I just read Steve Duplessie’s take on the HDS acquisition of Bluearc. If I had a dollar for every time I read about HDS buying a NAS appliance, I’d still be poor. They tried it a few times with some small OEMs over the years and in most cases the problem was part technology and part a sales issue.

Let’s face it… HDS is used to selling humongosaur-like systems to the very large enterprises who can afford to buy big iron. Much of HDS’ traditional hardware (manufactured by parent Hitachi) is designed around block-based storage (yes, agree with Steve on this).

Unfortunately for HDS, and lucky for NAS-behemoth NetApp, there are still customers out there, even the big ones, who need file storage  because companies still store a lot of information in the form of files – probably a lot more than you feel comfortable with. I have a 1.5TB redundant NAS appliance at home serving the four members of my family. Yes, applications like ERP, CRM and SCM have limited use for NAS systems and will run a lot faster if the database is running off a powerful SAN engine. But for 100% of employees in any company, they will need to store their files in the network somewhere – and a NAS is a perfect place for that.

So back to HDS… why does HDS need a NAS solution? Likely because customers are hinting they need it. But more importantly lacking a NAS  solution gives competitors like NetApp a window to get in and slowly eat through the HDS armor that surrounds Mr Enterprise customer.

Will this ever work for HDS? I think the bigger challenge for HDS is understanding the technology and being able to sell it convincingly.  From history, this is where the rubber meets the road. This is where all those countless NAS technologies that HDS tried to sell got buried. The good news is HDS has had a few years of history selling BlueArc. Now its just a matter of getting the sales people (in Asia) to get moving.

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I never intended this to be a gaming review as I haven’t been a regular gamer since after I graduated from college and started working to pay the bills. But I am an avid movie watcher and I do a lot of photo and video editing. So my criteria for a laptop, since I also like to take my work wherever I go, is one that is light and powerful enough for photo and video editing. I’ve experimented with business and multimedia laptops and in all the years I’ve always, always, been disappointed. I’ve tried my hands on Apple, Asus, Dell, HP, Lenovo (formerly IBM), Sony and Toshiba, and hand in heart I can say in all honesty I can get my work done but I have time spare to watch TV, eat a meal or snack, and in a few cases take a shower (too much info?).

Then I read about Alienware computers – machines built from the ground up for serious gamers. The distinctive “sci-fi” styling, reminding us that we are not alone, together with the flashing logo/ keyboard and what looks like front headlights of the batmobile, give Alienware machines an eerie look if left alone in the dark.

I got a chance to try out the smallest gaming laptop on the planet courtesy of Ogilvy PR in Hong Kong. I was surprised at the simplistic packaging the laptop came in. I was even more surprised at the heft (2 kg) this tiny 11.25″ x 9.19″ x 1.29″ came in with. The magnesium-alloy chassis looks and feels thicker making the business-standard Thinkpad look like a plastic toy in comparison. I actually thought that Alienware machines were built from slabs of steel.

What I Like
Honestly, I didn’t like the keyboard when I saw it on photos. I still didn’t like it when I looked at a unit at the Dell display store in Wanchai. But after spending some time typing and banging away, I just had to shut up. The individual keys hold a traditional shape that is slightly curved in the middle of each key. Key spacing is quite good and each key has the perfect amount of feedback with minimal side travel. Some nights I had to work with the lights out in the bedroom and the LED backlit with transparent key frame were a blessing. You have to be a Trekker to appreciate the futuristic font look of the key labels. More importantly, the support frame beneath the keyboard is rock solid.

For an 11 incher, the Alienware MX11 R3 doesn’t skimp on ports (My work laptop a Dell E4310 has one USB 2.0 and a USB/e-sata combo port). It comes with one USB 2.0 and two USB 3.0 ports, FireWire, a 3-in-1 media card slot, Ethernet, standard audio jack, and two video out options: HDMI and DisplayPort.

What I Don’t Like
Apart from the hefty size-to-weight (pound for pound this is a heavy machine), it also gets reasonably hot underneath despite the backlit fan (very quiet) which tries to desperately cool down the machine. I don’t want to speculate what the laptop would feel like without the fan.

Some reviewers pounce on the glossy display which makes it very difficult to read the screen in the outdoors but you can correct this with one of those anti-glare screen protectors which most laptop owners do anyway to protect their investments. Of course you have to taper it a bit since the overall shape of the display is not exactly rectangular. A more serious problem might be the very narrow viewing sweet spot on the MX11. If you move your head just a little bit you won’t see an completely black screen during dark scenes in a game (also applies when video or photo editing!).

I know this is a gaming machine but why did Alienware decide to be stingy with the Synaptics touchpad? Yes the honeycomb textured surface makes for smooth, controlled finger movement and the buttons are responsive but it’s very small! Note to Alienware engineers – checkout the Macbook Air and learn!

One Other Thing
The MX11 comes pre-installed with Windows 7 Home 64-bit. But the truly important software is the Command Center. The clearly laid out and intuitive user interface allows the case illumination to be adjusted (AlienFX), as well as configuring the power options (AlienFusion), and the touchpad (AlienTouch).

Rumour has it that optical drives are on the way out. Apple appears to spearhead this drive with recent hardware releases missing optical drives. I actually thought the MX11 would have a slot loading drive. But it doesn’t. Do I need one? I actually rarely use the optical drive on my E4310 but it is handy on those occasions when I need to install software from disc, watch a DVD from a disc, or burn a DVD. But I can’t say I’ll be willing to pay extra for it.

The 15″ and 17″ siblings of the MX11 have twin vents on the front of the laptop which is part of the cooling system. I really don’t understand why Alienware technicians decided to forego this feature on the MX11. Maybe it’s an internal design constraint?

Did I mention that the battery is built-in? Laptop aficionados might scowl at this but compared to Apple, Dell understands that the battery is user replaceable. The MX11 has a single massive cover panel for the battery, hard drive, wireless cards and memory slots and uses eight standard Phillips screws for easy disassembly. Current Apple laptops are 100% non-user replaceable so that Apple can charge you a steep price for additional memory or to replace your battery or hard drive. How is that for customer friendly design? Alienware even designed the screws with retention clips so they don’t fall out when unscrewing. Something Steves and Co might want to think about if it truly cares what customers think. Fat chance!

Most reviews I’ve seen of the MX11 point to an odd approach taken with the Klipsch speakers. The downward-firing drivers located on the bottom front end means that the sound can be muffled if you put your laptop on a flat surface. Alienware engineers did include two small sound channels into the chassis to redirect sound forward through the two decorative LED panels on the front but for my money this is not good enough. Of course I shouldn’t complain since most other laptops use tiny speakers making it almost mandatory to keep a pair of headsets ready for those odd moments when you want to listen to music, watch a video or hold a conference call via Skype. MX11 designers included two headphone jacks!

Would I buy an MX11 as my permanent laptop? Pound for pound, the MX11 is true value for money. You get the power typically found in larger, heavier and more expensive machines, yes even against Apple, at a much lower price point. Bravo Dell for finally making Alienware the gaming machine for the masses.

TECH SPEC (At a Glance):
Processor: Intel® Core™ i7-2617M 1.5GHz (2.6GHz w/Turbo Boost, 4MB Cache)
Operating: System Genuine Windows® 7 Home Premium 64bit Multi-Language (Traditional Chinese / English)
Display: 11.6″ (29.5cm) WLED HD (720p) display (WXGA 1366X768)
Graphics: Dual graphics with Intel HD Graphics 3000 and 2.0GB DDR3 NVIDIA GeForce GT 540M
Memory: 8GB DDR3 SDRAM at 1333MHz (upgradeable to 16GB)
Hard Drive: 750GB 7500RPM (upgradeable to 256GB SSD)
Connectivity: Wi-Fi a/b/g/n, 375 Bluetooth, Gigabit Ethernet, integrated SIM card port
Camera: 2.0 Megapixel Camera with dual digital microphones
Battery: 8-cell
Price: HK$11,999 (USD1,548)

Other Review:
Compreviews: http://compreviews.about.com/od/PC-Gaming-Laptops/fr/Alienware-M11x-Spring-2011.htm
Notebook Check: http://www.notebookcheck.net/Review-Alienware-M11x-R3-Gaming-Notebook.51236.0.html
Alienware Video Review

On August 16, Dell announced its intention to acquire 3PAR Data, better recognized as one of the early pioneers of virtualized storage. A week HP made a counter offer that ups the bidding war for one of the few remaining storage pureplay startups in the once crowded enterprise storage marketplace.

Why is Dell interested in 3PAR? Dell’s storage business has largely depended on its OEM agreement with EMC (in force until 2013). But its storage buys of the last decade (ConvergeNet Technologies, EquaLogic, Exanet, Ocarina Networks) coupled with its Perot Systems acquisition suggests that Dell has higher ambitions than being a successful reseller of storage boxes that plug and play to its servers. The EquaLogic buy gave it iSCSI SANs (despite Dell having rights to sell EMC Celerra NX4).

For its part, HP has as much interest to keep Dell from acquiring 3PAR. Adding 3PAR to its portfolio puts Dell in the thick of the data center. A serious mid to high-end storage virtualization offering means more opportunities to sell high-end services, and possibly making a serious dent on HP’s ProLiant server and EVA/low-end XP storage business. A 3PAR solution overlaps with some of the XP and EVA so there might be a consolidation. I would not be surprised if HDS will come out the loser since it gives HP one more reason to stop the OEM relationship with the Japanese manufacturer (Rumors of HP trying to buy the system storage business of Hitachi have been playing around for well close to a decade now. So far the Japanese vendor has resisted the offer).

HP with 3PAR also puts the Palo Alto stalwart into serious contention in the cloud storage business, something EMC has been building over the last few years.The latest entrant to the cloud bandwagon is HDS.

The storage industry remains vibrant if not shrinking. The last few brands worth buying, remaining untethered to any system vendor, Brocade and Qlogic. Acquiring Brocade would give HP the ump it needs to up the ante in the storage networking space, seriously putting a rock in front of the Cisco jauggernaut. HP would also do well to buy Qlogic making further inroads into the total server-storage-networking storyline.

If Dell loses 3PAR to HP, the only other target on sight would be Compellent. Not exactly near the possibilities that 3PAR offers to the company. The next battleground is in the software space with backup and recovery solutions a consistent enterprise requirement and for which the choices are aplenty despite Symantec’s dominance. The Veritas acquisition has made Symantec vulnerable to enterprise-grade, low-cost solutions from the likes of Acronis, Commvault and BakBone.

For the moment, the storage market is not the most boring place in the tech industry.

Back in the days when IBM still had a personal computer division, the Thinkpad series (first released in 1992) were targeted at mid- to large enterprises that wanted transportable computers that were rugged, asthetic and had the computing power needed to run most business applications. The classic Thinkpad designed has remained largely unchained over the years. However, the business dynamics of enterprises have changed. Economic downturns and the need for greater cost control have led managers to agree to use other brands as long as they did the job.

This changed in the perception among business executives is one of the reasons why Dell and HP successfully penetrated the enterprise despite being considered of inferior design and manufacture (to date, I still hear executives swear they will never use either brand with reliability cited as the most common reason).

When Lenovo bought the PC division from IBM, the Chinese company (in China they were known as Legend) decided to keep what it saw was a ‘winning’ design formula in the Thinkpad. Lenovo launched less the less pricy, 3000 series to target small businesses as well as consumers. The 3000 (C, N and V) series was eventually discontinued and giving rise to the Ideapad series with a much better aesthetic formfactor to meet a more design-conscious market. The Thinkpad family continued to be sold at a premium and despite new technology and materials, the external design remained the same – staid, boxy, heavy and black. Most executives I see carried their Thinkpad on a carry-case with wheels (that should tell you something).

If Apple Computer were to be credited with changing industry perception about personal computers is that you don’t have to be drab (dressed in black) to be productive, efficient and business-like. In fact you can be all of these and also be cool.

At the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2010, Lenovo decided to give the Thinkpad a facelift. The first two models to come off the show floor were the Thinkpad X100e and the Thinkpad Edge. The X100e is the first netbook for the business executive. I’ve read a number of very positive reviews about the X100e and so did my own review when I was handed the new netbook for a few days of handholding. True to its legacy, the X100e is a laptop with the business executive in mind. It carried everything you ever needed from your laptop at netbook prices. There were only two things I didn’t like about the X100e – weight (it was heavy at 1.36 kg) and the processor that came with the test unit was and AMD Athlon Neo MV-40 was not as energy efficient as the Intel Atom processors (of course the AMD chip has more compute horsepower compared to its Intel counterpart).

In the conventional laptop category, Lenovo launched the Thinkpad Edge, a 13.3″ laptop sporting a new body and new keyboard, while retaining the Thinkpad tradition of rugged, solid design. (more…)

The turn of the century was a bad omen for computing industry stalwart Sun Microsystems. Once seen as leading the pack in the Unix server market, its decline in fortune may have stemmed from its refusal to accept early on the potential of the Intel x86 platform as a viable, computing workhorse for all but the most demanding of applications.

As far back as 2002, Sun faced quarter-upon-quarter of revenue decline even as analysts estimate the market was actually picking up steam with rising server revenues by most vendors (except Sun).  And so it was that nearly 8 years later, Sun finally conceded defeat accepting an offer by database giant, Oracle, to be acquired for US$7.4 billion at 2009 levels.

Should the industry mourn the death of Sun? I don’t quite revenue the atmosphere during the days when Digital Equipment closed it’s doors following the completion of its acquisition by Compaq (itself eventually gobbled up by HP).

Will the sunset for a veteran hardware vendor mark the official beginnings of the dawn of the software age? It can be argued that for many years most industry observers swooned to the music of hardware vendors. Even today we applaud with each new processor by Intel, or the new lineup of Thinkpad laptops, and tomorrow – January 27, 2010 – the much anticipated Apple tablet device (or whatchamacallit). Sure, we turn our heads when Microsoft launched the latest incarnation of its much despised yet very popular Windows operating system. Yes, enterprises raised their hands to view the latest SAP ERP software. And definitely, businesses are listening more intently on how Software-as-a-Service will reduce their CAPEX cost considerably and make them look better on the accounting books because OPEX doesn’t hurt their market positioning as much as CAPEX.

Its hard to figure out when the software revolution started. But you can bet that just as Apple revolutionized the MP3 market not with a neat, flashy, fancy music player (on the contrary it defined convention by being overly simple) but with software, so too will we finally see the years ahead as the period when software defined how consumers and enterprises will use technology.

For the moment, we bid fond adieu to one of the pioneers of hardware-based computing solutions – Mr Scott McNealy. He is, by many reckoning one of the more colorful characters of Silicon Valley. Hopefully his legacy will somehow survive under the watch of Oracle CEO, Mr Larry Ellison – another industry stalwart.

CEO farewells are fun to read because they are often drafted by wordsmiths who don’t fully understand the emotional turmoil that accompanies an executive’s departure. I am not sure if Mr McNealy hired a professional writer for his farewell but it certainly paints a sad story of the rise and fall of an icon. So before you take out that tissue to wipe away the sadness in his farewell message, watch this video to take the bite out of Mr McNealy’s bittersweet farewell.

Click more for the memo. (more…)

Picked up early this morning on Wall Street Journal is breaking news about a potential sale of Brocade to the right buyer. Among the parties interested in the networking vendor are Hewlett-Packard and Oracle.

Brocade has a market cap of US$3.2 billion with 2008 revenue at nearly US$1.5 billion.

Any sale of Brocade will likely impact the business of HP, IBM, HDS, Sun Microsystems and EMC. All these vendors resell Brocade-made products either under OEM or the Brocade label. In the short-term, Cisco sales people will have a field day running after long-time Brocade customers and channel partners as the usual “fear, uncertainty and doubt” or FUD gets thrown in to wreck the nerves of companies that have invested heavily in Brocade technology to keep their storage area networks up and running.

Brocade dominates the Fibre Channel switch market following its acquisiton of McData in 2006. Recognizing the importance of Ethernet in the overall network storage fabric ecosystem, it bought Foundry Networks in 2008.

Rumors of Brocade being up for sale dates back as far as 2003 when McData was rumored to be in talks with Brocade to acquire the latter. But three years later, it was the other way around. I doubt that we will see Cisco buying Brocade if only to kill the competition and dominate the market. but certainly if HP acquires Brocade it would significantly enhance its networking capability.

Rumors of HP’s interest in Brocade have been floating around for years. It would certainly complement’s HP’s networking portfolio which is largely hinged on the HP ProCurve business and supplemented by its OEM deal with Brocade.

Oracle is the bigger wildcard here. Oracle is in the midst of closing its Sun Microsystems acquisitions. The market is awash with rumors that the hardware piece of Sun would be sold off. But if Oracle were to acquire another hardware vendor – say Brocade – it would certainly mean that any potential sale of Sun hardware may no longer be on the table and that Oracle is really commited to its CEO’s vision of offering customers complete systems.

Ittai Kidron, an analyst at Oppenheimer & Co., explains in a research note that an Oracle acquisition of Brocade suggests the company will have to commit to the hardware business for the long-term. Brocade is a nice fit and has no overlap with its Sun purchase according to Kidron.

Any acquisition of Brocade by any of the server vendor will have to be thought out properly. Brocade has large OEM and reseller deals with a number of server vendors. As the Cisco entry into the server business has shown, vendors will more than likely shop elsewhere if Brocade becomes just another product line of a server vendor.

Enterprise Strategy Group analyst Bob Laliberte reckons IBM and Dell may also be potential buyers, “I don’t think you’ll see EMC or Cisco buy them.”

Stifel Nicolaus Equity Research analyst Aaron Rakers also put in Juniper as another possible buyer.

Watch this space as we monitor, report and analyze the developments surrounding the potential sale of Brocade. At this point it is everyone’s guess as neither Brocade nor the potential suitors are saying mum. It is also very possible that Brocade is just trying to get a feel for the market. Afterall rumors are the stuff of the tech industry.

It sounds apocalyptic but its nowhere near that. Following Dell’s acquisition of Perot Systems, Norwalk-based Xerox announced it is buying Affiliated Computer Services (ACS) for US$6.4 billion. Xerox is best known for its copier business and more resently repositioned itself (a little) as a document management company – much the same ways as its traditional competitors like Canon and Ricoh.

According to the Xerox press release, the acquisition will create a US$22 billion “global enterprise for documnet technology and business process outsourcing”. This deal puts Xerox in the US$150 billion BPO map.

ACS is one of those American companies that outsources a large chunk of its operations to outside the US, having started this model outsourcing to Mexico and Ghana in the early years – according to the Wall Street Journal. It gets majority of its business in the US though, particularly in the US healthcare sector where it claims it did about US$1 billion (out of US$6.5 billion). ACS reports that 40% of its revenue comes from government contracts.

The debate around the merits of this acquisition will run for sometime with industry observers watching how Xerox integrates the much larger ACS into the fold and train its own sales organization to sell BPO services. Expect to see a scramble among back-office BPO players to reposition themselves against a much larger, albeit less focused, Xerox/ACS.

Phil Fersht, a research director at AMR Research, wrote on his blog that the challenge for the combined entity is “a new throng of competitors in this space: Cognizant, Genpact, Infosys, TCS et al., and not solely the incumbents such as Accenture, Capgemini and IBM. The combined Xerox-ACS business will have a short-term potential to consolidate a commanding position in back-office BPO areas such as document management, call center, payroll, benefits admin and accounts payable.”

Robert Brown, an analyst with Gartner, believes this acquisition is about combining Xerox’ technologies, brand and global reach to ACS’ BPO leadership. The fact that ACS has strong penetrayion into the US healthcare industry is a tangetial piece to the rationale.” He concedes that healthcare BPO services will remain strong for the coming years.

What is the impact of this deal to Asia Pacific? Not much at least in the short term according to TJ Singh, Gartner research director for BPO. “It’s important to note that in Asia, Xerox operates through their JV with Fuji (FujiXerox). Currently Fuji Xerox has BPO assets in Asia Pacific, especially in Australia whilst ACS uses the region primarily as an offshore service delivery location. In the near term, the focus of this merger will be on North America and EMEA but over the medium to long term we should see greater engagement in Asia Pacific as the new entity streamlines its (BPO) sales, marketing and operations with FujiXerox and explores new opportunities.”

What he means is that incumbent BPOs in Asia can relax… for now. But when the BPO-armed Xerox comes to town, then the weeping and grinding of teeth can begin.

What can we expect after this? More M&As in the outsourcing front. Companies worth considering include CSC (USA), CGI (Canada), WNS (India) and Patni (India).

The New York Times quotes Rod Bourgeois, an analyst at Bernstein Research as saying “the merger trend isn’t over, but you are running out of companies that are small enough to reasonably acquire and yet large enough to make a difference”.

Gartner senior vice president of Research, Pete Sondergaard, notes that the outsourcing trend will continue not because labor costs are high but because technology is getting too complex to manage cost-effectively. Operating expenses are up, fix asset costs are coming down.