Google as the 5th Estate

Wikipedia lists the “5th Estate” as an ambiguous addition to the traditional “estates,” including the clergy (1st Estate), nobility (2nd Estate), commoners (3rd Estate), and the press (4th Estate). The term (according to Wikipedia)has been used to describe Max Headroom in Our Ethertrade unions, the poor, the blogosphere and organized crime. It can also be used to describe media outlets that see themselves in opposition to mainstream (“Fourth Estate”) media.

If you believe Larry Page, a co-founder of Google, their vision is to marry artificial intelligence with search engines so powerful they would understand “everything in the world.” A couple of years ago Google further stated a corporate vision to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

A very compelling and interesting vision, until you begin to understand the extent of that capability. On a positive note it gives us a way find and access codified knowledge we’d never gain exposure to under normal conditions (pre-Google and Internet “normal conditions”), but on the other end of the spectrum personal information and confidential information is also collected, indexed, and made available to anybody with access to a search engine.

Posting a blog entry may get you indexed within seconds, as would posting pictures of your family. Your tax records, home information, educational records, and other personal information, if not guarded with near military discipline (oops, forgot about wikileaks.com), will expose parts of your life never expected to the other 4.5 billion people around the world who may have a voyeuristic or nefarious interest in your life.

Going Nose-to-Nose with a Sovereign Nation

However, perhaps the most interesting step into uncharted territory with Google is in their recent conflict with China.

Google took issue with China’s censorship of search engine results, as well as cyber-terrorism it alleged was raged by Chinese government hackers, who obtained confidential information and email data from Google as well as at least 20 other private companies in what Google described “as a highly sophisticated attack.” (Red Herring)

The issue here is not censorship, the issue is the rights of a sovereign nation, versus the development of a global utility that transcends the control of a nation over its citizens. Kind of a new United Nations of Cyber managed by Google.

China is a good target, as self-righteous citizens of western countries reject the socialist political/cultural environment in the world’s most populous country. Of course those who believe in western conspiracy would note that Google has been linked to the CIA and other global intelligence agencies since inception (1), (2), (3), etc., by a variety of mainstream media and private websites.

But what does happen when a private company reaches a level of power that allows it to set both foreign and domestic policy in sovereign nations? Is there a point when the UK, must check with Google for approval before signing privacy or security policy into law? At what point does a private company “cross over the line” of providing a global utility and become a global “big brother?”

Max Headroom Returns to Our Ether

We’ve written about Max Headroom in the past, and he recently pop-p-p-p-ped up in conversations and magazine artiocles, including Wired Magazine. Max Headroom’s world, although brought to us in 1985, is almost creepy in its relevance to modern times. Just swap Television, studios, and TV with Internet and SEO ratings.

“In the post-apocalyptic future where television sets are more important than food, TV ratings are the all important currency of the nation. A new technique of preventing viewers from channel surfing proves somewhat detrimental to particularly sedentary couch potatoes. The top studio becomes concerned: dead viewers make for low ratings. Edison Carter, top news reporter, is sent to find out more. After a motorcycle accident, his mind is preserved by wizz-kid Bryce and becomes his wise cracking, computer generated alter-ego: Max Headroom, who manages to boost ratings above those of any live hosts to date…”

Is Google and Google SEO the new global currency? Is Google search engine placement more important to a company than Euros, RMB, or Dollars? Is Google the next Max Headroom, an omnipresent component of all aspects of our life, more important than our national or cultural identity?

Maybe it is Time to Change

Our lives are now wired with laptop computers, smart phones, Netbooks, Twitter, Facebook, Google, Yahoo, and Internet. You cannot walk a block without being presented with license plates, billboards, handouts, or airplanes pulling banners or skywriting URLs flogging some Internet site or service. Part of every person’s life in our current world. And Bluetooth has drilled it into our heads with Skype and other applications transcending the government controlled communications infrastructure with packetized everything-over-IP applications.

Binding this together brings Facebooks and Googles into the basic infrastructure of the new world, almost to the point of transcending the value of fiber optics, wireless networks, routers, servers, and switches.

While uncomfortable to us 50-somethings, we are witnessing a harbinger of the future. The future is wired. The future is a global community with little respect for borders and culture. The wired world is the 5th Estate. Only question is if Google or Facebook will join the first four estates as individual companies as representatives of the 5th Estate.

Insulating Innovators from Infrastructure with Cloud Computing

The SMS message was desperate. AJ sent the plea “If I have to see one more picture of a cloud in a PPT I might lose it…” After two days of presentations at the Cloud Computing Conference and Expo, where companies tried to bring the audience up to an Intro to Clouds 101 level, some attendees were grasping for new ideas, new information, new reasons why companies should release their IT models currently based on strict FUD-Factor (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) compliance, to the new generation of cloud computing.

The “same slides, different day” approach was starting leave some Shelton Shugar - Yahooattendees a bit glazed, until Shelton Shugar, SVP of Cloud Computing at Yahoo! kicked off the morning with his keynote speech “Accelerating Innovation with Cloud Computing.” Shugar woke the audience up with an overview of how Yahoo! Is “walking the talk” with cloud computing deployments in their own network.

Yahoo! Mail, Sports, Finance, and other applications – all are using some level of cloud compute support based on HADOOP. Shugar detailed Yahoo’s support of the open source community through their “Open Cirrus” program. Not only aggressive cloud computing thought leadership, but actual industry leadership.

Insulating Innovators

Perhaps the most enlightening “sound bite” of the morning is Shugar’s statement that cloud computing relieves the developers from spending time on IT, allowing them to “focus time on their (business) problems, and not on the infrastructure.”

This is really significant. Having joined several presentations at the Cloud Computing Conference and Expo in Santa Clara, mostly repeating the same lines of reduced OPEX, CAPEX, energy savings, IaaS, PaaS, Saas, and so on, Shugar finally started bringing the ideas into a perspective business managers could relate to their own professional pain points, as well as open new ideas of what value this cloud “thing” might actually offer.

I remember in the old days (of the ’90s) while working at a telecom company breaking into the emerging Internet industry. We had a training section which consumed a lot of their schedule supporting remote access training for NOC (network operations center) technicians needing high level access to servers and routers. The training section maintained dozens of switches, routers, and servers in a computer room to support the training environment.

Each student needed practice working at the command line interface of network hardware, however in their day-to-day job they would never need to physically touch a network device, as the actual device could be located anyplace around the world – they simply need to practice troubleshooting and monitoring through remote access.

Looking around the conference hall at the Cloud Computing Conference, companies such as 3tera offer a provisioning tool that is able to automatically produce images of servers, switches, and routers within a virtual environment. You need a new LINUX box, you drag and drop a pre-configured LINUX image into your environment. It “spools” and is ready for access within about 2 seconds. From the user’s perspective, it is a physical LINUX server that could very well be mounted in the next room. The object functions exactly as a physical server would behave.

Within the virtual environment the instructor (or students) could spool up as many virtual images of the LINUX box as needed to meet the class’ training requirements. The instructor and training division no longer has to spend a lot of time each day wiping servers, reloading images, replacing failed memory or hard drives – any of the non-productive tasks that traditionally prevented them from spending their valuable time building better training curriculum, spending more time with their students, or delivering the course as an eLearning course anyplace in the company.

Now apply the same idea to any job where you have either knowledge workers or manual workers spending any amount of their time working on IT infrastructure-related tasks which do not directly produce revenue or some level of customer service (a broad category). Even better if you consider the supporting IT infrastructure may not even be in the same building, city, or even region. You may be getting your applications and IT support through a public cloud service provider (CSP) physically located in a different country!

The idea of insulating your knowledge workers from the IT infrastructure is one more item for our bag of 30 second cloud elevator pitches. It is great when such as simple statement can have such profound meaning. Looking around the auditorium, when Shugar may the statement and described the need to insulate our knowledge workers from the burden of IT infrastructure operations and management, I could see about 1000 pairs of eyes lighten, eyebrows rise a bit higher into the foreheads, and smiles appear on the faces of attendees who finally breeched the layer of skepticism and fog which had drawn them to the conference.

The rest of the conference will now be a much more free and productive use of their new enthusiasm for knowledge on cloud computing, what it is today, and what innovations they will be able to apply to cloud computing platforms and infrastructure in the future.

John Savageau, Long Beach (from the Cloud Computing Conference and Expo, Santa Clara, California)

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