The cloud bubble is inflating

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 06/21/2012 - 16:09

Someone sent me a link to a new cloud-based service that takes your scanned receipts and stores them all in the cloud. Really? Really? As a long time business owner, I'll cheerfully admit that I do not enjoy keeping track of receipts, but I've never, not even once, thought, "This would all be a lot easier if I stored all these on a server far far away." Because we are reasonably well-organized from a bookkeeping perspective, all the company receipts get filed in one of a handful of file folders. Not even once a month do we need to dig a receipt out. When we do need to find one, it usually takes less than fifteen seconds.

It is starting to feel like deja vu all over again; specifically, it is starting to feel like 1998, when a lot of people were running around promoting some kind of "it's the next great Web idea." By late 2001, virtually all of the 1998 start ups were gone. A bubble is inflated by irrational expectations, and that's what I see happening now. Just because some kind of data or information can be stored in the cloud does not mean it should be. And there are only so many things we can reasonably afford to store in the cloud. Yes, we could scan all our receipts and put them in the cloud. But we'll have to pay for that, monthly, forever. The cost of storing the paper versions is about a buck a year for some new file folders, and a few of inches of space in a bankers storage box for long time storage.

As I have noted before, a lot of people are going to end up losing valuable data when their cloud service goes bankrupt and the servers disappear off the 'net, with no way to get their data back.

The brilliance of the Kindle

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 06/21/2012 - 15:55

I was given a Kindle for Father's Day. I had thought about getting one for a while, but have become risk averse when it comes to new gadgets. There is always some new gadget that is supposed to save me time and money, and they almost never do. And I read a lot on airplanes, and they don't make you turn off your old-fashioned paper book during take off and landing. But I had a three day business trip just after the weekend, so I took the Kindle along.

I was hooked almost instantly.

Just as the iPad disrupted the market for PCs (PC sales have been declining since the iPad was released), and just as the iPod disrupted the music market, the Kindle has begun to disrupt the publishing market. Amazon has made it very easy for authors to self-publish ebooks via the Kindle, and the winners are readers, and the losers are the traditional publishing houses.

Paper books still have some useful qualities, but I can't think of a single reason to ever buy another paperback book. I hardly ever re-read paperbacks. Apple's approach to ebooks is entirely different, with that company focusing on the ability of the iPad to display and integrate text, video, audio, and images. I still don't have an iPad, because for business, the iPad still can't replace my laptop when traveling. But my Kindle will be with me on every trip. It is a marvelously-designed device.

Why wireless can't replace fiber

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 06/13/2012 - 10:34

As part of Verizon's restructuring of its cellular service to allow for shared data plans, the company is going to offer free texting, but overall, your monthly cellular bill could be higher. Verizon is getting rid of unlimited data plans and replacing them with "pay by the drink" plans that will meter bandwidth use. As little as a couple of hours of video streaming (think one Netflix movie) would push bandwidth right through the 6 gigabyte monthly package, leading to sharply higher charges for that month.

It's really a question of physics. It is much cheaper to deliver bandwidth over fiber, and always will be. As I have been saying for a long long time, wireless is important for mobile access, but we all need fiber at home and at work. Nothing is going to change that.

Verizon rolls out shared data plans

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 06/12/2012 - 12:32

In what will surely cause an uptick in the sale of smartphones, Verizon has rolled out a shared data plan. This will be popular with families with teenagers who have been clamoring for a smartphone, as the parents (known to the kids as "the wallet") may be willing to pay the $10/phone base fee rather than the old $25 or $30 per phone data charge. AT&T is expected to roll out a similar plan.

New iPhone users leaving Androids, Blackberries

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 06/08/2012 - 08:10

A new study says that a whopping 38% of new iPhone buyers were former Android and Blackberry users, suggesting that Apple's combination of good hardware and excellent software integration continues to set a high bar for competitors.

South Carolina to businesses: Stay away--we have lousy broadband and high prices

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 06/08/2012 - 07:37

Following the success of getting legislators to outlaw competitive broadband in North Carolina, incumbents are busy trying to outlaw competition in South Carolina. That legislators would agree to support legislation that so obviously anti-business, anti-growth, and anti-jobs is baffling. Surely it is not that hard to raise campaign funds that legislators would vote against jobs and economic development. Stop the Cap! has the whole story.

Death of TV: Part XXXV: The collapse of the TV business

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 06/05/2012 - 12:52

Here is an interesting article that highlights what Apple might have planned for the Apple TV. Anyone that thinks the cable TV companies are going to automagically solve our broadband problems should read this.

Is Apple about to upset the camera market?

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 06/01/2012 - 07:44

MacRumors reports a rumor (heh) that Apple might be working on a break-through new digital camera that would be based on the camera software and technology in the iPhone. Speculation is that the supposed Apple camera would have an entirely different form factor than the typical digital cameras, all of which are designed around the legacy form factor of the analog film SLR.

I have an iPhone 4S, and I can attest that the camera software takes astoundingly good pictures--better than my $150 point and shoot digital camera. And it is much easier to use.

Don't take your laptop overseas

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 06/01/2012 - 07:28

The FBI says that you might want to leave your laptop home when traveling overseas. The latest scam is from criminals who set up bogus WiFi networks that look just like the real hotel network. When you fire up your laptop, you get what looks like the real hotel login page, but it is a fake one that immediately loads zombie malware onto your computer. Another trick they use is to have a fake "software update needed" window pop up. Everyone is now so used to getting these automatic software update notices that criminals are taking advantage of the fact that everyone automatically clicks "OK" for these upgrades. The same thing happens: instead of an upgrade, your laptop gets loaded with malware that starts capturing credit card numbers and login information.

Be careful out there.

Virginia wants data centers

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 05/31/2012 - 09:05

The Virginia state legislature has passed bills providing new incentives to locate data centers in Virginia. The rapid adoption of Software as a Service (SaaS) and cloud-based data and services is creating demand for places to put all the data. And with data centers, there are jobs:


“With his signature on this legislation, Governor McDonnell has further positioned Loudoun County as a world class location for the data center industry’s leading operators,” Loudoun County Chamber President & CEO Tony Howard said. “The Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce fought hard for this legislation because it will provide our County a powerful new competitive advantage that can be used to generate significant new commercial investments and create many new high-paying jobs that will be needed to build, service and operate these high tech data centers.

Bandwidth caps change behavior, discourage use

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 05/15/2012 - 09:44

Georgia Tech and Microsoft have released a study that confirms what most of us already knew: bandwidth caps discourage people from using broadband productively. Bandwidth caps are great for inflating the profit margins of the incumbents when someone runs over their limit and starts incurring more charges, but if you want your business community and your work from home business start ups to be as productive as possible, saddling them with outdated 20th century infrastructure that limits what they can do is not the way to go.

Design Nine helps our clients build modern broadband networks that can deliver as much bandwidth as any business or home-based worker might need--affordably. It's not that hard, but it does require the right business model, the right long term financial plan, and a network architecture that can deliver Gigabit bandwidth affordably without crippling economic development.

PeekYou tries to aggregate even more "private" public information

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 05/14/2012 - 14:54

Peek You is an information aggregator service that tries to pull together as much publicly available information as possible about someone and package it up neatly. Many of the items it will list take you directly to other sites that provide even more information. The service tries to list all of the available social media connections as well (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, etc.). The service also calculates a PeekScore, which is some kind of weighted value between 1 and 10 that is supposed to indicate how important you are in the online universe. I suspect most of us are going to end up on the low end of the scale. If you want to be nosy, this is a great service. I would expect that advertising and/or fees will eventually be used to support the cost of providing.

No one can afford to have every service as a subscription

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 05/14/2012 - 08:23

Adobe has announced Muse, "...a program for creating web pages without hand coding." Great. Except it costs $14.99 a month, or buy the CreativeCloud package for $49.99 a month. We're in the midst of a bubble where lots of companies think they are going to make lots of money by selling software as a service. But this bubble, like all bubbles, is unsustainable. No company or individual can afford to be paying what quickly adds up to hundreds of dollars a month for "cloud" services. It just does not scale. And expect many many disasters when most of these companies go out of business and a) you find that your data was stored in a proprietary format that cannot be easily moved to some other software, or b) all your data is just plain gone when the company goes belly up.

The cloud is extraordinarily useful for many kinds of applications, but there are two big assumptions: the network will always be there to access your data, and the company will always be there so you can access your data. As for the former, if some rogue state detonates an EMP device over the U.S. that takes out most networks and data centers, what do you do? If a major solar storm/EMP takes out most networks and data centers, what do you do? If you cloud company goes out of business, what do you do?

Backups, backups, and backups. Some of those backups need to be under your direct control. If all your backups are in the cloud and you can't access the cloud, what do you do?

We're building a house of cards here, and placing entirely too much trust in cloud-based services.

Round up of the Broadband Communities Summit 2012

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 05/10/2012 - 11:07

If you were not able to attend the 2012 Broadband Communities Summit in Dallas a couple of weeks ago, you missed a great conference. With an increased focus on both community broadband and open access networks, there were a lot of really good, solid session, especially the five sessions on open access, which I helped to organize.

Here are some of the key ideas, concepts, and take-aways that I noted from the conference:

There was much much more, but those are some of the highlights. Start planning now to attend next year's conference.

Broadband and the walkable city

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 04/30/2012 - 10:56

This short article on the weak housing market has big implications for "big broadband," which few of us have right now. A major economist is predicting that the housing market may not recover for years, but coupled with high gas prices, walkable communities will be in high demand.

This has significant implications for city and community planners, but it is extremely difficult to ensure that everyone, or even a majority of workers, can walk to work. A better option would be to get "big broadband" to most homes so that more workers can work from home. Even the ability to work productively from home one or two days a week could cut the cost of commuting by 20% to 40%...nothing to sneeze at when gas is $4 a gallon.

Design Nine is part of Virginia's Blue Ridge

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 04/19/2012 - 13:22

Design Nine, located in Blacksburg, is part of Virginia's Blue Ridge. The Roanoke Valley Convention and Visitor's Bureau announced a new branding for our region: Virginia's Blue Ridge. We like it....it fits, and the region needs a recognizable brand. We're proud to live and work here...in Virginia's Blue Ridge.

Walmart joins the cloud

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 04/17/2012 - 13:30

Walmart has announced a partnership with Vudu. You can take your DVDs and Blu-ray movie discs to Walmart, and pay $2 to have them "converted" and stored in the cloud. If you want an HD (Blu-ray) version, you pay $5. Walmart does not actually read your discs; instead, they verify that you actually have a physical copy, then just enable that movie for your account from a previously stored digital master. Walmart also apparently stamps your physical disk with some mark so that you can just give it to a friend who takes it in a week later. The Walmart/Vudu site has remarkably little information; you have to create a Vudu account to figure out how it works and what the restrictions are.

Of course, if you want to stream your HD movies from the cloud, you better have good broadband at your house.

North Carolina called a "tech turkey"

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 04/09/2012 - 09:47

The Institute for Self Reliance has put out an interesting infographic highlighting the mis-match in North Carolina between the City of Salisbury's tiny fiber network and TimeWarner. State legislators passed a bill last year that essentially outlaws any community investments in fiber on the theory that TimeWarner needs to be protected against the supposed unfair advantage of local governments. My guess is that all the North Carolina legislators accomplished is to send entrepreneurs contemplating relocation to another state.

Rotary trencher ideal for residential fiber drop installation

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 04/09/2012 - 09:41

We have not seen this rotary trenching machine in action, but this short video illustrates that you don't have to spend a lot of time and money installing fiber drops--this machine looks like it is ideally suited for "last mile" (first mile) residential fiber installation. This pull-along machine is lightweight, can be carried in a van or pickup, is narrow enough to go through typical fence gates, and cuts a 7" deep slot for a fiber drop cable.

It's not triple play, it's "century play"

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 04/05/2012 - 07:11

In Sweden, home security offerings have been an important service on their open access networks, and start up companies have very successfully taken business away from the "big" security companies, which were slow to adapt using an IP network rather than phone lines. The network owner (e.g. the community broadband network owner) may only get a couple of bucks a month from provisioning a circuit for a home security customer, but add that to other supplemental $1-2 per month services like meter reading and you can quickly see 50% to 100% increases over the average revenue per user (ARPU) compared to triple play.

I'm still looking for the right term to replace triple play. It's definitely not quadruple play...it is more like "century play"....open access networks are rapidly evolving towards a model not unlike the Apple and Android app stores, where you will be able to buy services from hundreds of providers. We won't all buying 100+ services, but we will have hundreds of choices. Five years from now, most open access networks will probably have at least twenty or thirty providers offering various kinds of computer and data backup services because it is so cheap and easy to offer that kind of service on an open access, high performance network.

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