Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Report Sees Cloud Trend for OSS Developers

A survey of more than 300 open source software (OSS) developers found that many plan to distribute their solutions as services over the Internet cloud. The survey, conducted by Evans Data Corp. in November, found that 40 percent of respondents planned to go the services route in releasing software.

Developers preferred to use Google's App Engine as their cloud provider, with more than 28 percent of respondents favoring it. The second choice was Amazon's cloud platform, favored by 15 percent of respondents. Nine percent of developers surveyed said they used Microsoft's or IBM's clouds. Just four percent said they used Salesforce.com's cloud platform.

The kinds of OSS solutions being developed by the respondents included "enterprise business application" (30.7 percent), "developer tool" (20.7 percent), "software infrastructure" (15.8 percent), "enterprise systems management" (6.3 percent) and "other" (26.4 percent).

Interest in the cloud seems mutual. Companies, too, appear to be looking toward OSS and cloud platforms as possible cost-saving measures.

"Open source is a fully matured market and as costs increase for multiple resources, more companies are choosing third-party cloud providers as a platform for infrastructure and applications," said John Andrews, president and CEO of Evans Data Corp., in a telephone interview.

The Santa Cruz, Calif.-based research firm found a few other trends among OSS developers. On the virtualization front, more than half (52 percent) of developers are using the Linux operating system in a virtualized environment.

The database of choice for these developers is either an open source or commercial version of SQL, according to the survey. More than half of the SQL users in the survey used Sun's open source MySQL software.

Mobile app stores represent an important distribution point for OSS solutions, the survey found.

"More than 67 percent of developers we surveyed said they were going to increase revenues in the mobile apps market in the next 12 months," Andrews said. "Interestingly, more than 51 percent also admitted to us that they spend time on nonwork-related open source projects while at work."

To get a summary and some sample chapters of the report, "Open Source/Linux Development 2008, v2," go here.

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Analysis: Behind Nortel's Restructuring Moves

Need proof that times are tough? Just ask Nortel Networks which last week, following a half-decade of tumult, announced that it was seeking creditor protection in Canada. Nortel's move -- which shelters it in the lee of Canada's Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA) -- came as its subsidiaries in the U.S. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Nortel's U.K. arm also sought protection under that company's bankruptcy protection provisions.

Nortel's trouble actually predate the economic crisis, analysts say. For one thing, according to Gartner analysts Akshay Sharma and Bob Hafner, Nortel "has accrued more than $4 billion of debt" -- the interest of which was due last week.

With this in mind, Sharma and Hafner said, Nortel made the right move. "Nortel's decision to seek bankruptcy protection is prudent. Nortel has $2.4 billion in cash for day-to-day operations, and with protection from debt obligations, it can focus on restructuring its debt," they wrote.

Nortel has also moved -- and proactively, at that -- to minimize the disruptive effects of its bankruptcy moves. CEO Mike Zafirovski met last week with both customers and media talking heads to brief them on Nortel's plans, while the company itself notched a manufacturing agreement with Flextronics, which currently produces a "significant" share of its products, according to Gartner.

All isn't sweetness and light, of course. Nortel is restructuring -- and in the midst of the most jarring global crisis since the Great Depression, to boot.

"It will be hard for Nortel to increase sales. Concerns about long-term support will make some enterprise and carrier customers move to other vendors in the next few months," Sharma and Hafner said. "Gartner has spoken to several Nortel channel partners and found that they remain positive. Nortel's relationship with Microsoft in the Innovative Communications Alliance will also continue. But some partners and resellers may refocus on other vendors. Nortel must give its channel partners additional training, marketing and sales support during this period, as well as engage in joint marketing."

Nevertheless, the Gartner duo expects Nortel to weather the storm -- in one form or another. "While in creditor protection, Nortel will work to restructure its debt," they wrote, suggesting that Nortel's restructuring could take up to 18 months. "After [that] Nortel should emerge as a viable company, but could look different and be a possible target for acquisition. Creditor approval will be required for all expenditures, which could affect some R&D as the creditors look at resizing the company."

They added, "Nortel has stated that it intends to retain the company in its entirety, but Gartner believes it will try to sell assets to bring in cash. It has already tried to sell its metro Ethernet division...and the next most likely candidate for sale is its carrier wireless division."

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Presidential Inauguration Gets a Little Moonlight

The team developing Moonlight, a multimedia application for Linux- and UNIX-based machines, scrambled to enable live streaming media play for the Barak Obama Presidential Inauguration that was broadcast on Tuesday. The Inaugural Committee had selected Microsoft Silverlight 2, a browser multimedia plug-in for Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari browsers, to stream the event. Silverlight 2 currently works with Windows and Mac OS X operating systems only.

Moonlight is an open source version of Silverlight being developed by the Mono project team at Novell in collaboration with Microsoft, with the idea of bringing Silverlight multimedia play to Linux- and UNIX/X11-based computers. Moonlight, which was created using C++, came out as a public beta in December.

Moonlight 1.0 is now newly released and currently supports the older Silverlight 1.0 technology, with just pre-alpha-stage support for Silverlight 2. To get Moonlight to work with the Obama inauguration stream, the Mono team created a Silverlight 1.0-compatible Linux player that works with both Linux and Mac PowerPC machines.

"We kicked the project off this afternoon before the event, so pardon us if it's a little rough," wrote Ben Waggoner, a Microsoft technology evangelist on the codec team.

SL1 players were limited to a 500 kbps stream, he explained, because Moonlight 1.0 lacks managed code support.

News sources were predicting that the Obama inauguration would rack up a record number of viewers. Microsoft's Silverlight plug-in previously supported the heavily watched Olympic Games in Beijing, which may have set a record by supporting "70 million video streams," according to a Microsoft announcement.

To accommodate Olympics viewers, Microsoft used the adaptive streaming feature in Silverlight to "vary the bit rate but not melt the Internet at the same time," said Scott Guthrie, Microsoft's corporate vice president of the .NET Developer Division. Guthrie described a collaborative effort with NBC at a Microsoft-sponsored dinner at Loews Santa Monica Hotel in early November.

The average length of views for the Beijing Olympic Games was 27 minutes, which hadn't been done before at that scale, according to Guthrie. Dan Hogan, vice president of technology at NBC Sports & Olympics, who worked with Microsoft on the NBC media player, claimed that the streamed Beijing Olympics coverage was "the largest video-on-demand event in history." Guthrie said that the team had to push out 1.7 terabits of video data.

The Mono team plans to release a Moonlight 2.0 beta in mid-April, with a final version planned for September, according to the team's roadmap. Moonlight 1.0 is a Firefox browser plug-in only and requires codecs from the Microsoft Media Pack to run.

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Spammers To Target Job-Hunting, Networking Sites in 2009

A new report from security consultancy AppRiver confirms what many of us have long expected: Spammers are becoming both savvier and sneakier. Spam efforts are increasingly focusing on deceiving users by masquerading as legitimate e-mail messages from well-known public entities.

According to AppRiver's new report, "State of Security 2008, and the Threat and Spamscape Forecast for 2009," spammers are increasingly exploiting current events -- such as the recent U.S. presidential election and volatility in the oil market -- or cooking up malware attacks purporting to originate from known (and ostensibly legitimate) organizations such as McDonald's or MSNBC.com.

Phishing attacks are on the rise, according to AppRiver, which says that attackers made phishing "one of the most frequently used attack methods" last year. Other attack types include phony subpoenas from governmental bodies -- especially the U.S. Tax Court or the IRS -- that are tied to keylogging schemes.

Spammers are also targeting the Web 2.0 world, in some cases posing as Google "AdWord" accounts to illegally obtain sensitive information.

This doesn't mean that classic attacks have fallen by the wayside, however. Spammers are still exploiting classic schemes (e.g., illegitimate e-mails purporting to originate from well-known entities such as banks) to harvest information. According to AppRiver senior security analyst Fred Touchette, the prevalence of Web-based malware will surge in 2009, with a rise in malware targeting virtualization solutions -- such as the Windows Virtual PC and VMware -- in a variety of different guises.

AppRiver and Touchette also anticipate a spike in mobile malware, thanks largely to the established popularity of the iPhone and the rising popularity of Google's new Android's open source mobile platform.

Finally, no spam and malware landscape survey would be complete without also taking into account an uptick in attacks linked to economic unrest. AppRiver anticipates that attacks on job search and social networking sites -- e.g., LinkedIn and Monster.com -- will increase significantly in 2009.

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Microsoft Consolidates Two Online Services Teams

Microsoft is reorganizing two of its online teams -- Live Mesh and Live Services -- by centralizing them under a Windows segment, according to reports from Mary-Jo Foley and Todd Bishop published on Friday.

The Live Mesh and Live Services teams now fall under the Windows Live organization, reporting to Steven Sinofsky, who is Microsoft's senior vice president for the Windows and Windows Live Engineering Group.

Microsoft's press service on Monday was unable to confirm these details because of the holiday, but Bishop and Foley both received confirmation about the reorganization effort on Friday.

David Treadwell, senior vice president of the Live Services Platform, now reports to Sinofsky, a Microsoft spokesperson told Foley. Treadwell's team previously reported directly to Microsoft's Chief Architect Ray Ozzie. No layoffs are happening as result of the reorganization, the spokesperson added.

Treadwell had told LiveSide at the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference in late October that Microsoft planned to combine the Live Mesh and Windows Live technologies with "the next offering of Windows Live." That next Windows Live distribution could happen in February, according to speculation at the NeoWin.net Web site.

Microsoft's Live Services technology is part of the Azure Services Platform stack, providing general services. Live Mesh, in contrast, is a platform that enables data connectivity across multiple devices, and it specifically provides support for Windows Live user experiences.

Microsoft announced the release of Windows Live Essentials, a set of online applications, earlier this month at the Computer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The suite includes mail, messenger and photo-sharing applications, along with a Windows Live Calendar application that advanced from its beta release just last week. People using the older MSN calendar will be moved onto the new service, Microsoft explained.

Calendar sharing is something that will be enabled when Microsoft releases Exchange 14, the next generation of Microsoft's mail server. Presumably, the Live Mesh platform will be used to enable such calendar sharing. Live Mesh is currently undergoing beta testing and was first unveiled to the developer community in April.

The Live Mesh team announced hotfix for Mac users on Friday that remedies bugs that caused crashes for some beta testers, as explained in the team blog.

The distinctions between Microsoft's various service platforms seem confusing enough that Microsoft's own experts argued about the matter in an MSDN forum. The confusion seems to have originated from various brand-name changes on the consumer-facing side, along with the subsequent rollout of Azure Services Platform in late October.

Microsoft's description of the Azure Services Platform shows a diagram with existing Microsoft services -- such as Windows Live, Exchange Online and others -- all riding on top of Windows Azure, which is Microsoft's so-called "operating system" in the Internet cloud.

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PC Sales Shrink, but Netbooks on the Rise

Gartner's fourth-quarter 2008 report on the PC market, announced last week, reported shrinking global and U.S. sales for the top computer makers. And it wasn't just the market that had shrunk. The report found that smaller, low-cost, low-tech notebook mini-computers (or "netbooks") have gained ground.

Worldwide, PC sales were the lowest they've been since 2002. Meanwhile, netbook sales became the "growth driver" for the 2008 holidays, according to the research firm.

"The mini-notebook segment outpaced overall mobile PC growth," the report states.

The leading PC vendors in terms of worldwide sales were Hewlett-Packard and Dell, respectively, according to the report. However, third-place Acer gained the largest market share of the top five PC providers.

Acer offered a modest acknowledgment on its Web site, saying that "in the current worldwide economic situation, even though most of the channels have been more cautious and less willing to carry inventory by year-end, Acer's product demand has remained healthy and stable."

Acer had "exceptional" growth worldwide, with shipments of PCs gaining 31.1 percent in the fourth quarter, according to Gartner's report.

The record decline of PC revenue tore into Dell. The No. 2 maker of PCs took a market-share hit, sliding from 14.2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2007 to 13.2 percent in fourth quarter of 2008. It had a near six percent drop in the number of PCs shipped.

Dell has been "plagued by the popularity of cheap Netbooks," the Silicon Valley Insider suggested on Thursday.

The picture for the fourth quarter in the United States mirrored worldwide shipment numbers, according to Gartner. The one exception is that Dell is the No. 1 PC maker in the United States and Hewlett-Packard is in second place. Dell's shipment's declined by 16.4 percent, in part due to a "very weak professional market," according to Gartner.

Hewlett-Packard's shipments were down by 3.4 percent, in the United States, while Acer continued to increase its position in the U.S. market with a 55.4 percent increase in PCs shipped.

In other parts of the world, PC shipments to the East, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) increased by 4.9 percent in the 2008 fourth quarter in comparison with the previous year's fourth quarter. PC shipments to Asia/Pacific grew by 1.8 percent in the same period. The brightest spot for PC shipments was in Latin America, which grew by 10 percent from quarter to quarter.

The decline in global demand for PCs is affecting chipmakers as well. Chip leader Intel reported on Thursday that its net income was down 90 percent from 2007. In November, Intel reported increased sales of its Atom processor, which is used in the netbooks line.

In breaking news on Friday, chipmaker AMD announced it was cutting 1,100 jobs, or nine percent of its workforce, because of the continuing global economic recession.

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

EU To Consider Internet Explorer Antitrust Action

The European Commission (EC) issued a "Statement of Objections" against Microsoft's practice of bundling Internet Explorer with Windows. The complaint, announced on Thursday, seemed a jolt from a distant past, when browser wars first raged

A similar legal dispute was settled several years ago in U.S. courts. Back then, Microsoft was accused of bundling its Web browser to squeeze out the competition. Microsoft settled the case, and a final judgment was issued on Nov. 12, 2002 by the D.C. U.S. District Court, with appeals stretching out two more years. In the interim, however, Microsoft took the browser lead over rival Netscape.

However, with regard to the European Union's competition laws, that U.S. court settlement simply does not apply, as Microsoft explained in an announcement issued on Friday.

"The Statement of Objections states that the remedies put in place by the U.S. courts in 2002 following antitrust proceedings in Washington, D.C. do not make the inclusion of Internet Explorer in Windows lawful under European Union law," the announcement reads.

The EC's action appears to follow from a complaint filed by Opera Software, as described in a press release issued in December of 2007.

"The European Court of First Instance confirmed in September [of 2007] that Microsoft has illegally tied Windows Media Player to Windows," stated Jason Hoida, Opera Software's deputy general counsel, in that press release. "We are simply asking the Commission to apply these same, clear principles to the Internet Explorer tie, a tie that has even more profound effects on consumers and innovation."

Microsoft plans to respond to the complaint in two months' time, according to a blog post. The EC will wait to hear Microsoft's response before making a determination in the case.

The European Union has a formula for imposing fines on companies that break its competition rules, which can be as high as 30 percent of the value of sales, with an option for additional infringement fines.

"The basic amount is calculated as a percentage of the value of the sales connected with the infringement, multiplied by the number of years the infringement has been taking place," the European Union explains in a summary document.

Microsoft has been including Internet Explorer with Windows since 1996. During its U.S. court proceedings, Microsoft had argued that Internet Explorer was part of the Windows operating system and couldn't be separated.

Some observers have pointed out that most companies producing Web browsers do not charge for their product, making sales calculations and talk of a browser market somewhat nebulous. However, Opera Software does get advertising revenues from the use of its browsers.

The passage of time doesn't seem to be an issue when the European Union considers imposing fines and penalties on companies for anticompetitive behavior. In February, the European Union's antitrust commission fined Microsoft 899 million Euros ($1.3 billion at the time) for its failure to comply with the EU's 2004 ruling. That case had to do with Microsoft's high fees for documentation needed to enable work-group server interoperability.

Microsoft's newest operating system, Windows 7 Beta, was released to the public earlier this month, and Microsoft is distributing a "pre-release candidate build" of IE8 Beta 2 with it, according to Microsoft's Internet Explorer blog. Whether or not Microsoft still argues that Internet Explorer is an inseparable part of its OS remains to be seen.

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Microsoft Updates Windows Cloud Tooling

Microsoft released the second community technology previews (CTPs) of its Software Development Kit (SDK) and Visual Studio extensions for the new Windows Azure cloud services platform.

Azure, which consists of an operating system and a developer services platform, took center stage at Microsoft's Professional Developers Conference in late October. The technology was made available to all PDC attendees immediately after the show, although many developers had to wait several weeks to get the tokens needed to access the Azure platform. The Azure previews were opened to a larger group of MSDN subscribers after Microsoft provided access to interested PDC attendees.

The Azure SDK includes the development fabric controller and storage services needed for building and testing cloud apps locally in Visual Studio 2008 SP1 with the Azure VS extensions. Developers need to register with Microsoft to receive the tokens required to "publish" apps to the Azure cloud.

The Azure SDK January 2009 CTP and the Windows Azure Tools for Microsoft Visual Studio January 2009 CTP consist primarily of performance and bug fixes, according to Microsoft's Azure team members.

Gus Perez, the principal development lead for Windows Azure Tools for Visual Studio, outlines some of the key VS fixes in his blog:

"• Code/Build/Run/Debug cycle
• Support for Silverlight debugging on Web Roles
• Improved Development Storage Service integration
• Service definition and configuration file errors are now detailed in VS
• Bug where publishing a package that was above a certain size would fail has been fixed."

Jim Nakashima, program manager for the Windows Azure Tools for Visual Studio team, offers an extensive overview of the performance and bug fixes in VS extensions and the Azure SDK in his Cloudy in Seattle blog. He notes that many of the SDK fixes were responses to customers' requests. The SDK January 2009 CTP also offers better integration with Visual Studio for the Storage services, according to Nakashima.

The latest bits underscore Microsoft's commitment to working with early testers in the developer community to advance the Azure platform. Blogs, forums and Azure user groups are starting to build a community around the new technology. Developers can find more information on Perez's Azure links page. Microsoft will also host MSDN Developer Conferences in many cities during the next several months to introduce the technologies that were announced at PDC.

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Google Expands Enterprise App Partner Program

Google on Wednesday launched a beefed-up Google Apps reseller program for the enterprise, opening the program beyond its initial 50 core team members. Under the program, resellers provide system integration and training support, along with customization of Google's hosted applications.

The move increases potential competition in the enterprise software-as-a-service (SaaS) space, delivering e-mail, calendar and collaboration solutions to business users. It represents a potential sword-crossing moment with arch-nemesis competitor Microsoft, which has its own partner community selling to the enterprise sector.

Google got to its position -- selling to "more than 1 million businesses," according to the company's blog -- by first cultivating a consumer-friendly persona. Google Apps are offered to the general public for free, but the company also charges enterprises for customized solutions with added security.

Having a consumer-facing product, along with SaaS delivery, generates more innovation and flexibility compared with on-premise software installations, according to Google spokesman Andrew Kovacs.

"The innovation on the consumer side is more Darwinian, and that's been informing our movement in the enterprise," he said. "We believe as a company that the advantages of the consumer world can be applied effectively to the enterprise world to make applications that are simple and easy to use yet powerful."

In short, he said, Google, born of the Internet, believes that the Internet cloud is the best place to start when attacking the enterprise space. Google, through its new Google Apps Authorized Reseller Program, is betting that its partners will agree.

"This presents an opportunity to them today to start adding cloud services to their offerings," he said. Google's resellers also have the choice of selling on-premises software from other software providers, including Microsoft and others.

Google provides security for its enterprise apps through technology the company acquired when it bought Postini. The Postini acquisition marked the company's move into the enterprise direction, and it did "improve the performance of the security of their e-mail in particular," said Jeff Kaplan, managing director of THINKstrategies, a SaaS advocacy group.

Google, for its part, only provides "limited" customer support.

"We're depending on our reseller partners to provide it," Kovacs said, calling it "one of the biggest opportunities for them" to make extra money on end user support and training.

Google's retailer partners sell, customize and support Google Apps Premier Edition for enterprises, and there's no hardware to maintain. And that, said Kaplan is the selling point.

"People are becoming tired of buying, implementing and maintaining their own software and then having to notify the vendor if anything goes wrong. That formula is quickly becoming obsolete," he said.

Google has already drawn some blood in the academic market with its hosted gmail solution. An Australian school district dropped out of a three-year $33 million e-mail contract using Microsoft Exchange Server in favor of a $9 million hosted gmail deal with Google.

Microsoft has been formulating its own "software plus services" play, offering hosted versions of its best-selling software applications since late last year, both directly and through its partner channels. Still, the software giant faces an incumbent's burden, while the new guys can come in fresh.

Apple Inc. also appears to be entering the SaaS space from the consumer side with a new hosted offering that supports the Apple iWork productivity suite. Last week, the company announced an iWork.com public beta, which lets users of iWork '09 software share documents online.

Corporate delays in implementing Windows Vista have given Apple and Google a boost, Kaplan contended.

"Apple has been making tremendous inroads into the corporate environment because of the disruptive qualities of Vista," Kaplan said. "Google seems to have many opportunities with the same vulnerability that Vista created. The economy has aggravated and the overall attitude towards traditional software has become increasingly negative."

Friday, January 16, 2009

Microsoft Quietly Updates Live Mesh

Microsoft announced a client update to the beta version of Live Mesh on Tuesday. The company is calling this release version 0.9.3424.14, and claims that it fixes a few problems.

The update automatically updates the browser-based client and solves a problem where the Aero graphical user interface was disabled in Windows 7, according to a Tuesday post on the Live Mesh team blog. It improves the handling of duplicate files and folders, as well as peer-to-peer synchronization, Microsoft claims.

Microsoft officials are planning to talk more about Live Mesh at the MIX09 Web developer event coming up in March. Two sessions added to the MIX09 roster include "Mesh-Enabled Web Applications" and "Live Framework and Mesh Services," according to a Microsoft blog.

Live Mesh is a platform that synchronizes data across various devices by storing data in the Internet cloud. It was first rolled out in a technology preview (prebeta) to developers in April and became a full beta release in late October. At that time, Microsoft added support for Windows Mobile-based devices and Mac OS X-based machines. The platform appears to be designed to sync-up data mostly for consumer use.

The Live Mesh platform is part of Microsoft's overall cloud-based offerings, as described by Microsoft Live Mesh team member Abhay Parasnis.

"Live Mesh is an experience that is natively integrated with the Live Services component of the Azure Services Platform -- it makes the core functionality of Live Services available to end users," Parasnis wrote in the Live Mesh team blog.

The Live Mesh product eventually will be released as part of Windows Live.

"After this year [2008], Live Mesh will be utilized in the next major release of Windows Live," Parasnis wrote in the team blog in October of 2008. "This is the first planned integration and ship vehicle for Live Mesh, and there will be others as we continue to deliver on our overall Software-plus-Services strategy."

The next Windows Live release could occur in February 2009, according to a memo described by NeoWin.net.

Windows Live was previewed by Microsoft way back in November of 2005. It supplements Windows with online mail, messaging and storage. In November, Microsoft reintroduced the idea of Windows Live Services by announcing a photo-sharing application that uses Windows Live SkyDrive, an online storage facility. Microsoft bumped up SkyDrive's storage capacity from 5 GB to 25 GB at that time.

Online storage with Live Mesh appears to be different. The Live Mesh home page cites a 5 GB storage limit.

Live Mesh is one of the technologies emphasized by Microsoft Chief Architect Ray Ozzie's as part of Microsoft's "software plus services" strategy.

Microsoft also has a separate synchronization solution that was released in December called Windows Live Sync, which replaced a similar application used to synchronize files and folders called Windows Live FolderShare. Windows Live Sync reportedly lacks online storage and requires that the connecting devices both be running Windows Live Sync to share files.

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Netezza Announces New Interoperability with Microsoft's BI Platform

Netezza Inc. last week appeared to close the loop on one of its perceived competitive shortcomings when it unveiled a new interoperability strategy for Microsoft Corp.'s business intelligence (BI) platform

Until now, Netezza's data warehouse (DW) appliances have often been seen as rip-and-replace propositions designed chiefly to displace existing DW systems. Competitors Dataupia Corp. and ParAccel Corp. claim to work with (to complement and accelerate) existing DW platforms; Netezza, they contend, requires that customers move away from these systems, at least as platforms for enterprise data warehouses (EDW).

Netezza's new strategy focuses on improved interoperability with Microsoft's Office, Performance Point Server and SQL Server-based BI assets -- namely, Analysis Services, Integration Services and Reporting Services. The announcement may be seen as a big deal for Netezza, a bigger deal (with broad DW ramifications) for Microsoft, or a subtle refinement of the status quo.

There are respects in which Netezza, a pioneer of the modern DW appliance model, is perceived as more of a greenfield DW option -- or, in some cases, as a rip-and-replace alternative to existing IBM, Microsoft or Oracle DW systems. Consider the perspective of a DW architect based in the U.K., who -- when interviewed late last year about Oracle Corp.'s then-new Database Machine -- indicated that he'd opt for a Netezza-only solution, if he'd had his way. "[I]f it were purely down to me, I'd rather just scrap the current system [mixed Oracle and SQL Server DWs] and start again with Netezza. We'd have a brand-new, dazzlingly fast solution within a few weeks," he said. "The best project I ever worked on was a greenfield telco [in] which I was lucky enough to select and implement a Netezza system back in 2003. It was a dream come true to someone who has worked with Oracle for many years."

Netezza officials acknowledge as much. "We're looking at a broadening market for Netezza as we go forward. We're starting to move into more and more mainstream types of accounts in the industry," said Phil Francisco, vice president of product management and marketing with Netezza. "In doing so, what this gives customers of Netezza in those sorts of environments is the ability to stay with a Windows or Microsoft-based application platform, which they've probably had for quite some time, and still enjoy the benefits of a very high-performance DW behind it."

Francisco rejects the idea that Netezza has been more of a greenfield- or rip-and-replace proposition, however. "Previously, we were able to use ODBC to connect to the Microsoft applications, so you'd have OLE DB running over ODBC," he said.

If that's the case, what's particularly new about Netezza's claimed "interoperability" with SQL Server and Microsoft's BI stack? In this case, too, Netezza is touting OLE DB connectivity. It's via OLE DB, in fact, that Netezza claims to deliver on its promised interoperability with Office, PerformancePoint and SQL Server-based BI services.

The difference, Francisco insisted, is in the implementation. "In the past, [interoperability] was possible, [but] it wasn't particularly high performance. This OLE DB [connector] delivers high-performance connectivity. One of the things we've done is we've implemented the connector on our platform without creating a lot of overhead, so we're able to get extremely high performance out of the data warehouse system itself."

Francisco demurs when asked to talk more specifically about Netezza's interoperability strategy vis-а-vis Microsoft. Right now, he said, there's the OLE DB connector; tomorrow, Netezza is mulling several options -- including, possibly, .NET connectivity. "We were at a crossroads of adding either a .NET provider or an OLE DB connector. In consultation with Microsoft, we decided to go with the OLE DB connector," he said.

"The fact that now you can use the full [SQL Server] toolset, including Integration Services, means that there can be high-throughput data sets getting moved back and forth." Will Netezza commit to delivering the .NET provider? What other collaborative efforts is it mulling with Microsoft? Francisco said, "There's nothing that I can talk about today. It's all part of a larger strategy that we're not talking about in great detail right now. Certainly, our desire is to make sure that that level of interoperability increases."

Trouble with Madison?
One thing that Francisco and other appliance industry watchers do want to talk about is Microsoft's Project Madison strategy, its ongoing project to incorporate (assimilate) the assets of the former DATAllegro Corp. -- including that company's shared-nothing, massively parallel processing (MPP) technology.

With this in mind, Francisco said, the partnership between Microsoft and Netezza suggests that Redmond envisions a big DW tent, with room for several different players. "In the near-term, DATAllegro doesn't complicate it [our relationship with Microsoft]. In the long-term, I don't know. It may or may not. It's really hard to say. The Project Madison work that they have going on at Microsoft [is designed to] incorporate the DATAllegro elements to get higher performance and a higher level of scalability to multiple terabytes, but that is a long-term project. Even by Microsoft's current reckoning, they're talking about availability sometime in 2010," he said.

"What they see now is that Netezza has growing market momentum. We've now reached the point where we have hundreds of customers online, and we've continued to grow, so Microsoft is clearly a good partner for Netezza and vice-versa."

Netezza veteran Foster Hinshaw, now a principal with rival appliance player Dataupia, has a much different take on the announcement, as you might expect. To Hinshaw, Netezza's accord with Microsoft suggests that Redmond is having more trouble than it first anticipated with Project Madison. "I think it's really Microsoft's acknowledgement that the DATAllegro play didn't work for them, and they have to look at other solutions in order to solve some of the issues that they have," he said.

News Attracts Little Attention
Perhaps not. After all, the Netezza interoperability story generated nary a blip -- much less a press release -- on Microsoft's in-house PR page. Microsoft officials, for the record, did not respond to requests for comments. In fact, the partnership seems to be a Netezza-driven affair, with Netezza building or enhancing linkages to Microsoft's BI platform.

Francisco says that Netezza is an "active" partner with Microsoft. Moreover, he said, the partnership -- including any as-yet-undetermined areas of collaboration -- will benefit Netezza and Microsoft customers alike.

"It would suffice to say that we are part of the Microsoft Partner Program and that we do have active conversations with them," he said. "I think that prior to this, we had customers that had Microsoft applications, but this was really a good stepping-off point for making that partnership stronger."

Dataupia's Hinshaw maintains that Netezza has always had connectivity solutions for Microsoft BI. More to the point, he said, Netezza has always had OLE DB connectivity to Microsoft BI.

"That connector has been around forever, and they've been using it with different customers," he said. "I'm sure they've optimized it from where it had been," Hinshaw added, returning to the issue of Microsoft's Project Madison play. "I think it is a more significant [announcement] than the little bit the press gave it, because it does show Microsoft's interest in the data warehousing space. It shows that DA didn't do what they needed it to do for SQL Server."

Francisco argues that it behooves Dataupia to raise doubts about Microsoft's execution with Project Madison, as high-end SQL Server data warehousing is more of a threat to Dataupia -- with its SQL Server accelerator strategy -- than to Netezza. "[Dataupia's] strategy tends to be more focused around the acceleration of existing data warehouse platforms, including SQL Server," he said. "What we're really talking about is the ability to use the application layer services with SQL Server with the base data warehouse system being a [Netezza] NPS platform, so you get the performance of the NPS appliance and the familiarity of the Microsoft applications. We're not talking about using [NPS] as an accelerator [for SQL Server] like they do."

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Microsoft Releases Desktop Virtualization Beta

Microsoft on Thursday released a beta of Microsoft Enterprise Desktop Virtualization (MED-V), a solution that lets users run older operating systems and applications on newer Windows-based systems. The MED-V 1.0 Beta is Microsoft's first release incorporating technology from Kidaro, a company Microsoft acquired in May.

One of the main uses for MED-V is to give companies a bit more time to use so-called "legacy" software applications even while they upgrade Windows across the network. Microsoft's scenario is an IT shop's migration to Windows Vista.

A video explaining the technology on Microsoft's MED-V Web site suggests that IT professionals could upgrade their networks to Vista while still running Windows XP-based applications through the use of Microsoft Virtual PC 2007 and MED-V.

The product aims to smooth upgrade challenges for IT teams, according to Ran Oelgiesser, Microsoft's senior product manager for MED-V, in an announcement.

"With MED-V 1.0, you can easily create, deliver and centrally manage virtual Windows XP or 2000 environments (based on Microsoft Virtual PC 2007), and help your users to run legacy applications on their Windows Vista desktops," Oelgiesser said. "No need to wait for the testing and migration of those incompatible applications to complete."

What MED-V does is not the same as application virtualization. By virtualizing the desktop, MED-V lets the user create virtual machines of an operating system that can run on either a server or an individual PC. Those VMs could be used to provide a Windows XP desktop environment for the end user, even though the system runs on Vista.

MED-V is part of the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP), which includes various "virtualization and management technologies" for Windows-based platforms, according to Microsoft's announcement. Microsoft plans to release the first version of the MED-V product "in the second quarter of this year" as a part of MDOP, Oelgiesser explained.

The company may also make it easier to run VMs on equipment outside the company as part of Microsoft's Vista Enterprise Centralized Desktop (VECD) licensing.

"It is our intention that in future releases, MED-V in conjunction with the new VECD licensing, may be used to deliver a corporate virtual image to 'unmanaged' PCs, and reduce the tension between IT control and user flexibility," the Microsoft's MED-V home page states.

Microsoft offered up changes to VECD licensing in September, as analyzed here. The licensing is part of Microsoft's Software Assurance plan.

MED-V, which works with Virtual PC 2007, may not be supported on the Windows 7 Beta, which Microsoft unveiled this past week. A Windows 7 TechNet Forum comment stated that Virtual PC 2007 isn't officially supported by the Windows 7 Beta. Still, some testers have reported success in using Virtual PC 2007 with the OS beta release (Build 7000).

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Microsoft's Workforce May See Pink in Their Future

Pink slips at the world's largest software provider may become a reality soon, according to several reports published this week, citing unnamed sources.

A spokesperson from Microsoft noted in an e-mail today that "Microsoft does not comment on rumors or speculation."

The Wall Street Journalreported on Wednesday that "Microsoft Corp. is seriously exploring significant work force reductions that could be announced as early as next week."

A Seattle Timesblog pegged the layoffs for today, a prediction the same blog made back in December, citing an "anonymous unsanctioned company blogger."

Microsoft's CEO Steve Ballmer may have sparked the speculation in cutbacks at a shareholder meeting in November when he alluded to reducing costs in 2009 by "utilizing resources more and reducing the headcount…."

In early January, two blogs -- Fudzilla and Mini-Microsoft -- noted that as many as 15,000 Microsoft employees would be let go, although other Microsoft analysts now predict the actual number will be significantly less.

"As far as reductions in headcount, the most likely scenario is a reorganization that eliminates or consolidates some product groups, eliminating some positions in the process," said Matt Rosoff, lead analyst for Directions on Microsoft in an e-mail today. "It's also possible that Microsoft will continue its longstanding process of getting rid of the bottom performers in any given product group, only this time it might not replace those positions in a lot of product groups, which would lower headcount without actually making it an across-the-board layoff."

Rosoff said he didn't expect anything to be announced today. The bad news more likely would come next Thursday, Jan. 22, when Microsoft is scheduled to announce its quarterly earnings.

Earnings in the fourth quarter are expected to be down, even though the company announced plans last October to cut $400 million to $500 million from its operating budget through reductions in hiring, capital spending and contracted services.

"Generally, companies with Microsoft's current fiscal profile -- rich in cash, highly profitable, and still growing revenue from a $60B+ base -- don't announce across-the-board layoffs," noted Rosoff on the current speculation. "But we live in interesting times."

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Conficker Worm Still Wreaking Havoc on Windows Systems

Users of Windows Server service that haven't patched a previously disclosed worm hole (MS08-067) are taking a big risk. More and more enterprises continue to get hit by a Conficker worm variant, according to Roger Halbheer, chief security adviser for Microsoft's Europe, Middle East and Africa Group, in a blog post on Wednesday.

Microsoft on Tuesday released its January security update. However, the company is still trying to get Windows pros to fix an issue that first appeared as an out-of-band bulletin back in October. That patch was supposed to take care of a remote code execution (RCE) exploit in remote procedure call requests (RPC) that could affect a whole network if harnessed by hackers.

These stepped-up warnings from Microsoft come after independent ITSec shop Panda Security said in several reports that Windows users haven't seen the last of the RCE exploit. Both Panda and Symantec officials have said they've seen increased attacks, as well as a growth in malware, deriving from Conficker attacks.

In cases where the security patch hasn't been applied, Conficker-type bugs can ding Windows-based PCs with malicious RPC packets. Specifically, the bug allows corrupt subroutines on a network to be executed automatically. The worm can affect Windows 2000, XP and Vista operating systems, as well as Windows Servers 2003 and 2008.

Because this month's patch cycle was so thin, now might be the moment to look seriously at the October fix, experts say.

"For administrators who failed to patch the RPC vulnerability that was reported back in October 2008, this is the best time to go back and patch the issue," said Paul Henry, security and forensic analyst for endpoint security outfit Lumension. "Security experts are starting to see new variants appearing in the wild for this. We're seeing more widespread use of the vulnerability today than we did back in October."

The fact that so many Windows systems seem to be at risk raises questions about security patch turnaround times in the enterprise. A Qualys survey found that more than 50 percent of machines get patched after approximately 30 days.

"After that period, we see the patch rates go down and the overall number of machines that are attackable only slowly diminishing," said Wolfgang Kandek, chief technology officer of Qualys Inc. "Unfortunately this leaves enough machines to be exploited by the "Conficker" worm types even today, over 45 days later."

Kandek sees a general lack of alarm among IT pros.

"We would have liked to see a faster reaction by the computer users given the significance of the patch but there still seems to be a barrier to reach everybody and make them understand the urgency of patching."

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Microsoft Taps Schools To Test Exchange 14

Microsoft has begun ramping up the dialog about its upcoming Exchange 14 mail server solution, which is slated to become the successor to Exchange Server 2007. Exchange 14, also known as "E14," isn't available as a commercial product yet. Instead, Microsoft has been testing it under its Live@edu educational initiative and Technology Adopter Program.

On Tuesday, Microsoft's Exchange team talked about those tests, which originally started as part of Microsoft's Exchange Labs project in October of 2007. Microsoft currently has more than 3.5 million e-mail users supported by the E14 solution, which serves about 1,500 schools, according to the Exchange team blog.

The company is particularly focusing on testing the scalability of its online solution using a multitenant hosting architecture. Microsoft began developing E14 with the objective of using a single code base for both the customer-installed and online versions, according to the team blog.

The Exchange team is working on a simplified user interface for E14, along with the capability for end users to manage the experience themselves, explained Jim Lucey, product manager for Exchange Labs, in a Microsoft-released video. For school systems, E14 will have to be flexible enough to comply with a number of regulations, which requires adding filtering capabilities in some cases.

The E14 solution will work with Microsoft Outlook and enable calendar sharing. Those users lacking the Microsoft Office suite will still be able to share documents by opening them in a Web browser, Lucey explained. Microsoft is planning to enable mobile access to e-mail through an "active mobile" feature, he added.

The Exchange team expects to see cost reductions for enterprise customers when the E14 service becomes commercially available, especially in comparison with using Exchange Server 2007. Microsoft has not publicly announced a product release date for E14.

In the mean time, Microsoft has lost at least one big academic e-mail contract to Google. In June, an Australian school district dumped an installed Microsoft Exchange Server setup for hosted Google gmail service. Google's service was slated to provide e-mail accounts to students, faculty and administrators at a cost of about $9 million. The Google deal replaced a three-year, $33 million contract with Microsoft and its partners.

Google is also expanding its online services to the enterprise. On Wednesday, the company announced a new Google Apps Authorized Reseller Program. The company plans to expand the partner community that now provides customized Google Apps to business customers.

KC Lemson, lead program manager for Microsoft Exchange, said in the team blog that Microsoft would talk more about Exchange 14 "over the coming months."

Microsoft currently offers various hosted solutions, including Exchange Online, Dynamics CRM Online, SharePoint Online and Office Online. Most of those solutions had their debut late last year and are available through Microsoft and its partners.

Microsoft also unveiled a broad cloud computing effort in late October when it announced Windows Azure and the Azure Services Platform.

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Datacenter Managers Doing More with Less

Datacenter managers in both the public and private sectors report being caught between increasing demands for performance and shrinking budgets, according to Symantec Corp.'s 2008 State of the Data Center study.

The survey of 1,600 datacenter managers in large public- and private-sector organizations also found that staffing is problematic: 36 percent of respondents indicated that they are understaffed, while only 4 percent reported being overstaffed. What's more, 43 of respondents indicated that finding qualified applicants is a major challenge.

In addition, datacenter servers and storage are underutilized and disaster recovery plans are out of date, the study added.

The study also found that while many datacenter managers are pursuing green IT initiatives, the primary driver for those efforts is cost reduction. Reducing electricity consumption was a goal cited by 54 percent of respondents, followed by reducing cooling costs (51 percent) and a sense of responsibility to the environment (42 percent).

"This research confirms what we are seeing in the field," said Rob Soderbery, senior vice president of Symantec's Storage and Availability Management Group. "Attention has turned to initiatives that will drive immediate cost reduction, rather than longer-term, [return on investment]-driven programs. Storage has been a primary focus of these initiatives as the demand for capacity continues to rise, despite economic challenges."

The Symantec report examined data from a survey in late 2008 of 1,600 datacenter managers in large private- and public-sector institutions located in 21 countries.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

January's Patch Addresses Bug in Server Message Block

As expected, it's a one-patch Tuesday, with a single item deemed "critical" in Microsoft's first security update for the year. The January update, described in Security Bulletin MS09-001, is said to resolve newly discovered, yet not publicly disclosed, vulnerabilities in the Microsoft Server Message Block Protocol.

The patch applies to Microsoft Windows 2000, Windows XP and Vista, as well as Windows Server 2003 and Windows Server 2008. It addresses a bug that could permit remote code execution attacks.

The flaws outlined in this patch could enable an attacker to send malicious packets to a Windows workstation, enabling him to run amok with no credentials required, according to Shavlik Technologies' Chief Technology Officer Eric Schultze. Internet firewalls and personal firewalls typically block the ports used for these attacks. However, such ports are typically left open in a corporate network, Schultze explained.

"If a worm is released, and that worm makes it into a corporate network, it will make Swiss cheese of that network relatively quickly," he added.

Security experts say that this security release is unique in that it represents a more rare server-side hotfix.

"Microsoft is right on the money stating that domain controllers are at greater risk than workstations and servers," said Tyler Reguly, senior security engineer for IT security group nCircle. "Domain controllers are at the head of any Windows shop. Therefore, similar to the statement, 'Cut off the head and the rest will die,' if an intruder can own the domain controller, they can own everything."

The patch installation will require a restart to take effect. For information about nonsecurity updates, systems administrators can read this Microsoft knowledgebase article provided with each security rollout.

January's light security update stands in marked contrast to December's patch, which addressed the most vulnerabilities so far for Patch Tuesday. Microsoft also had an out-of-cycle patch for Internet Explorer just before the New Year.

In addition to Microsoft's announcement, Oracle released a mammoth security update for shops using its database applications. Oracle's quarterly critical patch update also happened to be released on the second Tuesday of this month. It contains fixes for 41 vulnerabilities "across hundreds of Oracle products."

The security update applies to Oracle Database versions 9i, 10g and 11g, Oracle Secure Backup, Oracle TimesTen, Oracle Application Server, Oracle Collaboration Suite and Oracle WebLogic Server. Oracle Secure Backup has the most critical vulnerabilities and will get nine security fixes.

"Ten of the 41 patches Oracle plans to release are vulnerabilities that can be exploited remotely and anonymously," said Alfred Huger, vice president of Symantec Security Response. "Patches for 'Oracle Times Ten Data Server' and 'Oracle Secure Backup' should be applied immediately by all customers."

Those swept up in the Oracle patching frenzy will likely start with the Microsoft fix first and then take more time to evaluate the Oracle updates to see what's truly relevant, according to Qualys' Chief Technology Officer Wolfgang Kandek.

"For Windows, there is a structured patching environment and the tools are there," Kandek explained. "The infrastructure there is more prepared. In general we see Oracle and others moving slower in the patch cycle deployment than Microsoft. Either way, it's a big day."

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Microsoft Updates Windows Media Player Patch

Microsoft published an update to a Windows Media Player patch on Tuesday, the same day as its January general security update release.

At issue is a glitch that results in an incomplete installation of December's MS08-076 Windows Media Component patch on Windows XP systems running Windows Media Format Runtime 9.5. The bulletin addendum, dated Jan. 13, is supposed to fix that glitch.

The revised bulletin also now lists Windows Media Player 6.4 and Windows Media Services 4.1 as affected for all editions of Microsoft Windows 2000 Service Pack 4 -- not just for Microsoft Windows 2000 Server SP4.

The update comes just weeks after Microsoft spokesperson Christopher Budd adamantly denied a report detailing a potential remote code execution hole in Windows Media Player. Security researcher Laurent Gaffi had described a vulnerability that could be used by hackers armed with malformed .wav, .snd, or .mid audio files to compromise a PC running Windows XP or Vista.

Budd negated that security claim, but he did confirm that Gaffi's proof-of-concept code could trigger a crash of the Windows-based app. Budd added that Windows Media Player can be restarted without harming the operating system. He suggested that the security update would fix the loose ends.

Researchers at Microsoft's Research and Defense group spelled out in mathematical and technological language how that the particular flaw mentioned by Gaffi is not a threat.

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Windows 7 Remote Server Admin Tools Released

Microsoft released tools last week for its Windows 7 Beta that let system administrators perform remote management of Windows servers from their desktop PCs. The Windows 7 Remote Server Administration Tools, currently available as a beta, support "Windows Server 2008 R2, Windows Server 2008 or Windows Server 2003," according to a description at the Microsoft Download Center page.

The tools let IT professionals configure roles and features remotely. They support both x86 and x64 hardware, but need to run with particular versions of Windows 7. Microsoft describes those versions as the Business Edition, Enterprise Edition and Ultimate Edition of Windows 7, which haven't been released yet. Windows 7 (Build 7000) is currently available only as a beta, but it's similar to the Ultimate Edition, according to Microsoft.

"The Windows 7 Beta will be only available in one edition, which is roughly equivalent [to] the Ultimate edition of Windows Vista," explained Brandon LeBlanc, a Window 7 team blogger.

Adding the tools involves first removing similar remote management tools used with Windows Vista Service Pack 1, including "all versions of Administration Tools Pack," according to Microsoft's instructions. Just one copy of the tools can be installed on an IT pro's computer at a time.

The tools add a number of management features to the desktop, including Server Manager, Active Directory tools, DHCP server tools, DNS server tools and Hyper-V tools. The tools enable password recovery, group policy management and network load balancing. Microsoft lists some features here.

The release of the Windows 7 Remote Server Administration Tools followed Microsoft's Windows 7 Beta release by just one day. That's a quick turnaround -- at least compared with Windows Vista, in which the tools lagged the operating system's release by one year, according to one blogger.

The blogger noted that an extra step is needed after installing the tools. You have to turn on Windows features in the Control Panel to get them to appear under Administrative Tools.

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Outsourcing: Where the Jobs Are

When the going gets tough, it's the jobs that get going -- increasingly overseas.

Gartner Inc.'s report late last year highlighted the top 30 hotspots. The market watcher's list has a few surprises as it attempts to account for geopolitical unrest -- particularly in the usual outsourcing locations such as India and China -- which it noted can impact outsourcing operations. Gartner touted a list of alternative countries including Mexico and Poland that have merged as credible competitors to both India and China, as well as Brazil and Russia.

"Countries such as Mexico, Poland and Vietnam have continued to strengthen their position against leading alternatives, while others have forced their way into the 'Top 30.' These countries will be seeking to take advantage of the opportunity created by the increased focus that many organizations now have on cost optimization, as a result of the current economic crisis," said Ian Marriott, research vice president at Gartner, in a statement.

Gartner gave the impression of an offshore free-for-all, with many would-be contenders jockeying to position themselves for an expected surge in offshore activity. "As a result, four countries have dropped out of the 'Top 30' and have been replaced by four that were just outside the 'Top 30' 12 months ago," Marriott said. "This does not mean that the four 'relegated' countries have underperformed this year, but the dynamic nature of the market has seen others making strong progress."

Gartner ranks its top 30 in terms of region. Its listing for the Americas, for example, includes both the obvious (Brazil, Canada and Mexico) and the not-so-obvious, including Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica and Panama (the latter is new to Gartner's top 30).

Ditto for the outsourcing-centric Asia-Pacific region, where -- in addition to mainstays China, India, Malaysia and Singapore -- Pakistan, the Philippines, Thailand (new to Gartner's list) and Vietnam have come to the fore. These countries join the pricier ANZAC axis of Australia and New Zealand to round out a teeming Asia-Pacific outsourcing market.

The combined African and EU region (which market watchers like to dub Europe, the Middle East and Africa, or EMEA) comprises an especially rich outsourcing field, with the Czech Republic, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Spain challenging traditional powers Ireland, Israel and Russia. Rising powers in the EMEA region include Hungary, Morocco, South Africa and Egypt. In fact, two of Gartner's new top 30 entrants -- Egypt and Morocco -- hail from the EMEA region.

Dropping off of Gartner's list were Northern Ireland, Sri Lanka, Turkey and Uruguay.

The outsourcing landscape is changing, according to Gartner. When the United States was the prime driver of outsourcing activity, outsourcing centers with strong English language skills tended to predominate. Although the United States is still a major buyer of outsourced services, other countries -- notably France -- have also ramped up their own outsourcing engines. One upshot of this is that countries with significant French-speaking populations (e.g., Canada, Morocco and Vietnam) are emerging as centers of offshore activity.

Gartner also remarked on a shift toward near-shore locales, largely to help mitigate the disruptions posed by time zone differences and travel requirements. As a result, near-shore centers such as Egypt, Panama and Thailand made their first appearances on Gartner's list.

Elsewhere, Gartner highlighted the growing importance of offshore outsourcing centers in the Americas, largely because the United States -- still the prime mover in global outsourcing -- itself is home to a growing Spanish-speaking population.

"Latin-American countries are able to leverage their Spanish-language skills increasingly in the U.S. as more organizations now require Spanish language from their providers for communication with parts of their workforce who speak Spanish as a first language," the Gartner release said.

As time goes on -- and if the economic crisis worsens -- Gartner expects that outsourcing providers will increasingly cultivate non-traditional outsourcing locales chiefly as a means of enhancing their proximities relative to emerging outsourcing customers, such as (especially) Scandinavia and France. "Given the current financial turmoil, cost will remain an important factor. However, having the right balance between lower cost and higher risks, and lower risks and higher costs, will be critical in times of recession and uncertainty," Marriott concluded.

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Monday, January 12, 2009

Half of Developers Report Hosted Software Projects

New global research forecasts a swift rise in development plans for Software as a Service applications in the next 12 months.

The research released today from Santa Cruz, Calif.-based Evans Data Corp. indicates that 51.9 percent of the developers surveyed expect to work on SaaS applications in the coming year, a marked increase from the 12 to 15 percent who reported SaaS projects a year ago.

SaaS -- software that uses a hosted delivery model and usage-based pricing -- is a subset of Internet-based cloud services, an emerging service model built on cloud computing. Of those surveyed, less than 10 percent reported using cloud services, citing security as the biggest concern. A quarter of all respondents -- and almost half of the Asia-Pacific developers-- indicated plans to use cloud computing "at some point," according to Evans Data.

Conducted biannually, the Evans Data Global Development Survey is based on data collected from extensive Web questionnaires filled out by 1,300 developers (in multiple languages) in North America, Asia-Pacific and Europe, Middle East, and Africa.

According to the latest survey results, SaaS activity is highest in North America, where 30 percent of developers reported currently working on hosted software applications. Developers in the Asia-Pacific region indicated the highest rate of adoption of SaaS dev projects during the next 12 months. Asia-Pacific coders also reported high rates of Internet application development, with 68 percent currently working some of the time on RIA projects. Developers in Europe, the Middle East and Africa reported the least SaaS activity, but 53 percent cited plans to work on hosted software apps in the next 12 months.

Survey data also indicated that 37 percent of North American respondents use virtualization for some aspect of their development. VMware was cited as the most popular vendor in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, followed by Microsoft.
The increase in global SaaS development, attributed to lower upfront investment costs and speed of deployment, did not correlate with a rise in service-oriented architecture.

"In terms of SOA, we see no change in these Global Survey Results versus those from six months ago," said John F. Andrews, CEO and president of Evans Data Corp. "In both surveys, 43 percent of the developers' companies have deployed SOA at some level."

.NET development also fell slightly in the last six months, according to survey results. "In terms of .NET, 47 percent said in the last survey that they would target the .NET architecture for their applications versus 41 percent for this current survey," Andrews said.

Evans Data is conducting a Global Development Survey on cloud computing and SaaS this quarter with research results expected later this year, according to Andrews.

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Microsoft Invests in Touch

Microsoft is the key investor in the latest round of funding to N-trig, a supplier of digitizers and software that enable touch-based computing.

N-trig, an Israel-based company with a U.S. office in Austin, Texas, today announced it has received $24 million from Aurum Ventures, Challenger Ltd., Canaan Partners, Evergreen Venture Partners and Microsoft. While N-trig is not providing a breakdown of the financing, Microsoft is leading the investment, according to an N-trig spokeswoman.

Microsoft's investment in N-trig is noteworthy because the company is a key provider of the touch technology used in numerous tablet PCs and recent touch-enabled computers, such as Dell's Latitude XT and Hewlett-Packard's TouchSmart tx2. Microsoft has also been talking up the touch capabilities in its forthcoming Windows 7 operating system, which was released for beta testing last week.

N-trig demonstrated its DuoSense technology on the pre-beta release of Windows 7 at the recent Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC). The digitizer will provide a data stream based on the Windows 7 architecture, said Lenny Engelhardt, vice president of business development, in an interview in November.

"Microsoft came to us early on and said, 'Look, we want to allow, in Windows 7, true multi-touch from the operating system level,'" Engelhardt said.

While there is no shortage of skepticism over whether touch will become anything more than a niche market, Englehardt believes the release of Windows 7 will give it broader appeal. That said, he admitted, "I don't think the mouse will disappear."

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Microsoft Extends Free Windows 7 Beta to Jan. 24

Microsoft on Saturday extended the general availability of its free Windows 7 Beta trial offer through Jan. 24 and removed the cap on the number of downloads within that time. Previously, the company had said the offer was limited to the first 2.5 million downloads on Jan. 9.

A Windows blog on Jan. 9 had described high demand, causing Microsoft to add "some additional infrastructure support" to meet it. Microsoft had refused to say when the download offer would start on Jan. 9, causing many expressions of frustration on the Windows blog.

"It's almost evening in Redmond Washington, (it's 15:46 in Redmond) do you know where your download is?" wrote one person on Friday in response to the delay.

The availability of registration keys for the beta reportedly has been a problem, although Microsoft's blogs have noted that people will get the keys after they register and they can still run the software for 30 days without them.

Microsoft launched a new ad campaign on Monday with the slogan, "It's everybody's business," which mentions the tough economy. However, the Windows 7 Beta launch seems an even better campaign by whipping up demand and then creating an artificial shortage at the same time.

The public beta release of Windows 7 is designed for enthusiasts, rather than the general public. Microsoft lists the beta's requirements and some cautionary steps to take before using it on the Windows 7 download page.

So far, Microsoft's Windows 7 TechNet Forum shows people experiencing some driver incompatibility problems with the beta. Users described problems with lack of sound, printers not working and a dead keyboard/mouse combination.

Microsoft has been publicly stating that those applications that work with Windows Vista will work with Windows 7. For the Windows 7 Beta, the company indicates that Windows Vista Service Pack 1 must be installed prior to using the beta.

Microsoft's own bloggers have reported problems getting drivers to work with the Windows 7 Beta, such as wireless drivers and video drivers. The latter blogger recommends running Windows Update after installing Windows 7 Beta to pick up any missing drivers.

One report suggested that Windows 7 Beta has a problem with XDDM graphics drivers that may have worked before with Windows Vista. Another report described a problem running "McAfee Total Protection or antivirus" with Windows 7 Beta.

Microsoft published an update to Windows Media Player and Windows Media Center that addresses MP3 file playback problems when using Windows 7 Beta.

Other than the forums, Microsoft isn't providing any technical support with this beta release, which expires in August. Microsoft's main public news communications on Windows 7 is typically through its team blog feeds, which are linked here.

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Friday, January 9, 2009

Microsoft Releases Beta of Windows Server 2008 R2

The beta of Windows Server 2008 R2 is currently available for download by TechNet Plus and Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) subscribers, as well as by technology enthusiasts. The public beta was published on Jan. 2, according to a Microsoft Download Center page, where enthusiasts can get the beta.

Microsoft's server news was somewhat eclipsed by the release of the Windows 7 client beta, as announced on Wednesday by Microsoft's CEO Steve Ballmer at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Microsoft's server and client Windows operating systems now share a common code base, which may account for the coinciding release dates.

Both betas, at least, share the same expiration date in August 2009.

The common code base signifies "a new level of synergy between server and client operating systems," according to Oliver Rist, Microsoft's technical product manager for Windows Server marketing. He cited a number of management benefits with the R2 beta, including improved remote access, a BranchCache facility and improved group policy and security controls.

A highly anticipated feature in the R2 beta of Windows Server 2008 has to do with the server's virtualization component, called Hyper-V. Microsoft has made it easier with this beta to move virtual machines around without service disruption. This new "Live Migration" feature is explained more fully here.

The R2 beta uses the PowerShell 2.0 management tool, which includes "over 240 new cmdlets out of the box" plus development tools for creating new ones, Rist explained in the Windows Server Division Weblog. Microsoft is currently working on adding new "GUI-based management consoles" based on PowerShell, he added.

Many of the features in the R2 beta were described late last year. Microsoft's partners have been reviewing the new R2 Windows Server technology for a few months now, and a pre-beta of Windows Server 2008 R2 was unveiled in late October at Microsoft's Professional Developers Conference.

In early November, Microsoft made a big splash at its Windows Hardware Engineering Conference over the ability of Windows Server 2008 R2 to handle 256 logical processors. A Microsoft official suggested at WinHEC that Microsoft will be better positioned to address about half the server market using the new beefed up processing power in Windows Server 2008 R2.

The new R2 server may offer some advantages for database administrators who plan to run Microsoft SQL Server on it, according to a post by Microsoft blogger Andrew Fryer. Running SQL Server on the Windows Server 2008 R2 core can boost memory and CPU capabilities, provide greater security and make patching easier, he claimed in his blog.

TechNet subscribers can access the Windows Server 2008 R2 Beta here. MSDN subscribers can get it at this link. Windows Server 2008 is only available as a 64-bit solution.

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Key Technology Introduced in Hyper-V

The beta release of the update to Windows Server 2008 will be of special interest to those who work with virtualization, as it unveils a key technology long-promised by Microsoft.

A blog on Microsoft's TechNet Website announced earlier this week that the "R2" beta version of Windows 2008 includes significant upgrades to Hyper-V, Microsoft's proprietary hypervisor. The most crucial of these is the introduction of "Live Migration," which allows virtual machines (VMs) to be moved from one physical server to another with no downtime or loss of connectivity.

Hyper-V originally shipped with "Quick Migration," which migrated running VMs with a short interruption. The interruption, however, did involve temporarily shutting down the VM, which can result in dropped connections and loss of system state data.

Live migration was originally supposed be part of the original Hyper-V release, code-named "Viridian" at that time, but it was delayed so that Microsoft could hit its shipping date. Hyper-V came out last June, and at that time Microsoft stated that the R2 release of Windows 2008 would include Live Migration in Hyper-V.

Hyper-V is included as part of Windows 2008, but also has a stand-alone version, called Hyper-V Server, that doesn't require Windows. It also includes Live Migration.

Live Migration is essential to help Microsoft compete with virtualization industry leader VMware. Palo Alto, Calif.-based VMware has included its version of Live Migration, known as Vmotion, in its ESX hypervisor for years. Many medium and large enterprises will not consider a hypervisor without Live Migration capability, according to Burton Group Analyst Chris Wolf, who specializes in virtualization.

"It's one of the core features that most enterprises must have," Wolf said. "It gets them (Microsoft) closer to leveling the playing field with VMware." Wolf says that Live Migration, while promising, will have to scale and perform well to be considered comparable to Vmotion.

Live Migration is also offered in other products, most notably the open source Xen hypervisor. Xen is the basis for virtualization platforms from a host of companies like Citrix, Virtual Iron, Novell, Sun and others.

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Microsoft Office Tool Supports iPhone

Users of Apple's iPhone may have been able to connect to Microsoft's Exchange Server, but they haven't been able to edit Office files in their native file format. Quickoffice this week moved to change that, releasing a new version of its MobileFiles Pro software on Apple's App Store during the Macworld Expo in San Francisco.

Currently, MobileFiles Pro can edit only native Excel files, but the Plano, Texas-based company plans to offer support for other Office file formats, said Gregg Fiddes, the company's VP of sales and strategic partnerships. "There are some apps out there that create and save in an XML format, but this is saving to a native .XLS format," he said. Users can connect and synchronize files with Apple MobileMe accounts.

Rival DataViz Inc., provider of the popular Documents To Go software, has indicated on its Web site that it also intends to offer a release for the iPhone.

While Quickoffice has offered native Office support on other mobile platforms -- BlackBerry, Palm and Symbian -- Apple's App Store represented a new delivery mechanism for the software developer, Fiddes said: "It's a very efficient mechanism." The App Store has created a new model for the development and delivery of mobile applications

MobileFiles Pro will likely support Google's Android platform in the not-too-distant future, according to Fiddes. He added the company has no plans to develop to Windows Mobile, noting Microsoft offers Office natively on its own platform. The new iPhone version costs $9.99.

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Windows 7 Beta: Don't Panic Getting It

TechNet Plus and Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) subscribers have reportedly had problems getting product keys to download the new Windows 7 Beta (Build 7000), which has been available since Wednesday. Microsoft noted the problem in its blogs and told its subscribers that the product keys are coming.

"Customers with this issue can be instructed to download and install Windows 7 Beta without the product key and then check back later when this issue is resolved," the TechNet team advised on Thursday.

Testers have some time. There is a 30-day grace period to add the product key before you get expiration messages.

Microsoft has advised IT professionals testing Windows 7 for their organizations not to download the free beta that is being generally distributed on Friday, Jan. 9.

The free beta, distributed as a 2.5 GB or 3 GB ISO, must be burned to a CD and then installed. It is a special offer to enthusiasts and limited to the first 2.5 million downloaders during an unspecified time period on Jan. 9. Users must have Windows Vista Service Pack 1 already installed on their PCs to use the free Windows 7 Beta, which expires on Aug. 1, 2009. A clean install is possible.

The free beta is supposed to be available from Microsoft's Windows 7 page on Friday afternoon. As of 11:30 a.m. Pacific time, a download link was not available.

Microsoft is offering a discount of 15 percent for new TechNet Plus subscribers using a discount code, according to this blog. TechNet Plus and MSDN subscribers also face an expiration date of Aug. 1, 2009 when trying out the new Windows 7 Beta.

For the Microsoft partner community, the Windows 7 Beta can be accessed by logging into the partner portal. It's available if they are TechNet Plus or MSDN subscribers. The portal, linked here, offers resources such as the Windows 7 Online Readiness Kit, which provides reference materials to get started with enterprise deployment presentations.

IT professionals experimenting with the Windows 7 Beta can test application compatibility using the Microsoft Application Compatibility Toolkit, which comes with the beta, according to Microsoft blogger Georgina M. A general resource describing Windows 7 is available on MSDN for developers.

For help with client management, blogger Georgina M mentions that Microsoft is planning a Windows TechCenter resource, which is expected by the end of this month. In the meantime, the TechNet Forum for Windows 7 is already available and can be accessed here.

Microsoft also offers an IT Pro Momentum program designed to help early adopters of various Microsoft technologies, as described here.

General resources for Windows 7 will be available to users via Microsoft's Springboard Series, which will include videos and walkthroughs. At the time of this writing, Microsoft's Springboard page lacked a tab for Windows 7. Currently, the page just points to some Windows 7 blogs.

The Channel 9 educational portal also includes an assortment of video talks about features in Windows 7, some of them dating back to Microsoft's Professional Developers Conference launch in October.

One Microsoft blogger who experimented with the Windows 7 Beta upgrade had some problems with a Virtual PC implementation. Kevin Remde, an IT pro evangelist with Microsoft, cautioned that the release is still in beta and lacks tools needed for remote administration.

"Do NOT upgrade to the Windows 7 Beta any machine that you're using for remote administration of domains or hyper-v," Remde warned. "Those tools won't be there, and to my knowledge they're not available yet."

The Windows 7 Microsoft TechNet Forum explains here that Virtual PC 2007 isn't officially supported with this beta release of Windows 7.

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