Thursday, April 30, 2009

Five pretty pictures

Internet infrastructure stocks are on a tear, indeed they are veritable "pitbulls on the pantleg of opportunity" following a set of strong Q1 results and broadly encouraging guidance. Bear in mind that if you view these charts after this writing - 30 April, 2009 - they may look very different, but what they show now is Akamai up 10% today, Savvis hanging tough after a 16% rise yesterday and having more than doubled since its March lows, Switch & Data has also doubled, Rackspace up 74% since early March, and Equinix up 68% since its own March nadir. I know a rising tide generally lifts all boats (NASDAQ up 41% over the same period), but these have gone airborne. We're back to "picks and shovels" here, but I think this time the market has it dead right.

The magic of flipping a light switch and escaping the dark is experienced at home, but the real magic takes place in an unseen power station miles away. The magic of Facebook actually happens in a number of deeply un-sexy, harshly-lit, sterile rooms with well-above-average air conditioning. Without the humble server jockey, tending his flock of racks, the code geeks got nothin'. Our dependence on web services of various flavors will inevitably intensify from here (especially if we end up working and studying more from home), and I would be very surprised if the critical infrastructure components of what the father of the internet, Senator Ted Stevens, once sagely called "a series of tubes", did not continue to grow strongly throughout this downturn and beyond. I think this pie could get very high indeed.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Teleporkalypse Now!

Today my elder daughter came home from school with log-in details for an online virtual classroom service, which she had never heard mention of before. It's kind of a private email/virtual homework site, a sort of very low-quality version of Facebook. Part of me suspects that this has been in the works for months, is for purely educational purposes, and that the timing is just coincidental. Another part of me thinks that some bright spark is ahead of the curve and is expecting a lengthy period of school closures. But that may be giving the local government too much credit. Tomorrow will tell, perhaps. Meanwhile, I continue to monitor newsmap and HealthMap with interest. I'm increasingly fascinated by how decentralized news flows can inform, and perhaps mis-inform, in times like these.

UPDATE (in DEFCON 1 flaming red): What's interesting about the Bloomberg article is the observation that Obama wants $1.5bn to deal with an outbreak. So, it takes a paltry $1.5bn, practically a rounding error by recent standards, to deal with something which could cause the deaths of tens of millions, when dealing with the fallout from fictitious bank assets apparently costs $X trillion - and counting. No wonder Mother Nature is out to kick our collective ass. We have achieved Koyaanisqatsi, on steroids.

LSE study on the benefits of investing in digital infrastructure

Put this in your pipes and smoke it (hat tip Jim Baller).

"While the report does not advocate a specific level of investment it models the benefits of £15 billion spent across the three areas:

• £5 billion on broadband networks (creating or retaining 280,000 jobs) with spending focused on getting broadband to unconnected areas, increasing network performance in low-speed areas (3 Mbps or less) and encouraging household take-up of broadband. Spurring more and higher speed broadband would boost business productivity.

• £5 billion on intelligent transport systems (creating or retaining 188,000 jobs). ITS would also improve traffic flows through measures like adaptive traffic signals and electronic tolls and provide travellers with real-time traffic information, The report also finds that extra spending on ITS would deliver environmental benefits and make the country more productive.

• £5 billion on developing a smart power grid (creating or retaining 235,000 jobs). By using two-way communication and sensors, the report argues, a smart grid will deliver power more efficiently and reliably. Houses could be fitted with smart meters which allow people to use electricity at cheaper times of day and which could work with smart fridges or washer-driers to perform high-energy cycles at times of low demand. One US study suggested this could cut 10 per cent from utility bills. The smart grid would also allow the deployment of new greener technologies including plug-in hybrid electric cars."

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Unintended consequences

Much crowing from the content industry over last week's Pirate Bay verdict (hardly surprising when you hang out with the judge), but is this really the sort of reaction you want to prompt?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Hey you, get on to my cloud

Check out these piping hot videos just out from Akamai on the environmental benefits of cloud computing.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Semi-random links drive-by - 21 April, 2009

Just dashing off to a meeting, but here's a few tidbits of interest(?).

Take the Design Council challenge and help take the profit out of "mobile theft for fun and profit."

Fitch Ratings (annoying registration required) is concerned that DOCSIS 3.0 deployments could kick some telco butt, at least in the UK, Netherlands, Belgium and Portugal. I agree, though the asymmetry problem is getting worse.

UK consumer misery loves company - more online time devoted to social networking, less to shopping.

Last night I heard a good joke:

Q: How many people work at BT?
A: About half.

If you're looking for something to do over your lunch hour, why not give a listen to some classic songs reinterpreted, excruciatingly, in Esperanto? Volare is particularly scintillating. With support like this, I now understand why I have only met one Esperanto speaker - ever.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Eyes Wide Open

There seems to be some major outrage about the IPR issues surrounding Skype, but I'm happy to say that I reported on this way back in 2006 - as always, read the fine print...

As I quoted at the time:

In November 2003, Skype signed an agreement with a software development company [could this be the one?] which granted Skype a perpetual non exclusive license on its software, with exclusive use of the software for the limited purpose of providing P2P telephony, multi-directional video communications between end users via the internet. The founders of this software company are also founding shareholders (and senior management) of Skype.

The Joltid license is something I have mentioned frequently in presentations, but it has always seemed to me that no one has ever heard about this before, and people have always reacted with astonished expressions. The 2003 - 2005 Skype filings are still up, by the way, you can find them here.

I've always assumed that beyond the long-term commercial rationale for housing the Fast Track IPR in another company, it was also a shrewd defensive move given the legal onslaught against KaZaA at the time. It still doesn't answer the question as to what eBay management were thinking (or smoking) at the time, but it's clear that they felt a $4.1bn level of comfort with the arrangement.

Sharper vision

I know, I've been a baaaaad blogger recently, but I won't bore you with the reasons why. I have, however, resolved to mend my ways, so here's a micropost.

I've been working on a freelance project recently which seeks to explore some of the ways in which broadband, or whatever we end up calling it, can spur innovation. I'm trying to focus on non-trivial examples where broadband is either a critical enabler, but not the end service itself (as in the smart grid), or where the existence of broadband forces innovation elsewhere (as in the prevalence of cloud-enabled applications, which forces innovation in the data center).

My point of departure in thinking about this was a conference I attended a couple of years ago, where the CFO of an incumbent telco in Europe was asked about the rationale for FTTx deployment in the company's home market. The response was that the pay TV market in the country was deemed to be suitably competitive already, so it was difficult to make a case based on return on investment. Ergo, fiber = video. I am trying to write something which prompts a move away from this sort of thinking. Anyway, we'll see how it turns out.

Meanwhile, here's another item for your list of reasons why fiber is good for you - it improves your night vision.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Pimp my grid

This may have been blogged already by one of my esteemed Dutch friends closer to the action, but sadly I have been too absorbed to notice (sorry guys - if you have, send me a link to point to), but I just stumbled across a link to a presentation delivered last month in Italy by the Almere Grid, which I wrote about here in those heady days of 2006. Looks like a predictably interesting piece of joined-up thinking from the Netherlands, combining an access strategy, shared backup services for SMEs, academic research, and city planning. It's ironic to discover that Almere is twinned with Milton Keynes...

Friday, April 03, 2009

Take the U.S. broadband census, wherever you are

One of the email discussion lists I subscribe to has seen some coverage of this site, which claims to be collecting data on US broadband speeds, to what end I know not. Based on what I've seen, I only hope that the data they harvest is not employed in any sort of lobbying or policy-making initiatives. Here's why.

Initially it makes some credible-sounding statements about the role of broadband in American society:

"More and more Americans depend on high-speed internet service for education, commerce and entertainment. Broadband is the gateway to the information superhighway."

Hey, 10 bonus points for using "information superhighway" from the get-go!

It continues:

" is dedicated to providing the most comprehensive public and transparent collection of data about local broadband speeds, prices, availability, reliability and competition. You can help us fill the broadband data gap by Taking the Broadband Census."

Sounds good, happy to help. How else can I get involved? Maybe I should join the research committee, after all:

"The Research Committee will help the Broadband Census' efforts to map out broadband availability, speed, competition and price in an empirically sound fashion."

I like what I'm hearing. So, feeling patriotic, and in the spirit of courteous driving on the information superhighway, I took the test - twice, once claiming to be a Comcast customer, once as an AT&T customer (selecting "fiber" just for laughs). Here are my results:

Thank you for taking the Broadband Census. Your input is appreciated. It will help educate broadband consumers all over the country.

Promised Downstream Speeds: NA

Actual Downstream Speeds: 3.75299 Mbps

Promised Upstream Speeds: NA

Actual Upstream Speeds: 0.444 Mbps

Go to your ZIP code: 38117

Go to your provider's page: Comcast

Promised Downstream Speeds: NA

Actual Downstream Speeds: 4.33679 Mbps

Promised Upstream Speeds: NA

Actual Upstream Speeds: 0.476 Mbps

Go to your ZIP code: 38117

Go to your provider's page: AT&T

It looks like the data might go straight onto the site with no mediation. I checked out the 38117 ZIP code page after my test, and there was only one result from an AT&T user, who had given the service four stars - the rating I gave it in my second test. I have to assume this was my response. I could repeat the test to confirm, but I'm getting bored now.

There are huge problems here. I am in the UK, which is where I took part in the U.S. "census". As the speed test requires no identity assertion, and clearly does not exclude non-US IP addresses from taking part, I would assume that anyone can submit as many bogus entries as they want to, from anywhere in the world. Not that I would ever suggest or endorse such behavior...

UPDATE: Despite what I initially wrote and pathetic as it may seem, I actually did subsequently go back and take the test for a third time, claiming to be an AT&T subscriber again, but this time giving the service only one star. At this writing, the 38117 ZIP code page contains only two ratings for AT&T - a four star, and a one star, leading me to the inescapable conclusion that both of these results were generated by my bogus entries, taken at face value, despite coming from a legacy IP address, which various free analytics tools clearly identify as being based in London. A for intentions, F for execution.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

The pipe giveth, and the pipe taketh away

My last rant consciously avoided the symmetrical/asymmetrical connection issue, mainly because it raises my blood pressure to dangerous levels. But the tireless Om has written a nice piece on the issue, and I would like to share the pain. 

I'm on a Virgin Media 10Mbps package, with which I'm very happy on the whole. It is very reliable, and I often get my nominal download speed, and quizzically sometimes higher. I guess it doesn't hurt that if I scan the neighborhood for Wi-Fi routers, I get a lot of BT and Sky SSIDs, suggesting that the contention levels on my node may be low because DSL seems to have won battle for the block. 

In any event, the nominal upload speed on my package is 512kbps, making for a 20:1 asymmetry between download and upload. I have a JungleDisk account, and it's a great service, but my quick and dirty calculation is that my music collection, as it stands now, would take 22 days to back up to the cloud. 

That's painful enough to convince me not to even try, but perhaps I should, because this situation will only worsen as the asymmetry gap widens. Virgin's new 50Mbps package has an upload of 1.5Mbps, or an asymmetry of 33:1. So the consumer has a vastly enhanced capacity to acquire content, but backing it up via the wonder of cloud storage becomes disproportionately more painful, because the rate at which content can be acquired expands faster and in greater increments than the upload.