Technology Futures

Commentaries on Directions That Will Impact the Future of Technology

Archive for the tag “Personal computer”

Exascale: The Faraway Frontier of Computing?

Those of you who follow this blog know that I write about technology trends that are, in general, not too far into the future.  This post is a departure in that it takes a peek at a technology at least 10 years away dubbed (for the moment) as “Exascale Computing.”  I’m writing about it now because the chances of my living long enough to see it come to fruition are somewhere between slim and none, and because I used to be very involved with the supercomputing industry and absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Driving the development of this technology is a project known as SKA, which stands for Square Kilometer Array, a multibillion dollar radiotelescope 100X more sensitive than anything currently in existence.  Construction will begin in 5 years and will not be completed until 2024.  When it is operational, SKA will produce an Exabyte of data every single day.  To put that into perspective, that is twice the amount of data on the Internet worldwide – 1 quintillion bytes of information.

The SKA project is headed by ASTRON, the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy.  To meet the vast computing requirements that will be needed to process that much information, ASTRON awarded IBM a $40+ million contract to begin developing what will be the world’s most powerful computer, equivalent to the combined computing power of 100 million high-end PCs.

There are three challenges that IBM will be addressing (see the graphic above):  transport (of data between computing elements), data storage and analysis.  Transport will be addressed using optical technology that is well-understood today.  Analysis will rely on massive parallel processing arrays with the power of a million+ Watsons.  Storage will rely on the development of new technology, most probably based on IBM’s research in nanotechnology applied to “phase-change memory.”.

If you are interested in this project, I urge you to view a short video about the SKA and IBM’s involvement in the project at this website.  Trust me, you will be amazed at the scope of the project and the technology challenges that will have to be overcome.


The Personal Cloud: Truth or Dare?

Analysts love to coin new expressions.  The one I’m most proud of is “Business Intelligence,” which I thought was a lot sexier than “data mining” and “data warehousing,” two earlier expressions which meant essentially the same thing.   IBM and a couple of other big companies jumped on the Business Intelligence bandwagon and made it an IT proverb.  I shoulda copyrighted or trademarked it, or started a domain business-intelligence .com.  Mighta made a few bucks.  Water under the dam.

I was impressed the other day when I saw a reference to the “Personal Cloud.”  This expression is claimed by Gartner Group, possibly the world’s largest techy analyst company, and mentioned prominently in a recent press release entitled “Gartner Says the Personal Cloud Will Replace the Personal Computer as the Center of Users’ Digital Lives by 2014.”  (Unfortunately, is already a registered domain name, indicating that Gartner isn’t any smarter than I was.)

In any event, I read the press release.  I thought it made sense -sort of.  Do you agree with the following quote?

“Gartner analysts said the personal cloud will begin a new era that will provide users with a new level of flexibility with the devices they use for daily activities, while leveraging the strengths of each device, ultimately enabling new levels of user satisfaction and productivity. However, it will require enterprises to fundamentally rethink how they deliver applications and services to users.”

The 46-word opening sentence aside (my composition professor would have slammed that writer), I agree that users will  potentially be more productive using the cloud, but I’m having a tough time with the prediction that enterprises will have to rethink how they deliver services to users.  In my experience, enterprises seldom rethink anything.  Rather, they change as little as possible so as not to freak out those users and make more work for themselves.

Don’t get me wrong.  I think the cloud is terrific.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, the timeshare business of the late 60s – early 90s essentially offered cloud computing, but, in those days, networks were slow and storage capacity limited.  Today’s broadband networks and virtually unlimited random access storage enable a user to do almost anything online instead of the desktop.  The only real barrier to cloud computing is security, an issue that I believe will never get resolved.

If you are skeptical about the cloud, I’d like you to test out an app called Dropbox, a web-based file hosting service.  You can get a free single-user account or an account that can be shared by several users.  The learning curve is practically non-existent.  It’s a great example of cloud storage.

You can also try some cloud apps.  If you use Google’s gmail or calendar, you are already apping in the cloud!  Others you can try for free are Quicken Online, WordPress (blogging service that I am using right now), and Adobe Photoshop Express.  Check out this website, “10 cloud apps that slam-dunk their desktop counterparts.”

Of course, these personal apps have little to do with enterprise applications, but will certainly give you a taste of the possible.

Good Grief Charlie Brown: Android Apps Play in Windows:

Bluestacks Android App Logo

This is the first year in many that I have not bothered to attend the annual CES show in Las Vegas.  I didn’t go for a couple of reasons.  First, virtually everything you might want to see at the show is available online, usually in video; second, there hasn’t been much in the way of exciting new products.  The “Best in Show” award this year went to LG for a 55″ OLED TV that won’t be out until mid-year and will cost (an estimated) $8,000 – $10,000.  It has about the same picture quality as a plasma selling for a fifth of the price.  It is skinnier than a plasma and uses less energy.  Yawn.

Maybe this is exciting for you, but not for me.  Lemme tell you what I do find exciting.

Last year, a startup company calling itself Bluestacks came up with a piece of software that allowed a user to run  Android apps on a Windows 7-based PC.  The program is called App Player for PC (isn’t that exciting?).  The company also produces a program called Cloud Connect.  That program allows you to transfer Android-based apps from your phone or tablet to App Player for PC.  In other words, you get an Android app from Android Market (which does not run on your PC), move it to the cloud and send it to your PC.  Even though the program is still in Alpha version, it appears to work flawlessly on my PC.  Very cool indeed.

Back to CES.  Microsoft announced that BlueStacks would be built into Windows 8, scheduled for release later this year.  Windows 8, if ya didn’t know, is Microsoft’s next major iteration of Windows.  It sports an entirely new User Interface called Metro (you will still be able to use the old one if you want), and will run on every platform including phones and tablets as well as PCs.  Although European cellphone leader Nokia made a commitment to Windows 8, nobody else in the mobile world has paid much attention to it, in large part because there aren’t many apps or developers who plan to write apps for it.

BlueStacks changes all that.  Windows 8 users will immediately have access to all 400,000 Android apps and run them on phone, tablet, netbook or PC.  Underscoring its importance, Microsoft announced that Bluestacks will be bundled with Windows 8.   This will remove the lack-of-apps barrier to purchasing Windows 8 based mobile platforms.  Sure, Microsoft would prefer that all those 400,00 apps would be written native to run on Windows, but it might have to wait for the return of the dinosaurs for that to happen.

BlueStacks has announced that it is working on a version for the iOS (Apple’s operating system), so you will be able to run Android apps on Apple products.   This is the kind of strategy that should ultimately lead to hardware price wars.  I can hardly wait.

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