Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Back in business

Monday, May 12th, 2014

Wow, it has been over two years since my last post (it was about OpenStack vs CloudStack) – and a lot has happened during this time. But now it’s finally time to get rolling again, both on the blog as well as on Twitter.

A lot of things have happened in the meanwhile. Professionally, we are making cloud – telco cloud – really happen, spiced up with a bit of SDN too (hence my change of work title and focus). Personally, our family has grown with one new member, Örs András, who just passed the solid age of 1 year two months ago.

I guess this is enough to get this blog active again 🙂 Watch out for a new post on PaaS and cloud computing coming up soon.

Is multi-core programming still hot?

Friday, April 27th, 2012

This is an idea that has been bugging me for a while: just how critical and hot multi-core programming is? Or, better phrased: is it relevant for the programmer at large or is it just a niche issue for some domains?

What triggered me to write this post is a recent business development workshop I attended in Gothenburg, organized as part of the HiPEAC Computing Systems Week. The goal was to draw up the business canvas for research ideas in order to facilitate moving them into mainstream – and this is where I saw the question emerge again: given a technology that helps you parallelize your software, who will really be interested in buying it?

It has been argued for a while that end user device applications and PC software won’t really need to bother beyond a few cores: multi-tasking will make sure that cores are used efficiently. Talking with web developers and those writing software for cloud platforms, the conclusion was the same: they haven’t seen the need to bother about anything: all this is happening at so low level from their perspective that it’s irrelevant.

With all this out of the scope, what is really left?

High performance computing for sure is in dire need of good programming models for many-core chips, in light of the search for the teraflops machine. But, this is a quite niche domain, as are some other, such as OS development or gaming platforms. Honestly, I have to admit: beyond these, I haven’t seen much interest or buzz about multi-core programming, a bit as if the whole hype would have vanished and settled into a stable state. To be honest, it’s as it should be: given the level of sophistication and performance reached for single cores, any but the most demanding applications will find that just one core – or maybe a few, using functional partitioning – will just be enough.

What will this mean?

I think the research community will have to come out and make it clear that the whole area shall be specialized, instead of shooting for a holistic solution that no-one will need. Yes, we will have to fix the needs of specific domains – high performance computing, gaming, perhaps telecoms – but beyond that further efforts will have little practical applicability. Other domains: power efficient computing and extreme, cloud based scalability will be the ones that will matter and it’s where research efforts shall be focused.

With this, I think it’s time for me to leave multi-core programming behind – on this blog and in professional life and focus on those things that can make a broader difference.

Why OpenStack?

Saturday, February 25th, 2012

As you probably saw, Ericsson has recently joined the OpenStack project. One may ask: why OpenStack, what’s the point of it?

The answer is not connected to Ericsson (and, of course, represents my personal view only), but it’s simple: it is really about openness. Openness is not about open source, alone but it’s about freedom of choice: freedom to pick and mix your hardware according to you needs; freedom to design your network as you want; freedom to use the virtualization technology of your choice. The ITC industry was extremely successful at creating a bewildering choice of compute, storage and network hardware, virtualization platforms, virtual network models and so on – to be fair, each with its benefits (and more often than not, drawbacks). Trying to create the perfect, one fits all “standard” HW and virtualization platform is doomed to fail and would just result in yet another set of offerings. Better leave that area alone: if you are building a mission critical cloud, you are better off with e.g. a telecom blade system; if you are just after a vanilla IaaS platform, many vanilla IT blade vendors will be happy to serve you: the choice is – and should be – yours.

This is where OpenStack got it right: it aims at providing a software abstraction layer above the HW and virtualization layer that can hide and enable management of this bewildering diversity. It’s a tacit recognition of the fact that real value comes from the rest of your stack: how you manage automation, elasticity, scalability, resiliency; how you integrate with BSS systems and so on. Let the guys fight out the race to the bottom, wrap them into OpenStack and create real value.

When we first started using OpenStack, it was soon enough strikingly clear how powerful their model is: we were able to add ground-breaking features such as WAN elasticity, distributed cloud support, SIM based authentication and many more (about which I will talk at the World Telecommunication Congress) – while keeping the abstraction layer untouched. In addition, being an open source project, it was like a wish come true process: whenever we identified the need for some feature, soon enough turned out that someone actually was working on it.

However, in order to live up to its promise, OpenStack has to keep following the same principles: support the broadest possible set of HW and support the broadest set of hypervisors, with equal quality. If the community starts relaxing this holistic approach, it will reduce the appeal of OpenStack and might eventually have the same fate as many other open source projects: loose momentum, loose corporate backing and eventually fold.

So, let the era of cloud freedom roll on and I’m sure some cool stuff will be coming soon from the OpenStack-based community.

The reverse business model

Tuesday, December 27th, 2011

I’ve been championing for a while what I call the ‘reverse business model’, so I’m glad to see it applied more and more often – most recently in a deal struck between Google and Mozilla, securing significant funding for the browser developer in return for making (keeping) Google as the default search engine.

In short, the reverse business model is about charging the service/product provider, instead of the end consumer: instead of having an end user pay for a service, charge the original service provider for it, this way making sure the end user gets (the appearance of) a ‘free’ service (of course, at the end, he will pay up – but through a different channel). Examples of this model include charging web sites for premium connectivity from the end user (say hi to non-neutral net) or charging companies using social network sites such as Facebook – see my post about monetizing social networks. Google’s deal with Mozilla falls clearly into this category, making sure that Firefox’s users will use Google instead of Bing or Yahoo.

Will this model prevail for web based services? I believe it’s the only way for monetizing some of the most popular on-line services, such as social network sites; incidentally, it’s one of the ways e.g. operators can monetize over the top delivery of web and cloud services.

But more about that in another post.

Monetizing social networks

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

IEEE Spectrum recently published an interesting article about monetizing social networks (titled The revolution will not be monetized). It makes a good reading with a provocative conclusion: advertising will not be able to generate sufficient revenue to keep the ball rolling in the long term. So, where will money come from?

I’ve wrote already once about monetizing web content and services, where I came to the same conclusion: advertising only makes sense if you know exactly what your target is planning to do: otherwise it’s little more than an annoyance that will scare customers away. But, is that true for Facebook as well?

Whenever I log into Facebook, I see the status updates from my friends, including “friends” such as airline companies, hotels, my local mobile provider etc. What I’m being served is actually advertisement from companies I’m likely to use, a piece of information I gave away about myself as soon as I ‘Like’-d them. I confess: I rarely click on any banner, but I DID click on some of the links posted by my merchant ‘friends’. Does anyone monetize that? Of course: the companies themselves, but no one else.

There’s another case that went largely unnoticed. During last year’s volcanic ash crisis, most airline companies’ website were down or only served up an ugly looking text file with laconic updates. Meanwhile, those clever enough to have a Facebook account kept their customers up to date by the minute, leveraging on Facebook’s massive computing power: effectively, these airline companies turned Facebook into a free Infrastructure as a Service (or Platform as a Service, if you consider status updates a service) provider, winning high notes from their customers. Communication was also more personal, the companies’ Facebook operators replying to individual comments as well. In fact, afterwards, instead of calling their help-line, I contacted my favorite airline company through Facebook – and they solved my issue quickly.

So here’s my suggestion for Facebook & co: start monetizing on your company customers. You are giving away a huge opportunity for making money by letting them advertise themselves, interact with their customers, use your infrastructure essentially for free. To some extent, this is what LinkedIn is doing already: charging company members for recruiting services and job postings. Extending the model beyond that is the natural next step for me and it’s monetizing on the greatest asset social networks have: large number of users who themselves chose – and disclosed – what they are interested in, coupled with a large number of companies willing and eager to reach out to those hundreds of millions of potential customers.

It’s a bit like the 21st century TV: you tune in to what is interesting for you, advertisers push out their content and Facebook (the TV program) aggregates it for you. Welcome to the new world of interactive media.

Evolution as machine learning

Friday, June 10th, 2011

This week I had the chance to attend the Turing award lecture of the 2010 winner, Leslie Valiant. His research focuses on computational complexity which is of marginal interest for me, so I had no great expectations – nevertheless, this being the equivalent of Nobel price acceptance speech for computer science, I felt compelled to attend.

How wrong I was: instead of a lecture on his research he delivered one of those speeches that really make you think and provide plenty of food for thought. First – after making clear that he believes strongly in the theory of evolution – he laid out the basic problem with evolution: we don’t have a way to prove that evolution was indeed possible, given the huge potential variety – is it possible to reach the current living ecosystem without ‘external guidance’? Is at all possible that 4.5 billion years are sufficient?

His thesis was that evolution can be modeled as a machine learning process. The ‘machine’ is the living ecosystem itself; the training samples are the variations in the DNA; the result of learning is derived from survival (positive) or not (negative). In this context, one of the most intriguing questions is – what the machine is trained for, or, simply put, what is the meaning of the living world and that of evolution? Valiant’s answer: living ecosystem that always reacts in an optimal way to the surrounding world. Pretty interesting idea, I must admit.

Unfortunately Valiant was unable to provide the actual “formula of life” modeled as a machine learning process and, consequently, no proof that evolution can autonomously happen, without that ‘external guidance’ (God?). However, he made a very compelling argument that this kind of model actually can be useful and the whole line of thought was just intriguingly fresh, visionary and challenging.

As a Turing award winner’s speech should be.

Embracing twitter

Friday, May 20th, 2011

Finally, I saw the light: I’ll start twitting – so follow me here.

Let’s see how this works out.

Why Microsoft will not buy Nokia

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011

There’s been some buzz lately around an alleged take-over by Microsoft of Nokia’s smartphone business (launched by a well known Nokia whistle blower blogger and spread by all major technology news sites). Well, I don’t think this will happen any time soon, for quite a number of reasons.

First, Microsoft has all it needs from Nokia: the largest smartphone manufacturer will use Windows Phone which will give a strong position for the Redmond based company. Spending more money (a lot of money – at least 40 BUSD) would be really hard to justify, as it would take a long time and would involve huge risks until it would pay off.

Second, Microsoft never went into building laptops itself and for good reason: by doing so, they risked alienating other HW companies licensing the Windows operating system, despite the dominant market position. For Windows Phone, a small player in a big market, buying Nokia and turning Microsoft into a phone manufacturer would almost certainly mean that no other phone company – the likes of Samsung, HTC, LG and others – would license it anymore. Why risk this market, when you can eat your cake (partner with Nokia) and keep it too (keep existing relationships intact).

Third, Google’s experiences with the Nexus phone – or even the accelerated decline of Symbian once Nokia took it over – are warning signs for anyone planning to be a phone platform provider at the same time as it sells products based on that platform. This argument is essentially based on the same underlying gentlemen’s rule as the second argument: you can’t be a partner while competing in the exactly same domain.

Of course, by taking a huge gamble, Microsoft may still go down this path – but becoming a new, bloated Apple at the cost of several tens of billions of dollars just seems too big a risk to take, even for Steve Ballmer.The stakes are just not worth it.

Whitepaper on Telecom Cloud Computing

Thursday, May 12th, 2011

Scope Alliance (the alliance of network equipment providers committed to providing standardized base platforms) has just released their whitepaper on telecom cloud computing. I had the honor to be the editor of the document, produced jointly by Ericsson and several of our competitors. Next week the coming out party for the paper will be held at the OpenSAF conference where I will have a talk focusing on its content (see the agenda).

Playing the history detective, part III: the big picture

Sunday, May 8th, 2011

So I managed to trace my family back to Tordátfalva, apparently. There’s no surviving church record from the 17th century in Tordátfalva, but nevertheless the link to Tordátfalva was real enough. Combing through the “lustrák” once again, there they were: Vajda János in 1602, 1604; Vajda Péter in 1627, 1635, 1648, 1655; Vajda Mihály, Péter’s young son, in 1635. All of them were regular Székelys, not nobles and there was another twist: for long periods of times they disappear, only to show up again; there’s no Vajda mentioned in 1614, nor after 1655, such as 1674 or 1679 (still, they move to Bölön from Tordátfalva in early 1680s). I have only one possible solution for this: they were likely regular court soldiers at the princes’ court with long absences – including families – from home. Quite possibly this service led to the acquisition of the noble title sometimes between 1655 and 1683 (and may, just may, be at the origin of the name Vajda: the official title of the governor of Transylvania under the Hungarian kingdom was ‘vajda’ and people serving them often inherited the title as their family name). So, I have my work carved out to figure out when and how that – the acquisition of the name and noble title – really happened 😉 . Going further back in time is quite unlikely, given the location of the original home base of the family and the noble status acquired quite late in the process – but I will certainly keep trying; you never know which royal or princely decree might mention them in one context or the other.

In summary, it was a fascinating journey. I have now 15 generations of Vajda documented, spanning the whole history of the independent Transylvanian state, the Austrian-Hungarian empire as well as that of the Unitarian faith: Vajda János, mentioned in 1602 as a grown up soldier, is likely the first who was baptized in the Unitarian faith, only formed during the 1570s – and at the base of the first ever declaration of religious freedom in the world. My forefathers served as soldiers under all the great princes of Transylvania – the Báthory rulers (who, when Báthory István was elected Polish king, ruled from Tartu, Estonia till Transylvania), Rákóczi princes and, of course, were there in the 30 years war during Transylvania’s golden age under Bethlen Gábor.

I don’t care much about titles or similar things. However, it feels good to dig out the context in which my forefathers were part of something I’m truly proud of – Transylvania and what it contributed to the world: the first declaration of religious freedom ever and the Unitarian faith, maintained throughout 15 generations.

P.S.: If I’m not mistaken, this is my first post about family in English. There’s a start for everything, apparently.

Playing the history detective, part II: historic forensics

Sunday, May 8th, 2011

Many of the ‘lustrák’ were published in a series of books titled ‘Székely historical documents’. Several of these are available digitally so I went one digging through these – with little success. I figured out that there was no Vajda in Bölön before 1650, so they likely moved there between 1650 and 1712. Checking the Vajda and Vayda families in other places, there were quite a few of them scattered around several villages with no obvious connections. The most promising path was the Vayda family in Közép-Ajta, very close to Bölön. Were they my forefathers? Can I link them to my known and confirmed forefathers?

I couldn’t. I was speculating.

The project was stuck for a while until I managed to get hold of the last two books in the aforementioned series: I had to order these as physical copies, as no digitized copy was available. After a few weeks of eagerly waiting for the delivery, the books finally arrived – with “lustra” from 1683 and some previously unavailable years.

And the missing link was there, right in the front of my eyes. It’s one of those rare Heureka! moments when something previously intractable suddenly becomes obvious: in a lucky coincidence, in the lustra from 1683, at the Bölön list, there were not only two relevant names listed under the ‘lófö’ (small nobility) section, but there was unexpected extra information:

“Vajda János, Udvarhelyszékröl, Tordátfalváról költözött ide”

(Vajda János, moved here from Tordátfalva, Udvarhelyszék”)

“Vajda István, Udvarhelyszékröl, Tordátfalváról költözött ide”

(Vajda István, moved here from Tordátfalva, Udvarhelyszék”)

Even more interestingly, István was inserted later into the hand-written list, as if he would have shown up exactly during the process of writing down the conscripts.

I was stunned. It was even more significant as the “lustra” of 1680 had still no Vajda in Bölön – so there it was: my family moved to Bölön, sometimes between 1680-1683 (likely the later, judging from István’s status), from Tordátfalva, which, then as now, is just a small Unitarian village tuck away in a valley (it had 21 houses in the 17th century and has about 100 inhabitants today, more details about the village in Hungarian can be found here).

But, is there any trace of Vajda in Tordátfalva? That was the next step in the forensic work.

Playing the history detective, part I: how one thing leads to the next

Sunday, May 8th, 2011

It is just funny how one thing sometimes leads to another, seemingly unrelated thing. About two months ago there was a burglary at our house in Transylvania; nothing valuable was stolen (at least not from us, our tenant was less lucky), but the perpetrators (caught in the meantime) left such a mess, that I had to go home to fix things.

And here all began.

In the process of sorting through papers that I never knew existed, I found the birth certificates of the grandparents of my grandparents, going back all the way to the first part of the 19th century. It was a tipping point: suddenly, I felt an urge to find out more about my family’s history, especially about the paternal line. For sure, I had some info available: I knew they hailed from Bölön, once the largest settlement in Szeklerland; I also knew they acquired a noble title at some point; and now I had the lineage going back six generations. But that was about it – the rest was a big unknown.

So I set out to find out more.

As context, it’s useful to spend a few words on Szeklers (or Székelys, in Hungarian). This particular group of Hungarians living in the mountainous region of southeast Transylvania – some claim that they were actually descendants of Attila’s Huns – played a very specific role in the history of Hungary and later Transylvania. They were always organized based on egalitarian principles, unlike the rest of the country; they kept their personal liberty and were exempt from paying tax – in return for serving as soldiers whenever required. This way, the kings of Hungary and later the princes of Transylvania had at their disposal a regular army that was well trained and easy to mobilize on short notice.

Due to this specific setup, the kings and princes made sure that the male population was regularly counted and listed by name in a so-called “lustra” (conscript list) that contained valuable information on the population of each village and is a great source for genealogical research. Church accounts of births, marriages and burials are of course more detailed, but unfortunately only stretch back till the early 18th century.

Googling around quickly revealed that there was a noble Vajda family in Bölön in 1712, but not yet in 1614. I also came across the Transylvanian Genealogical Society; its president János Kocs provided valuable insights based on the Unitarian Church records in Bölön and eventually provided me with the complete record – in digital form – stretching back to 1735. There it was – my father lineage clearly traceable all the way back to one of the three possible fore-fathers whose deaths are recorded after 1739.

In addition, the church records also made clear that in the early part of the 18th century there were very few Vajdas in Bölön, which made it likely that they moved there only shortly before – but where from and when? And, so to speak, ‘was there life before Bölön’?

The book is out (for pre-order)

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

This is just a short note that now you can order the book on many-core programming, e.g. from Amazon. It’s scheduled to be available in July, but I’m told it may come earlier.

Springer’s page has more information on the book.

How the new conductor wants to make the elephant dance again

Saturday, January 29th, 2011

Back in June 2010, long before Nokia brought in Elop as the new CEO, I predicted that Nokia’s salvation may come from a strategic alliance with Microsoft. With the announced strategic message to come out on the 11th of February, speculation is rife across the internet what the new strategy might look like.

So, here’s mine 😉

The message will be simple and clear and will be summarized in three points:

1. The alternative to Apple and the ‘pee in the pants’ ((c) former Nokia VP) strategy of the Android camp has to come from a two-legged strategy: Symbian and Windows Phone, through a deep, strategic alliance with Microsoft

2. MeeGo is phased out – hard to build a new ecosystem from scratch (and it’s easy to do: no legacy to support, no sales are jeopardized)

3. Symbian for cost-aware, Windows Phone for high end phones

In practice this will mean the death of Symbian^3 as well, but over time: declaring it now would kill a large part of Nokia’s sales during 2011-2012 (until the WinPhone comes out – who would buy a dead OS-based phone?); what’s in the production  pipeline already will be the last Nokia phones based on Symbian. What will survive however is S40 for the low-end phones which are still the bread and butter of Nokia’s revenue. For high end, it will be all Windows.

There’s a subtle connection here to Microsoft’s announced plans to make Windows 8 available on ARM processors as well: this, combined with a likely unification with Windows Phone, will enable Nokia to build both ARM and Intel-based phones and tablets in the future, while leveraging the same software stack. It will be a clear differentiator compared with Apple or the Android camp and allows addressing different segments (e.g. business and consumer) with different offerings. Windows Phone also represents the last chance to enter to US market which, given the combined financial strengths of Microsoft and Nokia and a good understanding of the market by the former, is within reach.

(once again, this is a pure speculative post, based solely on intuition and interpretation of publicly available material; pure work of fiction)

P.S. It turns out, this is my 100th post in exactly 2 years and 4 months. That’s about 1 post every 9 days. D.S.

What you can learn by writing a book

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

At some point in time, I thought I will actually never be able to put it in writing, but here it is: I managed to finish the book on many-core programming I’ve been working on (with two co-authors) for the past one and a half year – complete with references, figures and word index. It’s now submitted to the publisher, so stay tuned for a release in June.

It was a one of a kind experience. I learned a lot on the technical side but, even more importantly, a lot of the” do:s and don’t:s” of writing a book. Working on a book is a solitary experience and – especially towards the end – a race against the clock and number of pages. You just sit in front of your screen and type and type and type, with the sword of public criticism over your head: every mistake you make will be criticized, perhaps ridiculed. You try to get the text in shape, only to realize, at the end, that the most time-consuming and dull work is to actually get your references, keywords and figures in shape – let alone proof-reading and fixing the raw text you produced.

Would I do it again? Probably yes, but certainly not right how. Will I read it, once out in the wild?

Don’t know. Let me know if it’s worth reading 😉

A tale of the textile and software industry – part II

Friday, December 3rd, 2010
My earlier post on the similarities between the textile and software industry triggered some feedback. Some agreed, some didn’t; one comment, from Mike Williams himself argued that we should be able to push our cost so low that the cost of outsourcing would be much higher.
I think this line of thinking is missing one important point and that’s what I want to elaborate on. During the past few decades, globalization led to the emergence of two parallel power structures, that sometimes interact, sometimes are at odds but clearly influence each other.
The first power structure is the traditional national state setup of our world. Traditionally relationships between states defined the power structures, guided wars and defined if and where peace can prevail, as well as which companies get the upper hand, who gets access to resources etc. This structure is very much alive, but a parallel set of global actors are emerging and are gradually bringing forward their interests and start flexing their powers.
Obviously, I mean global corporations. Many of these have long ago ceased to be entities rooted in national countries – they act globally, have a global structure and clear set of goals, vision and strategy. The two power structures are obviously strongly interconnected and dependent on each other (ultimately, the power of a state relies on the taxes it collects from economic actitiies; many companies are state owned etc) but are increasingly at odds with each other. States want to keep jobs, companies ultimately want to minimize costs; states want to increase tax revenues, companies need to generate profits – and so on. Intel’s CEO said some years ago, that his company could easily operate fully outside of USA; Nokia’s push to reform Finland’s tax system was widely discussed and debated; many UK based companies chose to relocate their headquarters for tax reasons.
My point is really that shifting jobs around is not equal outsourcing anymore. A large global company could decide to shift its R&D to where it’s most cost efficient (while certain requirements – related to e.g. IPR protection, legal stability, human rights (at least for good global citizens) – are fulfilled). This may be bad from a country’s point of view, but makes perfect sense for shareholders; no matter how efficient you become, it will be evenually replicated elsewhere. It’s not the way to fight the inevitable – instead focus on high value added areas where the operational costs are negligable and whereyour country will the primary choice for other reasons (such as quality of living, infrastructure etc)
If you can’t beat them, differentiate yourself.

My earlier post on the similarities between the textile and software industry triggered some feedback. Some agreed, some didn’t; one comment, from Mike Williams himself argued that we (Westerners) should be able to push our cost so low that the cost of outsourcing would be much higher.

I think this line of thinking is missing one important point and that’s what I want to elaborate on. During the past few decades, globalization led to the emergence of two parallel power structures, that sometimes interact, sometimes are at odds but clearly influence each other.

The first power structure is the traditional national state setup of our world. Traditionally relationships between states defined the power structures, guided wars and defined if and where peace can prevail, as well as which companies get the upper hand, who gets access to resources etc. This structure is very much alive, but a parallel set of global actors are emerging and are gradually bringing forward their interests and start flexing their powers.

Obviously I mean global corporations. Many of these have long ago ceased to be entities rooted in national countries – they act globally, have a global structure and clear set of goals, vision and strategy. The two power structures are obviously strongly interconnected and dependent on each other (ultimately, the power of a state relies on the taxes it collects from economic actitiies; many companies are state owned etc) but are increasingly at odds with each other. States want to keep jobs, companies ultimately want to minimize costs; states want to increase tax revenues, companies need to generate profits – and so on. Intel’s CEO said some years ago, that his company could easily operate fully outside of USA; Nokia’s push to reform Finland’s tax system was widely discussed and debated; many UK based companies chose to relocate their headquarters for tax reasons.

My point is really that shifting jobs around is not equal outsourcing anymore. A large global company could decide to shift its R&D to where it’s most cost efficient (while certain requirements – related to e.g. IPR protection, legal stability, human rights, at least for good global citizens – are fulfilled). This may be bad from a country’s point of view, but makes perfect sense for shareholders; no matter how efficient you become, it will eventually be replicated elsewhere. It’s not the way to fight the inevitable – instead focus on high value added areas where the operational costs are negligable and where your country will be the primary choice for other reasons (such as quality of living, infrastructure etc)

If you can’t beat them, differentiate yourself.

Thinking ahead

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

Ericsson has launched, during 2010, a blog geared towards new ideas and different perspectives. One of the main goals of ‘Thinking ahead‘ (the name of the blog) is to foster open debate around the future of communications and how these will impact our lives. I think this is a good idea, especially that both bloggers from inside and outside of the company are invited to share their vision.

Now I’m one of those bloggers. My first post – about computing swarms – just went live and more will likely follow. Check it out and feel free to comment, either there, here or in both places 😉

How to make the elephant dance again

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

I must start this post with a disclaimer: what’s expressed here is my private opinion, may not reflect my employer’s official position and it’s based solely on publicly available information and my own thinking alone.

That being said, I must admit I was pondering this post for quite a while. Living in Finland and working in the telecom industry, it’s impossible not to take notice of the travails that Nokia is traversing. Its market share in smartphones is steadily going down; its revenues are declining (latest warning was issues just days ago); its capitalization has fallen below most of its traditional or newfound, former or present rivals (most recent company to surpass Nokia’s valuation is Ericsson). Most importantly, its image of innovative, cool, high tech company was badly tarnished in the developed world (with the exception of Finland, perhaps).

To be fair, Nokia is still the one to beat and it performs very well in emerging markets, mainly due to its world class supply chain and ability to deliver cheap feature phones. But ignoring the clouds on the horizon would be a fatal mistake; smartphones seem to dominate for years to come and that’s a battle where Nokia is on the loosing side.

Nokia’s situation is similar to that in which RIM (the maker of Blackberries) finds itself. Its products are loosing their shine and being able to read emails on your mobile phones is no longer a differentiating feature. Both companies are trying desperately to strike back: Nokia’s netbook (have you heard of it lately?), RIM’s tablet announcement, touch screens etc are all desperate attempts to catch up with the new guys on the block (Apple and the Android camp).

So why is Nokia losing its battle and how could it bounce back?

There are several root causes. The first one, in my humble opinion, is the insistence on Symbian, a long ago outdated operating systems that few people develop software for. If Nokia would have opened it up 10 years ago, the world would look different – but it insisted on a semi-closed, hard to develop for system, trying to do everything (or most) itself. The strategy failed and now seems to be too late to change that. Coupled with a less than well planned ovi.com launch, Nokia lost precious time that allowed others to surpass it.

The second cause has to do with design. Nokia’s phones may be feature-packed, but bricks they are. Coupled with software designed for engineers rather than average people, these are as appealing as a 60 year old former top model who refused to undergo a  lift-off surgery.

There are many more reasons, but I’ll stop here and rather focus on how this may be turned around.

So, what should Nokia do? Continue as today?

Definetly not. There’s another company with a lot of resources that is desperately trying to (re)gain ground in mobile devices. They have a great backend to build on, they have the resources, but somehow they keep slipping back in this domain. They also need a big lift to bounce back. Well, in my humble opinion, Nokia shall partner with them.

So, which company am I talking about?

It’s Microsoft.

It has been steadily loosing ground with (outdated) Windows Mobile, while trying to apply the same model as in the PC business (provide the software, let others do the hardware). Windows Phone 7 seems to be a step in the right direction, but with the same model, it will be terribly hard. On the other hand, Microsoft is great in cloud computing and the control of big Windows is a huge, under-utilized asset. Imagine a well designed, cheap to produce phone that runs Windows and integrates perfectly with the desktop, sporting thousands and thousands of apps – mostly the same as in the PC world. It  would be a great offering that would be hard to match.

What is needed is someone to provide that phone with which the software can be tightly integrated – and that’s why partnering with Nokia would be a match made in heaven (or hell, if you are ‘one of those’). The company cultures are compatible and the team-up, with the right marketing, would create the ‘wow’ factor both companies badly need.

One could argue that this means Nokia giving up its ambitions of becoming a services and software company. I disagree. The team-up – short of a merger of some kind – would offer a lot for both companies and would create an eco-system from which both would benefit. Nokia can still continue its services efforts, but leverage on Microsoft’s Azure; develop software, but on a platform that is likely to be far more user centric than what Nokia has ever built; crucially, it provides access to the American market, something that Nokia failed to penetrate.

I’m convinced that this battle will play out between Apple, the Android camp and Windows phone. Apple is the one-man, fully integrated show; Android is the traditional software-hardware decoupling; a Nokia-Microsoft alliance would be the middle ground that would bring the best of two worlds – IT and telecom – together.

A winning formula. But time is running out.

P.S: A graph to tell it all, fresh from Bloomberg.

My ancestors’ great journey

Monday, December 7th, 2009

For my last birthday I asked for as present – and received 🙂 – a genetic testing kit sold as part of the Genographic Project, a research project of National Geographic and IBM. Finally, the results were posted over the last weekend – so here’s the story of my ancestors.

I chose to have the Y-chromosome test, which would indicate my father lineage. Before going to the results, here’s a short intro to how testing is done and what the concepts of haplogroups and markers really mean. Quote from my report:

Each of us carries DNA that is a combination of genes passed from both our mother and father, giving us traits that range from eye color and height to athleticism and disease susceptibility. One exception is the Y chromosome, which is passed directly from father to son, unchanged, from generation to generation.

Unchanged, that is unless a mutation—a random, naturally occurring, usually harmless change—occurs. The mutation, known as a marker, acts as a beacon; it can be mapped through generations because it will be passed down from the man in whom it occurred to his sons, their sons, and every male in his family for thousands of years.

In some instances there may be more than one mutational event that defines a particular branch on the tree. This means that any of these markers can be used to determine your particular haplogroup, since every individual who has one of these markers also has the others.

When geneticists identify such a marker, they try to figure out when it first occurred, and in which geographic region of the world. Each marker is essentially the beginning of a new lineage on the family tree of the human race. Tracking the lineages provides a picture of how small tribes of modern humans in Africa tens of thousands of years ago diversified and spread to populate the world.

A haplogroup is defined by a series of markers that are shared by other men who carry the same random mutations. The markers trace the path your ancestors took as they moved out of Africa.

My haplogroup is R1b and it includes the markers M168, M89, M9, M45, M207, 173, M343 – in case you want to know the scientific version 😉 . The narrated one goes like this:

My earlieast identifiable forefather lived  roughly 50000 years ago in Eastern Africa – and he is the common ancestor of all non-African man living today. At about 45000 years ago, one of his grand-grand-…-sons moved to Middle East as part of the second exodus out of Africa and some of his descendants continued to Iran and Central Asia. 90-95% of all non-Africans are his descendants.

The next significant event happened about 40000 years ago when one of my forefathers, living in Iran or southern Central Asia spawned a lineage that over the next 30000 years populated much of the planet (except Africa and Australia).  Two clans formed in Tajikistan: some moved into Central Asia, some moved to Pakistan and the Indian subcontinent. My next forefather travelled with the first group and one of his descendants – about 35000 years ago – is at the origins of most Europeans and nearly all Native American men.

At about 30000 years ago, there was another split in the family, with one sub-clan turning south and making it all the way to India, while the other turning towards Europe – my direct forefather being one of them. They became the first Homo Sapiens to reach Europe, giving rise to the Aurignacian culture. Cooling climate forced my ancestors to move south – so 90% of all men in Spain belong to the same large family; the last big identifiable turn of genetic fortune happened at about this time, giving rise to my last known genetic forefather – the ancestor of those who formed the Cro-Magnon group during the last ice age and created the famous cave paintings, including the ones in the Altamira cave.

This is where my genetic story ends. It makes me proud knowing that I’m the direct descendants of the first colonizers of Europe – but it also tells me that, at least on the father line, I cannot be a ‘biological’ Hungarian: my male ancestors have lived in Europe since they first arrived here, 30000 years ago, most probably in Southern Europe – and did not arrive 1100 years ago with the rest of the Hungarians.

Which makes the prospect of checking my mother’s linage all the more interesting 😉 .

Big Sky Country

Friday, October 16th, 2009

This time, just a photo blog – I believe the pictures speak for themselves. Enjoy.

Lone Mountain in the back

Lone Mountain in the back

Montana Ranch with the Rockies in the back

Montana Ranch with the Rockies in the back

The Prairie

The Prairie

Small town in Montana

Small town in Montana

Entering Blackfeet Indian Nation Territory

Entering Blackfeet Indian Nation Territory

The Rockies: St.Mary's Lake

The Rockies: St.Mary's Lake

The Rockies

The Rockies

The Rockies

The Rockies

The Continental Divide: where the Atlantic and the Pacific are separated

The Continental Divide: where the Atlantic and the Pacific are separated

Glacier in the Rockies

Glacier in the Rockies

The Canyon of Missouri - before it becomes the 2nd mightiest river in North America

The Canyon of Missouri - before it becomes the 2nd mightiest river in North America

Typical Butte in the Prairie

Typical Butte in the Prairie

The rest of the pictures are from Yellowstone. Unfortunately in wintertime the geysiers look more like a haze…

Typical Yellowstone Scenery

Typical Yellowstone Scenery

Firehole River: termal river due to termal water flowing into it

Firehole River: termal river due to termal water flowing into it

Bison family

Bison family

Buffalos by the Yellowstone river

Buffalos by the Yellowstone river

Dried up hot water spring

Dried up hot water spring

Mammoth Hot Spring

Mammoth Hot Spring

Hot Water impregnates trees with travertine, effectively petrifying them

Hot Water Impregnates trees with travertine, effectively petrifying them

Yellowstone River

Yellowstone River

Yellowstone Canyon & me

Yellowstone Canyon & me