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    Monday
    Aug242009

    Who owns Data from Tax Funded Projects, 3 example of Transit Systems

    News.com has a post on the issue of data access in three different transit systems – NY, SF, and Portland. This is something to think about when considering smart grid projects and other projects that could affect data centers. 

    Who owns transit data?

    by Rafe Needleman

    Commuters on public transit want to know two fundamental things: when can I expect the bus or train to pick me up? And when will it drop me off at my destination?

    Nowadays, they may also be wondering whether their local transit agency is willing to share that data with others to put it into new and helpful formats.

    How likely is it that the arrival and departure information will be available on a site or service other than the official one? That depends on how open your local agency is. In some metro areas, transit agencies make data--routes, schedules, and even real-time vehicle location feeds--available to developers to mash into whatever applications they wish. In others, the agencies lock down their information, claiming it may not be reused without permission or fee.

    When tax payers money is involved there are interesting views on what should happen.

    In local blogs and on transit sites, outrage over agencies and companies that claim ownership of the data is growing. The core argument against locking down such data is that it's collected by or paid for by public, taxpayer-funded agencies and thus should be open to all citizens, and that schedule data by itself is not protectable content. The argument against is that the agencies might be able to profit from using the data if they can maintain control of it. The counter to that is the belief that if the data is open, clever developers will create cool apps that make transit systems more usable, thus increasing ridership and helping transit agencies live up to their charters of moving people around and getting as many private cars as possible off the roads.

    StationStops gives New York metro rail commuters a timetable in their iPhones.

    (Credit: StationStops)

    Each city and metro area with a transit system is unique, but there are three cases in the U.S. that highlight the way the transit data drama can play out.

    NY’s view treats data as copyrighted work.

    New York locks down subway schedules
    As reported last week at ReadWriteWeb and elsewhere, the New York Metropolitan Transportation Agency believes its public train schedules fall under copyright law and thus applied an interpretation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to send a takedown notice to the developer of StationStops, an iPhone app that gives people access to train schedules on the Metro-North lines.

    SF is taking a more open approach, but has its hiccups.

    San Francisco writes data accessibility into contracts

    The Routesy iPhone app uses NextBus data to predict transit arrival times.

    (Credit: Routesy)

    In San Francisco last week, Mayor Gavin Newsom unveiled (via TechCrunch) the Datasf.org initiative, which aims to put all the city's data online for open access. Included in the program is the San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency's schedule data. There's no question that this is a positive development for San Francisco Bay Area transit app developers and that it sets a good precedent for developers elsewhere. However, static schedule data is not the whole story for transit apps, especially on systems where route schedules are poorly adhered to (on New York's Metro-North lines, the schedules are somewhat reliable; for San Francisco's MUNI buses, they are not). The most useful new apps collect real-time vehicle location data, and access to that information is not yet available from SFData.

    In many cities, a company called NextBus gathers location data from vehicles and then makes that information available to the subscribing cities as well as on its own Web site. Developers of real-time transit iPhone apps, such as San Francisco's Routesy and iCommute, have had mixed results in getting access to that data.

    Portland is the best.

    Visit Portland for the best in transit apps
    In Portland, Ore., openness on the part of the local transit agency has been a blessing for transit app developers. There are more than 25 apps that use the public TriMet data stream. Many of the apps duplicate others' functions and features, but it's just this kind of competition that makes apps better over time. When companies control data about their services and are the only ones to provide the apps that use the data, users do not get the same benefit of rapid application evolution.

    Then there is google working with all three.

    Google drives the bus
    Google is the most aggressive company in the transit planning business. If you ask Google Maps for directions, by default it will route you by car, but you can also ask it to give you directions by public transit. In many metro areas, it will even direct you among different transit systems (from a local bus line to a commuter rail system, for example).

    I travel to all three cities, and I agree Portland has the best system and is the most enjoyable to visit for public transit.  The Portland Trimet system has this site for apps.  And, a developer center.

    Click to read more ...

    Monday
    Aug242009

    Top Data Center Mistake, Not Asking Why, Then Track the Accuracy of the Answer

    It is popular to share the Top Best Practices in Data Centers.  Google, Microsoft, eBay, and Sun have done this as many others have.  But, what is interesting is how little time is spent on capturing the top data center mistakes.  There are lots of experts discussing details that feed into a better PUE, and their experiences.  New technology is promoted as being greener and energy efficient than other systems.

    The latest term I’ve heard quite a bit is “holistic” approach in presentations at events like Data Center Dynamics. OK, I want a holistic solution where people are looking in the big picture.  This fits with someone saying we are going to lower your TCO.  Sounds good, I don’t want to buy from someone who is going to increase my TCO and create silo’d thinking.

    If you don’t build data centers often you are at the mercy of the design and build data center construction trade. Mike Manos touched on the issues.

    First a simple observation – the Data Center Industry as it stands today is in actuality an industry of cottage industries.   Its an industry dominated by boutique firms in specialized niches all in support of the building out of these large technically complex facilities.  For the initiated its a world full of religious arguments like battery versus rotary, air-side economization versus water-side economization, raised floor versus no raised floor.  To the uninitiated its an industry categorized by mysterious wizards of calculus and fluid dynamics and magical electrical energies.  Its an illusion the wizards of the collective cottage industries are well paid and incented to keep up.   They ply their trade in ensuring that each facility’s creation is a one-off event, and likewise, so is the next one.  Its a world of competing General Contractors, architecture firms, competing electrical and mechanical firms, of specialists in all sizes, shapes and colors.   Ultimately – in my mind there is absolutely nothing wrong with this.  Everyone has the right to earn a buck no matter how inefficient the process.

    WSJ has an article on the mistakes of investing that can shed some light on how people think about their decisions and mistakes.

    The Mistakes We Make—and Why We Make Them

    How investors think often gets in the way of their results. Meir Statman looks into our heads and tells us what we're doing wrong.

    By MEIR STATMAN

    What was I thinking?

    If there's one question that investors have asked themselves over the past year and a half, it's that one. If only I had acted differently, they say. If only, if only, if only.

    Yet here's the problem: While we know that we made investment mistakes, and vow not to repeat them, most people have only the vaguest sense of what those mistakes were, or, more important, why they made them. Why did we think and feel and behave as we did? Why did we act in a way that today, in hindsight, seems so obviously stupid? Only by understanding the answer to these questions can we begin to improve our financial future.

    The author throws out a simple idea of behavior.

    This is where behavioral finance comes in. Most investors are intelligent people, neither irrational nor insane. But behavioral finance tells us we are also normal, with brains that are often full and emotions that are often overflowing. And that means we are normal smart at times, and normal stupid at others.

    The trick, therefore, is to learn to increase our ratio of smart behavior to stupid. And since we cannot (thank goodness) turn ourselves into computer-like people, we need to find tools to help us act smart even when our thinking and feelings tempt us to be stupid.

    The problem with the data center mistakes is it is an emotional event that you want to hide and go away.  But, if you had tools/software to help you act smarter as your thinking and feelings tempt you to do stupid things. Bad decisions are swept under the rug, fixed behind the scenes, costs transferred, excuses made, and as long as you are on schedule and budget, then most don’t care.

    The tool can be simple, an excel spreadsheet tracking the decisions and SLAs of various technology used in a data center.  What people made the decisions, what problem was it addressing, what are the expected results, costs, and ROI. You can treat these as stocks in a portfolio of investments in your data center.

    Your perspective changes when you think of a portfolio of data center technology investments that have expected returns.  Some will work, some will not.  If you don’t list them. How will your learn from your mistakes?

    Throw your data center construction team a “whack on the side of head.”  Ask them, how are we going to track the mistakes we make in the data center construction?

    I am waiting for the when someone adds this to their top data center practices. “We track our mistakes.”

    Click to read more ...

    Sunday
    Aug232009

    eBay’s Top 5 Data Center Practices, Olivier Sanche Shares Ideas

    eBay’s Olivier Sanche is a name recognized in the Mac community and data center industry with the announcement he will be joining Apple.

    Apple's Going Greener with New Hire

    Posted 08/13/2009 at 11:59:29am | by Danny Estrada

    Apple just hired Oliver Sanche, eBay's former Senior Director of Data Centers Services and Stategies. Sanche also happens to be the leading expert on the greening of cloud computing facilities. Sanche was assisting eBay in its quest to become carbon neutral since 2007. His latest contribution to providing a world for your future Mac-using offspring, has been the overseeing of eBay's newest data-center, which will reach the second highest LEED standards when it goes live in 2010.

    Now Apple is looking to clean up their footprint on our planet by using Sanche's services in overseeing their planned billion dollar, 500,000-square-foot facility in North Carolina that will serve as Apple's primary East Coast data center. Sanche has helped to combine and conserve eBay's energy uses by utilizing a combination of solar energy, facilities management, and the adoption of a high-quality carbon-offset program.

    Here is a recent post that has eBay sharing its top 5 data center ideas to be green.

    Saturday, August 22, 2009

    eBay's Sustainable Data Center

    Green is part of eBay’s DNA
    Sustainability at eBay is a strong part of its culture. Its basic business model is all about sustainability, since it encourages reuse by establishing markets for used products. Continuing the sustainability theme in its operations, both grass roots employee initiatives and broader corporate programs have been launched. Some of these programs include:

    I like the list because it is shorter than most who share ten ideas, and starts with a fundamental of research.

    Here are the top two, for the remaining three you can go to the full post.

    eBay’s Olivier Sanche “Top 5” to enhance Data Center sustainability
    1) Research best practices.
    There are many excellent resources available including Climate Savers, Green Grid, and Data Center Pulse. Such resources can help a business determine which activities provide the biggest improvements, learn how to implement current best practices, understand trends to plan accordingly, and connect with other data center professionals interested in sustainability.

    #2 is an end to end view few talk about as they themselves are in silos.


    2) Baseline current energy costs, apply appropriate metrics and break-down silos.


    If not already part of the data center budget, DC energy costs should be moved to the DC budget to provide the necessary visibility to manage. To improve energy utilization, DC’s usually focus on making the plant and equipment more efficient, but it is just as important to understand how the equipment is used. To illustrate his point, Olivier shared an analogy. When comparing a Hummer and a Prius when looking at mpg, the Prius wins. But if the Hummer is carrying eight people and the Prius is only carrying one person, the person-miles per gallon makes the Hummer more efficient. To understand an analogous person-miles per gallon at the data center, an important metric is “computing per watt”.


    It is necessary to partner with application delivery, engineering, architecture and operations to enhance the computing per watt metric. According to Olivier, “a major problem is that a DC is typically siloed from other parts of the organization.” Olivier made the effort to seek out his partners to share the data on energy use and then work together across the organization to find creative solutions. Without data and metrics, each department will likely focus on their activities and sub-optimize to the determent of the overall goal of sustainability. Armed with the end-to-end view, increasing utilization became a critical goal. The next step was to fine-tune applications, middleware, network, o/s to work better together to perform a function or service or eliminate unneeded code to further drive down energy use. Combining energy reduction for both the equipment and services using the equipment is comparable to using two Prius’s to transport eight passengers and abandoning the Hummer altogether.

    Click to read more ...

    Saturday
    Aug222009

    What could be in Apple’s Data Center Future, Video Rendering like Pixar’s Renderman

    Datacenterknowledge’s Rich Miller has been getting a lot of coverage in the Apple Data Center discussion with his recent interview.

    Rich Miller is editor of Data Center Knowledge, an online trade magazine devoted to the data center industry.

    CoM: First, any idea why Apple is building this new data center?

    Miller: Apple has said very little about the North Carolina facility, beyond the fact that it will serve as the company’s East coast data hub. Apple also has a West coast data center facility in Newark, Calif. Local officials I’ve spoken with say they believe the space is primarily to support Mobile Me and digital content for the iTunes store. The most interesting question is whether Apple needs a much larger facility to support growth in its existing services, or is scaling up capacity for future offerings.

    CoM: Could Apple be building it for cloud computing apps — cloud versions of its iLife apps for example?

    Miller: One of the leading theories about the size of the NC project is that Apple is planning future cloud computing services that will require lots of data center storage. Cloud computing is a hot trend, and I’d be surprised if Apple isn’t thinking hard – and thinking differently – about cloud computing. Many cloud enthusiasts say that cloud computing will eliminate the need for data centers. In reality, the only thing will change is the owner of the building. All the applications and data that are moving into the cloud will live on servers in brick-and-mortar data centers. The companies that are building the biggest data centers tend to also have the biggest cloud ambitions.

    Rich speculates a bit on MobileMe and digital content.  I would agree with Rich and Apple is not going to be hosting analog content. :-)  

    One thing Apple could do is leverage its Disney, Pixar relationship to allow a video rendering farm. A Pixar Renderman could computing service.  Below are pictures of an existing farm farm from flickr.

    image

    image 

    If you aren’t familiar with RenderMan here is the link to Pixar’s site.

    image

    They have loyal customer’s like South Park Studios that sell videos on iTunes and use Macs to create the videos.

    image

    Who else could create a video rendering farm?  You could create one in Amazon Web Services.  Animoto.com is one service that exists.  Jeff Bezos referenced animoto and even invested in Animoto.

    Amazon Funds Animoto Music Video Creator

    by Mark Hendrickson on May 15, 2008

    Amazon has taken a special interest in one of its web service customers: Animoto, the machine-driven music video creator that launched last August and now has over 160,000 users. The online retail giant has decided to fund the startup with an undisclosed amount of money.

    Animoto takes photo and music files from users and essentially turns them into souped up slideshows with background music that synchronizes with effects and transitions. The service uses Amazon’s SQS, S3 and EC2 to store the requisite files and process the videos.

    Cloud computing has been so vital to Animoto’s operations that Jeff Bezos even used the company as example of how well EC2 helps web apps scale when their traffic hockey sticks (in Animoto’s case, when its Facebook app took off last month).

    If you still think I am a little crazy, check out the Animoto iTunes app.  Why can’t Apple do this in their data centers?

    Animoto iPhone App 2.0 has arrived!

    The new version of our app is ready to download from the App Store!  It’s still free, so head here to grab it: http://itunes.com/app/animotovideos

    Huge new features in this one, including:
    — Sync to your Animoto.com account
    — Download videos for offline viewing
    — Longer videos with an All-Access Pass
    — Lots more songs, new genres
    — Better image fitting/placement in your video

    iphoneAiphoneB

    Click to read more ...

    Friday
    Aug212009

    Oracle’s Halted Data Center Construction, Would you call this Construction?

    Oracle is closer to its Sun acquisition, and picking up Sun’s data center capacity.

    Justice Department Clears Oracle-Sun Deal

    By BRENT KENDALL

    Oracle Corp. said antirust regulators at the U.S. Department of Justice have cleared its $7.4 billion deal to buy Sun Microsystems Inc., removing a major hurdle for the transaction.

    Oracle, which makes databases and other software for large corporations, has said it hopes to close the deal this summer.

    I wrote this post back in July on Oracle’s data center construction.

    Jul 11, 2009

    IDG Publications Have You Seen Oracle’s Data Center Construction?

    I had a a laugh watching the news about Oracle’s data center and the announcement by the local gov’t officials regarding the facility.  I wrote my own blog entry about the Sequoia data center presentation.

    But, I’ve seen the data center site, and there hasn’t been construction this year, and the only evidence of construction is a bit of foundation work.  There is no electrical infrastructure or super structure for the data center. The below picture and press would make you think the site is a failed data center construction project put on hold.

    I tried to get an aerial map from google and bing.com, but the pictures are too old to show the construction site foundation.

    DataCenterKnowledge has a post referencing the local Salt Lake City paper.

    Oracle Halts Utah Data Center Project
    July 8th, 2009 : Rich Miller

    Oracle's planned Utah Compute Center in West Jordan, Utah. State officials say Oracle has halted construction on the project.

    I was able to go by the Oracle data center site this week and below are pictures.  Compared to the above rendering I would say Oracle was maybe 0.01% into construction. :-)

    Below is a distance view of the site.  The site is in the lower middle of this picture.

    image

    Here is close up of the foundation.

    image

    And, here is a picture from the road.

    image

    These are probably the most boring data center pictures I’ve taken.

    Click to read more ...