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Last year, statistics rolled in from numerous sources that all revealed the same basic fact: cloud computing has changed the technological landscape. The technological method, partially because of its catchy title, is viewed by many as a trend. However, its growth has become so explosive that the field is now beyond the bounds of trendiness. It’s really become a computing revolution. Ellen Messmer of Network World remarked that trust was still an issue for some companies that were concerned about privacy and security, but that companies from all economic sectors were “starting to give it a try.” How the cloud is used by businesses According to Gartner, use of the environment by businesses in 2013 was across a broad spectrum. Almost half of it – 48% – fell into the general category of advertising platforms. The other top-three most common uses in the business world were for BPaaS (business process as a service, a form of business process outsourcing) – 28% – and SaaS (software as a service) – 15%. Less popular forms of the technology included IaaS (infrastructure as a service) – 5%; automation, security, or management – 3%; and PaaS (platform as a service) or application development – 1%. The solution is typically discussed in terms of software, platforms, and infrastructure. Obviously each of those are listed above. However, it is used extensively for marketing purposes that lie outside the structure of the IT department. Once that aspect is set aside and the approach is examined specifically within an IT framework, BPaaS stands out. The infrastructural environment’s use for both business processes and software indicate, says David Linthicum of InfoWorld, that its success is expressed more in terms of “tangible activities for business users” than by the more overarching, systemic offerings provided by infrastructural or platform services. Growth of the cloud In 2013, GigaOM Research and North Bridge Venture Partners conducted a study in collaboration with almost 5 dozen businesses. Their survey gathered information from hosting providers and business executives to determine the technology’s growth rate and the factors promoting and preventing its adoption. The survey found that between 2012 and 2013, the percentage of businesses using the method in some form rose 8%, reaching a total of 75% adoption. These figures align with projections established by GigaOM that show the solution’s global market expanding to $159 billion this year, the result of 127% growth from its 2011 level. Major factors leading businesses to the approach include scalability and reliability. However, the most popular factor for adoption of the environment is expense: 7 out of 10 GigaOM/North Bridge survey respondents, including the pools of IT and general business executives, believe that a transition to the IT system would provide an equivalent or improved total cost of ownership (TCO). Government benefiting from cloud just as business world is Just as industry is benefiting from the model, so is the public sector, according to a couple of case studies reported in StateTech Magazine:
- Somerset County in Maine increased energy efficiency with the new strategy, cutting its IT costs by 40%.
- The Southeast Library System, which provides computing services to over 7 dozen libraries in Minnesota, reduced its expenses over $20,000 by transitioning to an email platform based on the approach.
- InformationWeek predicts that the total services provided through the method will represent a worldwide market of $180B by 2016;
- Business Insider revealed in 2012 that even at that point, 4 out of 5 state and local governmental CIOs were using some form of services reliant on the technology for their organizations;
Much of what’s covered in our blog has to do with cloud hosting and the culture developing around it. We’ve explored the effect the strategy has had on medical research. We’ve also looked at how the IT approach is used in education. The Internet of Things, also known as Web 3.0, is a subject we’ve assessed in numerous articles as well. Since mobile apps are standardly stored and accessed through the cloud – both for cost and the functionality allowed by the its speed – we’ll highlight some of those programs too. Software running on our handheld devices isn’t just changing the way we approach our lives. In some cases, they’re making us healthier. Just as cloud-based medical research makes an impact on health by leading the way to cures for diseases, fitness applications help people structure their workouts and monitor their physical development. We hope this list comes just at the right time since it’s now a couple months past January 1st. Many people make New Year’s Resolutions – fully half of Americans, for example – but most of us are unsuccessful at keeping them. In fact, according to psychologist Richard Wiseman, only 1 in 10 of us succeeds long-term. Since “getting in shape” is one of the most common resolutions, these apps can get those back on track who are backsliding after starting 2014 with a fitness commitment. Below are a total of 20 applications, 10 for Android and 10 for iPhone, that can help you with your fitness goals. Top 10 fitness apps for Android The website Heavy covered the top 10 fitness programs for Android in 2013. They are as follows:
- Runtastic Pedometer – Doctors recommend that each of us take at least 10,000 steps every single day, and many of us don’t always hit that limit. That’s the basic idea behind this pedometer environment. Keep in mind, it’ll only work if you have the phone on you at all times: that’s the only way it can track your steps.
- Calories Counter – MyFitnessPal – There are various calorie-counting systems out there, but this one is especially complex and uses our natural social needs for motivation. Calories Counter integrates with the My Fitness Pal website and its community message boards.
- Endomondo Sports Tracker PRO – This tool gets really great ratings for exercises related to logging distance – biking, running, etc.. You have access to various stats and diagrams, such as your heart rate and how fast you’re going.
- Lose It! – Obviously you want to both be concerned about the calories that are coming in and the extent to which you’re burning them. Lose It serves as a general fitness aid by focusing on diet and exercise. You can also participate in challenges with other users.
- Instant Heart Rate – Azumio – This application makes it simple to know your heart rate at any time. Just put your finger on the camera of your mobile device for 10 seconds, and it’ll be able to let you know your pulse.
- Nike+ Running – This app gives you all your running details, such as your speed and how far you’ve gone on an established route. You can even set it up to feed pep talks from friends through the system as you run.
- RunKeeper – GPS Track Run Walk – Utilize GPS to gauge your progress in real time. Drawing on your speed and distance data, it then ties to caloric output, letting you know if your workouts are adequately accounting for any heavy meals.
- MapMyRun GPS – This tool helps you generally organize and monitor your physical activity. Its sophisticated searchability makes it especially helpful: you can search workouts by type of activity, mileage, and other variables.
- Zombies, Run! – This choice is nothing like the other options. It’s more like a video game. As you exercise, a plot develops. If a zombie is after you, you are urged to run faster. You can also collect items to help you survive down the road.
- WebMD for Android – There’s nothing like visiting a doctor, but if you want a quick sense of what might be ailing you, this program has a Symptom Checker, organized by body part or system.
- Zombies, Run! – This solution is also available for iPhone, and due to its creativity, it’s easy to see why it would be selected for both lists. Plus, novelist Naomi Alderman helped develop its storyline.
- Couch-to-5K App – Well, this selection is a little biased. The creator is Active.com, so it’s understandable that it’d make their “best of” list. However, Couch-to-5K is legitimately interesting due to its laser-focus, working toward a 5K race.
- Obstacles XRT – Extreme Reality Training – This entry offers a highly outside-the-box environment, reminiscent of the zombies app. Break free from quicksand, make it beyond fences, and get to your destination.
- Kettlebell Training: The Basics – Robert Budd, an expert at the kettlebells, takes users step-by-step through a series of almost 2 dozen exercises.
- See Me Get Fit – Make use of an interesting, almost too-obvious approach to motivate you: selfies. You can watch yourself get in shape over time.
- BMI Calculator – Not everyone agrees this tool’s calculations should be trusted, but it’s worth a try. It gives you your body mass index (BMI) so can have a sense of how much fat you have in relation to total weight.
- Calorie Counter & Diet Tracker – Crash dieting can be a huge and dangerous mistake. However, if you want to get rid of some extra pounds quickly, this app can help you with its massive dietary database and almost 400 exercises.
- P90X – This choice really excels in the area of interactivity, both with other users and with a complex virtual environment. Interactivity can in turn be great for goal-setting and continually raising the bar.
- Pocket Yoga – Convenience is critical to keep your fitness level improving. Pocket Yoga helps you keep your practice going even when you’re travelling.
- Abs Workout – Like the 5K program, this one is all about specificity. Over the course of 4 weeks, you strengthen and tone your abs. It is straightforward, directing you down a narrow, disciplined path.
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it at least two or three times: computers involve too much manual labor. All this clicking of buttons and pushing the mouse around and plugging in physical objects with physical cords, it’s just absolutely exhausting. In fact, my doctor says it’s why I have chronic left-hand pointer-finger fatigue. I am elated to see the new developments on the horizon that could be the cure for my dysfunctional dexterity disorder (DDD): Web 3.0. We’ve covered some of the same ground here in previous posts, but it is fascinating territory, and it doesn’t hurt to further prepare ourselves for this overhaul of the relationship between the physical and the virtual. How Web 3.0 will change the world Some folks wonder when this environment is going to arrive, like a ragtag Internet commission (possibly composed of Al Gore, Tila Tequila, Stephen Hawking, and Hulk Hugan) is going to make an announcement one day that it’s here. The fact is, the third phase of the web is actually a grand transition that is connecting the physical and virtual worlds “at the hip” (the physical and virtual hips, both of which are wildly attractive). As Thoughts on Cloud suggests, it would be nice to be able to find a car key through a mobile app based in the cloud. Really, it would be nice to be able to find everything we own by clicking a button on our cell phones (regardless of the threat it poses for DDD sufferers). Our refrigerators could sense what items are running low and let us know what we need to get at the grocery store, in real-time, as we walk down the aisles. Our cars could let us know through the cloud when oil changes or tuneups are needed. All those scenarios are possible in the Internet of Things (IoT) – also known as Web 3.0. Smart phones are light-years smarter than their predecessors, and they are getting more intelligent all the time. The two primary reasons that’s the case are faster processing speeds and greater interconnection. Regarding faster processing speeds, nothing is capable of the fast and reliable performance that cloud computing offers. In fact, medical researchers have realized that the IT strategy outpaces the supercomputers that used to be the standard for handling massive scientific research data sets. Regarding greater interconnection, the fact that we’re racing toward a self-driving car – and that, in fact, one is already available on the market – should tell us how dedicated businesses are to apply new technologies to the world around us. The Internet of Things is a major, major development not just for our business and personal lives but in the unfolding history of humankind. We are building machines that replicate the real, tangible universe. It’s a mechanization, in a way, of the sixth sense. Telekinesis? You may not be able to move that object with your mind, but this device can with its artificial mind. Psychic perception? You may not be able to know immediately what’s going on across the world, but this computer can with its access to more locations, objects, and living things all the time – with high-powered algorithms and databases to understand them. We may well be able to put just about anything online. That which is not identified on the Internet could start to seem, over time, like artifacts of a quaint past. The digital world and the physical world will start to share the same space. Conceptually and philosophically, this technological transition is mind-boggling. The ramifications for security are massive – think what a hacker could do to a car traveling full-speed on the interstate. Privacy is also a major and compelling concern. But the momentum of the Internet of Things is unstoppable, revolutionizing the world in amazing ways. It’s an exciting time to be alive. Web 3.0: history & benefits As occurs when any new and game-changing technology that alters our way of life hits the market, we basically have three options, all of which are completely reasonable:
- run for the hills (or the mountains, if you live in the hills);
- stick your head in the sand (or in the dirt, if you can dig a big enough hole);
- get excited about the possibilities and see what it has to offer.
- watches and clocks that change in real-time to recognize adjustments in daylight savings time or time zone;
- HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning) systems that respond to changes in the local weather; and
- recovery of stolen computers and cell phones by continued communication between the cloud and the device.
Ovum, gamification is defined as “the use of game-thinking and game mechanics in non-game contexts.” It may be a buzzword, but it is also becoming a major trend throughout a wide variety of sectors. Like many tech concepts, this strategy is surrounded by some degree of confusion. Two notable places in which it has been linked to game theory are on Dell’s Tech Page One and on GreenBiz. Barry Hughes of Game Theory Strategies says that is a misunderstanding – game theory is an economic model, and it is not the source behind the IT movement. It appears that the word “theory” was added somewhere along the way to couch the trend in scientific authority, when really all the approach involves is making computer applications more game-like. Despite difficulty understanding exactly what this idea is and what terms make sense, using the cloud to gamify has become increasingly popular, per Dell. In 2011, Gartner roughly predicted that “over 70 percent” of organizations in the Forbes Global 2000 would have an application utilizing this model in place by 2014. Similarly, M2 Research has estimated that by 2018, the general industry will reach $5.5 billion. Keep in mind, this concept is still unsure ground. It was at its peak last year in Gartner’s Hype Cycle, which suggested it would plateau as a field – allowing easier implementation for businesses – in 5 to 10 years. Well, that’s fine to wait 5 or 10 years for those of us who don’t want to be ahead of the curve, but clearly there seems to be an opportunity for competitive advantage now. Gamification as a challenge & role of the cloud Games seek to engage the competitive and strategic side of consumers and employees – and the side that appreciates immediate goals and strong visuals – to improve morale, increase productivity, and drive sales.The principles of this model are simple, but turning something that’s not a game into something that feels and reacts like one is complex: it uses motivational tactics that can feel offputting if not framed correctly. The reason cloud hosting is so integrated with this strategy is that it enables the performance and reliability necessary to process the data at a user-friendly pace. Using distributed virtualization for gamified applications allows businesses a cost-effective way to achieve their core business interests. 3 gamification tips Speaking of business interests, it’s wise to look at that factor alongside other top considerations that can determine the success of the approach for any business, as outlined by Ovum’s Holtby:
- It must have an obvious and defined business benefit – Sure, it’s great to engage customers, increase productivity, and manage employee interaction within a user-friendly and interactive system. However, the benefit to your business must be obviously and clearly described, so that management is onboard. Create a strategic plan, spelling out the general business objectives.
- Think outside the PBL – Points, badges, and leader boards, a.k.a. PBL’s, represent typical scoring mechanisms of this concept’s environments (measurable parameters to drive competition and overall effectiveness). However, don’t mistake the forest for the trees: PBL’s are not what it’s all about. Like any user content, PBL’s are optimized “only when used correctly and tied to a more intrinsically meaningful value system.” In order to determine what those bigger-picture values are, you need to think about what desires drive people. Status? Praise? Achievement? User desires should be met by the environment.
- Utilize the big data generated by the application – Clearly engagement can be improved with games: plenty of case studies prove that, and it also seems to make objective sense because they tend to be fun. They also give us large pools of data (on such parameters as reputation and skill) about individuals internal and external to our companies.
- Target – We all have heard the bad news from the Target checkout line, but the good news is that Target has come up with an innovative technique for its cashiers. The time a given cashier takes to scan each item is measured against a set standard. If the standard is met, the cashier appears in green; if not, they appear in red. Frankly, this solution sounds like it could be both motivating and irritating (what if you are “red” because you stopped to answer a customer question, for instance?). It illustrates the fine line that must be walked in this arena. However, the results are in: Target’s system is a win.
- Omnicare – This organization creates software for pharmacy administration, essentially serving as a third-party helpdesk. Omnicare felt its employees were great in the area of expertise but that the average interaction was too long. To create a more efficient workplace, Omnicare put a leaderboard in place and started giving monetary prizes to the speediest reps. Again, it’s easy to see here how quality of service can take a hit with this model, a lesson to ensure you don’t prioritize speed at all costs. In fact, Omnicare’s model had to be modified because it was a disaster. The revised model used “non-cash incentives” and provided more open-ended goals, such as helping 3 customers on a particular day with billing-related issues.
Could the cloud save lives? It sounds like a question only a web hosting company would ask. However, the computing model – due to its improved performance, redundancy, and affordability – has made it more possible for medical and scientific researchers to analyze huge quantities of data in the search for better treatments. 2010-2013: free hosting for science Microsoft saw the opportunity early and teamed with the National Science Foundation, allowing NSF-backed projects using the IT strategy to hit the ground running. In 2010, the tech giant offered free distributed virtual servers to the NSF for three years. Jeannette Wing, on the IT staff at the NSF, said at the time that the researchers working with NSF were “drowning in data.” Using the approach was a way to get beyond the issue of infrastructure by using a model designed for effiency, accessibiity, and power. Drawing people to the solution has been an ongoing effort for Microsoft, which has funneled $15 billion into its massive infrastructure. The obvious downside to this partnership between Microsoft and the NSF was that its own proprietary software was used by the scientists to develop the tools and process the data, making it difficult to transition to the more affordable solution when the free service concluded last year. Nonetheless, researchers were made more aware of how the system could be used to expedite sophisticated research. The cloud & implications for medicine The Association of American Medical Colleges reported in 2013 on the “promise” of this strategy for medical research. The AAMC underscored that because of the way the solution is structured, it is typically billed on-demand – so medical researchers and others are able to cut their costs by only paying for the resources they need at any given time. Direct costs are not the only way that the approach has proven economical and user-friendly for universities and research centers. It has also allowed them not to have to expand their internal IT departments or their own data centers to keep pace with the big data that today’s technology makes possible. Jeffrey C. Fox, PhD, a dean in the computer science school at Indiana University, notes that research is an excellent match for this form of computing. He particularly believes that the aspect of elasticity is compelling, offering the capability of “1000 computers to analyze your data” if needed, as needed. He also notes that because the model does not run into limitations as occurs with a particular device, processing time is typically better than when using a supercomputer (the standard big-data tool in the past). For instance, Dr. Atul Butte, a professor of pediatric medicine at Stanford University, studies genomes in his research. For years the lab he directs had been operating solely through its own data center, but it has just started its transition to the virtualized platform. The first foray into the system was for a graduate student project. The complexity of the data the student was analyzing would have made the research cost-prohibitive if not for the strategy. As Butte explains, the model enabled the student to “[p]rovision the computer, get it running, and get the project done.” Other cloud research for children’s medicine Dr. Michael Cunningham’s story was covered by NPR in 2012. He has taken advantage of the IT approach as well in his research at the Seattle Children’s Hospital. His particular interest is craniosynostosis, a condition in which the skull fuses together too early in life – resulting in a misshapen head, severe internal pressure and pain, and possibly brain damage. Cunningham and others in his field have believed that craniosynostosis was probably caused by defects in bone cell communication. Using a distributed virtual system, though, he was able to propel the medical understanding forward by analyzing extraordinarily large pools of data. Cunningham and his team were able to match patients based on how closely their cells resemble each other visually. That finding seems to suggest a reasonable path forward toward an underlying cause. In turn, treatments can become more sophisticated, and an outright cure can be sought. Similarly, pharmaceutical companies are running widescale analyses of possible drug components to determine their potential for medications. One such organization (unnamed in the piece) analyzed 21 million compounds using one application. It took under four hours and cost less than $20,000. If the company had performed that study internally, it could have taken months and cost them hundreds of thousands. Speed and cost are part of what makes this form of computing attractive to researchers, but there is another crucial argument for it as well: collaboration. Because access is simple and because speed is optimized worldwide, a group of scientists can experience real-time teamwork through this model. Additionally, according to Dr. Stephen Friend of Sage Bionetworks, the strategy makes it possible for various companies to work in tandem. Friend notes that drug firms “love the de-risking that occurs” when they each agree to submit portions of numbers to a central, virtualized database. James Staten of Forrester Research mentions Patchwork Diagnostics as an example of a company utilizing the approach to advance medicine. The company has large amounts of data about various cancer tissues stored for broad access, which makes it easier to properly diagnose. The cancer database takes a number of hours to generate a result, but it allows the doctor a mathematical degree of confidence that the tissue is associated with a certain diagnosis. The cloud, research & the planet Along the lines of collaboration, and similar to the project between the NSF and Microsoft, Amazon Web Services partnered with NASA last year to make geoscience data accessible within a distributed virtual environment. The system comprises datasets of worldwide weather figures and software to compute and analyze it, allowing amateur or professional researchers anywhere to work with the data and test hypotheses. Scientific and medical research is benefiting enormously from the rise of cloud computing. The Association of American Medical Colleges has promoted the IT strategy as cost-effective and user-friendly. In medicine, it is allowing us to get closer to disease cures, perform rapid-fire analysis of potential pharmaceutical components, and improve diagnostic testing.
As cloud computing grows, much of the focus has been centered on how it allows more sophisticated interaction between businesses and clients, along with more efficient internal productivity. The IT approach goes well beyond business productivity and application complexity, though. The system could potentially save lives: it allows medical researchers to process huge amounts of data affordably and quickly, as we covered in a previous piece. It also is changing the way in which we teach and learn. Savings & broad benefits for education and other sectors Last year, education technology site THE Journal conducted surveys of schools, as well as various other types of organizations, to gauge the growth of cloud computing. Its finding suggest that the strategy doesn’t just play a strong role in academia: it actually is more impactful in some ways than it is for the average economic sector. The publication reported that the technology would reach 25% of IT budgets for K-12 schools by this year and would make up more than a third of budgets by 2017. A CDW Government study revealed that the top use for the solution in K-12 environments is rather simple: storage, which represented 40% of use. Two other types of applications were close behind storage, though: collaborative and conferencing tools, at 36%, and office workflow applications, at 33%. The breakdown of the model’s adoption in childhood education is similar to that seen elsewhere in the for-profit, government, and nonprofit spheres: storage and conference/collaboration are generally the most widely used applications, as a 2013 report from CDN clarifies. Additional popular reasons it is used across all types of organizations include its raw processing power, along with operational and messaging tools. Those organizations that have deployed distributed virtualization solutions – among all organizations, not just education – had reduced their costs on applicable services by 13% in 2013, with that number expected to reach 17% this year and 25% in 2017. Education savings are actually better than the average at 20% projected for 2014, 27% projected for 2017. Benefits of the cloud for all fields are understood through analysis of the study’s survey responses, as indicated below. Note that the percentages exceed 100% because respondents were asked to check “all that apply”:
- Efficiency/productivity – 55%
- Mobile access for staff – 49%
- Creativity/innovation – 32%
- Reduced strain on tech department – 31%
- Research/development/deployment of new offerings – 24%.
- Real-time backup – The approach allows for real-time saving of materials so nothing is lost if a tool on an individual teacher’s device fails. Regardless of any problems that arise on one computer, documents are still intact and can be accessed from another device.
- Storage – Teachers and students are able to store any types of files within the cloud. Due to the strategy’s elasticity and affordability, large files do not pose problems.
- Access – Teachers and students can access files from anywhere – in the classroom, at home, or through mobile devices.
- Collaboration – The model makes it easy for teachers to work together on projects and for students to work on group assignments. Anyone with access can revise documents, with the new version reflected simultaneously. This aspect allows for ideas to be enhanced by teamwork and for lesson plans to be built synergistically.
- Paper and time reduction – As the IT system makes it easier to conduct tasks through the Internet, teachers no longer need to expend time and budget on printing and copying. Students can view and sometimes complete homework online, and they can access reading materials and other educational resources as well.
- Homework – Specifically with regards to homework, teachers can detail projects and assignments using virtualized tools. Students can access task pages from anywhere and post their work in response. The work is easily saved and can be graded by the teacher thereafter. Assignments don’t need to be collected in class, saving time and making flu bugs less likely to spread.
- Improved communication – Lynch notes that a portal such as Edline allows everyone involved in an academic setting access to classroom materials. Parents can check their children’s assignments and grades from any location, at any time. Teachers can make announcements to everyone involved in the class. It also allows all parties easy, organized, and reliable access to past and future assignments. If desired, forums can be created to enable direct interaction between parents, teachers, and/or students.
- Disaster preparedness – One crucial component of any IT infrastructure is disaster planning. Schools amass data about students that helps determine paths forward for all involved. If the records of the school are compromised by any type of disaster, whether they are stored on file cabinets or on hard drives, all that student data could be lost. By virtualizing all that information, the school knows it will always be available within a system structured to allow many redundancies.
- Centralization & ease – As indicated briefly above, one of the strongest attributes of this strategy is its ability to integrate various programs and sets of data. The approach doesn’t require an investment in hardware, and billing is based on use, making it a cost-effective and simple solution to deploy.
- Recovery – With this model, crashes and loss of data are quickly becoming a thing of the past. The system operates smoothly despite any failures of specific hardware or software components. If data is lost at one location, getting a backup copy is fast and simple.