View From Above

May 29, 2012  2:08 PM

Mobile Payments on Upward Trajectory Says Gartner

Ron Miller Ron Miller Profile: Ron Miller
Mobile payments are still in their infancy, but poised for big growth in the coming years.

Mobile payments are still in their infancy, but poised for big growth in the coming years.

Gartner is predicting a big year for mobile payment growth as near field communication (NFC) technology begins to grow and people get increasingly comfortable using their mobile phones to make payments.

Gartner is calling for a 61.9 percent increase this year over last with totals moving to 171.5 billion in 2012 from 105.9 billion last year. To be honest, that it’s this high already is a bit surprising to me, mostly because Apple hasn’t even gotten involved in NFC payments (although it’s been widely anticipated for some time) and Google Wallet, the Android version has only been around a year.

Sandy Shen, research director at Gartner thinks this is just the beginning with strong growth being predicted all the way through 2016. “We expect global mobile transaction volume and value to average 42 percent annual growth between 2011 and 2016, and we are forecasting a market worth $617 billion with 448 million users by 2016,” Shen said.

That should go without saying. This is an area that should grow, but it’s going to take a big shift from both vendors who will need new equipment to process NFC payments and consumers, who need to get comfortable with flashing their cell phones to make payments.

From a convenience standpoint, using your phone to make a payment sounds very attractive, but lots of questions still remain. I’m a big fan of advancing technologies, but when it comes to passing my financial information wirelessly over the air in a public place, I get a bit nervous.

The other problem is who’s system we are going to use. For merchants, it could get confusing if they need one machine to process PayPal’s service, another for Visa’s and yet another for Android and iOS operating system-level systems.

Shen says it’s going to take some level of standardization for serious adoption (in spite of the fact these numbers might seem significant even today).

“NFC payment involves a change in user behavior and requires collaboration among stakeholders that includes banks, mobile carriers, card networks and merchants,” Shen said. “It takes time for both to happen.”

In developing countries, it’s going to be used mostly for money transfers and to buy time on the phone. She says it could be popular for paying parking fees, which I could see being very useful.

For now it’s a small, but growing mobile niche. Over time, it could be as ubiquitous as credit and debit cards are today.

Photo by stevendepolo on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License.

May 28, 2012  1:13 PM

Cloud Rising in the Enterprise

Ron Miller Ron Miller Profile: Ron Miller
As cloud vendors accomodate the needs of IT pros, cloud computing is taking a firmer hold in the enteprise.

As cloud vendors accomodate the needs of IT pros, cloud computing is taking a firmer hold in the enteprise.

Earlier this month, announced some impressive quarterly numbers. Last week Box announced new administrative tools aimed squarely at IT and EMC announced it had bought file sharing and syncing service Syncplicity.

What do all these announcements have in common? They all show that the cloud is finding a comfortable place in the enterprise.

Let’s start with Salesforce’s earnings announcement. Salesforce is in many ways the grandfather of the Cloud computing movement. It alone proved that companies would be willing to put sensitive data on someone else’s servers — and when you’re talking about your customer information, that’s pretty sensitive.

Although Salesforce reported an overall loss for the quarter, it beat revenue projections and is looking at $3 billion in projected revenue for the year. According to ZDNet,  overall Salesforce beat expectations:

“Salesforce reported a first quarter loss of $19.47 million, or 14 cents a share, on revenue of $695.5 million. Non-GAAP earnings were 37 cents a share. Wall Street was expecting non-GAAP earnings of 34 cents a share on revenue of $678.2 million.”

Meanwhile Box, which has always tried to separate itself from consumer-oriented services like Dropbox and Google Drive made a significant announcement when it released a Beta version of a new set of administrative tools that give IT more insight into how users are accessing and using content, more sophisticated audit tracking for regulated industries, better device control including the ability to add a device password, and finally, new enterprise licensing plans to provide customers with a more predictable pricing model.

These moves further cemented Box’s enterprise orientation, and these types of tools may make more enterprise customers comfortable with a cloud approach to file syncing and sharing, as well as collaboration.

Finally, we have traditional enterprise software vendor EMC buying file syncing and sharing Syncplicity. With this purchase, EMC gets a tool that provides a way to access and share content across device types, while removing the restriction of being tied to the desktop to get your content.

While Syncplicity is hardly a household name, it reported it has 200,000 customers of which 50,000 are of the enterprise variety. What’s more Syncplicity includes some fairly sophisticated back-end controls, which among other things let administrators cut off access to a document or folder instantly simply by revoking permission.

All three of these announcements, each in their own way, show that enterprise software vendors recognize employees need safe and secure access to enterprise content on a variety of devices, and they are not always going to be accessing it from inside the firewall.

The announcements also show that customers are demanding and getting the kinds of tools they need, and as they do they are growing much more comfortable working with cloud tools, even for information some might consider sensitive.

It’s a matter of creating tools that give IT Pros the control they require to do their jobs, while giving users access to content and tools wherever they are on any device. It’s not an easy line to walk, but vendors appear to be taking the challenge seriously.

May 24, 2012  11:34 AM

Mobile Data Site Illustrates Consumerization of Big Data

Ron Miller Ron Miller Profile: Ron Miller
Using data from the Our Mobile planet site I was able to easily create this chart.

Using data from the Our Mobile planet site I was able to easily create this chart.

What do you think the most popular phone OS is in South Africa was in 2011? Was it Android perhaps or iOS? It turns out, it was Blackberry.

And you can answer all kinds of detailed mobile questions from a new site called Our Mobile Planet.

The site is a joint effort between Google and Ipsos MediaCT in partnership with the Mobile Marketing Association and the Interactive Advertising Bureau

The site provides a way to slice and dice mobile demographic information to create customized charts, which you can download for use in a presentation or report (or blog post).

I believe this is the very edge of a new trend we are very likely to see more of where services like Google and other data owners, whoever they might be, package the data in this fashion to make it easy to create, consume and understand data in ways that were never possible before without sophisticated tools and a valuable data pipeline like this one.

How did I find out about the Blackberry question? Well, I chose to compare four countries, the US, South Africa, Australia and India and I compared what phone OS was most popular by country. As you choose different data elements, the chart you are building updates automatically in real time on the screen.

You can get detailed data for a range of information and you can increase or narrow the focus as you wish by country, age range or a surprisingly broad range of mobile behavior data points.

Many businesses today have at least some interest in mobile, whether it’s producing an app or just providing access to your web site via mobile. This site is providing you with valuable data you can use to learn more about general trends or how you want to focus your resources based on actual data and not guess work.

For instance, if you were considering getting out of Blackberry development and you do a lot of business in South Africa, you might want to reconsider that based on the data you find here.

And that’s the true value of big data in general, whether you are talking about mobile or other data. You can use publicly available information in combination with your own company data sources to make more informed business decisions about where to best allocate your resources.

Hockey great Wayne Gretsky in his heyday used to talk about skating to where the puck was going to be, not where it’s been. That’s what you need to be doing as a business and valuable data sources like Our Mobile Planet can help you understand where the puck is going to be.

Our Mobile Planet is probably just the first of many sites of its kind we are going to see moving forward. The key to understanding Big Data is providing context for it and sites like this one do that with a set of simple data visualization tools. This one’s mobile, but it could just as well be anything else.

May 15, 2012  8:28 AM

Oracle Declares War On Cloud and Open Source

Ron Miller Ron Miller Profile: Ron Miller

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
~Dylan Thomas, Do not go gentle into that good night

Oracle's case against Google could be much more than it first appeared. It could be a declaration of war on the cloud and open source.

Oracle's case against Google could be more than it appeared. It could be a declaration of war on the cloud and open source.

Larry Ellison and his company, Oracle appear to be afraid, deathly afraid of the change that cloud computing and open source software represent. Like most disrupted industries, they may have even dabbled with their replacements, but never very seriously. Instead, they use the refuge of last resort for all disrupted industries — the courts.

Oracle used a clever strategy to get at Google because Google represents everything that Oracle is not. Oracle is all mainframes and big complex software packages. Google, while a large corporate entity of its own, is in the cloud and with Android, it offers an open source cell phone operating system.

And with that, you have the two things that scare a company like Oracle the most, concepts that could bring down a company that sells large complex software packages. Instead of complexity, Google offers simplicity. Instead of expensive systems, Google offers most of its tools…for free.

Not that Google is purity itself. It surely has some of its own crosses to bear including its infamous WiFI mapping case where it not only extracted information about WiFi networks, but email addresses and passwords. Oops.

But as a company that makes free tools and makes use of open source software too, Google like many companies used Java, an open source programming language created by Sun. Oracle bought Sun, and with it a strategy to get at that pesky Google cloud- and open source-using beast. When Google created Android, it based it on Java — and Oracle saw an opening.

But even Oracle probably couldn’t have hoped for an outcome like the one it got when the court case took a turn suggesting APIs could be copyrighted — or maybe it did — a move that Andrew Binstock, writing on Dr. Dobb’s believes could actually represent the end of programming as we know it.

“Essentially, every language implementation not issued forth by the copyright holder will be suspect until the copyright owners announce a permanent statement dispensing with any threats to enforce the copyrights. There is no reason to believe that copyright holders will naturally act with such restraint. As we know, Oracle certainly has not..,” Binstock wrote on Dr. Dobb’s.

And writing on Wired, Robert McMillan wondered if this victory would actually blow up the cloud.

The actual verdict came down Monday and it wasn’t quite that dramatic, at least not on its face. The jury actually left the  question regarding whether APIs could be copyrighted unanswered for now, unable to reach a verdict, but as Wired reported, found that Google infringed on Oracle copyrights for copying 9 lines of code.

But as Wired points out that pesky API copyright question remains open and it’s up to the presiding judge to decide.

My guess is judging from the tone set by the judge (at least to the extent I can determine that in published reports), he’s not going to go the extreme here, but until we hear we are left with a lot of uncertainty.

And you can be sure that regardless of the outcome, this will not be the last we’ve heard of this. Oracle surely sees an opening here and it’s going to ride it for all its worth until the Supreme Court itself offers an answer.

I don’t know about you, but I find the idea of the court system deciding highly complex technical decisions to be more than a bit chilling. But companies like Oracle do not go gentle into that good night. They rage against the dying of the light with all the gusto that their billions can buy. And that surely will be the case here.

Photo credit: iStock Photo – wragg

May 9, 2012  11:07 AM

iPhone Might be Too Successful for Providers

Ron Miller Ron Miller Profile: Ron Miller
iPhone has been tremendously successful, perhaps a little too successful from network provider's perspective.

iPhone has been tremendously successful, perhaps a little too successful from network provider perspective.

iPhone is a successful device by virtually any measure. It provides a way to access content and connect with the outside world via the Internet with simplicity and ease — and people who own them love to use them. And that’s a problem for providers. They are clogging their networks.

At least that’s what I’m reading from complaints from the CEO of AT&T and Sprint’s recent financial troubles.

Let’s start with AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, who admitted publicly at the Milken Institutes’s Global Conference this week that he deeply regretted offering iPhone users the all-you-can eat data plan for just $30.

Turns out when you give people unlimited data, they actually use their phones and damn, that bandwidth adds up. You see when you get a piece of highly sophisticated technology that does all kinds of things from show movies to deliver directions to Siri voice recognition, it turns out you want to, you know, use it. Imagine that.

But apparently poor Mr. Stephenson felt that all those people who bought iPhones and lined the coffers of AT&T through the initial years of exclusivity were bandwidth hogs and he wasn’t prepared for that.

AT&T now offers a tiered plan starting at $20 for 300 MB, $30 for 3 GB or $50 for 5 GB. I still have one of the old unlimited plans, which remains grandfathered in and it’s the only reason I’m still with AT&T at this point to be honest, but if you sign up today, you’re probably looking at a minimum of $30 a month for 3 whole GB. And don’t forget that doesn’t include unlimited texting which will run you another $20 per month.

Make sure you download an App that shows you where to find free WiFi around you. Geez.

Lest you cry for poor Mr. Stephenson, The New York Times reported that the tiered data plan approach has been very, very good to his company bringing in $6.1 billion in revenue last year.

At least AT&T is crying all the way to the bank. Sprint, apparently is not so fortunate.

The iPhone has always been a bit of a conundrum for Sprint. They wanted it so badly and once they got it, in order to differentiate themselves from the bandwidth-controlling AT&T and Verizon, decided to offer the old unlimited data plan. Fantastic for you, but for Sprint, not so much.

According to a Reuter’s article, Sprint placed a $15 billion bet on the iPhone and so far the phone subsidies combined with the unlimited data access is killing the company, so much so that Sprint CEO Dan Hesse has decided to take a symbolic pay cut in his salary and bonus. Nice, but probably won’t dent that bill.

When you see the success of the iPhone, it’s easy to think that it must be a boon for providers too, and in many cases it should be, but it also has a dark side. Users use these phones. They bombard the networks. They tax the bottom line because of subsidies.

I don’t cry for the providers though. Instead of whining, be a network and do your job. Of course phone users are going to use bandwidth. If you don’t like it, you’re in the wrong business.

Photo by Yutaka Tsutano on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License.

May 4, 2012  9:40 AM

There could be more to RIM than fading US sales

Ron Miller Ron Miller Profile: Ron Miller
Blackberry claims it will have plenty of apps when Blackberry 10 comes it. It had better be right.

Blackberry has faced years of steep and steady decline in US sales, but its CEO says there is more to the company than the US market. For its sake, there had better be.

It’s easy to just dismiss RIM as another company that missed the mark when the market changed. That’s because if you judge RIM by its US market share numbers, the situation is pretty dire indeed, but RIM is more than the US market, a fact RIM’s CEO made clear at a press conference this week at RIM’s Blackberry World Conference.

And as we wrote here earlier this week, the market share numbers in the US are seriously ugly. RIM has plunged from 42.1 percent as recently as February 2010 down to just 12.3 percent according to comScore’s most recent numbers. It’s hard to put a smiley face on numbers like that, but CEO Thorsten Heins gave it all he had (as well he should given the condition of his company).

Heins as you would expect, chose to accentuate the positive. As Wayne Rash reported on FierceMobileIT, he made it clear that RIM is doing well in Latin America, Asia and the Middle East selling feature phones, it wouldn’t think of marketing in North America and Western Europe.

That’s all well and good, but as Rash wrote in another piece, Blackberry needs a home run and it needs it badly.

But as Jason Perlow pointed out on ZDNet, it won’t matter how good Blackberry 10 is — because nobody is going to pay attention if the device doesn’t have apps. “Without the developers, you have no apps. With no apps, you can have the sexiest device in existence but nobody is going to buy the thing,” Perlow wrote.

Perlow says that the reason Apple is so successful is that it has come up with the perfect combination of sex appeal on the device side combined with what he calls the Superheroes, the developers who feed the app ecosystem.

And Perlow’s right, if there are no developers, the device will fail. When my wife was looking at a new smart phone recently, she flirted briefly with the Nokia Lumia 900, but in the end she went with an iPhone, partly because she owns other Apple devices, but partly because Microsoft’s app marketplace seemed a little barren.

That’s why apps matter a lot, so it was with some surprise that when I read an exclusive interview on FierceMobileIT with Andrew Bocking, RIM’s senior vice president of software product management, he was practically boasting about the apps for the upcoming release of Blackberry 10.  You may recall that there were a dearth of apps for the Blackberry Playbook tablet when it came out and that was one of the main reasons it has done so poorly.

Yet in this particularly interview, Bocking claimed QNX apps (the OS on the Playbook and upcoming Blackberry 10) had grown 240 percent this year, which certainly sounds impressive, but it’s hard to know, compared to what.  But Bocking didn’t stop there, he predicted that when Blackberry 10 launches, it would have a “substantial” number of apps. He wouldn’t put a figure on that, but he did say it would be more than what Windows had when it launched Windows Phone 7.

Not exactly the best comparison given what I said earlier about Windows Phone 7 apparent lack of apps, but if it’s more, it’s certainly a good start, especially if they are geared toward business users and not the Angry Birds variety.

One of the big issues with the Playbook was that it lacked a native email client, a strategic error so huge, it’s mind-boggling that RIM allowed the product to go to market without it.

That’s why I remain skeptical about RIM’s claims. They need to build buzz at any cost of course, and it would be silly to make claims then not be able to back them up, but RIM has been stumbling and bumbling for so long now, you’ll excuse me if I’m a bit cynical about its ability to deliver.

So I’ll file this one under I believe it when I see it. The rest is up to RIM to prove it’s more than those fading US sales.

Photo of the Blackberry 9380 Curve, courtesy of RIM.

May 2, 2012  1:19 PM

RIM Teeters on the Edge of Oblivion

Ron Miller Ron Miller Profile: Ron Miller

RIM has been preaching to its last loyal followers this week down in Orlando, Florida, and as my colleague Wayne Rash pointed out, Blackberry 10 must succeed or that’s all she wrote for the once popular business smart phone.

RIM is at a make or break point and the company literally is teetering on the edge of oblivion.

RIM is at a make or break point and the company literally is teetering on the edge of oblivion.

As this infographic on the Ness Blog points out, you can trace a direct line to the decline of RIM to the release of the iPhone in 2007. As the infographic illustrated, as 2007 dawned, RIM was hey number one, king of the hill, top of the heap with more than 10 million subscribers, then there was the moment everything changed in June of that year. The iPhone was released and so began the long, slow and steady decline of RIM and its iconic Blackberry phone.

Like many established players RIM didn’t realize it had been disrupted by the newer iPhone — and then one year later by the upstart Android. RIM’s answer was too slow in coming and the Blackberry Storm disappointed loyal Blackberry users and didn’t do anything to attract the growing legions of iPhone and Android phone users.

As market share declined steadily, so did the company’s stock price. Today, RIM is a company on the edge of oblivion. That’s why this week’s announcement was so important. As Rash pointed out, RIM seems to have put a lot of thought into this phone — even if on first glance it looks an awful lot like Microsoft’s Window Phone 7 tiled interface.

And it’s done away with the hard keyboard, the one differentiator that Blackberry fanatics seemed to love the most. But Rash writes that the new keyboard is not your typical touch-screen variety. It has been designed to be as Blackberry-like as possible and to do a better job of auto-correcting than the competition (which wouldn’t take much).

Whatever Blackberry does, it better be dramatic because the numbers just keep getting worse and worse. A year ago I wrote a post called Can RIM Come Back. If you click through, you can see a chart which traces the steady decline of Blackberry market share from February 2010 when RIM still commanded over 40 percent of the smartphone market until last February when it had dropped to 28.9 percent.

And the numbers kept on dropping from that point forward. When comScore came out with its latest US mobile phone market share numbers recently, once again RIM had declined from 16 percent in December, 2011 to 12.3 percent in March of this year, a loss of 3.7 percent. Meanwhile Microsoft, which is supposed to be finally becoming a serious player in this game, declined once again as well, dropping from 4.7 percent to 3.9 percent in that same time period.

As for the winners, Google lead the pack with 51.7 percent (up 3.7 percent for those keeping score at home) and Apple was in second place with 30.7 percent (up 1.1 percent).

Numbers like those are a bit mind-numbing for the competition. Yet Blackberry is faced with a pivotal corporate moment here. This is literally make or break time. And much like Microsoft and Nokia who will live or die together, RIM and Blackberry 10 will do the same.

The one thing Blackberry has in its favor at this point that Microsoft lacks is there is still a core group that loves Blackberry, even if consumers seemed to have fallen out of love with the hand sets. For governments and companies that must have secure phone systems, RIM is still the company they turn to.  In July of last year, I wrote a post called Security Could Be RIM’s Ace in the Hole. And I still believe that.

There is little doubt that at this point RIM is in dire straits, and it’s hard to imagine it picking up the pieces and coming back, but stranger things have happened, and at least they can play the security card, and hope for the best.

Photo by istolethetv on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License.

April 30, 2012  10:46 AM

Microsoft Could Be Trying to Buy Its Way Into Consumer Tablet Market

Ron Miller Ron Miller Profile: Ron Miller

Last week comScore released its Android tablet market share scorecard and Kindle Fire was at the top of the heap, surging in just three months to take more than half of the Android market share.

Microsoft, perhaps fearing that the tablet market is getting away from them, might have bought its way into the consumer market today by buying a share of the Barnes and Noble Nook.

Microsoft, perhaps fearing that the tablet market is getting away from them, might have bought its way into the consumer market today by buying a share of the Barnes and Noble Nook.

And the Android tablet market just got a lot more interesting today, because as you might have heard by now, Microsoft invested a hefty $300 million in Nook today. This is delicious on so many levels it’s so hard to know where to begin.

First of all, in case you didn’t realize, Nook is an Android tablet. That’s right underneath that e-Ink screen beats the heart of a Google Android operating system (even though most users won’t ever know or care). In fact, you can even hack it if you were so inclined. But the fact that it’s running *Google’s* OS and Microsoft just invested $300 million of its money, well it’s hard not to love that.

If that’s not enough to whet your appetite consider that Microsoft had filed a patent infringement lawsuit against Barnes and Noble last year. With the influx of cash, of course, they have kissed and made up and all is forgiven and forgotten. The lawsuit is moot. How convenient — a bushel of cash and you make your legal troubles disappear. B&N executives must be doing a happy dance all over the C-Suite this morning.

Of course with large cash infusions comes the inevitable quid-pro-quo and for B&N they have to develop tools for the upcoming Windows tablets. There is also speculation already that a future version of the Nook Color could be running Windows 8? Who knows?

Last I checked it didn’t cost B&N anything to use Android. It probably would require a complete overhaul of the hardware to make it compatible with Windows 8, but Microsoft probably didn’t invest that kind of money for nothing, and it might want a slice of the market that right now is dominated by Apple, while the minuscule share of Android tablet marketshare is dominated by Amazon’s Kindle Fire.

So Microsoft gets to take on all kinds of enemies for a few hundred million dollars. It take on the hated Apple, the dreaded Google and the latest of enemies, the frightening Amazon content juggernaut and its disgustingly cheap little content-serving device, the Kindle Fire.

For now though, in the tablet market, its Apple’s world and everyone else is just on the outside looking in. In the Android market, however, in just a few months, the Kindle Fire has grabbed an astonishing 54.4 percent of market share for the February 11th figures, up from 29.4 percent on December 11th. The next closest competitor, the Samsung Galaxy Tabs had 23.8 percent on December 11th and slipped to 15.4 percent in the latest numbers from February 11th.

Perhaps that’s why Microsoft felt compelled to use its substantial cash holdings to put its own stake in the game. Windows tablets are going to face a tough market dominated by Apple on one side and increasingly by Kindle Fire in the Android marketplace, Perhaps, by investing in the Nook, Microsoft hopes to rock the boat a bit and gets its own share of the consumer tablet market.

It’s low-risk strategy that at least provides a starting point for an OS that’s going to be 3 years late to market — and it is going to need to do something dramatic to get consumer’s attention.

Note: I sent an email to comScore press relations asking for clarification on the Nook market share numbers — if they were excluded because they didn’t fall within comScore’s definition of the tablet market or because they didn’t register enough market share. I did not receive a response by the time I published this, but I will update the story if I hear back.

Image courtesy of Microsoft Press.

April 27, 2012  7:41 AM

Salesforce hires Kundra and builds social government cloud

Ron Miller Ron Miller Profile: Ron Miller

You have to give credit to those folks at They’re always thinking ahead and their latest moves involve hiring former US CIO Vivek Kundra back in January and endowing him with the title of VP of emerging markets. Seems his first project is one a familar one for Kundra, for governments.

According to a New York Times article, the new site is designed to help governments on all levels — local, state and federal — adopt mobile and social technologies to interact with citizens in a more efficient and cost-effective manner. This is hardly surprising since one of Kundra’s big initiatives as US CIO was to push agencies to adopt cloud computing and to consolidate the many federal government data centers in order to reduce the overall cost of running the Federal IT infrastructure.

Vivek Kundra's first project as a vp at is a social site designed specifically for governments.

Vivek Kundra’s first project as a VP is a new cloud-based site designed to simply citizen interactions with governments

What makes this specifically geared for government, separate from the regular site, is that it’s a dedicated site and it adheres to the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) requirements.

The product is designed to provide ways to let citizens interact more easily with government. This type of open government initiative was also a big part of the Obama administration’s technology plans and the Salesforce approach is to provide tools specifically for this purpose in an app-store style environment they are calling the AppExchange for government.

In addition, as with the regular Salesforce product, there is a partner program called the Salesforce Government Partner Accelerator Program, which according to a company press release, claims will train 1000 integrators by the end of this year to help governments build specific apps on top of the Salesforce government platform.

We’ll see if that’s overly optimistic or not, but the idea is a sound one and backed by someone in Kundra who obviously has a reputation for transforming government operations.

Kundra, who has been critical of the way governments purchases IT assets in the past, said in a statement, this is a way to offer these types of services in much more cost-effective and efficient way.

“The bureaucracy of legacy government IT is preventing agencies from embracing innovative technologies that deliver immediate value,” he said. He added, “We must end the era where government spends millions of dollars and waits years for IT projects that never work.” He believes that projects like this one from his new employer can provide more innovative solutions that help citizens get the services they need more efficiently and cheaply than with traditional IT solutions.

Among the apps that will be offered are Basicgov, a tool for letting government entities manage activities like permitting and inspections, while giving citizens an online portal where they can apply for these kinds of activities.

The tools are scheduled to be up and running by the third quarter this year. And while this is just one possible solution for governments to interact more productively with their constituents, it is a step towards encouraging open and innovative government solutions — and I expect we will see other cloud vendors follow suit.

April 20, 2012  9:55 AM

Greenpeace Gives Apple’s iCloud Data Center Low Grades, But is it Fair?

Ron Miller Ron Miller Profile: Ron Miller

This week Greenpeace came out with a report highly critical of  the energy requirements of Apple’s Maiden, North Carolina data center. The report claimed that Apple was generating most of its energy from a coal-generated plant run by near-by Duke Energy.

Greenpeace released a report this week on the environmental impact of cloud computing, and it gave Apple very poor grades, but it's not clear if it was being entirely fair.

Greenpeace gave Apple poor grades in its report on the environmental impact of cloud computing, but it's not clear if it was being entirely fair.

You can view the report (pdf) yourself along with this video, but one thing is clear, Greenpeace paints an ugly picture of Apple’s energy choices claiming that by seating the North Carolina site in such close proximity to a coal burning plant, it was showing its lack of commitment to clean energy.

Apple’s response, according a story on Wired, was that Greenpeace got its facts wrong and that Apple will draw 60 percent of its power from renewable energy when the plant’s construction is complete.

Quoting the Wired article, “When the Maiden complex is completed, it will have biogas fuel-cell plant and a massive solar array that will collectively generate 12 megawatts of energy, or 60 percent of the data center’s requirements.”

It added that the new data center under construction in Prineville, Oregon will generate 100 percent of its electricity from renewable sources.

Greenpeace was also critical of Apple’s transparency on the matter giving it a letter grade of F on transparency, but when was the last time Apple was transparent about anything it does? And that could be part of the problem.

Since Apple is so closed about how it operates its business, it’s hard to separate truth from fiction in cases like this, but Data Center Knowledge did try to get to the bottom of the numbers, which seem wildly skewed based on Apple’s claims. It appears according to the Data Center Knowledge piece that Greenpeace might have made some incorrect assumptions (although again it’s hard to parse who’s right and wrong here) — but the article is highly critical of Greenpeace’s methodology saying:

“An obvious gap in that logic is that it doesn’t account for Apple’s investment in the solar array and fuel cell technology being built to support the iDataCenter – costs that are atypical for data center construction and not included in comparative metrics,” the article stated.

Greenpeace it turns out used the overall cost of the data center ($1 billion) in its formula to determine Apple’s energy requirements, but it doesn’t appear to have factored in the cost of building those renewable energy sources as part of its figures. If that is indeed the case, Greenpeace is penalizing Apple unfairly.

I will state that I’m definitely not a numbers guy, but as an Apple products user, and someone who has begun using iCloud, I am concerned about how Apple will generate energy at its various data centers — and the overall impact on the environment that is likely to have.

A few years ago I wrote an article for EContent about efforts by publishers to reduce their environmental impact. I went into the article with the assumption that by not printing, it was obviously going to be more environmentally friendly when you don’t have to cut trees, run printing presses, and distribute the print matter; but what I learned was it depended a great deal on the proximity of the data center to its primary energy source. If that data center was run primarily on coal (as Greenpeace claims Apple’s is), then it might not be greener after all.

That’s why it’s so important to get these numbers right. If Apple is burning coal, with its cash stash, it can clearly afford to be greener, but if Greenpeace has its numbers wrong, then it’s doing Apple a great disservice. The trouble is it’s hard to figure out what’s right here.

Photo by zoetnet on Flickr. Used Under Creative Commons License.

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