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December 10, 2010

A standards-based, open and privacy-aware social Web

One of the things we did with our last tranche of Eduserv Foundation project funding (a couple of years ago now) was to fund Harry Halpin of Edinburgh University to work on what became the W3C Social Web Incubator Group. The result of that group's work has recently been published, A Standards-based, Open and Privacy-aware Social Web:

The Social Web is a set of relationships that link together people over the Web. The Web is an universal and open space of information where every item of interest can be identified with a URI. While the best known current social networking sites on the Web limit themselves to relationships between people with accounts on a single site, the Social Web should extend across the entire Web. Just as people can call each other no matter which telephone provider they belong to, just as email allows people to send messages to each other irrespective of their e-mail provider, and just as the Web allows links to any website, so the Social Web should allow people to create networks of relationships across the entire Web, while giving people the ability to control their own privacy and data. The standards that enable this should be open and royalty-free. We present a framework for understanding the Social Web and the relevant standards (from both within and outside the W3C) in this report, and conclude by proposing a strategy for making the Social Web a "first-class citizen" of the Web.

This is a great piece of work, not just in terms of the final document but also in the building of a community around it. Edited by Harry Halpin and Mischa Tuffield (Garlik), the document itself covers a broad sweep of social Web activity and standards, including areas such as identity, profiles, social media, privacy and activity (outlining scenarios, issues and standards related to each) and also addressing accessibility and business considerations before making a series of recommendations for further work that needs to be undertaken.

Well worth reading. I'm proud to say that Eduserv funding helped bring it to fruition.

Cloud storage - costing and pricing

I've been doing some cloud-related (cloudy?) thinking as part of my work on the FleSSR project over the last couple of days, ultimately with the aim of delivering a piece on business models for cloud services (one of the project deliverables) but initially just looking at the costs of storage in the cloud (Amazon, Dropbox and Rackspace) and the costs of building cloud storage in-house.

The result is a couple of posts on the FleSSR project blog and a Google spreadsheet. Please have a read. I'm keen to get feedback!

So, what can we conclude? Looking at the cost per TB per year, the Dropbox and Rackspace prices are pretty much flat (i.e. the same irrespective of how much data is being stored) at around £1530/TB/year and £1220/TB/year respectively (though, as noted above, the Dropbox prices are only applicable for 50GB and 100GB). Amazon's pricing is cheaper, particularly so for large amounts of data (anything over 100TB data where the price starts dipping below £1000/TB/year) but never reaches the kind of baseline figures I've seen others quote for Amazon storage alone (i.e. without network costs) of around £450/TB/year. (My lowest estimate is around £510/TB/year for 500PB data but, as mentioned above, this estimate is probably unrealistic for other reasons.)

Superficially, these prices seem quite high - they are certainly higher than I was expecting. What is interesting is whether they can be matched or beaten by academic providers (such as Eduserv) and/or in-house institutional provision, and if so by how much?

In the second post I try to identify a 'shopping list' of things that would need to be paid for if one were to build a cloud storage infrastructure oneself, partly as a simple reminder that setting up this kind of service isn't just about buying some kit - there are all sort of costs that need to be met (some up-front and some on an ongoing basis):

  • Disks
  • Network infrastructure (switching, etc.)
  • Router/firewall
  • Physical space costs
  • Energy
  • Operator cover
  • Development effort
  • Project/service management
  • Procurement/financial effort

I don't go as far as identifying specific costs (in terms of amounts of money) because doing so is subject to all kinds of variables. However, the list itself is intended to help think about costs when considering things like whether to outsource to the cloud or not. I'm hoping that this will prove useful to people but if you think I've got things majorly (or even a little bit) wrong, please shout.



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