This week, and perhaps many others going forward, was consumed with the political drama playing out in Washington, D.C.
Let’s hope it will all get squared away before its effects are felt by the Federal Communications Commission and other agencies that impact telecommunications and IT.
Despite this disruption, we’ve seen a good deal of good news and commentary this week. Here are some highlights.
Betting with Gates
It is obvious and uncontestable, of course, that Bill Gates is a smart guy. Whether that intelligence jumps from one area to another – from business and software smarts to investment smarts – is a reasonable question. In any case, Gates and Khosla Ventures, a company in which he is a limited partner, have financed a second round of funding for Varentec, according to GigaOm.
Gates’ investment acumen aside, it is clear that Varentec is an intriguing company. The idea is that the electronic intelligence that is seeping into the power grid can enable it to act more like data networks in its ability to route power. That capability would be make the grid more efficient, lowering costs, improving services and saving energy.
Easing Aircraft Restrictions
Travelers are accustomed to admonitions from airplane crews to turn electronic devices off during takeoffs and landings. For years, we’ve read conflicting reports on whether this is necessary, an excess of caution or just plain silly.
At least the beginning of the end of this tiring practice may be near. A 28-member advisory committee of the Federal Aviation Administration is recommending that the current device policy be changed. The story at The Las Vegas Sun says that the findings will be sent to the FAA, which will make the final decision.
The change wouldn’t be total, however:
If the panel's advice is followed, passengers would have greater opportunity to use most devices below an altitude of 10,000 feet, although some devices would have to be switched to airplane mode. Downloading data, surfing the Web and talking on the phone would remain prohibited.
Vendors Positioning Themselves in the SDN Sector
Software-defined networks (SDNs) definitely are in the hype cycle. That’s understandable, because the SDN concept is easy to understand and obviously compelling: By separating the elements of the network that tell the data where to go from the elements that actually send the packets, far more efficient and fluid networking is possible. The approach promotes interoperability, since the higher level intelligence is centralized. The devices in the field are not specialized.
Those conceptual advantages are real, and vendors are trying very hard to spin the technical details in how this will be done in their directions. This week, HP unveiled the HP SDN SDK and HP SDN App Store. As the tectonic plates of technology shift, companies make development bets about where standards are likely to go. Big companies such as HP hope the gravity generated by their announcements will influence those decisions. Attempts to attract early adapters are a big part of that. Such maneuvering almost certainly is happening in this case:
The new App Store allows for customers to browse, purchase, and download SDN applications onto virtual application network SDN controllers. HP says that applications in the SDN app store will be developed by itself, its partners, as well as community developed applications.
PCs Down… But Not Out
Until the rocky last decade, of course, the PC ruled the roost. The changes that have buffeted it since – the rise of smartphones, tablets and various other more exotically named mobile devices – led the common wisdom to point to “the death of the PC.”
eWeek’s Jeffrey Burt offers a nice corrective piece. PCs will remain a key element of both consumer and enterprise life into the future. Among the differences between the future and the past is that the devices won’t be alone. They will be but one of several tools. Refresh cycles for business will be longer. It also is obvious that the great explosion in creativity and technology that is driving the mobile explosion also will benefit the PC sector. The sense of Burt’s piece is that the world has changed and PCs are in the process of changing with it:
They also believe that a new generation of PCs—more portable, more energy-efficient and more tablet-like in a range of new form factors—will give users the necessary incentives to begin buying systems again.
And, finally, comes a story that sheds a light on modern electronics. Light moves faster than electrical impulses, so researchers are trying to create interconnections that operate exclusively in the photonic realm. To date, according to the MIT Technology Review, researchers’ material of choice for photodetectors has been germanium. In a few years, however, another material, graphene, may take over, according to Dirk Englund, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT. He is quoted in MIT Technology Review:
Graphene has a number of potential advantages over germanium, says Englund. Because of its exceptional electronic properties, devices made of the material can work at very high frequencies, and could in principle handle more information per second. Also, graphene can absorb a broader range of wavelengths than germanium can. That property could be exploited to transmit more data streams simultaneously in the same beam of light. Further, unlike germanium detectors, graphene photodetectors work “quite well” without applied voltage, which could reduce the energy needed to transmit data, says Englund. Finally, he says, graphene detectors would in principle require a simpler and potentially less expensive process to integrate them on a silicon chip.
Englund and others quoted or paraphrased in the story caution that research on graphene is behind the work on germanium.