Thursday, October 29, 2015

Want a custom-built Raspberry Pi? Firms get to bake their own

Businesses will be able to tailor the $35 credit-card sized board to suit anything from Internet of Things devices to consumer appliances.

The Raspberry Pi 2.

The Raspberry Pi started out as a computer to get kids to code but its low cost and hackability has won over seven million users of all ages.

Now a new way to buy the boards has paved the way for businesses to get serious about using the Pi and start building it into a host of new products.

Firms will be able to order bespoke versions of the credit-card sized machine - customised to control a production line, drive a consumer appliance or whatever else takes their fancy.

The decision to make tailormade Raspberry Pis available to organisations ordering more than 3,000 boards was taken following repeated requests from firms that already build around the Pi.

"Right now we've got about one million units per year of Raspberry Pi going into other products - being used in industrial, embedded or consumer devices,"said Raspberry Pi co-creator Eben Upton.

Many of these businesses create prototype products and appliances using the Raspberry Pi compute module, which packs the processor and memory of the Pi onto a slim board the size of a memory module.

But there is a limit to how scalable a product run is if it relies on a Pi compute module plugged into a separate board, said Upton, adding that once firms hit that wall they now can switch to a custom board.

"We've never had an order for more than 20,000 compute modules from any given customer. We're aware there's a volume point where people start to get reluctant to have this two-board solution. It's really trying to provide that next rung up."

Raspberry Pi boards are also already used as the basis for an increasing range of products, from the pi-top laptop to the Pi-Raq appliance for monitoring servers. Upton's even spotted the Pi in products whose price tag dwarves that of the machine.

"Last year I was in a factory and saw a piece of really expensive telecoms hardware being built with a Raspberry Pi as a controller. That's $50,000 of telecoms hardware being controlled by a $35 Raspberry Pi," he said.

"That was really nice because that suggested that people aren't buying the Pi because it's cheap anymore, they're buying it because it's stable."

Upton said that firms prototype using the Pi because it's "cheap and available" but are compelled to use the board in the final product by the platform's stability, forged by years of scrutiny from the Pi's millions of users.

The custom option will let firms tweak the Pi's hardware to better suit their needs. Changes can include reconfiguring the board layout, adding functionality such as new I/O, wireless connectivity or integrated power management and swapping out interfaces. Previously making such changes would typically require investing in bulky add-on boards - something firms may be loathe to do.

"This gives you a way of doing it in a better form factor and obviously because you're integrating it all onto one board you can do it at a more attractive cost point," said Upton.

"Even a little bit of customisation can suddenly mean the Pi's perfect for a vertical."

Customisations needn't be complex: since the soft launch of the bespoke service in June this year the simplest request received has been to rotate the Ethernet port by 90 degrees. In that time the majority of custom orders have been from small and medium-sized businesses.

Any of the Raspberry Pi boards - generation one or two, model A or B, the compute module, the camera or display boards - can be customised and the only restrictions mentioned relate to the Pi's GPU, which cannot be changed.

To produce the custom boards, the Raspberry Pi Foundation, the charity behind the Pi, has teamed up with electronics distributor element14, which will design and manufacture these one-off boards. Some customisations may require an order of at least 5,000, with the lower limit depending on the nature of the change.

Upton admits that he doesn't know who the majority of the Pi's business customers are and is looking forward to learning more about exactly who is using the board in their products.

"We wondered whether there's scope for some sort of branding - though I think we might steer away from 'Raspberry Pi Inside', it sounds a bit like another company.

"But we'd love it if people wanted to talk about the fact they're building their businesses and their products on the Raspberry Pi platform."

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

These Four Charts Show How Uber Steals Turf From Cabs and Spreads Throughout a City (BusinessWeek)

As part of a data-sharing agreement with Uber and Lyft, Portland officials compiled a detailed report on how ride-hailing apps transformed the city’s transportation patterns in just a few months.

Portland is a city that values its weird traditions, which is partly why it resisted overtures by Uber and other ride-hailing apps to operate there. Eventually, officials gave in. According to a report by the city, the apps swiftly changed Portland in surprising ways. The findings show how quickly ride-hailing providers can gain traction, first grabbing market share from taxis, then expanding the overall car-for-hire market.

As Bloomberg Businessweek chronicled in a June feature, Uber and Lyft hit the streets of Portland in late April under a 120-day trial period. They started operating after a long political effort involving dozens of meetings, classic lobbying, and (among other things) a unicyclist. As part of the temporary approval, the ride-hailing companies agreed to share detailed data on their operations.

In August, the city council extended the trial period for several months so it could finish tweaking the rules. In the meantime, city staffers crunched the data and compiled what they believe is the first comprehensive report by any city based on proprietary information from Uber. Portland shared a copy of the report with Bloomberg, and we've pulled out some of the highlights. The study provides a rare, detailed look into what happens when a city opens up to on-demand apps and how the taxicab industry adapts.

It didn't take long for Uber and Lyft to become as popular as local taxis. In May, taxis provided about 5,500 rides per day; within a month, that fell to about 4,500 rides and basically flat-lined. Demand for ride-hailing services kept growing, from 2,300 average daily rides in May to more than 8,000 in August. Overall, Portlanders took 100,000 more for-hire rides in August than in May. It's worth noting that the Pacific Northwest had an uncharacteristically warm and dry summer, so there's not much reason to think weather played a role in the increase.

In just seven weeks, Uber and Lyft surpassed taxis in providing rides on weekends. While the number of weekend taxi rides initially fell a bit, Portlanders took thousands more trips on weekends in late August than in early May. Saturdays, in particular, are big nights for the ride-hailing apps. In general, the early morning, from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m., is the sole time period when taxis provided more rides. The city hypothesizes that this is due to people catching early flights—probably reserving pickups in advance, a service not offered by Uber and Lyft.

Eight percent of all taxi rides started in East Portland, a low-income neighborhood, while only 3 percent of all Uber and Lyft riders originated there. As the summer progressed, Uber and Lyft picked up more riders in less central areas across the city, but demand for their service remained more concentrated than that for taxis around downtown.

Over the four months, Uber and Lyft provided 13 percent of the 3,000 rides taken by people who needed wheelchair-accessible vehicles, leaving taxis to provide the vast majority of the service. Such vehicles are more expensive to operate. In September, Uber expanded its supply of wheelchair-accessible vehicles, so future reports will show whether it can become the provider of choice for all Portlanders, or mainly just those out at night and on weekends.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Samsung's supersized Galaxy View tablet looks like this

It's hard to visualize how big an 18.4-inch tablet is without reference. Nevertheless, if you want to see Samsung's upcoming enormous device called the Galaxy View up close, check out the images above, courtesy of evleaks. The South Korean manufacturer first gave us a glimpse of the tablet back in September, clearly showing its Microsoft Surface-esque kickstand. More recently, early listings on third-party sellers spotted by several websites revealed that the 32GB version will cost you $600. Those listings have since been removed, but according GSM Arena, it's powered by an Exynos 7580 SoC, has a fullHD resolution display, 32GB of storage, 2GB of RAM and a microSD slot that supports cards up to 128GB in capacity. There's a basic, WiFi-only model and another one with 3G and LTE, which will definitely be more expensive of the two. Since $600 is still cheaper than the most basic iPad Pro, though, we're guessing the whole line will be priced lower than Apple's smaller-but-still-gigantic tablet.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Apple's assault on the smart home: Does HomeKit have what it takes to win the market?

With the first devices that work with Apple's HomeKit now hitting the market, can Apple dominate the smart home as it did the smartphone?

Ecobee's HomeKit-enabled thermostat. Image: Ecobee

Along with HealthKit, one of the marquee features announced with the launch of iOS 8 was Apple's HomeKit, a home automation framework designed to get separate smart home devices talking to each other, all controlled centrally by a iPhone or iPad.

With the home automation market set to be worth $71bn by 2018, according to Juniper Research, it's no surprise that Apple is interested in staking its claim to the smart home in the same way it has the smartphone.

But for a long time after HomeKit launched, there was little sign of an ecosystem building around it or high profile supporters. There were also rumours of delays to its release, and speculation that a new Apple TV would be launched to double as a HomeKit hub, suggesting home automation might be anything but a home run for Apple.

Now, however, the first wave of HomeKit hardware products by third-party manufacturers are beginning to hit the shelves: the last couple of weeks have seen Philips launch its HomeKit Hue Bridge for controlling home lighting, while August has unveiled a HomeKit-connected door lock. These products join a handful of others from companies including Ecobee, Honeywell, Incipio, Insteon, and Lutron.

With partners taking care of the hardware, Apple recently tackled the software side of HomeKit, giving it a few more useful features in iOS 9: a more user-friendly set-up procedure, for example, and the introductions of 'scenes', where devices can be activated together - opening the garage door and turning on the front porch light at the same time, say. It's also brought HomeKit-compatibility with the latest WatchOS update, so you can control your home from your wrist.

With the software in place and hardware now trickling out, are we seeing the first coming of HomeKit - or a platform that's yet to, and may never, catch on?

NextMarket Insights is predicting the former, with 180 million HomeKit devices shipped by 2020. "Apple's track record of creating excitement for nascent markets is unparalleled," Michael Wolf, the company's chief analyst, wrote in a recent blog. "HomeKit will create awareness about the smart home among average consumers and will accelerate development in the category among home system, appliance, and service providers."

But, as Wolf highlights, the smart home is an area rich with competition: Google's Brillo, Nest's Weave, and Samsung's SmartThings are just three of the high-profile efforts by tech companies to make their own ecosystems the heart of the smart home.

For Ecobee, whose smart thermostat is HomeKit-compatible, when deciding which software partners to work with, the size of the potential ecosystem is a key factor.

"The phone you have in your pocket will be key to the connected devices you end up buying," Ecobee CEO Stuart Lombard told ZDNet. "As a manufacturer, there's lots of opportunity to be a part of many ecosystems. We want to focus on the ecosystem that really resonates with the consumer. The Apple installed base, the brand, and its gravitational pull are really important."

Joe Dada, CEO of Insteon, which makes a HomeKit-enabled device hub, agrees. "In the end, it comes down to simple math - do we think they're going to get significant penetration? Just being a big player doesn't guarantee anything, and a lot of efforts into this space have failed. We have to read the minds of the leaders inside these organisations and try to get a feeling for where they're going to go with this. Is this going to be a serious initiative they're going to stick with, or is there a chance they're not going to be serious about it?... There's a difference between [companies taking] a leadership role and 'we don't want to be left behind'."

Apple, the companies believe, is indeed serious about the industry, and the demography overlap between smart home enthusiasts and Apple users is clear: both are characterised by tech-savvy consumers with a higher than average income.

But while consumers may be happy to tie themselves into a single ecosystem with their smartphone, the decision to do the same with their home is more problematic - there could be a mixture of mobile operating systems running under a single roof, potentially leading to all sorts of compatibility problems. For those opting for a particular ecosystem, be it Apple or anything else, they need to make sure that framework not only works with their own, and their partner's and family's, smartphone operating system, but that it's also compatible with all the other home automation gear they already have.

And with Apple yet to release its own HomeKit app (though a trademark for an app called Home may suggest one is on the way), that leaves consumers having to deal with various third-party apps with differing set-up processes and attitudes to managing other players' HomeKit hardware.

For buyers, it may seem like smart home is still in the Wild West phase, with both consumers and manufacturers waiting to see who wins the 20-man bar fight. For now, hardware makers are hoping to keep everyone happy by working with multiple partners: Philips' Hue bulbs work with the Hue Android app as well as its HomeKit-enabled Bridge, while the majority of Insteon's many hardware devices can be managed by their respective Apple, Android, and Windows Phone apps.

"We think it will be 'one size fits all'. If you have to figure out which ecosystem works with what, and that [hardware] doesn't work with this [ecosystem] but it does with that, then that's not a great customer experience," Ecobee's Lombard said.

For Insteon's Dada, "consumers will rule the day" - companies that offer the sorts of compatibility that buyers want, whatever those may be, "consumers will reward them with purchases".

As it does with iOS apps looking to get onto the App Store, Apple has to certify all the hardware that wants to offer itself as HomeKit-compatible. The smartphone world may give us some indication as to whether Apple's more closed approach will prove popular with consumers. Look at it one way, and there are hundreds of millions of iPhone users happy with Apple's somewhat walled garden. Look at it the other way, and there are hundreds of millions more who prefer Android's arguably more open attitude.

There's no doubt that Apple will end up with a sizeable part of the smart home market but, as with mobile, it's unlikely to be the most popular player.

As NextMarket Insights' Wolf sums it up: "While HomeKit will certainly see traction, its ability to coalesce consumers and product manufacturers around a single unifying effort faces an uphill battle. Competing offerings from Google with Weave, Samsung's SmartThings, and industry-driven efforts such as AllSeen and UPnP are also jockeying to establish themselves with manufacturers and consumers alike. While HomeKit could soon be one of the leading platforms in smart home, it will by no means be the only platform."

Friday, October 23, 2015

Hackers Getting Closer to US Grid...

Much has been said about the danger of hackers attacking the U.S. power grid. However, Electric Light & Power writes that hackers "are already here and getting closer to their objectives all the time." Experts say all that's left is money and motivation for an attack. 

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Energy has reported more than 1,100 cyberattacks from 2010 to 2014, with 14% as successful, and the cybersecurity rating firm BitSight says the power industry only ranks "fair to middling" on cybersecurity. Could a major attack really come in the next three years? What can be done to stop it? 

Security expert says successful hack against power grid likely

power grid distribution transmission elp

Hackers are not coming to attack U.S. energy infrastructure. They are already here and getting closer to their objectives all the time.

Using the parallel of wartime, these hackers are virtual enemy patrols which have probed into the front lines, looking for weaknesses and attack points that present the best possible chance of success. They may want credit card information or even notoriety.

Sometimes their motivation is terror, chaos and infrastructural damage, such as trying to bring down part of the power grid within a city or even blacking out giant swathes of the U.S.
“The knowledge is out there, the intent is out there, and the capacity is out there,” said Jonathan Pollet, founder of Houston-based cyber firm Red Tiger Security. “Now we’re just waiting for someone motivated enough, by money or political events, to take advantage.”

This hasn’t happened yet, but the potential is getting closer as bad actors compile knowledge of the grid’s cyber weaknesses and gather illicit financial support for their efforts.

A recent USA Today report indicated that the U.S. Department of Energy was under constant siege in recent years, with 1,131 attempted cyberattacks from 2010-2014. The hackers were successful about 14 percent of the time, or in 159 of the attempts, according to the article.

“I think it’s very likely” an attack on a utility company could be successful someday soon, maybe within three years, Pollet added.

Another report, this one released Tuesday by cybersecurity ratings BitSight, indicates that the energy industry only ranks fair to middling when it comes to cybersecurity efforts. The energy-utility sector was ranked fourth among sectors, slightly above health care and behind finance, government and retail. Education was categorized, far and away, as the most vulnerable to cyber attack by BitSight.

BitSight researchers noted a dip in the energy-utility sector, finding it most vulnerable to malevolent bugs such as Poodle and Freak. The report indicated a growing concern about the cybersecurity posture of these companies even as more control systems are being brought online.

Cybersecurity is kind of like the offensive line in football. The casual fan only notices them when something goes wrong. It’s a thankless task but one which has to be done better than it has been, according to report.

“This is going on inside companies every day,” said Stephen Boyer, co-founder and chief technology officer of BitSight. “There is a battle going on between attackers and defenders. It’s very, very hard to be perfect.”

Hacker attacks against Target, Sony and Ashley Madison certainly gained much attention, embarrassed many and have alarmed consumers, but Boyer said the “scary parts” of cybersecurity for utilities “are the things we don’t know about.”

Hackers glean inside knowledge, trick users into giving up passwords and protocols and leave footprints that take precious time to track down. Cybersecurity experts in the U.S. are well aware of the threats coming from China, Russia and Iran, among many other places, but the attacks could originate from anywhere, even on American soil.

“Attribution is very hard,” Boyer said. “The power goes off and no one knows who it is.”
One saving grace, surprisingly, is that the U.S. power grid is not one seamless piece, but rather numerous systems. For that reason, many experts do not think that cyber terrorists could pull off a continental-wide blackout. But they could be a threat to turn off power within a city or region.

Del Rodillas, solution lead for SCADA and industrial control systems at Palo Alto Networks, said he couldn’t rank the energy-utility sector’s preparedness compared to other industries. What he worries most about is a perceived disconnect between two distinct, yet connected parts of the power companies.

“What I can say is within the energy-utility organization, there is a stark contrast in the level of security between the IT (information technology) environment and operational technology (OT) environment,” Rodillas said in an emailed response to questions. “Keep in mind, though, that the staff securing IT environments in energy and utility companies are typically separate from the staff in OT responsible for security and not always working in unison. The IT environment in the energy-utility may be cutting edge, but the OT environment is typically lagging.”

For instance, through various and relatively easy means the world-class hacker can find the name of a SCADA engineer working for a utility. They try to get that engineer’s email address and, once they’ve gone that far, they send the engineer an email that entices the prey to click on something that might be of personal or professional interest.

Once clicked, a rootkit is released into the desktop that both masks the software’s existence and intent and also allows the hacker remote access to the computer, Pollet pointed out. For the past two years, his company has identified kits moving through the corporate networks, looking for open platform communications (OPC) servers and gaining more database information about SCADA systems.

“I know they have access to the system, and they’re able to read information off the system,” Pollet said. “We have not seen an adversary remotely command a SCADA system—that’s the last piece they are missing. I think they are close.”

What to do, what to do? BitSight’s Boyer said he was actually encouraged about the USA Today report on the hacks into the U.S. Department of Energy. Once every four days there is a physical or virtual attack on the U.S. power infrastructure, so putting utility defenders on higher alert is a good idea.

“The awareness is probably at an all-time high,” Boyer said. “They are very much aware and asking these sort of questions.”

The federal government is getting on board. A new cybersecurity framework, directed by the White House and supported by industry, was announced last year by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The NERC CIP and ICS-specific standards like NIST SP800-82 certainly have helped increase awareness, Palo Alto Network’s Rodillas noted.

“It helps with raising the bar for successful cyber attacks,” Rodillas said. “However there is still a ways to go to have these personnel understand how targeted attacks work.

“Forget about deploying tools for detecting and stopping (attacks),” he added. “Many OT personnel don’t even know these tools exist. Getting one’s organization education is an important first step.”

Red Tiger Security is advising its clients to isolate their control systems from corporate networks. The industry also needs to do a more work securing the growing smart meter infrastructure, given the bi-directional nature of that communication.

Harden the perimeter, Pollet added. Sounds like war. And it sounds imminent.

“I think it’s very likely,” he said. “I think it’s above 60 to 70 percent likely that it could happen in the next five years.”

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

No Computer Runs Forever. Be Prepared.

How would you feel if one day you woke up and your entire computer’s contents – including your sentimental photos, your recent projects and documents, your entire music collection, and your precious videos – were no longer accessible? What if you found out that they had all been wiped from your computer, leaving you with nothing but emotional heartache and nobody who could help?

Guess what? It happens to people every single day. Every day, people across the country head into their local BestBuy or Apple store in tears, broken computer in hand, praying as they wait in line that an expensive repair might, just might, recover their priceless, irreplaceable files. A few get lucky. But for the rest, well, they’re out of luck, and there’s nothing anyone can do to help.

Hasn’t happened to you? If your computer remains unprotected, it will, and it’s only a matter of time. But thanks to recent breakthroughs in computer backup technology, you now have a number of options to prepare, and if you’re smart, when your computer crashes, you shouldn’t have any problem getting 100% of your files back that same day. And no, I’m not talking about an external hard drive. I’m talking about an online backup solution that runs quietly and continuously in the background on your computer. If you have one installed, when your computer crashes, you won’t have to deal with sleepless nights, screaming phone calls, or numbing feelings of helplessness in the hope of recovering your files. Instead, you’ll be just one click away from bringing your files back to life, like they were never gone.

If you’re interested in giving one a shot, we highly recommend you take a look at SkyVault360. Their technology is everything you need, and it’s amazingly simple. They offer unlimited storage, protection for both Macs and PCs, same day restoration, and boast an award winning, 100% flawless track record on recovering all files. Best of all, they have one-click installation, and it’s truly set it and forget it.

In the past year alone, hundreds of thousands of forward thinking people have already started taking advantage of this cutting-edge technology, and for good reason. For these people, when their computer crashes, they’ll barely be inconvenienced. For everyone else, sometime soon they'll inevitably lose every picture, video, song, project, and so much more forever.

If you’re interested in trying out SkyVault360 for yourself, you're in luck. For a limited time only, the company is offering risk-free, one month trials. If you’d like to give it a shot, click here, and you can have your computer completely protected in minutes, free of charge.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Xiaomi Launches A Self-Balancing Scooter And New Mi TV

Xiaomi made its name with affordable Android smartphones, but the Beijing-based company’s future lies in creating a diverse ecosystem of consumer hardware. Today Xiaomi announced that it will add a self-balancing scooter and new smart TV to its lineup.
The television isn’t a big surprise—called Mi TV 3, it’s a larger (60-inch) version of Xiaomi’s smart TV with a LG 4K display. Its most significant upgrade, however, is a mainboard that connects to the Mi TV’s display with a single wire and can replaced separately without having to buy an entire new smart TV. Like Xiaomi’s smartphones and other smart TVs, Mi TV 3 runs on MIUI, an operating system based on Android.
Mi TV 3
From a business strategy standpoint, the scooter is more notable because it is the first product launched by Ninebot, a Xiaomi portfolio company, since it acquired Segway in April, and also Xiaomi’s first personal mobility device.
Called the Ninebot mini, the scooter doesn’t have a handle, but instead steers by detecting movements from riders’ legs and predicting where they want to go. Users can also control the Ninebot mini through a smartphone app (of course).
Ninebot claims that the scooter, which weighs 12.8 kilograms, can travel 22 kilometers on a single charge, reach speeds of up to 16 kilometers per hour, and go up 15 degree slopes.
Xiaomi’s hardware lineup already ranges from air and water purifiers to health trackers, but it appears to be especially interested in personal vehicles and mobility devices. In addition to its investment in Ninebot, Xiaomi has alsoinvested in smart bike maker Yunmake and reportedly has set its sights on building an electric car.

Friday, October 16, 2015

New Yahoo Mail App Dispenses With Passwords

Yahoo's gorgeous new Mail app adds photo and document preview, while device-based keys mean no more passwords
New Yahoo Mail
"We're basically going to kill passwords," Yahoo's Fernando Delgado said during a recent press briefing about the new Yahoo mail apps.

But a novel way to bypass passwords is just one of the features found on Yahoo's new iOS and Android apps, which arrive on the still widely used Yahoo Mail's 18th birthday. The apps, as well as the Yahoo Mail Web interface, can now handle multiple email accounts.

Yahoo Account Key uses push notifications to verify you rather than making you type in a password. As Delgado put it, the current username and password standard has become too complex and doesn't actually protect the user.

Yahoo's system reminds me of Duo Mobile, where you simply OK a notification on your phone to get logged into a secure site. Yahoo will roll out Account Key security to Mail first, and then to its other Web services later.

Like a lot of recent mobile mail clients, the Yahoo Mail app now lets you swipe right and left to delete or mark an email as read. The inbox shows photo avatars for users pulled either connected Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook accounts, or from typography images from Flickr.

Yahoo Account Key

The new search function makes finding messages, photos, or attachments from a particular contact a cinch, with view-switching buttons for each content type. The app also makes it easier to insert photos from a smartphone than has typically been the case for mobile email clients. It's certainly simpler than on the iPhone stock mail app, at least. You simply tap a Plus sign button.
Yahoo Mail App

The app makes use of the "long press" gesture, for sending an email to yourself and for selecting multiple emails from the inbox. And if you're bored looking at your email, a news button gets you caught up with the goings on of the day. Tapping into a story presents a Flipboard-like view.

In addition to Yahoo mail accounts, the new app supports, Hotmail, and AOL Mail accounts. While there are plenty of people who use those services, a strangely missing option here is Gmail. The rich search feature mentioned above works across all these account types.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Amazon wants to eat enterprise IT alive

featured image

The full scope of Amazon's ambitions emerged at re:Invent last week: AWS thinks its cloud will be the enterprise platform of the future

Of the ton of stuff announced at AWS re:Invent last week, my favorite item is a plain gray box called AWS Import/Export Snowball which is, to my knowledge, the first hardware ever offered by the world’s largest cloud provider.

Amazon calls it a “data transport appliance,” but it’s really a secure box of hard drives that holds up to 50TB. Just dump your data (for your Redshift data warehouse or whatever) into Snowball and ship it to Amazon via UPS -- the quickest, cheapest way to upload that many bits to the cloud.

[ From Amazon to Azure, InfoWorld puts IaaS clouds to the test to find out which is best for you. | Stay up on the cloud with InfoWorld's Cloud Computing newsletter. ]
Snowball is a metaphor for AWS’s ambition to devour enterprise IT one large bite at a time. So is the new AWS Database Migration Service, announced in the same breath by AWS senior vice president Andy Jassy. All that data goes one way, from your house to his, and AWS has plenty of capacity to crunch on it -- a staggering 10 times that of its nearest 14 public cloud competitors, according to the latest Gartner estimate.

Enterprise management is increasingly receptive to the public cloud pitch, and Amazon understands that: Many of this year’s re:Invent sessions and announcements were aimed higher up the food chain than the usual AWS developer audience.

But there’s a limit to how many existing systems enterprises will move to the cloud. In fact, in most cases enterprise “migration” to the public cloud is really about building new applications on AWS or Azure or wherever and phasing out on-prem applications as their lifecycles end. Up until now, the majority of new enterprise cloud applications have been customer-facing Web and mobile apps.

Your future is IoT and analytics

At re:Invent, Amazon made clear it believes that the next big wave of applications will be connected to the IoT (Internet of things). Amazon CTO Werner Vogels pulled the wraps off the core offering: AWS IoT, a platform that includes a multi-protocol gateway, a device registry, a rules engine, device authentication, and data encryption. Couple this with such existing services as AWS Lambda and Amazon Machine Learning, and developers will have a rich palette to draw on when building IoT apps.

The message to enterprises is an aggressive one: If you want to build for the future, build here. It didn’t hurt that GE, the company that has invested more than any other in the industrial Internet of things, took the stage to proclaim that it planned to run no less than 60 percent of its workloads on AWS.

As both Jassy and Vogels noted, there's a lot more to IoT than a bunch of connected devices or sensors. The true value is in the analysis of IoT data for continuous product, process, and business optimization. AWS already has a number of backend analytics services for that, including AWS Elastic MapReduce running Spark (plus dozens of third-party offerings). Last week's re:Invent introduced both Kinesis Analytics for time-series analysis of streaming data, and Amazon QuickSight, a full-blown SaaS BI application.

Perhaps more than any other re:Invent arrival, QuickSight highlighted the seriousness of Amazon’s enterprise ambitions. For the first time it will put a glossy, Amazon-native presentation layer for executives on top of AWS’s vast compute capacity and catalogue of services. We won’t be able to review QuickSight until 2016 when it becomes generally available, but you can bet the announcement stirred unease among incumbent BI providers.

Cloud ambitions

The sheer breadth of services now offered on AWS -- along with an auto-scaling infrastructure conducive to microservices architecture -- can make you wonder why developers would want to build anywhere else. Plus, as Amazon senses, increasing frustration with the cost, complexity, and liability of maintaining one's own IT infrastructure has many in upper enterprise management yearning to "get out of the IT business."

Amazon plays to that yearning, but it's a bit of a bait and switch. AWS is a platform. Yes, you shift the burden of running physical infrastructure and maintaining services across the ecosystem to Amazon. But along with developers who know AWS, enterprises still need admins to keep everything running smoothly in the cloud at scale.

At the show I spoke with Michael Liebow, a managing director for Accenture, who believes enterprises need cloud admins who focus primarily on cost considerations -- making sure developers select the most cost-effective array of services, shut down instances when they're done, and so on. A little later, a representative of the cloud management provider CliQr told me he's still seeing enterprises repatriate applications built on AWS to their own servers due to the high cost of running cloud applications at scale.

AWS has an ever more amazing array of services and an 81-percent growth rate that any tech vendor would die for -- but let's keep things in perspective. Andy Jassy says that AWS is a $7.3 billion business. Oracle takes in more than five times, IBM more than 11 times, and Microsoft more than 12 times that revenue. All three incumbents have aggressive cloud initiatives that include analytics and IoT tooling. Certainly they will be able to hang on to many enterprise customers and usher them into the cloud era.

Microsoft and IBM in particular have credible hybrid cloud plays, whereas Amazon does not. Sometimes running your applications in the public cloud is more cost effective, and sometimes it isn't. A hybrid cloud gives enterprises the opportunity to make that choice.

Amazon has an enormous head start and the options available on AWS stand head and shoulders above the rest, but you can't simply upload IT or send it off in a panel truck. Enterprises still have lots of complex decisions to make as they move to the cloud. Based on what they need, along with the politics of existing vendor relationships, they'll find the cloud that suits them. 
Eric Knorr — Editor in Chief

Eric Knorr is the editor in chief for InfoWorld and has been with the publication since 2003. Eric has received the Neal and Computer Press Awards for journalistic excellence.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

These drones are coming for your jobs

Career death from above

Hover-commerce hasn't really landed in the U.S. yet, but when it does, these are the gigs that will be disrupted by Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs).

Package delivery could be the (job) killer app of the coming robot air attack., of course, is the elephant in the room, but the packages they'll be delivering will be much smaller than any pachyderm ...

Small packages, huge changes

... and that's perfect, says Amazon, given that 86 percent of the packages they ship weigh under five pounds.

Still awaiting changes in Federal Highway Administration (FAA) regulations that will allow Amazon Prime Air to get off the ground, the package delivery business is nonetheless primed for quite a bit of turbulence.

They're in the pipeline

If you have the word roustabout on your resume, you've got some new competition in the job market.

That's because energy companies such as BP are utilizing drones to inspect pipelines and infrastructure, especially in unforgiving environments like the one highlighted here in a company video from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska.

Judging by the proliferation of UAV services from companies with names like and, this burgeoning industry will soon be booming.

Film at 11, drones right now

News, weather, and traffic pilots better be planning their retirements now, because an eye-in-the-sky drone army reportedly will soon be snapping up many of their gigs.

And in other news, TV stations that could never afford pricey copters and pilots will soon be in the game, too. The Radio Television Digital News Association calls drones "The latest must-have toys for your newsroom," so the skywriting is on the wall.
Stargaze with the worst of 'em

Now here are some people we really wouldn't mind putting out of work: the paparazzi.

Unfortunately, while photo drones will put some individual 'razzis out of work, new high-tech UAVs could make the problem of snooping on celebrities even worse, according to CBS News.

After all, efficiency isn't necessarily a benefit if all you're doing more efficiently is violating people's privacy rights.
Aerial pizza delivery

It's well documented that robots are trying to take our jobs. Well, the ones they don't take may be done by drones ... at least, if this video of a U.K. Domino's Pizza drone test is any indication of things to come.
Self-flying freight planes?

We all know Google, Apple, and others are racing to develop self-driving cars. Yet while self-flying planes are still quite a ways down the runway, delivery drones like this DHL model on the island of Juist in Northern Germany are a first step.

For now, the packages delivered are small shipments of medicine for the island's pharmacy, but eventually, the sky's the limit.
Up in the air, down on the farm

Crop dusters could soon find themselves phased out as new ag technology is phased in. That's because the FAA is now allowing UAV use for herbicide and pesticide spraying.
Not just for crops

Among the reasons cited for allowing farm drone use are "reduced chemical usage, reduced operator and other human exposure to chemicals, no crop damage or soil compaction and greater fuel efficiency."

Another possible application: security. This 2014 photo shows a drone built to fend off farm thieves and attackers in South Africa.

Construction sites, minus the street harassment

Are flying robots the future of road construction? Trade magazine Equipment World wants to know, and so do we. Turns out the construction industry is already starting to use UAVs on job sites to aid in surveying, aerial inspections, and security.
Book it down under

Because the FAA hasn't yet allowed many commercial drone flights in the U.S., much of the hover-commerce action is overseas, as with this textbook delivery system test from Australian startup Zookal.

Drone inspectors

People who crawl around bridges to do government inspections could be out of a job.

Based on the findings of a study by the FHA and the Georgia Department of Transportation, UAVs would likely do the job more safely and efficiently. Technicians would still need to control the drones – for now – but fully autonomous inspector bots are a future possibility.

Drones could go deep

Pilots, surveyors, and engineers could soon face new pressures as the mining industry employs more drones to do all or part of their jobs.

Aerial surveying, safety mapping, and prospecting will all benefit from this technology shift, which could also significantly reduce costs. The website Canadian Mining & Energy notes that drones might work especially well in open pit mines, where hi-def terrain photos could reveal how much material has been moved daily.

Flying assistant for Indiana Jones

Professors hot to advance their research may now have less need for assistants and more need for drones.

In one example from an increasing number of cases involving UAVs uncovering ancient ruins, a professor in New Mexico found a 1,000-year-old village buried in the desert using thermal-imaging drones to see beneath the surface.

"Just a few days work allowed us to do something which would have taken a decade of work," Dr. John Kantner told CBS News.

Cyclone rangers

Best known for exploring planetary bodies such as Mars and Pluto, NASA has also been experimenting closer to home with its Global Hawk drone aircraft. Designed to observe tropical cyclones, as seen in this image of tropical storm Frank, the Global Hawk provides sophisticated remote sensing including radar, HD photography, and data for meteorological analysis.

Big science? Very cool. But that's one small step for a machine, one less job for a pilot.

Real estate photography

Helicopter jocks and the photogs who hire them are on the verge of losing out on lucrative business shooting for realtors, thanks to a creeping infestation of drones.

As noted previously, the FAA has allowed very few UAVs into our airspace, but with new regulations pending, that's about to change.
Beer me, drone!

Minnesota ice fishermen got frozen out by the FAA after Lakemaid Beer's UAV was banned from flying the beverages to Mille Lacs Lake. As reported by CNN and others, regulators grounded the hops-hauling drones back in 2014.

Clearly, the brewski-tech pioneers at Lakemaid were just ahead of their time, and we can only hope our meddling government overlords will soon right this lunker of an injustice.

Because, as anyone who's been ice fishing will attest, you pretty much need beer to do the job right. And walking to shore on a resupply mission over the ice and snow is just no fun.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Microsoft Lumia: Should you switch to a phone-powered Windows 10 desktop?

Do Microsoft's new handsets have what it takes to persuade firms to swap their desktops for phones?

"We want to put Windows in your pocket" - that was how Microsoft sold the ability of its new Lumia phones to drive a Windows 10 desktop.

Microsoft's new Lumia 950 and 950XL handsets can be indirectly hooked up to a monitor, mouse and keyboard and used to run a Windows desktop OS.

At a launch event yesterday, Microsoft demonstrated how the phones' Windows 10 OS can change the look and feel of certain apps, as well as its own appearance, to suit the phone or the desktop. In the demo, the phones were shown coping well with everyday desktop tasks, such as multitasking and copying files from a USB stick.

Enterprises will likely be the target for these phone-powered desktops, says Gartner research director Annette Zimmermann, in particular sales teams who spend a lot of time outside the office and employees who hotdesk.

While other companies, such as Canonical and Motorola, have demoed phones acting as desktops in the past, Zimmermann said Microsoft was in a position to make the converged phone / desktop PC a reality.

"Microsoft really has taken a step further in not only demoing it's possible but by having a product that shows you can do that."

Hurdles to overcome

However, Ronan De Renesse, lead analyst for consumer technology at Ovum, said that while the desktop / phone convergence was interesting, it was likely of limited appeal to enterprise.

"In most businesses you've already got computers and laptops set up, so I don't think they would entirely replace that."

There is also the question of how these phones' perform relative to a desktop PC. In Microsoft's demo at the launch event yesterday the firm showed a Lumia handset powering a desktop running Microsoft Word and PowerPoint at the same time, without any visible difficulty. Both phones also feature relatively high-end processors, with the Lumia 950 packing a Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 hexa-core and the Lumia 950XL a Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 octa-core. However, Renesse queried how well the handsets would handle the "very heavy applications" sometimes run on desktops.

Another stumbling block may be software, he said. Versions of Office, Cortana, Skype, OneDrive, the Edge browser, and Mail are available for the Lumia handsets. These apps can alter their look and feel to suit how they're being used - on the desktop or the phone. However, for a piece of software to adapt in this way it needs to be a Universal Windows app, rather than an application made for older versions of the Windows desktop.

De Renesse said this legacy software "would not work, and most of the applications businesses use would be legacy applications". Legacy Windows desktop software can be converted into Universal Windows apps but it can be a complicated process.

Every Lumia handset that is used as a PC will also need to be plugged into a Microsoft Display Dock, which provides the necessary HDMI and USB ports for hooking up a monitor, mouse, keyboard and memory sticks. Microsoft hasn't revealed the price of the Display Dock but De Renesse said the additional cost could also deter people from using the feature.

"If you have got to buy that phone and buy the dock as well, there are probably going to even fewer people who are going to use it."

The Lumia 950 and 950XL will ship in November and are priced at $549 (£499.99) and $649 (£549.99) respectively.