Infrastructure: the new venture area

For technology watchers, looking for upcoming trends, it’s always of interest to see where the venture capital sector is investing. Of course, not every business that attracts VC investment succeeds. But it’s an indicator of where attention is focussed.

MIT’s Technology Review carries an article which reviews this area of IT. With a report from the recent Venture Summit East conference (that’s East as in US East Coast – in Boston), it provides three useful insights.

First – start-ups are beginning to recover from the downturn. It’s been a dry six months for public offerings but a few are starting to come through again.

Second – what the angels are investing in now is new technologies that can assist the oldest of commercial imperatives: saving money. In particular, reducing the cost of infrastructure. The article cites two, perhaps surprising, examples.

Virtualisation is today’s hotspot; but  opportunities exist to update the “outdated” technology behind it. And there’s still a need to reduce the cost of storing and managing data which is an order of magnitude (or more) greater than the cost of acquiring it.

And third – that while VC priorities are still informative, the emergence of so much cheap and scaleable cloud infrastructure means that some startups with really viable ideas don’t need venture funding. In fact, they may be damaged by it with a push to go too far too soon. Technology watchers, take note!

• What VCs Are Investing In, Technology Review, 26 May 2009

MIT Tech Review’s Top 10 2009

MIT’s Technology Review has published its annual Top 10 Emerging Technologies. As always, at least half are of interest to IT folks.

There’s an intelligent software agent that aims to turn web search from finding content to undertaking actions: a new take on the quest for an intelligent personal assistant, based on military technology research. There’s a new type of power storage cell, claimed to be capable of exceptionally heavy lifting without the usual penalties: not a silver bullet, but a magnesium and antimony one. There’s new ultra-dense memory technology, from Stuart Parkin who led IBM’s memory technology research until the division was sold in 2002.

For the Web, there’s a new caching algorithm which computes directly to a disk location and aims thereby to streamline access to relatively static web content. And there’s an add-on approach to networking: the OpenFlow standard which allows policy to be overlaid on normal routing algorithms so that, for example, video could be given priority (or not!) over email. I’m not sure about Tech Review’s definition that this one “can change the way we live”, but I can see a host of commercial applications for it!

Top Ten is always a stimulating read. Take a look.

• 10 Emerging Technologies 2009, Technology Review, March-April 2009
• OpenFlow (the OpenFlow Switch Consortium)

Part 2: new ideas for the Social Web

Following on from yesterday: Tech Review has also posted an article covering ten new ideas for the Social Web. These are startups which could catch on, for a variety of reasons.

Have a look. There are some you might recognise, like Pownce. There’s a peer-to-peer traffic reporter based on contributed GPS data from gridlocked cars. There’s a new take on making mashup APIs manageable. And more.

But the one that caught my eye is Ushahidi: not just for its idea, but for where it comes from. Ushahidi is a not-for-profit that can aggregate reports by mobile phone and display them via Google Maps. The original was developed in Kenya, as a way of gathering reliable information in the troubles following the disputed election, from local people in areas where the news media couldn’t reach. And it wasn’t developed by someone in the west with a social conscience. It was developed in Africa, by African people, for an African situation; and it could be deployed in any trouble spot or disaster area where conventional communications are disrupted. In the west, even!

• Ten Web Startups to Watch MIT Technology Review, July/August 2008
• Ushahidi

Watch this space … while you still can!

I was catching up on a backlog of alerts from MIT Technology Review. Lots of stuff about social networking, and I’m not going to discuss that here. Some of the services reviewed are the standard ones (MySpace vs Facebook, Twitter and so on) and some are smaller scale upstarts which might be the next great thing.

But this one article is worth reading, and I thought I’d flag it here rather than just tag it in MIT’s Technology Review discusses whether the level of traffic now being generated will kill the internet as we know it.

The surge in video traffic started with YouTube, but there is a lot of higher-quality user-generated video out there now and some of it gets insane numbers of hits just because it’s quirky and catches someone’s attention. And the broadcasters are in on it. In the UK, the BBC’s iPlayer is coming up for its first refresh; it’s been a wildly successful service, allowing programmes to be retrieved and re-watched over a seven day period, or retrieved and downloaded until the DRM software causes them to self destruct. ITV and Channel 4 have a slightly different model, but the key thing – in common with the US broadcast-linked services mentioned by TR – is that these are peer-to-peer applications. So, not all the bandwidth used is server-to-user; a lot of it is user-to-user, and the iPlayer T&Cs make explicit the permission for your iPlayer to be used in this way.

What’s the growth factor? TR quotes analyst Nemertes as saying 100% per year. An alternative academic estimate of 50% growth can probably be coped with by current technology trends. Watch this space … while you still can!

Internet Gridlock (MIT Technology Review, July/August 2008 )
The Internet Singularity, Delayed: Why Limits in Internet Capacity Will Stifle Innovation on the Web (Nemertes, Nov 2007)

MIT’s top 10 emerging technologies – 2008

MIT 10
MIT’s Technology Review publishes an annual hit list of ten top emerging technologies – not all of them IT, but IT is always well represented.

This year’s list includes a technology for wireless power; there are quite a number of these developments around these days, including some the TR10 missed such as Splashpower in the UK. It includes “Modelling Surprise” – not magic, but developing a scenario modelling methodology that takes into account disruptive surprises of the past. Also modelling uncertainty is probabilistic chip design, which recognises the range of computational areas where absolute precision is un-necessary and thus enables power consumption of devices to be reduced: this technology may also come into its own as component sizes continue to reduce and the physics of uncertainty come into play in mainstream design.

Sandy Pentland’s Reality Mining is also in the list: by enabling mobile devices to “recognise” each other when they’re in range, data can be gathered about the social or professional encounters between their owners. Knowledge of their personal networks can then help facilitate serendipitous meetings (think “I didn’t know you’d be here!”)

Visit TR to review the complete list.


• Technology Review’s Ten Emerging Technologies of 2008 (Tech Review, March/April 2008)