February 2011


Dell laptops closely mimic the Thinkpad series from Lenovo – they tend to be monochromic from an industrial design perspective. This is particularly true if you look at Dell’s laptops by family (Inspiron, Latitude, XPS and Vostro). Occasionally Dell will venture outside of conventional norm and come up with something that takes it out of its comfort zone (sort of).

The XPS Adamo is one good example. This review, though, is not about the Adamo. Rather it is about the Vostro V130. Dell targets the small business with this series. Small business people tend to want to buy devices that are less on feature and more on style (I think). And while I would think that budgets can be tight, the lack of good, depth of IT knowledge often means that purchases are driven by perception and/or first impressions.

Just before Chinese New Year I was offered to test drive the Dell Vostro V130. My first impression when the laptop was delivered to my office was that this isn’t the Dell laptop that I’ve come to know. I’ve used Dell laptops (Inspiron and Latitude) over eight years and during that period associate the brand with no frills, unimpressive computers.
OBSERVATIONS
The Vostro V130 is not the first Dell laptop to sport a brushed metal alloy (Alloy is a combination of aluminium, zinc and magnesium). The Dell Vostro V130 has a stylish and distinguished look. At 330mm x 16.5-19.7mm x 23mm, this is one of the slimmer of models that has come out of Dell in recent years. The result is a laptop that will turn heads not only with its looks but certainly when viewing 720P quality videos.

I am made to understand that the V130 is one of a new breed of hybrid laptops that stand between conventional laptops (big and heavy) and netbooks (small and under powered). By taking the best of both worlds, hybrids meet the needs of people who travel around constantly for a computing device that will run almost all of their business and entertainment applications without breaking their backs carrying a computer.

One area where Dell chose to deviate from the norm is with the Vostro V130 keyboard. Most other brands and models use the chicklet keyboard favored by Apple. The V130 uses what I can only quess are conventional keys. Touch typists, or just about anyone who types for long periods at a time will appreciate the tactile feedback that the V130 keyboard delivers.


WHAT I LIKE

While I don’t condone the purchase of laptops because they look cool, Apple has certainly made it ‘almost’ a required practice among laptop manufacturers to bring in industrial design talent to design and build laptops that not only perform well but also look good. Executives who have used laptops, Dell’s in particular, will likely give the Vostro V130 a second look particularly if they see the Dell logo.

I had this running on battery and then on AC adapter for a good day and noticed that it stayed relatively cool, even against the Thinkpad X201s that I use at work. I understand that Dell used Intel’s Hyperbaric cooling technology to keep this laptop cool (the chassis is designed to draw in air fro outside to keep the system cool and quiet). It draws in air from the left side and shoots warmer air from the right side.

I do a lot of video editing work and for my money, I found the Vostro V130 sufficiently capable of helping me crunch video interview footage into stories I push online. Certainly, I find very little difference editing videos on the V130 versus the Thinkpad X201s that I use daily. And at nearly half the price, I certainly find the V130 a real bargain (vendor online pricing: X201 is HK$12,288 (after discount); V130 is HK$6,999 (before discount).
WHAT I DON’T LIKE
This is not a light laptop to carry around. The 1.59kg number is certainly deceiving. After a day of moving this laptop around the house and at work, I found it heavy altough it would be unfair to compare it to my work laptop which is a 12″ laptop.

The deal breaker for me with the V130 is the internal six-cell battery which delivers a mere 1.5 hours at full brightness and WiFi operational. At half-brightness, you get 2.5 hours. If the V130 is truly classed as an ultraportable, then it fails miserably in this one aspect – battery life. Whereas most laptops, even the horrendously expensive Apple Macbook Pros, offer battery life starting at 4.5 hours with some even boasting 8 hours. At 1.5 hours, one cannot but wonder what Dell was thinking when they designed this laptop. Is it possible that Dell used an inferior battery supplier or its designers failed to remember the one reason why people buy laptops, to be able to work away from a power source for long periods at a time.

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Our website is down! It takes too long for the website to get served! Why is the video playback so choppy? These are complains I hear all too often as head of the web team and the guy responsible for ensuring that our websites are up and running. As a business that has moved online in a slow but measured way, we now see the importance of staying up 24×7. But why 24×7? In the publishing world, our readers are globally located and working at local hours wherever they may be. And since one of the metrics for our success is the number of page views and unique visitors, we need to make sure that every experience readers have with our websites is flawlessly executed most of the time.

A friend suggested I consider a content delivery network (CDN) as a better way of serving our readers in a more reliable fashion. In this case reliable is not just about uptime but also about fast load times.

Wikipedia defines a content delivery network or content distribution network (CDN) as a system of computers containing copies of data, placed at various points in a network so as to maximize bandwidth for access to the data from clients throughout the network. A client accesses a copy of the data near to the client, as opposed to all clients accessing the same central server, so as to avoid bottlenecks near that server. In the context of the World Wide Web, the ‘network’ is the Internet and therefore client access is anywhere in the world.

There are many CDN service providers today. Amazon CloudFront, Microsoft Windows Azure, and Akamai Technologies are probably the most recognizable brands. It should be noted that BitTorrent (more recognized for its peer-to-peer networks) commercially sells CDN services.

The use of CDNs is not restricted to the publishing industry. CDN is ideal for businesses that require fast, accurate and reliable connection anywhere in the world with the emphasis on delivering similar service experience regardless of location.

I recently met some executives at Akamai Technologies to try and understand how the CDN business is moving forward in Asia. In a follow-up discussion, I touched based with Bruno Goveas, Head of Products for Asia Pacific at Akamai Technologies.

Are today’s network infrastructure geared to support the globally dispersed nature of customers?

Bruno Goveas, Head of Products for Asia Pacific, Akamai Technologies

Bruno Goveas, Head of Products for Asia Pacific, Akamai Technologies

Bruno Goveas: In recent years, with companies expanding into new geographies and having employees, partners and suppliers distributed across the globe, extending a company private network to support such a large user-base can be an expensive proposition, which is neither cost-effective nor scalable. Hence companies are enabling their applications to be accessible via the Internet to leverage its ubiquity and cost-effectiveness. The use of the Internet as a platform for business applications, to support the globally dispersed nature of customers, is critical for business agility and competitiveness.

Can having a cloud infrastructure setup of the scale of Google or Microsoft or Amazon be sufficient to deliver the availability/performance that customers expect from someone like Akamai? What makes Akamai different from the others?

Bruno Goveas: As Google or Microsoft or Amazon or other companies, offer public cloud solutions like Apps, Azure, BPOS, EC2 and S3, the reality of the cloud itself comes to bear. These applications are accessed over the Internet.  Without optimization services, cloud offerings are at the mercy of the Internet and its many bottlenecks — and the resulting poor performance has a direct impact on user adoption and hence the bottom line.

In order for companies to realize the potential of cloud computing, they will need to overcome the performance, reliability, and scalability challenges the Internet presents. That’s where cloud optimization services from Akamai comes in.

Combining Akamai cloud optimization services with cloud services from Amazon, Microsoft or Google, can help customers deliver the necessary levels of application performance and availability, that will be expected from their end-users, thus helping companies fully realize the ROI from their public cloud computing initiatives.  In addition, Akamai recently extended its cloud optimization capabilities towards security helping companies defend against network and  application-specific attacks,  further enhancing the integral need of cloud optimization services for any public cloud initiatives.

Akamai claims an SLA of 100% availability. How does the company ensure this is achieve and what performance guarantees does the company provide?

Bruno Goveas: This gets to the core of Akamai’s value proposition. Akamai has a global network of over 73,000+ servers in over 1,100 networks in 71 countries around that world. We leverage the intelligence we collect from our distributed platform, and apply a variety of proprietary and patented route, protocol and application optimization techniques to overcome inherent Internet challenges – peering/transit limitations, congestion issues, cable cuts caused by accidents and natural disasters like earth quakes and protocol inefficiencies – to accelerate the delivery of dynamic transactions, rich media content and software.

Is Akamai unique in this business? Probably not! For CDN providers like AT&T, Amazon or Microsoft Windows Azure to flourish, they must deliver comparable service quality at equal, if not better, price points.

Other CDN providers:

Free CDNs

Commercial CDNs

Commercial CDNs using P2P for delivery