Archive for February, 2013

Microsoft Azure overtakes Amazon’s cloud in performance test

Azure’s cloud is faster at uploading and downloading files to the cloud, Amazon still more scalable, storage provider Nasuni finds

Microsoft Azure’s cloud outperformed Amazon Web Services in a series of rigorous tests conducted by Nasuni, a storage vendor that annually benchmarks cloud service providers (CSPs).

Nasuni uses public cloud resources in its enterprise storage offering, so each year the company conducts a series of rigorous tests on the top CSPs’ clouds in an effort to see which companies offer the best performing, most reliable infrastructure. Last year, Amazon Web Services’ cloud came out on top, but this year Microsoft Azure outperformed AWS in performance and reliability measures. AWS is still better at handling extra-large storage volumes, while Nasuni found that the two OpenStack powered clouds it tested — from HP and Rackspace — were lacking, particularly at larger scales.
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Nasuni conducted the tests on five of the largest CSPs: Azure, AWS, HP, Rackspace and Google Cloud. A write/read/delete test determined how effective each provider was at uploading data of various sizes (between 1KB and 1GB) to its cloud, recalling the randomly generated file and deleting it. Microsoft Azure was 56% faster than AWS S3 when it came to writing data into its cloud, and 39% faster when reading data.

Another test measured how reliable the clouds were by conducting a read/write/delete every minute for a month straight and determining how consistent the process is when repeated that many times. Azure was 25% faster on average compared to AWS S3 when performing a repetitive task every 60 seconds for 30 days.

A third test measured how the clouds handled increasingly larger file sizes being continuously uploaded to its cloud. AWS came out on top in that test with a variance of 0.6% as larger and larger files were placed into its cloud, with Azure coming in a close second with a 1.9% variance. The OpenStack-powered clouds were not as reliable when scaled up to extremely large file storage, with HP and Rackspace’s cloud having variance levels of 23.5% and 26.1% respectively.

This is the second year in a row that Nasuni has conducted the tests and the year-over-year change in the results shows how rapidly the industry is evolving. Last year Nasuni anointed AWS as the top cloud provider with Microsoft Azure in a close second, but both providers had enough errors and performance issues that Nasuni did not consider them mature enough for use in enterprise storage solutions.

Microsoft has made significant investments to beef up its Azure cloud in the past year, though, including expanding it from a platform as a service (PaaS)-focused offering for application developers to now being an infrastructure as a service (IaaS) where compute and storage resources can be rented by the hour. Microsoft even started offering Linux virtual machines in its cloud.

“CSPs tested this year demonstrated clear advancements over last year, including improved performance and fewer errors,” the report states. “It is clear that the minimum bar is moving upward, which is excellent news for the cloud storage market as a whole. As more CSPs mature into enterprise-class cloud storage providers, organizations and vendors will be able to leverage competitive advancements in price and technology to improve their overall storage infrastructure.”

Based on the findings of the report, Nasuni uses both Azure and AWS public cloud resources as part of the company’s enterprise storage offering. The company specializes in a globally distributed unified storage offering that combines both hardware on-premises and in the cloud to provide a centrally managed international storage system, with mobile access. Nasuni makes the report available for users who register on the company’s site.


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Microsoft’s Outlook.com comes out of preview phase

Microsoft’s Outlook.com comes out of preview phase
Hotmail users will be upgraded to the new email service by summer

Microsoft has moved its email service Outlook.com out of the preview phase, and plans a marketing campaign to boost its adoption worldwide.

The service, which claims 60 million active users since the preview was released last July, will soon start to upgrade Hotmail users to the new service, David Law, director of product management at Outlook.com, wrote in a blog post on Monday.

At launch of the preview, Microsoft said Outlook.com would eventually replace Hotmail. The migration of Hotmail users, which will be completed by summer, will be seamless, and users’ @hotmail.com email address, password, messages, folders, contacts, rules, vacation replies, and other features will stay the same, with no disruption in service, Law wrote. He did not specify a date when the transition would be complete. Users won’t have to switch to an @outlook.com address if they prefer not to, he added.

Microsoft is also launching a large-scale marketing campaign to promote the service worldwide, stating that it is confident that Outlook.com is ready to scale to a billion people.

“A number of people have expressed appreciation that Outlook.com replaces advertising with the latest updates from Facebook or Twitter when they’re reading email from one of their contacts,” Law wrote. On an average, people saw 60% fewer ads when using Outlook.com because they now get much more relevant updates from their friends, he added.

Microsoft launched recently a campaign against Gmail in the U.S., targeting Google’s alleged practice of going through the contents of all Gmail messages to sell and target advertisements. The “Don’t Get Scroogled by Gmail” campaign on Microsoft’s Scroogled.com promotes Outlook.com as an alternative to Gmail. Microsoft asked users to sign a petition to stop Google from going through personal email to sell ads.


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BYOD to Change the Face of IT in 2013

The “Bring Your Own Device” phenomenon, largely driven by Apple iPhones and iPads, is changing the face of IT departments, perhaps reaching a tipping point. If CIOs thought mobile devices presented challenges before, they haven’t seen anything yet.

[ALSO: BYOD keeps expanding and IT needs to deal with it]

“IT departments need to be service organizations,” says CTO Aaron Freimark at services firm Tekserve, which helps Fortune 1000 companies adopt Apple products. “The most conservative financial institutions are seeing all of these iPhones on their networks and accessing Exchange servers. We’re reaching a critical mass this year, when companies are forced to deal with it.”

MobileIron and iPass released a joint study, 2013 Mobile Enterprise Report, that found IT increasingly losing control of mobility budgets to other departments. In 2011, 53 percent of IT departments managed the mobile budget. This number dipped to 48 percent in 2012.

This year just might be the year of BYOD and the mobile workforce change how IT operates, or at least putting more emphasis on services. A new report from Forrester found that at least a quarter of a billion global information workers already practice BYOD in some form. A third of information workers want iPhones, or 208 million global information workers. Nearly the same amount want Windows tablets.

Along these lines, the Mobile Enterprise Report found that tablet usage increased in all non-executive departments between 2011 and 2012, with legal and HR seeing the biggest hike followed by finance and accounting.

Part of what’s driving BYOD is the emergence of next-generation workers, the Millennials. Many of these workers, between the ages of 18 and 29, are willing to blend work and personal lives, which goes hand-in-hand with BYOD. According to the Forrester report, the rise of “anytime, anywhere” workers in the United States and Europe grew from 15 percent to 28 percent of employees between 2011 and 2012.

Slideshow: 15 Best iPhone Apps for Newbies (2012)

What does this mean for CIOs? Change is in the wind, one that’s blowing toward becoming a service organization.

The top two sources of BYOD frustration for an IT department are onboarding and supporting an increasing number of devices, according to the Mobile Enterprise Report. The latter is one of the concerns that CTO Bill Murphy at financial services firm Blackstone Group has about supporting BYOD tablets beyond the iPad. (For more on this, check out How a Big Financial Services Firm Faced BYOD iPads.)

“Right now, the amount we do for our users as it relates to mobile devices is vast,” Murphy says. “If we had to support 15 types of devices, we wouldn’t have the staff to be able to handle it.”

Echoing the sentiments of Murphy, Freimark and others, the Forrester report states:

“For CIOs, BYOD is both an opportunity to outsource cost to employees and also a call to action to implement security models and application architectures that are device-agnostic. Only in this way can you get out of the business of device provisioning and into the business of service provisioning, and that’s where you can make a real difference in employee’s satisfaction and productivity.”


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Internet Explorer 10 Release Preview for Windows 7 first-impressions review

 

When Microsoft first announced that Internet Explorer 10 would be part of Windows 8 most users assumed that this would also mean a release of the browser for the version 7 operating system. The first version of Internet Explorer 10 was released publicly with Windows 8’s Developer Preview back in 2011, and then updated whenever new versions of preview builds released. Microsoft at that time was tight lipped about the future of IE10 for Windows 7

October 2012 came and brought along Windows 8’s launch. It was in the week prior to the release of Windows 8 that the company shed some light on the future of IE10 for Windows 7. A blog post indicated that Microsoft had plans to release a preview version for Windows 7 in November 2012.

Internet Explorer 10 Preview for Windows 7 released today for 32-bit and 64-bit editions of the operating system, and for 64-bit editions of Windows Server 2008 R2.

System Requirements
32-bit or 64-bit edition of Windows 7 SP1 or 64-bit edition of Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1
At least 512 Megabyte of RAM
At least 70 / 120 / 200 Megabyte of hard drive space
At least 1 GHz processor

Installation and uninstallation
The installation of Internet Explorer 10 Preview will replace the current version of the browser on the system. A restart is required before the new version becomes available.

Note that it is possible to uninstall IE10 again on a system it has been installed on. To uninstall the browser do the following:

Click on the Start button.
Type Programs and Features in the search box and select it from the results.
Select View installed updates from the sidebar.
Locate Windows Internet Explorer 10 under Microsoft Windows.
Right-click the entry and select uninstall.
Select Yes when prompted if you really want to uninstall the program.
Restart the PC right then or at a later point to complete the removal.

What’s New
Internet Explorer 10 is nearly identical to the version of the browser that Microsoft released for Windows 8. The core difference: is: Adobe Flash is not natively integrated into the Windows 7 / Windows Server 2012 version.

Both Internet Explorer 10 versions on Windows 8 include a built-in version of Adobe Flash, which is especially important for the Modern UI version of the browser as it does not support browser plugins. Microsoft circumvented this restriction with the direct implementation of Flash in Internet Explorer 10.

Web standards support appears to be identical in both versions of IE10. The Internet Explorer blog notes that the following improvements have been made over previous versions of the browser:

Rich Visual Effects: CSS Text Shadow, CSS 3D Transforms, CSS3 Transitions and Animations, CSS3 Gradient, SVG Filter Effects

Sophisticated Page Layouts: CSS3 for publication quality page layouts and application UI (CSS3 grid, flexbox, multi-column, positioned floats, regions, and hyphenation), HTML5 Forms, input controls, and validation

Enhanced Web Programming Model: Better offline applications through local storage with IndexedDB and the HTML5 Application Cache; Web Sockets, HTML5 History, Async scripts, HTML5 File APIs, HTML5 Drag-drop, HTML5 Sandboxing, Web workers, ES5 Strict mode support.

The browser scores 320 and 6 points in the HTML5test, an indicator of how well browsers support the HTML5 standard. That’s an increase of more than 200 points over Internet Explorer 9. IE10 is still trailing behind other browsers in the test. Google Chrome 23 for instance scores 448 + 13 points in the test, and Firefox 16 372 and 10.

Internet Explorer 10 is the first browser that ships with Do Not Track enabled by default. The feature informs websites and services the browser connects to that users do not want to be tracked. The default nature of the feature in IE10 has been controversially discussed as the Do No Track specification requires users to make the decision. Yahoo as a consequence announced that it would ignore Internet Explorer 10’s Do Not Track header.

IE10 on Windows 7 may run faster than comparable web browsers in select benchmarks. Microsoft claims for instance that Internet Explorer 10 is two times as fast as Google Chrome 23 and 20 percent faster than Firefox 16 in the Mandelbrot benchmark available on Microsoft’s Test Drive website.

The browser does not perform as well in other benchmarks. Its score of 5134 in Google’s Octane benchmark is beaten by Firefox 19’s 9031, and Google Chrome 23’s 12975. Mozilla’s Kraken benchmark paints a similar picture. Firefox and Google Chrome need roughly the same execution time of around 2200ms, while Internet Explorer 10 three times at much with 6800ms.

IE10 performs better when running applications and demos on Microsoft’s Internet Explorer Test Drive site. It is somewhat surprising that Google Chrome usually comes in last in these benchmarks, while Internet Explorer 10 and Firefox finish in close proximity to each other.

Closing Words
Microsoft released Internet Explorer 10 as a preview version and it should be handled as such. While it is possible to uninstall the browser on the system to revert to the previous version of Internet Explorer, it is not suited for production environments, even though there does not appear to be any — visible — difference between the preview version for Windows 7 and the final version on Windows 8.

Microsoft managed to close a large part of the performance and web standards support gap between previous versions of Internet Explorer and third-party browsers such as Chrome, Firefox or Opera with the release of IE10.


 

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Hot or not: tech trends for 2013

Hot or not: tech trends for 2013

Some technologies are poised to break out in 2013; others are doomed to whither away and die, while the rest won’t fully arrive for some time to come.

Join us on a whirlwind tour of 10 technology trends for the coming year, and find out which are hot and which are not.


HOT: Fly-by spies
Surveillance has never been so cheap or so easy. For just $300, you can buy a small remote-controlled copter with a video camera and launch your own spy network. Drones have been deployed by police departments from Seattle to Miami as roving CCTV cameras; they’ve also been used to track endangered rhinos in the wild and by Occupy Wall Street protestors to provide bird’s-eye coverage of street actions. Their use has become so widespread that state and federal officials are mulling legislation to regulate unmanned aerial vehicles. Until then, though, the sky’s the limit.


 

NOT: Ultra HD screens

Ultra-HD displays were all the rage at CES this year, but don’t expect to find one hanging from your or anyone else’s living room wall any time soon. Why? The usual reasons: Content formulated to look its best at 4320p will be ultra-rare for some time to come, and the 4K sets available today are still ultra expensive — try $20,000 for an 84-inch model. Even a “budget priced” 50-incher could run you five times the cost of a standard 1080p panel. If you’re like most of us, you probably bought a state-of-the-art flat panel within the last three or four years. Unlike computers, televisions don’t go obsolete that quickly, no matter how much you might want them to


HOT: The body computer

Google Goggles, the Fitbit, and the Nike+ FuelBand were just the beginning of the merger between physical bodies and digital devices. At CES, Puzzlebox demonstrated a toy helicopter you could control using brainwaves. Interaxon’s Muse headband measures your brainwaves and displays them on your smartphone or tablet, so you can learn how to manage stress. This year will see a slew of similar devices that interact with our bodies to clock our workouts, monitor our health, or just soften us up for the Singularity. Remember, resistance is futile.


NOT: Ultrabooks

Last year was supposed to be the year of the Ultrabook. It wasn’t, and this year they aren’t looking so hot either. Intel’s answer to the MacBook Air was years late and several dollars too much to lure PC users away from their tablet fixation. Market forecasters IHS iSuppli, which had predicted more than 22 million of the uberthin ultralights would ship in 2012, later slashed that guesstimate to slightly over 10 million. Of course, the chipmaker says even thinner more powerful models are poised to make a strong showing in 2013. We say the odds are slim.


HOT: Smarter Web pages

HTML4 is dead; long live HTML5. Recently declared “feature complete” by the Worldwide Web Consortium, the new markup language has changed how websites look and feel, as well as put a bullet into the head of Adobe Flash (may it rest in pieces). Meanwhile, major sites are moving to responsive Web pages that automatically adjust to fit any device they’re displayed on, whether it’s a big screen in your living room or a small one in your pocket. Remember how crappy websites look on your mobile device? You soon won’t. Now if we could just bump up the IQ of the people who are looking at them..


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Microsoft has no reason to save Dell

If I kicked in a few billion dollars for anything, I’d want something in return. But does Dell have anything Microsoft would want?

By now, you’re probably familiar with the reports that Michael Dell is looking to take his company off the public stock market and make it private again. The deal would be the largest leveraged buyout since the economy hit the skids in 2008, and one of the biggest ever. Because of this, the current problem won’t be easy to solve.

As it looks now, Michael is basically going to have to empty his piggy bank, which means his 16% stake in the company, financing by private-equity firm Silver Lake Partners, and arrange another $15 billion in debt financing with banks.

Microsoft is also involved, reportedly ready to contribute $2 billion or more of equity in the form of a preferred security. Other reports put Microsoft’s contribution at between $1 and $3 billion.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Microsoft’s role is proving to be a sticking point, which should surprise no one. You don’t hand over $2 billion and let a company go on its way. Word to the WSJ is the key players in the deal still need to work out the ways Microsoft would and would not be involved in Dell’s business after a deal closes.

Looking things over, it would seem there is more downside for Microsoft and Dell than there is upside. The great upside potential for both companies, as I see it, is that they would be the closest thing to an Apple-like scenario of merging hardware and software under one roof. It won’t be as tightly knit as Apple, but it will be closer than it is now.

That said, I’m not sure how much tighter they can get. Dell and Microsoft MCTS Certification are already close and have great integration between hardware and software. There’s not much more the two need.

At the same time, Microsoft risks alienating or damaging its relationships with other OEMs, especially HP and the surging Lenovo. We’ve been through this argument before when talking about Microsoft MCITP Training making prototype smartphones and tablets. It’s risky business, but at the same time, where else would the OEMs go?

And, on that note, will a meddling Microsoft put an end to Dell’s Linux efforts? Dell offers Red Hat and SuSe enterprise servers and is working with Canonical to certify Ubuntu on the PowerEdge servers. What will become of that?

Dell has sworn off smartphones for now, having gotten burned on some earlier models like the Streak a few years back. But Microsoft is anxious for OEM partners. Will it lean on Dell to offer Windows Phone 8 devices? If so, how will Nokia, Samsung, HTC and LG take it, if they aren’t the supplier through Dell?

Taking all of these headaches into account, it’s hard for me to see an upside. In this case, Microsoft might want to just wash its hands of the whole thing. Or give a loan with no expectations of influence, although I kind of doubt that would happen.

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Microsoft brings the Live Tile experience to SkyDrive

 

Windows 8’s new Start screen evokes many emotions from customers, with most falling on either the love or hate side with almost no middle ground. However, one thing that can be agreed on is that the screen has no shortage of information. Users are bombarded with messages from Facebook, email, weather and countless other endlessly updating tiles. Now Microsoft has added one more to the perhaps overloaded mix.

Today the company announced it is pushing an update to the SkyDrive app for Windows 8 that will bring the live tile features to the cloud storage and sharing platform.

In an announcement earlier today Microsoft’s Mike Torres outlined the new feature. “The SkyDrive app from the Windows Store will start showing you notifications on the live tile when you add new files to your SkyDrive”. In other words, this should not be a constantly flickering icon that will be in your face. Torres went on to explain that “whenever you add new files to SkyDrive, the app tile shows you relevant details. If you add a document, you’ll see the document name, along with when it was added, and what folder it’s in. If you add photos, the tile gives you a nice view of those photos”.

I honestly like live tiles. When I walk away from my computer I switch to the Start screen so that when I return, or even pass by, I see relevant information. Its easier than clicking on different tabs. I also realize that I very well may be part of a minority in saying that.

As for the update, it is promised to be rolling out today — apparently on a gradual basis, so don’t panic if you don’t have it yet. I don’t either. Hopefully soon.


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