Expansion of the Cloud [VIDEO]

Marketo, a marketing solutions company based in San Mateo, California, has said that it will be hiring 125 people in Dublin, Ireland for its Cloud operation. Meanwhile, the Cork Institute of Technology announced the world’s first degree course in Cloud Computing.

You can read more about the Cork initiative in an article by Conor Harrington: “First Degree Level Course in World at CIT”.

First Degree Level Cloud Computing Course in World at CIT

Cork Institute of Technology has launched two new degree courses in cloud computing, the first such degrees of their kind in Ireland. The courses were launched today in Dublin by the Minister for Employment and Skills, Mr. Ruairi Quinn, T.D.

A one-year undergraduate add-on degree course for computer science graduates, and a Master’s degree programme, also one year in length, will commence in September of this year.

The courses are a result of a partnership between CIT and storage hardware and cloud computing multinational EMC’s Cork-based Irish Centre for Excellence, although CIT academic staff worked with thirty-one partners internationally in the development of the course modules.

Tim Horgan is a lecturer in CIT’s department of computing and is the academic programme coordinator of the cloud computing courses. He explains that, “The undergrad degree is a level eight (honours bachelor’s degree) add-on for students who have level seven (ordinary bachelor’s degree) qualifications already. It’s designed to up-skill the computer graduate at level seven”.

The master’s programme meanwhile is, “basically designed, in the first instance, for people who are working in the industry”, says Tim. “We have a lot of interest from the likes of VMware, from EMC in particular who are chief architects with us, and also the likes of Cisco and other companies.”

The decision to run these courses arose from a request made by EMC for staff up-skilling, whereupon staff at CIT realised the opportunity to offer the first cloud computing degree course in Ireland.

“It was organic really, because we have been working with EMC for twenty-three years, since they came to Cork, and this is our second serious involvement with them.

“EMC are moving from a hardware storage company to a cloud-services company, and with the acquisition of VMware and Greenplum and others we had instant access to some of the world’s experts in storage and virtualisation.

“We up-skilled some of their staff to degree level previously, but this time round, when they asked us to give them a similar up-skilling programme what we did is we said, “look, it would be better to look at strategically where the company is going and align the educational programme to that model.”

Not only will these add-on courses be available, but some of the key modules will be made available to other courses in the department of computing. “Students have choices within each semester so they can opt to do modules in virtualisation or specialised cloud security modules”.

With Cork now looking set to be a hub for cloud computing, the stage is set for other third-level institutions to follow the example set by CIT. Tim Horgan hopes that they will, saying that he’s all in favour of programmes that “address real needs”.

“What we had here was we had a case where we identified needs within a company and we addressed those. I think if any other institutes get involved in this space, I’d advise them to do the same, to partner, and to engage. The key thing here is to engage, last year we thought that we could put a cloud computing degree together by taking some of the existing modules, throwing in a bit of virtualisation, and storage, and here we have our programme, but it’s not a real programme because you’re not addressing the real needs of industry.

“What we did is we said, “look, we’re going to spend a year planning it and developing it, and when it’s right, and only when it’s right, we’ll put it through a rigorous quality assurance programme and we can stand over it”. And that’s what makes it different but I think also it’s a model that other Institutes could use as well.”

For further information on these courses, visit: http://www.cit.ie/cloud

Irish School Provides Children with iPads

Jimmy Finn is the Headmaster of St. Colman’s School, in Claremorris, County Mayo. The school is leading the way in replacing text books with iPads for its new first year students commencing this September.

The ICT coordinator Daniel Hyland and Deputy Principal Pat Kane came up with the idea of providing an original approach to learning and accessing the numerous resources that are available to students online and via all the apps in the Apple App Store.

With more e-books becoming available, the school believed that iPads should become a necessity as the upcoming Junior Cert syllabus is being made available online. The iPad, being quite a robust and secure system and with a long lasting battery, made an ideal choice.

The school has always been progressive and has had an Apple media room on the premises for the past 15 years. In 2005 and 2006 they established a PC/multimedia room. This was done with the support of local businesses that provided funding for the room. The Apple suite gave much needed ICT access to all the students on a regular basis.

With iPads and e-book readers costing between €750 and €790, the school saw the need to involve the local Claremorris Credit Union. They negotiated with the Credit Union to provide loans at a rate of 4.79% which works out at €23 per month over three years. This makes buying the device affordable for parents who have other costs such as uniforms and other levies.

Embricon: Breakthrough in the Treatment of Varicose Veins

Varicose veins can sometimes be a very painful condition that affects half of everyone over 40 years old. While it is rarely serious and most manifestations of the condition are nothing more than unsightly there is still occasion for medical intervention to alleviate discomfort.

One of the two main treatments is to use a ball attached to a wire which was pulled back and forth to ream out the vein. The other technique is thermal ablation where a probe is inserted into the vein and energised thus removing the vein by means of the application of heat.

Both these methods have been know to cause a lot of collateral damage to the surrounding tissues, nerves and musculature.

Marto Hoary, Chief Technical Officer of Embricon in Galway, Ireland believes he has developed another, far less damaging technique to extract varicose veins.

He explains, “A catheter goes inside the vein and removes the blood in the process so there is no internal bleeding during or after the procedure. Then by means of a vacuum effect it grips the vein internally at various points along the vein but most importantly at the distal or far end.

“Instead of being burned out or reamed out the vein is peeled out so there is no damage to any other tissue. So the vein comes out cleanly without injury.

“We can also deliver a drug precisely to the channel that the vein came from in order to ease the post-operative trauma. But because this process causes such little collateral damage that there is in fact very little post-operative trauma. Because the blood is removed at the beginning of the procedure there is little chance of an inflammatory response from the body.”

Marto is from Eyrecourt, Galway but spent many years in the design and engineering field in the United States and the United Kingdom. Looking to get involved in management, research and he decided that he would like to develop some kind of product or opportunity for himself.

“Medical devices seemed like an opportune area. I met some senior consultants who happened to be neighbours of mine in Galway. We talked about combining my engineering knowledge with their medical knowledge and that was the start of what I am doing now.

“We had a dozen or so ideas to start with but when we engaged with Enterprise Ireland they encouraged us to have one venture to build the business around. We identified the treatment of varicose veins was where the best opportunity was.

Marto was able to draw on his experience from working with multinationals to, “clearly define a problem and systematically look for creative solutions.”

Proof of concept was reached by the end of 2008 and Embricon were ready to go into taking the product concepts to volume for validation and clinical trials when the full effects of the recession were first felt in the Irish banking sector and sources of funding became harder to come by.

But as Marto explains that doesn’t mean that development has stopped, “What we have done since is validated that our product is really good. We’ve refined the concept to make it a really simple, highly applicable product.

“We’ve carried out extensive in vitro trials because they are low cost to us because we have the surgeon’s cooperation. We also carried out large-scale animal trials. Also very significantly we completed our patenting process.

“We have a concept that is proven and the patents are in place and now we have to do human studies with it as opposed to clinical trials. The device is not required for regulatory purposes to undergo clinical trials but for our diligence and those that would be interested in acquiring our company these studies are clearly desirable.”

Enterprise Ireland: Aiming to be Number One Place for Startups in Europe

Enterprise Ireland’s High Performance Startup Unit (HPSU) scheme processes over 80 deals a year. This makes Enterprise Ireland (EI) the largest VC in Europe in terms of the volume of deals that passed through its program on an annual basis. EI’s purpose as an agency is to develop the indigenous industry in Ireland by supporting companies and help grow them into international markets.

Tom Cusack is the Manager, HPSU, Communications, Media, Entertainment Services and Software. He has recently returned to Ireland after being overseas for sixteen years. He explains, “The definition of a High Potential Start Up, is a company that has the ability to hire 10 or more people and has the ability to achieve revenue in excess of one million euros within three years. We are only focused on companies that have an international dimension.”

The HPSU investment is an equity investment. The typical investment is somewhere in the region of €200 —€250,000 for most companies.

There are four main areas that HPSU program covers:

  • Telecoms, New Media and Entertainment
  • Business Software, Financial and Enterprise Software
  • Clean Tech and Life Science
  • Food and Consumer Retail

They receive roughly 2,000 enquiries on an annual basis. 2-300 hundred of those companies would be given some sort of support to get them to the feasibility stage. Ultimately, around 80 of those would be taken to the investment committee for an investment decision. These companies would have to have traction, strong visibility and customers in the international market to qualify as suitable candidates for the process.

The investment committee consists of senior members of EI with the addition of some external expertise. The investment decision would then involve commercial and technical due diligence.

“Traditionally, we would have funded companies at the feasibility stage and the investment ready stage. What we saw coming out of the internet Web 2.0 space was a gap between feasibility and investor ready.” Tom explains, “It was very hard hard for companies to get past the feasibility stage to the point where they could attract investors.

“On that basis we launched the Competitive Start Fund. It is a 50k investment. Which we would put in for a 10% ordinary stake in the company. It is really to help companies bridge that gap and give them a shot in the arm after the feasibility round to get to the investor ready stage where they can attract significant investment.”

The HPSU chose the internet and games space to launch the fund in December 2010. There were 125 applications of which 10 were funded. In a subsequent round in Feburary 2011 another 15 companies were awarded funding.

The HPSU typically invests on a matched funds basis. But for the Competitive Start Fund the candidate company has to put up €5,000 to match funding of €50,000 which would be paid in two tranches.

“Rather than waiting to the point where they had customers we needed to get in earlier and try and help a wider cohort of companies. What we are trying to do is spread our investments a little bit more.

“It is built on the Y Combinator model which is about fail fast, fail cheap. We are a development agency. We are in the risk business. There is a huge amount of diligence that goes into our investment decisions at a technical and commercial level.

“What we are really trying to achieve is to position Ireland as the number one place for a startup in Europe.”

To accomplish this aim EI is looking to fund entrepreneurs from overseas who will have their headquarters in Ireland.

Tom explains, “We are looking to increase the diversity of the skill base of our startups in Ireland. Our ambition is that by 2013 that 10% of our HPSUs would be overseas originated.

“The view is that if we can attract an overseas entrepreneur to set up here then we can create jobs and income. Plus, it adds a different dimension to the startup community here.”

A major attraction that would entice entrepreneurs to come here is the international network of Enterprise Ireland. Tom adds, “From day one they have access to over thirty international markets. They will have people out there knocking on doors, trying to support them, trying to find opportunity for them.”

Enterprise Ireland has 30 office worldwide each consisting of teams of sector specialists whose job is to take companies into their particular market; do introductions, find them market opportunities, find them partners, distribution and so on.

Whether the entrepreneurs or promoters are native born, come from the Diaspora or are of some other origin, the underlying goal is the same — Raise the export figures for the companies to in turn grow export led jobs here in Ireland.

Realex: Expanding into Mainland Europe

Colm Lyon is synonymous with digital enterprise in Ireland. Since he founded his online payments company Realex Payments in 2000, the company has grown from humble beginning to being a major player in the online payments space, processing billions of pounds annually for major corporations such as GlaxoSmithKline, Virgin Atlantic and Aer Lingus.

Along the way Colm has become a leading voice on entrepreneurship in Ireland, with Realex Payments often cited as the kind of export-led enterprise that Ireland needs more of on its road to recovery, and he was recognised with the Internet Hero Award at the Golden Spider Awards for his contribution to the Irish Internet Industry in 2009.

He started Realex Payments after leaving a career in the banking sector. The intention was always of setting up a payment gateway, not, he says, that “that there was a great plan in place, but certainly the idea.”

Realex has flourished as the online payments market has grown, and Colm notes that the, “adoption is huge now. The volumes that are going through are growing at incredible rates, and continuing to grow.”

“By about 2009 we were processing at about €6 billion a year for our customers, and I think at the moment we’re doing over a billion a month which means in the last two years we’ve doubled again, so it just shows the uptake. Obviously we’ve got more customers and more businesses in the meantime, but it’s still growing very fast and people are taking advantage more and more of the online opportunities, both sellers and buyers.

“It’s a good time. Obviously payment is a key component of that and what we’ve done is we’ve taken the payment process and we go to the retailer and we say “look, we’ll give you a solution that will enable you to not just to take payments on your website but really really it enables you to optimise the payment process online”, because we have fraud management and currency management tools, reporting and reconciliation tools that we put into the package as well.”

Realex’s expansion has seen them open a French office this week, a market Colm sees as the one that has been, “the most difficult market to get into”. He has just returned from an official launch in Paris which was attended by Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore, Enterprise Ireland CEO Frank Ryan and Irish Ambassador to France, Paul Kavanagh.

“We have offices in London; we’ve twelve people there; but what we’re doing in the UK, is we can process an English retailer, somebody like Virgin Atlantic who’s our client, and we can process them in through the UK banks for card authorisation no problem.

“In France it takes a long time to work with banks and build up relationships. We’ve had to work with the French banks over the last eighteen months to two years to get the agreement to go ahead to connect our system to theirs. This means that we’re able to now go to French retailers, and instead of them having to have their cards processed by the banks in the U.K. or Ireland, they can now actually have their credit cards processed by their local banks which is what we wanted to be able to offer them.”

Even as Realex Payments continues to grow, with talks ongoing with banks in Italy and Holland, Colm is working on a new venture which he hopes to see in beta by the third quarter of this year.

Carapay is what Colm believes will be the future of payments and he describes it as “effectively a merger of social networking and banking,” which will allow for person to person payments using mobile devices.

Carapay will differ from other services like Jack Dorsey’s Square in that it will not just be an application that transfers money between bank accounts, but more like a bank account itself.

“It’s not a front-end application or it’s not a wallet, it’s an actual bank account. A very, very cheap, almost free way of being able to make payments to and from each other.”

Although holders of a Carapay account will not be able to take out loans or overdrafts, they will have a payment account which is, “for all intents and purposes a current account,”says Colm. “What we’re going to be launching an alternative basically, to the current account.

“We’ll be bringing out what is basically a big, big, new concept in terms of saying to people ‘look we’ve got our own sort code, we’ve got our own bank identification code and all that now, so you’ll be able to come to Carapay and you’ll be able to open what is effectively a current account.

Carapay will include a feature called the Cara circle which will allow people to make real-time payments to and from each other through a trusted network that they create within the system. He admits this is “a big play.”

“We’ve got high hopes for Carapay in terms of both the person to person payments, and also then in terms of the business and the cheque replacement and cash replacement that we hope to offer people, basically a completely alternative way to pay, and it’s all real-time as well so if you’ve got a friend over in England and you wanted to send money to them you literally will be able to do so with your mobile phone in real time.”

As someone who is an entrepreneur himself, and who encourages entrepreneurship, Colm is heartened by what he sees as an Irish government that is “engaging with the business community”, citing the example of the Tánaiste’s trip to France to support Realex Payment’s French office launch.

“That sends a really, really good message to our partners in France. They’ll say, ‘well how did Realex Payments manage to get the deputy prime minister and the ambassador and the CEO of Enterprise Ireland to attend [their launch] at eight a.m. on a Wednesday morning?

“An awful lot of it just down to us as businesspeople to just get on with it. The government can only really create the environment whereby these things happen, and I think that’s what they’re doing.

“They’re doing the right thing, they’re working really hard on the pillars of inward investment and export-led growth; those two things are fundamental to recovery.

“It’s down to us as business people to make sure that we do grow our businesses and that we get customers outside of Ireland.”

Sonar: Bridging Foursquare with other Social Networks

Sonar, a new iPhone app, which launched at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in New York this week, is one of the six finalists in the Disrupt Battlefield competition for new start-ups.

The app uses the Foursquare API to allow users to check in at a given location. It tells the user who else is there, and how they might be connected through comparing publicly-available data from social networks like Facebook and Twitter.

On checking in at the Technology Voice HQ, I discovered that one user was next door. He followed several of my followers and people I followed on Twitter. We had no mutual friends on Facebook, nor did he ‘like’ any of the bands that I like, but if he was a massive Smashing Pumpkins fan like me, Sonar would have told me that too.

During their launch, founder Brett Martin evoked the memory familiar to many of us, of being at a party or conference, and lingering by the bar texting or tweeting to friends miles away. The idea behind Sonar is that it will utilise social media to help forge real-life connections.

Sonar offers the facility of sending connected people a personalised tweet, saying, for example that you both have a mutual friend or interest, and offering to arrange to meet. This function could prove attractive to those who find introductions difficult, or in the case of a large business conference, make locating potential acquaintances easier.

For all the buzz being generated by Sonar though, it seems more likely that its business networking potential will be where it enjoys success rather than in the social sphere. After all, even if the guy next door does listen to the same music, this does not mean that I or anybody else wants to be approached to talk about it. Real social relationships are more complicated than a choice between “like” or “ignore”, and that algorithm has yet to be written down.

However, in the business networking space, Sonar could make a big impression. Should it, as promised, incorporate Linkedin data, conferences and business events could become a lot more streamlined, as conference-goers benefit from being able to see who has worked in what sphere and focus their networking accordingly.

Sonar is currently free to use but during their Battlefield pitch Brett Martin hinted that the company might adopt a freemium model. For a fee users will be able to promote their profile so that in crowded areas their profiles are found first. The large amount of data that they will access will also likely be used to generate revenue.

For now, all it is generating is hype, but if Sonar manages get over the initial hurdle of attracting enough initial users that it becomes useful, then there is a very real possibility that it can live up to the hype, and follow whatever trajectory along which its users lead it.

WTF Conference in Ireland

A boss I had early in my career was not one prone to long missives or helpful critiques. I would send him reports and analysis and he would send back notes with three letters on it. The three letter were WTF.

I knew his short responses were because he was so busy that he couldn’t even spell it out. I assumed the responses were really questions, like, “What’s this for?” or “Will this fly?” or “Why the face?”. Or, I thought he might be in meetings at the World Trade Federation and he was sending me some kind of shorthand about that since he might not want others to know. I learned that WTF is sort of a question and sort of a statement that requires an exclamation point.

WTF is a sentiment that can capture both being puzzled and frustrated at the same time. That is why I am proposing a WTF Conference in Ireland.

In this conference we would address such pressing algorithmic questions as these:

  • If we have such great universities, why don’t graduates create more companies?
  • If we are so creative and innovative, why aren’t there more entrepreneurs?
  • If the Government is so interested in creating an Innovation Economy, why has it not released funds to create a venture capital infrastructure?
  • If we can create companies, how do we build them for scale?
  • With all the bridges to Silicon Valley now in place, why isn’t there a coordinated effort with all the government agencies?
  • Why don’t we measure companies created as well as jobs created?
  • If an entrepreneur has a great idea, how does it get funded in the middle of all this noise?
  • With the government focused on cost reductions, who is focused on building the economy?

These questions are just the tip of the WTF iceberg.

At the end of the WTF Conference, it would be good to have some answers to these questions. If the answers don’t emerge, I will be scratching my head and asking and saying, WTF.