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Internet2 Series, Part 3: SDN

Posted By David Marble, Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Updated: Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Several of our discussions turned to the significant progress that has been made in the area of Software Defined Networks (SDN) over the last couple years.  I was in a session which demonstrated an OpenFlow controller that was used to call up a wavelength on-demand, and move a VM to a new server in a different location without disruption to any traffic.  The project was completed by students and faculty at Marist College, in cooperation with the optical vendor Adva.  The results of the project, which are very impressive, indicate a shift in the technology that moves it out of its "science project stage”.  I believe we still have a way to go before it becomes truly useful in multi-vendor and multi-provider environments, but you have to go through this stage to get there.  I foresee that some of the barriers to widespread use will not be technical at all, but rather, will revolve around policy and the interaction of departments, divisions, institutions, and enterprises.  By definition, SDN is a control plane, and it’s not clear to me where, or with whom, that control will lie in many use cases.

Tags:  broadband rhode island  Internet2  OpenFlow controller  OSHEAN  sdn  software defined networks 

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Internet2 Series, Part 2: Data Preservation

Posted By David Marble, Thursday, April 24, 2014
Updated: Thursday, April 24, 2014

I was intrigued by a “Future of the University” discussion, which postured that the University now has three fundamental responsibilities: education, research, and—surprisingly—data preservation. The discussion centered around the fact that as we move further and further to the Internet of Things and all things digital we may now be entering an era where universities become required by moral obligation to be the preservationists of a vast portion of the world’s digital knowledge base.  The quote was, “If not us, then who?”  Because I had also been attending sessions on Big Data, and I2’s Innovation Platform, it was easy to see how apt this was.  Universities and the R&E community have embarked on a historic construction of an infrastructure that will be the ground floor of one incredible knowledge center.  It is not the amount of data that intrigues me most, it’s the complexities involved in preserving that data for generations to come.  We have all seen computer languages come and go.  For this task of preservation we need languages that will live on forever to enable, for example, the search engine of the future to comb databases of the past.

The keynote for this session was Dr. Shirley Jackson, President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI).  To say that she was impressive is an understatement.  Dr. Jackson is a theoretical physicist and former Chair of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and serves on the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.  Her grasp on the deepest technical aspects of a wide swath of science was impressive on its own, but her ability to connect it to the human condition was something else entirely.  She described a project at RPI to make Lake George in NY the “smartest” lake in the world. To achieve this, scientists have created a massive sensor overlay to analyze in real time an enormous range of conditions.  The breadth of knowledge gained from this one project cannot be underestimated.

One of the other themes of this talk was the concept of breaking down the walls between research disciplines.  What we are finding out more and more are the interdependencies and links between branches of science heretofore unknown. This is classically revealed in biotechnology, where computer science and biology are becoming increasingly connected, but this concept extends all over.  One of the barriers recognized is the need for better communications as we tend to have our own way of relating to each other within the walls of a given research discipline.

Tags:  broadband rhode island  future of the university  internet of things  internet2  lake george  oshean 

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Internet 2 Series, Part 1: Trust and Identity

Posted By David Marble, Monday, April 21, 2014
One of the major themes running throughout the 2014 Internet2 Global Summit wasTrust and Identity.  Major initiatives are underway with Internet2 members to develop a framework architecture for a global identity and trust infrastructure. This follows on the work that has been done by the I2 community with InCommon, but now is expanded to include areas like MultiFactor Authentication (MFA). 

While I applaud this effort, I'm a bit jaded. Is the OSHEAN community interested in Federated ID?  Are we interested in having trust relationships between members?  To date, I have not seen a compelling use case that hasn't already been handled.  I thought, for instance, that the hospital community and medical schools might be candidates, but have been told that credentials are already handled among the institutions.  I have not heard of a push for a unified student credentialing system for K-12 in RI, yet I see pilots taking place around the country.

The length of time it has taken to make progress in this area also fills me with trepidation. I think back to the early days when Microsoft was championing single sign-onthe days of the birth of Federated ID.  I don’t know about you, but I have seen very few instances of even the basic single sign-on other than logging into a website with my Facebook or Google ID.

I do see great potential for this in federated clouds.  The use of a Federated ID and authentication schema for accessing an organized multi-cloud resource pool could prove invaluable.  To that end, Internet2 has mandated the implementation of InCommon amongst its partners in the Net+ Cloud Services program.

Overall I am interested in learning how our members feel about this area, and if there is a sense that we should be getting more aggressive in examining potential architectures.

Tags:  broadband rhode island  federated id  incommon  internet2  MultiFactor Authentication  oshean 

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Asynchronous Communications

Posted By David Marble, Wednesday, April 9, 2014
Updated: Tuesday, April 8, 2014
Recently, I have been having discussions with colleagues about the trends in methods for person-to-person communication.  The explosion in social media has changed the landscape in an obvious and fundamental way, but I am most interested in the human reaction to the forms available. This leaves me wondering what people really prefer. Based on zero scientific research, I tend to believe we prefer asynchronous communications for most of our interactions.  A perfect example of this is e-mail overtaking the use of phone calls.  It seems as though we like the privacy afforded by a mediating technology like Facebook, so we can decide if we want to comment on something, and when.  Most people I know turn off their chat feature.  Heaven forbid that people know you are “available." Who even answers their phone without knowing that it is either an emergency or someone you really needed to talk to right then?  Of course, while texting can be a bit more real-time, you really don’t have to respond and can end any text string with an excuse, like “My battery died."  I have to wonder if these methods will eventually degrade our ability to be able to have intelligent, dynamic, live conversations.  Maybe we will need long pauses in conversation as we muse about the appropriate responses. ...Come to think of it, for many this will be a welcome improvement.

This idea extends to the physical with respect to meeting in person.   Back in my days of working with the folks at PictureTel in the early '90s, one would have thought that every meeting and even every phone call would be held via video by now.   Today, most of us have virtual meeting technology at our fingertips to do just that, with Skype, Jabber, and the myriad of other available options.  Despite that, it appears that we don’t care to see each other quite as much as I would have expected.  The asynchronous method of watching a conference proceed via streaming, even after the meeting is over, is very popular.  Even people using conference technology like WebEx or gotomeeting rarely utilize the built-in video features in my experience.  I think there are some interesting sociological trends buried in the technology use models for communications and obviously a huge market for the ones that hit.  Are people simply more comfortable in hiding?

Tags:  abber  acebook  broadband rhode island  icturetel  kype  nterpersonal communication  ocial media  olycom  ommunication trends 

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What’s in a UI?

Posted By David Marble, Monday, March 24, 2014
Updated: Friday, March 21, 2014
I would venture a guess that many of you who will read this next line will say, “Doesn’t everyone know this?” 

The User Interface (UI) can be one of the biggest barriers or strongest accelerators to technology adoption.

The answer is no, not everyone knows this—at least not at the deeper levels.   It turns out that the power of the UI is often misunderstood and underestimated by individual developers, engineering departments, marketing departments, and even entire companies.  Developers are not classroom teachers or doctors—in general, they are not in the professions of those who will use the application being developed.  Developers are also geeks who don’t struggle with technology—even if they do, it’s a challenge to be enjoyed.  They often make assumptions about what is “easy,” or “logical.”  Acting as referee in this dilemma is the Product Manager (PM), who role is to translate the needs of the teacher et al to the developer.  Unfortunately, it turns out that the PM is also not a teacher or a doctor and can make uninformed assumptions as well.

 The best companies recognize the disconnect between developers/Product Managers and their target markets and deal with the issue at a fundamental process and organization level by engaging those markets at every step of the development—but believe me, that doesn’t happen as often as you would expect. When technologies come into the market, they enter the 5-phase cycle that Gartner refers to as the “Hype Cycle.” In the early stages of this cycle, a product is developed and energetically marketed—meaning that it can easily become over-hyped, hitting what they refer to as the “Peak of Inflated Expectations”. The true test for any product begins in phase 3 of the cycle, known as the “Trough of Disillusionment,” when the product is used and scrutinized by the market. This is when any problems that arise with the practical use of a product in a real-world environment are brought to light.  When the ePortfolio technology market entered the “Trough," developers recognized a lag in the product’s induction into the classroom. This was a direct result of the fact that teachers didn’t fully grasp the ePortfolio UI, or understand the best way to use the product in their classrooms. It wasn’t until the teaching community was brought into the equation to provide input into important functionality and was able to adapt teaching methods to incorporate the technology that the market took off.

It is amazing how many times the product with the better UI beats the product with a better overall architecture and performance.  I am convinced that Google is the behemoth it is today because they had, and still have, the simplest UI in the search engine business.  They had only two buttons, one which says “I’m feeling Lucky,” and it has never changed.  They weren’t the first in the search engine market, and many would say that Lycos and Alta Vista had better engines, but there was something beautiful about the simplest UI.  Nicholas Negroponte, the famed founder of the MIT Media Lab and co-creator of Wired Magazine dedicated most of his work over the years in the pursuit and advocacy for better human to computer interfaces.  He lamented one day that he realized that the toilet he used in the morning knew that he had left and self-flushed but his desktop PC didn’t know that he was leaving unless he hit the keys and logged off.  He was always dismayed by the slow pace of voice command development. 

The impact of the UI can be felt everywhere.  Can you imagine how many more tapes would be in existence if the broader population had understood how to program the VCR?  Today, my wife still watches SD instead of HD because there is one less number to remember and button to push. …Okay, maybe that’s just my wife….

Tags:  broadband rhode island  eportfolio  gartner  hype cycle  technology adoption  UI  user interface  Wired Magazine 

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