Impact of Today’s Hardware and Software Applications in Cloud-based Environments: Part 1

As an industry, we have been looking at cloud-based technologies both from private and public structure and how best to optimize design, engineer and develop such technologies to better optimize the world of wireless and the Internet of Everything.

But one aspect that has not been discussed at length is how poorly hardware and software perform in cloud-based environments. I want to discuss some of the challenges facing the industry and some potential solutions that can help create and bring a new revolution to the world of Wide Area Networks (WAN), along with the automation of practically every human-to-human and human-to-machine interface.

Currently, there are two technologies being discussed in almost every seminar or white paper being published—software defined networking (SDN) and network function virtualization (NFV). While these vary in structure by different vendors, clearly, all of them attack certain aspects of the mobile carrier network or Tier 1 landline networks. Let me give you my two-cents on what these technologies must address:

SDN must create a more agile network with the development of an open northbound interface. This becomes an enabler for service providers (SPs) to reduce time-to-market for service introduction, reduce capex unit cost by focusing network elements (NEs) to just move traffic, and reducing opex unit cost for network services that take significant human capital cost to deliver, such as establishing protection and restoration or provisioning new connectivity services.
NFV must enable SPs to provide new services, and hence, new incremental revenue, by replacing dedicated hardware/software located on the customer premise, e.g., DVR, storage, firewall and others.

Cloud computing, on the other hand, must enable enterprises to leverage shared and scalable computing resources, hardware and software to impact their capex and opex unit costs.

The promise of such technologies has always been for

These promises are expected to deliver much better total cost of ownership (TCO) with lower opex and in essence support moving to a hardware-agnostic or independent model, offering further savings.

About a decade ago, I predicted that the battleground in the 21st century would be all about software and not hardware. Although hardware is needed, it is the role of software to optimize all five functions above using new state-of-the-art technologies such as SDN and NFV.

The problem that can become very complicated is that enterprise customers’ networks and appliances are not designed for multiple tenants, pay-for-play or on-demand services. However, SDN and NFV are fundamentally designed for such functions. That means that it is imperative for CXOs to sponsor corporate-wide programs to move into SDN and NFV, offering capabilities to drive higher revenues while competing for device replacements at the network margins from mobile access points up to wireline or Wide Area Networks.

SDN, by itself, is not really a new technology and has been in existence since 2006. It has been used to mainly improve data center performance, since the concept of big central offices with large Class 4/5 switches are pretty much obsolete in the 21st century.

But SDN has a long way to go to deliver an agile network. Today’s management of transport networks does not match the agility of the cloud-based services being deployed on them. These two have to converge to bring the transport agility into the 21st century for service delivery. Why should it take weeks and months to establish a new enterprise customer on an SP network? Why should it take weeks to provision high-speed point-to-point connectivity with specific protection requirements? SDN has yet to deliver just that.

NFV, in contrast, was introduced between 2010 and 2012 to operators in order to improve service time-to-market and network flexibility and allow a smooth transition to the cloud with significantly lower opex. In my view, the sky is the limit on NFV. For any onsite services (e.g., storage, firewall and DVR), whether today or in the future, NFV gives SPs the opportunity to deliver both consumers and enterprises major benefits, such as having a turn-key solution that lowers costs and improves quality of service (QoS).

The initial applications of SDN and NFV have changed greatly over the past few years. SDN focused mainly on cloud orchestration and networking, while NFV focused on IP-based protocols and capabilities such as DNS, DHCP, DPI, firewalls, gateways, and traffic management.

From my perspective, I believe NFV has already taken over Layer 4-7 of the SDN movement by delivering lower capex and cycle time, creating a competitive supply of innovative applications by third parties and introducing control abstractions to foster innovations that carriers need in order to compete with all over-the-top players.

Let’s also note that the new world requires openness in almost every API layer of the network from access to the core. The issue is legacy systems and processes that need to be changed in order to adapt to the new world of SDN and NFV.

Nowhere is this more critical than the mobile and Tier 1 landline carriers.

In essence, these sectors need to change all analog processes using legacy systems into digital processes, in which NFV can easily fit. That transition may take years, if not a decade, before it is fully implemented.

But the question is whether MNOs and Tier 1 carriers can wait that long to implement NFV and get the most optimized set of solutions in order to compete globally.

My guess is no, they cannot wait and stay competitive. The transition to NFV can be done more quickly, and I’m going to tell you how.

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Surface Pro 3 ‘notebook’ reaches retail today

Microsoft today kicked off sales of the Surface Pro 3, the 2-in-1 touted by the company as a notebook replacement.

The it’s-a-table-it’s-a-notebook, which was unveiled one month ago, is currently available in two models, both powered by a dual-core Intel Core i5 processor, the same used in 2013’s Surface Pro 2.

For $999, customers get a Surface Pro 3 equipped with 128GB of storage space; the 256GB configuration costs $1,299. Those models are now available in Microsoft’s own retail stores and its online e-market for American and Canadian customers, as well as at partner retailers. Best Buy, for example, started selling the Surface Pro 3 in its U.S. brick-and-mortar and online stores on Friday, as did Tiger Direct, an online-only retailer.

Microsoft has pledged to start selling the Surface Pro 3 in 26 additional markets — including Australia, China, France, Germany, Japan, Spain and the U.K. — by the end of August.

Best Buy also launched a nine-day trade-in deal that hands customers a gift card — minimum value of $50 — in exchange for a working tablet. The card can be applied toward the purchase of Surface Pro 3. According to Best Buy’s exchange calculator, the retailer will give $387 for a 128GB Surface Pro 2 and $217 for a working Surface 2, the tablet powered by the beleaguered Windows RT operating system.

Other Surface Pro 3 configurations will be available for sale on Aug. 1, Microsoft said Friday. Previously, the Redmond, Wash. firm had set the launch of those models as simply sometime that month.

Slated to reach retail in six weeks are the $799 Surface Pro 3 with 64GB of storage, powered by a dual-core Intel Core i3 CPU, and two running a dual-core i7 processor, one with 256GB of storage priced at $1,599 and the top-of-the-line tablet with 512GB for $1,949.

New orders for the two now-available models will be shipped June 30, according to the Microsoft online store. The $199.99 docking station, which Microsoft also trumpeted last month, will be available Aug. 15 in the U.S. and Canada.

None of the Surface Pro 3 prices include a cover keyboard, which Microsoft mandates to make good on its claim that the device can replace a laptop. The Surface Pro Type Cover costs $129.99, pushing the out-of-pocket price of the 128GB configuration to $1,129.

That price is 13% to 26% higher than a corresponding MacBook Air, the notebook that Microsoft has incessantly used in its comparisons: A 13.3-in. MacBook Air with 128GB of flash storage lists for $999, while the 11.6-in. MacBook Air — closer in screen size to the 12-in. Surface Pro 3 — with the same amount of storage space runs $899.

For Bob O’Donnell, principal analyst at Technalysis Research, the Surface Pro 3 has been “a nice device.” O’Donnell, like many analysts and some members of the media, has had a Surface Pro 3 since the May 20 launch event.

“I like the bigger touchpad, the bigger screen, and the aspect ratio [of the screen] is better,” said O’Donnell. “All in all, it’s a nice product.”

Two configurations of the Surface Pro 3 went on sale Friday, at prices of $999 and $1,299 sans cover keyboard. (Image: Microsoft.)

Not perfect, though. O’Donnell’s biggest beef was that Microsoft keeps selling the cover keyboard as an extra, when that keyboard is absolutely necessary to make good on the firm’s claims. “They should have bundled the keyboard,” O’Donnell said. “They’re trying to position it as a tablet. It’s not a tablet, it’s a notebook.”

O’Donnell estimated that he’s used the Surface Pro 3 as a notebook 95% of the time, as a tablet just 5% of the time. He uses his go-to system, a Dell XPS 12 — the screen revolves to lay flat on the keyboard for tablet-esque tasks — in the same 95-5 fashion.

“The best way to view and think about the Surface Pro 3 is as the evolution of the notebook,” said O’Donnell. “This is how notebooks are headed.”

Surface Pro 3 tablets and accessories can be ordered from Microsoft’s e-store.

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Bottom Nine: 2014’s startup non-success stories

Back to the drawing board
The statistics aren’t great, are they? Nine out of 10 startups – or maybe it’s three out of four, or five out of six, or even not that many at all – we’re told, will fail. Here are some of the luckless startups and services which have bitten the dust in the first half of 2014.

As first reported by Gartner Research’s Jonah Kowall, APM and analytics company Optier has ceased operations as of May, despite more than $100 million in funding over its nine-year run and a host of big-name customers in the financial industry.

FindIt’s personal search service – the idea being to let you search your Gmail, Dropbox and so forth from one portal – shut down in February. In an official blog post, the team said that it plans to pivot to a Facebook advertising optimization platform.

Donna (Of Incredible Labs)
Yahoo bought up Incredible Labs – who created personal assistant app Donna – in January for an undisclosed fee. Unfortunately for Donna’s users, the app got the axe. Five staff members went to the Yahoo Mail team, according to the company’s statement. (via TechCrunch)

You’ll have to open your own paper mail for just a little bit longer, it seems – Outbox, a service that opened, scanned and digitized your mail for a $5 monthly fee, went belly-up in January, due to what an official blog post characterized as excessive operating costs.

At least he’s still got 4chan – entrepreneur Chris Poole closed down his four-year experiment with DrawQuest, a drawing game/app that was an outgrowth of Canvas, a meme-sharing site. “It became clear to us that DrawQuest didn’t represent a venture-backed opportunity, and even with more time that was unlikely to change,” he said in January. (The service stayed functional until May, when a security breach forced the doors to finally close.)

Another one of those good-news/bad-news stories is Bump, who got bought out by Google in January. The company’s eponymous transfer app – you bumped your phone against somebody else’s to send or receive data – was axed in January, however. Also cut was the company’s photo-sharing app, Flock.

ARM processor maker Calxeda went to the wall right around the turn of the New Year, despite some successes, like inclusion in some HP products, and a general perception as a leader in bringing ARM SoCs to the data center. (H/T: The Register)

Sort of a social version of Evernote, Springpad announced that it would shut down on June 25 in an announcement last month. The money just wasn’t there for the information capturing and organizational services, according to the official blog post.

Argyle Social
Social media marketing manager Argyle Social pulled the plug late last month, despite positive reviews. CEO Adam Covati told VentureBeat that the market – with competitors like Hootsuite – was too competitive.

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CloudFlare offers free DDoS protection to public interest websites

A project launched by CloudFlare, a provider of website performance and security services, allows organizations engaged in news gathering, civil society and political or artistic speech to use the company’s distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) protection technology for free.

The goal of the project, dubbed Galileo, is to protect freedom of expression on the Web by helping sites with public interest information from being censored through online attacks, according to the San Francisco-based company.

“If a website participating in Project Galileo comes under attack, CloudFlare will extend full protection to ensure the site stays online — no matter its location, no matter its content,” the Project Galileo website says.

The company will not publicly name the sites enrolled in the program to keep them safe “from potential backlash,” but said that participants include minority rights organizations, LGBT rights organizations in Africa and the Middle East, global citizen journalist sites, and independent media outlets in the developing world.

To be accepted into Project Galileo, CloudFare said, websites need to be engaged in news gathering, civil society, or political/artistic speech; to be the subject of online attacks as a result of those activities; to belong to non-profit organizations or small commercial entities and to act in the public interest. CloudFlare has partnered with over a dozen civil society organizations including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Freedom of the Press Foundation, the Center for Democracy and Technology and American Civil Liberties Union to help it make those determinations.

According to the company, websites accepted into the program should on average be up and running with DDoS protection in several hours, but the process can take as long as a couple of days in some circumstances.

CloudFlare named its project Galileo after Galileo Galilei, the famous Italian physicist and astronomer whose writings in support of heliocentrism — the astronomical model where the Earth and the other planets revolve around the sun — were deemed heretical and banned by the Catholic Church.

“Like Galileo, websites espousing politically sensitive — even heretical — speech are often victims of suppression,” said Kenneth R. Carter, counsel at CloudFlare, in a blog post Thursday. “Like Galileo, most of these sites dont have the resources to protect their discoveries from being suppressed.”

DDoS attacks have frequently been used by hackers and other groups as a tool for both censorship and protest. Hacktivist group Anonymous is famous for its DDoS campaigns driven by political motives against pro-copyright organizations, governments and religious groups.

In May,, which describes itself as a “progressive news site, online community, and action organization,” asked its readers to make donations so it can fend off DDoS attacks.

CloudFlare is not the first security company to offer free DDoS protection to websites serving the public interest. In October 2013, Google launched Project Shield, an initiative that allows websites dealing with news, human rights and election-related content to use the company’s infrastructure and DDoS defenses.

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Skype app for iPhone due out from Microsoft today

But years of disappointment with the iPhone Skype app have undoubtedly led many users to switch to other options long ago

Microsoft promises that a revamped Skype app for the iPhone will be significantly better than the current version, although it may be too late for users who have long since switched to other options.

Microsoft is hoping users will be lured back, saying that version 5.0 of the IM, audio/video communications and IP telephony app, due out Thursday, has been rebuilt from the ground up. The company pledges it is faster and more stable than the old version, and that its user interface has been redesigned to make it simpler and more fluid.

“We’re excited for you to see how the new app has been redesigned to put your conversations first, providing you with a smoother, leaner and more integrated experience,” wrote Microsoft official Gary Wong in a blog post.

Microsoft is also promising that Skype 5.0 for iPhone will stay synchronized with users’ other instances of Skype on other platforms, so that, for example, read messages won’t appear elsewhere as unread, a major complaint with the previous version of the app.

Last week, Microsoft gave a sneak peek at some of the app’s major enhancements, including smoother scrolling among screens and the ability to send messages and photos to users who are offline.

Apparently, Microsoft plans to speed up the pace of improvements for the app going forward. “Skype 5.0 for iPhone is just the beginning of a new Skype experience on iPhone,” Wong wrote, a statement that’s in line with the company’s strategic shift under new CEO Satya Nadella to make sure its software products work well on non-Windows platforms.

Skype 5.0 for iPhone requires iOS 7 or a later version. An iPad edition of the app is in the works.


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How to make the most of an IT buyer’s market

After years of fighting tooth and nail with vendors for meager price discounts or modest service-level agreements, IT has seen the tables start to turn: Sweeping changes are reshaping the vendor landscape, shifting negotiating power from stingy service providers to savvy CIOs.

Practical advice for you to take full advantage of the benefits of APM and keep your IT environment

At the center of this sea change are trends such as cloud computing, social media, data analytics, remote monitoring, automation and mobility. Whether it’s manufacturers opening sensor-operated plants or healthcare providers using remote patient-monitoring systems, organizations are acting fast to seize new opportunities and satisfy customer demands. And as the need for agility increases, cloud-based computing is booming: Infrastructure as a service and business process as a service are the two fastest-growing segments of the IT services market, expanding 44.9% and 12.4%, respectively, in 2014, according to Gartner.

Just ask William Graff, senior vice president at Cerner Technology Services. “We’re spending a lot of time with specific internal business units looking at cloud solutions that traditionally we would have hosted on our own data center. But because of business pressures to move rapidly, we’ve selected a handful of cloud providers over the last year,” he says.

Decisions like that at companies of all kinds are adding an infusion of new, agile cloud providers into the average company’s mix of more traditional vendors.

Combined with the need for speed is an increased awareness of high-tech products and services. “The buyer’s paradigm has changed dramatically over the last several years,” says Keith Lubner, CEO and a managing partner at Channel Consulting, a Philadelphia-based management consulting firm specializing in vendor relations. “Access to information and content is so dramatic that buyers are more astute than ever before. They have instant access to information on every single product out there — they’ve flipped the whole sales cycle on its head.”

Armed with information and eager to take advantage of fast-acting cloud, analytics and mobile technologies, CIOs are voting with their wallets: A staggering two-thirds of respondents to a recent Gartner CIO survey said they expect to change primary suppliers by 2017.

Desperate to stay on top, traditional IT vendors are responding by tossing out their typical IT sales models to offer flexible subscription services, shorter sales cycles, unprecedented product innovation and personalized service. And that’s creating a once-in-a-career opportunity for savvy CIOs: a chance to negotiate huge price cuts, packaged deals, favorable contracts and unique partnerships with big-time vendors once too busy to return calls.

Tough Customers
Jim Forbes is a perfect example of the type of technology executive that’s keeping vendors up at night. The CTO at University Health Network (UHN) in Toronto, Forbes had for years relied on standard criteria such as “functional requirements and server compatibility” to select technology solutions. But a desire for a more scalable cloud-based tool recently convinced him that it was time to switch IT management vendors.

“Our new thinking sent us in a very different direction,” says Forbes. “We ended up going with an entirely different vendor — one who really wasn’t on our radar. There was some nervousness, but we recognized that this was the right strategic move, and looking back, it was a very good choice.”

James Cole, CIO at First National Bank of Omaha, also has a set of purchasing priorities that could cause vendors to panic. Once susceptible to industry buzz and product hype, Cole says he now finds himself taking a more business-oriented approach to vendor selection by asking, “Where does a solution fit into my organization?”

Today, IT staffers meet with the retail bank’s business-line leaders five days a week “to understand what their needs are and bring IT solutions to them,” Cole says. “We’re becoming more in tune with our core business, helping our business-line leaders with their needs and then going out into the market and determining who best can solve that need.”

But shifting the focus from acquiring tech tools to discovering business solutions is also changing the nature of the CIO-vendor relationship — to the CIO’s advantage. Increasingly, vendors are being asked to be a partner rather than simply a provider.

Cole points to the First National Bank of Omaha’s four-year relationship with Client Resources Inc. (CRI), an IT talent and solutions provider. Once considered a supplier of temporary labor, the midsize vendor has evolved into a key collaborator with the bank’s IT department, Cole says. For example, CRI recently worked hand in hand with the bank to design and develop a mobile app. “It became this great partnership,” says Cole. “If you were in a room with us, you’d have a hard time knowing who was the First National employee and who was with CRI.”

Even tech vendor titans are shedding their hands-off reputation for a hand-holding approach that they hope will help them retain customers. Seven years ago, Cole says, the bank’s dealings with Oracle could have been described as “a catalog relationship” involving occasional database orders. Today, a senior executive from Oracle is dedicated to helping First National Bank of Omaha with some seemingly minor IT projects, such as developing a better login process for mobile employees. “It’s very much a collaboration,” says Cole. “Oracle is looking at their business model differently now and seeing customers as a relationship rather than a product sale. It’s just interesting that Oracle is listening to us.”

Power Shift
In fact, whereas power-wielding IT vendors once shaped CIOs’ buying behavior, CIOs are now having a profound impact on the way a vendor approaches everything from customer service to product development. Says Graff: “When we enter into a long-term agreement with a vendor, we expect that our voice as an end-user community will be heard and that we’ll influence changes and enhancements to a product.”

Cindy Waxer
But as CIOs and vendors increasingly become bedfellows, the IT world is drafting its own version of a prenup. For instance, when UHN began vetting vendors for a new managed service contract, Forbes insisted that each interested party develop a five-year plan illustrating how unit costs might change over time. Vendors that promised cost-per-unit decreases earned extra points.

Another way Forbes gained an upper hand in negotiations was paying research firms, including Gartner and PricewaterhouseCoopers, for market analysis on IT service prices such as help desk costs and server fees — industry benchmarks that provided “a viable opportunity to negotiate cost reductions right upfront before signing a contract,” he says. “We’re doing more strategic thinking as part of the RFP process as opposed to just writing an RFP and throwing it out onto the street.”

Such an informed approach to negotiating pays dividends, according to Cole, who says he once talked an IT vendor into reducing the price of a system by $3 million. “We build performance milestones into all of our contracts,” he says. “We also do a very good job of negotiating [financial] holdbacks so that we don’t feel like we’re paying for a service well before it’s delivered.”

Faced with dwindling bargaining power and better-educated customers, many vendors are sweetening the pot by offering cost-effective bundles of services. For example, a vendor specializing in email encryption technology might try to package its tool with an Exchange server and high-margin services such as consulting on compliance issues.

In fact, Lubner says peddling packages is “the only way for vendors to differentiate themselves and provide more value to the buyer” these days.

Forbes agrees. Just as the federal government has been slowly embracing a shared services strategy, he says, the healthcare industry is inching toward a similar model, where multiple hospitals, clinics and laboratories will agree to share the funding and resourcing of key IT services to cut costs and improve efficiency. “There’s a lot of opportunity to save money and reinvest the subsequent savings back into healthcare if we only shared some of these IT services,” says Forbes, adding that the vendors that are most likely to come out ahead are those that “recognize the market is shifting and respond by packaging their software.”

Sharing the Legal Load
But greater collaboration, bundled IT services and high performance standards aren’t the only changes in the IT landscape helping to create a buyer’s market. Organizations are demanding that even legal issues be treated as shared responsibilities rather than matters to be hashed out by bloated legal departments. After all, says Cole, “if you just have two sets of legal teams talking, you’ll reach an impasse very quickly.”

Cole should know. In the first four months of this year alone, he’s had to tackle questions of intellectual property with at least three different vendors. That’s because, in these litigious times, it’s becoming increasingly common for unwitting end users to wind up entangled in patent infringement suits. For example, a hotel chain that offers its guests free Wi-Fi might find itself involved in a patent suit simply because it relies on server technology that has come under legal fire.

However, whereas in the past vendors would simply scoff at the notion of shared liability, Cole says there’s more willingness now to address issues such as intellectual property as a mutual business challenge rather than as a legal technicality.

“We need to have protection so now it’s a negotiation to determine how much liability a vendor is willing to give up and how much risk am I willing to accept,” says Cole. “It’s become a business discussion, not a legal discussion. In fact, it’s a very common conversation in the IT community today.”

That’s not to suggest, however, that vendors are simply rolling over and letting customers call all the shots. For example, Graff points out that Kansas City, Mo.-based Cerner is both a buyer and a provider of IT services and says that, no matter how profitable a project might seem, the company will “never sign a deal [as a provider] where we can’t deliver on what we’ve written into the contract.”

But that’s not all. Cole says most organizations do recognize and respect a vendor’s need to turn a profit. “Recently we negotiated a deal where it came down to both sides saying, ‘Here’s what I’m willing to give you in terms of profit and here’s where I need to be in terms of expenses,'” he recalls. “That’s a partnership where we shook hands. But had we dug in our heels and said, ‘Here’s all I’m going to give you,’ we both would have left with a bad taste in our mouth.”

After all, there’s no telling when the pendulum will swing back to a seller’s market. All the more reason, says Graff, for savvy CIOs to make sure “it’s a win-win situation for both parties.”


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10 Father’s Day Gifts to Help Dad Feel Young and Cool

Dad isn’t getting any younger. Why not get him a Father’s Day gift that makes him feel young and cool again? Here are 10 ideas.

Another Father’s Day is around the corner, reminding dear old dad that he’s another year older. Why not help your dad feel just a touch more youthful? These 10 gadgets mix fun and practicality — and sure beat the tie, book or gift card you’ve given him in the past.

Motrr Galileo
The Motrr Galileo ($203 for Bluetooth model) is unique robotic holder designed for the iPhone that can be placed flat on a table or mounted on a standard camera tripod. The device offers 360 degrees of spherical motion for an attached iPhone, along with a wealth of fun and practical applications such as time-lapse photos, 360-degrees panoramas and even remote surveillance. All told, more than a dozen Galileo-enabled apps are available now. The Galileo pairs to the smartphone using Bluetooth and can be controlled from another iOS device or a Web browser.


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Logitech Case [+] The Story
The Logitech case [+] The story ($199) iPhone accessory set includes a basic case and various “[+]” components, including a leather kickstand, a vehicle mount, wallet for credit cards and external battery pack. The slim case serves to protect the iPhone against drops while adding minimal bulk, and it incorporates a strategic stripe of metal by which the other accessories can be magnetically attached. The vehicle mount is our favorite, attaching securely with no flimsy plastic hooks to breakage.

iFrogz Tadpole Bluetooth Speaker
The iFrogz Tadpole Bluetooth Speaker ($19.99) punches way above its weight to deliver big sound. Because it weighs just 0.7 ounces (20 grams), the Tadpole can be clipped easily onto keys, purses, belts or anything else with a hoop. The wireless speaker works with smartphones and tablets that support Bluetooth 3.0, and the onboard 200mAh lithium-ion battery can power more than two hours of continuous play. When drained, the device is easily juiced from its micro-USB charging port.

Jawbone Era Headset
The Jawbone Era ($129.99 with charging case) is easily one of the most minimalist and lightweight headset out there. The Era incorporates a new design that uses the natural contour of the ear to create a fit that’s comfortable enough to wear all day. In our tests, we found it entirely possible to forget that the Era headset is even there. Credit the headset’s micro-electro-mechanical system, which Jawbone says delivers superior performance in a small size. Finally, the Jawbone Era comes with a tiny charging case that bumps the four-hour talk time of the lightweight Bluetooth earpiece to 10 hours.

The stylish CalypsoTag ($134) luggage tag not only makes luggage easier to identify out of the carousel; it also allows luggage to be tracked electronically within 200 feet (60 meters). The latter is possible due to the use of a low-power Bluetooth 4.0 chip built inside the CalypsoTag, which communicates with a (free) Apple or Android smartphone app. The app will send you an alert should a fellow passenger try to pull a fast one with the luggage. Available in four bold styles, the CalypsoTag is made of premium Italian leather that’s striking in appearance even without its electronic tracking capability.

STM Aero Small Laptop Backpack
The STM Aero small laptop backpack ($99.95) is designed for toting around a laptop, tablet and other gadgets. The backpack is designed to fit most 13-inch laptops; we were able to fit in both a 13-inch MacBook Pro Retina as well as an iPad tablet just fine. High-density foam padding lines strategic parts of the backpack, while soft material coats other areas to protect your expensive gadget. A highly organized interior offers multiple pockets and nooks for storing all manner of digital paraphernalia, such as headphones or an AC adapter. The STM aero small laptop backpack weighs just 1.5 pounds (660 grams), and its svelte silhouette will make your dad feel young (or at least stylish) again.

Plantronics BackBeat GO 2
The Plantronics BackBeat GO 2($99.99 with charging case) wireless stereo headset is designed for listening to music and taking calls. Both a rechargeable battery and Bluetooth transceiver are built directly into the earpiece unit; there are no bulky components to stow away. A military-grade nano-coating also protects the device from sweat, moisture and spills, making it perfect for a run or a workout at the gym. Fully charged, the BackBeat GO 2 offers up to four-and-a-half hours of listening and five hours of talk time; this is boosted to 14.5 hours of listening time with the included case.

Sphero 2.0
Awake the inner child in your dad with Sphero 2.0 ($99.99), a remote-controlled robot the likes of which your dad never saw while raising you. (Not that he’d have had time for a robot anyway.) The robotic sphere pairs with your iOS or Android device via Bluetooth and careens around at speeds of up to 7 feet per second, with a 100-foot range. The Sphero 2.0 is waterproof, and is recharged by an included induction charger. Since its release, the catalog of Sphero-compatible games and apps have grown to some 30 titles and counting, allowing for many more hours of fun.

Twelve South Hoverbar for iPad
If your dad owns an iPad tablet, consider the Hoverbar for iPad ($99.99). As its name suggests, the Hoverbar is a stand with a versatile arm that can be attached to any ledge up to one inch thick. It can be used as a floating display beside your monitor in the study, or on the kitchen counter where it’s kept away from any spills or splatters. Three included “Fit Clips” allows the Hoverbar to work with any current iPad tablets, and the metallic arm is strong yet surprisingly flexible. Finally, the Hoverbar for iPad includes a handy kickstand that snaps onto the iPad clip for use as a standalone tabletop display.

Anker 36W USB Quad-Port Wall Charger
With the number of USB-powered devices increasing by the day, the Anker 36W USB Quad-Port Wall Charger ($42.99) helps ensure that your dad has ample ports to keep his gadgets properly juiced. The Anker 36W Wall Charger is designed for simultaneous, full-speed charging, with two ports hardwired for Apple (2.1A output) devices and two for Android (1.5A output) smartphones and tablets. The portable charger is lightweight and tips the scale at just 3.5 ounces (100 grams).

Internet of Things

Practical applications are emerging for connected devices in key industries

A year ago, people were mostly talking about the potential of the Internet of Things (IoT) — what companies and government entities might do in the future to take advantage of this widespread network of connected objects.

While we’re still in the early stages of IoT, today it’s looking like more of a reality, with a number of implementations in the works. And while many issues still need to be sorted out — data security and privacy for one — a growing number of companies are exploring how they can leverage IoT-related technologies.

IoT is clearly on a growth curve. A March 2014 Gartner report estimates that the Internet of Things will include some 26 billion Internet-connected physical devices by 2020. By that time, IoT product and service suppliers will generate incremental revenue of more than $300 billion, according to Gartner.

“IoT is rapidly moving from the fringe of the Internet to the mainstream,” says Tim Murdoch, head of digital services at Cambridge Consultants, a U.K.-based technology consulting firm.

The number of anecdotes about the “connected fridge” are abating, Murdoch says, and the number of actually connected and commercially available cars, electricity meters, street lights, wearable technologies and so on is growing rapidly.

Gartner is getting a lot more inquiries from enterprise clients on the IoT, says Hung LeHong, vice president and Gartner fellow, Executive Leadership & Innovation at Gartner. “Most of them are about getting started,” he says. “Either getting started from nothing or IT getting started in working with operational technology counterparts to deliver a true IoT strategy.”

Developing and deploying IoT projects isn’t without challenges. These include choosing the best architectures for each use case, a lack of connectivity standards, a lack of systems integrators with a track record, and delivering ease of use for consumers and enterprise users, LeHong says.

“A big issue is standards and interoperability,” adds Daniel Castro, director of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation’s Center for Data Innovation in Washington. “Building the IoT will require massive amounts of cooperation and coordination between firms.”

Fortunately, companies are getting better at recognizing the benefits of working together to develop common platforms that they can each use. Castro says, “We do not want the IoT to be a closed system — it should be an open system for innovation,” he says.

Another issue is figuring out what business problems or domains you’re trying to address. “Otherwise, you throw so much data out there it’s hard to scope through,” says Chris Curran, chief technologist at the U.S. advisory practices of consulting firm PwC in New York.

“If you don’t have a business problem or domain to begin with, it will be hard to scope out a manageable set of projects,” Curran says. Companies will need to learn how to deal with all the data collection, storage and management involved, he says.

And of course ensuring IoT data security is a big challenge for the industry. Despite these issues, there are IoT initiatives under way today. Here are a few examples from different industries.
Water Management

HydroPoint Data Systems, a water management company in Petaluma, Calif., is leveraging real-time, two-way wireless communications via AT&T’s machine-to-machine network; big data analytics and the cloud to offer customers an automated system that eliminates water waste while monitoring and protecting against damages caused by leaks and runoff.

The system, called WeatherTRAK, has more than 25,000 subscribers who in 2013 saved more than 20 billion gallons of water, 77 million kilowatt hours of electricity and about $143 million in expenses, according to Chris Spain, CEO and president of HydroPoint.

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WeatherTRAK is a smart irrigation controller that replaces existing timers with an Internet-enabled controller that can comprehend data inputs delivered from the Internet — such as weather data — and provide proactive management to water supply maintainers via a Website and mobile application.

HydroPoint’s platform connects a site’s irrigation system and sprinklers, master valves, flow sensors, historical water bills, water budgets and site-specific weather data into an integrated management framework, Spain says.

“In the field, we utilize machine-to-machine communications, data over power lines and wireless communications back to the cloud,” Spain says. The company, “really couldn’t deliver our service without IoT in any cost effective fashion,” Spain says. “Water management systems, by their very nature, can change from one moment to the next so having real-time monitoring is essential.”
Product Tracking

Pirelli, one of the world’s largest tire manufacturers, is gaining insights about the performance of its products in near-real time directly from sensors embedded in the tires.

Using SAP’s HANA data analytics platform, the Milan, Italy, company can manage the enormous amounts of data from its Cyber Tyre products. The tires contain sensors that collect data about tire conditions and performance that influence safety, control and vehicle dynamics.

The tire-mounted sensors enable fleet managers to remotely view tire pressure and temperature, as well as the mileage for each tire. With the HANA platform, the company can run reports on product performance and deliver timely and accurate sales and distribution information, which can lead to more efficient manufacturing and business processes.

According to SAP, Pirelli is building systems to enable the integration of vehicle position and operating data for purposes such as vehicle protection and control; information about traffic, road conditions and parking; remote vehicle behavior and diagnostics; management of logistics and of industrial vehicle fleets; and automated emergency calls.
Smart Lighting

Shorenstein Properties, a San Francisco-based real estate business, recently retrofitted parking lot light fixtures at its Santa Clara Towers office complex to LEDs, and at the same time integrated networking capabilities, creating a “Light Sensory Network” (LSN).

The sensor network, provided by Sensity Systems, links the LED fixtures to deliver both energy-efficient lighting and a real-time, global database of information that enables organizations to better manage physical environment to improve efficiency and security.

With the installation of the network, the facility benefits from an additional energy savings of 30% to 50% over the new LED baseline usage levels, according to Stan Roualdes, executive vice president, Property Management and Construction Services at Shorenstein.

“Continued success with networked LED lights doesn’t depend just on Sensity or upon the current selection of sensors, it will be on the developers who will leverage Sensity’s open API to develop new sensors and new applications that we can leverage,” Roualdes says.

An LSN “can gather real-time parking availability data and provide this information to smart parking application developers through an open API,” Roualdes adds. This can lead to improved services that benefit customers, and new opportunities for Shorenstein. “We see our LSN as a potential revenue-generating opportunity in the future,” he says. “Our lighting fixtures can become strategic assets.”
Healthcare Workflows

Florida Hospital Celebration Health, a hospital in Kissimmee, Fla., opened a new patient tower in 2011 designed to serve as a model for the healthcare industry relative to the latest developments in patient experience and safety, as well as staff efficiency.

The hospital deployed a real-time location system (RTLS) from Stanley Healthcare to track the location of critical medical equipment, automate the monitoring of refrigerator temperatures throughout the facility, and collect more accurate data on hand hygiene compliance.

One particularly interesting application has been a nurse tracking initiative, in which the hospital collects data on nurse activity throughout their shifts.

The goal of the initiative is to better understand how nurses spend their time during their shift and uncover patterns that could lead to increased efficiency and patient satisfaction, says Ashley Simmons, director of performance improvement.

Nurses wear badges with embedded Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags throughout their shift. The system tracks and collects location data continuously. The facility collects all the data and analyzes it using analytics functions in Stanley Healthcare’s MobileView software integrated with Tableau visual analytics software, and also uses its own internal business intelligence tools.

“We now have a better understanding of each patients’ care time requirements and are able to better align staff assignments on the unit based on this information,” Simmons says. The data is even revealing ways the company can design units more efficiently.
Driver Safety

Last year, Ford Motor Co. launched Connected Car Dashboards, a collaborative project with Splunk Enterprise and Cisco that collected and analyzed data from vehicles to gain insight into driving patterns and vehicle performance.

The company used its Ford OpenXC research platform to gather data from connected vehicles. Data was then indexed, analyzed and visualized in Splunk’s machine-generated big data platform and made available in a Connected Car Dashboards, which include visualizations specific to both electric and gas-powered vehicles.

Ford OpenXC is a combination of open source hardware and software that enables developers to read data from a vehicle’s internal communications network. By installing a small hardware module to read and translate metrics from vehicles, the data becomes accessible to smartphone or tablet devices that can be used to develop custom applications.

Many of the metrics gathered have never before been available for vehicles, and show insights about driving behavior that could extend to consumer and commercial applications, according to Splunk. Insights gained from the open data project include analysis of the accelerator pedal position, vehicle speed, steering, wheel position, etc.

Expect to see a lot more examples of IoT emerge in the coming months as the technology that supports it evolve and companies grasp the potential benefits.
Security and the IoT

Information security — and privacy — are among the worries many companies have when it comes to the Internet of Things. How do you prevent physical objects such as cars and smart meters from getting hacked?

“Public safety and privacy are the real concerns,” says LeHong.

“Organizationally, the operations folks and the IT folks have to work together to take operational security and IT security to an overall cyber security perspective,” LeHong says. “The two areas will be so intertwined that these groups will have to work together — and maybe even become one group — to be effective.”

A lot of natural reticence to share data “has evaporated around the apps and social media that we use and the cookies we accept,” says Murdoch. “But expect there to be a greater level of concern about devices because of the greater intrusion to our daily lives.”

Security is really about trust and scale, Murdoch says. “Expect to see different approaches to peoples’ data and defaults to not using their data for anything but the actual service being offered,” he says. “Quality of service from a brand will become a key tool in addressing this.”

Organizations can “expect to see a number of incidents where IoTs are hacked, data stolen and services denied,” Murdoch adds. This is especially likely for startups that have not funded adequate security architectures, he says.

In terms of scale, a device that can be used by many different people and different stages of its life will cause problems, Murdoch says, especially when there are billions of them. There will be a need to test and provide quality of services on many different platforms, he says.

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