Category Archives: Technology

KPIT’s Electric Bus – Towards ‘green’ transportation

Electric cars and buses are the future of transportation. Multiple goals: 1. Reducing fossil fuel dependence, 2. Carbon taxes and 3. Urban pollution/emission targets will drive rapid adoption of emission-less electric cars in the coming two decades. According to McKinsey’s forecasts, future cities could have up to 50% electric vehicles by 2030.

We recently got an opportunity to visit the KPIT facility in Pune to see their electric bus R&D and manufacturing set up. We also saw the electric bus in operation, and got a nice ride in it around Hinjawadi in Pune. This bus was inaugurated at the Indian Parliament in December 2015 by the Hon. Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

KPIT has been working in the area of hybrid (electro-mechanical) powertrains for many years now. Their ‘Revolo’ solution for converting existing IC (Internal Combustion) engine powered cars and buses into hybrid vehicles, has been field tested for over 150,000 km.

KPIT's Electric Bus
KPIT’s Electric Bus – The Prototype. Click on the picture to see full size image.

The KPIT Electric Bus leverages and builds on this R&D and manufacturing experience. KPIT has filed over 20 patents in this area. Do note, in some aspects, an electric vehicle is simpler than an Electric-IC engine hybrid. Even if you leave aside the IC engine, a hybrid vehicle has to deal with power distribution, switching across the two power trains. In electric vehicles, there is no switching, as there is a single power train powered by electric motors. ‘Regenerative braking’ is used in both: hybrid as well as pure electric vehicles.

The KPIT bus leverages Li-Ion batteries and multiple AC induction motors. The controller can bring in one or more motors online, depending on the power/torque requirements. The bus has a range of 100-200 km (depending on the Li-ion battery packs configuration). The motors can generate power between 80-240 KW with a Torque in the range of 450-600 Nm (depending on the selected configuration). The KPIT electric bus technology has been specifically adapted to Indian conditions.

The KPIT electric bus also integrates with the KPIT intelligent transportation system and provides real-time monitoring of bus including location, vehicle health and driver behavior, along with traffic data and performance. On-board diagnostics and related remote monitoring is also available.

KPIT is working with CIRT and other concerned authorities to further refine this technology as well as the necessary certifications. Going forward, there are two primary business models for KPIT: Working with OEMs and Retro-fitting existing vehicles.  They are also in discussions with various OEMs regarding ’embedding’ their technology.

KPIT estimates that their electric bus costs will be significantly lower than other solutions, given the indigenous technology developed and the ‘Make in India’ push. The currently available electric buses range from INR 2.7 – 4+ crores, and KPIT’s solution will be a fraction of that.

Do note, the pay-back period should not just focus on the monetary savings, but the reduction in pollution and CO2 emissions. This will be a key driver for the adoption of electric vehicles in our congested, polluted cities.

It’s good to see this kind of innovation and R&D happening in Pune, especially in the area of manufacturing and transportation (not just pure IT).

Technology areas that IBM Pune Storage Team works on

Yesterday, Golbal CTO of Storage and SDE at IBM Vincent Hsu gave a tech talk. As part of that, Pankaj Bavishi, Program Director, Storage Development at IBM Pune put up a slide of the kind of technology that the IBM Storage team in Pune is working on.

I thought this was information that PuneTech readers might find interesting.

Storage areas the IBM Pune works on:

  • File System Development
    • Areas: Deep filesystem expertise, Cloud Tier using Active File Management
    • IBM Products: GPFS, AFS
  • Network Attached Storage (NAS) Development
    • Areas: Object Storage, Authentication & Security, File Protocols
    • IBM Products: SONAS, Storwize V7000 Unified, Spectrum Scale
  • Block Storage Development:
    • Areas: Protocls, Virtualization, Cloud Management & Protection
    • IBM Products: Spectrum Virtualize, Cloud Storage, Subsystem Device Driver
    • For example: iSCSI and FCoE implementations happened in IBM Pune
  • Storage & SDS Strategy – CTO Projects
    • Work with IBM Global Technical Experts (IBM Fellows and Distinguished Engineers)

IBM Initiatives in India:

  • Deeper connections with Top Tier Institutes (IITs, NITs, COEP, IISc, IIITs)
  • University Courses, Faculty Enablement, Joint Research
  • 20+ White Papers, Extreme Blue & Internship Projects
  • Paper Publications and Presentations in Top Storage Conferences and User Groups

Would you like to let PuneTech readers about what interesting technology work happens in your group in your company? Please mail us the information, and if our editors like it, we will feature it in PuneTech.

Note: Your write-up should be short, to-the-point, and written by a technical person, not a marketing person. And it should be unique or cutting edge technology – that not many other companies are working on.

Internet of Things: Challenges and Opportunities Jürgen Mössinger

(This is a liveblog of SEAP’s event where Jürgen Mössinger of Bosch talked about “Internet of Things: Challenges and Opportunities”)

About the Speaker

Jürgen Mössinger is the Head of Business Unit at Robert Bosch Engineering and
Business Solutions, India. He has an extensive background in embedded SW, IT and product development. He has been with Bosch since the last 19 years. Jürgen headed several positions in platform and customer product development for control units and was the spokesperson of the AUTOSAR Consortium in 2008. Currently he is heading a business unit at Robert Bosch Engineering and Business Solutions, responsible for products, services and solutions in the areas of Consumer Goods, Industrial Technology, Energy and Building Technology and Automotive Electronics. Beside the classical areas, Juergen is working on Smart Home, Smart City and Connected Industry (Industry 4.0).

About Bosch

Bosch group is a 40+ billion euro company with 280000 employees and 225 manufacturing sites. Automotive technology is their biggest sector, but they’re also in industrial sector, energy and building technoloyg, consumer goods – all over the world.

About the Internet of Things

The Internet of Things (IoT) is the term given to small computing devices embedded in anything an everything around us which will all be collecting data about their environment and which will be connected to the internet – allowing for data collection and analysis at a scale never before seen, and of course fine-grained control of the environment.

Things, in the IoT, can refer to a wide variety of devices such as heart monitoring implants, biochip transponders on farm animals, electric clams in coastal waters, automobiles with built-in sensors, or field operation devices that assist fire-fighters in search and rescue. Current market examples include smart thermostat systems and washer/dryers that utilize wifi for remote monitoring.

Opportunities and Challenges in IoT

Here is a random collection of interesting points made during the presentation:

  • By 2020, 50 Billion devices will be connected to the internet. This forms the basis of IOT
  • IoT will be everywhere. Huge potential: Smart Cities, Smart Homes, Smart Industry, Smart Wearables, Logistics (e.g. transport fleets, tracking)
  • More than two thirds of consumers expect to buy IoT devices for their homes by 2019, and nearly half expect to buy wearable technology
  • The wearables market is expected to have reached $1.5 billion in 2014
  • By 2020 there will be over 100 million light bulbs and lamps worldwide that will be connected to the internet wirelessly
  • Just 1% improvement in an industrial setting via use of IoT can result in billions of savings in operational costs
    • $30B fuel cost saving in aviation industry
    • $66B fuel cost saving in gas powered fleets
    • $63B productivity improvement in healthcare
    • $90B reduction in capital expenditure in oil and gas exploration and development
    • $27B productivity improvement in rail industry

Examples of IoT usage in Smart Homes:

  • Appliance Information available on the cloud/smartphones
  • Appliances operate automatically / efficiently
    • Through the use of scheduling or historical patterns or sensors
  • Control House from Anywhere:
    • Customer is aware and fine-tunes the settings from anywhere

What all does IoT need?

  • Sensors: heat, temperature, light and various other things
  • Long battery life; can’t go around the house changing/charging batteries all the time
  • GPS
  • Local Network, Global Network
  • Software to tie it all together

IoT means Big Data:

  • 4.5 billion pieces of content are shared on Facebook every day
  • Youtube users upload 100 hours of new video every minute
  • By 2019 we’ll have 9.2 billion mobile phones
  • iTunes receives about 100 billion app downloads in one quarter
  • Huge in 3 different dimensions:
    • Volume: Raw amount of data generated
    • Velocity: speed with which the data is generated
    • Variety: the various different sources and types of data (sensor data, text, images, videos). Some of the data is structured and lot of it is unstructured.
  • We will need next generation algorithms and tools to make sense of all this data so that we can generate usable insights
    • Software and Algorithms
    • Data Modelers
    • Data Visualizers
    • Data Architects
    • Business Analysts

Actual examples of IoT usage by Bosch:

  • Fleet Management: 10% reduction of fuel cost per trip in underperforming routes – this was in Bangalore
  • 25% reduction of testing time in Manufacturing
  • 33% reduction in calibration cost of hybrid ECUs in automotive calibration
  • 15% reduction in inventory holding costs in a supply chain

Smart Cities:

  • This is a difficult area
  • Lots of countries/cities claiming that they want to become smart
    • Narendra Modi has also announced Smart Cities initiative in India
      based on the PPP model (Public Private Partnership)
  • Main problem is that these smart city initiatives do not have a business model. The investment has to be made by someone (the city, or the company in the PPP) and the benefits are reaped by others (the citizens). There is no direct return on investment for the investor
  • No city has really solved this problem.

Smart Industry:

  • We have already had 3 industrial revolutions:
    • 1st industrial revolution: the original mechanical industrial revolution
    • 2nd industrial revolution: the assembly line
    • 3rd industrial revolution: electronics
  • Now, with IoT we are ready for the 4th.
    • Smart production: communication between each part and the machine:
      • Dynamic optimization of scheduling of processes and machines
      • Customized processing for each individual product
    • Horizontal Integration
      • Communication between:
        • Parts Suppliers
        • Transportation
        • Within the Factory
      • When all of these are talking to each other and we have data, new optimizations become possible
        • Example: +10 increase in productivity, -30% reduction in stock

Scala University: A free continuous learning initiative for the Scala Programming Language by ThoughtWorks Pune

Scala University is an initiative of Scala practitioners from Pune – who want to drive continuous learning/teaching of Scala in the form of free public workshops. It was started by developers at ThoughtWorks who are passionate Scala users for many years. As of now, Scala University is specifically interested in helping communities in and around cities where ThoughtWorks has offices.

How did it start?

The people who started Scala University felt that they have benefitted a great deal from the open source Scala Language, the wonderful Scala community, and from other free and open resources around the web, for example, like Coursera courses on Scala and Reactive programming. They felt that they should give back to the community, and that is why “Scala University”

As a first step, they conducted a 4-day Scala Workshop in Pune on 20-23 June 2014. The event was “free” for all those who could clear a coding test. The response was overwhelming:

  • It got 350 registrations
  • 95 of them submitted the coding assignments
  • 30 candidates were selected after code review
  • 29 of them confirmed and attended all 4 days of the training!
  • Along with them, 10 ThoughtWorkers also attended, taking the total batch size to 40
  • Apart from developers there were 5 Quality Analysts and 1 Project Manager
  • The experience level varied widely: from 1st year engineering grads to people with 12+ years of experience.

The workshop also generated huge amount of goodwill in the local community. Enthused with the success, they conducted the 2nd workshop in Gurgaon on 24-27 July. The numbers were similar (around 25 people including 6 ThoughtWorkers attended). The 3rd workshop is scheduled in Chennai on 4-7 Sep. Workshops in Hyderabad, Singapore and Bangalore are being considered. You can keep track of list of all events conducted so far.

How does it work?

The Scala deep-dive workshop currently covers language fundamentals with hands on assignments. The workshop is always planned around the weekend. So, each attendee (which include ThoughtWorkers) have to invest 2 working days, plus a full weekend for the workshop. People have suggested compressing the workshop to 3 days, but it needs at least 4 full days to give a complete perspective of the basic language.

Folks from local ThoughtWorks offices are critical for organizing and logistics. They also help with the code reviews. Reviewing so many code submission is the most difficult task.

The workshop is announced around 1 month in advance. Roughly 25% of those who register submit the code, and 30% of those who submit the code qualify for the workshop. The course turns out to be ‘intense and fun’ for smart developers.

What are the rewards?

Learning and teaching Scala is a joy which in itself is a big reward. But there are other good side effects of this initiative:

  • Building local community around Scala
  • Building internal Scala capability within ThoughWorks
  • Positively influencing hiring. Some attendees from the 1st workshop applied to ThoughtWorks, and ThoughtWorks ended up making 2 offers!
  • Companies in the local markets find out about the workshop with requests for doing a dedicated commercial training.
  • The workshop model has inspired similar trainings by other ThoughtWorkers. See Agile Dev Bootcamp w- hich is scheduled on 15-August.

Next steps

Scala University also wants to do this in other cities where ThoughtWorks has offices, and they want to do multiple batches at each location if there is enough interest. If you are are a ThoughtWorker interested in doing a batch of “Scala University” in your city, please get in touch. If you are a potential attendee, please let them know in which cities you would like to attend these workshops. Based on that data, they might also plan a workshop in cities where ThoughtWorks does not have a office (for example, Mumbai or Nagpur).

Many have requested workshops on advanced/focused topics. The following topics are being considered:

  • Reactive programming (futures, promises, streams and actors)
  • Tools (Sbt, Play, Akka)
  • Big data computing (Spark stack)

If you’re interested, let them know about your preferences

For more information, see the Scala University website or see the contact us page there.

Opinion: Pune’s IT industry must focus on electronic design (ESDM) – Gouri Agtey Athale

Gouri Agtey Athale has an interesting article in the Pune Mirror pointing out that following the success of the “animation and gaming” niche sector, the IT industry in Pune should start focusing on other niche sectors – for example electronic design.

Excerpts:

[The] niche area of animation and gaming has worked out for Pune the way the software industry worked on the existing industrial base: combining the existing dormant and untapped potential and build a whole new business out of it.

Pune’s arrival on the animation and gaming scene has received recognition at the international level: two animation films made by companies based in Pune have made it to the list of Oscar nominations, Krayon’s Delhi Safari and Reliance Big’s Krishna and Kaunsa.

and

That was in the past: the move now is to move on and the next wave could be a convergence of the hardware and software sectors to create ESDM, or Electronic System Design and Manufacturing. Cmde (retd) Anand Khandekar, former member of the IT committee of the MCCIA, who helped draft the state’s IT policy over a decade ago, suggested that existing expertise in embedded software and the presence of the hardware sector in the city could be married to the city’s industrial culture and the educational base to create an industry around ESDM.

The blue print that ESDM is looking at is that of the automotive sector, where there are vendors who supply to the original equipment manufacturer, the OEM. On these lines, local entities could become vendors to global companies, the example usually cited being that of Taiwanbased companies who work on projects for global majors like Apple, Oracle-Sun Micro and Google- Motorola.

and finally:

And the sector needs a champion, a strong, non-partisan platform, which in the case of Pune’s software industry was the MCCIA.

Read the full article

Event: Global Technology Outlook 2013 by Dr. C. Mohan (IBM)

On Wednesday, Pune is fortunate to have a very distinguished visitor – Dr. C. Mohan, an IBM Fellow, IBM Master Innovator, inventor of the presumed abort commit protocol in database, and a list of other achievements and awards that is so long that you’ll get bored reading the list.

Mohan is giving a talk on the “Global Technology Outlook” on Wednesday, 24 July, 6pm, at Dewang Mehta Auditorium, Persistent (SB Road). This talk should be of interest to not only technical people but also to a much broader set of people.

Abstract of the Talk

The Global Technology Outlook (GTO) is IBM Research’s vision of the future for information technology (IT) and its impact on industries that use IT. This annual exercise highlights emerging software, hardware, and services technology trends that are expected to significantly impact the IT sector in the next 3-7 years. In particular, the GTO identifies technologies that may be disruptive to an existing business, have the potential to create new opportunities, and can provide new business value to our customers. The 2013 GTO is built not only on its 31 predecessors, but the 100 years of IBM innovation. The 2013 GTO reports on six key findings which form 2 groups. The first group addresses The Rapidly Evolving Infrastructure while the second one addresses The Future of Big Data and Analytics. The six topics of GTO 2013 are: Mobile First, Scalable Services Ecosystems, Software Defined Environments, Multimedia and Visual Analytics, Contextual Enterprise and Personalized Education. In this talk, Mohan will share the GTO 2013 findings with the audience.

About the speaker – C. Mohan

Dr. C. Mohan has been an IBM researcher for 31 years in the information management area, impacting numerous IBM and non-IBM products, the research community and standards, especially with his invention of the ARIES family of locking and recovery algorithms, and the Presumed Abort commit protocol. This IBM, ACM and IEEE Fellow has also served as the IBM India Chief Scientist. In addition to receiving the ACM SIGMOD Innovation Award, the VLDB 10 Year Best Paper Award and numerous IBM awards, he has been elected to the US and Indian National Academies of Engineering, and has been named an IBM Master Inventor. This distinguished alumnus of IIT Madras received his PhD at the University of Texas at Austin. He is an inventor of 38 patents. He serves on the advisory board of IEEE Spectrum and on the IBM Software Group Architecture Board’s Council. More information can be found at his home page

Fees and Registration

The talk is at 6pm, on Wednesday, 24 July, at the Dewang Mehta Auditorium, “Bhageerath”, Persistent Systems, SB Road.

This event is free and open for anybody to attend. Please register here

Invisible Bugs or Why Every Developer Must Understand Details of IT Infrastructure

(This article is adapted from a very interesting post written by Sunil Uttamchandani, Co-founder and Director of Services at Mithi Software, a Pune-based Software Products company specializing in software for email, collaboration and other enterprise products. The article first appeared on the Mithi Blog and is adapted & reproduced here for the benefit of PuneTech readers with permission.)

Most of the education of a Software Developer is centered around programming, and keeping their code clean and maintainable and debuggable, and well-tested and ensuring that customers don’t run into bugs, and if they do, the bugs are easy to find. However, in real life, one of the most difficult category of bugs to find is the “invisible” bug. The first thing you notice about such a bug is that a customer complains about a bug, but you are unable to reproduce it in your environment. Now, if there is one thing you cannot convince a customer about, is that the bug is caused due to some misconfiguration of the software infrastructure in the customer environment. All bugs are bugs in your product, irrespective of what actually caused the bug.

In the Blog of Mithi Software, Sunil Uttamchandani talks about how their products (which deal with email servers and other enterprise collaboration software) often have to deal with “Intangible/Invisible Network Obstacles” when dealing with customer bugs.

Here he describes a recent experience.

A Ghost In the Network

Recently during a POS (proof on site) exercise with a prospective customer, we had to perform a test in which an email client would send mail to a large number of recipients from our cloud email setup and capture performance test results. As a regular practice, we setup the SMTP controls on our server to allow this test, did a test from our environment and then asked the client to repeat the same test in their environment.

The test failed in the client environment.

We enabled the SMTP scanning engines for their source IP to capture detailed information (which would slow down the mail flow naturally), and we found that the client could deliver a few mail, but would give up after a little while. It would simply show the progress bar, but would not move ahead. The logs on our server showed that there was no more connections coming from that client. As a first point of troubleshooting we eliminated the scanning controls and simplified the SMTP rules in our product to speed up things by making no checks for their source IP address. We did another round of testing, but we had similar results. Just a few more mails went through and the process hung again. During this phase, we couldn’t successfully send mail to all their recipients at all. After a few mails, the system would simply do nothing and client would eventually time out.

On the face of it, all looked well in the client’s environment, since the other users/programs in the client’s environment were going about their business with no issues.

Without assuming anything, we performed the test from our office to eliminate any issues on the server side. Once we did this successfully, we re-did the test from our environment, with the client’s data and that too went through successfully. All pointers were now to the client’s environment!

There obviously was some firewall policy, some proxy, or some other transparent firewall in the network which was disabling the test through the given Internet link. On our request, when the firewall policies were bypassed for connections to our servers, the test went through successfully.

This shows two things. Network administrators, and firewalls often interfere with the web connections in complicated, and difficult to debug ways. And, the job of determining the root cause of the problem always falls upon the product vendor.

More Examples of Real Life Network Problems

If you think this is an isolated problem, think again. Sunil goes on to point out a bunch of other cases where similar ghost bugs bothered them:

Several times, our help desk receives tickets for such “intangible” problems in the network which are difficult to troubleshoot since there is some element in the network, which is interfering in the normal flow. Clients find it difficult to accept these kind of issues since on the face of it all seems to be well. Some real life examples of such issues we face:

  • At one of our customer sites, address book on the clients’ machines suddenly stopped working. Clients connect to the Address book over the LDAP port 389. We found that while a telnet to the LDAP port was working fine from a random set of clients, still the address book was not able to access the server over port 389. It turned out to be a transparent firewall which had a rate control.
  • Several of our customers complain of duplicate mail. This typically happens when MS Outlook as a client sends a mail, but retains the mail in the Outbox when it doesn’t receive a proper acknowledgement from the server. It then resends the mail and may do so repeatedly until its transaction completes successfully. On the face of it, it appears to be a server issue, while actually its a network quality issue. Difficult to prove. I’ve personally spent hours on the phone trying to convince customers to clean up their networks. One of our customers, after a lot of convincing, did some hygiene work on their network and the problem “magically” vanished.
  • One of our customers complained that their remote outgoing mail queue was rising rapidly. We found that the capacity of Internet link’s (provided by the ISP) to relay mail had suddenly dropped. So mails were going, but very slowly, and hence the queues were rising. Apparently there had been no change in the network which could explain this. After some analysis, We were quite convinced that the ISP had probably an introduced an SMTP proxy in the network, which had some rate control or tar pit policies. The ISP refused to acknowledge this. To prove our hypothesis, we routed the mail from our hosted servers over a different port (not port 25 – which is default for SMTP). As soon as we did this, the mail flow became normal, even though we were sending through the same Internet link. As of the time of this writing, the ISP is still to acknowledge that there is an impediment in the path for port 25.

These and several more incidents show that problems in the network environment are challenging to troubleshoot and accept.

So What Next?

In other words, to be able to keep customers happy, software developers need to have a very good and detailed understanding of the various IT infrastructure environments in which their product is likely to be deployed, and be able to come up with inventive strategies by which to isolate which part of the infrastructure is actually causing the problem.

Top tech influencers of Pune (@dnene @ScepticGeek @trakin) give Google+ a Thumbs Up

For the past few weeks, every techie in Pune has probably had Google+ on his/her mind. Many have tried it. Some have dismissed is as a Facebook wannabe that will never really catch on. Others think it is a little too complicated for the common man.

However, three of Pune’s top tech bloggers have weighed in with positive opinions about Google+

Arun Prabhudesai of trak.in was first to say that Google+ will be adopted by Businesses and Brands:

After Google’s half baked and feeble attempts at Social Networking earlier, Google Plus is a refreshingly fresh & honest attempt at making people’s lives Social.

and

The biggest factor that Google Plus takes care of – Individual Privacy. It probably has simplest of privacy policies and user can control everything as to what is supposed to be public and what is not. Yes, initially users do have to spend time in creating circles (aka groups of people), but once you are done with that, it becomes far more easier.

and

Google Plus adoption for Brands & Businesses might be slow initially, but over a period of time, it will surely catch on. It will be a place where Brands can put up their profiles, their “+ses” and it will be accessible to anyone and everyone without having to actually “follow” the brand.

After that, Mahendra Palsule, the Skeptic Geek, and Editor at TechMeme, wrote to say that Facebook and Quora should be worried. His main points are this:

  • The future belongs to the “Interest Graph” of users complementing the “Social Graph”. Facebook does a bad job of capturing users interests. Google+ is taking steps in the right direction with Sparks.
  • Quora should be worried because:
    > It was reported earlier […] that code for Questions has been found in Google Plus. If this comes as a surprise, you haven’t understood Google’s ambitions with Emerald Sea.

Finally, Dhananjay Nene was initially lukewarm about Google+ (“good, but people will not shift from facebook for this”, and “circles are too complicated for average users”) but after spending some time with Google+, he has decided that Google+ is the social network of the future:

[Google+] is really building public / private, asymmetric networking built using social graphs based on friendships, work relationships, online discoveries and probably soon enough interest graphs as well. It is building the network that will be. While google wants to own the experience, it is liberal enough to publicly commit that the data is owned by the user. Combined with the awesome google portfolio and its evergrowing warchest built out of search advertising revenues – This is the network to beat.

You really should read the full articles that I have linked above. In fact, you should follow these guys on twitter (@dnene, @ScepticGeek, and @trakin) and follow them religiously.

Apple iCloud – Hype Cycle or Tipping Point for Cloud Computing?

(This article by Amit Naik, an architect at BMC Software, tries to separate out the facts from the hype regarding Apple’s recently announced iCloud offering for the benefit of readers)

Any Apple announcement from new products/services to the Worldwide Wide Developer Conference (WWDC) is often hotly anticipated by the media and the Apple faithful alike. The WWDC 2011 held on June 6th this year was no exception. Steve Jobs (Apple CEO) took the stage to make a whole slew of announcements; most notable among them was iCloud, Apple’s vision of consumer centric cloud services.

Before the ink was even dry on the announcement, iCloud began to be touted as a Windows Killer , as a copy of Android Services, as the next big thing, attacked as not even having to do anything with cloud computing and even got Apple sued. By time all is said and done, gallons more ink will have flowed (or hundreds more blog posts will have been created) regarding iCloud. This post is an effort to separate the Facts from the Hype and provide some overall context on the implications of iCloud in different areas.

What is iCloud?

iCloud is Apple’s vision of a omnipresent cloud connection in all Apple devices that will seamlessly act as a sort of a “super synch” for different Apple applications. However it has a lot more features than just a remote storage mechanism such as DropBox. Let us look at this in a bit more detail:

(Note that as of today, iCloud is in private beta. The full public release has rather amorphously been defined as “in the Fall”. So everything that is known about iCloud is in the form of press releases from Apple/Developers given early access to it.)

Apple iCloud expected usage

There are 9 default services or (Apps) in the free version of iCloud:

Contacts – Your contacts will be synced to the cloud and shared between all of your devices.

Calendars – Calendars in the cloud supports calendars in the cloud, shared calendars and calendars pushed to all of your devices.

Mail – The new Mail service will include an @me.com account.

iBooks – your book purchases and places are stored across your devices.

Backup – Daily backups of your apps, music, camera roll, app data and more over WiFi.

Documents in the Cloud – You can download your documents, and edit it on multiple devices.

App Store – Your apps can be downloaded right to your new devices.

Photo Steam – A new built in feature will move your photos to the cloud so that you can easily share them with others on any Apple Device.

iTunes in the Cloud – Shows you all your songs, albums and artists you have purchased and download to your device. These are limited to only items purchased from iTunes to begin with.

Each iCloud consumer will be given a free 5GB of storage capacity for their mail, documents, and back-ups. A really interesting feature of the service is that for music, apps and books purchased from Apple, and the storage required by Photo Stream doesn’t count towards this 5GB total.

For the PhotoStream service, Apple will store the latest 1000 photos long-term while every new photo taken from any device will be stored for 30 days.

Apple really seems to be shooting for two things with iCloud:

  1. Ubiquity: All iPods, iPhones, iPads that can be upgraded to iOS 5 and all Macs (MacBooks, and Desktops) with OS X Lion will be able to avail of iCloud. This will be at least tens of millions of users if not more. There will also be a Windows client (Windows 7 and up no XP support) that will support iCloud on non Apple desktops.
  2. Simplicity: As presented, the iCloud service looks like it falls into the “Just works” category with minimal user meddling. If Apple can really pull-off this vision the simplicity would be the real killer feature of the service.

Is it cloud computing?

In a rather grumpy post Carl Brooks wrote: “Apple iCloud is not cloud computing.” He went to deride as “Nothing but Streaming Media”. (He has since updated his post to clarify that it has more capabilities).

Let us address this issue “Is Apple iCloud cloud computing?”

YES it most certainly is cloud computing.
Take a look at the figure that I created recently that shows a simplified cloud computing stack.

Cloud Computing Stack

iCloud clearly fits in the top two layers – SaaS and the Client layer.

However there are those that define cloud computing more narrowly as “On-demand Infrastructure (IaaS) or Platform as a Service” in which case, No, iCloud is not strictly cloud computing from this angle. Keep in mind that by now the term “Cloud Computing” or “Cloud” has become so diluted as to be essentially meaningless, so the question raised is in-fact a very relevant one.

What are the challenges Apple faces?

The first and biggest challenge that Apple faces to iCloud is history. This is the fourth time Apple has tried its hand at internet services after failing in its three previous attempts. It first launched iTools way back in 2000 followed by .Mac and its most recent attempt was MobileMe. All the previous attempts were duds and Steve Jobs Apple CEO even admitted it on stage when he was announcing iCloud, calling MobileMe “not our finest hour”. The problem is rather simple – if used correctly the service should fade into the background and be seamless – but Apple is a master at splashy well-designed hardware and “just works”, well thought-thru software, neither of which directly align with iCloud. So the trick of getting it right will all be in the execution.

The second and somewhat lesser problem might be that Apple has underestimated the actual amount of data that its consumers will want to push thru iCloud. Steve Jobs took some pains to address this issue by showing slides with pictures of huge data centers at WWDC (Screen grabs):

Apple iCloud Data Center

And sleek next-gen hardware:

Apple iCloud Datacenter Hardware

Apple is also aggressively investing in building datacenters, so, time alone will tell on this front.

Who is the competition?

Apple is essentially in a three horse race at this point with Consumer Cloud Services. The first and most obvious competitor is Google.

Google’s Android OS has provided much of the functionality of iCloud, namely

GMail and the related contact manager; Google Calendar, Google Docs, where you can view, edit and collaborate on Office-style documents, Picasa for images, Google Books and Google Music, and the Android AppStore.

In a way, iCloud is complete validation of Google’s strategy of Cloud hosted data and consumers with multiple endpoints such as Android based cell phones and Chrome Books. The one difference is that Apple touts “Apps” as the consumption medium of choice Google focuses on the browser as the ultimate medium of consumption. Google and Apple are now locked in bitter fight for consumer’s data and both are using the Cloud as the weapon of choice.

The Second challenger is the dark horse Amazon. Amazon has become the de-facto leader in the “traditional” Cloud computing space. It’s EC2 and other Amazon Web Services (AWS) offerings are the leaders in the IaaS space. What is not as well known is that it is also quietly ramping up its consumer cloud services strategy. The recently announced Cloud drive is just the start with rumored plans for Amazon branded Tablets, Amazon will be in a position to challenge Apple all across the cloud stack for dominance.

The biggest consumer name missing from the list? Microsoft. It was late to the Tablet space after Apple revitalized it with the launch of the iPad. It was unsuccessful in the mobile phone space until its recent moves towards Windows 7 based phones. This is the challenge it must now confront to be relevant again in the Consumer cloud services space.

What are the likely implications?

At the launch of the iPad 2, Steve Jobs had famously declared that we are in the Post-PC era, implying that consumers had moved on from PCs and were ready to embrace more portable devices as their main computers. The iCloud vision would seem to make that a reality.

Earlier, whenever you purchased an iPhone/iPad, the very first thing the device would prompt you to do was sync with iTunes on your PC/Mac. With iCloud this will no longer happen, just type-in your credentials and you are synched with all your data and apps – truly a Post-PC experience.

Another obvious result of this announcement is a phenomenon I like to term “Consumerization of the Cloud”. This announcement is likely to associate the words “cloud computing” with Apple in a very sticky way in the minds of regular (non-tech) consumers. The next time one of us says we work in cloud computing, one sure question is “Is that like the Apple iCloud thing?” As if the cloud hype was not high enough already, this announcement has undoubtedly pushed it to stratospheric (cloudy) levels. However the positive side of this is that Cloud Computing will now become much more main stream than ever before.

About the Author – Amit Naik

Amit Naik works as an Architect with BMC Software. He builds performant cloud solutions with a focus on heterogeneity and monitoring across different virtualization and provisioning vendors in the cloud computing space. His main focus is the Architecture and Design of BMC solutions with emphasis on building highly-scalable systems with REST and other SOA interfaces.

Amit has a Bachelor’s degree from College of Engineering Pune and a Master’s degree from Purdue Univ., West Lafayette. He has more than 15 years of experience in the IT industry, much of it in the USA, across a variety of Technical and Techno-Managerial roles.

Post-mortem of the Amazon Cloud Disruption

Last month, Amazon Web Services had a major outage which resulted in downtime for a number of companies who are using AWS as their infrastructure provider. This has given rise to a host of concerns for everybody interested in cloud computing, and it is important to understand the reasons for the outage, the long-term implications, if any, of this outage, and most important of all, what changes users of cloud infrastructure should make in their architecture and processes so that they’re less affected by such problems.

Suhas Kelkar, who is the Director of the Innovation Team at BMC Software India has done this port-mortem of the incident.

Note: if you have trouble viewing the video embedded above click here. Suhas has created this video+slides presentation using kPoint another Pune-based cloud software product.

A couple of years back, Suhas had written an article for PuneTech titled Musings on Why Cloud Computing will Prevail which is also interesting reading in this context.

How to prevent such outages from affecting your own infrastructure? A few days after the outage, Dhananjay Nene, Chief Architect at Vayana, and also a consulting software architect, wrote an article arguing that the cloud just got stronger as a result of the AWS outage.

Here are his recommendations:

AWS has multiple availability zones. An application should ideally leverage at least two. If you read the Netflix presentation I referred to, Netflix apparently uses three. Do not assume the servers will not go down. Assume it is possible that at least one availability zone could go down. Make sure you have the systems to quickly activate, systems in the alternative availability zone. For that you will need to find ways to keep data current across availability zones. Also find ways to ensure you have the ability to quickly switch to and fro between availability zones. More advanced options could include concurrently active systems across availability zones or those spread across AWS regions or even between AWS and other vendors.

Read the whole article, and also check out Dhananjay’s blog.