Category Archives: Life in the Cloud

Pivoting Can Even Work for App Companies

Nokia Cell PhoneIn the long history of innovation, there have been some incredible instances of companies pivoting to a different niche. Perhaps the most startling pivot was Nokia, which despite being the leading mobile phone maker from 1998 to 2012, was originally a small-town Finnish paper and rubber manufacturer.

But while technology companies of today might not so drastically change their infrastructure, even one-beat smartphone apps have successfully overhauled their outlook to adjust to growing tech and mobile trends.

Arguably the most notable example of an app successfully pivoting, is Instagram. Instagram was originally conceived as “Burbn,” a check-in, location-based tool. Unlike Foursquare, its main competitor in this space, Burbn enabled users to share filter-enhanced photos. Co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger quickly realized that users were more intrigued by the photo sharing aspect of Burbn than the check-in function. It was from that insight that Instagram was born. With over 100 million active users, and its historical $1 billion acquisition by Facebook, Systrom and Krieger were wise to pivot.

When Feathr launched in 2012, many people had a similar reaction: I should have thought of that. The app’s original focus was to digitally re-invent the traditional, and archaic business card, while also implementing a social, share function. But co-founder Aidan Augustin decided to point Feathr in a different direction in 2013, repositioning it as an interactive tool for corporate conferences. With Feathr, users are quickly able to access cleanly designed profiles for conference speakers, exhibitors, and other attendees, while also seamlessly connecting via LinkedIn and Twitter. Suffice to say, Feathr has vastly improved its app, and in doing so, could potentially revolutionize the vCard in the process.

Even though Qwiki, which was essentially a “video meets Wikipedia” tool, had been a heralded iPhone app since its inception in 2010, founder Doug Imbruce wasn’t satisfied. Imbruce yearned to compete with video-based social apps, like the Twitter-backed Vine. But instead of implementing Vine’s 6-second, GIF-style approach into his app, the founder went in a slightly different direction. With the new Qwiki, users can create a quick video (or slideshow) sourcing photos from one’s iPhone camera roll, and without any prior editing software knowledge, turn a folder of cute nephew baby pictures into a short video. Users can then share the video with friends, family, and the world (if you really wanted to).

 

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As Distance Learning Grows, Technology Follows

Online Education

Master Sergeant Eric Madden has been in the Air Force for 16 years. He’s currently stationed at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey as a Health Service Manager in the Medical Group. With a job requiring frequent travel, Eric never thought it would be possible to perform his duties while also pursuing a college degree. But thanks to the technology of distance learning, he’s currently enrolled at Burlington County College.

“The only way I would be able to complete my degree is with distance learning,” Madden explained. “With how much military members move around it would almost be impossible to finish your degree without being able to take classes online. Distance learning makes it so you can stay in one school and meet all your requirements and not have to worry about transferring.”

Madden is hardly alone. According to the 2012 Survey of Online Learning conducted by the Babson Survey Research Group, the number of students taking at least one online course is now more than 6.7 million.

“The rate of growth in online enrollments remains extremely robust, even as overall higher education enrollments have shown a decline,” said study co-author Jeff Seaman, Co-Director of the Babson Survey Research Group.

As the demand for online learning increases, higher education publishing companies have been forced to keep up, creating new ideas and technology to make the distance learning process easier for both teachers and students.

Pearson Learning Solutions has created an Online Learning Exchange, which provides teachers shareable and editable course content and materials to use in distance education courses.

“Learning is no longer limited to four walls – learning can happen anywhere – and it already is happening everywhere, everyday,” said Todd Hitchcock, Senior Vice President of Online Solutions for Pearson Learning Solutions. ”The growth of online learning underscores this need for quality, flexible education programs that meet the demands of our 21st-century workforce.”

Now that he is able to get his degree, Madden feels as though it will help him become better prepared for his everyday duties. He also looks towards the future, and when he retires from the military the degree will make him much more marketable.

Madden encourages other members of the military–or anyone else in a situation where they cannot physically make it to a college campus–to consider distance learning. “This is a huge plus because it gives you education for your job and for your future,” he said. “It is also a big deal for the military. Distance Education helps individuals contribute at a higher level.”

 

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Live from Your Living Room: Streaming Concerts

Live from your living roomThe lights come up, the crowd erupts, and jazz musician Walter Smith III steps onto the stage at Berklee College of Music in New York City. Smith III plays hundreds of gigs a year, so the sights and sound are familiar, but there is one thing about this show that’s different from all the others: it’s being recorded and streamed live over the Internet.

Live streaming of concerts is a growing trend in the music industry today, thanks to the increasing technology that’s available, according to Darren Lieberman, Senior Manager, Business Development & Music Partnerships at Livestream. Livestream, a platform that allows users to view and broadcast live video content, sells recording products to producers as well as broadcasting live shows on its website.

And despite what many may think, it’s not too difficult to stream a concert live for millions to see at home.

“At its simplest form — if you have a solid internet connection with enough bandwidth, a computer meeting our minimum specs running our free software, and a webcam, you can go live pretty instantly,” Lieberman said. “Just over the last 3-4 years we’ve seen a huge uptake in artists using live streaming. And as the technology gets even better and the costs to stream shows get lower, more and more artists will continue to jump on to the trend.”

Smith III jumped on the trend for his March 7 Berklee show, which was part of NPRMusic’s The Checkout – Live at Berklee, which brings critically acclaimed, New York-based Berklee alumni back to their alma mater for concerts to be streamed live online and on the radio.

Amy Schriefer, Sr. Product & Events Manager of NPR Music, said she also believes streaming live concerts is a trend that won’t be going away anytime soon. “As the industry changes and budgets shrink, we’re hearing from more artists that it just makes sense to do one show that reaches dozens of markets on the web and on the air,” she said. “The majority of our live webcasts are done in partnership with our member public radio stations, providing exposure on multiple platforms. The Checkout Live series, which features live jazz shows from venues, including Berklee, is aired on WBGO and webcast simultaneously on NPR Music.”

Smith III, who just released the new album found his show to be a positive experience. “It works well because people who wanted to go to the show but couldn’t can now see it. Whether they can’t make it due to distance, lack of tickets, or other reasons, this gives them a chance to see the performance.” It also doesn’t hurt that the musicians don’t have to do anything differently for the streamed shows — except maybe shorten a song or set here and there, he explained.

Lieberman echoed Smith III’s comments about these types of shows benefiting fans, but he also said they’re good for artists. “Not only is streaming a concert a way to attract new fans who may buy tickets to a future show, existing and new fans alike can follow an artist’s account on Livestream to be notified when they announce an event and go live with one.  This is a great way for artists to re-engage their existing fans and stay in touch online through social media and Livestream,” he said.

While Smith III said he believes video of concerts will continue to grow, and hopes the majority of it will be aired by organizations like LiveStream and NPR who allow the artists to have “control of the content.” If such legal streaming of concerts continues to grow it may cut down on the amount of concert clips posted online that are unauthorized, he said.

As for whether or not he plans to do more live streaming shows, Williams III said he might, but certainly doesn’t want to do too many. “I wouldn’t want every concert recorded,” he explained. “One every now and then is good.”

And this one was very good. Check it out at NPR Music.

 

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Where to, Bub?: Geo-Locating ‘Hailo’ Taxi Cab App Expands to New York City

Taxis in New YorkNew Yorkers are a people who appreciate convenience. Take, for example, its omnipresent taxi cab fleet. Be it a 4 AM flight out of John F. Kennedy Airport, or a 5 AM (ahem) last call at a club, there’s a good chance you’ll find a yellow Ford Crown Victoria–or ten.

But New York City is also a constant survival of the fittest. There’s always a little competition while trying to hail a cab, and sometimes you just can’t beat out the crafty veterans. The popular app Uber has tried to attract some fed-up taxi customers, sending a geo-tracked limousine service to your door or street corner. But for most folks, an on-demand limo is just far too much more expensive than the traditional metered cab.

In an attempt to keep up with the times while maintaining the comparatively reasonable costs, Hailo, another geo-locating taxi app, has recently struck a deal with New York City cab companies. Now, New Yorkers will be able to track taxi cabs in their direct vicinity, and with the touch of a button, “hail” them from the comforts of their home, cubicle, or even local bagel shop.

Hailo works just like Uber, but with yellow cabs instead of black Town Cars. A customer can see how many available cabs there are in their area, what the wait time would be, instantly hail the car of choice, and store their credit card information so that payment is seamless. Even though taxis in New York are unlike any other city in the world, “Hailo” is not a neophyte when it comes to big-city cabbing. The company currently works with the taxi fleets in Barcelona, Boston, Chicago, Dublin, London, Madrid, Tokyo, and Toronto.

But the app isn’t just for passengers. As Hailo points out, taxi drivers spend a lot of time trying to find passengers too, and now with the app, taxi drivers will be able to have a far better idea of where needy passengers are located, which will cut down on the fickle nature of the business (and gas expenses).

Visit the Hailo website here, or take a moment to watch their introductory YouTube video. As an additional bonus, if you sign-up for the app now, Hailo will deposit a $10 credit into your account.

Download Hailo for free in the iTunes Store or the Google Play Store.

 

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World Backup Day 2013

World Backup Day is March 31, 2013. Now is a great time to audit your current backup solution, make sure you know your backups are working and test restoring your files, This World Backup Day guide walks you through testing your own Mozy setup, and what to do if you’re not currently backing up.

Make sure to make it through to the end for 2 chances to win awesome prizes!

Mozy users: Check your backups and restores

Now is a great time to make sure that you know how to restore your files. Run through a test restore with these instructions.

Running into any problems or have some questions? Our support team is standing by – they’re here to help!

Don't Currently Back Up? Use Mozy.

What should you look for in a cloud backup provider? We’ve put together a helpful guide with some good questions to consider in your search.

  • Part 1 - Making Copies, Safekeeping, To the Cloud
  • Part 2 - Not Prepared to Lose, Create and Change
  • Part 3 - Incremental and Versioning, Backup Considerations

With over 3 million users, Mozy is a great choice for protecting your data. You can get started with a free 2GB account. Need more space? No problem – use the promo code “WorldBackupDay” for 15% off all new  1- and 2- year MozyHome and MozyPro accounts. Sign up for Mozy.

Backup is important for businesses as well. Over 90,000 businesses trust MozyPro with their important information. Find out how MozyPro can turn your backups into a competitive advantage for your company.

World Backup Day - Share and Win!

Know someone who doesn’t backup or needs some help getting started? Click here to tweet out the 15% discount code and help them get started with protecting their files.

Everyone who tweets will be entered to win one of three ZAGGSparq Portable Battery chargers (capable of charging a smart phone/device up to four times on a single charge) because you could always use some “backup” power, right? One entry per Twitter account, please.

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Has Mozy saved your bacon recently? Let us know how in the comments – you could win  a Sonos Playbar TV Soundbar and Wireless Speaker ($699 value). One entry will be chosen by our team.

Big Data: 5 Key Questions Business Owners Need to Ask

Big Data Questions for BusinessBusiness and tech professionals are talking about big data. A successful big-data project can illuminate new patterns and prompt fresh ideas about a business’s products, services, and customers. Big data is about putting the information you’ve got — and the data you’ll bring in next — to new use.

But when it comes to your business, and when it comes to how big data impacts and stands to augment small-business owners in particular, what’s the difference between big data and just lots of data?

The distinction is important and there are some key questions that owners can ask to help identify and tackle distinctions like that one. Let’s look at five of them, a shortlist of ways to think about big-data and, for small-business owners, the big picture.

Big-Data: Questions for SMBs

“Big data is many things, but what it is not is a technology initiative,” said Jim Gallo, National Director of Business Analytics for ICC, an Ohio-based IT services provider. “Your IT department will be deeply involved in setting things up and making sure you’ve got the number crunching horsepower to ‘do’ big data, but it is an initiative driven by the business not the IT department.”

What Gallo suggests that business owners think about boils down to this: don’t work with big data because you think you’re supposed to, engage with it because your business demands it.

Some ways to frame an approach to big data are as follows.

1. What Do You Want to Know? A big data initiative should begin with owners and partners addressing how the technology stands to help the business achieve its objectives. If new ways of seeing incoming information seem likely to improve efficiencies, increase margins, or open avenues that will help the team to sell smarter, then big data may be a good choice.

2. Do You Have a ‘Big Data’ Problem or a ‘Lots of Data’ Problem? Just because a data set is large, that doesn’t automatically make it “big data”. Remember that the idea behind a big-data enterprise is to find and utilize the kind of connections that all this info-crunching can produce.

3. Is It Worth It? Define the value you will get from big data. Corporate decision-makers faced with escalating costs, shrinking budgets and conflicting priorities are not going to fund a solution without a solid business justification (and that usually means: ROI). Part of the answer is back in the What Do You Want to Know? question. Develop the practical side of the response from there.

4. Where Will the Data Come From? Once you’ve determined that big-data is what you need, you have identify potential data sources. There’s what’s in-house already, and that may be a significant source, but the information you’re after may take some serious integration work to capture, or you may have to bring it in from third-party sources like social media or public data sets. Assess how you’ll secure it.

5. Will It Work? The stakes can be high when working with new technology, so talk to experts — and ideally talk to owners similar to yourself who’ve embarked on a big-data effort of their own. The business world is learning its way into this newly accessible way of looking at information, and the lessons learned by the community of owners like yourself, in this early stage of the game, may prove critical to your own assessment. The best way to understand whether big-data will work for your business is to understand what it does in action. Find out who other big-data exploring owners are. Reach out. In a similar model: answers that will help as you move forward.

Want to dig deeper into big data and how it applies to business. ICC has published this white paper on the subject. More ways to learn. Good luck!

 

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Better Servers through Technology: Submerge Your Infrastructure in Liquid-Cooling Enclosures

What are six words that every department head and director would like to hear from a company’s information-tech department? We can do it for less.

At the end of the day, IT spends a lot of company dollars on hardware, upgrades, and infrastructure. And a lot of that line item gets plowed into servers, power, and all the equipment that keeps the business’s data-backbone strong.

But what if you could bring a plan to the table that, for an initial outlay, promised some significant cutbacks in expenses going forward? Safe to say, it’d be music to management’s ears. One company, recently, has suggest that its server technology — submersion cooling arrays — can do just that. Let’s take a look at submersion cooling, and what one proponent of the system says it can do.

Rethinking Servers and Server Costs

Liquid Cooling EnclosuresWhat if your data center could skip the giant generator, the chiller, the raised floor, and all the hardware that typically goes with keeping servers cool? Green Revolution Cooling says why not — by replacing air-cooled technology with cutting-edge non-conductive-liquid submersion tanks.

“For years high-powered electrical transformers, supercomputers, and over-clocked gaming computers have harnessed the power of dielectric fluid submersion for high performance applications,” according to the company. “However, this performance has required a trade-off in the form of higher costs and/or cooling power.”

What Green Revolution proposes is to place servers inside enclosures filled with a white mineral-oil — clear, odorless, non-toxic, and low cost. The mixture is meant to drive down the price of keeping all a company’s central data hardware at the ideal temp. What follow are some estimates regarding how that will play out, post-installation:

— Energy Consumption: Compared to a standard air-conditioned rack system, Green Revolution’s submersion model could be capable of reducing cooling energy consumption of a typical data center by 90-95%. The company expects a client will cut its total data-center energy consumption by half.

— Buildout vs. Savings: Using GRC, data-center operators should be able to build a data center at lower cost, because the system’s cooling capability means a reduction in both average and peak power consumption. Since most build-out costs, when it comes to data centers, scale with peak power the payoff proposed is packed into the concept of reducing average data-center consumption by approximately 30% (and peak power by more, still). The company pegs the buildout-savings of a liquid-cooling center at 30%–40%, as compared to that of a traditional air-cooled arrangement.

Running Numbers

The fulcrum of a decision, when it comes the reasons an IT department might go with submersion cooling, is probably in the long game. The numbers on that would be along the following lines.

— Payback Period: GRC estimates that most refits of a data center with liquid-cooling technology would achieve savings paybacks within 3 years. A single 10kW, 42U Rack at 8 cents/kWh is estimated to typically save over $5,000 per year in electricity costs.

— Lifetime Savings: While GRC acknowledges that longterm savings will differ from company to company, the typical system is “$100,000 per 42U rack over 10 years, split between energy and infrastructure savings.”

So, that’s the rundown on what GRC says it can do. Of course, there’s a lot to consider, when thinking about a data-center switchover, or a new build. For more info about the system, and the deeper details of liquid-submersion tech, check this FAQ.

 

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An App in Pursuit of Finding Wi-Fi

Finding a strong wireless signal has become essential for those carrying almost any piece of technology. Aside from smartphones, tablets, and laptops, now even digital cameras are entering the internet-connectivity fray. But as dependent as people and their mobile devices are on the internet, finding a wireless signal to stay connected to is usually a recurring hurdle.

And that’s where the one-beat — yet still brilliant — ‘Wi-Fi Finder’ app comes into play. JiWire’s Wi-Fi Finder, like Google Maps, uses geo-tracking to find your location, but it is then able to direct you to a variety of wireless internet options in your vicinity.

With Wi-Fi Finder, not only can you uncover internet anywhere, but also, prospective users can further filter the types of internet they’d like to use. In addition to toggling between “paid” and “free” (or both) connections, the app features “location type” (store, restaurant, park, etc.), “providers” (AT&T, T-Mobile, etc.), or whether there’s just an internet hotspot (e.g. Boingo) available.

As handy as Wi-Fi Finder can be in a pinch, the app can also be used ahead of time too. For instance, if you’re specifically looking for a cafe on Charles Street in Manhattan’s West Village, the app can inform you which cafes have wireless and whether you’ll have to pay for it.

(Screenshot #1: the search filters)

Wi-Fi Finder App Search Filters

 

(Screenshot #2: the map feature)

Wi-Fi Finder App Map Screen

(Screenshot #3: the search results)

Wi-Fi Finder App Search Results

But perhaps the app’s best feature is its off-line database. Even if you don’t have a network connection, users can still access Wi-Fi Finder’s off-line database to find a nearby hotspot. This function is particularly helpful while abroad, especially if you want to use your home smart phone, but would rather not pay the exorbitant roaming fees.

Wi-Fi Finder is a free app, and can be downloaded in either the iTunes Store (for the iPhone or iPad) or Google Play Store (for any Android device).

 

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Cleaning up your life with digital feng shui

Feng Shui RocksIt’s hard to let go, believe me.

I’ve clung onto files I’ll never use with the firm belief that they’ll be useful one day.

I’m totally gonna need that A+ essay I wrote in 10th grade on “Six Characters in Search of an Author” as a professional writing sample! 

Really?!

I can’t even remember what folder I’ve stuffed it in on my laptop from high school. Needless to say, it’s somewhere in PC purgatory.

Now if that laptop stops working, that essay I was so proud of will be lost forever. When my laptop finally does stop functioning, it will likely be because it has decided to retire itself after the four years of abuse I put it through during high school and the additional five years it has survived my father’s torture.

The truth is, my writing has (hopefully) improved beyond a 10th-grade writing level, so there’s no need for me to reference any essay that’s more than a few years old. But what about my more recent written pieces, or those incredibly important files that I absolutely must cling onto for the rest of my life?

I can’t just cross my fingers hoping that if I treat my current laptop well, it — along with all my precious files — will stay with me for a lifetime.

While it hasn’t failed me yet, I used to hate my computer.

Folders filled with documents I don’t use. Works I can’t remember authoring. Drafts that should never see the light of day.

It’s a mess.

I realized all the unorganized files I kept scattered around my desktop interrupted my workflow and put me in a bad mood every time I just looked at them.

To create peace of mind, I uploaded everything I owned to a cloud server and deleted anything that wasn’t created recently or part of an on-going project to maintain a clean, uncluttered desktop.

I no longer have thousands of files glaring at me on my PC. I can flexibly manage all of my files in the cloud and never have to worry about clogging up my hard drive. My computer also runs smoother now that there’s less ‘junk’ it has to put up with.

Let’s get cleaning!

If any of this resonates with you, here’s how you can start cleaning up your digital life:

First, locate all the files you have on your computer that you wouldn’t mind relocating. Second, get rid of anything you no longer need — stop being so clingy! Finally, take whatever is left, and move it to your new cloud server.

For a small monthly fee, you save yourself a ton of headaches and stress never having to look at a cluttered desktop again. There is also an added benefit of having easy access to your files on any electronic device with a solid internet connection.

Digital feng shui is good.

For some, it’s a ritual to open your own computer and know exactly where your files are kept and stored. For me, it was a nightmare to turn on my laptop and look at the mess I had accumulated.

But now I can hop on any computer, access my files anywhere and everywhere, and since I’ve organized all of my files after uploading them to the cloud, I can pull up any document I need within seconds and am ready to rock-n-roll.

 

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SnapChat Revolutionizes How Users Share Private Media

Snapchat ScreenshotAs proven by the hundred million users on Instagram, people love to share all kinds of photos. But when it comes to sharing those more intimate types of media, there’s little preventing the recipient from publicly re-sharing it with a wider audience. To help solve that troubling disparity, SnapChat has become the first mainstream app to put an end to user’s privacy concerns.

Unlike sending a picture through regular text, SnapChat pictures will self-destruct. Senders can set a specific life for the picture — from one to ten seconds — for viewers to be able to view the picture. After the time runs out, it is terminated forever. The media is also deleted from SnapChat’s servers too. Considering how Instragram’s designs to own and profit from user’s content backfired, this already puts SnapChat ahead of the terms-of-service curve.

Even though SnapChat has been around since September 2011, it has emerged as a innovative social media more recently. According to co-founder Evan Spiegel, more than twenty million photos are shared per day, with over a billion photos shared since it’s debut. Apparently Facebook took notice, and created its own version of the app, revitalizing the formerly-dead ‘Poke’ function. And while Facebook could technically tap into its existing base to propel the application’s success, SnapChat might still be the superior option as Poke fails to alert users when recipients take screenshots of the supposedly-private conversation. In this respect, Poke fails the privacy test, which is essentially the whole initial point of the app.

Technology experts have questioned whether SnapChat’s ceiling is merely a tool for provocative messaging, or if it has the depth to become the next photo-sharing giant, but regardless of accusations, the company has seemingly found a large enough niche to monetize in the near future.

 

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