Archive for February, 2009

GMail crashes for hours; Yahoo to close down “briefcase” – dark clouds gather in the cloud computing scene

February 28, 2009

Two unrelated developments took place this week

  • GMail was down for nearly 4 hours on February 24, 2009 (GMail was down for 20 hours on October 2008)
  • I got an email from Yahoo on February 25, 2009 formally stating that Yahoo Briefcase (that many of us used for 10 years for free) will shut down on March 30, 2009; the mail requested us to backup files so that we are not inconvenienced

The developments come at a time when the world is talking of “moving everything” to the “Internet cloud”, emboldened by the near zero failure (In spite of Internet scale growth) of search engines Yahoo & Google.

Searching allows “graceful degradation” naturally; no one would mind if one important source is missing in the results of a query; no one would mind an “irrelevant” query among the millions; after all one can use the “brain power” of the user (human being) to “sort out” such “bugs”. Unfortunately, many other applications are very different; one would mind missing out an e-mail; one would be upset if his / her mail list contains another person’s mail too. That is where the success of Google does NOT translate to the “cloud computing” becoming an unquestioned success.

With many high tech employers (including Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, IBM & HP) laying off, with employers not able to afford the luxury of employees working on “cool” exploration, the “free resource pool” that open source community took for granted is evaporating fast. Even academics (teachers & students) are feeling the pinch of recession. Naturally, “free help” and “free development” is going to take a hit too.

Amidst such a scene, one has to be very careful about the blind move to embrace “clod computing” by one & all. Sure, there are areas where cloud computing will win; but in many areas it may be best to use the local resource.

My own pet analogy is a “roof-top water tank”; one hardly notices it. It “synchronizes” with the water supply pipeline without any human involvement. We need something similar in the information space; seamless synchronization between the desktop and the cloud. Desktop will never go away; we need the local power. But we need not be bound to the desktop.

Data will be on the cloud, programs will run on the desktop (utilizing the power) and seamless connectivity ensures that all things are “in synch”. So cloud computing and desktop computing will peacefully co-exist; that is my take.

I need not be right; in fact I will like to be proved wrong but it looks very unlikely!

Acer launches mobile phones; Nokia to enter laptop market; interesting to watch

February 27, 2009

In the GSMA World Congress in Barcelona during Feb 16-19, 2009, Acer launched four handsets under the brand name “Tempo”

Last week Nokia talked of linux-based Laptops to be introduced in the market soon.

These are two interesting developments. Acer undoubtedly makes more than 50 million PCs (including many it manufactures for other brands including HP & Lenovo) of the 140 million PCs the world consumes every year. Nokia makes more than 400 million handsets (of the 1.2 billion mobile phones the world buys in a year). So both Nokia and Acer will have formidable competition.

What will be interesting is the fulfillment of my “dream wish” – seamlessly integrated PC and Smart Phone. Let me elaborate.

I find my mobile phone substitute half my PC functionality, but only half. Half the time I use my PC for writing; but even during my writing, I need to check Wikipedia, IIIT web-site, my blog site … so I need communication function. If only the PC and Smart phone can act seamlessly, it will be great. I pick up my long mails on PC without I having to connect. I can Skype or call using my PC; I click the pictures with my mobile phone camera, but I need not have to “synch”‘; I need the screen of my PC to view my pictures. Similar is my need for “seamless” synch – addresses, phone numbers, appointments. Also I need not worry about Internet connection in hotel rooms (and the rip off the hotels do) as my PC will instantly connect

It is the same with phones a decade back; we all loved our reliable “black” phone; will work even in UP with terrible power supply (as the phone draws power from telephone exchange); it could hold for 2 hour call even. Of course, we all  had our “cordless” that let me pick up the phone in my bedroom or walk around the lawn with the phone in my hand; the two phones were “identical” for me; the same number, but allowed me to choose the function in the context; why cant PC and Smart Phone do the same? Let the PC be my reliable “base set” and the mobile phone my “cordless”. No need for add-ons.

Is any one listening?

Indian phone subscriber base crosses 400 million as of January 31, 2009

February 26, 2009

As per TRAI Press Release of February 20, 2009, Indian phone subscribers (wire & wireless category put together) crossed 400 million on January 31, 2009. It is indeed a welcome news.

For a country where the rulers fooled the masses for decades (declaring telephones as “luxury item”) the phone subscriber base could not cross 30 million by mid nineties when mobile telephony was introduced.

The year 2005 saw the crossover (with mobile phones at 46 million overtaking fixed line phones); from then on the fixed line phones (monopoly of the State till mid nineties) have steadily been on the decline. Even in the last month there was a 0.15 million net reduction in fixed line phones (at 37.75 million).

A whole new generation (particularly students) in India started with a mobile phone; it was their first (and will remain the only) phone!

Interesting times indeed!

It is particularly gratifying to see the country scale new heights when there is only “bad news” everywhere in the world!

Of course it is not good to conclude that 40% of India’s population has access to phones; there will be 100+ million families (and even individuals) with multiple phones; many phones are with businesses. My own guess is that about 20% of the population will be well-served today. We have a long way to go!

January mobile subscriber addition is a world record

February 25, 2009

According to the official guide (TRAI Press Release 16/2009 dated February 20, 2009) India added a record 15.26 mobile subscribers in January 2009, taking the total mobile subscriber base to 362.30 million as of January 31, 2009. This is a world record.

India has been adding about 6+ million subscribers for a while. The net addition crossed 10 million in December 2008. But the addition of  more than 15 million subscribers in one month is a fantastic record, not even matched by China.

China used to grow at a higher rate than India till a couple of years back. However, their growth slowed down after crossing 600 million subscriber base.

The net addition is highest in India in the past 12 months.

This spurt from 10+ million to 15+ million is caused by Reliance entering GSM space (earlier they were only in CDMA service); addition of 5 + million subscriber by a GSM operator in the very first month of its launch is another world record.

One must realize the backdrop too; the global meltdown, GDP of countries (including USA and Japan) shrinking and the overall bad news sprouting up all over India; setting global record at this moment is once again proving that mobile telephony is “Made for India”!

Inspiring Benares and BHU

February 24, 2009

I stayed in Benares for 3 nights, considered very pious by many. Not by great design though; thanks to a request from my good friend and IITK colleague Prof Ashok Mittal to visit IITK and give three talks on ERP, SCM Tools and IT & Enterprise and the fact that IIIT-B Senate and Board meetings got over on 17th (and the Selection Committee meeting was only on March 6) and the pay day for February was only on 29th! These are my real constraints as Head of IIIT-B!

I stayed in LD Guest House in BHU. My stay coincided with Maha Shivaratri and Amavasya, considered holy by Hindus. So I was doubly happy.

In spite of extreme indifference shown by successive governments (who approve tens of thousands of crores of Rupees for all “phoney” projects) and the appalling civic conditions of Benares, one cannot but feel the spiritual vibrance of Benares.

  • The Kasi Vishwanath temple, Kasi Vishalakshi temple and Annapoorna temple are true abodes of the Gods.
  • Ganga Aarti on the river Ganga (in the evenings) is a time to see millions watching the Ganga Puja with riveted eyes (of course with camera-fitted mobile phones these days).
  • Tulsi temple where Sant Tulsidas composed his Tulsi Ramayan and the Sankat Mochan temple where the Hanuman Chalisa was offered to Lord Hanuman are other places that one cannot miss.

BHU campus is something that “touches” you; in spite of very little grants (compared to many new generation Institutes including IITs), the sprawling (the largest campus in the country) campus is spartan, but clean; it has a “personality” of its own, thanks to its Founder Mahamana Malaviyaji. It is green and clean by design!

BHU has every chance of becoming a true University that the coveted Institutes likle IITs, IISc, IISERs, IIITs and IIM’s can never match in terms of breadth, they being singular Institutes.

If well developed, BHU can match Oxford & Cambridge of UK or Harvard and UC Berkeley of USA

Unfortunately, the powers that be would like to see BHU decay and wither away, than develop.

It is a miracle that BHU still survives and there are enough scholars pursuing their individual scholarship even today!

Slumdog Millionaire wins eight Oscar Awards

February 23, 2009

On February 23, 2009 there was celebration in India as the film Slumdog Millionaire won eight of the ten 2009 Academy Prizes for which it was nominated earlier.

It was the only film in 2008 that won eight awards. The eight awards are as follows:

  1. Best Picture
  2. Best Director – Danny Boyle
  3. Best Screenplay – Simon Beaufoy
  4. Best Cinematography – Anthony Dod Mantle
  5. Best Sound Mixing – Resul Pookutty, Richard Pyrke, Ian Tapp
  6. Best Film Editing – Chris Dickens
  7. Best Original Score – AR Rahman
  8. Best Original Song – Jai Ho by AR Rahman

The film was shot in India; AR Rahman the musical genius (spotted in the movie “Roja”) can justly feel proud of the two awards, that too at an young age.

The Direction, Screenplay, Editing and Cinematography were all done by International experts; Pookutty was one of the three to get Award for Sound Mixing. The Indian media played up the news; once again demonstrating its innate character; project news based on the “opinion” of the “newsreaders” and NEVER do homework, research, verify facts.. that one naturally assumes as the “hallmark” of the fourth estate

Perhaps the Award for AR Rahman was greeted by everyone; the Award for story-line had its share of controversies; showing Indian poverty and slums “sells”, particularly in the Western media and among the “self-styled intellectuals” of the country.

February 23, 2009 was Maha Shivaratri, that too falling on Monday, considered very auspicious. Interestingly, this important day for Indians is comfortably ignored by the electronic media (notably English media), except when there is bad news (some accident, some scuffle or some fight between Hindus & Muslims)

President Obama lays emphasis on creating jobs, making education & healthcare affordable, providing tax cuts to consumers and bringing down the deficit to citizens,

February 22, 2009

In his weekly address to the Nation, President Obama on February 21, 2009 had his priorities absolutely clear

His Reconstruction Bill (nearly $ 900 billion bailout plan) will create nearly 3.5 million jobs.

He also talked of making college degree affordable and improved healthcare

He talked of nearly $ 65 / month tax rebate (at the minimum) for all citizens (that will be felt as early as April 2009)

President Obama laid emphasis on transparency, thereby ensuring that the money is wisely spent

Last, but not the least, Obama talked of reducing the $ trillion deficit he inherited from the previous government.

All of them are simple, yet not always seen correctly by politicians. With the UPA government throwing all winds of caution and taking the country to the dangerous position of 1991 (thanks to unusually high deficit) our politicians will be well advised in taking a lesson from Obama’s weekly video talks!

ERP and SCM – part of the Extended Enterprise – Talk give to VLFM participants at IIT Kanpur

February 21, 2009

I enjoyed talking to the participants of the VLFM (Visionary Leaders For Manufacturing) Program jointly organized by IIM Calcutta, IIT Kanpur and IIT Madras.

The 32 participants are middle level executives who spend a year pursuing full time education (including visits to Japan and other manufacturing destinations) at the three premier Institutions. They have their prior experience in

  • Aerospace (HAL)
  • Automotive (Maruti, Ashok Leyland, M & M,  John Deere, Hero Honda, Kirloskar, SKF)
  • Infotech (ITC, SISL, Oracle)
  • L & T (Engineering & Construction)
  • Marine Engineering (OMI)
  • Metals & Mining (SAIL, Tata Steel, Vizag Steel, NMDC, Vedanta, NALCO)
  • Oil (HPCL)
  • Pharma (GSK)
  • Power (NTPC, NPC)

 

VLFM gets its inspiration from LFM of MIT. Professors Jim Orlin and Nitin Patel of Sloan School at MIT ho gave me enough “Gyan” about LFM in mid 90’s.

I gave a set of three lectures on 21-22, February at IIT Kanpur.

I talked to them about the evolution of ERP and SCM as independent areas of an enterprise; leading companies like SAP (in ERP space) and i2 (in SCM space) talked of they being the “best of breed”. Over the years, the users have realized that in a connected world ALL enterprises are extended enterprises with some aspects of SCM  (Supply Chain Management) and CRM (Customer Relationship Management) very much part of their business. 

Taking the example of “educational Institution” (like IIT or IIIT or IIM or Harvard), while ERP would address the

  • Lectures (Course Management, e-Learning, Content Management, Registration, Class room scheduling, exam scheduling, grade-book, transcript management),
  • Library (Digital Library, Catalog, Order processing),
  • Labs (Supplies, Scheduling), and,
  • Life (Mail, collaboration, projects, visitors, announcement)

(the 4L’s of Learning),

  • Admissions (JEE for IITs and CAT for IIM’s)

that is more like SCM for IIT / IIM may be as important (or more important) than the campus activity! In fact while the annual budgets of the 7 IITs is Rs 1,000 Crores the JEE Coaching is easily estimated to be 10 times larger!

Similarly,

  • Placement
  • Alumni

are more like CRM; these are as important as the core activity itself!

I alluded to this need for extended enterprises by taking examples from several other industries (including automotive, iron & steel, oil & gas and banking)

What probably went well with the students is my personal involvement with many of these industries

  • Board Membership of Bank of India, NMDC, BEL, NLC & IREDA, VisualSoft, Informatics… and,

my extensive consulting

  • Tata Motors, Ashok Leyland, Maruti, BHEL, NTPC, Indian Oil, ONGC, Amara Raja, TVS, Reserve Bank, SEBI..

All in all, it was an enjoyable experience; more so to be back in IITK (where I spent my formative academic years 1979 to 1995)

Tata Motors plant in Lucknow is an inviting place

February 20, 2009

I visited the Tata Motors plant on February 19, 2009, thanks to the courtesy  of Mr. Alok Saxena, Plant Head and Mr. CV Singh, former Head (who recently retired after 4 years as Head of Tata Daewoo truck plant in South Korea).

I had been associated with Tata Motors (“Telco” back then) from Day 1. I had seen the plain land; later the compound wall and the buildings came up and the assembly plant got erected all before our eyes (with a short time) during early 90’s. As Adviser IT, I was also fortunate to see their campus-wide fiber-optic network getting laid (one of the first in India), their networks getting into operation, “best-in-class” practices followed (thanks to Mr A Vivek,  the then Head, who was very open to new ideas) and a sense of beauty and class getting into the DNA of the unit.

It was satisfying to see the plant expanding considerably to practically fill all of the 300 acres (including the 300 acres on the other side of the road); what was more satisfying was the “greening” of the plant with gardens, plants and even lakes within the campus. The dust levels were low; it was pleasing to look at; hopefully, in Summer the atmosphere will be less hostile to the workers.

In fact some of the pictures in the campus (near the Lake) can easily be mistaken to be the pictures taken in Forest Research Institute in Dehradun!

Ayodhya visit

February 19, 2009

On February 19, 2009 I managed to visit Ayodhya from Lucknow.

It was a very time efficient visit; start from Tata Guest House at 7 AM and reach the Tata Motors plant at 230 PM for lunch! I had nearly 2 hours in Ayodhya. The roads were the same we saw four years ago; few kilometers of well-laid out road (completed prior to 2004) and several kilometers of heaps of dust (declared complete by NHAI if we have to believe 4 KM per day of road completion by UPA government)!

As the birth place of “maryada purushottam” Lord Rama, Ayodhya is a hallowed place. I felt spirituality in the holy place.

  • Kanak Bhavan
  • Janmasthan
  • Ram Darbar
  • Hanuman Hill

and

  • Sarayu River

were places that one associates with Lord Rama as well as  Sitaji and Hanumanji. Naturally it is very satisfying.

Once you come to the physical plane, you are in a very different world. The place is anything but beautiful (mostly filthy), the people there are anything but knowledgeable

Alas, if only the powers that be (either in UP or Delhi or in Chennai or in Bangalore) spend a millionth of what they spend on spreading the “achievements” through statues, full page advertisements or video propaganda, Ayodhya will be very different. The monuments kept clean and tidy, the streets swept of garbage, drinking water made available and  sewage disposed; some trained guides, inexpensive dharmashalas and eat-outs is all that one needs.

“Incredible India” can be incredibly stupid to spend so much on such advertisements and yet do so little in reality! That too in the name of “aam admi” by Congress and in the name of “Jai Sri Ram” by BJP!

Only Lord Rama can guide our politicians