4.24.2012

IBM Mobile Systems Remote now on Android


Last year, IBM research scientist Patrick Bohrer released the Mobile Systems Remote on Apple’s App Store. Now, the app – a remote that lets IT administrators manage IBM BladeCenter or System x server – is available for Android OS devices.

Patrick Bohrer

The following interview with Bohrer, a newly named IBM Distinguished Engineer, discusses the remote’s new features, ideas for future mobile projects, and a look back at his work on the processors that made their way into Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft videogame consoles.

Have you made any updates or added other features to the IBM Mobile Systems Remote app now that it’s available for Android?

PB: We released version 1.0 of IBM Mobile Systems Remote on Apple's App Store to get customer feedback. One of the main responses we got back from customers was the desire for an Android version.

So, the team created one for Android that matches the v1.0 functionality found in the iOS app. Moving forward we plan to release updates to both versions to meet additional requests for new functionality.

Managing servers is complicated (certainly compared to say, playing a videogame on a mobile device). How did you plan out the navigation of the app? Were there functions of a server that didn't make it into the app?

PB: Managing servers through legacy management interfaces is hard. But we've learned quite a bit over the past couple years.

We wanted to create an app that could talk to our servers without requiring new support in our management interfaces. Towards this end, we built an app framework consisting of a local data model and multiple management interface modules that communicate with IBM products and services. This structure allows us to add support for legacy IBM products already in the field.

So, we're using this platform as an exploratory vehicle to create rich, highly consumable, customer-centric views of our products and services.

The navigation and views found in the app are the result of direct feedback from IBM's human factors teams, along with feedback from a number of user studies led by these teams. This input has been invaluable in deciding where we should focus our time. Our wider releases on these app stores is an attempt to get even more feedback from an even broader audience.

As a newly named Distinguished Engineer (IBM's second highest technical ranking, behind only "Fellow"), where do you want to take IBM's development and use of mobile technology? Any predictions for where "mobile for the enterprise" will be in five years?

PB: It is certainly an honor to be named an IBM Distinguished Engineer. IBM has a wealth of talent, expertise and capability across all of its organizations.

With our mobile work, I plan to find ways to bring these technical capabilities out in our interfaces to not only differentiate IBM products, but bring to light the wealth of information that often lies untapped within them. 

Mobile has changed the expectations of users and in doing so has changed the structure of applications themselves. We all want immediate access to our information with a continuous user interface across our phones, tablets, desktops and even TVs.  

Delivering this experience requires application writers to change their design and now leverage the cloud as a data backbone. This is an exciting time for IBM because this trend requires solutions that cover servers, cloud, middleware and mobile platforms. I plan to find new, creative and meaningful ways to use IBM's solutions in this space.

Speaking of games, you have worked on IBM's microprocessor technology used in Sony's, Microsoft's, and Nintendo's game consoles. What was it like to work on these projects?

PB: This was another exciting time to be an IBMer. And it was also probably the first time my kids actually wanted to better understand what I did at work. 

The research project I was leading at the time was a simulator of future IBM systems capable of running complete operating systems and applications on models of hardware that didn't exist yet. Our simulator was used to model all three of the game chips being developed at that time.  

We were most-involved with the Sony-Toshiba-IBM Cell design center in Austin. Working with these teams as they designed the Cell chip; modeling early ideas; running prototype software; and then giving feedback to these teams was a great experience. 

It is always an exciting time to be involved in a project where IBM and its partners are flexing their muscles. Having the opportunity to work with these types of teams and respond to these kinds of challenges is the reason I’m an IBMer.

Check out the Android version of IBM Mobile Systems Remote on Google Play. For the iPhone, visit the Apple App Store.

4.17.2012

Is the Internet reaching its limit?

Dr. Yaron WolfsthalEditor's note: This entry was written by Dr. Yaron Wolfsthal, Senior Manager of the System Technologies and Services at IBM Research – Haifa.

With billions of people, devices, and objects now connected to the Internet, it is quickly reaching its architectural limits -- and doesn’t have the ability to scale up to capacity for the vast amounts of new data being created. It's quickly becoming clear that we need to re-engineer the Internet platforms to allow collaborative models that break down the current barriers of the Internet. This will bring enormous efficiency to the economics of the Internet, which has become a critical factor in our daily lives.
 
What is FI-WARE?

FI-WARE offers a framework to make the Internet function almost like a giant app-store or service-depot for businesses.
IBM is part of a European consortium of corporations and universities known as FI-WARE, aimed at developing a new cloud-based platform that will support the expansion of the Internet. The goal of the platform is to deliver the scalability, security and connectivity needed to support the growing volume of digital content, which, according to IDC analysts, is expected to reach 2.7 zettabytes (ZB) in 2012 (up 48% from 2011).

FI-WARE offers a framework to make the Internet function almost like a giant app-store or service-depot for businesses. The infrastructure will make it easier for service providers to develop new cloud-scale digital services and let both consumers and businesses evaluate, buy and use them more easily. In essence, the framework will provide a viable and openly accessible launch pad for intelligent industry solutions.

Based on open, reusable, standardized and commonly shared technologies, the new core platform will serve as a solid foundation for running digital services – despite the added demands from increased volumes of video, high reliance on mobile, and the complexity of providing security for new services. The first market sectors being targeted for these services include healthcare, telecommunications, and environmental services.

IBM Research – Haifa is leading FI-WARE’s Cloud Hosting workstream and contributing to other workstreams in such areas as event processing and privacy. The research in the Cloud Hosting workstream uses the emerging "Open Stack" cloud software and will build upon the results of previous related projects such as RESERVOIR. It will also address such technical challenges as cloud-scale efficient resource management and optimization, service elasticity and quality guarantees, and more.

In addition, scientists in IBM Research – Zurich will provide cryptographic software components and know-how to enable a set of services that incorporate privacy by design.

The results of the FI-WARE project will address several challenges of a growing Internet, enabling the creation and delivery of reliable cloud services. The goal of the project is to deliver improved collaboration models that enhance social networking, while augmenting mobility, security, and privacy.

FI-WARE is part of a cluster of projects launched by the European Union’s Future Internet Public Private Partnership (PPP), involving 400 million EUR in funding.

In this three-year research project, scientists at IBM Research in Haifa, Israel and Zurich, Switzerland will collaborate with colleagues from  Alcatel-Lucent Italy and Germany; ATOS Origin Sociedad Anonima, Spain; Deutsche Telecom, Germany; Ericsson, Sweden; France Telecom, France; Fraunhofer Germany; Ingegneria Informatica SPA Engineering, Italy; INRIA (Institut National de Recherche en Informatique et en Automatique), France; Intel, Ireland; Italia Telecom, Italy; NEC Europe, United Kingdom; Nokia Siemens, Germany, Hungary, Finland; SAP, Germany; Siemens, Germany; Telefonica (coordinator), Spain; Thomson R&D France ; Universidad Politecnica de Madrid, Spain; Universita Degli Studi Di Roma La Spienza, Italy; Universitaet Duisburg-Essen, Germany; University of Surrey, United Kingdom.

4.11.2012

A system that optimizes its work

Editor’s note: The following article was written by Giovanni Pacifici, IBM Research’s director of Distributed Computing.
 
Workload optimized systems are emerging as powerful computers that, in the case of IBM’s Watson, have been designed to tackle specific, complex problems such as cancer research. But then the Research team asked: How could we design a computer that understands what the user wants to do – at a system-wide level – and also understands how to optimize itself for any workload?

This is exactly what IBM’s new Pure Systems do.

Take banking applications, for example. They often require multiple virtual machines with compute, storage and software components. These disparate machines have to be configured and deployed manually, a complex, time-intensive process prone to error. Pure Systems instead use a semantically rich language developed by IBM Research to define its building blocks, and how they should optimally assemble.

Pure is an entirely new kind of computer.

The building blocks of a workload…

Building a system – or several virtual ones – with Pure is like building something with blocks – in fact, that’s what the components look like on the interface. Our scientists developed the language and tools to create and manipulate these blocks so users can drag-and-drop the pieces they need into their environment. And the blocks already know how to connect to one another.

For example, an application block knows how to connect to a middleware block, and the middleware block knows how to connect to an operating system block, vertically in a stack on the same machine, or horizontally across virtual machines – something that used to take entire teams weeks or months to correctly configure.

Pure guides users in the selection of the best set of blocks for a workload’s requirements. Now, a user can just say “I have to accomplish some type of work … and to run that workload, I need a set of resources (storage, networking, etc.) … oh, and I need it configured a certain way (such as isolating one application, while interconnecting others).”

…that speak the same language

Pure’s glue – the rich metadata language – knows how to cross configure the building blocks so that the applications’ components can interact. This component-to-component communication used to require administrators to read manuals (for some IBM products, these are RedBooks) to, for example, perform complex cross-configuration steps to connect an application server with another machine running the database server. The knowledge formerly sprawled across hundreds of pages is now distilled into a formal language.

Faster evolution from research to development

When the team completed prototypes and showed it to our IBM Software Group  partners, we jointly decided to embed the Research team with their development team to accelerate taking the technology to market.
 This combined effort led to a much faster evolution from our prototype, to what is now Pure Systems.

We developed the language and tools so Pure can understand its different (pre-defined or user-defined) blocks. Workload components may have different security, availability and performance needs, requiring some virtual machines to be close together, while others need to be separated in different physical racks. Pure understands and automatically figures out the best way to deploy these workload components to optimize performance and maximize resource utilization.

We developed optimization technology for Pure to understand the workload requirements and place the virtual workload components on the best physical resources (compute, network and storage). Pure can even automatically re-adjust the size of compute resources and workload clusters dynamically to react to usage spikes.

Pure resource optimization analytics go beyond managing physical resources such as network, storage and compute – it can also manage software licenses. We developed analytics that allow Pure to understand software license policies, and even figure out when workloads can share the same software license (read: big savings).

Again, Pure is not so much a new product, as a new way to think about what computers can do: Pure is a computer that understands what the user wants to do and can optimize itself for any workload.

4.10.2012

Sunscreen for Semiconductors

Editor's note: This article is Geraud Dubois, IBM Research's manager of Hybrid Polymeric Materials.

Scientists at IBM Research – Almaden have developed a sunscreen for microprocessors called Post Porosity Plasma Protection. Lathered on a chip, it is the next leap in materials that improve speed and performance.

In the last 20 years, miniaturization has driven the improvement of chip performance, and the resulting boom in consumer electronics. In the last 10 years, this strategy has been combined with the implementation of novel materials such as insulators, to increase speed, reduce power consumption, protect wiring from short circuits and electrical interference.

Just as the chips shrink, the conducting wires get smaller and closer to each other. This means the insulator has to keep pace.  The typical solution adopted by the chip industry has been to introduce air (an excellent insulator) in the form of extremely small bubbles or “pores” (1/100,000 the size of a human hair) into the insulator – making the chip surface look like Swiss cheese.

Solving the insulation problem with plasma


Unfortunately, many more air bubbles are needed to reach the desired insulating properties in the most advanced microprocessors in enterprise or consumer applications. This produces an insulator that resembles more of an air-tunnel network instead of a Swiss cheese-type structure.

To compound the problem of air tunneling, a chip’s wiring damages the insulator by penetrating these air channels. This damages the insulator – reducing its insulating properties.

Post Porosity Plasma Protection solves this issue by overcoming power leakage problems at near-atomic design nodes, and shields semiconductor chips from severe physical and structural damage during the wire patterning and processing steps during manufacturing.

The technique uses the absence of matter in absorbent material to form between the chip’s wires, allowing electrical signals to flow faster while consuming less electrical power. Once the electrical wiring is put in place, the “sunscreen” is removed by simply heating the structure, thus liberating the undamaged air channels.

If you’re in the Bay Area on April 10, come to the Materials Research Society Show at the Moscone West Convention Center and we’ll tell you all about it!

Lose 5 pounds instantly: Stop schlepping your laptop

Michael Baentsch and Paolo Scotton, the scientists who spearheaded the development of the Secure Enterprise Desktop, give a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the work that led up to this attractive new technology and explain its advantages for both companies and end users.

IBM scientist Michael Baentsch
Q. In a nutshell, what was the motivation to develop the Secure Enterprise Desktop, which you presented at this year's CeBIT trade fair (see video below)?

Michael: First of all, there’s a clear need for such a technology, particularly around the trend of Bring Your Own Device. PCs have also become a commodity and, with the Secure Enterprise Desktop, we are supporting this trend by making it move forward even faster.

Paolo: We started out by improving an existing technology that didn’t offer the security or mobility features required by many businesses and companies, especially banks, for example, which obviously have extremely high security needs. Simply put, we redesigned the existing technology and incorporated the security of the ZTIC technology.

IBM scientist Paolo Scotton
Q. What aspect posed the biggest technological challenge?

Michael: Most of the basic work had already gone into developing the two component technologies of OS streaming and ZTIC. So the biggest remaining challenge was to accommodate the wide range of technical standards applicable to this kind of solution.

Paolo: The new streaming technique we developed really enhances the end user’s experience. A Windows desktop is typically available in about 2 minutes, starting from an empty machine, and that’s a groundbreaking result because it provides true mobility.

Q. That sounds very impressive. When can I get it?

Michael: That’s exactly how several clients we have talked to are reacting. Many of them recognize its significant merits and want it as soon as possible.

During the development of the ZTIC we established an extensive network of contacts and have given countless demonstrations to CIOs of numerous companies. We tapped that network to introduce the Secure Enterprise Desktop, and clients are responding enthusiastically. Virtually every major company has a growing need for computational mobility and enhanced security.

Q. So you're telling me that, with this lightweight little Secure Enterprise Desktop stick, I won't need to schlepp my laptop anymore?

Michael: Typical example: think of people like you who work partially from home. You could remove the Secure Enterprise Desktop stick from your company PC, leave that machine in the office, pop the device into your handbag, plug it into your home computer and continue to work where you left off. In this case, yes: no more schlepping your laptop.

Paolo: Exactly. Other people might still need or want to carry their laptop, but it could be a much smaller, lighter and especially cheaper machine, possibly owned by the employee. The mobile laptop itself may be of only nominal value. And because it wouldn’t provide access to any valuable corporate data, it would be much less attractive for theft, for example.

Q. The IBM BlueZ Business Computing team at the Zurich Lab has achieved more than a decade of successes with smartcard chip software, ZTIC and now Secure Enterprise Desktop. What do you attribute this string of success to?

Michael: In three words, to use Peter Drucker’s famous expression: “Serving customers profitably”.

We have matched our team’s capabilities with current market needs and have validated initial concepts by means of customer discussions and first prototype validation. If we then see the proverbial spark of interest to buy in a customer’s eyes, we proceed full speed to create a valuable and innovative solution.

Sidenote: The author of this article has signed up to be a pilot user and I'll be blogging about my experience in the near future.

4.05.2012

Free iPad App from IBM Reinvents Iconic '60s Era Exhibit on History of Mathematics

At the cusp of NASA's first moon mission, the 1964 World's Fair in New York City inspired thousands of young people to study math and science and pursue careers in engineering. IBM's exhibit at the Fair -- Mathematica: A World of Numbers...and Beyond -- encouraged future generations to appreciate math and create the next generation of computing.

To mark the impact of math on the world and pay tribute to the 1960s-era exhibit, IBM has created an iPad app, Minds of Modern Mathematics, available for free (and ad-free) at the App Store.


The Mathematica exhibit was created by famed husband-and-wife design team Charles and Ray Eames, and the app is being released during the centennial year of Ray Eames' birth. IBM designed the app together with the Eames Office, which works to preserve the legacy of Charles and Ray Eames.

The iPad app is a vintage-meets-digital interactive recreation of the massive 50-foot-long timeline poster from IBM's World Fair exhibit that traces hundreds of artifacts, milestones and giants of math from 1000 AD to 1960.  

For students, teachers, and tech fans of all ages, the app illustrates how mathematics has influenced advances in art, science, music and architecture. Users can click through more than 500 biographies, historical achievements and images culled from the original Mathematica exhibit as well as a high-resolution image of the timeline poster. 

A Vintage App

The app also includes a collection of short films, known as the "IBM Mathematics Peep Show," produced by the Eameses. It's a series of playful two-minute animated lessons on mathematical concepts, from exponents to symmetry. 
Mathematics remains essential to IBM's technological innovation. As demand grows for real-time analysis of information gathered from sensors in roads and power grids and other sources of "big data," IBM mathematicians are working on everything from the Jeopardy!-winning computer Watson, to astrophysics, weather forecasting and genomics, to easing traffic congestion and power consumption in cities around the world.
IBM, which maintains the largest mathematics department in industry, expects the app to be used in classroom settings and beyond to spur interest in education and careers around STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).

So what happened to IBM's original Mathematica exhibit? It is still on display at the New York Hall of Science in Queens, NY, and the Museum of Science, Boston

A smaller-scale poster is still on the walls of hundreds of schools and universities around the world and stands as an example of IBM's and the Eames’ vision for interactive learning and design. 

Join the conversation on Twitter: #math #Eames

4.04.2012

IBM researchers help ASTRON tackle big data among the stars

IBM scientists are working with the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy (ASTRON) to develop a massively powerful computing system for harvesting a huge quantity of data gathered by the international Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope.

Their project, called DOME, will investigate emerging technologies that might be used in the SKA computing systems. They’ll explore how to transport the data from a giant cluster of radio antennae to a central location, how to filter and store the data, and how to do all of the processing in an energy efficient way.

 

To learn more, check out the IBM Smarter Planet Blog.

4.03.2012

Like a kid in a toy shop

Beat Weiss, engineer and lab technician at the IBM Research – Zurich Lab, celebrates 25 years of service.

Q: What originally brought you to the IBM Research – Zurich Lab?

After my apprenticeship as a mechanic, I applied for an opening. At my interview, they gave me a tour of the labs, and wow! In this one lab, it was rather dark and there was this bright green laser, cables everywhere, high-tech installations connected to the optical bench—right out of a science-fiction film. I felt like a kid in a toy shop! To be able to work in such a place! It was my dream job.

Q: What kept you here for 25 years?

There are so many factors that have made it attractive throughout the years. First of all, IBM provided the support to get my engineering degree, which is something not all employers do.

The working conditions in terms of lab equipment are sensational. You really get what you need to do your work efficiently.

IBM is also a very environmentally conscious company, which is something that is extremely important to me personally.

They also offer valuable benefits like child-care support and the flexibility to work part-time. I worked 80% while getting my engineering degree, and have been working 90% since then. It’s also no problem to work from home if necessary. I don’t need to do so very often, perhaps once a month. All these benefits have provided a good work/life balance all these years.

Q: What have been some other highlights of your career?

When I joined IBM in 1987, Alex Müller and Georg Bednorz had just won the Nobel prize for Physics, only one year after Heinrich Rohrer and Gerd Binnig had won that same prize. The atmosphere was electric and it was an exciting time. Although IBM had a fairly strict no-alcohol policy at the time, they served champagne at the celebration in our cafeteria for us employees! So I had the impression that this kind of thing happened all the time—at least every other year or so.

A personal highlight was my first patent for an optical antenna, which I filed together with two colleagues in 1995. I never would have expected to become a patent holder, to be an inventor.

Q: Who had the greatest influence on your career?

That would definitely be my friend and colleague Andy Bischof because he motivated me to get my engineering degree. He was going to an info evening and talked me into tagging along. We both enrolled and I’ve never regretted it. The degree gave my skills much more depth than if I had become only a Swiss federally certified technician as I had originally planned.

I’ve also enjoyed plenty of support from my management, especially in connection with my studies, as I mentioned before. I’m very grateful for that.

Q: Any lab-life anecdotes that you’d like to share?

(Laughs) Sure. I remember when I first started at IBM, I had only a vague idea of what computers are and what they do, what they’re good for. There were two PCs and a VM terminal in the lab where I worked, and my manager handed me a DOS handbook and said, “Go ahead, start using them, you can’t break anything.” So I began to work through the handbook with the intention of learning all the commands from A to Z. Well, I got as far as “F” because when I happily tried “Format :C”, which is of course the command to reformat the entire main C disk, I killed the machine. I knew I had stepped in it when the PC support guy arrived and just said, “Hmmm.” But in the end, he was able to save and restore most of what I had destroyed. That was my first shock on the job—you can very well do damage with a computer.

Oh, and I’ll never forget the time, in my second lab, when we were building an ultrahigh-vacuum system. We’re talking about a very complex, sophisticated piece of equipment costing over half a million dollars. We fired up the system for some initial testing, when a colleague who will remain unnamed—you know who you are!—sauntered in and caught sight of the red emergency stop button, which was just hanging temporarily from the wall. You guessed it: with those famous last words, “What’s this button for?” he pressed it and SHUUUuuuummmmm, the machine proceeded to shut down like the turbine of a jet aircraft. Had the turbomolecular pump been damaged by the drastic pressure difference, causing a backflux of oil into the system, it would have taken weeks, even months to remove all the residue and restore the system. A disaster! Luckily, the damage was minimal, and we had the system up and running again in a couple of days.

Talk about a kid in a toy shop…

Q: What advice would you give a young person getting started in your profession today?

#1: Never say “No”—don’t even think it—until you really understand what’s being asked. Listen carefully and give it some thought before you ever say “No” or “I can’t”. My personal approach has always been: “Kann ich nicht, gibt es nicht”. (There’s no such thing as “I can’t.”)

#2: Don’t bad-mouth a colleague. You might end up working together.

#3. There’s always a humorous side to things—look for that silver lining.