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Moores Law still stands- after 50 years

April 10, 2015 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Computers, Search Clinic, Technology Companies, Telecommunications Companies, Uncategorized

Computer chips are both the most complex things ever mass produced by humans and the most disruptive to our lives.

It noted that the maximum number of components that manufacturers could "cram" onto a sliver of siliconSo it’s remarkable that the extraordinary pace they have evolved at was in large part influenced by a three page article published 50 years ago this month.

It theorised that the maximum number of components that manufacturers could “cram” onto a sliver of silicon – before which the rising risk of failure made it uneconomic to add more – was doubling at a regular pace every two years.

Its author, Gordon Moore, suggested this could be extrapolated to forecast the rate at which more complicated chips could be built at affordable costs.

The insight – later referred to as Moore’s Law – became the bedrock for the computer processor industry, giving engineers and their managers a target to hit.

Intel – the firm Mr Moore went on to co-found – says the law will have an even more dramatic impact on the next 20 years than the last five decades put together.

Although dubbed a “law”, computing’s pace of change has been driven by human ingenuity rather than any fixed rule of physics.

“Moore’s observation” would be a more accurate, if less dramatic, term. In fact, the rule itself has changed over time.

Mr Moore’s article predicted a time when computers would be sold alongside other consumer goods.

While Moore’s 1965 paper talked of the number of “elements” on a circuit doubling every year, he later revised this a couple of times, ultimately stating that the number of transistors in a chip would double approximately every 24 months.

For most people, imagining exponential growth – in which something rapidly increases at a set rate in proportion to its size, for example doubles every time – is much harder than linear growth – in which the same amount is repeatedly added.

Moore retired in 1997, but Intel still follows his lead.

In 2013, the firm’s ex-chief architect Bob Colwell made headlines when he predicted Moore’s Law would be “dead” by 2022 at the latest.

The issue, he explained, was that it was difficult to shrink transistors beyond a certain point.

Specifically, he said it would be impossible to justify the costs required to reduce the length of a transistor part, known as its gate, to less than 5nm (1nm = one billionth of a metre).

In simple terms, a transistor is a kind of tiny switch that is triggered by an electrical signal. By turning them on and off at high speeds, computers are able to amplify and switch electronic signals and electrical power, making it possible for them to carry out the calculations needed to run software.

Met Office to build £97 million supercomputer

October 30, 2014 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Cloud Computing, Computers, Customer Service, Dr Search, Search Clinic, Technology Companies, Uncategorized

The Met Office have been given £97 million to build a supercomputer to improve their weather forecasting and climate modelling.

Met Office to build £97 million supercomputerThe facility will work 13 times faster than the current system- enabling detailed UK wide forecast models with a resolution of 1.5 km to be run every single hour, rather than every three.

It will be built in Exeter during 2015 and become operational next September.

The Met Office said it would deliver a “step change” in forecast accuracy. It will allow us to add more precision, more detail, more accuracy to our forecasts on all time scales for tomorrow, for the next day, next week, next month and even the next century,” said Met Office chief executive Rob Varley.

As well as running UK-wide and global forecasting models more frequently, the new technology will allow particularly important areas to receive much more detailed assessment.

For example, forecasts of wind speeds, fog and snow showers could be delivered for major airports, with a spatial resolution of 300m.

The extra capacity will also be useful for climate scientists, who need massive amounts of computing power to run detailed models over much longer time scales.

It will address one of the key challenges of climate projections – to “answer the real questions people need to know”, said Mr Varley. “We can tell you that the global average temperature is going to increase by 3C or 4C if we carry on as we are – but the critical question is what is that going to mean for London?

But because the weather matters so much – to everything from whether to leave home with a brolly to preparing for closed runways at an airport – all eyes are on the Met Office, and the glances are not often positive.

The biggest failures have now entered the national vocabulary: Michael Fish’s denial of an approaching hurricane in 1987 and the infamous suggestion of a “barbecue summer” in 2009 when the reality proved relentlessly soggy.

The Met Office asserts that people never notice everyday successes, a gradual increase in reliability that has seen each decade allow the forecasts to reach another day into the future.

The new supercomputer should accelerate that process, crunching bigger numbers at a finer scale and more frequently than ever before. But it may also raise expectations about accuracy. And, in a country obsessed with the weather, that brings its own risks.

Mr Varley said he was “absolutely delighted” the government had confirmed its investment, which was first promised by the chancellor in the 2013 Autumn Statement.

The new system will be housed partly at the Met Office headquarters in Exeter and partly at a new facility in the Exeter Science Park, and will reach its full capacity in 2017.

At that point, its processing power will be 16 petaflops – meaning it can perform 16 quadrillion calculations every second.

The “Cray XC40” machine will have 480,000 central processing units or CPUs, which is 12 times as many as the current Met Office supercomputer, made by IBM. At 140 tonnes, it will also be three times heavier.

It marks the biggest contract the Cray supercomputing firm has secured outside the US.

“It will be one of the best high-performance computers in the world,” Science Minister Greg Clark told journalists at the announcement, adding that it would “transform the analytical capacity of the Met Office”.

Mr Clark said the supercomputer would put the UK, appropriately, at the forefront of weather and climate science. “It makes us world leaders not only in talking about the weather, but forecasting it too.”

The improved forecasts, according to the Met Office, could deliver an estimated £2 billion in socio-economic benefits, including more advance warning of floods, less air travel disruption, more secure decision-making for renewable energy investments, and efficient planning for the impacts of climate change.

Microsoft profits from cloud services

April 25, 2014 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Cloud Computing, Computers, Microsoft, Technology Companies, Uncategorized

Microsoft has announced a increase in it’s profits- grown by increased use of cloud services.

Microsoft profits from cloud servicesMicrosoft earnings were buoyed by new CEO Satya Nadella’s cloud vision as these earnings are the first Microsoft has released with new chief executive in charge.

Microsoft reported net profits of £3.37 billion in the first quarter of 2014- which was better than finance markets had estimated.

The software maker’s efforts to move further into cloud computing – a move championed by new chief executive Satya Nadella – seem to be paying off.

Azure, a cloud computing product, saw revenue grow 150%, Microsoft.

The company also said it added 1 million users to its subscription-based Office programme for personal users.

Microsoft sold in 2 million Xbox consoles, including 1.2 million Xbox Ones during the period.

“We are making good progress in our consumer services like Bing and Office 365 Home, and our commercial customers continue to embrace our cloud solutions,” said chief executive Satya Nadella, who replaced Steve Ballmer in February.

However, Microsoft was hurt by declining personal computer sales, as users continue to shift to other technologies.

Overall, profits declined by 6.5% compared to the same period last year.

Microsoft shares rose close to 3% in after-hours trading.

Sky email system customer complaints rocket

April 16, 2013 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Customer Service, Email, Google, Search Clinic, Technology Companies, Telecommunications Companies, Uncategorized, Yahoo

Many of Sky’s email customers are being deluged with thousands of old and deleted messages as the company switches email providers.Sky email system customer complaints rocketIn recent weeks Sky has stopped using Google to provide email services in favour of Yahoo.

But the change has caused trouble as many customers are reporting that formerly deleted messages have been delivered again and again.

Some have spent hours clearing the messages out of overflowing inboxes.

Discussion forums on Sky’s support site have been filling up with messages from disgruntled customers complaining about the switch. The company, which has more than four million UK broadband customers recently changed from Google to Yahoo.

The switch has seemingly resurrected many messages users formerly deleted with some reporting that they had to go through thousands of messages before deleting them for a second time. Some unlucky customers had to suffer thousands of deleted messages being re-delivered several times.

Many others said the switch had wiped out email settings, deleted aliases and re-set filters. Customers called on Sky to do a better job of responding to complaints and explaining why old messages were turning up.

On its support site, Sky acknowledged the problems the changeover had caused.

It said it was aware of the issue and had “an ongoing investigation and are working to resolve it”. It pledged to provide an update about its efforts to fix the problem.

It said the problem emerged during migration as it was copying all customer emails to Yahoo’s mail servers. The issue should recede as mail services were synchronised, it said.

Digital revolution left Japanese electronic giants behind

April 11, 2013 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Computers, Customer Service, Search Clinic, Technology Companies, Uncategorized

Japan’s electronic giants once ruled the world. Sony, Panasonic, Sharp were household names.
Digital revolution left Japanese electronic giants behind
Now those same companies are in deep trouble, losing billions of Pounds a year. How have the mighty Japanese companies fallen so low?

Sony may make a small profit this year, its first since 2008. Panasonic (formerly Matsushita) is expected to post a £6 billion loss this year. Sharp, which is much smaller, is losing money so fast it will not survive another year without a major infusion of cash.

The Japanese giants, built their empires on making complex electrical machines – colour televisions, radios, cassette players, refrigerators and washing machines.

Yes, they contained electronic components, but they were basically mechanical devices. Then came the digital revolution- and the world changed.

The Sony Walkman is a classic example. it has no software in it. It is purely mechanical. Today you need to have software business models that are completely different.

The digital revolution not only changed the way electronic devices work, they changed the way they are made.

The whole manufacturing model shifted as companies moved production to low-cost countries. That has put huge downward pressure on profit margins for Japanese manufacturers.

Apple makes at least 50% profit margins on iPads and iPhones. People say iPhones are made in China, but maybe only 3% of the value of an iPhone stays in China. Quite a bit of the value actually transfers to the UK- where ARM makes the high value chips without which the boxes would be inert.

It is no longer possible to make profits today just by manufacturing – you have to do a lot more.

Just look at the car manufacturers- they have far more electronics in them than just mechanical engines. If you compare the under the bonner experience today with twenty years ago, it’s amazing the difference.

And if you car does breaksdown- twenty years ago a socket set, hammer and screwdriver could fix it. Now you need to plug a laptop into the car to diagnose the issues.

Times- they are achanging.

EU Commission’s IT shortage- despite 26 million unemployed

March 06, 2013 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Computers, Dr Search, Ecommerce, internet, Search Clinic, Technology Companies, Uncategorized

Despite record EU unemployment, the European Commission has launched a “grand coalition” to address the region’s IT skills shortages.EU Commission's IT shortage- despite 26 million unemployedDigital agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes told delegates at the CeBIT exhibition that the EU’s competitiveness is “under threat” if it cannot fill the expertise gap.

The shortages come at a time of high unemployment across Europe, she added, calling for greater awareness of IT career opportunities.

Together with European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso, Ms Kroes said that 1 million euros (£860,000) will be invested into the coalition.

“This coalition is not about reinventing the wheel. It should be about building on existing success,” she said.

“I want people to be open in their commitments, join forces where they see the chance, and recognise we need to do things differently.

“Quite simply, facing hundreds of thousands of unfilled vacancies, we cannot continue as we were; and we must all do our bit.”

The commission’s own figures suggested that there will be 900,000 vacancies for IT-related roles by 2015. There are currently about 26 million people unemployed across Europe.

The number of “digital jobs” – jobs based around IT – is growing by about 100,000 every year, yet the number of skilled IT graduates is failing to keep pace.

Jose Manuel Barroso launched the digital jobs coalition

Ms Kroes said she now wants to have companies move “from ‘wouldn’t-it-be-nice-if’ to, ‘here’s-what-we-are-going-to-do’.”

The commission highlighted several new initiatives already taking places, including Telefonica’s investment in start-ups, and Cisco’s pledge to train 100,000 people to install smart-meters into homes.

The commission’s proposals include simplification of the certification system, making it easier to prove what skills a graduate has, regardless of the EU country in which they have worked or studied.

Technology skills shortages have been cited as a pressing problem for several companies which rely on highly-skilled engineers to further their development.

In January, Google chairman Eric Schmidt announced that his firm was to contribute to a scheme to give schools 15,000 free microcomputers.

The British Raspberry Pi devices will also be used to encourage young children into learning coding skills.

Raspberry Pi and small computers encourages new engineers

March 01, 2013 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Computers, Customer Service, Dr Search, Search Clinic, Technology Companies, Uncategorized

The Raspberry Pi has announced that more than a million of them have been sold since orders started being accepted on 29 February 2012.Raspberry Pi and small computers encourages new engineersIn the same way that people buy a smartphone to browse on the move, if they want to try their hand at coding, they opt for the Raspberry Pi or one of its rivals.

The prices of these small form factor machines varies widely but all these gadgets can, with a little help from a few add-ons and peripherals, do anything that used to require the services of a fully functioning, and quite hefty, desktop PC. They start at just £23.

There were two main reasons for the emergence of small PCs- one aesthetic and one technical.

The aesthetic reason was that computers had begun emerging from spare rooms and box-rooms and were taking up residence in living rooms. In some of those cases, people did not want a “beige box” squatting on their carpet, he said. Far better to have something small and unobtrusive.

Those machines being used in front rooms and other places were not “replacements” for the family PC but “were going where the need was felt”.

The technical trend is linked to the driving force of the computer world: Moore’s Law.

Coined by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, this economic law states that the number of transistors that can be placed on a chip for the same cost will double roughly every two years. More transistors in a smaller space typically translates to more power.

Chip development, memory density and a host of other technological innovations meant that now small does not mean puny.

It’s matured thanks to the growing move to portable computing, which emphasised low power components.

Less power going in means less heat coming out and removes the need for fans and other devices to cool the hot chips and other components doing all the hard work.

Many of the components found in small form factor PCs were more commonly found in phones, tablets or laptops.

For instance, the chip at the heart of the Raspberry Pi is more usually found in a handset. Similarly, hard drives and other components used in small machines from Dell, Apple and many others were initially developed for use in laptops.

Increasingly, PC box shifters relied on Intel and other component makers to do the innovation for them. This reduced their risk and left them less exposed should they back a trend that did not catch on with consumers.

Dell’s sales fall ahead of proposed buyout

February 20, 2013 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Computers, Dr Search, Ecommerce, Search Clinic, Technology Companies, Uncategorized

The computer maker Dell has reported quarterly falls in profits and sales in what could be its last set of results as a public company.Dell's sales fall ahead of proposed buyoutThe world’s third largest PC maker said net profit in the fourth quarter fell 31% to £345 million ($530 million)  compared with the same period a year ago.

Revenue fell 11% to £9.34 billion which were hurt by the shrinking consumer business.

Founder Michael Dell has offered to buy the business for £15.9 billion.

But his attempt to turn it back into a private firm has faced opposition over the value of the consultancy side of the business.

Dell’s largest independent shareholder, Southeastern Asset Management, said the offer “grossly undervalues the company”, while reports suggest other large investors also oppose the deal.

In recent years Dell has struggled to compete with cheaper Asian rivals, as well as the boom in smartphones and tablet computers, and has focused more on corporate needs and less on the home consumer.

For the full year ending 1 February 2013, net profit fell 32% to £1.55 billion, while revenue fell 8% to £37.19 billion.

Dell said that it was not providing an outlook for the 2014 fiscal year or for the first fiscal quarter, given the proposed merger agreement to take the company private.

Apple computers now hacked

February 18, 2013 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Apple, Computers, Cyber Security, data security, Hackers, internet, Search Clinic, Technology Companies, Uncategorized

Apple has announced that its own computers were attacked by the same hackers who targeted Facebook.Apple computers now hackedThe iPhone-maker said a small number of its machines were affected, but added there was “no evidence” of data theft.

Last week Facebook said it had traced a cyber attack back to China which had infiltrated employees’ laptops.

Apple said it would release a software update to protect customers against the malicious software used in the attack.

In a statement, the firm said: “Apple has identified malware which infected a limited number of Mac systems through a vulnerability in the Java plug-in for browsers.”

“The malware was employed in an attack against Apple and other companies, and was spread through a website for software developers.”

“We identified a small number of systems within Apple that were infected and isolated them from our network. There is no evidence that any data left Apple.”

“We are working closely with law enforcement to find the source of the malware.”

Apple said it had taken measures to protect users from vulnerabilities in Java, a widely-used programming language that was found to have serious security flaws.

“Since OS X Lion, Macs have shipped without Java installed, and as an added security measure OS X automatically disables Java if it has been unused for 35 days,” the company said.

“To protect Mac users that have installed Java, today we are releasing an updated Java malware removal tool that will check Mac systems and remove this malware if found.”

Oxford students test self drive car

February 13, 2013 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Computers, Customer Service, Technology Companies, Uncategorized

A car that is able to drive itself  has been tested at Oxford University.Oxford students test self drive carThe technology uses lasers and small cameras to memorise regular journeys like the commute or the school run.

The engineers and researchers behind the project are aiming to produce a low-cost system that “takes the strain” off drivers.

Other companies, such as Google, have also been testing driverless vehicle technology.

The Oxford RobotCar UK project is seeking to do the same in the UK, said Prof Paul Newman from Oxford University’s department of engineering science.

“We’re working with the Department of Transport to get some miles on the road in the UK,” said Prof Newman, who is working alongside machine learning specialist Dr Ingmar Posner.

Until the car can hit the streets, the team is testing it out in a specially-made environment at Begbroke Science Park in Oxfordshire.

Fully autonomous cars won’t appear in showrooms overnight. But it seems inevitable we will be handing over more of the driving to computers as the years roll by, and this Oxford University system could well be the next step.

There are barriers of course. Makers will have to prove they are safe. Then they’ll have to convince the public. And there’s the sticky question of who’s liable if there’s a crash.

Still, most car crashes are down to the human at the wheel, so plenty of people believe robotic cars could save thousands of lives in the future.

The technology allows the car to “take over” when driving on routes it has already travelled.

“The key word for us is that the car gains ‘experiences’,” Prof Newman explained.  “The car is driven by a human, and it builds a 3D model of its environment.”

When it goes on the same journey again, an iPad built into the dashboard gives a prompt to the driver – offering to let the computer “take the wheel”.

“Touching the screen then switches to ‘auto drive’ where the robotic system takes over, Prof Newman added.  “At any time, a tap on the brake pedal will return control to the human driver.”

At the moment, the complete system costs around £5,000 – but Prof Newman hopes that future models will bring the price of the technology down to as low as £100.

Autonomous technology is being tested by several car manufacturers and technology companies.

Simple self-driving tasks, such as cars that can park themselves, are already in use across the industry.  The Holy Grail is a fully-autonomous vehicle that is location-aware, safe and affordable.

Prof Newman applauded Google’s efforts in innovating in the space – but was buoyant about the role British expertise could have in the industry.

“This is all UK intellectual property, getting into the driverless car race.  I would be astounded if we don’t see this kind of technology in cars within 15 years. That is going to be huge.”