Tag Archives: cloud computing

New HP and Microsoft agreement commits $50 million less than similar 2006 deal

I’ve held back comment on the much-hyped HP and Microsoft three-year deal announced on Wednesday mainly because I’ve been uncertain of its significance, if any. It didn’t help that the press release was particularly opaque, full of words with many syllables but little meaning. I received the release minutes before the conference call, during which most of us were asking the same thing: how is this any different from what HP and Microsoft have always done?

It’s fun to compare and contrast with this HP and Microsoft release from December 2006 – three years ago:

We’ve agreed to a three-year, US$300 million investment between our two companies, and a very aggressive go-to-market program on top of that. What you’ll see us do is bring these solutions to the marketplace in a very aggressive way, and go after our customers with something that we think is quite unique in what it can do to change the way people work.

$300 million for three years in 2006; $250 million for three years in 2010. Hmm, not exactly the new breakthrough partnership which has been billed. Look here for what the press release should have said: it’s mainly common-sense cooperation and joint marketing.

Still, I did have a question for CEOs Mark Hurd and Steve Ballmer which was what level of cloud focus was in this new partnership, drawing these remarks from Ballmer:

The fact that our two companies are very directed at the cloud is the driving force behind this deal at this time. The cloud really means a modern architecture for how you build and deploy applications. If you build and deploy them to our service that we operate that’s called Windows Azure. If a customer deploys them inside their own data centre or some other hosted environment, they need a stack on which to build, hardware software and services, that instances the same application model that we’ll have on Windows Azure. I think of it as the private cloud version of Windows Azure.

That thing is going to be an integrated stack from the hardware, the virtualization layer, the management layer and the app model. It’s on that that we are focusing the technical collaboration here … we at Microsoft need to evangelize that same application model whether you choose to host in the the cloud or on your own premises. So in a sense this is entirely cloud motivated.

Hurd added his insistence that this is not just more of the same:

I would not want you to write that it sounds a lot like what Microsoft and HP have been talking about for years. This is the deepest level of collaboration and integration and technical work we’ve done that I’m aware of … it’s a different thing that what you’ve seen before. I guarantee Steve and I would not be on this phone call if this was just another press release from HP and Microsoft.

Well, you be the judge.

I did think Ballmer’s answer was interesting though, in that it shows how much Microsoft (and no doubt HP) are pinning their hopes on the private cloud concept. The term “private cloud” is a dubious one, in that some of the defining characteristics of cloud – exporting your infrastructure, multi-tenancy, shifting the maintenance burden to a third-party – are simply not delivered by a private cloud. That said, in a large organisation they might look similar to most users.

I can’t shake off the thought that since HP wants to carry on selling us servers, and Microsoft wants to carry on selling us licences for Windows and Office, the two are engaged in disguised cloud avoidance. Take Office Web Apps in Office 2010 for example: good enough to claim the online document editing feature; bad enough to keep us using locally installed Office.

That will not work long-term and we will see increasing emphasis on Microsoft’s hosted offerings, which means HP will sell fewer servers. Maybe that’s why the new deal is for a few dollars less than the old one.

Store any type of file in Google Apps – in effect, GDrive

Google has announced a new feature – the ability to upload any type of file to its online storage.

Over the next couple of weeks, we are rolling out the ability for Google Apps users to easily upload and securely share any type of file internally and externally using Google Docs. You get 1 GB of storage per user, and you can upload files up to 250 MB in size…Combined with shared folders in Google Docs, the upload feature is a great way to collaborate on files with coworkers and external parties.

Additional storage is available at $0.25/GB/yr according to this post.

Is this “GDrive” – the long-rumoured generic online storage from Google? Pretty much. Note however that Microsoft’s excellent SkyDrive already offers 25 GB of unrestricted online storage for free.

Enterprise customers who use the Premier Edition of Google Apps are also getting this service, but at a higher price: additional storage is $3.50/gb (or €3.00/gb in the EU). This storage is accessible via the Google Documents List Data API, enabling developers to create applications that backup or synchronise files between Google and client devices, and is therefore more comparable to Amazon’s Simple Storage Service (S3). Amazon has no free offering but S3 is modestly priced at $0.15 per GB per month, between Google’s consumer and business pricing, though note that Amazon also charges for data transfer.

Once third-parties do their stuff to make this look like any other network folder, this looks like a handy new feature. One advantage is that you can store Microsoft Office files in their native format, rather than having to convert them to Google documents with loss of fidelity.

It may also mean less usage for a popular workaround – emailing attachments to yourself in GMail.

Update: post revised to include information on Premier Edition.

Chrome OS: will Google keep its vision?

I spent some time with Chrome OS over the weekend and yesterday, first doing my own build of the open source Chromium OS, and then running it and writing a review.

The build process was interesting: you actually compile Chromium OS from a chroot virtual environment. My first efforts were unsuccessful, for two reasons. First, Chromium OS assumes the presence of a pre-built Chromium (the browser), so you have to either build Chromium first, or download a pre-built version. However, the Chromium build has to be customised for Chromium OS. I did manage to build Chromium, but it failed to run, with what looked like a gtk version error, so I gave up and downloaded a zip.

Chromium OS itself I did build successfully, though I ran into an error that needed this patch, which I applied manually. I was using the latest code from the git repository at the time. I expect that this problem has been fixed now though you may run into different ones; life on the bleeding edge can be painful.

I also had difficulty logging in. You are meant to log in with a Google account, which presumes a live internet connection at least on the first occasion. Although Chromium OS successfully used the ethernet connection on my laptop, getting an IP address and successfully pinging internet sites, the login still failed with a “Network not connected” error. Studying the logs revealed a certificate error. You can also create a backdoor user at build time, so I did that instead.

Once I got Chromium OS up and running, booting from a USB key, I found it mostly worked OK. It is a fascinating project, because of Google’s determination to avoid local application installs, thereby gaining better security as well as driving the user towards web solutions for all their needs.

That’s a bold vision, but also an annoying one. Normally, when reviewing something relevant like an operating system or a word processor, I try to write the review in the product I am testing. In fact, I am writing this post in Chromium OS. However, I could not write my review on Chromium OS, because I needed screenshots; and although there are excellent web-based image editing tools, I could not find a way to take screenshots and paste or upload them into those tools. The solution I adopted was to run Chromium OS in a virtual machine – I used VirtualBox – and take the screenshots from the host operating system.

It is a small point; but makes me wonder whether Google will end up bundling just a few local utilities to make the web-based life a little easier. If it does so, third parties will want to add their own; and Google will be under pressure to abandon its idea of no local application installs.

Another interesting point: the rumour is that Google will unify Chrome OS  with Android, which does allow application installs. Can that happen without providing a way to run Android apps on Chrome?

Chromium OS includes a calculator utility, which opens in a panel. Mine does not work though; I get a blank panel with the URL http://welcome-cros.appspot.com/calculator.html – which seems to be a broken link. Still, is that really a sensible way to provide a calculator? What about offline – will it work from a Gears local web server, or as a static HTML page with a JavaScript calculator, or will it not work at all?

I will be interested to see whether Google ends up compromising a little in order to improve the usability and features of its new OS.