Tech media pioneer Pat McGovern dies at 76

Pat McGovern, the visionary behind a tech publishing and IT research giant, and philanthropist behind the McGovern Institute for Brain Research died Wednesday.

Why the patent wars will move to the cloud

Google’s $12.5 billion acquisition of Motorola this week has been widely interpreted as a bid to control the mobile phone company’s portfolio of 17,000 mobile patents. As Colin Gibbs noted last week, handset manufacturers such as Apple, Samsung and HTC appear increasingly willing to claim patent infringement in order to distract or derail rivals. But in cloud computing, despite the presence of big companies and their wealth of technology patents, we haven’t seen widespread use of patent-related litigation. Yet.

Let’s start with the basics, the term “cloud computing.” Back in 2007, Dell filed an attempt to patent the term and completed several steps of the registration process before the claim was abandoned. Dell was not the first to try this. NetCentric had made a similar attempt a decade earlier and had secured the patent for a time before losing it through lack of use.

Even if a patent were granted for the phrase “cloud computing,” it’s unlikely that any company could successfully pursue competitors through the courts for “abuse” of such a common and generic term. But patents granted to protect the technologies and processes that underpin the cloud are easier to defend and have more potential to result in expensive litigation. The United States Patent and Trademark Office, for example, records 292 patents concerned with “virtualization” and 170 with “cloud” in the title. Many more relate to storage, networking, processing and other aspects of any successful cloud deployment, and mining patent databases for the valuable gems is the work of a growing industry. For example, in May of this year GTT Group announced a patent sale. It had identified 9 U.S. patents “essential to the present and evolving cloud computing ecosystem” and offered them to the highest bidder.

There are few examples of cloud patent litigation. Microsoft sued Salesforce in 2010 for infringement of 9 patents. Legal blogger Andres Guadamuz was unimpressed by Microsoft’s suit, described at the time as “puzzling.” Salesforce countersued before reaching an out-of-court settlement, which most likely favored Microsoft. Just this month, Oracle sued Oasis Research LLC to force a legal ruling on claims that Oracle had infringed 6 patents Oasis had acquired. Another company with a wealth of likely patents is Google. However, fears from as long ago as 2008 that Google would “use its cloud patents against competitors” so far appear unfounded.

As cloud products proliferate and the market becomes crowded, though, litigation becomes a more likely tool with which to obstruct competitors. CIO.com’s David Taber suggests that public cloud applications increase the likelihood of being targeted by those trying to enforce spurious patents. These so-called patent trolls, Taber argues, have a far easier time checking applications in the cloud than they would if these never left the corporate data center. And New York–based litigation attorney Nolan Goldberg is reported as raising a far scarier specter: that customers of cloud services may be targeted for alleged infringements. Suits of this kind have already been brought in the manufacturing sector. Network World quotes Goldberg as saying, “If the supplier makes a machine capable of performing A, B, and C, but the customer is the one who actually presses the button that performs the steps, in that case the customer could be the direct infringer, and the supplier might be the indirect infringer.”

It is easy to imagine scenarios in which cloud providers and their customers are bombarded by expensive patent infringement claims, but the truth remains that very few cases have been brought, and only a fraction of those have resulted in an actual settlement. The real danger in the patent space isn’t the targeting of inadvertent infringement by small developers. Rather, it lies in the malicious uses to which big IT companies might put their patent hordes: suing and countersuing their equally large competitors in a fight for dominance of the enterprise cloud. Other than in the Microsoft-Salesforce case, they haven’t done it yet . . . but it’s only a matter of time.

Question of the week

Will cloud providers increasingly use patents to attack their competitors?

Linux is Greener, But Making Servers Sip Power Sucks

Chalk up another one for Linux. The open-source software was just deemed by Network World as greener than Windows Server 2008 when running as the operating system for servers. The computing magazine found that servers using Red Hat Enterprise Linux ran 12 percent more efficiently than those running Windows Server 2008.

But while that’s the headline conclusion (which, it should be noted, included many caveats), the real conclusion of the study is that it’s take meticulous attention and is difficult to get servers to run green. Primary power savings for the test came from the operating system asking the server CPU to dial back its performance. However, only chips made in the last three years even have the ability to “relax” when not being asked to perform computations. To add to the complexity, the software governing the hardware and chips themselves needs to be updated to allow for and manage a chip dialing back its cycles.

So beneath the OS, both the chip itself and the firmware need to have the most energy-efficient technology on board in order to achieve the maximum power savings with Linux. The power management features in the OS must also be turned on regardless of whether you’re using Linux or Windows. That needs to happen across all the servers in a data center to maximize power savings. And it’s possible that on some types of hardware Windows might perform a little better than Linux. One way or another, optimizing your server infrastructure for power conservation is as painstaking as building a house of cards.

4 Upgrades for Your Personal Workspace

Work-at-home web workers seem to divide into two categories: those who make do with just a laptop computer balanced on whatever flat surface has just enough space to hold it, and those who try to establish a personal workspace that makes it easy and pleasant to work. If you’re in the former group, more power to you. But if you’re not, this might be the perfect time to think about upgrading your immediate surroundings.

Why now? By the end of May, you should have some sense of whether you’re having a good year (or not). In the US, tax time is safely past, and there are even those “economic stimulus” checks coming to encourage us all to pump up the consumer economy a bit. Personally, I’ve never been shy about spending money to make my immediate surroundings a bit nicer. I spend long hours at this desk working on the web; if it’s a nice place to work, I mind those hours less and can bill correspondingly more. If you’re of the same mind, here are four things to think about. Read More about 4 Upgrades for Your Personal Workspace

Level 3 swapping debt

Level 3 Commences is going to retire $450 million in debt and will replace it with new debt finaiciang. The notes to be repurchased mature in 2008 and have interest terms ranging from 9 1/8 to as high as 11 percent. Level 3 is giving note holders until November 29, 2004 to cash out. No details on where the new cash is going to come from, but you can count on one thing: company is going to be paying a lot less in interest charges.