Microsoft Puts Machine Learning in the Cloud

July 25, 2014

Machine learning is ascending to the cloud. The Register asks, “Do Data Centers Dream of Electric Sheep? Microsoft Announces Machine Learning Cloud.” As competition in the world of SaaS and remote hosting continues to escalate, this move may set Microsoft ahead of Amazon and Google (for now). Our question—will this progress rub off on Bing? One can hope.

Writer Jack Clark tells us:

“The company’s new ‘Azure ML’ service was announced on Monday and means developers can access machine learning systems hosted in the Azure cloud and even link their applications directly to them. The tech gives developers a directory of machine learning and associated technologies, including deep learning systems, that they can apply to their applications…

“Azure ML also has ‘a number of tools to help clean data,’ explained Microsoft exec Joseph Sirosh in a chat with El Reg, and has compatibility with popular mathematical software R. The service also gives users a way to drag-and-drop various machine learning technologies together so that they can build an application in a visually striking and understandable way.”

It is interesting to note that Sirosh spent nearly ten years working with (among other things) Amazon’s internal machine learning systems during his stint at that company. Though machine learning itself is nothing new, Microsoft hopes Azure ML will make it more accessible, and tempting, to developers. Likening this advance to the birth of the cloud itself, Sirosh enthuses, “Machine learning is an incredibly underutilized capability—every app around us could be becoming intelligent. I would love to have the excitement around machine learning be unleashed.”

Cynthia Murrell, July 25, 2014

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, developer of Augmentext

Discord in the Clouds

July 24, 2014

As a business strategy, Amazon Web Service’s total cost of ownership (TCO) calculator is a smart device. However, competitor VMware strives to poke holes in the calculator’s conclusions about the cost of its wares. The Register brings the challenge to our attention in, “VMware: Amazon’s Cloud Calculator a Load of Flatulant FUD.” (For those unfamiliar with the term, FUD stands for “fear, uncertainty, and doubt.”) VMware contends that, despite Amazon’s claims that it compares apples to apples, the calculator begins with “biased assumptions” about VMware’s offerings. Writer Jack Clark explains:

“Amazon’s calculator makes some strange assumptions, such as reckoning that a customer has no existing on-premises investment, chooses rather high server prices, and assumes that all IT shops are refreshing their hardware every three years, VMware says in its blog post. It also compares VMware’s feature-packed ‘VMware vSphere Enterprise Plus’ software against its infrastructure, which VMware feels is unfair as the tech has some features that Amazon lacks, so the cost comparison is not accurate. Naturally, VMware has tried to right these apparent wrongs and has performed its own cost calculation.”

And, naturally, VMware’s calculations shows their system as cheaper than Amazon’s—a good reminder to rely on third-party reviews for this sort of thing. VMware’s calculations reportedly factor in discounts from heavy cloud usage and the advantages of its Operations Management optimization package. Founded in 1998 and gone public in 2008, VMware is based in Palo Alto, California, and maintains offices around the world. They also happen to be hiring.

Cynthia Murrell, July 24, 2014

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, developer of Augmentext

SoftLayer Provides IBM a Lift: Can It Hoist Watson and Chip Bets?

July 14, 2014

I read “SoftLayer Cloud Business Thriving Inside IBM.” Thrive is not the word I would use to describe how iPhrase and Vivisimo have fared. A number of IBM acquisitions have just disappeared into the tummy of the gentle giant, Big Blue. Here’s how the “real” news outfit InformationWeek views the SoftLayer information:

Over the last 12 months, SoftLayer has gained 6,000 new customers. IBM purchased SoftLayer for $2 billion in July 2013. Kandis says SoftLayer’s customer base was composed primarily of small and midsized companies, with some verging on becoming much larger companies. The thing they had in common was they did not have big IT departments, but were looking to expand infrastructure rapidly, Kandis told InformationWeek.

There are some questions.

  1. Will SoftLayer be able to compete with the WalMart-like tactics of Amazon, Google, and Microsoft for cloud happiness?
  2. Will SoftLayer deploy a version of Watson that makes sense to potential licensees? (Recipes for Bon Appétit do not count. Sorry.)
  3. Will SoftLayer pump out enough cash to cover the money IBM wants to invest in next generation computing chips?

My view is that SoftLayer may not be up to the task. Amazon can cut prices quickly. Google, when it gets focused, is still sprightly, just not as zippy as it was in the 2002-2006 era. Microsoft may surprise even the anti Redmond contingent. There is a new, although somewhat muddled, CEO after all.

But SoftLayer has to content with bureaucracy, wild and crazy marketing, and the IBMness of its new work environment. The IDC “experts” don’t trouble themselves with some of the realities I notice. That’s for the best. More sophisticated analyses may shine in comparison.

One plus for the write up, was a reference to Watson as a “general purpose big data analytical engine.” That’s an improvement over a recipe generation system or a sluggish medical diagnostic system. Progress.

Stephen E Arnold, July 14, 2014

Docker and Juicing the Google

June 10, 2014

The revolution is here…almost. Navigate to “Google Embraces Docker, the Next Big Thing in Cloud Computing” or “Docker Launches A 1.0 Product And Gains An Opportunity To Monetize.” Forbes cheerleads for the automation crowd. Wired pumps up Google’s enthusiasm for the open source technology.

Automation is a magical way to reduce costs as long as the pesky humans do not have to code widgets, connectors, and shims. If these software gadgets are not ready for prime time, some of the automation benefits will be more Silicon Valley mumbo jumbo.

For the GOOG, a bit of a computational crisis exists. Google surfed on innovations that other companies were slow to adopt in the 1996 to 2000 time frame. Despite spending bundles on optimization, the GOOG, like other computationally constrained outfits, needs to find shortcuts.

Enter Docker. The technology is one of those “if only” innovations. Here’s what I mean. “If only everyone adopted Docker and if only developers would create the software gadgets to make snap in operation a reality.” Also, “If only the Amazon approach were not so darned popular.”

You get the idea.

Docker is characterized by Wired as something Google has been doing for a long time. Er, okay. Forbes sees Docker as another open source commercialization play with services being the donkey delivering the gold and silver to the stakeholders.

My view is that like many open source plays, the technology is pretty good. Making the technology deliver on the promises “real” journalists report is a different kettle of fish (actually, software gizmos to hook A to B without more coding and tweaking.

The real problem is that existing computer systems are pretty snappy and much easier to use in a timesharing environment than IBM and other mainframe iron from the 1970s. But—and this is a significant concern to me—we are really getting hyperbole for optimization.

What’s needed is a computational platform that makes more sophisticated operations practical. Instead of known methods running faster or deploying with less craziness, we are making the 1985 Corvette perform via add ons.

Short cuts are not breakthroughs that leapfrog the decades old methods. Going faster and cheaper is fun. Better is not part of the calculus of optimization.

Stephen E Arnold, June 10, 2014

Essential Steps for Migrating SharePoint to the Cloud

May 2, 2014

Many organizations are interested in migrating their SharePoint installation to the cloud, but most also feel it’s easier said than done. In light of the trend and the confusion, CMS Wire gives their advice in the article, “5 Key Steps for Migrating SharePoint to the Cloud.”

The article says:

“Migrating to the cloud can be somewhat complex since SharePoint migration tools are limited in functionality or non-existent. So while the cloud can certainly reduce administrative burden, getting there requires having a plan that takes into consideration your overall business goals, your existing infrastructure and content, and your user’s needs. Here are five key steps we advise our clients follow when migrating their content.”

Stephen E. Arnold has made a career out of reporting on all things search, including SharePoint, on ArnoldIT.com. And while cloud migration is a trendy topic for SharePoint, Arnold has found that the actual process can be clunky and intimidating. So until the cloud is less of a novelty and more mainstream, stay tuned to Arnold and his SharePoint feed for more tips and tricks.

Emily Rae Aldridge, May 2, 2014

Next Feature of Nuance Promises Network of Connected Devices

March 27, 2014

The article on Nuance titled Experience a More Human Conversation Through Nuance Cloud Service begins with some reflections on the 2014 Mobile World Congress. Effortlessness is the rallying-cry of mobile consumers- they want machines that not only hear but understand. The article explains,

“To help brands and developers worldwide support this need, Nuance recently announced Nuance Cloud Services, a cloud platform that defines the user experiences of some of the largest and most well-respected brands by transforming them into intelligent personal assistants that understand and engage with users on a simpler, more human level… In addition to our technologies, we’ve worked with content and technology partners to ensure that Nuance Cloud Services grants our partners access to a massive range of content and services.”

This means that through Nuance Cloud Services, streaming is possible no only on smartphones and tablets but with smart TVs, as well as connected cars and PCs. The network that this creates informs the intelligent virtual assistant of the users preferences over time. Nuance also promises depth of customization to satisfy the desires of any partner brand. The search function for Nuance’s What’s Next feature is offline. This is all well and good, but it sounds more like what is happening now then in the future. So what is next? Maybe search that works?

Chelsea Kerwin, March 27, 2014

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, developer of Augmentext

Google and Pricing: High Stakes WalMarting

March 26, 2014

I read a number of write ups about the new Google cloud pricing. The main idea, in my opinion, that  unifies the different reports is, “Everybody loves a bargain.” Consider “Google Slashes Cloud Prices: Google vs AWS Price Comparison.”

The essay-editorial begins with the invocation of the Google-Amazon joust:

Google threw down the gauntlet to challenge AWS public cloud supremacy by announcing significant price reductions across its Google Cloud Platform. The eye-opening price cuts covered compute (32-percent reduction), storage (68-percent reduction), and BigQuery (85-percent reduction). Google also signaled that future reductions could follow Moore’s Law — citing that historically public cloud prices have dropped only 6 to 8 percent annually as compared to 20- to 30-percent reductions in hardware prices.

The fact that neither Amazon nor Google provide much detail about their actual costs, profits, number of customers, and goals for their cloud services is not of much interest. Explanations of how pricing thresholds operate and migrate excite little curiosity.

Google, playing the Google Search Appliance card, seems to suggest that Amazon’s pricing is complicated. Yep, it is and it is very difficult to pin down with confidence what something will cost until the bits have been chomped and the Amazon accounting system processes its inputs and bills the customer. There is chatter about “sustained use” pricing, on demand pricing, and heavy reserved instance pricing, and in the article I have used as a pivot point for my comments, a cheer for RightScale’s services. These will help the cloud customer figure out what cloud computing costs.

image

See http://www.ftc.gov/tips-advice/competition-guidance/guide-antitrust-laws/single-firm-conduct/predatory-or-below-cost

Several observations:

First, the pricing is an example of the WalMarting of technical services. Doesn’t the entire world want lower prices? Once a market has been “won,” what happens? Creative destruction? I refer you, gentle reader, to WalMart’s challenges to rekindle (pun intended) that Sam Walton fire. The profit flat line is not good news to some WalMart stakeholders. But the Google pricing is little more than an old-fashioned price war in a Walton-like march for market share.

Second, Amazon has a bit of a cost problem. The murky Amazon financials, the hard to figure out side companies, and the blurring of revenues from product and services lines are tough to parse. Amazon is working overtime to generate no friction revenue (Prime pricing) and constrain costs. The results are a robust top line and growing pressure on expenses at “everyone’s favorite” online store. Google is cutting prices at a time when Amazon is maybe less than prepared for a price war.

Read more

Performance Data for Cloud Computing

March 25, 2014

If you are weighing your cloudy options, InfoWorld has an article for you—”Ultimate Cloud Speed Tests: Amazon vs. Google vs. Windows Azure.” Results? The subtitle gives us the short answer—”A diverse set of real-world Java benchmarks shows Google is fastest, Azure is slowest, and Amazon is priciest.” The long answer takes up several pages, as journalist Peter Wayner shares details of his results. He writes:

“To test out the options available to anyone looking for a server, I rented some machines on Amazon EC2, Google Compute Engine, and Microsoft Windows Azure and took them out for a spin. The good news is that many of the promises have been fulfilled. If you click the right buttons and fill out the right Web forms, you can have root on a machine in a few minutes, sometimes even faster. All of them make it dead simple to get the basic goods: a Linux distro running what you need.

“At first glance, the options seem close to identical. You can choose from many of the same distributions, and from a wide range of machine configuration options. But if you start poking around, you’ll find differences—including differences in performance and cost.”

Naturally, the best choice for each organization depends on more than those basic factors. See the article for the data and patterns Wayner has assembled from his tests. I’ll share a couple of his value-related observations—not only was Google’s service the fastest overall, it was also cheapest overall. There’s a case to be made for Azure’s economy version Small for those on a tight budget, but, Wayner says, “Amazon was rarely a bargain.” Even if your organization is not currently facing this decision, this article is a good one to tuck away for future reference.

Cynthia Murrell, March 25, 2014

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, developer of Augmentext

HP and the Next Big Thing from Somewhere

March 19, 2014

I read “Rethinking Future Services and the Application Portfolio.” I found the write up on the or an HP blog interesting. The notion that software “supplies intellectual., property to address business problems” is also interesting.

I suppose the notion of open source software does not fit in this category. Although there are different types of licenses and plenty of commercial outfits finding ways to make money from open source software, the notion of “intellectual property” and community developed software strike me as discordant.

The HP blog asserts:

The problems are viewed as IT and not what the business needs. In order for these service providers to address the specific needs of an organization, greater service integration flexibility is required. This allows for real integration of business processes, meeting the businesses unique needs. IT that supports those business processes may come from many different sources. This flexibility will require greater data transport capabilities and analytics, turning generic processing into business differentiation. This movement of data outside the control of a service provider is the bane of most as-a-service solutions, yet when you think about it – whose data is it??

Well, what about that shift in perspective for intellectual property. From a software vendor allowing a customer use the vendor’s intellectual property to “whose data is it.” I think data is a plural but HP definitely does not feel constrained by the shackles of subject very agreement nor by the boundaries of consistent use of the phrase “intellectual property.”

I think the main point of the write up is that the new type of information technology has to offer or provide “application configuration capabilities.” I thought old fashioned configuration files could do that, but maybe I am off base. I am not sure to do with the point that people don’t know how to code.

My take away from this blog post is that HP is churning out content that just doesn’t make much sense to me. My hunch is that HP wants to support its efforts to wrench itself away from printer ink to the new and somewhat commoditized world of cloud computing.

I am probably incorrect again. HP has a big hill to climb with its about face on things that are mobile, the fascinating Autonomy repositioning, and the price cutting from Google. I am sure HP’s next big thing will come from somewhere.

Stephen E Arnold, March 19, 2014

Determining SharePoint Cloud Deployment

March 18, 2014

Not so long ago, SharePoint deployment only meant one thing – onsite. However, users are now faced with a multitude of deployment options, which can be overwhelming. Even if users just look at cloud deployment, the options are numerous. CMS Wire helps break them down in their article, “SharePoint in the Cloud: You Have Options.”

The article begins:

“When it comes to hosting SharePoint on premises or moving it into the cloud, there is never one right answer. Companies need to understand every hosting option available to them and find the one that best fits their available resources and technical needs. In this article, we’re going to take a look at the available platforms and who might benefit most from each.”

The article then goes on to detail several different deployment options. Stephen E. Arnold gives a lot of attention to SharePoint on his Web site, ArnoldIT.com. He has made a career out of following search and its implications for organizations. SharePoint is perhaps the search application with the greatest reach.

Emily Rae Aldridge, March 18, 2014

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