2006: Cloud forms over an explosion of data

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Celebrating 20 years of Silicon Republic, 2001-2021.

In 2006, the media landscape was evolving under the influence of Web 2.0 and broadening internet access. The iTunes store topped 1bn songs downloaded, Gnarls Barkley celebrated being the first musician to score a UK No 1 from downloads alone, WikiLeaks went online, and SiliconRepublic.com went mobile via i-Mode, O2’s mobile internet portal.

The BBC was also innovating in 2006, bringing its iPlayer service out of trial phase and beginning the process of making UK TV more online and on demand. The iPlayer was dreamed up by a BBC employee frustrated by the trials and tribulations of torrenting Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but more of this iconic show’s influence on internet culture later.

The explosion of online media meant more bits and bytes were circulating than ever before. The following year, IDC would issue a first-of-its-kind whitepaper on the amount of digital data zipping around the world annually. It estimated that, in 2006, the world created 161 exabytes of data (equivalent to 161bn GB), and this was going to escalate quickly.

Cloud control

Irish entrepreneur and investor Sean O’Sullivan is credited with co-coining the term ‘cloud computing’ back in the nineties, but it was midway through the noughties that the term was popularised by a major player.

In 2006, Amazon subsidiary Amazon Web Services debuted its first cloud computing services. “Less than 20 years later, over half of Irish businesses now use cloud computing and data centres in a very different way,” said Interxion MD Séamus Dunne. “For example, colocation data centres now act as network hubs for your private infrastructure and public cloud instances.”

Businesses could now access infrastructure-as-a-service, no longer needing to build and maintain their own servers in order to enter the digital age. This step forward actually brought business computing back to its earlier decades, when computer utilities were commonly used to bridge the gap between companies’ desire to modernise and the capital investment required. As computing equipment became less expensive, these services fell out of favour. However, the dawn of big data and the scale of computing power required to handle it brought utilities back on the scene.

Meanwhile, computer scientists Doug Cutting and Mike Cafarella were working on software that could make sense of masses of unstructured data with the Apache Nutch project. In 2006 this branched into a new project named Hadoop, after a toy elephant.

This open source software project was developed until it could be scaled from a single server to thousands, enabling a new level of network scalability and data processing that would be effectively exploited by Google, Yahoo, IBM, Facebook, Twitter and many more.

To Google or not to Google

Hadoop has its roots in research conducted at Google and 2006 was the year this pioneering tech company crossed a new boundary that set it apart from other businesses. It became a verb.

Both the Oxford and Merriam-Webster English dictionaries added ‘to google’ in 2006. One of its earliest recorded instances is accredited to none other than Buffy the Vampire Slayer (though not said by the slayer herself).

Google – and its revenue – continued to expand with 2006 seeing the launch of Google News, Google Finance and Google Spreadsheets.

Google was also gobbling up the competition. October 2006 saw it spend €1.65bn to buy YouTube, which had fast become one of the largest and fastest-growing online video entertainment communities.

While other competitors scrambled to gain ground against the tech giant, its goal to make information accessible to the world hit an ethical challenge in 2006 when it took its business to China and launched Google.cn, a censored version of the search engine.

“Google has always had the ‘don’t be evil’ corporate attitude. This mantra is now eroding faster than our polar ice caps,” wrote online privacy expert Kieran Glynn at the time. “A tool that was supposed to empower freedom of speech is being used instead to suppress political expression and further authoritarian control.”

Google later admitted the damage this caused to its reputation. However, the fraught service continued until 2010 and Google reignited the issue in the next decade with Project Dragonfly.

The Bebo generation

2006 was also a significant year for Facebook as it introduced its news feed for the first time – prompting more than 1m users to join a group protesting the change. Weeks later, the social media platform was made available to anyone anywhere in the world – just as over 35s were getting social.

But it was Bebo that now dominated social media in the UK and Ireland, creeping in on the space previously occupied by Rupert Murdoch-owned MySpace. In summer, Bebo turned up the heat (and volume) with its new service to help launch new music acts.

In November, research by two PhD scholars from what was then NUI Maynooth found that more than one in three of Bebo’s 2m publicly viewable pages belonged to children between the ages of 13 and 17, exposing them to potential harm. This followed a survey from The National Centre for Technology in Education which found that some children who met people via the internet were subsequently abused after meeting in-person, proving to be a wake-up call for parents of the Bebo generation. Perhaps just as well that Irish PC manufacturer iQon Technologies announced its parental control software this year.

New contenders in gaming

The kids (and adults) had much to choose from in gaming in 2006, too.

To get ahead of the threat posed by the oncoming launch of Sony’s PlayStation 3, Bill Gates confidently announced Microsoft planned to have 10m Xbox 360 users by the end of the year (though it is estimated that sales reached less than half that figure). And another contender entered the ring when heavyweight game studio Nintendo released a unique console, the Nintendo Wii. The Wii and its handheld motion controllers had a highly successful global launch and was on track to beat its opponents in the competitive Christmas sales.

Earlier in the year saw the release of The Godfather video game, an open-world action-adventure that reached No 1 in the UK gaming charts. This was a huge success for Irish games software company Havok, which developed the physics engine for the game. Havok also worked on key games titles for the all-new PS3.

The Irish gaming sector also scored a win when US casual games developer PopCap Games opened an international operation at the Digital Hub in Dublin and decided to base its first non-US data centre in Ireland.

The year’s growth in casual gaming marked a pivotal moment for the industry and research from Juniper suggested that its rise would lead to substantial growth in “made for mobile” games.

In other news

15 January: NASA’s Stardust mission ends with the return of the world’s first sample of dust from a comet.

19 January: New Horizons starts out on a nine-year journey to Pluto, the first space mission to what is presently the most distant planet in the solar system.

24 January: Biotech company Amgen announces a $1bn-plus investment in Cork, creating more than 1,000 jobs.

25 January: Pixar becomes a subsidiary of Walt Disney Pictures after a $7.4bn acquisition.

26 January: At Davos, the United Nations lends its support to the One Laptop Per Child initiative which set out to deliver $100 hand-cranked laptops to school-aged children around the world.

20 February: Irish company Globoforce brings its employee incentive platform to China by adding online retailer Dangdang.com.

28 February: IBM announces a wireless and RFID R&D centre at its campus in Dublin.

7 March: An Oireachtas Committee report reveals that out of 12 recommendations on boosting broadband availability and adoption in Ireland, put forward two years before, not a single one has been applied.

10 March: NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter enters Mars orbit.

21 March: A new microblogging service launches with a message from Jack Dorsey declaring “just setting up my twttr”.

6 April: Kerry entrepreneur Jerry Kennelly closes a $135m deal to sell his stock image platform Stockbyte to Getty Images.

11 April: The European Space Agency’s Venus Express probe enters Venus orbit.

20 April: The Government’s €8.8m ePassport project aims to include biometric information on all Irish passports by October.

25 April: SanDisk, a pioneer in flash storage cards, announces it will move its European headquarters to its facility in Swords, Co Dublin.

17 May: The Human Genome Project publishes the sequence of the very last chromosome.

8 June: Just 16pc of Leaving Cert students choose to sit honours maths exams, which will prompt concerns later in the year of a coming shortfall in engineering and IT graduates.

15 June: Bill Gates confirms that he plans to transition out of his day-to-day leadership role at Microsoft and focus instead on philanthropic interests in health and education.

22 June: Intel opens its latest chip-manufacturing facility in Leixlip, the first in Europe to produce semiconductors in high volume using the 65nm process.

6 July: IBM announces 300 jobs as part of a €46m investment at its technology campus in Dublin.

26 July: 99.92pc of Eircom shareholders vote in favour of the company’s €2.4bn sale to Australian investment firm Babcock & Brown.

14 August: ComReg reports that just under one fifth of Irish SMEs are still using dial-up to access the internet.

15 August: Dell recalls 4.1m laptops after incidents involving the rechargeable batteries catching fire.

24 August: The International Astronomical Union redefines ‘planet’, demoting Pluto to the status of dwarf planet 76 years after its discovery.

25 August: Apple recalls 1.8m laptop batteries following incidents of batteries overheating causing minor burns to users. Coupled with the earlier Dell recall, this became the largest recall in the history of consumer electronics and was estimated to cost manufacturer Sony as much as $257m.

14 September: Online civil rights group Digital Rights Ireland launches a High Court action against the Irish Government challenging a new law on data retention, which it claims will usher in mass surveillance.

4 October: A Dutch anti e-voting group announces on television that they have successfully hacked the Nedap machines, the same type of e-voting machines purchased by the Irish Government.

1 November: CheckTheRegister.ie, which allows Irish voters to see they are registered to vote, goes live.

5 December: Microsoft begins to release its first new OS in five years, Windows Vista, in stages.

19 December: Trinity College Dublin’s Prof Patrick Cunningham is appointed chief scientific adviser to the Irish Government.

20 December: Irish digital media entrepreneur Stephen McCormack talks to SiliconRepublic.com about his involvement with the Venice Project, the precursor to p2p internet TV service Joost. Inspired by the popularity of YouTube and MySpace, Joost aimed to compete with video on-demand offerings from BBC, Channel 4 and ITV.

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Disclosure: Sean O’Sullivan is managing general partner of SOSV, which is an investor in Silicon Republic

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