust 100% of their capacity. VMware’s program also permits multi-tenancy—the ability of separate users to share a server without sacrificing performance, security, or privacy.

EMC acquired VMware for $625 million in 2004, giving it a certain amount of leeway and independence before ousting the VMware founder and CEO Diane Greene in 2008. According to this article from InformationWeek’s Charles Babcock, experts had begun predicting the failure of the company towards the end of Greene’s tenure due to intense competition from Microsoft. Babcock credits the company’s turnaround with the subsequent hiring of EMC’s head of Cloud Computing, Paul Maritz, whom he says appreciated the reciprocal and long-term relationships involved with data center technology: “Maritz instinctively understood the trust that CIOs were investing in VMware. As long as VMware drew an ambitious road map, told customers what it would bring to their data centers via virtualization, and delivered, CIOs would continue to look to VMware for their future data center software…Companies would be reluctant to rip out their VMware deployments that were installed and working in their data centers.” Maritz expanded VMware from a $1.3 billion middling company to a $4.6 billion industry mainstay.

On July 16 of this year, EMC promoted Maritz to Chief Strategist and named EMC President Pat Gelsinger the new VMware CEO. This article (also by Mr. Babcock) interprets the switch as a step in the evolution towards a “software-defined data center,” which can be described as “a data center that can be organized more flexibly, with resources commissioned, reconfigured, or decommissioned through a software management layer. Administrators are able to make changes in such a data center continuously without disrupting users.” VMware’s commitment to innovation and its critical role in creating the fully-integrated software-managed data centers of the future were further reinforced by its $1.26 billion acquisition of the network virtualization company Nicira on July 24.

The resource-distributing, server-maximizing, and multi-tenant features of the VMware ESX hypervisor make it an integral part of most cloud computing services, including many of the private clouds of IronOrbit. Specifically, we utilize the lightweight ESXi hypervisor, whose small footprint limits its “attack surface” and significantly reduces the likelihood of a security breach. IronOrbit employs industry-best technologies (such as ESXi) and maintains partnerships with industry-leading IT vendors and developers (such as VMware) in order to continually provide our customers with the most secure, reliable, and powerful private clouds.

Cloud: The Final Frontier

Cloud - The Final Frontier

European scientists announced two weeks ago that they had confirmed the existence of an elementary particle responsible for endowing objects in the universe with mass. The isolation of the particle, the Higgs boson, not only represents a great advancement in particle physics, but also reflects the impressive capabilities and unlimited possibilities of cloud computing. Why? Because the scientists that performed the research on the Higgs boson made heavy use of the same kind of information technologies as IronOrbit and other commercial clouds.

The European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) conducted the experiments that revealed the critical particle. The centerpiece of its efforts was the Large Hadron Collider—a 17-mile-circumference particle accelerator that smashes protons together at blazing speeds in order to elicit high-energy reactions. Thousand-ton detectors inside the accelerator captured, analyzed, and transferred the data of these collisions at rates of 300 GB/s. The detectors filter the data for relevancy (reporting only 1 out of every 200,000 collisions) before sending the results at a rate of about 19 GB/min to the next processing step—the Grid, CERN’s private cloud

CERN’s Grid has three distinct levels or Tiers. At Tier 0 inside the CERN headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, 50,000 computing cores receive and sift through the information that comes directly from the LHC detectors. Via 10 GB/s dedicated networks Tier 0 routes data to specific Tier 1 sites. There are 11 Tier 1 facilities: 6 in Western Europe, 3 in North America, 1 in Scandinavia, and 1 in Southeast Asia (Taiwan). Each Tier 1 center contains comprehensive and accessible electronic records of a distinct experiment associated with the LHC. Tier 1 sites also possess surplus computing power to assist with the most complex analyses. Finally, Tier 2 sites (140 locations in universities and research labs) provide end-user access to researchers around the world. Tier 2 centers mainly permit scientists to access the data and computing power of the Tier 1 centers. Tier 1 sites also retrieve the computations from the Tier 2 sites for permanent storage.

Despite its unorthodox structure, the Grid possesses several characteristics that allow it to be classified as a cloud, including:

  • Multi-tenancy
  • Virtualization
  • Scalability
  • Mobility

For example, the Grid permits different organizations and people in different locations to access and employ collectivized computing resources. Researchers in Tier 2 sites have the ability to perform computations with CPUs and storage devices in the Tier 1 and other Tier 2 sites. The Grid allocates these resources intuitively; the user does not have to initiate separate connections or processes. The users of the Grid do not affect each other’s performance or connectivity. Similarly, a user of a cloud-based service such as Twitter shares the resources of the social media site’s data centers with millions of other users. Twitter also intuitively provides more computing resources to you when you post larger messages or photos.

IronOrbit utilizes the same technology behind the Grid to provide our customers with cost-effective yet powerful and reliable hosted solutions. Just like a CERN researcher, you can access your cloud from anywhere in the world with a web-enabled device. With our web-hosted solutions, employees in different locations can maintain consistent files and share access to the same applications. When your organization grows, you can scale up the power and capacity of your solutions in order to support your increasing IT requirements. With a cloud from IronOrbit you have the power of the world’s most advanced information technology systems in your hands.

Hard Data: Inside the Data Centers of the Cloud

Hard Data:Inside The Data Centers of the Cloud

Data centers. The phrase often induces feelings of stress for small business owners. When they hear the phrase, all they can think of is exorbitant costs that would likely put them out of business if they were to build and maintain one themselves. But data centers do offer several benefits, and are of particular use when it comes to cloud computing. Today’s post will attempt to increase your understanding of cloud technology by describing in depth the physical infrastructure of the cloud’s data centers. We want to assure you that your IronOrbit private or hybrid cloud does not come out of thin air. Rather, state-of-the-art hardware painstakingly managed in enterprise-level facilities are what your clouds are made of.

Tour of a Basic Data Center

Server racks are the main features of any data center. These racks are 19-inch-wide frames or cabinets that hold servers in place. They are usually 42 racks units high (U=1.75 inches), or about 6 feet tall, allowing technicians of average height to access the entire rack. Server blades, stripped-down mounted servers, maximize space and efficiency. Behind the racks, cable trays organize the hundreds of connections running in and out of the server blades. In front of the racks (or wherever the devices expel their excess energy) is the hot aisle, an empty space that allows the heat from the servers to be circulated away from the server racks. Without the hot aisle, the data center hardware would be destroyed by overheating. Most data centers maintain a constant temperature of 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

An empty space also exists beneath a row of server racks in the form a raised platform, allowing hot air to escape through the grated floor. Cables can also be routed through this space in order to minimize clutter. Other common features of data centers include: air conditioning (sometimes using water towers and industrial-grade chillers), backup power (batteries, diesel generators), fire protection (smoke detectors, sprinklers, firewalls), and security (on-site guards, biometric palm-readers, cameras).

Recent Data Center Innovations

Data centers in the United States utilize 100 billion kilowatt-hours per year or about 2% of all national energy consumption. Efforts to reduce this figure include water-based coolant systems and the construction of data centers in naturally cool locales (such as Portland, OR and Ireland) where facilities could self-regulate their temperature without relying on air conditioning. Every green data center strives for a low PUE (power usage effectiveness, the ratio of energy used to power the facility compared to the energy used for computing purposes), with the average being 2.5. Instead of reducing consumption, data center owners such as Apple have attempted to shift their energy sources from “dirty” (coal, natural gas) to clean (solar, bio-gas). Apple’s North Carolina facility, for example, obtains 60% of its energy needs from an on-site 250-acre solar farm and bio-gas fuel cells.

Another trend in data center construction has been the use of containerized data centers, which are shipping containers filled with operable server racks. Individually, these containerized data centers are useful to large organizations that require immediate on-site IT resources (“IBM can put a five-container data centre loaded with IT gear on a C130 transport plane and get it to you in about three hours”) and to highly mobile organizations such as the U.S. military. But normal data centers also utilize containerized data centers in order to give themselves flexibility, scalability, and cost-effectiveness, as these videos of the data centers of Google and Microsoft demonstrate. Adding new IT resources now only requires them to purchase a new prefabricated data center in a container. They do not have to build any new facilities or platforms or purchase and integrate any separate equipment.

Our Data Centers

For more about our specific data centers, consult this post about the IronOrbit infrastructure. In brief, we managed our data centers in partnership with telecom and ISP giants such as AT&T, COX, Time Warner, SAVVIS, and Level 3. All of our facilities include redundant Internet connectivity, environmental protection systems, and multi-level security. We back our clouds not only with state-of the-art hardware and technologies, but also with dedicated 24x7x365 technical support and monitoring. Our clouds are as reliable, secure, and powerful as it gets.

From Notepad to Ipad: Thanks to The Cloud

From Notepad to Ipad

Regardless of what industry your company does business in, having a reliable IT solution is imperative. That’s why proper planning and budgeting is essential when designing your IT strategy for the coming year. ZDNet has recently published the findings of their US IT Priorities report and the data seems to suggest that most companies are focused on investing in mobility, web apps, and security; and that price is usually the deciding factor.

The 45 page white paper, to which I’ve placed a link above, is an in-depth look at the answers retrieved from IT professionals across the US about their budgets and strategies in relation to their IT solutions. They serve as decision makers from small to large businesses that utilize everything from small office networks to entire server rooms.

While the dense report touches on numerous interesting findings, we’ll focus on a few key points. Let’s face it; if you have the time to read through a long-winded analysis then you probably would just read the whole report instead.

The most common theme among survey responders was the importance of network security. While focusing on core infrastructure was the second most identified networking strategy, security concerns like intrusion and antivirus/spyware/malware take up 3 of the top 4 spots. This, the survey points out, is due to security threats multiplying and no longer being theoretical.

The other evident trend highlighted by the survey is that most companies are looking to invest in IT solutions that involve mobility and web applications. Currently businesses are focusing on projects to develop web applications that allow for a more adaptable workforce. In the long term companies are focused of phasing in technology that allows their employees to access applications and data remotely using mobile devices such as tablets and notebooks.

It’s also interesting to note that just behind the 31.1% of businesses prioritizing web apps and mobility, IT Training/Services and Backup/Recovery/Archiving come in at 30.9% and 30.6% respectively. This is a reflection of the importance of having IT support and data backups available should a failure occur, harkening back to the emphasis on network security and reliability.

Regardless of which emphasis a business prefers to focus on, the underlying factor in the planning process was cost effectiveness. Just over 61.3% of businesses responded that their spending for IT would be the same or less as in 2011 and only 38.7% budgeted more for 2012. This means that business will be looking for the best possible deals, often pitting multiple vendors against each other in order to get the best pricing.

At IronOrbit we understand the grueling process of planning costs for your business. That’s why we offer fully managed hosting services for flat fees, eliminating the guess work in IT budgets. Our solutions offer 24x7x365 support and security services that will keep your IT data and applications safe. We offer a full suite of services for all of your hosting needs. With solutions like these, it’s no wonder so many businesses choose IronOrbit to be their cloud provider.

Flat Fees, Dynamic IT

Flat Prices,Dynamic IT

Some people associate cloud computing with pay-as-you-go pricing. With this payment model, a user accesses and utilizes a cloud-based service. The cloud’s host charges the user for the exact amount of resources that he or she utilized. Or the host charges the user by the minute or hour. This payment model contrasts with the cloud’s subscription payment model, where the user obtains a service for a monthly or yearly fee. The user of subscription service does not have to pay per resource or per minute or hour. Subscription users pay a monthly fee that depends on the size and power of their cloud service. They will be charged an extra fee if they need to add more storage space or processing power to their cloud.

Pay-as-you-go pricing lets companies quickly and easily expand IT systems and solutions. It works great for businesses that need on-demand or temporary IT resources. But pay-as-you-go does not work as well with long term hosting. This payment model makes it impossible to predict IT costs. Some pay-as-you-go services also include metering, the ability of the user to view usage statistics and costs on-the-fly. But this does not necessarily make company-wide costs more predictable. Metering also distracts from business processes. Employees will focus on their usage rates, costs, and budget of the cloud services instead of their work.

Companies seeking long-term hosting for their IT applications, platforms, and infrastructures should select subscription pricing. This pricing model makes IT costs as predictable as possible. With the subscription model, companies will be able to set firm IT budgets. Employees will be able to focus on their work, not on obeying restrictive usage limits.

IronOrbit can host all of its applications, platforms, infrastructures, and desktops on the monthly subscription model. More than that, we also offer flat fees for all of our solutions and services. Other hosting companies have fluctuating subscriptions rates that make it difficult to predict long-term IT costs. The ones that offer fixed fees compensate by limiting the quality and variety of their solutions. Only IronOrbit provides fully-customized, powerful, and reliable hosted IT solutions at flat subscription rates. As your dedicated off-site IT department, we combine the best in stability—with fixed fees, 24/7 technical support and monitoring, and complete data backups—and customization—with our ability to host any application, platform, or infrastructure on a private or hybrid cloud.

A Healthcare IT Checkup: How the ACA Supreme Court Decision Affects You

Many in the healthcare industry probably already know about the June 28 Supreme Court decision that upheld the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. They have probably begun thinking about how the legislation will affect their practice or hospital financially and logistically. But the impact of the ACA on their IT systems and solutions should also be important to them. People in the healthcare industry may wonder: Will the Supreme Court decision affect the IT infrastructure of the average practitioner? And how will the ACA affect healthcare IT overall?

An InformationWeek analysis of the decision points out that the ACA applies mostly to large hospitals which, in the past, have been responsible for a high percentage of the healthcare system’s inefficiency, waste, and poor coordination. Market forces would have coerced healthcare organizations into instituting many of the stipulations of the ACA, anyway: the article quotes one healthcare technology expert as saying, “Even if the Supreme Court had invalidated the whole ACA, there would still be enormous pressure on the provider sector. This wouldn’t have changed anything.” In any case, the InformationWeek article provides a list of ACA provisions that affect healthcare IT at all levels. These provisions include: a more efficient and organization payment system (bundled payments), quality management, rules management, value-based purchasing, and state health insurance exchanges.

In general, the Supreme Court decision on the ACA doesn’t so much change the IT requirements of the average practitioner as reinforce the trend towards more efficient and technologically-advanced healthcare. A report released on July 2 projected that the value of healthcare cloud computing will grow 20% by 2017 to a $5.4 million market. Cloud technology will allow healthcare companies to increase the performance of their IT infrastructure while lowering their costs. This analysis of the Supreme Court decision also points out that the healthcare industry can no longer lag behind our otherwise increasingly technology-driven world. The crisis status of the US healthcare system (already consuming 20% of the GDP and with an increasingly aging population) combined with the technological skills and expectations of younger doctors and patients (“The digital natives, people under 30 who have grown up on Xbox, Facebook and text messaging, are the doctors, nurses and technicians entering the healthcare workforce today; they are the patients who are making decisions on their treatment today”) make the advancement of healthcare IT inevitable. This technology evangelist on paints the picture of the healthcare system of the future:

“In our near future anyone will be able to link information about what they’ve been doing, eating, etc., and marry it with a rich stream of real-time physiologically-specific data about what’s going in their body, wherever they are, linked wirelessly to the Cloud. In the Cloud the entire canon of medical literature and research can be instantly accessed to diagnose and provide advice specifically relevant to you, your body, now… The same kinds of tools show up in the hospital, in operating rooms, clinics and ambulances. It empowers citizens to make decisions, and helps physicians and hospital staff see or make rapid and early diagnostics.”

To comply with the newly-affirmed Affordable Care Act and to keep up with the increasingly technology-driven healthcare industry, independent practitioners and healthcare organizations need a flexible, powerful, and reliable IT hosting provider. Specifically, they need a hosting provider that can support the latest and most advanced healthcare IT solutions while possessing the security and stability to comply with industry regulations such as HIPAA, HITECH, and the ACA. IronOrbit has been providing hosted EHRs and EMRs, virtual desktops, and cloud-based infrastructures to independent practitioners and healthcare SMBs for over a decade.  Our 4-D data security protections will ensure the safety and privacy of your patients’ data. Our Atomic Speed Technology and 100% Uptime Guarantee will provide you with constant and quick access to all your hosted systems and records. And our knowledgeable and dedicated technicians will be able to assist you 24x7x365 with problems of any severity—whether you have an IT issue with the healthcare equivalent of the common cold or a chronic illness.