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Panel Analyzes Benefits and Challenges of Cloud Computing for Government Agencies

in Broadband's Impact/Congress/Cybersecurity/House of Representatives/Privacy by

WASHINGTON, July 12, 2013 – A panel of experts discussed the potential for the use of cloud computing by federal agencies at an event held by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation on Wednesday morning.

The security of cloud computing was a primary concern for many of the panelists. Matt Wood, General Manager of Data Science for Amazon Web Services, described the cooperative approach that Amazon takes to security on its cloud services. He said Amazon secures the infrastructure itself, but customers are responsible for securing its systems that utilize cloud computing.

Terry Halvorsen, Chief Information Officer of the Department of the Navy, also suggested careful consideration of what data to put in cloud storage as another solution to security concerns. Data that is accessible to the public under the Freedom of Information Act can be placed on public cloud storage without fear, he noted.

Frank Baitman, Chief Information Officer for the Department of Health and Human Services, and Joseph Klimavicz, Chief Information Officer of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, both agreed that continuous monitoring was key to secure cloud computing. With such access, federal agencies would be able to instantly identify and track any breaches of security.

Baitman also noted that the transition to cloud computing brings new security challenges that are not encountered with internal storage of data. Consequently, Halvorsen recommended a careful evaluation of the tradeoffs between those new concerns and the lower cost of cloud storage.

These lower costs were also a highlight of the discussion. Baitman pointed out that the frequent hardware and software updates that agencies currently must undergo would be eliminated by utilizing third-party cloud storage.

According to Wood, Amazon’s goal is to reduce the cost of cloud computing to such a degree that customers do not even think about the cost, much like utilities. Such low costs would allow agencies to switch from a capital expenditure model, which can be costly and unpredictable, to an operational expenditure model, which is relatively stable and cheap.

Consequently, these agencies would be more able to try new approaches with their programs, spurring innovation.

“As you move into this operational model, the cost of experimentation is much lower,” Wood said.

Cloud computing also opens the door to other innovations through practices such as open data and collaboration, as David Robinson, Chief Innovation Officer for SAP Public Sector, asserted.

“What’s really powerful is the whole new range of outcomes,” he said.

However, Halvorsen also argued that no single approach could be taken to guarantee the best next-generation government services. For example, he disputed a complaint of Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., that too many agencies were failing to close and adequate number of data centers.

Halvorsen countered that total cost of data storage rather than number of data centers should be the metric for measuring the efficiency of data storage. Because many data centers are part of larger facilities, he argued that such closures would do little to cut costs. Instead, the government should look at various strategies that have been proven successful in commercial industries.

“There will not be one single answer,” Halvorsen said.

Greater Use of Cloud Computing Increases Broadband Dependence

in Broadband Updates/Wireless by

LONDON, December 2, 2010 – The proliferation of cloud computing is increasing the dependence of both consumers and businesses on broadband access.

Use of cloud computing by businesses as a whole is growing at 80 percent in the developed world, according to analyst group Forrester – albeit from a small base – and this in turn is diverting critical business traffic from LAN connections or dedicated circuits to DSL or fiber-based broadband access links to the internet.

This in turn raises the related issues of cost and performance, particularly where cloud services are replacing local connections with longer distance end-to-end links, in some cases between points in different countries. This can defeat the object of cloud computing, which is to reduce costs through economies of scale achieved by sharing infrastructure as well as software over the internet, and to provide a better experience to users or customers through familiar web-based interfaces. If poor network connections mean application response times increase, that experience gets worse.

The objective is to achieve adequate performance at acceptable cost, making the best use of given bandwidth through a combination of WAN (Wide Area Networking) optimization and caching within the network, according to James Staten, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester, and co-author of several reports about cloud performance issues. “The biggest issues are cost,” said Staten. “More bandwidth costs more, WAN optimization costs more, caching costs more, and so on. Each business has to determine what customer experience they demand and how much they are willing to throw at the problem.”

Staten recommends extensive use of cache in most cases to resolve performance issues, since bandwidth alone does little to help when the issue is delay caused simply by the distances the signals need to travel. The impact of distance is amplified further when there is repeated two-way chatter between applications involving transmission of small messages. In such cases, the principle remedy is to distribute key parts of applications and data to caches close to the users to reduce the distances involved and bring latency down to acceptable levels.

Then WAN optimisation can also help by reducing the chatter between applications, and batching messages together so that they are sent as one large file rather than numerous smaller chunks each requiring acknowledgement and bumping up latency.

But before deploying cache or WAN optimization tools, Staten urges enterprises to simulate and test their deployment first to ensure that performance will be good enough without spending more than necessary. “You must test. Use services like Keynote, CompuWare Gomez or others to determine what the customer experience is like right now and simulate what it would be like as a remote service,“ said Staten, referring to several well known platforms for assessing performance of web based applications. “Test the options you are considering, such as cloud or traditional hosting. But be sure to optimize the application, the route, and cache everywhere.”

The importance of realistic testing is also emphasized by Nigel Hawthorn, vice president of marketing at WAN optimization tools vendor Blue Coat. “IT departments should test response times for specific application actions before a cloud service is implemented and then test before migrating. The important piece of the testing is to ensure that tests are carried out from users placed in all offices as performance can differ worldwide based on factors such as where the cloud service is based and network connections.”

But if this testing is done properly, Hawthorn argued enterprises may actually reduce their networking costs in cases where expensive leased circuits are replaced by competitive DSL access services.

With Broadband Growth, Do Country Leaders Have Their Heads in the Clouds?

in Broadband Updates/Broadband's Impact/Europe/International by

LONDON, July 26, 2010 – With the world moving toward cloud computing where services and data are delivered over broadband networks, many experts are concerned that countries are setting minimum bandwidth limits too low for future participation in the global economy.

These concerns were raised at a recent announcement by the U.K. government when discussing its objective to provide universal access at 2 megabits per second by 2015 – three years later than had been pledged by the previous administration.

Critics said 2 megabits per second was inadequate today and likely pathetic in 2015, given the rapid expansion of services delivered remotely from cloud computing models designed to share information technology resources efficiently between multiple consumers.

Cloud computing is the emerging model for delivering services as a utility to consumers and smaller firms in particular, mining common expertise and resources to cut costs and deliver expertise that otherwise could not be afforded. But like other utilities such as electricity, water and gas, cloud computing requires an efficient delivery network operating at the right capacity.

But it is not just cloud computing driving minimum bandwidth needs upward. At the same time, many professions such as architectural design and medicine, require bit rates of at least 4 mbps to transmit large image and video files, and in some cases for remote collaboration via video conferencing.

“I think the U.K. should be looking to a minimum of 8 mbps,” said David Palmer, senior product manager for networks and connectivity at Star, a provider of managed services. “Unless this is done, we will see the digital divide between rural and more densely populated areas become even greater. Already we are seeing services at 40 mbps or even 100 mbps in urban areas over [fiber to the home].”

A limit of 2 mbps would prevent architects and other firms needing regularly to exchange CAD (Computer Aided Design) files from allowing staff living in remote areas to work from home, putting them at a significant disadvantage in the digital economy of the future, said Palmer.

“Today they have to buy expensive ethernet circuits, when they could be using cheaper broadband connections,” Palmer said.

Many architecture firms have adopted wide-area network acceleration techniques in an attempt to cope with limited bandwidth between their offices and home workers globally.

For example, Woods Bagot, one of the largest architecture firms in the world, is using acceleration technology from Blue Coat across its WAN to increase the rate at which files are transferred through various techniques that ensure the link is being as fully utilized at all times as possible, and that small bundles of data are packaged together to reduce latency. The technology allows the firm to share large amounts of information internationally.

Inevitably, WAN acceleration techniques are also being incorporated in these emerging and growing cloud computing services. Application acceleration specialist Riverbed has developed a version of its WAN optimization system to run on the shared computer infrastructures of cloud networks, designed to optimize bandwidth on a larger scale.

But while these measures will help, ultimately it is never possible to squeeze a quart into a pint pot, and so there will always be a minimum requirement for universal bandwidth provision – and this will be a rapidly increasing target.

‘National Purposes’ Aspect of National Broadband Plan Aims For Bold Actions Without Much Spending

in Broadband's Impact/FCC/National Broadband Plan/Privacy/Smart Grid/Transparency by

WASHINGTON, March 15, 2010 – Blair Levin, head of the Federal Communications Commission’s national broadband plan and the “national purposes” team at the agency previewed key points from the upcoming national broadband plan.

The object of the plan, they said, is not just to expand broadband networks, but to enable the creation of applications and innovations built upon that network. The six primary objective areas presented were healthcare, education, energy, civic engagement, economic expansion, and public safety.

Healthcare innovation could be poised to offer some of the greatest cost savings to Americans and many of these applications already exist they simply need a network to work over, said the team.

According to Health Care Director Dr. Mohit Kaushal, over the next 15 to 25 years, the total cost savings from electronic health records and remote monitoring could be $700 billion.

However, the U.S. ranks in the bottom half of health IT metrics. That disparity can be attributed to outdated regulation, insufficient connectivity, and poorly aligned economic incentives, said the team.

To solve these problems the FCC recommended pilot programs created to show the cost savings of remote monitoring and other telehealth initiatives. Simplification of the regulatory process is also needed for medical and telecommunications device manufacturers – including cooperation between the FCC and FDA over medical devices that use communications technology. To encourage the use of electronic health records, the team recommended that patients have access to and control use of their data.

Additionally, said the team, the rural healthcare program needs to be upgraded in the following ways:

  • Subsidize ongoing broadband costs for delivery locations;
  • Subsidize network deployment to delivery locations where existing networks are insufficient;
  • Expand the definition of eligible providers; and
  • Require participating institutions to meet outcomes-based performance measures.

In the field of education, many students already benefit from distance learning and access to a wide range of online databases and the ability to connect with scholars from around the globe. But expanded network connectivity is still needed.

According to a pilot program conducted by students at Carnegie Mellon University, students who took a hybrid statistics course which included in-room participation and online course work were able to put in fewer hours of work but did just as well as students who participated in a traditional class.

The limitations also include a lack of digital materials for school children such as e-textbooks. School districts currently have no ability to buy an entire set of digital books to be shared by all of their students. Many schools lack access to high speed access, although simplification of the eRate program might help. An electronic student record might allow for easier sharing of academic and performance data.

The energy and environment sectors may also see massive gains from an expanded broadband network, the team said. The FCC is already working with the Department of Energy to create a nationwide “smart” electric grid. Such a network, advocates say, would will allow for better load management by the energy companies, permitting consumers to decrease usage.

The final three areas civic engagement, economic expansion and public safety each provided very specific and unique opportunities.

On civic engagement, the FCC sees the use of broadband as a way to not only save the government money but allow for increased transparency and participation buy the citizenry. Under the Obama administration, the government has pushed more data to the public via a series of web sites.

One of the most direct cost savings to the government comes through the e-filing of tax returns. According to the Internal Revenue Service, an eFile application cost 35 cents to process, while a paper filling costs $2.87. Currently, 42 percent of individuals still file paper.

Additionally, the FCC recommends that the government look at the use of cloud computing to reduce costs. Among the economic opportunities provided by broadband, the expansion of telework is well-documented. Public safety may also benefit from expanded communications tools and the integration of emergency 911 services with location-based software and more internet-based technologies.

Promoting the Use of the Internet by Seniors in Public Housing

in Broadband Stimulus/Expert Opinion/NTIA by

Editor’s Note: The following guest commentary appears by special invitation of BroadbandCensus.com. BroadbandCensus.com does not necessary endorse the views in the commentary, but invites officials, experts and individuals interested in the state of broadband to offer commentaries of their own. To offer a commentary, please e-mail commentary@broadbandcensus.com. Not all commentaries may be published.

The staff of BroadbandCensus.com has produced a four-page report on the essentials of the Broadband Initiative Program-Broadband Technology Opportunities Program Notice of Funds Availability, which is available for purchase for $25.00, at http://broadbandcensus.com/special-reports.

By Don Samuelson, Guest Commentary, BroadbandCensus.com

LAKE FOREST, Ill., July 26, 2009 – Every public housing authority in the United States should apply for stimulus funding from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to set up a program to promote the benefits and use of the Internet for its senior housing residents. The goal should be to make the case for the practical benefits of broadband and the Internet sufficiently compelling so that seniors would want a computer and internet connection in their individual units. The use of the Internet should be as valuable as a TV or a phone. This is a “value proposition” that remains to be made.

Accessing the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program for the Senior Market

Two of the statutory purposes of BTOP are to provide broadband education, awareness, training, access, equipment and support to vulnerable populations (e.g. residents of public housing), and to stimulate demand for broadband. An overview of “Sustainable Broadband Adoption” and the actual application can be found at: http://broadbandusa.sc.egov.usda.gov/presentations/SustainableAdoption.pdf and
http://broadbandusa.sc.egov.usda.gov/download_app.htm.

While there are 47 elements in the application, the key information to be provided involves 20 pages of unique project narrative covering: executive summary (2 pages), project purpose (2 pages), innovative approach (1 page), number and qualifications of instructors (1 page), awareness campaign (2 pages), impact evaluation (1 page), technical strategy (2 pages), management team resumes (1 page per person), organizational readiness (1 page), project timeline and challenges (2 pages), budget narrative (2 pages) and budget reasonableness (1 page). Further guidance on these topics can be found at “Grant Guidelines” for BTOP: www.broadbandusa.gov in Section C: Sustainable Adoption at pages 88 to 114.

The basic objective of “sustainable adoption” for public housing authorities is to increase the number of public housing residents using broadband and the Internet and to increase their use of the Internet on a sustained basis. The most obvious market to be served are the seniors currently living in public housing buildings. The core “market” could be easily extended to include seniors with vouchers, seniors on the waiting list, seniors using local senior centers, and seniors living in the census tracts where the senior building is located.

Since the purpose of the BTOP program is to increase the adoption and use by seniors of the Internet, a baseline will have to be established for the target markets. Demographic information is required in the application. There needs to be additional information collected – on an individual basis – on the current capacities of residents to use computers and the Internet. Do residents have an e-mail address? Do they have an internet connection? Do they have a personal computer? How are they currently using their internet connection? A base line of fluency and interests can be easily established, through a survey form. Good market research should be the start of program outreach.

The Determination of Customer Interest

Seniors are going to have to see practical value – to them – through the use of the Internet in order for them to get involved in a serious way. I’ve found that interest can be best generated by determining the current interests of seniors. How do they spend their time now? What are their interests? What are their problems? Are there ways that their current activities and interests can be enhanced through broadband and the Internet?

The goal is to demonstrate how current activities and interests can be made easier, faster and less costly through the use of the Internet. I’ve developed a formula for this: Buyer Satisfaction is a Function of Perceived Value times Frequency of Use.

In the senior computer learning centers I’ve operated in the past, the “hot buttons” of interest to seniors have been: (1) easier connections with children, grandchildren and the extended family; (2) online access to government resources and services; (3) online healthcare information and contacts; (4) social networking in areas of common interests; (5) the development of new skill, e.g. learning to type; online education/training; and (6) games and hobbies. The way to start is with one-on-one conversations to find out the interests of Senior A, and then consider how those interests could be advanced by the Internet. Then go through the same process with seniors B through Z. At the end of 26 interviews – easily done within a week – there would be a comprehensive collection of resident interests that could become the foundation for the Internet instructional programs. The skills to be developed would already be known to have relevance.

The Elements of the Building Learning Network and Conducting Outreach

The physical network to be developed will consist of a Computer Training Center, computing devices in the individual living units and internet connections to instructional materials, applications and storage. In the CTC there will be: (1) an internet connection; (2) an instructor’s station; (3) desktop devices, such as personal computers, refurbished PCs, or “thin clients.” The benefits of thin clients are related to initial purchasing costs, reduced maintenance costs and the simplicity of upgrading and adding software.

The CTC will have an electronic whiteboard, so that teaching/learning can be provided to an larger-sized audience of 24 to 30 people, than the four to eight that can actually sit in front of a computer in the center. The most important part of the network will be the devices with internet connections so that individual seniors can have continual access to broadband and the Internet, with the on-site CTC performing the functions of initial training and instruction in special applications. The bulk of the work will take place in the individual unit when seniors have concluded that the benefits of the Internet and broadband are increasingly indispensable to their needs and interests.

Initially, communications concerning internet benefits will be accomplished by flyers, white-board presentations, small group meetings and word-of-mouth. As more residents get on-line and as case-examples and testimonials are developed, an increasing amount of outreach can take place on-line, with enthusiastic support from children, grandchildren and friends who are thrilled to have mom or grandma online.

After initial steps are taken, the seniors can be directed to two four-week courses that
create a foundation for computer and internet literacy. The objective is to teach and certify the basics resulting in a “driver’s license” to navigate the information superhighway. The goal of the training is to develop the skills so that seniors can further their individual interests that prompted them to participate in the program in the first place. The first form of training is formal classroom instruction using the white board and computers. The second would involve open lab time with advanced seniors helping their colleagues. The third will take place in the individual units when the senior accepts the values of the computer, broadband and the Internet.

Some Thoughts on Infrastructure and Costs

The broadband connection to the building can be made to a local area network in the computer center, and through a combination of Ethernet and wireless connections throughout the building. Substantial savings in equipment acquisition and maintenance can be realized if “thin clients” are used in both the computer training center and in the individual units. The storage, computational power and software applications could be hosted in internet-accessible servers on-site or through a “cloud computing” system. The objective is to make access to the instructional tools and software applications available anywhere there is an internet browser connection – at any time and any place.

All of these considerations have to be developed into the technical plan outlined in the BTOP application. All of the specifications and program costs for hardware, software, connectivity and instruction have to be set out in the program budget and explained in detail in a budget narrative.

The goal of the BTOP sustainable adoption program is to make the value proposition sufficiently compelling that seniors will move from building-supported training to an internet-connected device in their units that are central to their lives.

Donald S. Samuelson has more than 30 years of experience in government-assisted housing and real estate development. He has a passion for applying broadband to provide solutions in the fields of education and training. E-mail him at DSSA310@aol.com, or contact him by phone at 847-420-1732.

Rural Mobile Group Pushes 'Bill of Rights' for Broadband Users

in Universal Service by

WASHINGTON, March 25, 2009 – A consortium of broadband interest groups calling itself the Rural Mobile Broadband Alliance (RuMBA) USA, on Wednesday announced its “Broadband Bill of Rights.”

RuMBA’s platform contains five principles in the debate over broadband connectivity in rural and underserved areas. Debate over the topic has accelerated since the passage of the fiscal stimulus bill, officially titled the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

According to RuMBA Managing Director Luisa Handem, all Americans deserve “access to a network that is:”

“ (1) Ubiquitous – Services and devices should work seamlessly everywhere: in rural, suburban and urban areas. America needs an additional two million square miles of coverage.

“(2) Safe – Americans need E911 with location service and an emergency Cell Broadcast System with weather and disaster alerting. Katrina-like outages are unacceptable.

“ (3) Mobile – Whether in the car, on the tractor, at home, in school, at work and all areas in between, America relies on mobility; its networks must reflect American lifestyle needs.

“ (4) Affordable – Rural Americans demand competitive pricing for services and devices. Americans need the same or better services and devices as the rest of the country, at a fair price, and

“ (5) Sustainable – America must invest in next generation systems that can be operated at a profit and maintained by local small town carriers. Americans must leap ahead, buy tomorrow’s technologies, not yesterday’s.”

The group also “seeks to ensure that rural communities are offered the same affordable mobile broadband services available to urban and suburban areas, and equal access to” [enhanced emergency 911 location-based coverage,” RuMBA said in the announcement.

Google CEO Says the Future Belongs to 'Cloud Computing'

in Broadband's Impact by

WASHINGTON, June 9 – High-speed Internet connections, social networks like Facebook and MySpace, and the concept of “cloud computing” make it possible to “live a lot of your lives online,” Google CEO Eric Schmidt said Monday.

Schmidt said that the ability to transfer and run computer programs, data, and individual software customization temporarily to any computer — a concept known as “cloud computing” — is an important example of how new developments in Internet access facilitate a mobile lifestyle.

“There is a shift from traditional PC computing to cloud computing,” Schmidt said. “That is where the servers are somewhere else, and the servers are always just there.”

The concept can only take off when good-quality broadband is continuously available.

Still, speaking at a luncheon address to the Washington Economic Club, Schmidt called the trend — which advantages Google over traditional rivals like Microsoft — a “permanent shift in the power of computing.”

Schmidt did not specifically mention Microsoft, which has been the dominant software player in the world of personal computing. Microsoft’s future may be challenged by Google’s ascendance. He also did not mention Google’s efforts to squelch a bid by Microsoft to acquire the Internet portal Yahoo.

“Most incumbents blow transitions,” Schmidt said. “The radio companies didn’t do well in TV. Print hasn’t translated that well online.”

The techniques that are most likely to offer success to businesses under the new computing regime are those who use open systems. Companies that favor openness release information rather than seeking to keep it proprietary.

Schmidt also addressed Network Neutrality, or the move to block carriers from differentiating in the prices that they charge business users. He also said that cellular carriers could be required to allow handsets on their networks that will work on those of their rivals.

For example, he applauded the Federal Communications Commission for imposing rules that companies bidding for a certain portion of radio frequencies allow “open access” to wireless devices.

Schmidt also touched upon on Google’s management style. It requires employees to write a one-sentence summary of what they have been doing each week. It also offers certain employees 20 percent of their time to tinker on projects of their choosing.

“We could run the country [or] run the world this way,” said Schmidt.

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