Gamification of Education

Gamification is a very interesting concept for motivating individuals and teams for business objectives, by using concepts usualy found in games, and more specificaly in computer games. For example, I have been involved in the development of a tool for motivating contact center agents using leaderboards and KPIs.

I have stumbled upon this interesting video/lesson where these concepts are explored for educational purposes:

The following advantages over conventional education are interesting to think about:

  • faster failure feedback
  • retrying tests (faster learning with multiple oportunities to take tests)
  • more frequent tests

Fear of failure could be reduced with multiple chances to take a test, don’t you think ?

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

Containers vs Hypervisors (Overview)

Containers seem like an interesting technology for many virtualization and cloud scenarios, specially for hosting providers looking to support more virtual machines or service instances in a physical host.

These are the main differences and advantages between containers and hypervisors

  • Physical machine resource usage and scheduling works better than in a Hypervisor because there is only one kernel copy.
    • Same kernel serving all containers
      • sliglthly different kernel versions can be used in the containers
    • OS virtualization instead of physical hardware virtualization
    • Only Linux is supported
  • Better for overcommiting than Hypervisors
    • More containers in a single physisical host
      • less OS copies running
      • More profitable for companies serving hosted applications (SaaS or PaaS)
    • Faster memory and CPU rescheduling from machines consuming resources guaranteed for other machines
      • faster and more transparent than “ballooning” in VMware
      • physical address space is shared by all the containers and handled by a single kernel
        • on a Hypervisor you get one more layer
  • https://coreos.com/
    • Minimal Linux distribution compatible with Containers
    • “CoreOS is designed to give you compute capacity that is dynamically scaled and managed, similar to how infrastructure might be managed at large web companies like Google.”
  • Very large companies like Google use containers and no hypervisors.
  • Solaris & AIX also have [incompatible] Container technology.

I think it has some problems, though:

  • “Overcommiting” is bad for real-time applications,  as events can be delayed and accumulate.
    • “James Bottomley” was really honest about this issue: “This is the way to cheat your customers”
  • The lack of “Windows OS” support can also be a problem for some people. It seems that only Linux distributions are supported.

If you can port to Linux and don’t have too many real-time restrictions, it looks promising.

Overview of the Windows Azure Platform

Interesting Microsoft Azure overview

Convective

In my day job at Satory Global I spend a lot of time educating people about the Windows Azure Platform and helping them develop applications on the platform. In my book, the Microsoft Windows Azure Development Cookbook, I provided instructions for how to perform about 80 or so specific tasks when developing for the Windows Azure Platform. In this blog, I tend to write posts focused on a specific Windows Azure feature or API. In a post about a year or so ago I described the Windows Azure Platform as it was then. In this post I am going to describe the Windows Azure Platform as it is now, showing how the recently announced infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) features complement the platform-as-a-service (PaaS) features that have traditionally defined Window Azure.

The post is organized around the four core features of any cloud service offering:

  • Compute
  • Storage
  • Connectivity
  • Management

Compute

The Windows…

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Apache CloudStack – Overview

Apache CloudStack can be used to deploy a full-featured public or private IaaS cloud. You can use it to manage either a small private cloud containing a few VM hosts or a large-scale public cloud spanning several distributed regions and thousands of machines.

CloudStack is compatible with several hypervisors. This means that you can use it to manage an heterogenous network of VM host providers.

Acording to Apache, these are some of the features it provides:

  • Works with hosts running XenServer/XCP, KVM, Hyper-V, and/or VMware ESXi with vSphere
    • BareMetal (via IPMI)
    • Hyper-V
    • KVM
    • LXC
    • vSphere (via vCenter)
    • Xenserver
    • Xen Project
  • Provides a friendly Web-based UI for managing the cloud
  • Provides a native API
  • May provide an Amazon S3/EC2 compatible API (optional)
  • Manages storage for instances running on the hypervisors (primary storage) as well as templates, snapshots, and ISO images (secondary storage)
  • Orchestrates network services from the data link layer (L2) to some application layer (L7) services, such as DHCP, NAT, firewall, VPN, and so on
  • Set up an on-demand elastic cloud computing service.
  • Allow end-users to provision resources

CloudStack consists of the management server and the cloud infrastructure (resources to be managed). Inside the cloud infrastructure, the resources are grouped using the following terminology:

  • Regions: A collection of one or more geographically proximate zones managed by one or more management servers.
  • Zones: Typically, a zone is equivalent to a single datacenter. A zone consists of one or more pods and secondary storage.
  • Pods: A pod is usually a rack, or row of racks that includes a layer-2 switch and one or more clusters.
  • Clusters: A cluster consists of one or more homogenous hosts and primary storage.
  • Host: A single compute node within a cluster; often a hypervisor.
  • Primary Storage: A storage resource typically provided to a single cluster for the actual running of instance disk images. (Zone-wide primary storage is an option, though not typically used.)
  • Secondary Storage: A zone-wide resource which stores disk templates, ISO images, and snapshots.

About the management server:

  • Provides the web interface for both the adminstrator and end user.
  • Provides the API interfaces for both the CloudStack API as well as the EC2 interface.
  • Manages the assignment of guest VMs to a specific compute resource
  • Manages the assignment of public and private IP addresses.
  • Allocates storage during the VM instantiation process.
  • Manages snapshots, disk images (templates), and ISO images.
  • Provides a single point of configuration for your cloud.

Elastic scaling is one of the offered fetaures:

In a basic network, configuring the physical network is fairly straightforward. In most cases, you only need to configure one guest network to carry traffic that is generated by guest VMs. If you use a NetScaler load balancer and enable its elastic IP and elastic load balancing (EIP and ELB) features, you must also configure a network to carry public traffic.

For some hypervisors you can enable automatic elastic scaling, by speciyfing some performance indicator value thresholds.

http://docs.cloudstack.apache.org/en/master/networking/autoscale_without_netscaler.html

Watson – Semantic Web Search

“Watson” is a very interesting tool that allows you to search the [Semantic] Web for semantically anotated documents containing your search items. You can use its web interface or its API to fetch results.

  • Web interface: http://watson.kmi.open.ac.uk/WatsonWUI/
    • “a list of URIs of semantic documents in which the keywords appear as identifiers or in literals of classes, properties, and individuals.”

For example, if you search by “Government”, you’ll get:

Watson (Screenshot)

Watson (Screenshot)

Ontologies and other document types will be fetched (OWL, RDF, DAML+OIL, RDF-S).

You can then navigate inside the documents do get more details:

Watson ontology details

Watson ontology details

If you navigate to “Person”, you get the ontology definition:

Ontology

Ontology

Try it!

Domain Specific Languages (DSLs)

Domain Specific Languages (DSLs) are special-purpose programming languages developed for a specific domain. Some of its most interesting benefits include:

  • increasing productivity (by reducing the lines of code that have to be written manually)
  • test generation
  • formal verification

These languages work by using higher-level constructions and restrictions. They can be either textual (declarative or imperative) or graphical, and can include multiple views for the same domain.

I’ve used this type of languages extensively in my work and it saves a lot of time. “Preprocessing” is one of the tyipcal ways to implement them. Some subtypes include:

  • Macro processing
  • Source-to-source transformation (conversion between languages)
  • Pipeline
  • Lexical processing

( more info at http://www.rose-hulman.edu/Users/faculty/young/OldFiles/CS-Classes/OldFiles/csse490-mbse/Readings/DSL-Survey-WhenHow.pdf )

You can use these languages for several purposes, including:

  • Defining an entity model
  • Protocol definition
  • High-level user interface description
  • Automated test case description
  • Software architecture description

Microsoft has some easy to use DSL editor tools in Visual Studio. Check the “Modeling SDK for Visual Studio – Domain-Specific Languages” at http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/bb126288.aspx .

I strongly recomend using DSLs, they can save you a lot of time and money.

References: