Archive for August, 2010

Location sharing goes mainstream

From Mercury News

It’s now official — geo-tagging from cell phones has gone mainstream. Facebook has introduced a new service called Places that lets you or your friends “check you in” to a bar, restaurant or other location.

Right now the iPhone is the only smartphone whose Facebook app includes Places. But there are ways to use it on other phones via Facebook’s mobile website, and it’s only a matter of time before it’s a standard feature on all cell phones.

Facebook is hardly the first company to venture into this territory. Mountain View-based Loopt introduced a cell-phone-based geo-tagging feature several years ago, followed by Google with Latitude and geo-tagging within its Buzz service. FourSquare and Gowalla were early adopters of the “check in” model, and Glympse lets users allow others to track their whereabouts and even follow them on a map as they drive from place to place.

Although most cell phones automatically track your location, the good news is that they don’t report that information to anyone other than emergency services, such as 911 operators, without your express permission. For a location-based application to report where you are, you generally have to install and enable the application.

From there, the range of protections varies widely. Some can be “set it and forget it,” which can be a good thing but can also be dangerous if you allow someone to track you and forget to disallow it if the relationship sours.

As you might expect, the ability to be located or tracked via your phone adds an element of risk when it comes to safety and privacy. From a safety perspective, the biggest concern is stalking. There already have been a few reports of people using these services to harass others, though it’s not a widespread problem. Another issue is privacy. The obvious scenario is that you might decide to visit a bar or other establishment and not want your spouse, employer or others to know you’re there.

Facebook has privacy settings in place that make it very unlikely for someone to accidentally disclose their location, but they don’t, by default, prevent others from “tagging” you as being in a place that you might not want to disclose. Even if you don’t use Places and even if you don’t own a mobile phone, you should visit the Facebook privacy settings page to configure whether others can “check you in” to places.

Although Facebook doesn’t make this clear on the settings page, I was told by an employee that disabling the ability for others to check you in also disables the ability for them to tag you at a location. That does not, however, prevent someone from manually entering your location information in a status update by just typing something like “@Nicholas is with me at SteakOut Bar.”

Facebook also has controls over who can see if you’ve checked into a location. By default it’s your Facebook “friends,” but adults can extend that to “friends of friends or even “everyone.” You can also limit it to specific people or groups of people. For example, you could create a group called “Drinking Buddies” and share your presence at bars only with them. But again, that doesn’t stop someone else from tagging you and exposing your location to their friends unless you’ve disabled that from the privacy page. You can access your Facebook privacy settings from any Internet-enabled device, including most cell phones.

Glympse offers a very different type of service. Instead of checking you into a location, it allows you to send someone a message with a URL that lets them track you via a Web page or the Glympse app on their smartphone.

As a form of protection, any tracking session automatically expires after a certain period of time, ranging from 10 minutes to four hours, and there is no way to extend it beyond four hours without establishing another session. Glympse doesn’t let you “check in” to places but it does show your location within a few hundred feet.

One fun feature is that it can track you in a moving vehicle and even display your speed.

Although Glympse isn’t marketed as a kid or spouse tracker, parents can encourage their kids to “send them a Glympse” when they’re out and about.

In general, it’s a good idea to put some thought into any location service you consider using, and it’s especially important for parents to talk with their kids about the safe use of location services. ConnectSafely, a nonprofit Internet safety organization, has some tips on location sharing services that you can access at


Weighing in on Build vs Buy Data Center Space

A former Google Executive’s Perspective.

In this economic climate, should IT managers build or buy data center space? What are the metrics execs should consider when weighing their options?  Simon Tusha, former Google data center exec and CTO of Overland Park, Kan.-based colocation firm Quality Technology Services (QTS), along with QTS COO Brian Johnston, weigh in on data center outsourcing trends in this Q&A.

First off, the most obvious question deals with the build vs. buy debate.  There are probably a lot of factors that go into each option, but what are the metrics IT managers should use when deciding whether to build or rent a data center?
Some of the metrics include:
1. What is the business’ cost of capital?
2. What are the business’ ROI targets?
3. Does the IT capital budget meet or exceed the companies’ ROI?
4. IT Managers need to put on a CFO cap and protect companies’ liquidity
5. Is data center operation revenue generating to the business or simply service?

The primary means of evaluating any outsourced IT arrangement, including data centers, is twofold: does the company have the necessary skill set and can it afford the capital outlay to undertake its own build-out? Basically, considerations of capital expense – the balance sheet – as well as core competencies are critical.

First, consider the economics. It costs at least $10-15 million per megawatt to build a state-of-the-art data center. And for some constructions, it is significantly more than that. But when you get up to 30 MW or more, the cost of each additional megawatt drops to about $4 million. So the largest data centers are extraordinarily efficient and therefore enjoy a big edge in economics over their smaller counterparts. With access to capital and liquidity being more of an issue for companies than ever before, it doesn’t make very good business sense to consume financial resources in building a small data center that will rapidly be outgrown as your business scales or is rendered obsolete as power density continues to grow. Quite simply, efficiency and economies of scale benefit larger megawatt deployments. Major players in this market see this, and that’s why they are moving to outsourced facilities if they are not consuming at least 20-30 MW of power. Additionally, building a new data center from the ground up requires huge capital outlay. From a balance sheet perspective, most companies would rather shift from a major capital outlay that affects the balance sheet to a month-to-month operating expense to outsource the data center that has far less impact on the company’s bottom line.

Second, consider the issue of core competency. Customers increasingly understand the importance of outsourcing any business elements that are not core competencies —  technology and particularly data centers are a niche topic, while outsourcing has grown rapidly. When customers consider the 24/7, 365 management of people, facilities, connectivity, power, cooling, and security, it quickly becomes evident that outsourcing such a facility and amortizing such costs over a wider variety of tenants in a multi-tenant facility is more economical, as well as more secure, resilient, redundant and reliable. So outsourced data center customers get better service at a more economical rate.

What are some of the stats on building and buying? Are there mixed building/leasing situations?
According to Frost & Sullivan, in 2010, 56% of the data center market is owned versus 44% leased. The percentages of owned space versus leased is growing closer, with 60% owned in 2009 versus 40% leased. By 2012, it is estimated that owned and leased space will be equal.

Is colocation a “launching pad” of sorts – do companies start from third-party space and work their way up to constructing their own data centers, or do you find that even huge companies have a need for leased space?
I do not think colocation is necessarily a launching pad of sorts — even large multi-national corporations may evaluate their economic needs and core competencies, and decide that outsourcing is the most efficient use of money, making it their primary means of infrastructure hosting. It really comes down to each company’s initial evaluation of what is most important to their business, what the tolerance for outsourcing non-core competencies is, and what’s most economically sound.

For smaller implementations that require less than 20-25 MW of power, regardless of the size of the company requiring the installation, colocation is typically the most economical choice. For data center installations requiring more than 25 MW, most companies will consider their own builds.

Has the economy forced a lot of people to colocate when they otherwise would have built? Do you see colocation growth in decline over the next decade with an economic rebound?
While the economic decline certainly helped data center businesses as companies were forced to do more with less and optimize their resources as a result, what’s nice about the data center market is that it is somewhat recession-resilient. With corporate technological needs outpacing the growth of data center capacity, the increasing acceptance of IT outsourcing industry-wide, and the clear business efficiencies that outsourcing the data center provides – whether for custom data centers, colocation or cloud computing – the data center market is becoming more and more relevant to customers. In hard economic times, businesses look to the data center to help cut costs by outsourcing non-core business competencies. In stronger economic times, businesses often experience growth that requires additional infrastructure, and infrastructure may also be added to support product differentiation or new corporate offerings. So regardless of economic conditions, there are strong value propositions to outsourcing within a highly secure and scalable outsourced data center.