Welcome to This Week in Modern Software, or TWiMS, our regular roundup of the most important things happening in the world of software analytics, cloud computing, application monitoring, development methodologies, programming languages, and related topics.
This week, stock market turmoil dominated conversation around the world, as people worried not just about the value of their portfolio but the possible effects on the technology industry.
TWiMS Top Story
China Is Crashing. Don’t Freak, America—Bloomberg
What it’s about: As you no doubt noticed, there have been some wild swings in world markets this week. The Chinese exchanges suffered historic losses of 23% in just five days at one point, and here in the United States the Dow opened down an amazing 1000 points on Monday before bouncing back a bit in the afternoon and eventually roaring all the way back later in the week. (The Chinese markets have recovered some but far from all of their losses.) While the dramatic volatility seems to have abated for the moment, there’s no escaping the fact that the world financial picture looks very different than it did a week ago.
Why you should care: The easy answer here is that stock market volatility affects millions of people personally, potentially pummeling their portfolios. But that’s only part of the story. Pundits are noisily competing with each other to predict how it will affect the tech industry.
Many observers (including Owen Davis at the International Business Times) worry that an ongoing correction could make it harder for some tech companies—especially startups—to raise money. But others (John Rampton at TechCrunch, for example) say the effects will be muted at worst. And some (Farhad Manjoo at the New York Times) believe that a little more rigor in the funding process could help separate the wheat from the chaff, benefiting stronger firms. Matt Rosoff at Business Insider predicts that even a down economy could be good news for tech companies that can save customers money, from sharing-economy outfits that underprice existing options to cloud providers that help customers avoid the need to buy expensive data centers.
Up, down, or flat … good, bad, or indifferent—one way or another this week’s worldwide financial Sturm und Drang is likely to effect the global tech industry. It’s just too early to tell exactly what those changes will add up to.
- What China’s Stock Market Crash Means for the Tech Industry—WBUR
- There Is No Silicon Valley Crash Coming: For a While—TechCrunch
- How the Stock Market Plunge Affects Silicon Valley’s Startup Market—International Business Times
- What a Hiccup in Start-Up Land Might Look Like—New York Times
- The Upside of a Downturn in Silicon Valley—New York Times
- Why an Economic Slump Could Be Fantastic News for Some Tech Companies—Business Insider
What it’s about: Facebook’s new virtual assistant for its Facebook Messenger system is “powered by artificial intelligence as well as a band of Facebook employees, dubbed M trainers, who will make sure that every request is answered.” Although it’s available to only a few users in the San Francisco area right now, the ambitious hybrid approach is designed to let M scale to match Google Now, Apple’s Siri, and Microsoft’s Cortana, but add the human touch to do things software can’t, including making tough judgment calls.
To use the free service to find information or complete tasks, users press a small button at the bottom of the Messenger app to send a note to M, which decodes the question, asks follow-up questions, and sends updates. Facebook testers have already been using M to help organize dinner parties, track down unusual beverages, make DMV appointments, and call the cable company to work through voice jail to change service options.
Why you should care: Two reasons. First, the AI/human hybrid promises to do a better job of assisting than purely automated systems are capable of, and at a scale human assistants alone can’t match. Second, David Marcus, vice president of messaging products at Facebook, tells Wired that the M trainers will help improve the service’s AI. In addition, M could spawn a variety of new businesses, including customer-service partnerships with cable companies, say, as well as enable a wide variety of transactions with preferred providers that could make money for Facebook. Advertising could also play a role. And M is obviously a direct challenge to the digital-only assistants from Apple, Google, and Microsoft.
- Meet M, Facebook’s Personal Assistant That Lives Inside Messenger—Fortune
- Facebook’s Human-Powered Assistant May Just Supercharge AI—Wired
- Facebook Goes Nuclear on the Messaging War With Its M Assistant—TechCrunch
What it’s about: Quartz interviews Dr. Bob Wachter, a physician and medical school professor, on why the promise of technological innovation has yet to fully pay off in healthcare. Wachter, a major proponent of using cutting-edge software and other technologies in hospital settings, says the future vision of healthcare technology remains bright—but the industry still has a long way to go. The stakes are high: In Wachter’s own hospital, for instance, a patient received a massive overdose of antibiotics in spite of the facility’s top-notch software systems—an incident that prompted him to take a deeper look at technology’s role in hospitals.
Why you should care: Wachter identifies several key challenges to technology adoption among doctors and other healthcare professionals. They might sound familiar to technologists in a wide range of industries: User resistance to new applications and tools, technical complexity, entrenched business practices, regulatory compliance, and conflict between forward-looking innovation and immediate business and customer needs.
Wachter stresses the need to take a page from Apple’s playbook and focus on consumer-centric design simplicity when developing healthcare apps. Most are simply too hard to use, which is a particular problem for doctors who have patients waiting to see them immediately. “[The doctor] doesn’t care that much about what life looks like five years from now,” Wachter tells Quartz. “She has a sick patient in front of her, and she has to make decisions about it right now.”
- Imaging Software Could Speed Breast Cancer Diagnosis—R&D
- Ouch! Feeling the Pain of Cybersecurity in Healthcare—Dark Reading
- Mayo Clinic Team Finds ‘Software’ for Turning Off Cell Mutations—Australian Business Review
What it’s about: IBM blogged about its new “C-Ports” solution for running Docker containers across multiple cloud platforms, which it says is similar to Google’s proposed Ubernetes extension to its open source Kubernetes system. Developed by a summer intern (and Rutgers Ph.D. candidate), IBM’s development is part of yet another big week for containers, as Google moves its Container Engine container orchestration service out of beta and into general availability—which means it now has pricing and a 99.5% uptime guarantee. IBM says C-Ports (pronounced “seaports,” get it?) is “the first platform of its kind that enables the deployment of Docker containers across multiple clouds and hybrid infrastructure,” including Bluemix, Amazon AWS, Google Cloud, Chameleon, and FutureSystems.
Why you should care: While C-Ports appears far from being a commercial product, Fortune notes that “Being able to run containers across clouds and geographies can address several enterprise concerns,” such as controlling the geographic distribution of data and using the best, most available infrastructure for a particular workload. The ability to leverage multiple providers could be very useful for serious scalability and disaster recovery. The commercial release of Google’s Container Engine, meanwhile, gives developers more container management choices and furthers the containers’ push into the mainstream.
- C-Ports: Docker Containers Across Multiple Clouds and Datacenters!—IBM
- Google’s Container Engine for Running Docker Containers on Its Cloud Platform Is Now Generally Available—TechCrunch
- Google Launches Container Engine Out of Beta—VentureBeat
- Google’s Container Management Service Exits Beta, Gets Uptime Guarantee—ComputerWorld
What it’s about: Intel is leading a $100 million investment round in commercial OpenStack vendor Mirantis. The giant chipmaker will also partner with Mirantis as part of its “Cloud for All” initiative, which aims to boost cloud adoption by simplifying deployments across public, private, and hybrid environments. This is Mirantis’ second $100 million funding round in less than two years, and Intel was joined by the likes of Goldman Sachs, Ericsson, and several venture capital funds, topsy-turvy financial markets be darned.
Why you should care: The partnership, in particular, should help continue to raise the profile of OpenStack—designed to be the ubiquitous Open Source Cloud Computing platform—in enterprise environments. Jonathan Donaldson, Intel’s VP & GM for software-defined infrastructure, writes in a blog post that while OpenStack has already made inroads into the enterprise, IT managers still have legitimate gripes around complexity, support for existing enterprise apps, and optimization. He says the new partnership will focus on improvements across those areas to increase OpenStack’s suitability for enterprise IT. Over at the CSC Blogs, Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols notes that “Canonical, Cisco, Dell, HP, IBM, Rackspace, and Red Hat are all betting that OpenStack will become the dominant cloud hybrid and private cloud architecture.” Add Intel to the list.
- Intel Bets Big on Mirantis and OpenStack—CSC Blogs
- Intel to Invest Heavily in Software That Enhances Cloud-Computing Capabilities—New York Times
- Intel Announces ‘Cloud-for-All’ Initiative—Intel Newsroom
10 Extreme Data Centers. OK … Nine—The Register
What it’s about: These aren’t your run-of-the-mill server closets, folks. The Register profiles 10 extreme data centers around the world, from Facebook’s “Node Pole” in Lulea, Sweden, to the NSA’s $1.5 billion facility in the Utah desert, which includes a Cray XC30 supercomputer that can process 100-petaflop workloads. Turns out $1.5 billion gets you a bit of extra compute power—and zettabytes of storage to house all that data, too. Facebook actually has two entries on the list: Its Aquila drone is still in testing, and only loosely fits the traditional definition of a data center, but it’s intended to eventually power high-speed Internet connections from altitudes of 60,000 to 90,000 feet.
Why you should care: Because they’re so darn cool, that’s why (be sure to check out the amazing photos in the article). Is your data volcano-proof? Nuclear-proof? Everything–proof? These are all that and more. The Pionen data center, built 100 feet beneath the streets of Stockholm in a former nuclear facility, could pull double-duty as a set on the next dashing international superspy movie. All it’s missing is an arch criminal and a fluffy white cat.
Note: Kevin Casey contributed to this post.