Not-So-Radical-Thought: Cloud Computing is Often More Secure

Over at the Smarter Planet Blog (which I don't read often enough, I confess), Steve Hamm and Harold Moss opine on whether cloud computing can be more secure than, well, non-cloud computing I guess.

Well, sure it can (and is), at least if we're talking about private clouds. Because that's what a mainframe is and has been for decades: a private cloud (typically), albeit one that's extremely efficient and integrated already, so you have a lot less work to do to assemble and manage the parts. I like to call the mainframe "a complete data center in a box." There's widespread agreement that mainframes offer numerous security-related advantages — assuming equivalent and reasonable operational competence. (Anybody can turn an inherently secure environment into an insecure one. Open the gates to Fort Knox without at least checking some IDs and don't be surprised if some gold disappears.)

It's a lot easier to secure one or a very few centralized...ahem, cloud...environments than 100 or more distributed environments. Security is both difficult and evolving, so "do it once and do it well." Because otherwise if you're doing it 100 times simultaneously you're bound to do it badly. Security, I mean.

by Timothy Sipples February 27, 2011 in Web Technology
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"Watson": Mankind's Triumph

This past week I was glued to television's Jeopardy quiz show. IBM's Watson computer was one of the contestants and played against Jeopardy's two leading human champions.

Watson won, quite handily. In the process, so did mankind. IBM researchers have successfully moved computing several gigantic steps forward into more natural, more contextual, and more "human scale" problem solving. Computing has just moved much closer to us and to our needs. This new "information concierge" will be incredibly useful in fields as diverse as medical diagnostics, customer service, and scientific research, among others. Watson-like follow-ons will draw upon the vast and fast-growing amount of information that mainframes manage. I can already imagine how tightly-coupled "Watson engines" would be able to answer naturally phrased questions and solve tough business problems, even providing frequently updated answers in near real-time.

As I watched Watson in action, I remembered the 1957 film Desk Set, starring Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. Here's an excerpt from that film in which the new EMERAC computer provides a quick and accurate answer to a tough question:

Even Watson would have some difficulty answering that particular question in quite that way. Hollywood's vision of the future was well ahead of its time, although Watson finally closes much of the gap. Also, as the film later revealed, EMERAC couldn't replace humans. Even EMERAC's owners, the Federal Broadcasting Network, didn't think it could. Transformative technologies like Watson (and like the telephone) seem to promote even more growth and human activity.

Even so, late night comedian Conan O'Brien poked some fun at Watson in this video:

Even without his baseball bat, Conan's sidekick Andy Richter has nothing to worry about. In fact, maybe Watson could help Conan's writing team improve the quality and popular appeal of their jokes. It might take a few more years, but if today's Watson can sift through terabytes of information to identify useful patterns and interrelationships, perhaps tomorrow's Watson can be taught how to look for better puns and for more original jokes, nominating candidates for Conan's monologue. Granted, IBM probably has more immediate applications in mind, but who knows?

by Timothy Sipples February 17, 2011 in Innovation
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Welcome, Senegal Customs!

Congratulations to the Customs Directorate of Senegal's Ministry of Finance which is placing into service a new, real-time customs processing system for their officers at all 30 border checkpoints. CFAO Technologies is implementing the new solution which is expected to enter service later this month. Computing technologies include System z10 mainframes, z/OS, and Parallel Sysplex. Simon Pierre Thiaw, CIO of the Customs Directorate, said this:

Senegal's import and export business plays a key role in the economy of the country. By implementing some of the most advanced and powerful IT systems available, we are able to transform our customs processes and ensure that the work we do is performed as accurately and efficiently as possible. While we considered alternative offerings from other vendors, we were convinced by the price/performance ratio of the IBM system.

Senegal is a growing country in western Africa and home to about 14 million people.

by Timothy Sipples February 9, 2011 in Current Affairs, z/OS
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IBM's Birthday: "100x100"

As I mentioned previously, IBM is celebrating its 100th birthday this year. Here's a new and well-crafted video from IBM which cleverly illustrates just how far we've come and what's coming next:

I hope I'm doing as well as the first speaker in the video when I'm 100 years old!

One of the major changes at IBM that isn't too obvious in the video is the company's transition to software as its major profit generator. Software now accounts for almost half of IBM's total profit. The video mentions some notable software milestones (FORTRAN and relational databases, for example), but it would have been impossible to cover everything within 13 minutes.

by Timothy Sipples February 1, 2011 in History, Innovation
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