12.16.2010

Where does identity live?

I’m having an identity crisis. Please feel free to join me.

When I wake up my laptop, it asks for a username and password. The right answer provides access not only to the machine and its locally stored applications and data, but also my keychain of stored website passwords. The same is true with my smartphone: I provide a short numeric password and have access to my stored data and configured applications – which include cached passwords for email and various online services.

So, you might say, on a fundamental level my digital identity is absolutely tied to a few specific edge devices that I possess, carry around with me, and try hard not to lose.

Yet on another level, my identity lives in the cloud. Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Documents, Windows Live, Netflix, Amazon.com, Salesforce.com, Dropbox, the SD Times editorial wiki, this blog or elsewhere, my identity is in cyberspace. It’s accessible from any machine’s applications, via any browser and even APIs.

Therefore, my digital identity simultaneously has absolutely nothing to do with whichever edge devices I’m using today.

This thought occurred to me when meeting with PowerCloud, a Xerox PARC spinoff that’s building a cloud-based authentication system for small business networks. In effect, infrastructure devices like routers and switches are registered with the PowerCloud system, and are programmed to only allow authorized edge devices (laptops, desktops, smartphones, network printers) to connect to the LAN. It’s a clever system that not only improves network security but also simplifies network configuration.

The whole PowerCloud system is based on authenticating specific devices based on either their MAC address (for the edge device) or a firmware token (for the infrastructure device). The system doesn’t care who is using the hardware; if it’s not authorized it can’t connect. That’s very different, of course, than how most of us view the Web, where it’s all about username and password. But it’s the way that the invisible world works. For example, your phone is authenticated to the mobile network based on an electronic serial number baked into the phone or a removable SIM card — not based on phone number or your unlock password.

The best security schemes involve something that you have (a device, a fingerprint or other physical token) and something that you know (a password or passphrase). But what does that mean for identity? Am I user “alan” on my laptop? Or am I user 132588 on LinkedIn?

Who am I? And does it even matter?

12.01.2010

Forget Java, what we really need is coffee

Some software developers manage without 1,3,7-trimethyl-1H-purine-2,6(3H,7H)-dione. I have no idea how they do it. Haven’t they read the requirements document, which clearly states that all IT professionals must consistently consume massive quantities of caffeine at all times?

How can you be agile without coffee? My apologies, but tea, hot chocolate, Diet Coke and Mr Pibb simply don’t cut it. And don’t get me started about Dr Pepper. There's got to be something in the Carnegie-Mellon CMMI about caffeine.

As part of the lead-up to last September’s iPhone/iPad DevCon in San Diego, we undertook a survey into our attendees’ favorite coffee spots. This is clearly a North American-centric survey, and we make no claims as to its statistical validity. However, we learned that (shudder) most of our attendees prefer Starbucks.

Starbucks: 53.2%
Dunkin' Donuts: 10.5%
Peet's: 9.7%
Caribou Coffee: 5.6%
Tim Horton's: 3.2%
Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf: 1.6%
Seattle's Best: 0.8%

The good news is that Dunkin’ Donuts came in second, albeit a not-very-close second, narrowly edging out Peet’s, a small chain that originated Berkeley, Calif.

I’ve never visited Caribou Coffee, which operates in the eastern and mid-west areas of the United States, but it fared reasonably well, followed by the Canadian donut chain Tim Horton’s, and two other chains, Coffee Bean and Seattle’s Best.

Surprisingly, five chains we had on our survey received zero responses: Tully’s, Coffee Republic, Port City Java, Coffee Beanery and McDonalds McCafe. Yes, the Golden Arches is reinventing itself as a coffee shop, complete with free WiFi. No, mobile developers don’t care.

No, we did not ask how many attendees don’t consume coffee at all.

About Me

My Photo
Co-founder and editorial director of BZ Media, which publishes SD Times, the leading magazine for the software development industry. Founder of SPTechCon: The SharePoint Technology Conference, AnDevCon: The Android Developer Conference, and Big Data TechCon. Also president and principal analyst of Camden Associates, an IT consulting and analyst firm.