Category Archives: Systems

Cloud Computing Issues

This is a sidebar to our Article “Exploring Cloud Computing“.

Here is a rundown on most of the current issues concerning cloud computing:

Security – While a leading edge cloud services provider will employ data storage and transmission encryption, user authentication, and authorization (data access) practices, many people worry about the vulnerability of remote data to such criminals as hackers, thieves, and disgruntled employees. Cloud providers are enormously sensitive to this issue and apply substantial resources to mitigating concern.

Reliability – Some people worry also about whether a cloud service provider is financially stable and whether their data storage system is trustworthy. Most cloud providers attempt to mollify this concern by using redundant storage techniques, but it is still possible that a service could crash or go out of business, leaving users with limited or no access to their data. A diversification of providers can help alleviate this concern, albeit at a higher cost.

Ownership – Once data has been relegated to the cloud, some people worry that they could lose some or all of their rights or be unable to protect the rights of their customers. Many cloud providers are addressing this issue with well-crafted user-sided agreements. That said, users would be wise to seek advice from their favorite legal representative. Never use a provider who, in their terms of service, lays any kind of ownership claim over your data.

Data Backup – Cloud providers employ redundant servers and routine data backup processes, but some people worry about being able to control their own backups. Many providers are now offering data dumps onto media or allowing users to back up data through regular downloads.

Data Portability and Conversion – Some people are concerned that, should they wish to switch providers, they may have difficulty transferring data. Porting and converting data is highly dependent on the nature of the cloud provider’s data retrieval format, particular in cases where the format cannot be easily discovered. As service competition grows and open standards become established, the data portability issue will ease, and conversion processes will become available supporting the more popular cloud providers. Worst case, a cloud subscriber will have to pay for some custom data conversion.

Multiplatform Support – More an issue for IT departments using managed services is how the cloud-based service integrates across different platforms and operating systems, e.g. OS X, Windows, Linux and thin-clients. Usually, some customized adaption of the service takes care of any problem. Multiplatform support requirements will ease as more user interfaces become web-based.

Intellectual Property – A company invents something new and it uses cloud services as part of the invention. Is the invention still patentable? Does the cloud provider have any claim on the invention? Can they provide similar services to competitors? All good questions and answerable on a case-by-case basis.

Once someone understands that cloud computing potentially suffers from much of the same fate as proprietary systems, the question becomes “do the advantages of using the cloud outweigh my concerns?” For low-risk operations and for insensitive information, the answer can easily be “yes.” Realize that cloud-based services can be backed-up, verified, double-checked, and made more secure by combining them with traditional non-cloud IT processes.

The Different Types of Cloud Computing

This is a sidebar to our Article “Exploring Cloud Computing“.

Here is a list of the five most common types of cloud computing.

Software as a Service (SaaS) – a single application, library of applications, an API of web services, infrasructure or development platform users who are not necessarily aware of one another interact with through their browsers; Salesforce.com, Google Apps and Zoho Apps are a few examples. Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) are closely related derivatives of SaaS.

Utility Computing – specialized apps coupled with dynamically reconfigurable resources with often a significant reliance on virtualization for ease of maintenance, portability and scalability.

Managed Services – piecemeal software extensions for existing IT departments such as virus scanners for email or remote desktop managers.

Service Commerce Platforms – a hybrid of SaaS and Managed Services presenting an automated service bureau. Think ADP.

Internet Integration – a combination of any or all of the above, from the same or different providers over a common “service bus,” today in its infancy. The “bus” is a standardized data transfer subsystem which allows different providers’ service elements to be plugged in and swapped out, allowing data to be shared across different providers and giving competitive choice to the user.

These services are provided by “cloud service providers,” also called “cloud vendors” or “cloud providers” for short. A “public cloud” provider is one who purveys services to pretty much anyone on the Internet. The largest public cloud provider in the world is amazon.com’s Amazon Web Services. A “private cloud” is a proprietary network or a data center that supplies hosted services to a limited number of other organizations or people. When public cloud resources are used to create a private cloud, the result is called a “virtual private cloud.” Private or public, cloud computing provides easy, scalable access to computing resources and IT services.

Exploring Cloud Computing

Volume 4, Number 1

Could You Be Using It Someday?

We have entered an era of Things Cloud: “cloud storage,” “cloud computing,” or, just simply “the cloud,” referring to how IT personnel often represent the Internet in their diagrams. Are there opportunities to save money or get improved processes by moving to the cloud? In our analysis, we find that the answer is a qualified “probably so.”

The Cloud

Most business have already encounter the first embodiment of the cloud, “cloud storage,” also know widely as “online storage,” where data is kept not on your local computer but “somewhere” on the Internet, often accessed through a web portal that serves as a user interface for storage and retrieval. Flikr, Gmail, Facebook, and Remote Backup are examples of large implementations of cloud storage. While cloud storage has been around for a while, the cloud-based concept is in the process of evolving into not just providing data storage but operations on that data as well. We’ve entered the age of “cloud computing.”

Doctor Tracking System

DataPlex engineers designed several generations of “doctor tracking systems,” systems that consist of sensors and keypads around a medical facility that are used to keep track of the location of doctors, nurses and other staff members.  Doctor tracking systems are also called “personnel tracking systems” when they are used in non-medical facilities.

The first generation system, designed for Dr. Bosley of Bosley Medical of Beverly Hills, California, used room telephones, light bars and specially designed keypads.  As doctors, nurses and staff members moved about, they would press a button to inform the system about their location so that they could be located at a moments notice.  Dr. Bosley reported an astounding simultaneous increase in staff efficiency and patient satisfactions as doctors were able to more quickly get to them and answer their calls.

Display panels in the rooms would inform a doctor as to the queue of rooms for him or her to visit so the he or she would not have to take the extra time to return to a clerical station.  Also, the display panels would beep to alert doctors to emergency, highly urgent or expiring timer situations.

Doctor Tracking System panel

The second and third generation systems leveraged infrared technology and relieved the users from having to press any keys.  Badges that the doctors wear broadcast infrared signals that are picked up by infrared receivers that had been installed in the facility’s drop ceiling.

The fourth and latest generation of the Doctor Tracking Systems uses radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags.  While originally eschewed because of their signals’ ability to penetrate walls and be picked up by sensors in other rooms, technology evolved so that this “overage” actually became an advantage and that a doctor’s location could be even more closely pinpointed.  (This proved to be lifesaving in one case when a doctor collapsed out of people’s view but by way of the tracking system was found in enough time to get medical attention.) This generation system also supports voice intercom.

These systems have IT features that allow facilities to make better and faster decisions, such as when a patient should be revisited or when to clean up a room, and have tracking integrated with their enterprise systems so that doctors’ room visits can be correlated with patient billing.  We see other potential uses of this technology to track medicine dispensing and to better improve the workflow around a medical facility.

UCLA Magazine, Premier Issue

DataPlex engineers were hired by a small, fledgling company known as “3D Systems” that had a lab curiosity that they needed to turn into a product.  DataPlex principals Harry Tarnoff, Warren Juran, Stuart Spence, Richard Harlow and David Remba all contributed to getting 3D Systems’ initial “stereolithography” products designed, built and out into the hands of customers, customers which were the first of what are now known as the “rapid prototyping” and “3D printing” markets.  Read all about it here.

As part of the design effort, it was DataPlex CEO Harry Tarnoff that, against many odds, pushed stereolithography for medical applications.  The result was the use of CAT scans to build models of human anatomy, get more accurate medical results while at the same time reducing the need for surgery. The premier issue of UCLA Magazine featured one such medical application:

UCLA Magazine, Vol. 1 No. 1
Click cover for a larger view.

The caption for the cover read as follows:

Computer generated, three-dimensional models developed by N.J. Mankovich, Ph.D., UCLA Radiology, surround Thomas Faraguna, whose fractured skull was replaced by a prosthesis designed with the aid of such tools… As example of tomorrow’s high-tech, whereby an exact duplicate of a patient’s bone is created by computer-guided laser, thus insuring an exact prothesis fit before surgery.

Implementing State-of-the-Art Audience Response Systems

Volume 3, Number 4

“This game is simple,” says Bob Sagat on NBC’s 1 vs. 100 television game show. In this NBC show that airs in prime time on Friday nights in the United States, multiple choice questions are asked, and people are eliminated as they answer incorrectly.

In a “1 vs. 100″ game, a contestant is pitted against one hundred other people, known collective as the “mob,” and collects money for each mob member who gets eliminated. The contestant attempts to increase the pot and take home a sizable amount of money, either the accumulated total of the pot or a million dollars if all members of the mob are eliminated. If the contestant answers incorrectly, the remaining mob members who answered the last question correctly split the pot up to that point.

What may appear “simple” on screen is the result of the successful operation of a multitude of integrated systems in what has to be one of the most technically advanced game shows ever conceived. Behind the scenes is a major IT effort, controlled by a custom version of DataPlex’s state-of-the-art Audience Response System (ARS).

1 vs. 100 set under construction showing four rows of handsets

A view of two of the eight rows
of voting handsets during
construction of the 1 vs. 100
TV game show set (U.S.)

Mob members are placed into the various “pod” locations and often rearranged at the discretion of the director. Each pod has is own graphics display behind the player, microphone and voting handset. There are groups within the mob — lawyers, cheerleaders, janitors, kid geniuses — that are each tracked statistically. Our ARS system supplied through our client Quick Tally Interactive Systems for 1 vs. 100 has a player registration module that is used to set up the demographics and print badges with barcodes for each potential player. Once the mob members are in place in their pods, portable scanners are used to associate all mob members to their locations whose data is then processed by another one of our ARS modules.

Now, how simple is that?

The director likes to know which pods contain returning mob members (mob members who continue to answer questions correctly are carried forward into another game) and how well have they performed in the past. Often, there is a “reigning mob champion,” someone who has answered a significant number of questions correctly over several games. A sophisticated SQL database platform is used for managing the ARS data from multiple games. In a matter of seconds, the ARS data from previous games is processed along with the player location information of the current game, and a report is generated.

There are other IT processes, for example, if a mob wins, a list of the remaining mob members and their information is generated for the show’s accounting department. Also, post production uses demographic-based reports to show interesting factoids on the bottom of the television screen.

Not Your Father’s Audience Response System

A typical Audience Response System, also known as an ARS, collects votes and can generate a limited amount of graphs — bar charts of answer choice selection percentages, pie charts, and some cross reference displays. More recent systems can export directly or indirectly to Microsoft Office™ products, for example to PowerPoint for presentation purposes and Excel for further off-line number crunching. Reasonable stuff, actually.

DataPlex’s experience with audience studies started when in 1980 its early client ASI Market Research wanted to convert an analog dial system to a digital version.  The digital dial version was a huge success and is still used today for allowing audiences to evaluate movies, television shows and commercials before general release.  The audience feedback often had a significant impact on a show’s editing or whether a commerical was shown or not. In the 1990′s this system was expanded for remote voting outside of theaters and for supporting text-based answers by survey respondents.

In 1988, DataPlex started selling its DataPlex DataKeeper, a handheld mobile computing device that featured a world clock, professional time billing, a mileage logger,  and an easy-to-use database manager.  This database manager was used by several customers to conduct surveys where at the end of the survey period, the survey information from each device would be downloaded to a central PC, consolidated, and summary reports produced.  In the mid 1990′s, the DataKeeper received wireless communication capability where survey information and votes could be monitored and analyzed in real-time.  Around that time, several companies developed wireless ARS system packages specifically to handle surveys and votes in a localized region such as a meeting room or a conference hall.

The demands on ARS continue to grow. No longer are more demanding customers content with single location polling and simple summary bar charts. They want to know what’s behind the summary results. They want to compare ARS results across multiple sessions and locations and also correlate the results with those of their other systems.  They want to delve into the data and statistically pull out significant information that will help them improve their business.

On the high end, ARS are expanding above being merely a localized vote gathering tool. Now, it is asked to number-crunch, produce custom reports, feed other systems in real-time, and perform advanced digital and analog I/O (input/output) control.

Metadox ARS performing additional I/O

DataPlex Metadox ARS
Software driving ten individual
player video monitors for
Reader’s Digest’s Word Power
Challenge Championship

In another Metadox application supplied through DataPlex client Quick Tally Interactive Systems, the Reader’s Digest National Word Power Challenge, the application additionally controls ten video monitors with custom statistics for each of ten contestants. Metadox generates special graphics for each display, including showing each player’s name in large text and a red “X” when a player gets a question wrong. Different methods of revealing which players got what question correct or wrong keep the proceedings lively by preventing monotony.

Implementing a State-of-the-Art ARS

With the older ARS, you install the software from a CD that arrives in the mail or downloads from a website, configure it, and you are good to go. On these systems, as features are added, the configuration can get bogged down, and some of the new features may not work with your particular installation.

A state-of-the-art (SOTA) system has the pertinent features tested and qualified by an engineer as part of the process of delivering an exacting product. This step includes testing any hardware add-ons and writing and testing any custom programming code.

Once delivered, a SOTA ARS will require some additional fine-tuning because the installation is brand new. Fortunately, with technical support only a phone call away, most issues can be dealt with quickly.

In extensive applications that require much more customization than is typical, the ARS purveyors might recommend that a feasibility study be performed as a first step as a way to document the scope and detail a reasonable plan for development, lest the project run amok, which of course, is to no one’s advantage.

We are Engineers who Customize for Specific Applications

DataPlex’s niche is providing engineering and consulting services to meet exacting, custom requirements for existing or brand-new systems. We pride ourselves on providing quality products with appropriate levels of training and support. For more information on audience response and voting systems for your own needs, please visit our clients’ sites below.

For more information, please visit:

DataPlex Engineers Custom System for Reader’s Digest

For the second straight year, DataPlex, through its client Quick Tally Interactive Systems, provided a custom-engineered voting system for the Reader’s Digest nationwide Word Power Challenge.  In this contest, students compete for $50,000 in college scholarships. The show stars Al Roker as the host and will air on NBC in June, 2007.

DataPlex Provides Voting System to New ABC Show “Wanna Bet?”

Through its client Quick Tally Interactive Systems, DataPlex delivered and operated the audience voting system for the pilot episode of ZDF Enterprises’ U.S. version of its hit show Wanna Bet? starring British comedic duo “Ant & Dec” and which will soon air on ABC.  DataPlex’s Metadox Audience Survery Application was used to survey over 200 members of the audience.

DataPlex Delivers System to 1 vs. 100 Show

Through its client Quick Tally Interactive Systems, DataPlex completed delivery of a sophisticated player registration, mob voting and demographics reporting system to NBC’s hit game show 1 vs. 100 based on it Metadox audience survey product.  also, DataPlex personnel provide technical support during the tapings of 1 vs. 100 episodes.

DataPlex to provide 1 vs. 100 Demographics

Through its client Quick Tally Interactive Systems, DataPlex has been selected to provide player and mob registration, demographics capture and vote analysis tools to NBC’s hit game show 1 vs. 100.