Sunday, September 15, 2013

Amazon Grows In Government Cloud, Despite Competitor Smack-Talk

Say what you will about about the Central Intelligence Agency, but one thing is clear: these are people who do not like to mess around with their data. The CIA is in the business of secrets, so their potential $600 million contract with Amazon Web Services is perhaps the greatest validation of cloud computing —and AWS—to date. AWS may appear to need such validation, if you listen to competitors like IBM and VMware. But while all the caterwauling is going on, Amazon is quietly making its presence known in the government cloud sector anyway. While many eyes in the enterprise IT community were watching VMware squaring off against AWS with its own vCloud Hybrid Service, AWS was holding the grand opening of its new Herndon, VA offices Monday. It was a nice cap to a crappy weekend, when yet another outage in the cloud provider's northern Virginia facilities borked AirBNB, Instagram and Netflix—among others—for a few hours this weekend. But it would be premature to hold a pity party for AWS just yet: the company is faring rather well as a cloud services vendor, easily fending off the likes of Rackspace, HP and now VMware. Its government progress is particularly telling: AWS' two-year-old GovCloud program just announced the addition of CloudFormation technology to the GovCloud service. CloudFormation enables developers and systems administrators (collectively referred to as DevOps) to automatically provision AWS cloud resources and run applications by either using sample templates or rolling their own configurations. GovCloud, itself launched in the summer of 2011, is a hardened collection of AWS' enterprise-ready services, slowly adding features like CloudFormation to its portfolio even as GovCloud makes a splash among government IT shops. The PR Battle For Government Cloud The aforementioned CIA contract is definitely a diamond for AWS and GovCloud, should AWS actually get it. The CIA actually awarded AWS the job to run Hadoop jobs with the Amazon Elastic MapReduce service, as well as long-term data storage services, in an on-site cloud back in March, but IBM filed a formal protest against the contract award a couple of weeks later. Now the entire process is up for rebid, thanks to a lucky break IBM caught from the Government Accounting Office (GAO). IBM can hardly be blamed for screaming bloody murder about the original contract award—$600 million is enough of a payday that even Big Blue would feel the loss. Not to mention the bigger payoff from such a gig: any cloud service provider that can say it provides secure cloud services to the CIA would obtain serious cachet not only with other government agencies but with enterprise companies that might be on fence about taking the plunge into cloud computing. It would also lend an additional benefit to AWS: the whole "new kid on the block" reputation AWS gets thrown its way from competitors like IBM and VMware would be blown out of the water. IBM and VMware have been especially nasty about it, too. During VMware's Partner Exchange conference in February, President and COO Carl Eschenbach told attendees, "I look at this audience, and I look at VMware and the brand reputation we have in the enterprise, and I find it really hard to believe that we cannot collectively beat a company that sells books." Earlier this month, when AWS filed its own counter-complaint to the GAO's decision to let the CIA contract bid get a do-over, IBM made this statement: We are confident the court in this case will uphold the GAO's ruling and the agency's follow-on actions implementing it. Unlike Amazon, IBM has a long history of delivering successful transformational projects like this for the U.S. government. This "go away kid, you bother me" line of attack would seriously run out of ammunition should AWS ultimately walk away from this brouhaha with a shiny new contract from the CIA. But it may have those chops already, despite what AWS' competitors would have you believe. In May, AWS received FedRAMP certification that approves cloud service providers for government work. Even as AWS demonstrates it's good enough for government work, the company is also making inroads into government agencies as a service provider for vendors that use AWS in their workflow. This week Federal Computing Weekly reported on the Interior Department's awarding to 10 vendors of a 10-year $10 billion contract to handle its Foundation Cloud Hosting Services project. The FCW article also revealed that five of the vendors have relationships with AWS already. FCW confirmed that AWS fits into the offerings of Aquilent, Autonomic Resources, Lockheed Martin, Smartronix and Unisys. Each partnership will be slightly different, but AWS clearly is positioned to get a piece of a potentially very large pie through the DOI deal. There will be a lot of PR wrangling with the AWS-IBM battle over for the CIA contract, but the truth is that despite enterprise vendors' efforts to belittle the "bookseller" who wants to be a cloud service provider, AWS has already demonstrated it is ready to be a player in the government sector. If IBM, VMware, Dell, HP and any other AWS competitor wants to take on the upstart, it will have to be with more than smack-talk.

Beware: Varying Policies Ahead

There's only one rule to know about vaping in public, especially during this peak travel period: There is no one universal rule. Policies differ by industry, and sometimes within the same one.
Most airlines do not permit the use of e-cigarettes on board, but they do allow users to pack their batteries and juices in carry-on baggage. (Bear in mind that TSA regulations on liquids apply.) Most major American airlines—including United, JetBlue, American Airlines, Delta and Southwest Airlines—ban the actual act of vaping in flight, as do many international airlines like British Airways and Japan Airlines. Although it may be tempting to "sneak a vape," take this as a warning: You don't want to be the person who gets caught and makes an entire plane turn around. It's not just airlines either. Amtrak also forbids e-cigarette use. In general, transportation services are strict about anything related to smoking. Hotels may be another matter, considering some still have smoking and non-smoking rooms. But every operation is different. For example, I've stayed at many bed and breakfasts, hotels and motels that met my vaping behavior with keen interest, not loathing. However, it's worth noting that none of them were a Marriott. The hotel chain charged one Chesapeake, Virginia woman $250 for vaping, citing the hotel's anti-smoking policy.
The rules are even harder to pin down for restaurants, bars and cafes. Even though nicotine and caffeine are an infamous match, Starbucks doesn't permit e-cig use. Restaurants can be equally testy about the activity, as well as some bars. But not all of them. Mark Birnbaum, co-owner of EMM, Group which owns clubs like FL and Finale, likes that that they don't encourage customers to leave the premises. “It’s hard enough for us to get them in,” he explained to The New York Times. “Then you’re forcing them out on the street to smoke.” But many businesses don't share Birnbaum's sentiment, so it's a good idea not to make assumptions. Common sense prevails. Vaping is allowed anywhere smoking is. As for everywhere else, remember that the rules vary. When in doubt, check. It's a simple step, and it could go a long way in putting people at ease—which is exactly what you want while you're on vacation.

The "Vape Anywhere" Promise Gets Vaporized

Electronic cigarettes—battery sticks that heat up a liquid solution of propylene glycol or vegetable glycerin, nicotine and food additives—may be only six years old, but their use mirrors the older and dangerous addiction of analog smoking. But they are very different. There's no smell and no fire, plus they don't leave behind ashes, as electronic cigarette vendors rush to point out. Those are key selling points in their marketing schtick, which often features a "vape anywhere" message. (In fact, many still market their products that way.) Taking that to heart, early users whipped out their e-cigs wherever they went, gleefully getting their nicotine fix in places where regular smoking was not allowed.
Bewildered business owners simply didn't know what to do. It looked like smoking—many e-cigs even intentionally resemble traditional cigarettes—but it wasn't. As so often happens in technology, this invention went from curiosity to phenomenon before the laws could catch up. According to the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association, e-cigarettes have grabbed as many as 10 to 14% of the 44 million tobacco users in the U.S. And sales are on track to reach $1.7 billion by the end of the year. Despite the success—or perhaps because of it—the Food and Drug Administration has been eyeing the product with suspicion. But even though it threatens to ban online sales, the FDA still hasn't actually regulated the devices. Researchers haven't managed to clarify things either. For every German or French study that says e-cigs are harmful, there's a researcher from Boston or Philadelphia who says they offer very little risk to health or should be actively pursued for harm reduction from cigarettes. It's a quagmire of confusing findings. And well-meaning lawmakers and businesses, not knowing what else to do, are erring on the side of caution.

The E-Cig Traveler: To Vape Or Not To Vape

Let's get one thing straight: Users of electronic cigarettes, they insist, do not smoke. They "vape," which is short for "use battery-powered nicotine vaporizers." And although the swirl of white fog or vapor they exhale looks like smoke, it's not the same as the smelly, carcinogenic by-product of burning analog cigarettes. Therefore, they say, the activity shouldn't fall under anti-smoking bans. I say "they" when I should say "we." I've been an e-cig user for more than a year now. And if there's one thing I can attest to, it's that some businesses truly don't care about the distinction. They care about not upsetting their customers and employees. Fair or not, because the act of vaping looks like smoking, that's how they're treating it. Where that leaves users is in a strange new territory—particularly as this high-travel, three-day weekend arrives. Vaping may not be federally regulated yet, but that hasn't stopped airlines, hotels and others from restricting or even prohibiting e-cigarettes.

Smartwatches: Cool New Product Or Lamest Thing Ever?

Samsung smartwatch patent. Image source: Moveplayer. The first of a long line of expected smartwatches is likely to be announced next week. Next Wednesday, Samsung is likely to announce a very big new smartphone (the Galaxy Note III) and a very small mobile device, a smartwatch that may go by the name Galaxy Gear. Samsung will be the first to strike a blow in the smartwatch Arm Race. The gadget rumors in 2013 have companies like Apple, LG and Google also contemplating smartwatches to be released this fall. As yet, no firm announcements have been made. See Also: The Smartwatch Arm Race: Don't Lock Us Into A Closed Loop What exactly will Samsung’s Galaxy Gear smartwatch be? Will it be its own self-contained unit; a smartphone strapped to your wrist? Or will it be a device that must pair with your smartphone to get a cellular connection and receive messages? Notorious gadget-rumor monger @evleaks is at it again with the Galaxy Gear smartwatch. This time he has screenshots of the Galaxy Gear app that shows the smartwatch can be paired to smartphone using Near Field Communications (NFC). The smartwatch can, at the very least, run apps made by Samsung (such as it S Health tracker). It will likely run on Google’s Android operating system, as all other Galaxy mobile devices do. It's coming... — @evleaks (@evleaks) August 29, 2013 Now, do you really want to wear a computer on your wrist? To be, quite literally, tethered to your mobile device, always on, always ready to send you messages and track your whereabouts? This is where the potential consumers have diverging opinions. See Also: The Hard(ware) Realities Keeping Us From The Ideal Smartwatch I think a fully functional smartwatch is a fun, cool new idea in the history of computing and be very lucrative to popular manufacturers. I want a smartwatch that can help me track my progress on a 60-mile bike ride and take pictures of my destination and let me send them to my friends via text message or social media. I want to be Dick Tracy, damn it, and I don’t want to have to pair my smartwatch to my smartphone to be able to make it work. ReadWrite Editor-in-Chief Owen Thomas has a distinctly different point of view. He doesn’t want computers that are just a way to shift a notification from one screen to another. Or that are just another gadget for the sake of gadgetry. Owen wrote: “We don't need computers to wear on our head, or wrists, or arms. We need computers that fade into the background. Forget wearable computing. It's time for disappearable computing.” Steve Smith, the editor of Mobile Marketing Daily at MediaPost was a little bit more candid in his notion of the smartwatch as abhorrent: But a watch? Please -- not a watch. Make a smart patch and slap it on my ass. Put a hearing-aid like nub in my ear. Implant a screen on my forearm. Put a projector on my fitband so it can throw an image on the desk. If we must give a nod to the past in order to move into the future, let’s pick another aging accessory. Give my pen an IQ. Educate my bow tie. How about smart suspenders, intelligent garters, thoughtful spats, insightful girdles, gifted berets, a brilliant monocle? Anything but a smart watch. The divergent views and Owen and I are likely to be played out among consumers everywhere. Either you like the idea of a smartwatch and can’t wait to get one, or you think it is the lamest new product ever invented. Much of consumers’ opinions will end up being based on how cool and useful the product is perceived to be and we won’t know that until Samsung, Apple and Google actually give us these watches for perusal. That is the question in this week’s ReadWrite Mobile poll. Would you wear a smartwatch? Why or why not? Take the poll and let us know what you think in the comments.

Twitter Loses Its Top Lawyer

Twitter’s top lawyer, Alexander Macgillivray, is leaving the company. He announced his decision on Twitter early on Friday, but gave no reason for his departure. During his tenure as general counsel, Twitter distinguished itself as an assertive defender of its users' privacy and freedom of speech—a particularly notable stance as Twitter evolved into one of the top outlets for breaking news across the world. Passing the torch. I care deeply about Twitter and our users, will continue to help while exploring other passions — Alex Macgillivray (@amac) August 30, 2013 “As for me, it has been my privilege to work and fight on behalf of great companies and their users over the last decade," he wrote on his blog. "A privilege and a lot of work.” As government requests for data increase, many technology companies have come under fire for allegedly providing user information without notification or proper safeguards. (Most of these companies insist they treat user data with care.) When leaked documents from the NSA purported to show that nine Internet companies were providing intelligence and law enforcement agencies broad access to user data, Twitter was conspicuously absent from that list. The Electronic Frontier Foundation awards Twitter six of six stars in its "Who Has Your Back" survey of Internet-service privacy practices. Twitter routinely informs its users when government bodies request their data, unless forbidden to do so by law or court order, and it has fought for its users in court, although it hasn't always won. It protested a subpoena in which Massachusetts prosecutors sought Twitter data from members of the Occupy movement, although a judge eventually ordered Twitter to hand over the data. It lost a similar court fight against the Department of Justice in an attempt to protect the privacy of Wikileaks supporters. “You don’t want business interests affecting judgment about content,” Macgillivray told the New York Times in 2012. “That is against corporate interests. It’s against the trust your users have in your service.” As AllThingsD notes, Macgillivray's departure does come at an unusual time, as Twitter is moving toward preparing and filing its initial public offering. As general counsel, Macgillivray would have been deeply involved in the process of prepping the company and its documentation for presentation to the SEC. Vijaya Gadde, a legal director at Twitter during Macgillivray’s tenure, will be replacing Macgillivray. Gadde has been managing Twitter’s corporate and international legal work and has known Macgillivray for fourteen years. Macgillivray joined the company in July of 2009 after working as deputy general counsel for products and intellectual property at Google. It is unclear where Macgillivray is headed next. “I’m looking forward to engaging my various Internet passions from new and different perspectives, seeing friends and family without distraction, and just goofing off a bit,” he wrote. “We should all do more of that."

Poll Shows Users Not Thrilled About Yahoo Logo Changes

Yahoo’s new logo will debut next week, and in an effort to drum up excitement, the Web-media giant has been running a “30 days of change” campaign, featuring a new logo on Yahoo's homepage and other properties every day in the runup to the unveiling Sep. 5. But as it turns out, users aren’t that excited about another change. A poll launched by the startup Polar shows that of the 24 logos showcased so far, just one logo is more favored than Yahoo's longtime logo, which replaced its original one in 1995. Over 84,000 votes have been collected from users wanting to voice their opinion of the redesign. Day 10’s logo (pictured) was the only one that garnered enough votes to beat out the original, 75 percent of voters prefer it to the current logo. Interestingly, of all the logos released so far, it is the closest match to the current one; the small changes include a sans serif font with a bolder look. The logos with the most drastic shifts away from tradition, Days Four and Six, were the most disliked among voters. Poll Position “We started running these polls because nobody was measuring sentiment, or which designs people really like the best,” said Dmitry Dragilev, lead marketer at Polar. “Data-based design is something [Yahoo CEO Marissa] Mayer holds dear to her heart.” The logo redesign is the latest in a series of changes that Yahoo has implemented since Mayer became CEO last year. In addition to going on an acquisition spree, the company rolled out a new look for its news and application websites this week that streamlines the Yahoo experience. The current logo has been headlining the company since 1995 and is no doubt in need of a makeover. The new logo will be a cherry on top of the sundae Mayer has rebuilt during her short tenure, and it looks like users are hoping for a modern take on Yahoo’s brand that doesn’t stray too far away from the look they are used to. That said, if Yahoo's trademark exclamation point were eliminated, users would probably celebrate.