Google, Big Data, and a New Cloud Service

Google, Big Data, and a New Cloud Service 150 150 Kerry Butters

With Big Data projects, the challenge is to clean and filter the huge amounts of information involved. It takes a lot of work to get to the point where business value can be extracted.

Over the coming year, Google will focus on releasing cloud tools and services that ease development tasks, while helping companies monitor their Big Data operations. At their I/O developer conference in June, the company unveiled a number of new products to achieve this.



Google Cloud Platform lets developers build, test and deploy applications on Google’s infrastructure; from computing, storage and application services for Web, mobile, or backend solutions. The platform is a set of modular cloud-based services allowing you to create anything from simple websites to complex applications.



The tech giant has introduced a cloud computing service called Google Cloud Dataflow – billed as a way of more easily moving, processing, and analysing vast amounts of digital information. According to Urs Hölzle (who oversaw the creation of Google’s global network of data centres), it’s designed to help companies deal with petabytes of data – as in, millions of gigabytes.

Dataflow is based on Google’s FlumeJava data-pipeline tool and its MillWheel stream-processing system, and is seen as the company’s answer to Amazon’s Elastic MapReduce and Kinesis, all in one package.

Batch processing is a way of crunching data already collected, while stream processing involves analysing data in near real-time as it comes off the Net. Many organisations need both types of analysis, and Cloud Dataflow puts them under one umbrella.

Designed to be relatively simple, Dataflow handles very large datasets and complex workflows. All jobs use the same code, and Dataflow automatically optimises pipelines and manages the infrastructure.

A live demo at Google I/O involved streaming World Cup data against historical information, to spot anomalies. The system could be set to automatically take actions when something was detected.


Compute Engine and App Engine

Google sees cloud computing as a potentially enormous market, one to rival online advertising (its primary revenue source).

With Google Compute Engine (the company’s “infrastructure-as-a-service” cloud) and Google App Engine, it now offers cloud services allowing companies and independent developers to build and run large software applications. Google also revealed a number of support services.


Cloud Monitoring

Google Cloud Monitoring is designed to help find and fix unusual behaviour across an application stack. Based on technology from Google’s recent acquisition of Stackdriver, Cloud Monitoring provides metrics, dashboards and alerts for Cloud Platform. It comes with over a dozen popular open source apps, including Apache, Nginx, MongoDB, MySQL, Tomcat, IIS, Redis, and Elasticsearch.


Cloud Trace

To help isolate the root cause of performance bottlenecks, Cloud Trace analyses the time spent by your application on request processing. You can also compare performance between various releases of your application using latency distributions.


Cloud Debugger

Cloud Debugger can be used to identify problems in production applications, without affecting their performance. It gives a full stack trace, and snapshots of all local variables for any watchpoint you set in your code – while your application runs undisturbed.


Cloud Save

Google Cloud Save provides a simple API for saving, retrieving, and synchronising user data to the cloud and across devices, without needing to code up the backend. Data is saved in Google Cloud Datastore, making it accessible from Google App Engine or Google Compute Engine via the existing Datastore API.

Cloud Save is currently in private beta, but will be available for general use “soon”.


Android Studio

Tooling has been added to Android Studio, simplifying the process of adding an App Engine backend to mobile apps. There are now three built-in App Engine backend module templates, including Java Servlet, Java Endpoints and an App Engine backend with Google Cloud Messaging.



With Big Data analysis, timing is everything. As Greg DeMichillie, director of product management for Google’s cloud team put it, “Knowing there was a trend isn’t helpful if you find out a week later.” What’s required is data analysis in real time – or as close to real time as you can get.

BigQuery is a way of almost instantly asking questions of massive datasets. You can bulk load data by using a job, or stream records individually.

Queries can execute asynchronously in the background, and be polled for status. Using the Google Cloud Console, you can access a history of your jobs and queries with the rest of your Cloud Platform resources.

Queries are written in BigQuery’s SQL dialect, which supports synchronous and asynchronous query methods. Both methods are handled by a job, but the “synchronous” option exposes a timeout value that waits until the job has finished before returning.

There are separate interfaces for administration and developers. Access at both project and dataset levels can be controlled via the Google APIs Console. 

The first 100 GB of data processed each month is free. Monthly billing will vary, but the BigQuery website has a Pricing Calculator which provides a simple tool to help get a sense of what an application running on Google Cloud Platform could cost.

Google looks to position itself as the cloud provider most dedicated to making developers’ lives easy. As with Big Data, it’s automating much of the process – and exposing some of its in-house technologies, on the way.

10 Reasons Why Your Business Should Consider Chromebooks

10 Reasons Why Your Business Should Consider Chromebooks 150 150 Kerry Butters

Modern businesses have a huge amount of choice when it comes to technology products these days. The power of the cloud means that less storage space on the device is needed now, which further increases choice. It’s possible now to work on wafer thin devices that need very little in terms of power, or of course you can choose to have a laptop or a device that’s powered almost entirely by the cloud.

What IS a Chromebook?

Chromebooks are lightweight laptop computers which run on Chrome OS, an operating system made by Google. Designed primarily to be used online, they’re best suited to professionals who already use services like Gmail and Google Docs.

The Chrome OS

Chrome OS is similar to Windows or Mac OS X, but sits on a Linux platform. It’s essentially a souped-up form of the Google Chrome Web browser.Chrome OS does not run regular desktop software, relying instead on Web-based applications. This means Google Docs, Google Drive, Gmail, Google Calendar, and the like. If you’re working without an internet connection, the OS enables Google Drive’s offline mode, by default.

Why Have One?

Here’s your 10 reasons, as promised:

1. They’re Inexpensive

With the gradual demise of Windows XP, the market is ripe for a low-cost alternative. Prices vary, but essentially the Chromebook is a $200 computer. Even the highest-end Chromebooks will run you as little as $250, if you know where to shop for them.

2. They’re Lightweight, but…

Typically, Chromebooks weigh a little over a kilogram. Yet they boot up in less than 10 seconds. The Chrome OS itself is lightweight, and runs smoothly – even on mediocre hardware.

3. They’re Long-Serving

Windows notebooks might give you 4 hours of active time on a single charge cycle – if you’re really lucky. A Chromebook can give twice that amount. Newer Chromebooks can last an entire workday – up to 9.5 hours – on one battery charge.

4. They’re Secure

The Chrome OS has built-in virus and malware protection. Files are stored in the cloud, and the Chromebook file system is locked down with eCryptfs encryption.

5. Free Storage and Software

With the purchase of most Chromebooks, you’ll get an additional 100 GB of storage in Google Drive, free for two years. You of course get access to Google Docs, Google’s free suite of office software. Google Docs can open Microsoft Office files and export to Microsoft file formats.

Along with Google Docs, Google Drive, Gmail and Google Calendar, you can also download non-Google apps from the Chrome Web Store, most of which are free. Examples include Evernote, Dropbox, Netflix, and eBay. Increasingly, many now work in offline mode, too.

6. Full-Size Keyboards

Not as trivial as it sounds. Chromebooks have physical keyboards (minus a few standards, like the Delete key) on a par with laptops – unlike the tablets to which they’re often compared. Better ergonomics translates to increased productivity in the workplace.

7. Television Output

Most Chromebooks can be connected to an HDTV via an HDMI output port. This enables you to play a YouTube video (or similar) on your Chromebook, while watching it on your big-screen TV. A plus, for presentation purposes.

8. Cloud Dividends

With Chromebooks, IT staff can radically reduce the amount of time spent “keeping the lights on”, for devices. This translates to higher uptime, lower service costs, and greater control of the deployment of Web-based applications and content.

9. Ease of Use

If you know your way around a Web browser (Chrome, in particular), you’ll know how to use a Chromebook. This reduces the need for training, and the speed with which Chromebooks can be deployed. 

10. Supervised Accounts (a.k.a. Parental / Management Controls)

Chromebook users can create supervised accounts to track or limit online activity for certain users. You can also synchronise all your apps and passwords with Chrome browsers on other computers. So, if you use Chrome at work, you can sync all data to your Chromebook at home, automatically.

There’s support for multiple users, and an option for 3G/4G connectivity for mobile working.

Bonus: They’re Low-Maintenance

No lengthy waiting periods for OS patches, upgrades, antivirus or anti-malware installs. Chromebooks update themselves in the background, automatically and silently.

There are Some Drawbacks…

Most notably, the fact you can’t use “traditional” desktop software. And the need to be perpetually online (preferably with Wi-Fi), and logged into your Google account, to keep your files updated. Google Docs’ offline mode re-syncs your data once you return to the web, though.

There’s no Skype, but you can use Google Hangout, as a videoconferencing equivalent. Also, no Photoshop, and no professional-level video editing suite.

Chromebooks typically only have between 16 and 32GB of on-board storage. There’s no direct printing facility, either. You have to go via Google’s Cloud Print service.

Ubuntu: Best of Both Worlds

Not the title to a video game. Rather, a strategy whereby you can enjoy Office-style applications on your Chromebook desktop. Offline.

Chrome OS is a derivative of Linux, so you can run both environments simultaneously, switching between the two via a hotkey. And as an extreme security measure, you can wipe the whole system with the press of a button to boot.

You can do this by installing Ubuntu, via a command line using Crouton. Both products are free, and open-source.

What’s Out There?

Chromebooks are currently available from HP, Lenovo, Acer, and Samsung, in a range of prices and specs. Armed with your new knowledge of what Chromebooks can do, you can make your choice by clicking here

Google Gets Girls Coding

Google Gets Girls Coding 150 150 Kerry Butters
 Image: Made With Code

Image: Made With Code

The IT skills gap is now well documented and there are a few initiatives going on around the world that seek to address the issue. In the UK we’re about to see Computer Science come in as a core subject in the curriculum which goes beyond the current ICT qualification and introduces coding and understanding how computers are put together.

At the moment, ICT is more concerned with using applications than anything else and whilst this is of course valuable when it comes to workplace skills, it’s not going to get anyone a job as an engineer or programmer.

Made With Code – Google Initiative

A new initiative from Google seeks to address the skills gap and the lack of women in IT. Last month the search giants announced that just 17% of its technology employees are women. With this in mind, the company has launched Made With Code, a website that provides access to coding projects and an event that’s aimed at high school girls that is due to be held in New York next week.

 “Coding is a fundamental skill that’s going to be a part of almost everything,” Megan Smith, VP of Google[x], told TIME. “So for kids to really at a minimum just be able to express themselves in code and make things and feel confident, that would be important — no matter what their career is.”

Girl Coding Groups

The initiative also saw Google teaming up with girl coding groups in order to get together a national database that allows parents to find a ‘coding camp’ near where they live.

“One of the most important things that we can do is get girls into our computer-science classrooms across our country, including elementary school,” said Smith. “Vietnam is teaching computer science from second grade. Malaysia, China — we’re seeing the U.K. starting to do this at an elementary level. So the best thing to do would be to get them into our schools.”

There are a number of projects that girls can take part in on the Made With Code site, so girls don’t have to wait for special camps to get started. A bracelet can be made and then 3D printed and sent to the participant by mail, for example. Something that’s bound to appeal to lots of teenage wannabe coders.

Connect with Industry Mentors

Girls can also connect with mentors that work in the industry to see where they can apply learned skills in the tech workplace, which will help them to map out careers. Google has pledged a $15m investment into the project over the next five years in computer science grants for the most talented and also teamed up with organisations such as the Girl Scouts to further encourage coding amongst the ladies.

Let’s hope that the UK can follow suit in some way, for girls as well as boys. However, a lot of the time it’s down to parent misconceptions as to the value of learning technology subjects. I recently read an article which stated that parents don’t think digital and computer science skills are valuable, or will lead to a career – that’s a perception that most definitely needs changing.

For more info on the Made With Code initiative, check out the video below.