Archive for the ‘Tech’ Category

Microsoft says new hybrid storage options can cut costs up to 60%

Microsoft Azure StorSimple storage options mix on premises with cloud resources.

Microsoft is coming out with new hardware and cloud management features for its StorSimple hybrid storage offering that promises lower costs and better data protection.

The new products, available Aug. 1, include two models of the new StorSimple 8000 storage array that are tied into a management platform and a virtual storage appliance, both deployed within Microsoft’s Azure cloud. The package is called Microsoft Azure StorSimple.

With it, customers can cut storage costs 40% to 60%, receive faster disaster recovery and access tools that provide detailed views of storage status and trends, Microsoft says in a blog.

The hardware – StorSimple 8100 and 8600 – tier data between SSD and HHD drives, but also with storage within the Azure cloud. This hybrid architecture gives customers the ability to readily expand overall storage capacity in the cloud and add disaster protections, the company says.
ms azure diagram

StorSimple Virtual Appliance supports the functionality of the on-premises StorSimple hardware except that it is deployed on virtual machines within the Azure cloud. Paired with StorSimple hardware at customer sites, the virtual appliance can run applications in the Azure cloud by accessing virtual volumes uploaded to the cloud from the on-site storage arrays.

This arrangement enables running new applications in Azure that use cloud-based snapshots of historical data without having to access it in the corporate data center, thus avoiding disruption of existing data-center workloads, the company says. The data used in this way must be from Windows Server, Hyper-V, Linux or VMware servers, according to Microsoft.

The Virtual Appliance can play a role in disaster recovery in Azure as well. Applications that have been virtualized in an Azure StorSimple array on-prem can be restarted on virtual machines within Azure using data that has been uploaded there beforehand. Once the on-site customer data center has been restored, any changes to the data in the cloud that were made during the restoration process are downloaded from the cloud, Microsoft says.

On-premises data is up loaded to Azure as cloud snapshots, which are like traditional storage snapshots only these are stored in Azure’s cloud. The cloud data deduplicated so it takes up less space and is synched with on-site data. Once in the cloud it can be used not only for disaster recovery but also for development and testing applications, search and application migration, Microsoft says.

The cloud-based management platform gives a central console for all the StorSimple storage arrays throughout an enterprise as well as the storage within the Azure cloud. This enables applying central policies and controls and gives access to all arrays automatically, says Mike Schutz, the general manager of product marketing for Microsoft’s Server and Tools Division. The manager also supports real-time status reports.

Detroit-based construction firm Walbridge has used StorSimple 7000s for three years and has saved 40% of its storage costs vs. what it would have spent over that time if it had continued buying on-prem servers, says Cynthia Weaver, the firm’s assistant vice president for IT.

She’s not certain the company will upgrade to Azure StorSimple but is intrigued by its ability to support disaster recovery to the cloud. Currently restoration requires a second StorSimple array to recover to. She says she’ll consider Azure StorSimple the next time she replaces some of the company’s remaining on-site storage.

Walbridge’s strategy is to move storage to the cloud as it retires outdated gear, Weaver says. Between StorSimple and Office 365, the company now stores more data in the cloud than it does on-site and has actually reduced the size of its data center and reallocated the space to create two offices, she says.

Microsoft bought the independent startup StorSimple in November 2012, and the introduction of Azure StorSimple is the first new generation of its product since then. The Store Simple hardware capacity ranges from 15T to 40T Byte on premises with support for 200T Byte in the cloud. The previous hardware family StorSimple 7000 ranged from 4T to 20T Byte.

The virtual appliance and cloud-based management are not available for StorSimple 7000 devices.

Microsoft’s StorSimple products compete against products from TwinStrata, now owned by EMC, Nasuni and Panzura, which act as storage gateways to public cloud services. Microsoft has the advantage of creating unique enhancements that come from controlling both the on-prem hardware and the cloud service.

 


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Impact of Today’s Hardware and Software Applications in Cloud-based Environments: Part 1

As an industry, we have been looking at cloud-based technologies both from private and public structure and how best to optimize design, engineer and develop such technologies to better optimize the world of wireless and the Internet of Everything.

But one aspect that has not been discussed at length is how poorly hardware and software perform in cloud-based environments. I want to discuss some of the challenges facing the industry and some potential solutions that can help create and bring a new revolution to the world of Wide Area Networks (WAN), along with the automation of practically every human-to-human and human-to-machine interface.

Currently, there are two technologies being discussed in almost every seminar or white paper being published—software defined networking (SDN) and network function virtualization (NFV). While these vary in structure by different vendors, clearly, all of them attack certain aspects of the mobile carrier network or Tier 1 landline networks. Let me give you my two-cents on what these technologies must address:

SDN must create a more agile network with the development of an open northbound interface. This becomes an enabler for service providers (SPs) to reduce time-to-market for service introduction, reduce capex unit cost by focusing network elements (NEs) to just move traffic, and reducing opex unit cost for network services that take significant human capital cost to deliver, such as establishing protection and restoration or provisioning new connectivity services.
NFV must enable SPs to provide new services, and hence, new incremental revenue, by replacing dedicated hardware/software located on the customer premise, e.g., DVR, storage, firewall and others.

Cloud computing, on the other hand, must enable enterprises to leverage shared and scalable computing resources, hardware and software to impact their capex and opex unit costs.

The promise of such technologies has always been for

These promises are expected to deliver much better total cost of ownership (TCO) with lower opex and in essence support moving to a hardware-agnostic or independent model, offering further savings.

About a decade ago, I predicted that the battleground in the 21st century would be all about software and not hardware. Although hardware is needed, it is the role of software to optimize all five functions above using new state-of-the-art technologies such as SDN and NFV.

The problem that can become very complicated is that enterprise customers’ networks and appliances are not designed for multiple tenants, pay-for-play or on-demand services. However, SDN and NFV are fundamentally designed for such functions. That means that it is imperative for CXOs to sponsor corporate-wide programs to move into SDN and NFV, offering capabilities to drive higher revenues while competing for device replacements at the network margins from mobile access points up to wireline or Wide Area Networks.

SDN, by itself, is not really a new technology and has been in existence since 2006. It has been used to mainly improve data center performance, since the concept of big central offices with large Class 4/5 switches are pretty much obsolete in the 21st century.

But SDN has a long way to go to deliver an agile network. Today’s management of transport networks does not match the agility of the cloud-based services being deployed on them. These two have to converge to bring the transport agility into the 21st century for service delivery. Why should it take weeks and months to establish a new enterprise customer on an SP network? Why should it take weeks to provision high-speed point-to-point connectivity with specific protection requirements? SDN has yet to deliver just that.

NFV, in contrast, was introduced between 2010 and 2012 to operators in order to improve service time-to-market and network flexibility and allow a smooth transition to the cloud with significantly lower opex. In my view, the sky is the limit on NFV. For any onsite services (e.g., storage, firewall and DVR), whether today or in the future, NFV gives SPs the opportunity to deliver both consumers and enterprises major benefits, such as having a turn-key solution that lowers costs and improves quality of service (QoS).

The initial applications of SDN and NFV have changed greatly over the past few years. SDN focused mainly on cloud orchestration and networking, while NFV focused on IP-based protocols and capabilities such as DNS, DHCP, DPI, firewalls, gateways, and traffic management.

From my perspective, I believe NFV has already taken over Layer 4-7 of the SDN movement by delivering lower capex and cycle time, creating a competitive supply of innovative applications by third parties and introducing control abstractions to foster innovations that carriers need in order to compete with all over-the-top players.

Let’s also note that the new world requires openness in almost every API layer of the network from access to the core. The issue is legacy systems and processes that need to be changed in order to adapt to the new world of SDN and NFV.

Nowhere is this more critical than the mobile and Tier 1 landline carriers.

In essence, these sectors need to change all analog processes using legacy systems into digital processes, in which NFV can easily fit. That transition may take years, if not a decade, before it is fully implemented.

But the question is whether MNOs and Tier 1 carriers can wait that long to implement NFV and get the most optimized set of solutions in order to compete globally.

My guess is no, they cannot wait and stay competitive. The transition to NFV can be done more quickly, and I’m going to tell you how.


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Surface Pro 3 ‘notebook’ reaches retail today

Microsoft today kicked off sales of the Surface Pro 3, the 2-in-1 touted by the company as a notebook replacement.

The it’s-a-table-it’s-a-notebook, which was unveiled one month ago, is currently available in two models, both powered by a dual-core Intel Core i5 processor, the same used in 2013′s Surface Pro 2.

For $999, customers get a Surface Pro 3 equipped with 128GB of storage space; the 256GB configuration costs $1,299. Those models are now available in Microsoft’s own retail stores and its online e-market for American and Canadian customers, as well as at partner retailers. Best Buy, for example, started selling the Surface Pro 3 in its U.S. brick-and-mortar and online stores on Friday, as did Tiger Direct, an online-only retailer.

Microsoft has pledged to start selling the Surface Pro 3 in 26 additional markets — including Australia, China, France, Germany, Japan, Spain and the U.K. — by the end of August.

Best Buy also launched a nine-day trade-in deal that hands customers a gift card — minimum value of $50 — in exchange for a working tablet. The card can be applied toward the purchase of Surface Pro 3. According to Best Buy’s exchange calculator, the retailer will give $387 for a 128GB Surface Pro 2 and $217 for a working Surface 2, the tablet powered by the beleaguered Windows RT operating system.

Other Surface Pro 3 configurations will be available for sale on Aug. 1, Microsoft said Friday. Previously, the Redmond, Wash. firm had set the launch of those models as simply sometime that month.

Slated to reach retail in six weeks are the $799 Surface Pro 3 with 64GB of storage, powered by a dual-core Intel Core i3 CPU, and two running a dual-core i7 processor, one with 256GB of storage priced at $1,599 and the top-of-the-line tablet with 512GB for $1,949.

New orders for the two now-available models will be shipped June 30, according to the Microsoft online store. The $199.99 docking station, which Microsoft also trumpeted last month, will be available Aug. 15 in the U.S. and Canada.

None of the Surface Pro 3 prices include a cover keyboard, which Microsoft mandates to make good on its claim that the device can replace a laptop. The Surface Pro Type Cover costs $129.99, pushing the out-of-pocket price of the 128GB configuration to $1,129.

That price is 13% to 26% higher than a corresponding MacBook Air, the notebook that Microsoft has incessantly used in its comparisons: A 13.3-in. MacBook Air with 128GB of flash storage lists for $999, while the 11.6-in. MacBook Air — closer in screen size to the 12-in. Surface Pro 3 — with the same amount of storage space runs $899.

For Bob O’Donnell, principal analyst at Technalysis Research, the Surface Pro 3 has been “a nice device.” O’Donnell, like many analysts and some members of the media, has had a Surface Pro 3 since the May 20 launch event.

“I like the bigger touchpad, the bigger screen, and the aspect ratio [of the screen] is better,” said O’Donnell. “All in all, it’s a nice product.”

Two configurations of the Surface Pro 3 went on sale Friday, at prices of $999 and $1,299 sans cover keyboard. (Image: Microsoft.)

Not perfect, though. O’Donnell’s biggest beef was that Microsoft keeps selling the cover keyboard as an extra, when that keyboard is absolutely necessary to make good on the firm’s claims. “They should have bundled the keyboard,” O’Donnell said. “They’re trying to position it as a tablet. It’s not a tablet, it’s a notebook.”

O’Donnell estimated that he’s used the Surface Pro 3 as a notebook 95% of the time, as a tablet just 5% of the time. He uses his go-to system, a Dell XPS 12 — the screen revolves to lay flat on the keyboard for tablet-esque tasks — in the same 95-5 fashion.

“The best way to view and think about the Surface Pro 3 is as the evolution of the notebook,” said O’Donnell. “This is how notebooks are headed.”

Surface Pro 3 tablets and accessories can be ordered from Microsoft’s e-store.


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Bottom Nine: 2014′s startup non-success stories

Back to the drawing board
The statistics aren’t great, are they? Nine out of 10 startups – or maybe it’s three out of four, or five out of six, or even not that many at all – we’re told, will fail. Here are some of the luckless startups and services which have bitten the dust in the first half of 2014.

Optier
As first reported by Gartner Research’s Jonah Kowall, APM and analytics company Optier has ceased operations as of May, despite more than $100 million in funding over its nine-year run and a host of big-name customers in the financial industry.

FindIt
FindIt’s personal search service – the idea being to let you search your Gmail, Dropbox and so forth from one portal – shut down in February. In an official blog post, the team said that it plans to pivot to a Facebook advertising optimization platform.

Donna (Of Incredible Labs)
Yahoo bought up Incredible Labs – who created personal assistant app Donna – in January for an undisclosed fee. Unfortunately for Donna’s users, the app got the axe. Five staff members went to the Yahoo Mail team, according to the company’s statement. (via TechCrunch)

Outbox
You’ll have to open your own paper mail for just a little bit longer, it seems – Outbox, a service that opened, scanned and digitized your mail for a $5 monthly fee, went belly-up in January, due to what an official blog post characterized as excessive operating costs.

DrawQuest/Canvas
At least he’s still got 4chan – entrepreneur Chris Poole closed down his four-year experiment with DrawQuest, a drawing game/app that was an outgrowth of Canvas, a meme-sharing site. “It became clear to us that DrawQuest didn’t represent a venture-backed opportunity, and even with more time that was unlikely to change,” he said in January. (The service stayed functional until May, when a security breach forced the doors to finally close.)

Bump
Another one of those good-news/bad-news stories is Bump, who got bought out by Google in January. The company’s eponymous transfer app – you bumped your phone against somebody else’s to send or receive data – was axed in January, however. Also cut was the company’s photo-sharing app, Flock.

Calxeda
ARM processor maker Calxeda went to the wall right around the turn of the New Year, despite some successes, like inclusion in some HP products, and a general perception as a leader in bringing ARM SoCs to the data center. (H/T: The Register)

Springpad
Sort of a social version of Evernote, Springpad announced that it would shut down on June 25 in an announcement last month. The money just wasn’t there for the information capturing and organizational services, according to the official blog post.

Argyle Social
Social media marketing manager Argyle Social pulled the plug late last month, despite positive reviews. CEO Adam Covati told VentureBeat that the market – with competitors like Hootsuite – was too competitive.


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How to make the most of an IT buyer’s market

After years of fighting tooth and nail with vendors for meager price discounts or modest service-level agreements, IT has seen the tables start to turn: Sweeping changes are reshaping the vendor landscape, shifting negotiating power from stingy service providers to savvy CIOs.

Practical advice for you to take full advantage of the benefits of APM and keep your IT environment

At the center of this sea change are trends such as cloud computing, social media, data analytics, remote monitoring, automation and mobility. Whether it’s manufacturers opening sensor-operated plants or healthcare providers using remote patient-monitoring systems, organizations are acting fast to seize new opportunities and satisfy customer demands. And as the need for agility increases, cloud-based computing is booming: Infrastructure as a service and business process as a service are the two fastest-growing segments of the IT services market, expanding 44.9% and 12.4%, respectively, in 2014, according to Gartner.

Just ask William Graff, senior vice president at Cerner Technology Services. “We’re spending a lot of time with specific internal business units looking at cloud solutions that traditionally we would have hosted on our own data center. But because of business pressures to move rapidly, we’ve selected a handful of cloud providers over the last year,” he says.

Decisions like that at companies of all kinds are adding an infusion of new, agile cloud providers into the average company’s mix of more traditional vendors.

Combined with the need for speed is an increased awareness of high-tech products and services. “The buyer’s paradigm has changed dramatically over the last several years,” says Keith Lubner, CEO and a managing partner at Channel Consulting, a Philadelphia-based management consulting firm specializing in vendor relations. “Access to information and content is so dramatic that buyers are more astute than ever before. They have instant access to information on every single product out there — they’ve flipped the whole sales cycle on its head.”

Armed with information and eager to take advantage of fast-acting cloud, analytics and mobile technologies, CIOs are voting with their wallets: A staggering two-thirds of respondents to a recent Gartner CIO survey said they expect to change primary suppliers by 2017.

Desperate to stay on top, traditional IT vendors are responding by tossing out their typical IT sales models to offer flexible subscription services, shorter sales cycles, unprecedented product innovation and personalized service. And that’s creating a once-in-a-career opportunity for savvy CIOs: a chance to negotiate huge price cuts, packaged deals, favorable contracts and unique partnerships with big-time vendors once too busy to return calls.

Tough Customers
Jim Forbes is a perfect example of the type of technology executive that’s keeping vendors up at night. The CTO at University Health Network (UHN) in Toronto, Forbes had for years relied on standard criteria such as “functional requirements and server compatibility” to select technology solutions. But a desire for a more scalable cloud-based tool recently convinced him that it was time to switch IT management vendors.

“Our new thinking sent us in a very different direction,” says Forbes. “We ended up going with an entirely different vendor — one who really wasn’t on our radar. There was some nervousness, but we recognized that this was the right strategic move, and looking back, it was a very good choice.”

James Cole, CIO at First National Bank of Omaha, also has a set of purchasing priorities that could cause vendors to panic. Once susceptible to industry buzz and product hype, Cole says he now finds himself taking a more business-oriented approach to vendor selection by asking, “Where does a solution fit into my organization?”

Today, IT staffers meet with the retail bank’s business-line leaders five days a week “to understand what their needs are and bring IT solutions to them,” Cole says. “We’re becoming more in tune with our core business, helping our business-line leaders with their needs and then going out into the market and determining who best can solve that need.”

But shifting the focus from acquiring tech tools to discovering business solutions is also changing the nature of the CIO-vendor relationship — to the CIO’s advantage. Increasingly, vendors are being asked to be a partner rather than simply a provider.

Cole points to the First National Bank of Omaha’s four-year relationship with Client Resources Inc. (CRI), an IT talent and solutions provider. Once considered a supplier of temporary labor, the midsize vendor has evolved into a key collaborator with the bank’s IT department, Cole says. For example, CRI recently worked hand in hand with the bank to design and develop a mobile app. “It became this great partnership,” says Cole. “If you were in a room with us, you’d have a hard time knowing who was the First National employee and who was with CRI.”

Even tech vendor titans are shedding their hands-off reputation for a hand-holding approach that they hope will help them retain customers. Seven years ago, Cole says, the bank’s dealings with Oracle could have been described as “a catalog relationship” involving occasional database orders. Today, a senior executive from Oracle is dedicated to helping First National Bank of Omaha with some seemingly minor IT projects, such as developing a better login process for mobile employees. “It’s very much a collaboration,” says Cole. “Oracle is looking at their business model differently now and seeing customers as a relationship rather than a product sale. It’s just interesting that Oracle is listening to us.”

Power Shift
In fact, whereas power-wielding IT vendors once shaped CIOs’ buying behavior, CIOs are now having a profound impact on the way a vendor approaches everything from customer service to product development. Says Graff: “When we enter into a long-term agreement with a vendor, we expect that our voice as an end-user community will be heard and that we’ll influence changes and enhancements to a product.”

Cindy Waxer
But as CIOs and vendors increasingly become bedfellows, the IT world is drafting its own version of a prenup. For instance, when UHN began vetting vendors for a new managed service contract, Forbes insisted that each interested party develop a five-year plan illustrating how unit costs might change over time. Vendors that promised cost-per-unit decreases earned extra points.

Another way Forbes gained an upper hand in negotiations was paying research firms, including Gartner and PricewaterhouseCoopers, for market analysis on IT service prices such as help desk costs and server fees — industry benchmarks that provided “a viable opportunity to negotiate cost reductions right upfront before signing a contract,” he says. “We’re doing more strategic thinking as part of the RFP process as opposed to just writing an RFP and throwing it out onto the street.”

Such an informed approach to negotiating pays dividends, according to Cole, who says he once talked an IT vendor into reducing the price of a system by $3 million. “We build performance milestones into all of our contracts,” he says. “We also do a very good job of negotiating [financial] holdbacks so that we don’t feel like we’re paying for a service well before it’s delivered.”

Faced with dwindling bargaining power and better-educated customers, many vendors are sweetening the pot by offering cost-effective bundles of services. For example, a vendor specializing in email encryption technology might try to package its tool with an Exchange server and high-margin services such as consulting on compliance issues.

In fact, Lubner says peddling packages is “the only way for vendors to differentiate themselves and provide more value to the buyer” these days.

Forbes agrees. Just as the federal government has been slowly embracing a shared services strategy, he says, the healthcare industry is inching toward a similar model, where multiple hospitals, clinics and laboratories will agree to share the funding and resourcing of key IT services to cut costs and improve efficiency. “There’s a lot of opportunity to save money and reinvest the subsequent savings back into healthcare if we only shared some of these IT services,” says Forbes, adding that the vendors that are most likely to come out ahead are those that “recognize the market is shifting and respond by packaging their software.”

Sharing the Legal Load
But greater collaboration, bundled IT services and high performance standards aren’t the only changes in the IT landscape helping to create a buyer’s market. Organizations are demanding that even legal issues be treated as shared responsibilities rather than matters to be hashed out by bloated legal departments. After all, says Cole, “if you just have two sets of legal teams talking, you’ll reach an impasse very quickly.”

Cole should know. In the first four months of this year alone, he’s had to tackle questions of intellectual property with at least three different vendors. That’s because, in these litigious times, it’s becoming increasingly common for unwitting end users to wind up entangled in patent infringement suits. For example, a hotel chain that offers its guests free Wi-Fi might find itself involved in a patent suit simply because it relies on server technology that has come under legal fire.

However, whereas in the past vendors would simply scoff at the notion of shared liability, Cole says there’s more willingness now to address issues such as intellectual property as a mutual business challenge rather than as a legal technicality.

“We need to have protection so now it’s a negotiation to determine how much liability a vendor is willing to give up and how much risk am I willing to accept,” says Cole. “It’s become a business discussion, not a legal discussion. In fact, it’s a very common conversation in the IT community today.”

That’s not to suggest, however, that vendors are simply rolling over and letting customers call all the shots. For example, Graff points out that Kansas City, Mo.-based Cerner is both a buyer and a provider of IT services and says that, no matter how profitable a project might seem, the company will “never sign a deal [as a provider] where we can’t deliver on what we’ve written into the contract.”

But that’s not all. Cole says most organizations do recognize and respect a vendor’s need to turn a profit. “Recently we negotiated a deal where it came down to both sides saying, ‘Here’s what I’m willing to give you in terms of profit and here’s where I need to be in terms of expenses,’” he recalls. “That’s a partnership where we shook hands. But had we dug in our heels and said, ‘Here’s all I’m going to give you,’ we both would have left with a bad taste in our mouth.”

After all, there’s no telling when the pendulum will swing back to a seller’s market. All the more reason, says Graff, for savvy CIOs to make sure “it’s a win-win situation for both parties.”


 

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10 Father’s Day Gifts to Help Dad Feel Young and Cool

Dad isn’t getting any younger. Why not get him a Father’s Day gift that makes him feel young and cool again? Here are 10 ideas.

Another Father’s Day is around the corner, reminding dear old dad that he’s another year older. Why not help your dad feel just a touch more youthful? These 10 gadgets mix fun and practicality — and sure beat the tie, book or gift card you’ve given him in the past.

Motrr Galileo
The Motrr Galileo ($203 for Bluetooth model) is unique robotic holder designed for the iPhone that can be placed flat on a table or mounted on a standard camera tripod. The device offers 360 degrees of spherical motion for an attached iPhone, along with a wealth of fun and practical applications such as time-lapse photos, 360-degrees panoramas and even remote surveillance. All told, more than a dozen Galileo-enabled apps are available now. The Galileo pairs to the smartphone using Bluetooth and can be controlled from another iOS device or a Web browser.

 

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Logitech Case [+] The Story
The Logitech case [+] The story ($199) iPhone accessory set includes a basic case and various “[+]” components, including a leather kickstand, a vehicle mount, wallet for credit cards and external battery pack. The slim case serves to protect the iPhone against drops while adding minimal bulk, and it incorporates a strategic stripe of metal by which the other accessories can be magnetically attached. The vehicle mount is our favorite, attaching securely with no flimsy plastic hooks to breakage.

iFrogz Tadpole Bluetooth Speaker
The iFrogz Tadpole Bluetooth Speaker ($19.99) punches way above its weight to deliver big sound. Because it weighs just 0.7 ounces (20 grams), the Tadpole can be clipped easily onto keys, purses, belts or anything else with a hoop. The wireless speaker works with smartphones and tablets that support Bluetooth 3.0, and the onboard 200mAh lithium-ion battery can power more than two hours of continuous play. When drained, the device is easily juiced from its micro-USB charging port.

Jawbone Era Headset
The Jawbone Era ($129.99 with charging case) is easily one of the most minimalist and lightweight headset out there. The Era incorporates a new design that uses the natural contour of the ear to create a fit that’s comfortable enough to wear all day. In our tests, we found it entirely possible to forget that the Era headset is even there. Credit the headset’s micro-electro-mechanical system, which Jawbone says delivers superior performance in a small size. Finally, the Jawbone Era comes with a tiny charging case that bumps the four-hour talk time of the lightweight Bluetooth earpiece to 10 hours.

CalypsoTag
The stylish CalypsoTag ($134) luggage tag not only makes luggage easier to identify out of the carousel; it also allows luggage to be tracked electronically within 200 feet (60 meters). The latter is possible due to the use of a low-power Bluetooth 4.0 chip built inside the CalypsoTag, which communicates with a (free) Apple or Android smartphone app. The app will send you an alert should a fellow passenger try to pull a fast one with the luggage. Available in four bold styles, the CalypsoTag is made of premium Italian leather that’s striking in appearance even without its electronic tracking capability.

STM Aero Small Laptop Backpack
The STM Aero small laptop backpack ($99.95) is designed for toting around a laptop, tablet and other gadgets. The backpack is designed to fit most 13-inch laptops; we were able to fit in both a 13-inch MacBook Pro Retina as well as an iPad tablet just fine. High-density foam padding lines strategic parts of the backpack, while soft material coats other areas to protect your expensive gadget. A highly organized interior offers multiple pockets and nooks for storing all manner of digital paraphernalia, such as headphones or an AC adapter. The STM aero small laptop backpack weighs just 1.5 pounds (660 grams), and its svelte silhouette will make your dad feel young (or at least stylish) again.

Plantronics BackBeat GO 2
The Plantronics BackBeat GO 2($99.99 with charging case) wireless stereo headset is designed for listening to music and taking calls. Both a rechargeable battery and Bluetooth transceiver are built directly into the earpiece unit; there are no bulky components to stow away. A military-grade nano-coating also protects the device from sweat, moisture and spills, making it perfect for a run or a workout at the gym. Fully charged, the BackBeat GO 2 offers up to four-and-a-half hours of listening and five hours of talk time; this is boosted to 14.5 hours of listening time with the included case.

Sphero 2.0
Awake the inner child in your dad with Sphero 2.0 ($99.99), a remote-controlled robot the likes of which your dad never saw while raising you. (Not that he’d have had time for a robot anyway.) The robotic sphere pairs with your iOS or Android device via Bluetooth and careens around at speeds of up to 7 feet per second, with a 100-foot range. The Sphero 2.0 is waterproof, and is recharged by an included induction charger. Since its release, the catalog of Sphero-compatible games and apps have grown to some 30 titles and counting, allowing for many more hours of fun.

Twelve South Hoverbar for iPad
If your dad owns an iPad tablet, consider the Hoverbar for iPad ($99.99). As its name suggests, the Hoverbar is a stand with a versatile arm that can be attached to any ledge up to one inch thick. It can be used as a floating display beside your monitor in the study, or on the kitchen counter where it’s kept away from any spills or splatters. Three included “Fit Clips” allows the Hoverbar to work with any current iPad tablets, and the metallic arm is strong yet surprisingly flexible. Finally, the Hoverbar for iPad includes a handy kickstand that snaps onto the iPad clip for use as a standalone tabletop display.

Anker 36W USB Quad-Port Wall Charger
With the number of USB-powered devices increasing by the day, the Anker 36W USB Quad-Port Wall Charger ($42.99) helps ensure that your dad has ample ports to keep his gadgets properly juiced. The Anker 36W Wall Charger is designed for simultaneous, full-speed charging, with two ports hardwired for Apple (2.1A output) devices and two for Android (1.5A output) smartphones and tablets. The portable charger is lightweight and tips the scale at just 3.5 ounces (100 grams).

Internet of Things

Practical applications are emerging for connected devices in key industries

A year ago, people were mostly talking about the potential of the Internet of Things (IoT) — what companies and government entities might do in the future to take advantage of this widespread network of connected objects.

While we’re still in the early stages of IoT, today it’s looking like more of a reality, with a number of implementations in the works. And while many issues still need to be sorted out — data security and privacy for one — a growing number of companies are exploring how they can leverage IoT-related technologies.

IoT is clearly on a growth curve. A March 2014 Gartner report estimates that the Internet of Things will include some 26 billion Internet-connected physical devices by 2020. By that time, IoT product and service suppliers will generate incremental revenue of more than $300 billion, according to Gartner.

“IoT is rapidly moving from the fringe of the Internet to the mainstream,” says Tim Murdoch, head of digital services at Cambridge Consultants, a U.K.-based technology consulting firm.

The number of anecdotes about the “connected fridge” are abating, Murdoch says, and the number of actually connected and commercially available cars, electricity meters, street lights, wearable technologies and so on is growing rapidly.

Gartner is getting a lot more inquiries from enterprise clients on the IoT, says Hung LeHong, vice president and Gartner fellow, Executive Leadership & Innovation at Gartner. “Most of them are about getting started,” he says. “Either getting started from nothing or IT getting started in working with operational technology counterparts to deliver a true IoT strategy.”

Developing and deploying IoT projects isn’t without challenges. These include choosing the best architectures for each use case, a lack of connectivity standards, a lack of systems integrators with a track record, and delivering ease of use for consumers and enterprise users, LeHong says.

“A big issue is standards and interoperability,” adds Daniel Castro, director of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation’s Center for Data Innovation in Washington. “Building the IoT will require massive amounts of cooperation and coordination between firms.”

Fortunately, companies are getting better at recognizing the benefits of working together to develop common platforms that they can each use. Castro says, “We do not want the IoT to be a closed system — it should be an open system for innovation,” he says.

Another issue is figuring out what business problems or domains you’re trying to address. “Otherwise, you throw so much data out there it’s hard to scope through,” says Chris Curran, chief technologist at the U.S. advisory practices of consulting firm PwC in New York.

“If you don’t have a business problem or domain to begin with, it will be hard to scope out a manageable set of projects,” Curran says. Companies will need to learn how to deal with all the data collection, storage and management involved, he says.

And of course ensuring IoT data security is a big challenge for the industry. Despite these issues, there are IoT initiatives under way today. Here are a few examples from different industries.
Water Management

HydroPoint Data Systems, a water management company in Petaluma, Calif., is leveraging real-time, two-way wireless communications via AT&T’s machine-to-machine network; big data analytics and the cloud to offer customers an automated system that eliminates water waste while monitoring and protecting against damages caused by leaks and runoff.

The system, called WeatherTRAK, has more than 25,000 subscribers who in 2013 saved more than 20 billion gallons of water, 77 million kilowatt hours of electricity and about $143 million in expenses, according to Chris Spain, CEO and president of HydroPoint.

+ ALSO: 15 more weird things in the Internet of Things +

WeatherTRAK is a smart irrigation controller that replaces existing timers with an Internet-enabled controller that can comprehend data inputs delivered from the Internet — such as weather data — and provide proactive management to water supply maintainers via a Website and mobile application.

HydroPoint’s platform connects a site’s irrigation system and sprinklers, master valves, flow sensors, historical water bills, water budgets and site-specific weather data into an integrated management framework, Spain says.

“In the field, we utilize machine-to-machine communications, data over power lines and wireless communications back to the cloud,” Spain says. The company, “really couldn’t deliver our service without IoT in any cost effective fashion,” Spain says. “Water management systems, by their very nature, can change from one moment to the next so having real-time monitoring is essential.”
Product Tracking

Pirelli, one of the world’s largest tire manufacturers, is gaining insights about the performance of its products in near-real time directly from sensors embedded in the tires.

Using SAP’s HANA data analytics platform, the Milan, Italy, company can manage the enormous amounts of data from its Cyber Tyre products. The tires contain sensors that collect data about tire conditions and performance that influence safety, control and vehicle dynamics.

The tire-mounted sensors enable fleet managers to remotely view tire pressure and temperature, as well as the mileage for each tire. With the HANA platform, the company can run reports on product performance and deliver timely and accurate sales and distribution information, which can lead to more efficient manufacturing and business processes.

According to SAP, Pirelli is building systems to enable the integration of vehicle position and operating data for purposes such as vehicle protection and control; information about traffic, road conditions and parking; remote vehicle behavior and diagnostics; management of logistics and of industrial vehicle fleets; and automated emergency calls.
Smart Lighting

Shorenstein Properties, a San Francisco-based real estate business, recently retrofitted parking lot light fixtures at its Santa Clara Towers office complex to LEDs, and at the same time integrated networking capabilities, creating a “Light Sensory Network” (LSN).

The sensor network, provided by Sensity Systems, links the LED fixtures to deliver both energy-efficient lighting and a real-time, global database of information that enables organizations to better manage physical environment to improve efficiency and security.

With the installation of the network, the facility benefits from an additional energy savings of 30% to 50% over the new LED baseline usage levels, according to Stan Roualdes, executive vice president, Property Management and Construction Services at Shorenstein.

“Continued success with networked LED lights doesn’t depend just on Sensity or upon the current selection of sensors, it will be on the developers who will leverage Sensity’s open API to develop new sensors and new applications that we can leverage,” Roualdes says.

An LSN “can gather real-time parking availability data and provide this information to smart parking application developers through an open API,” Roualdes adds. This can lead to improved services that benefit customers, and new opportunities for Shorenstein. “We see our LSN as a potential revenue-generating opportunity in the future,” he says. “Our lighting fixtures can become strategic assets.”
Healthcare Workflows

Florida Hospital Celebration Health, a hospital in Kissimmee, Fla., opened a new patient tower in 2011 designed to serve as a model for the healthcare industry relative to the latest developments in patient experience and safety, as well as staff efficiency.

The hospital deployed a real-time location system (RTLS) from Stanley Healthcare to track the location of critical medical equipment, automate the monitoring of refrigerator temperatures throughout the facility, and collect more accurate data on hand hygiene compliance.

One particularly interesting application has been a nurse tracking initiative, in which the hospital collects data on nurse activity throughout their shifts.

The goal of the initiative is to better understand how nurses spend their time during their shift and uncover patterns that could lead to increased efficiency and patient satisfaction, says Ashley Simmons, director of performance improvement.

Nurses wear badges with embedded Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags throughout their shift. The system tracks and collects location data continuously. The facility collects all the data and analyzes it using analytics functions in Stanley Healthcare’s MobileView software integrated with Tableau visual analytics software, and also uses its own internal business intelligence tools.

“We now have a better understanding of each patients’ care time requirements and are able to better align staff assignments on the unit based on this information,” Simmons says. The data is even revealing ways the company can design units more efficiently.
Driver Safety

Last year, Ford Motor Co. launched Connected Car Dashboards, a collaborative project with Splunk Enterprise and Cisco that collected and analyzed data from vehicles to gain insight into driving patterns and vehicle performance.

The company used its Ford OpenXC research platform to gather data from connected vehicles. Data was then indexed, analyzed and visualized in Splunk’s machine-generated big data platform and made available in a Connected Car Dashboards, which include visualizations specific to both electric and gas-powered vehicles.

Ford OpenXC is a combination of open source hardware and software that enables developers to read data from a vehicle’s internal communications network. By installing a small hardware module to read and translate metrics from vehicles, the data becomes accessible to smartphone or tablet devices that can be used to develop custom applications.

Many of the metrics gathered have never before been available for vehicles, and show insights about driving behavior that could extend to consumer and commercial applications, according to Splunk. Insights gained from the open data project include analysis of the accelerator pedal position, vehicle speed, steering, wheel position, etc.

Expect to see a lot more examples of IoT emerge in the coming months as the technology that supports it evolve and companies grasp the potential benefits.
Security and the IoT

Information security — and privacy — are among the worries many companies have when it comes to the Internet of Things. How do you prevent physical objects such as cars and smart meters from getting hacked?

“Public safety and privacy are the real concerns,” says LeHong.

“Organizationally, the operations folks and the IT folks have to work together to take operational security and IT security to an overall cyber security perspective,” LeHong says. “The two areas will be so intertwined that these groups will have to work together — and maybe even become one group — to be effective.”

A lot of natural reticence to share data “has evaporated around the apps and social media that we use and the cookies we accept,” says Murdoch. “But expect there to be a greater level of concern about devices because of the greater intrusion to our daily lives.”

Security is really about trust and scale, Murdoch says. “Expect to see different approaches to peoples’ data and defaults to not using their data for anything but the actual service being offered,” he says. “Quality of service from a brand will become a key tool in addressing this.”

Organizations can “expect to see a number of incidents where IoTs are hacked, data stolen and services denied,” Murdoch adds. This is especially likely for startups that have not funded adequate security architectures, he says.

In terms of scale, a device that can be used by many different people and different stages of its life will cause problems, Murdoch says, especially when there are billions of them. There will be a need to test and provide quality of services on many different platforms, he says.


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Surface Pro 3 deep-dive review: Has Microsoft finally got it right?

The latest Windows 8 device is supposed to work as both a tablet and a laptop. After working with it for a week, does our reviewer agree?

There’s a saying about Microsoft that I’ve heard for a long time: It takes three tries for the company to get something right. For example, it wasn’t until Windows reached version 3.0 that the operating system really took off, and it was only when Word 3.0 hit that the word processor became a market standard.

But is this also true about the Surface Pro 3, the third iteration of Microsoft’s tablet line? Microsoft touts the Surface Pro 3 as a device that, when equipped with an added Surface Pro Type Cover, does double-duty as a productivity tablet and a true laptop.

So how is the Surface Pro 3 as a laptop — or a tablet? To test that out, I carried it around and used it, forgoing the MacBook Air that I typically use when I work away from my desk. It was an ideal test case, because Microsoft has clearly aimed the Surface Pro 3 at the MacBook Air. In fact, on Microsoft’s Surface website, there’s an entire section devoted to comparing the specs of the Surface Pro 3 to the Air.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3

I had previously tried to use its predecessor, the Surface Pro 2, as a primary laptop, and found it impossible to do. But the Surface Pro 3 was generally up to the task, although with some drawbacks.

A look at the specs

Before I go into details about my experience with the Surface Pro 3, let’s take a look at its basic specs.

In this area, it certainly seems as if Microsoft got it right this time. The Surface Pro 3 has a 12-in. display, 40% larger than the Surface Pro 2′s 10.6-in. screen. And it’s quite spectacular, with 2160 x 1440 resolution and a 3:2 aspect ratio — more like a traditional computer’s than the Surface Pro 2′s aspect ratio of 16:9.

Despite the larger screen, the Surface Pro 3 is thinner and lighter than the Surface Pro 2 — it’s 0.36 in. deep and weighs 1.76 lb., compared to the Surface Pro 2′s depth of 0.53 in. and weight of 2 lb. That may not sound like much of a difference, but in use, it really matters (as I explain later in this review). Depending on the model you choose, the device is powered by an Intel i3, i5 or i7 processor. Storage ranges from 64GB up to 512GB, and RAM from 4GB to 8GB.

There’s the usual complement of ports, including a USB 3.0 port, microSD card reader and mini DisplayPort. There are front- and back-facing 5-megapixel cameras capable of 1080p video. And it comes with an interesting stylus; more about that later.

The device connects via Wi-Fi and Bluetooth; I found that the Surface Pro 3′s Wi-Fi connection is a very good one. Not only did it always connect well in public places such coffee shops, it even did well in what is often a dead zone in my house, an upstairs room fronting the street in which my home network connection is always iffy. In the worst area in my home, where my iPhone gets no Wi-Fi and my MacBook Air gets it intermittently, the Surface always maintained its connection, albeit a slow one.

One especially useful feature is the kickstand, which comes standard as part of the Surface Pro 3. It has been considerably improved — you are no longer limited to a few pre-set angles; instead, you can set it to any angle between zero and 150 degrees, just as you can position the screen of a laptop.

And how much will all this cost? Even though it’s a considerably better device than the Surface Pro 2, Microsoft has dropped the price of the Surface Pro 3 by $100, so it starts at $799. That gets you a device with an i3 processor, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. If you want to go whole hog, $1,949 buys you a Surface Pro 3 with an i7 processor, 8GB of RAM and 512GB of storage.

Accessories include a $200 docking station with a keyboard port, a DisplayPort, an audio input/output jack, an Ethernet port, one USB 3.0 port and three USB 2.0 ports. There’s also a $40 Ethernet adapter available. And, of course, there’s the Surface Pro Type Cover, which does double-duty as a cover and keyboard, and which costs an additional $130. (More on that later.)
An excellent display

One of the biggest problems I had with the previous-gen Surface Pro 2 as a laptop was its screen. At 10.6 in., there simply wasn’t enough screen real estate for me to get real work done on spreadsheets or Word documents. And while its 16:9 aspect ratio was fine for watching movies and videos, it required far too much side-to-side scrolling to be suitable for work.

The Surface Pro 3 improves on that dramatically. I found the 12-in. screen to be large enough to get whatever work I needed done, and the 3:2 aspect ratio was more comfortable than the 16:9 ratio of the Surface Pro 2. In fact, I discovered that 12 in. is quite roomy enough for real work. I had expected that it would feel cramped compared to my MacBook Air’s 13.3-in. screen. But that wasn’t the case at all — because of its 2160 x 1440 resolution, I was able to fit quite a bit on it.

That high resolution comes at a price, though. Text and images were at times too small to be read comfortably. Zoom capabilities solved the problem, but not always. That’s because, although Windows 8 Store apps (previously called Metro apps) can be zoomed in and out, not all desktop apps work with zoom. That was problematic at times.

I found that the SugarSync desktop client, for example, was barely usable because of how small the type was. True, I could always lower the desktop resolution to make it more readable, but when I did that, less space was available on screen for other apps. In addition, the SugarSync Windows 8 Store app lacked some of the most basic capabilities of the desktop app, so it wasn’t a good alternative.

In other words, using desktop apps can be a crapshoot with the 12-in. screen.

The new Type Cover
The new Surface Pro Type Cover, which doubles as a cover and a keyboard, is a big improvement over the previous version.

To begin with, I always had an issue with the touchpad on the Surface Pro 2′s Type Cover: It was small and not recessed, difficult to find and equally difficult to use. At times I found myself accidentally moving the cursor because it was hard to know where the touchpad stopped and the bottom of the keyboard began. And when I did find the touchpad, it was too unresponsive to be particularly useful. I resorted to a Bluetooth mouse.

Not so with the new keyboard. The touchpad is recessed, so it’s easy to find; I never had to fumble for it. Because the touchpad is larger (and felt more responsive), I could more easily control the cursor. It’s a small change, but a very big improvement, so much so that I no longer had to bring a Bluetooth mouse with me to get work done.

In addition, the Type Cover now has a magnetic hinge that raises the keyboard to a slight angle. This is well-suited for working with the Surface Pro 3 on your lap, but I also found it useful on a desk or table top, because I favor slightly angled keyboards. (I’m a fast touch typist and I like to pound a bit on the keyboard; with the angled keyboard, I’m no longer drumming directly on the table.) It’s another example of how a small engineering change has made a big difference in the Surface Pro 3′s usability.

Is it better than the 13.3-in. MacBook Air keyboard? Not for me. Having some separation between keys, as you have on the MacBook Air but not on the Surface Pro 3, allows me to type more quickly and make fewer mistakes. And because it’s a “real” keyboard, the Air’s keys have more give and feedback than do the Surface Pro’s.
The Surface Pro 3 as a tablet

The Surface Pro 3 may do double-duty as a laptop, but its basic design is as a tablet. And there, despite some very nice hardware, it falls short.

As mentioned before, the 12-in. screen is nothing short of spectacular, with vivid, crisp images and no noticeable lag or other issues with motion. No matter what movie or TV show I played on it, I found myself wanting to watch more. The speakers, as with the previous Surface Pro, are excellent, with Dolby stereo audio so realistic that it feels as if the sound is coming from the room itself, not from the speakers.

Microsoft says the speakers are 45% more powerful than the previous Surface Pro, but I never thought the previous speakers had a problem with volume, so this claim may or may not be meaningful. As a media-consumption tablet, it’s stellar — much superior to my iPad or Google Nexus 7.

That large screen also makes a difference when browsing the Web, offering a full experience, rather than the mobile one you get on smaller tablets. For example, when you’re using mapping apps, it provides far more detail and context than do smaller-sized tablets.

And the large screen also makes the Surface Pro 3 useful as a productivity tablet. For example, when I was using Microsoft Office, not only could I see more of any document onscreen, but I could touch type on the virtual keyboard because of the larger keys, something not possible on smaller tablets.

But I found the large screen to also be somewhat of a mixed blessing. Because of its size, it’s bulky to carry compared to a 10-in. iPad, and its 1.76 lb. is still significantly heavier than the 1-lb. iPad Air.

However, the real shortcoming with the Surface Pro 3 as a tablet is its dearth of apps compared to the iOS and Android platforms — as I’ll discuss in a moment.
Styling with the stylus

The Surface Pro comes with something that most competing tablets don’t have — a stylus. The Surface Pro 3 has gotten a stylus makeover, to good effect. The old stylus (manufactured by Wacom) was black plastic and felt somewhat cheap, and never felt quite right in my hand. The new one (now built by N-Trig) is made of polished aluminum, and not only looks better, but is heavier and has a far more pleasing and substantial feel to it.

It’s got two buttons, so offers more flexibility, depending on the app you’re using it with — for example, in OneNote you can hold down one of the buttons and the pen acts as an eraser. The two buttons also do double-duty as mouse buttons. All in all, when I used it, I felt as if I really were using a pen, and a nice one at that, rather than just a tube made of plastic.

The stylus no longer attaches to the place where the power cord goes, as it had in the Surface Pro 2. That’s both good and bad. It’s good because in the past if you wanted to charge the Surface Pro, you had to first take out the stylus. But it’s bad because there’s now no place on the device itself to attach the stylus. If you buy a Type Cover, there’s a small loop on the side for tucking in the stylus, but even then, I worry whether the holder will fray and tear over the long term. (If you lose it, a new stylus will cost you $50.)

Before trying out the Surface Pro 3′s stylus, I was never much of a stylus fan. But after spending time with it, I’m a believer, particularly for note taking. The combination of OneNote (which is included) plus the stylus is a potent duo. Not only can you hand-write notes and draw with it, but the Surface Pro also has handwriting recognition. So instead of using the virtual keyboard, you can write by hand using the stylus, and the tablet translates that into text. My handwriting is exceedingly bad, but when I slowed down and wrote carefully, it rarely made a mistake. Even when I wrote quickly and sloppily, it did better than I expected, making a mistake only about every fourth word or so.

I even wrote part of this review using the stylus in Word, although it’s not an experience I would care to do again, because it requires slow and careful handwriting. Still, for jotting down notes, it’s a winner.

For drawing, it’s good as well. It’s pressure sensitive — press the pen on the screen lightly and it draws a light line; press it harder as you draw and the line thickens. Microsoft claims that the stylus recognizes 256 different levels of pressure. Being no artist, I can’t vouch for whether it’s really that sensitive, but when used with an art program such as ArtRage 4, I found it quite responsive. There is also little or no lag between pressing and moving the pen and a line appearing. It feels as natural as using a real pen.

The upshot? The pen is a true productivity tool, and not a toy or an afterthought. Professionals on the go who want a tablet with pen input would do well to consider the Surface Pro 3.
The app gap

So what’s not to like about the Surface Pro 3? In a word, apps — or more precisely, the lack of them.

The Windows Store ecosystem doesn’t come close to either iOS or Android when it comes to app choice. For example, when I did a quick search, some of the popular apps that were missing included eTrade, the Chase and Citibank banking apps, Google Maps, LinkedIn, Spotify, Pinterest, Yelp, Sonos and others.

At a Glance
Surface Pro 3
Microsoft
Starting price: $799
Pros: Excellent 12-in. screen, very good keyboard cover, useful stylus and handwriting recognition, lightweight
Cons: Expensive, Windows 8 lacks many apps, keyboard cover costs $130 extra

And even when there is a desktop app and a Windows Store app for the same application, the Windows Store app typically lacks many of the important features of the desktop one. For example, the Windows Store note-taking Evernote app, called Evernote Touch, doesn’t include all of the features that the desktop version does, including good browsing and searching capabilities. In fact, even Evernote itself suggests that Evernote Touch users also install the Evernote desktop app to get “the full-featured Evernote Desktop.”

In short, the hardware is willing, but the apps are weak.
The bottom line
Microsoft touts the Surface Pro 3 as a tablet that does double-duty as a laptop and, if you buy the Surface Pro Touch Cover, what the company says is generally true. Still, the cover still isn’t as good as a full-blown laptop keyboard. At 12 in., the Surface Pro 3 has enough screen real estate so that it’s a real laptop, not a tablet pretending to be one. At 1.75 pounds, it’s ultraportable, although a bit on the heavy side for a tablet.

As a tablet, there’s still a shortage of apps, so if it’s apps you’re after, you won’t be after the Surface Pro 3. But as a productivity tablet it shines because of its stylus and large screen.

What you think about the Surface Pro 3′s price will depend on how you plan to use the machine. If you look at it as a traditional tablet, you’ll be disappointed. At a starting price of $799, this is a very expensive tablet, especially if you compare it to the iPad Air’s starting price of $499.

However, if you think of the Surface Pro as a laptop plus tablet, things look better. You’ll have to buy a Surface Pro Type Cover for $130, putting the total starting price at $930. That’s not a bad price for a premium laptop that doubles as a tablet — in fact, it’s just about the same price as the $899 starting price for the 11-in. MacBook Air, yet gives you more display real estate, a touch screen and a pen. On the other hand, the MacBook Air’s keyboard is superior to the one on the SurfacePro Type Cover.

So will this be the tablet-laptop combo that convinces you to use Windows 8 if you’re not already committed to it? No. But this machine shows that a tablet-laptop combo is not as much of a Rube Goldberg mashup as you might have imagined. It even makes sense.

With each iteration, the Surface line improves. Microsoft still hasn’t quite nailed it yet. But it’s getting close. If it closes the app gap, the Surface Pro 3 could be a big winner.


 

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Microsoft taps partners to sell Azure and take on Amazon in cloud

Microsoft has a big channel and soon it will arm them with Azure

Microsoft distributors will soon be able to resell the company’s Azure cloud IaaS, Microsoft announced today in a blog.

The move is welcomed by at least some Microsoft partners who are excited about the opportunity of offering customers more services. Previously Azure users had to buy directly from Microsoft.

Microsoft is allowing its distributors to resell Azure by expanding the company’s Open Licensing practice. This allows the distributor to resell an Azure license to a customer. Vendors will use tokens which are worth $100 Azure credits that will be distributed to customers. Doing so will give resellers the ability to manage Azure clouds for customers, as well as bundle other services on top of the Azure virtual machines, storage and databases. Resellers can bundle an Office 365 app, or backup and recovery services, for example.

Customer may be more inclined to buy services like Azure through a partner that they have an existing relationship with as opposed to buying directly through an Enterprise Agreement with Microsoft.

Aidan Finn is a technical sales lead for Microsoft reseller MicroWarehouse Ltd. in Ireland and in blogging about the news today noted that it will make Azure more appealing, particularly to small and midsize businesses that may not be big enough for an EA but perhaps don’t have the in-house expertise to consume cloud without assistance. Some partners were even already buying blocks of Azure services and reselling them without the official Open License, Finn said. “The move to Open was necessary,” Finn wrote in an email. “The opportunity to resell a service product brings partners into the fold, and gives them a reason to be interested. Without a resell opportunity, Azure could have appeared like a competitor to some partners.”

The move seems like a natural one for Microsoft to make to take advantage of its large channel market, which is a differentiator for the company compared to some of its biggest rivals in Amazon and Google.

“The mechanism sounds a bit awkward, with the purchases via fixed denomination tokens rather than direct, resource utilization-based billing, but giving more efficient access to its large partner channel to its portfolio of cloud resources is good utilization of an existing strength for the company,” Stephen O’Grady, an analyst and RedMonk wrote in an email.

Microsoft announced that Open Licensing will be available starting in August.

 


 

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IT Gifts for your Mother on Mother’s Day

Find a Mother’s Day gift with a techie vibe

Mother’s Day is coming up, and we’ve found Twenty Five gifts inspired by tech, science and math for geek-minded matriarchs.

Tablet stand
For sleek tablet viewing on the go, Rain Design’s iSlider pocket stand ($49.90 via Amazon) is lightweight and portable. The base slides out of its aluminum casing and can be adjusted to the user’s preferred viewing angle.

iPad kitchen stand
The Smart Tools for iPad set ($199.95) from Williams-Sonoma gives a tablet its own place in the kitchen so you can watch cooking shows, browse for recipes, or video chat while you’re cooking. The Kitchen Stand supports a tablet horizontally or vertically in four different positions. The three-piece set also includes a Bluetooth speaker that nests under the Kitchen Stand and a removable Screen Shield to protect the screen from splatters.

Hidden heart mug
Show some heart with a ceramic cup that reveals a heart shape when it’s filled. The Hidden Heart Espresso Cup ($35) is made by Daniel Chamberlin, who has a shop on 3D printing company Shapeways.

3D-printed bag
The 3D-printed Geometric Urban Code Bag 01 has an architectural quality, like a city façade. Best suited for holding documents, it has a slot for a phone and detachable handles. It’s available from Geometric, a storefront on Shapeways, in nylon plastic ($535.82).

Leafy phone case
Christopher Beikmann is the artist behind Da Vince Case. His vibrant Green Leaf set ($44.95) includes a zippered wristlet and a matching iPhone case. The artwork, titled “Leaf of Knowledge,” is by Beikmann, who makes and ships the cases from his studio outside of Denver.

Vessel pendant
Plenty of jewelry makers are inspired by natural forms and complex geometries, but I’m partial to the interpretations by design shop Nervous System. The founders are Jessica Rosenkrantz (who holds degrees in biology and architecture from MIT and Harvard Graduate School of Design) and Jesse Louis-Rosenberg (who majored in mathematics at MIT). The crescent-shaped Vessel pendant ($39.99 for the 3D-printed nylon version) was inspired by the formation of veins in leaves.

Lineage art
After studying his own family history, graphic designer Michael Allen started making customized family trees that have a fresh, modern vibe. The Lineage style (pictured; $50) shows four generations, and you can choose from a number of color combinations. More styles are available at Allen’s Etsy shop, ModernTrees.

Astronomer’s cuff
For all those period she pleased you at nighttime, check out this cuff bracelet ($18) inscribed with a line from a poem by 19th century British poet Sarah Williams (and often attributed to Galileo), “I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.” The author of the brass bracelet is Kelley DeLaney from Etsy shop StarryBasementCo.

Portable power
If mom needs power on the go, Anker has her covered. Anker’s second-generation Astro portable external battery ($29.99 via Amazon) packs 6000mAh of power into a candy-bar shaped pack, and the even tinier Astro Mini ($19.99 via Amazon) slips easily into a bag or pocket.

Pillow places
A map can make mom think of a special place — a former home, a favorite vacation spot, a place she wants to visit. Etsy shop My Bearded Pigeon renders maps on pillow covers. Pictured is a vintage map of Pittsburgh ($52.54), printed on organic cotton. The owners of My Bearded Pigeon, Cath and her husband Neil, live on the east coast of Australia.

High-tech cooking app
Is mom intrigued by the math, science and physics of cooking? If the six-volume, $446 “Modernist Cuisine” set is too much cookbook, check out another option from techie author Nathan Myhrvold, who was Microsoft’s first CTO. “Modernist Cuisine at Home” is geared for home cooks, and it’s available in hardcover ($106.55) and app form (the ebook is $79.99; individual chapters are $4.99).

Modern birdhouse
Add a modern touch to mom’s backyard with a handcrafted birdhouse from Etsy shop Twig & Timber of Seattle. Choose from the Modern Craftsman style (pictured; $70) or a number of minimalist alternatives. Each structure is individually handcrafted.

DNA print
This made-to-order watercolor painting ($25) is inspired by the genome of Haemophilus influenza, a bacterium, and the colored bars in the circular genome represent potential protein-coding regions. The artist, Sandra Cullito, is inspired by the simplicity of the circle and the complexity of genomics. She runs an Etsy shop and is based in Rosaryville, Md.

Star pendants
Choose two birthdays — such as a mother and her child’s birthdays — and Dyo will combine the constellations from their astrological signs to create a pendant. The Dyo jewelry line is an offshoot of Matter.io, a 3-D printing start-up launched by MIT graduates Dylan Reid and Greg Tao. The starscape pendants are available in brass ($75) or silver ($100) via The Grommet.

Smart planter
Increase mom’s odds of gardening success with Smartpot from Click & Grow. Battery-operated sensors and software measure soil conditions and control the supply of water. Smartpot with Basil (pictured, $79.95) is one option; starter kits with strawberry, chili pepper, mini tomato and other plants are also available.

Science beaker terrarium
A trio of glass Erlenmeyer flasks, planted with Dicranum mood moss, makes for a cool terrarium ($59) for a science-loving mom. The tapered shape of the flasks keeps moisture inside and reduces the need for frequent watering, says Patricia the creator and owner of Etsy shop Doodle Birdie Terrariums, based in Eagan, Minn.

Smart air conditioner
Help mom keep cool this summer with a smart air conditioner that raises the bar on design. The Aros window unit from Quirky can “learn” from mom’s budget, location and schedule to automatically maintain her ideal temperature without going over budget. Plus it can be controlled from a mobile device using the Wink app. It’s available for pre-order on Amazon ($300).

It’s in the mail
Is mom nostalgic for the old days of handwritten correspondence? Give her an iPad case made out of upcycled mail bags ($55 from Uncommon Goods). The inside of the canvas cases is lined with ultrasuede to protect devices from scratches.

Hand-quilted city map
They’re pricey, but stunning. City quilts from Haptic Lab are hand-stitched to depict cities around the world. Pictured is Washington, D.C. ($450).

Geometric heart
A heart-shaped hanging mobile ($93) is a modern take on a Finnish tradition. It’s called a Himmeli, from the Swedish word “himmel,” meaning sky or heaven, according to designer Melissa of Etsy shop Hruskaa. She’s based in Grand Rapids, Mich., and specializes in Scandinavian-inspired designs.

Compass necklace
Even when you’re far from home, mom can look in your direction with a functional compass necklace ($26) from JustBeDesigns, an Etsy shop run by Bianca Fleischman in Pawling, N.Y.

Reusable glass cup
Appeal to mom’s earth-loving side with Joco, a reusable glass cup that’s durable, lightweight, and perfect for savoring a cup of coffee. Each Joco cup comes with a silicone thermal sleeve and a lid for splash-free sipping. The 12-ounce cups ($24.95) are available in many colors via The Grommet.

Architectural mug
Adam Nathaniel Furman, an artist and designer based in London, was inspired by Gothic fan vaults to create his ceramic Fan mug ($62.62 via Shapeways). “… the great gift of the morning brew is elevated to positively ecclesiastical heights in its own inverted cathedral,” writes the artist.

Moon pendant
Give your mom the moon with a bronze-infused stainless steel pendant ($55 via Shapeways), designed with visible print lines and a rough feel for topographic effect. The 3D-modeler and designer, Urbano Rodriguez, is based in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Jane Eyre book scarf
Help mom get wrapped up in a great tome with a book scarf from Storiarts, a line of wearable literature created by designer Tori Tissell. My personal favorite is the Jane Eyre book scarf (pictured; $42). There are plenty of other literary classics to choose from, including Pride and Prejudice and Sherlock Holmes. You can also opt for fingerless gloves, pillow covers and t-shirts. (If mom is more of a Mystery Science Theater 3000 kind of gal, check out this scarf.)


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