Cloud computing, what is it?

Cloud computing is defined as using web based applications and storing the data at a hosted site. Thus, the user doesn’t have to have any expertise in the applications that are running on their pc. They simply connect to the internet and have access to their files and applications.

Why use the term cloud? If you haven’t seen a network diagram, typically a picture of a cloud is used to depict the Internet.

There are actually 3 different types of Cloud services, I’ll list them out for now, maybe another time I’ll come back and go into detail on these services:
Infrastructure-as-a-Service (Iaas)
Platform-as-a-Service(Paas)
Software-as-a-Service(Saas)

And, these can be provided from either a public or private network. A public cloud, sells its services to anyone on the Internet. An example of a public cloud is Google Apps and Amazon Web Services. Typically, public cloud services are sold as an “on demand” service. Pay by the minute and pay by the volume of storage. So, a private cloud is where services are provided from within the organizations data center and are only available to employees of that organization. IT departments must now focus on state of the art technology in the data center. Cloud computing puts all the onus on having a smooth and efficient data center.

So, what kind of PC do you need to be a Cloud user? The answer, at a minimum a very lightweight computer. As a user, all you really need your computer to do is connect you to the Internet. Almost all the processing and computer resources you use are at the providers’ site. Enter the Netbook, lightweight, low cost laptop. Did we take a step back, remember when all computing was on mid to large mainframe systems and you used a dumb terminal to connect to your resources. Well, isn’t that where cloud computing is going?

What options do you have with the Netbook. The Netbook comes with either windows XP or Linux. FYI, it doesn’t come with Vista because Vista uses too much memory and the Netbooks typically come with 1 GB ram. Some Netbooks are starting to come with more memory, although I think this deviates from the intent of the Netbook (remember, dumb terminal). Technically, any application that runs under Windows or Linux will work on this PC, however with limited resources, performance will suffer. One note on storage, you can also use your local storage as a backup.

There are also simplified operating systems currently being developed where the primary goal is to give you a desktop browser environment that will connect you to the Internet and give you access to your “cloud” applications. One example is Google Chrome OS. It’s a lightweight OS with primary focus on the browser. Remember, Chrome, googles’ web browser? Well, it’s the central piece of their operating system. And, yes, it’s initially designed to run on a netbook. So, what’s Microsoft doing? Well they are working on Gazelle, this could be the rival to Chrome.

So, what are the advantages of cloud computing for a typical user:
Low cost – lightweight systems are all you need
Good performance – since the provider is responsible for this.
User doesn’t have to be a computer expert
Increased data reliability
Device independence- you can use any system that can connect to the internet.

And, what are the disadvantages?
Requires an Internet connection- Internet connection goes down, no apps for.
Need a high speed Internet connection – although most people are all ready there.
Cloud apps need work – although they are closing in, Google Presentation doesn’t have all the features as Microsoft Powerpoint.

Same question I asked before, are we stepping back into the world of super data centers and dumb terminals?

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Microsoft, The Early Years

Well, lets start with the computer that got Bill Gates interested. The MITS (Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems) Altair 8800 was introduced on 1/1/1975 on the cover of Popular Electronics. There were other computers being developed, but this one sparked ideas in Bill Gates and Paul Allen. Namely, What do you do with this computer, well of course you need software that is specifically developed for it.

Paul Allen was working at Honeywell, while Bill Gates was a sophomore at Harvard. There first task was to adapt BASIC to work on that machine. They finished the job and on January 2nd Paul Allen delivered the product to MITS. The next day Paul Allen joins MITS as director of software. Later that year, Bill Gates formed an informal partnership with Paul Allen called Micro-soft. MITS then starts traveling the US demonstrating the Altair and “Micro-Soft” BASIC. July 1st 1975, BASIC is officially shipped as version 2.0 in both a 4k and 8k edition.

Paul Allen resigns from MITS to work with Bill Gates full time on November 1, 1976. And, on November 26, the tradename “Microsoft” is officially registered in New Mexico. They still ran the company as an informal partnership. Do you know what the first ad campaign for Microsoft was called? “The Legend of Micro-Kid”.
Bill Gates actually went back to Harvard for the spring, and still lead Microsoft through the process of licensing BASIC to GE, NCR and Citibank – to name a few.

By the middle of 1977, Microsoft is developing and releases its next set of tools such as FORTRAN, COBOL and Assembler. And, with the introduction of the Intel 8080, people started to think they could own their own computers. So on February 3rd 1977, Paul Allen and Bill Gates finally establish an official partnership. Their main product was still BASIC which is still associated with MITS. Although, they are starting to feel like MITS is not contributing the way they should. Arbitration follows and on November 18th Microsoft is free to market BASIC to all vendors.

Microsoft started out with these 9 employees.

Original Microsoft Employees

Original Microsoft Employees

The picture shows:
Starting from the top, left: Steve Wood, Bob Wallace & Jim Lane
Next row: Bob O’Rear, Bob Greenburg, Marc McDonald & Gordon Letwin
Next row: Bill Gates, Andrea Lewis, Marla Wood & Paul Allen

Before there was a rivalry between Microsoft and Apple, they did work together. In 1977, Microsoft licensed the product Applesoft BASIC to Apple, established its first international office in Japan and is getting ready to move the office to Washington (officially moved on Jan 1, 1979).

June 11 1980, Steve Ballmer is hired. He is Bill’s first assistant, taking on the administrative aspects of Microsoft. The biggest deal happened during this year. Microsoft gets a contract with IBM to develop languages for their first personal computer. And, they need an operating system too! Yep Microsoft MS-DOS is alive.

In 1983 two key events happened. First, Microsoft Word for MS-DOS 1.00 is released on September 29, 1983. Second, On November 10, Microsoft unveils Microsoft Windows, MS-DOS with a graphical operating environment.

At this point, I think you know what happens next. The Microsoft wagon really gets rolling and the rest is history. Let me know if you’re interested in hearing about some of the big events leading up to NT, XP and Vista. At this point you are probably ready for a nap. By the way, there are lots of interesting stories through out their history.

One quick story: IBM approached Microsoft to discuss home computers and Microsoft products (in 1980). As far as OS development, Gates referred IBM to a product called CP/M written by Gary Kildall (from Digital Research). The day IBM was to meet with Kildall, he thought it was more important to meet with one of his bigger customers. So, he left his wife (who worked with him) to deal with IBM. She refused to sign IBM’s non-discloser until she talked to their lawyer. During this time, Gary Kildall came back to the office and decided to sign the agreement and meet with IBM. He didn’t like the deal and turned it down. The deal was $200,000 flat fee + $10 royalty and change the name to PC-DOS. IBM went back to Bill Gates to try and persuade Kildall to change his mind. But, of course Bill Gates took advantage of the opportunity and closed the deal himself. Microsoft MS-DOS was based on QDOS which in turn was based on Kildall’s CP/M. The world of operating systems was sitting in Kildall’s lap.

HIPAA – What’s the deal?

Star-Tech Services is now supporting computer services in physician offices. As we grow in this arena, it is important that we understand all the components included in being HIPAA compliant as it relates to the computers and data stored on the computers.

What is HIPAA? Well, it stands for Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. Does that explain it? Ok, here’s the deal. This Federal act was passed by Congress in 1996 and it does the following:

1. Provides the ability to transfer or continue insurance coverage for workers who have lost or changed their jobs.
2. Reduces fraud and abuse in the health care industry
3. Mandates standards for health care information in billing systems
4. Requires the protection and confidential of protected health information (PHI). This is defined as any data that can identify an individual, such as: name, telephone numbers, email addresses, medical record numbers, any vehicle identification…

Let’s take a closer look at how it relates to IT.

In my opinion, a big key is to document the standard operating procedures you are using. This includes account maintenance, backups, disaster recovery procedures, security (both physical and network). Here is a list of some of the items to be considered:

1. Isolate systems that either store or have access to key data (PHI Protected Health Information). Make sure the public does not have access to these systems. Store them in an environment that the public does not have access to.
2. Secure the systems from Internet access.
3. Establish password expiration policies.
4. Establish screensaver passwords. Initiate after 10-15 minutes and enable password secure.
5. Monitor access and security logs.
6. Document how data is backed up and where the backup media is stored.
7. Document the owner and administrator of key data
8. Document the network security setup and guidelines.

The real HIPAA struggles come from the conflict of keeping individuals’ health information private and protected, while still allowing some data to flow to health related research. I’m sure there will be modifications made to the rules as it’s studied. One change will probably be in defining methods of removing personally identifiable information while still submitting the key components on to research. The complication is that in some research, it may be necessary to include personal information. How do they get around this? I’d suggest that the organization doing this study must be approved by a board and demonstrate that they have all the protection safeguards in place.

And, one last item to further confuse the matter, there is a lot of room for interpretation of the HIPAA rules, especially amongst different types of health organizations.

So, what’s the answer? I don’t know. What I do know is that Star-Tech Services must have a set of procedures that it follows to be HIPAA compliant as we support computers in physician offices.