Microsoft Makes Cloud Priority with SharePoint 2013

Should organizations scrap their SharePoint deployments in favor of Office 365 or some other instantiation of Microsoft's collaboration platform that's subscription-based or hosted elsewhere? Microsoft left little doubt about the answer to that question as it showcases SharePoint 2013 and the SharePoint online upgrades to its Office 365 service this week at the annual SharePoint Conference in Las Vegas.

"We really recommend moving to the cloud for the best experience overall," said John Tepper, the Microsoft corporate vice president known as the "father of SharePoint," speaking in his opening keynote at the annual SharePoint Conference on Monday. "We understand not everyone is there yet. This will take time. People who want to run their own servers, that's great. We have the best server release we've ever done in SharePoint 2013. The thing you should take away from our cloud focus is all we've learned about optimizing the system and deployment and monitoring, we've put into the server product and put into the deployment guidance."

SharePoint 2013's "Cloud-First" model follows in the footsteps of Microsoft's promise that it will deliver infrastructure software and applications as a cloud service first or simultaneously with the release of the on-premise version of its key products. That came to life with last year's CRM Online Dynamics CRM duo. Now Microsoft is employing the same approach with the latest version of SharePoint Online in the Office 365 service and SharePoint 2013.

One of many distinctive new cloud features in SharePoint 2013 and SharePoint Online is the new SkyDrive Pro, an evolution of the SharePoint Workspace. SkyDrive Pro raises the bar in synchronizing content between SharePoint Sites and workers' various devices. SkyDrive Pro is modeled after the consumer-based SkyDrive service, except it's built into SharePoint, which allows IT organizations to manage it.

Experts are predicting more rapid than usual uptake for the new release of SharePoint and Office 365, primarily due to the major overhaul of the SharePoint experience, which brings enterprise social networking to the forefront.

A Forrester Research poll of 153 clients who already have SharePoint found 68 percent of respondents planned to introduce the new version within two years (37 percent within the first year and 31 percent within the second). What's interesting about that finding is 70 percent of that sample said they already have upgraded to SharePoint 2010, which is unusual since organizations typically skip subsequent releases to amortize their investments.

"This is conjecture here but it could be around the social experience," said Forrester analyst Rob Koplowitz in an interview. "The feedback on the social facilities in SharePoint 2010 was pretty dismal. That might be the driver but others include the need for improved document and records management. Also, it could be they're trying to move to a more stable development environment."

Speaking of social networking, that's where Yammer comes in, the popular social networking company Microsoft just acquired for $1.2 billion. Microsoft announced it's bundling the popular cloud-based enterprise social networking service, into SharePoint 2013 and Office 365 in addition to offering it as a standalone offering and plans further integration.

In the annals of Microsoft's cloud transition, 2010 will be remembered as the year CEO Steve Ballmer proclaimed the company is "all-in." With the revamp of SharePoint and Office, we may get our biggest sense yet how many Microsoft's customers are all-in.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 11/15/2012 at 4:59 PM0 comments

Microsoft Acquires StorSimple to Bolster Azure Storage

Microsoft's deal to acquire StorSimple Tuesday for an undisclosed amount fills a key hole in Redmond's effort to offer enterprises its so-called Cloud OS.

StorSimple is a three-year old provider of cloud integrated storage (CIS) appliances that allow those who manage datacenters to add public cloud services to the storage tier of an enterprise network. By using cloud services for data storage, StorSimple argues companies can offer improved disaster recovery, while lowering total cost of storage ownership by 60 to 80 percent.

The CIS storage appliances extend SAN snapshots, primary storage, backup and archive data to cloud-based services from Amazon Web Services, Google, IBM, Nivanix and EMC's Atmos storage running in AT&T's public cloud as well as OpenStack services from Dell, HP, and IBM and of course Microsoft's Windows Azure.

"A lot of mainstream enterprise IT customers are choosing Windows Azure with StorSimple," said co-founder and CEO Ursheet Parikh in a short pre-recorded video discussion embedded in a blog post by Michael Park, corporate VP for Microsoft's server and tools business.

Does that mean once StorSimple becomes part of Microsoft that it will only use Windows Azure as a cloud target? A Microsoft spokeswoman would only say: "As a result of this announcement nothing changes. We have no additional information to share at this time."

StorSimple says its redundant disk controller ensures high availability and no single point of failure, while enabling non-disruptive software upgrades. The appliances include an application optimization plug-in architecture that provides plug-ins for individual files, virtual machine libraries and client devices as well as SharePoint and Exchange. It's also certified for Windows Server and VMware infrastructures.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 10/18/2012 at 4:59 PM6 comments

Oracle Emphasizes Cloud Transition at OpenWorld

At this year's Oracle OpenWorld conference in San Francisco, cloud computing is once again front and center with the launch of new IaaS, PaaS and SaaS offerings. The company has added new online storage services, cloud-based asynchronous message queuing, cloud-based tools to build sites on social networks and in the Oracle Public Cloud, and a variety of new SaaS-based line of business tools including financial planning and analytics capabilities.

The continued emphasis on cloud follows last year's OpenWorld, when the company made its big cloud push with the launch of Oracle Public Cloud and the release of a slew of SaaS applications. As with Microsoft, HP, IBM, Dell and others, cloud computing is the focus of everything Oracle is talking about now.

It's always interesting to hear Oracle CEO Larry Ellison sing the praises of cloud computing these days, years after shrugging it off. In 2008, Ellison famously described cloud computing as the fashion du jour. "What the hell is cloud computing?" Ellison said to financial analysts four years ago. "I'm not going to fight this thing. I don't understand what we would do differently in the light of cloud computing other than changing the wording on some of our ads. It's crazy. That's my view."

Well, Ellison has since refined his view. During his keynotes at OpenWorld this year, Ellison described Oracle as the only company that has addressed private and public cloud computing at the IaaS, PaaS and SaaS layers. I think Microsoft and others might beg to differ but Oracle clearly launched a broad portfolio of SaaS apps as well as substantial infrastructure and platform services.

Ellison effectively said everything Oracle offers will be available for use on premise in traditional datacenters, for private clouds and in the Oracle Public Cloud. Moreover, customers can host their apps on dedicated hardware in Oracle datacenters or run their apps on shared infrastructure. And finally, much of the software in the Oracle Applications suite is now available as a SaaS offering, with social networking hooks, and those applications are based on the same Java-based application infrastructure as the premises-based versions of its software.

One thing that many will take issue with, though, is Ellison's claim that its cloud is standards-based. "Industry standards are extremely important," Ellison said, pointing to the fact that all of Oracle's cloud apps, databases and middleware are based on Java, Linux and the Xen hypervisor. Yet Oracle is one of the only major IT vendors that have not joined the OpenStack initiative (Microsoft, Amazon and Google are other notable players not involved). Cisco, Dell, HP, IBM, Rackspace, Red Hat and VMware are all on board, among nearly 200 other players.

If you're not concerned about portability, this won't matter. But if you're already locked into Oracle, there may be some compelling options from its cloud offerings.

And that's going to be the key focus for Oracle in the foreseeable future. Prior to making his Wednesday afternoon keynote, Ellison told CNBC's Maria Bartiromo, who spent two days broadcasting her show live from OpenWorld, that the cloud will take priority over making any major acquisitions in the coming years. "We are not planning any major acquisitions right now," Ellison said. "We are really focused on the fact that over the last seven or eight years, we re-engineered our applications for the cloud. We think that's a huge opportunity for organic growth."

While that's not the first time Ellison has said Oracle has spent that many years re-engineering its apps for the cloud, you might wonder how that's possible if he was describing it as a fashion trend in 2008. More than likely, Oracle was watching the growth of and was very much hedging its bets in the SaaS model.

At OpenWorld, Oracle announced the following new cloud offerings are available for preview:

  • Oracle Planning and Budgeting Cloud Service, a subscription-based version of its Hyperion Planning app
  • Oracle Financial Reporting Cloud Service for creating financial statements
  • Oracle Data and Insight Cloud Service for self-service analytics
  • Oracle Social Sites Cloud Service, which provides the ability for non-technical users to create sites on social networks such as Facebook
  • Oracle Developer Cloud Service for developers who want to build their apps using a public cloud service
  • Oracle Storage Cloud Service for providing object storage content linked to existing Oracle Cloud services
  • Oracle Messaging Cloud Service, an asynchronous message queuing service to link data between disparate sources.

What's your take on Oracle's cloud strategy? Feel free to comment below or drop me a line at [email protected].

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 10/03/2012 at 4:59 PM0 comments

Rackspace Releases Free Software to Build Private Clouds

Racskpace is now offering free software that lets anyone build private clouds based on the same platform that runs its cloud hosting service.

Alamo, code-came for the company's Rackspace Private Cloud Software, is now available as a free download. The release, issued this week, marks a key milestone in Rackspace's plan to transition its cloud portfolio from its proprietary infrastructure to OpenStack, the open-source project the company helped launch with NASA two years ago.

Earlier this month, Rackspace completed the conversion of its server compute infrastructure running its public cloud service to OpenStack.

By offering its OpenStack-based software free of charge, Rackspace is betting that it will seed enterprise deployments of private clouds based on its open source solution. In turn, Rackspace is hoping enterprise customers will subscribe to its support services while also using its public cloud infrastructure for cloudbursting, the deployment model a growing number of those running datacenters are employing when they need capacity during peek periods.

Jim Curry, general manager of Cloud Builders, Rackspace's private cloud organization, explained Alamo is geared to those looking to build such clouds to those who don't have backgrounds with OpenStack. "To date most of the market for OpenStack has been people who were experts in it," Curry said. "We wanted to make it so a systems administrator who doesn't know anything about OpenStack and maybe knows a little bit about cloud, can easily get an OpenStack cloud up and running so they can evaluate and determine if it's a good solution on the same day." Curry said the software can be deployed in an hour.

Customers can opt for additional fee-based services, starting with Escalation Support, which starts at $2,500 plus $100 per physical node per month. At the next level, Rackspace will offer proactive support, which will include monitoring, patching and upgrading. Then sometime next year, Curry said Rackspace plans to offer complete management of OpenStack-based private clouds. The company hasn't set pricing for those latter offerings.

The initial Alamo software consists of the standard Essex release of OpenStack Nova compute infrastructure services, the Horizon dashboard, the Nova Multi Scheduler, Keystone authentication and the standard APIs. It also includes the Glance Image Library (a repository of system images), the Ubuntu-based distribution of Linux from Canonical as the host operating system with KVM-based virtualization and Chef Cookbooks from Opscode, which provide various OpenStack-based configuration scenarios.

In addition to supporting the Ubuntu distribution of Linux, Rackpace indents to support Red Hat Enterprise Linux with its OpenStack release, made available for testing this week. That support will come later in the year. A later release will also add support for SWIFT-based object storage, according to Curry.

Asked if Windows Server support is in the works, Mike Aeschliman, Rackspace Cloud Builders head of engineering, said not at this point. "To be honest, I think we will stick with Linux for a while because that's what the market is asking of us," Aeschliman said.

As for Rackspace's outreach to its channel of systems integration partners, Curry said they are aware of Alamo but the company hasn't reached out further yet. "We absolutely want to do that," Curry said. Because Rackspace's Alamo software is "plain-vanilla" OpenStack, the company plans to look to its partners to customize, or fork, it, and contribute it back to the community, Curry said.

Rackspace plan is to leverage its SIs to provide customization services, consulting, application migration and API integration into billing systems he explained. "These are not things we specialize in," he said. "We don't want to be the guys that do that work. We have great partners to do that."

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 08/16/2012 at 4:59 PM5 comments

Woz Sees Cloud Horrors Ahead

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak this past weekend expressed serious concerns about cloud computing suggesting it might cause "horrendous problems."

Wozniak made his feelings known after performing in Mike Daisey's theatrical presentation The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, which exposes the labor conditions at Foxconn, the key manufacturer of Apple products in China.

In response to a question from an audience member after the two-hour performance, Wozniak revealed he's concerned about the growing trend toward storing data in cloud based services, reported, a news service covering science and technology.

"I really worry about everything going to the cloud," Wozniak told the audience. "I think it's going to be horrendous. I think there are going to be a lot of horrible problems in the next five years." Wozniak's remarks came following the performance, which took place at the Woolly Mammoth theater in Washington, D.C.

Wozniak, who invented the Apple I and Apple II computers, appears not only worried over the reliability of cloud services, but argued users risk giving up ownership of their data once they store it in the cloud.

"With the cloud, you don't own anything," he said. "You already signed it away," referring to terms of service users agree to when signing on with some cloud providers (though I get the sense he was referring to social networks like Facebook and photo sharing services). "I want to feel that I own things," he added. "A lot of people feel, 'oh, everything is really on my computer,' but I say the more we transfer everything onto the Web, onto the cloud, the less we're going to have control over it."

To his latter point, it is indeed hard to argue that once data is in the cloud users have less control over it than if it is on their own premises. But in many cases that's a tradeoff worth making for making data more readily available and less subject to permanent loss.

Do you think Wozniak's prediction that cloud computing will cause horrific problems suggests a sky is falling mentality or does his fear have merit? Feel free to share your opinions.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 08/07/2012 at 4:59 PM7 comments