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Thomas the Tank Engine and Broadband

I was reading a Thomas the Tank Engine book to my son Jack last night and the conflict in the story arc came when a piece of hail made a crack in the track. Thomas, of course, could not continue because of the crack in the track, so he (and all the trains behind him) had to wait until the track was repaired. Thomas was a bit embarrassed that he could not complete his trip and his passengers had to unload and walk. (Don’t even get me started about the toad in the road that made the passengers unload.) Thomas thought that there was nothing he could not do, but, in the end, he learned that he is only as good as the track that he runs on. This, of course, made me think of broadband. At this point, Jack fell asleep.Why did this make me think of broadband, you say? Broadband was once famously described as a “series of tubes” that carries data to and fro. Not a dumptruck that you can just dump things on. The series of tubes analogy isn’t that far off, but, of course the size of the tubes (or track) is critical to the amount of data that the tube can carry. In the U.S., broadband was defined by the FCC as 200Kpbs (or, how this measurement was arrived at, the online equivalent of time it took to turn a page in a book), which I have lamented was woefully low and didn’t give us a true measurement in the worldwide broadband stakes. FCC Commissioner Michael Copps wrote about this as well. Read More »

The Green Revolution

Post by Jennifer Greeson, PR Yesterday I attended an event on Capitol Hill put together by the Center for American Progress Action Fund on “Climate Connections: Information Technology and a Green Economy.” Laura Ipsen, Cisco’s SVP for Global Policy and Government Affairs as well as one of the co-chairs of our EcoBoard, represented our point of view. The room was packed with young passionate people, which says something about the importance of this issue to those working in our nation’s government. What struck me, and seemed to ignite the interest of those in the audience though, was the concept of a green revolution. No, not a revolt… but something akin to the next Industrial Revolution. All of the panelists and many in the audience agreed; if we address the challenge of climate change with the same entrepreneurial spirit that the U.S. tapped generations ago, we could unleash the next great wave of economic opportunity. Information technology certainly has a role to play in that. Just as IT changed the face of financial services, retail and manufacturing, so too can it enable a whole new way of looking at environmental issues. Recent studies validate this premise. Key to making this work will be using IT to reduce the “demand side” of the equation, of course. As the panelists said, we should continue to explore alternative energy sources but we must also reduce the amount of energy we consume. In a broadband world, IT and particularly networking technologies, have a role to play. Laura’s main point was that we must collaborate and innovate our way into a sustainable model for green. Sounds interesting and like something that will create new jobs, new companies and entirely new industries. Good stuff. Like I said, the room was packed. Too bad the A.C. temperature was turned up for the sake of “being green.” It was hot in there!

Word Up

Just this last week, Merriam-Webster released their updated dictionary for 2008. As you may imagine, the 100 or so new words added each year reflect our current interests, new technologies, or topics in the news. In looking over the list, four came to my attention as they relate to the potential, and the opportunity for misuse, of the Internet. They are, including dates of first appearance: netroots (2003), malware (1990), webinar (1998), and pretexting (1992). Read More »

The Network and the Natural World: Geoffrey Moore Meet Aldo Leopold

Alan S. Cohen, Vice President, Enterprise and Mid-Market Solutions, Cisco Systems

“œOur brains developed under the pressure of natural selection to make us great foragers, which is how humans have spent 99% of their time on earth. The presence of flowers, as even I understood as a boy, is a reliable predictor of future food.” — Michael Pollan, The Botany of Desire

Over the past two decades, the Internet yielded several well-documented network effects: computer operating systems and networking protocols, real-time communications, the”Internet of Things,” social networking, etc. Now we are seeing a new network effect: the network meeting the natural world.Former Cisco Product Line Manager Matthew Glenn took a long career in networking and combined it with a passion for photosynthesis to create and launch PlantSense (, a pioneering Internet company targeted to home botany. PlantSense provides a complete system starting with a physical sensor that is stuck into the ground to determine soil, light, heat, temperature and moisture conditions. The sensor has a USB plug-in that synchs with a web-based database and plant referral system as well as a social network for plant aficionados. Based on the sensor’s data and the geography (inputted as a zip code), PlantSense’s smart advisor prescribes which plants will thrive in that locale. PlantSense is sort of like a routed network for plants, but instead of computing the optimal route for a signal, it computes what will optimally grow. Read More »

The Network Inside

Those of us focused on IT concerns about security, QoS, video, the last mile, management, and usability in the business word can sometimes forget that our own households have evolved in a few short years to become microcosms of many of the same trends. It’s complicated stuff, to be sure. In fact, a few months ago, David Pogue reported in his New York Times blog that 30 percent of home networking gear ends up getting returned to the store. So what’s the problem? I think it’s the fundamental issue that plagues IT organizations in the business world: insufficient pre-planning of what I’m calling the HAN (Home Area Network). The challenges, albeit on a lesser scale, are no different than that which confront network administrators on a daily basis. Traffic and resources need to be managed, and that calls for sufficient bandwidth and equipment with intelligence. Read More »