Gigaom webinar: Customer-Driven Infrastructure: Building Future-Ready Consumer Applications

Based on a white paper that I wrote earlier in the year for them, I am holding a webinar next week with the above focus. In this webinar David S. Linthicum SVP, Cloud Technology Partners and Brandon Elliott the Chief Technologist for Rackspace and I will examine the infrastructure needs of customer-facing applications by examining the challenges faced by businesses in the most demanding industries. It will provide a framework for evaluating technology decisions from the perspective of customer experience quality and suggest metrics that can help businesses justify and benchmark the success of their investments.

You can register here for the event, to be held on August 28th.


ITworld: Data artist in residence: Why your data needs an artist’s touch

jerAs more companies hire data scientists, there is a corresponding trend to hire a new kind of employee that some refer to as “data artists,” whose job it is to tell the stories behind the data in the most accessible and revealing ways. And these folks are taking major roles on product management teams, such as Jer Thorp pictured here. In this story for ITWorld today, I talk about what is a data artist and how Microsoft and Google and the New York Times are making good use of them.

The new open compute servers are here

bad_neighboursThe PC server market has been a fairly boring one for the past several decades. Sure, they contained things like specialized Xeon CPUs and lots of memory modules and could attach to big storage arrays. But the for most part, buying a server meant having just something bigger than you had on your desktop. Those days are about to change with the new servers available from Rackspace and the Open Compute Project.

To show you that this is far from a new idea, do you remember the Tricord? I am not talking about the thing carried around on Star Trek. Instead, this was a server unit made in the middle 1990s. It came with eight CPUs, could hold 3 GB of RAM and nine half-height drives, along with lots of redundant power supplies, controller boards and other high-end features. All this went for $70,000. That’s right, they weren’t cheap either.

Nowadays the notion of a 3 GB PC is what you would find as a minimum desktop configuration to run Windows, and most servers have hundreds of GB of RAM installed. But again, the design of a PC server hasn’t really seen much change. Until now.

Facebook started the Open Compute project several years ago, in the hopes that they could encourage some innovation for the kinds of hardware that they were building for their own data centers. These customized servers were stripped down models that were designed to run in the cloud, not on your desktop or even in your own data center.

The project saw some major milestones this week with several announcements at the Gigaom structure show. There is an opportunity for anyone to have their own cloud-oriented server, as announced from Rackspace this week at the event.

Why is this important? It represents a big moment for servers, taking steps to finally move beyond the original PC architecture that began in the early 1980s. It is a way for Rackspace to offer an entire server that previously was only available as a compute or storage instance for cloud customers. It is also a way to get around the “bad neighbor” problem that faces many cloud apps, where another greedy server instance can hog server resources and make life miserable for your own app.

The servers are from Quanta and called OnMetal and come in three different version that are focused on CPU, storage or RAM. If you have to build an Internet service that is going to need a lot of firepower, you might want to take a closer look.

Random acts of pizza turns out to be not so random

requestI know this past weekend is more associated with barbeque than pizza, but I came across an interesting study of pizza that I thought I would whet your appetite this morning. For those of those you have spent time on the site Reddit, you know one of their communities is called “Random Acts of Pizza” or RAOP. On the site, people can submit requests for free pizza and if their story is compelling enough a fellow user might decide to send them one. Why not? Who doesn’t like a free pizza?

Users can only ask for pizza, and only one user can supply the pizza. For example, a request might go something like this: “It’s been a long time since my mother and I have had proper food. I’ve been struggling to find any kind of work so I can supplement my mom’s social security. A real pizza would certainly lift our spirits.” Anybody can then fulfill the order, which is then marked on the site, often with notes of thanks.

It is an interesting community. Because of the way it is structured, a group of data and social scientists used RAOP as the basis for a study that looked more closely at altruism, or what motivates people to give when they do not receive anything tangible in return. Tim Althoff of Stanford University and others wrote the paper published earlier this year in a research journal.

The researchers were able to download the many thousands of requests and eventually analyzed more than 5000 of them where they could track a response, whether it was successful or not, and other variables that they were able to quantify. From the data, they parsed this information and then built a mathematical model that would be used as a predictor of the success of the individual posts.

They found that it helps to ask for pizza earlier in the month, make your request post longer (see the graph above), include an image documenting your request (a copy of a job termination letter or an empty fridge), and show that your request should state that are willing to give back to the RAOP community. This last item bears some further explanation. Most of us would probably be cynical and say, yeah, sure, these folks are trying to game the system and get a free pizza. But the researchers showed that nearly 10% of those that were claiming to pay it forward actually did, which is a pretty high percentage given that many people probably haven’t had an opportunity to reciprocate.

You can also see from the graph above that those stories about jobs, money, or family situations were also more likely to result in pizza deliveries. One item they didn’t find to improve deliveries was that it wasn’t true how the mood of the author was expressed, something that traditional social science research has found in the past.

The next supercomputer may be your cellphone

What if you could have access to a cheap supercomputer in the cloud, and one that automatically upgrades itself every couple of years? One that taps into existing unused processing power that doesn’t require a new ginormous datacenter to be constructed? This is the idea behind Devin Elliot’s startup called

I was skeptical when I first heard him talking about it. This is because he borrows processing time on millions of cellphones at night. Think this through for a moment: these phones are charging, often connected to your home Wifi network, and they are sitting completely idle next to your bed. Why not put them to a good purpose? Think of SETI@Home only instead of searching for intelligent life in space, it is being used for running intelligent apps here on planet Earth.

I mean, the puny cellphone? Can’t we find a better collection of processors? Turns out that while we were sleeping, all that CPU power can add up to quite a few petaflops of processing. If you have a couple million cellphones, you can construct a distributed supercomputer that can rival some of those that are on the list. Today’s modern phone has the processing equivalent of a medium Amazon Web Services instance. That is far from puny.

I have been fascinated with this topic for some time ever since I participated in a rather unique “flash mob” computing experiment about ten years ago in San Francisco. This was the idea behind a course offered at University of San Francisco and taught by scientist Pat Miller, who works full-time at the Lawrence Livermore Labs. Call it Bring Your Own Laptop. One of the participants was Gordon Bell, who was the father of the VAX while he worked at DEC and now at Microsoft. I was one of hundreds of volunteers and left two laptops of my own for the weekend while the class tried to knit them all together to run the usual benchmarks to prove we had created a supercomputer.

While this flash mob failed at assembling a top supercomputer, they were able to get several hundred machines to work together. But that was ten years ago. Now we have the cloud and efforts like CycleComputing,com to build more powerful distributed processors.

Anyway, back to Unoceros. They have developed some software that can be included inside a regular cellphone app that, with your permission, makes use of your idle time to become a distributed compute engine for those developers that are looking for spare cycles. They are working out the kinks now, figuring out how to distribute the load and make sure that bad actors don’t harness their network for evil purposes.There is also the not-so-small issue about who pays whom and how that aren’t trivial either.

Could it work? Perhaps. It isn’t as crazy as having hundreds of people carrying their gear into a university gym one weekend. 4 Ways Retailers Increase Sales With Mobile-Enabled Foot Traffic Analytics


Attendees of this year’s Super Bowl had the opportunity to stroll down Broadway in midtown Manhattan before the big game and receive personalized, location-specific shopping alerts. These alerts are made possible by mobile-enabled foot traffic technology, which retailers around the country are increasingly using as a way to better understand customer behavior and boost sales.Retailers use this technology to determine peak traffic behaviors, conversion rates and dwell times in the stores. You can read the article here on SoftwareAdvice about ways to increase foot traffic.

And here are a few of the many technologies that are available in this space.

Indoor Tracking Technologies Vendors

 Vendor URL Notable Features
Aisle Labs Shopper demographics
Aisle411 User navigate store maps
Brickstream 3D Tracking
Euclid Analytics Rich APIs
Gozio User navigate store maps
Iinside Precise locations on existing Wifi hardware
inMarket CheckPoints Pay-for-performance apps
Measurence Analytic tools
Mexia Interactive Precise locations on their hardware
Navizon REST API access
NEON Underground support
Qualcomm Gimbal Personal content delivery
Radius Networks Apple iBeacon support
Retail Next Wide software tools including POS integration
Shopper Trak Managed SaaS service
Solomo Technology Real-time map display
Store Analytics Analytics, tracking & targeting
Swarm POS integration
Turnstyle Solutions Push and SMS messaging
Walkbase A/B testing
YFind Precise locations and Wifi integration