Rackspace Launches Hosted Desktops

Rackspace Hosting is making a push into offering virtual hosted desktops.

The company last week announced it is working with Citrix and the company's joint partners to deliver virtual desktops to users on PCs as well as phones and tablets. Citing Gartner, Rackspace predicted 70 million users will have virtual desktops by 2014.

"We feel like it's the right timing. We are seeing a convergence of the proliferation of mobile devices and cloud computing, coming together as a good infrastructure to host virtual desktop solutions," said Chris Zagorski, Rackspace director of enterprise product development.

Zagorski explained that by leveraging the elasticity of Rackspace's RackConnect cloud servers, customers can use them to create Xen farms and scale up and scale down in minutes. It will work with Citrix's XenDesktop and XenApp solutions.

Joint Citrix and Rackspace channel partners will provide customized solutions, he said. Rackspace has also partnered with NetApp to provide higher-speed storage and with Akamai and Riverbed to provide accelerated connectivity.

End-user pricing can range anywhere from approximately $25 to $50-plus per seat per month, depending on configuration, according to Zagorski.

For those wanting more turnkey offerings, Rackspace also has partnered with Desktone, which offers an alternative to the Citrix offering. "The Desktone solution is much more turnkey in terms of the pricing as well as the control panel that they provide for customers to be able to add users," Zagorski said.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on May 30, 20110 comments

Oracle Databases Released to Amazon Cloud

Back in February, Amazon Web Services announced it would support Oracle 11G Release 2 databases on its Relational Database Service (RDS). On Tuesday, Amazon said the service is ready.

Amazon is offering two key licensing models for those who want to run Oracle on RDS: "License Included" and "Bring Your Own License."

Pricing for the version that includes a license starts at 16 cents per hour for a small instance. That price includes software, hardware and RDS management capabilities. For those with larger scale requirements, pricing for large instances is 64 cents. Extra-large, double extra-large and quadruple extra-large instances are available for 85 cents, $1.70 and $3.40, respectively.

For those who want to bring their own licenses, the rates start at 11 cents for a small instance and 44 cents for a large instance. Extra-large instances are 65 cents, double extra-large instances cost $1.30 and quadruple are $2.60. Amazon posted a detailed spec sheet and price list here.

"As is generally the case with AWS, we'll be adding even more functionality to this service in the months to come. Already on the drawing board is support for enhanced fault tolerance," said Amazon Web Services evangelist Jeff Barr in a blog post.

"When I demonstrate Amazon RDS to developers I get the sense that it really changes their conception of what a database is and how they can use it," Barr wrote. "They enter the room thinking of the database as a static entity, one that they create once in a great while and leave thinking that they can now create databases on a dynamic, as-needed basis for development, experimentation, testing and the like."

Barr said a Launch DB Wizard is available on the AWS Management Console that will guide administrators through the various setup options.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on May 24, 20110 comments

Intel Taps Hybrid Clouds for SMBs

Intel is rolling out what it describes as a hybrid cloud service that will allow small and medium businesses to deploy bundled solutions on their premises that would be administered by a managed service provider.

Think of it as having the benefits of paying for Software as a Service, in that customers pay for usage but have the data and apps on-premises. Still, it is managed by an outside provider.

The Intel AppUp Small Business Service Catalog is kicking off with solutions from about two dozen software vendors whose offerings will run on the Intel Hybrid Cloud Platform. Among the software vendors and ISVs whose offerings are in the catalog are Allscripts, Asigra, Astaro, Coversant, GFI, Intuit, KineticD, Level Platforms, Microsoft, Novell, Symantec and Vembu, among others.

Customers will have a server on premises based on Intel's reference architecture by OEM partners that will be delivered by the MSP. Initially single-socket Xeon servers will be available from Lenovo and white-box server vendors, with dual-socket servers to follow from Acer and NEC, and perhaps others in the future. Customers can lease the servers from the MSP or the vendors, Intel officials said.

The Intel Hybrid Cloud software stack provides secure usage monitoring that enables the pay-as-you-go service. The AppUp service catalog consists of a variety of solutions, some that Intel officials outlined on a conference call, including:

  • ERP as a Service: Running Windows Server 2008 R2, Intuit's QuickBooks and firewall, backup and anti-virus software from partners in the catalog.

  • Collaboration as a Service: Windows Small Business Server with Exchange and SharePoint, backup and anti-virus software.

  • Security as a Service: Astaro's unified threat management suite.

  • Backup as a Service: Vembu's StoreGrid backup software, which allows customers to backup locally and to a cloud provider such as Amazon Web Services.

Everybody benefits in this model, explained Bridget Karlin, general manager for Intel Hybrid Cloud. "The small business benefits because they get access to the pay-as-you-go software. They have cloud access to the software catalog for the applications that are important to them, and they have their data on-site, with no capital expenditure up front for the server hardware," Karlin said.

For a physician's office, delivering electronic medical record (EMR) solutions may be out of reach for some, Karlin explained. But if it can be delivered in a cloud model, where the office can pay for it on a subscription basis yet keep the data securely on-premise (a key requirement), that might address many of the barriers to deploying the EMR solution. 

"We've had some of our health care ISVs identify that this is a fantastic solution to take their EMR applications, load that onto the hybrid cloud server, maybe wrap it with some other offerings and basically launch that up to the market as EMR in a box," Karlin said.

MSPs and ISVs also benefit, Karlin said, in that they can immediately convert their customers to a subscription model or take on customers that were otherwise out of reach. "They get access to an online software catalog and from that catalog they are able to create their own offers, they can put together different bundles, wrap their services around it and essentially now create valuable offerings out to their small business customers," she said. "And they get the benefit of a preconfigured server that gets deployed on-site at the customer location that they can conveniently and in a trusted manner remotely manage."

And of course, she added, the OEMs and white-box server vendors benefit because they have the opportunity to deliver their hardware in this new hybrid cloud model.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on May 24, 20110 comments

Will Outages Affect Your Appetite for Office 365?

Last week's Exchange Online outages provided a healthy reminder that chances are, if you sign on for Microsoft's Office 365, at some point you may be destined to experience service interruptions, if not a full-blown loss of service.

Some angry Microsoft Business Productivity Online Services (BPOS) customers reported they were down for many hours last week. And yesterday, Microsoft confirmed more problems in the form of delays in messages going through (most were by 15 minutes to an hour, All About Microsoft's Mary Jo Foley reported).

Those affected by the outages have expressed frustration and even raised questions as to whether moving off an in-house system to Microsoft's Office 365 is a prudent thing to do.

"If really bad delays continue, there is little doubt we will be migrating back to internal Exchange or maybe corporate Gmail. Business cannot function like this and I would have very little confidence in MS's ability to support its SLA in either this or Office [365]," said one poster to the Microsoft Online Services Forum.

Microsoft acknowledges that service problems are inevitable but expressed confidence that they will be minimal and will be addressed expeditiously. "Any time you run a service for someone else there may be hiccups and we do our best to remove those hiccups," said Tom Rizzo, senior director of Microsoft's Online Services, business in an interview this week.

"We are continuously learning. It's no different than if customers ran the software themselves, where you can continuously learn to run the software better or run your services better or support better, or communications better," Rizzo said. "It's going to be a little bit of a learning process for both us and our customers and our partners, but we're committed a thousand percent to try to make the service as seamless as possible and make sure it's meeting the SLAs that we promised."

Indeed, others were more sanguine about the notion that outages are inevitable regardless whether Exchange, SharePoint and other applications are hosted internally or externally. Case in point is the city of San Francisco, which this week announced it is converting its in-house farm of messaging systems (a mixture of Lotus Notes and Exchange) to Microsoft's Exchange Online.

The city said it will spend $1.2 million a year to convert 23,000 mailboxes to Exchange Online, which is now part of BPOS but will transition to Office 365 over the next year.

San Francisco's CIO Jon Walton said while he was concerned about the outages, it did not affect his decision to go with Exchange Online. He suggested the city has experienced outages with its in-house systems and if there has to be an outage, he'd rather it be Microsoft's problem and not his to deal with.

"In the past when we've had outages, it was a complex problem to solve. You had seven systems. If the outage happened in the evening, you were calling workers back in," Walton said. "With the Microsoft solution, they are available 24x7 to us."

Others I've chatted with this week had similar feelings. What's your take? Have recent outages by Microsoft and other providers affected your willingness to turn your messaging and collaboration infrastructure over to Microsoft even with their financially-backed service-level agreements? Drop me a line at [email protected].

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on May 20, 20111 comments

San Francisco Moves E-Mail to Microsoft's Cloud

The city of San Francisco plans to migrate from its farms of Lotus Notes and Exchange servers to the cloud with Microsoft's Exchange Online service.

Some 23,000 users across 60 departments and agencies in San Francisco will move to Exchange Online over the next 12 months, Microsoft and the city announced on Wednesday at a press teleconference held in San Francisco. Also considered were Google Apps and LotusLive.

The deal is valued at $1.2 million per year, amounting to $6.50 per user per month, San Francisco CIO Jon Walton said. "That is a significant savings to the city, and as a matter of fact was one of the key ways that the Department of Technology was able to achieve its 20 percent budget reduction target for this fiscal year, which was directed from the mayor's office," Walton said.

The city is currently operating seven e-mail systems, and the cost of administering them was a key factor in its decision to move e-mail to the cloud. The fact that the city is a heavy user of Microsoft Office and SharePoint and has started to use Microsoft's Windows Azure cloud service weighed heavily in choosing Exchange Online, according to Walton.

Walton was well aware of last week's Exchange Online outage, which left many customers fuming, though Walton wasn't one of them. "The reality of it for us is e-mail outages unfortunately are not something that haven't happened to us before," he said, noting the outage in San Francisco's case only led to a delay in delivery of messages of four hours.

"We actually see what happened last week with the Microsoft outage as really demonstrating why we think we made the right decision," Walton said. "We were able to have a single point of contact. Microsoft kept us very up to speed. We were in close contact with them. We lost no messages."

As for Office 365, Walton isn't ruling that out for the future, but it's not in the current plan. "We are certainly interested in [Office] 365, because we have budget challenges here in the city. I think it will come down to a conversation about cost," he said.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on May 19, 20110 comments

Autonomy Grabs Iron Mountain Digital Assets

Autonomy is acquiring pieces of Iron Mountain's digital division including its archiving, eDiscovery and online backup offerings, the company announced this week.

The deal is valued at $380 million in cash, Autonomy said. The acquisition of Iron Mountain's assets will extend Autonomy's own information governance business.

"Processing customer data in the cloud continues to be a strategic part of Autonomy's information governance business," said Mike Lynch, Group CEO of Autonomy, in a statement. "We look forward to extending regulatory compliance, legal discovery and analytics to a host of new customers as well as enabling the intelligent collection and processing of non-regulatory data from distributed servers, PCs and especially tens of millions of mobile devices."

The acquisition of the Iron Mountain digital asset adds more than 6 petabytes of data under management and more than 6,000 customers to Autonomy. That will bring Autonomy's private cloud data to more than 25 petabytes with a total customer base exceeding 25,000, the company said. Some other points, according to Autonomy's announcement:

  • Assets acquired include digital archiving, eDiscovery and online backup and recovery solutions of Iron Mountain Digital, but not the technology escrow service and a medical records archive service and other smaller operations which were recently shut down.

  • Active Iron Mountain Digital customers will continue to be supported without disruption.

  • Autonomy to offer Connected, the digital data protection product, to existing Autonomy customers across enterprise server, PC and mobile devices. The addition of this product drives non-regulatory and structured data into our cloud-based information processing platform.

The deal is pending regulatory clearance and other closing conditions. Autonomy predicts the deal will close within 60 days.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on May 18, 20110 comments

SAP Ties to Amazon, Microsoft Clouds

SAP is looking to make it easier for its solutions to work in the cloud. Toward that end, the company has announced separate pacts with Amazon Web Services and Microsoft.

The announcements were made at the company's annual Sapphire Now conference, taking place this week in Orlando.

Under the agreement with Amazon, a number of SAP solutions are now available on the Amazon cloud service, including SAP Rapid Deployment solutions and SAP Business Objects offerings running on Linux instances. Within a few months, the two companies will deliver support for ERP solutions running on Windows instances, as well.

The two companies have completed testing and said that SAP solution deployments on Amazon meet the requirements of on-premises SAP solutions.

"As a pioneer in cloud computing, Amazon Web Services has a proven model that provides the combination of low cost -- along with stability, reliability and security that is now certified and available to our customers," said Sanjay Poonen, SAP's president of Global Solutions, in a statement.

Under the Microsoft deal, the two companies have agreed to provide tighter integration between SAP's software and Redmond's virtualization and cloud computing offerings. Among other things, SAP is going to make it easier for .NET developers to work with SAP solutions. Moreover, the two companies plan to link SAP's forthcoming landscape management software with Microsoft's System Center and Hyper-V virtualization technology.

"Through these connected offerings, SAP and Microsoft customers will be able to easily scale their deployments in their own data centers or through private clouds," said Ted Kummert, senior vice president of Microsoft's Business Platform Division, in a blog post.

The plan also calls for enabling hybrid cloud deployments using Microsoft's Windows Azure cloud service in the future.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on May 18, 20110 comments

Quest Readies Azure Admin Tools

Tools vendor Quest Software is looking to make it easier to manage applications running in Microsoft's Windows Azure cloud service.

The company is at Tech-Ed this week in Atlanta showing three new tools: Cloud Subscription Manager, Cloud Storage Manager and Spotlight on Azure.

When it comes to the cloud, "The largest challenge that we come across in talking to our customers seems to be around cost and cost management, particularly in understanding whether you're under-deployed or over-deployed with your cloud assets," said Quest's chief architect Douglas Chrystall.

Cloud Subscription Manager pulls in all the objects that you've got running in Azure. It will analyze those objects, look for objects which are not being used and notify the administrator. It could be a database, additional work or server roles that have been created, storage created that's just not getting used or perhaps being under-utilized, Chrystall explained.

It may recognize, for example, that a database hasn't been used for six weeks, and perhaps it should be decommissioned from the cloud. "It will actually give you an analysis where we report back," he said.  "We've found organizations that have literally managed to decide to [lower] their cloud costs pretty much overnight just by running the product for the first time."

Cloud Storage Manager helps manage the cost of storing data in Azure. Storing data in the cloud can become costly, especially if it's data that isn't being used. Cloud Storage Manager allows you to browse, search and basically analyze your storage accounts in Azure.

"What we've done with the Cloud Storage Manager is give you a Windows Explorer way of examining cloud storage," Chrystall said. "We allow you to browse through your cloud storage just as if it was directories and subfolders." That's important, he noted, because cloud storage is flat. There's no such thing as a physical directory or subdirectory -- it's all managed from the root node, he pointed out.

"We give you a way of managing that storage basically like a virtual directory structure, and we allow you to copy files from your on-premise storage systems through to the cloud-based storage systems and vice versa," he said. Cloud Storage manager also lets you synchronize an on-premise directory with a cloud directory.

Spotlight on Azure provides performance and diagnostics for apps running in the Microsoft cloud. With the tools Microsoft provides, you can monitor and look at the performance of individual roles and see how they're performing, but there's no way to see how a fully deployed application is performing as a whole, Chrystall said. 

"From running Spotlight on Azure, within seconds you can tell exactly how your Azure application is performing," he said.

All three of these tools consist of software that is installed and runs on desktops. They are now in beta and are slated for release this summer. The company hasn't disclosed pricing yet but indicated the Cloud Storage Manager will be offered as a freebie.

Asked if this software will be offered for other cloud services, Chrystall indicated that is the plan for later this year, though he declined to elaborate other than to say Quest is looking at the top three or four cloud providers.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on May 17, 20110 comments

CA To Offer Cloud Backup Via Windows Azure

CA Technologies on Tuesday said it will offer its popular ARCserve backup and recovery solution as a service using Microsoft's Windows Azure cloud platform.

The move makes CA the latest traditional backup and recovery software company to launch its Software as a Service (SaaS). Just last week, CA's key rival in the backup and recovery field, Symantec, said it will offer a version of its popular Backup Exec as a cloud-based offering. The new Symantec service, called Backup Exec.cloud, will allow customers to stream their backups to Symantec datacenters.

CA's ARCserve will be available as a subscription service using Azure as the cloud platform and storage repository. It is the first time CA has offered ARCserve on a subscription basis. Azure will be the exclusive cloud platform for ARCserve's SaaS solution, though CA is developing other non-SaaS technologies that will work with other cloud providers.

"We think that their SLAs, their security, everything about the Azure service really services our market well, so we're excited to partner with those guys," said Steve Fairbanks, CA's VP of product management for data management. "What's unique here is you're getting the combined local backup capabilities and the cloud storage capabilities all sold as a convenient service."

CA last year released the latest version of its ARCserve software, called ARCserve D2D, which the company says allows backup and bare metal restores from physical and virtual servers. It lets customers take a complete snapshot of a server or desktop and store a copy of that locally, enabling faster recovery time objectives, according to Fairbanks.

Customers will "have all of those very fast recovery capabilities locally and then we give them the ability to specify the critical files that they would like to store in the Azure cloud for a complete disaster scenario," he said. "Heaven forbid if they were to lose their entire site."

Enterprise Strategy Group analyst Lauren Whitehouse said the CA offering will appeal to shops that want to back up data both locally and offsite. "The ARCserve-Azure solution can be a hybrid approach where there is data stored locally (at the client's site) to facilitate day-to-day operational recoveries and data stored in the cloud for longer-term retention and, in some cases, the doomsday copy should the client's primary location or data copies not be available for recovery," Whitehouse said in an e-mail.

The service will use secure socket layer (SSL) connections and employ 256-bit AES encryption for security.

CA has not disclosed pricing but ARCserve subscriptions will include fees for using Azure. Setting up an ARCserve account will automatically establish an Azure subscription. The service is expected to go into beta this summer and will be commercially available this fall.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on May 10, 20111 comments

Internap Plans Dual VMware-OpenStack Cloud Services

Internap plans to launch a dual-hypervisor compute cloud service giving customers the choice of a VMware-based stack or the open source OpenStack platform.

The move marks the company's first foray into the public cloud. Its current portfolio consists of colocation service, managed hosting (including dedicated private clouds) and a content delivery network (CDN).

Atlanta-based Internap offers a proprietary network backbone it calls Managed Internet Route Optimizer, or MIRO, which the company claims boosts network performance while reducing latency. The company also runs redundant carrier backbones throughout the world. Internap, which grossed $244 million in revenues last year, says it serves 2,700 enterprises worldwide.

As for its new offering, which will also use MIRO, customers can choose between a more costly cloud service with a VMware hypervisor or the less expensive OpenStack-based cloud service powered by Xen. The company said it is providing the ability to transition from the VMware stack to OpenStack.

"What we find when we talk to CIOs, almost all have done server consolidation and virtualization using VMware internally, so they are very comfortable with VMware, but they realize that open source hypervisors are likely the future just the way Linux sort of supplanted Solaris," explained Paul Carmody, Internap's senior vice president of business development and product management.

"They're interested in going with a partner that offers them a cloud that mimics what they've done internally with server consolidation, with the option to test out and eventually migrate into more of an open source hypervisor model, for better cost profiling," Carmody said.

Internap announced support for OpenStack in January, when it launched a public cloud storage service. The OpenStack-based service went into beta at the time and will be generally available by the end of June.

The cloud-based compute services will be generally available in the third quarter. Carmody said there will be a private beta with existing customers beforehand.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on May 09, 20110 comments

Microsoft Argues Hidden Costs of Google Apps

With its beta of Office 365 now out, Microsoft has once again come out swinging against its arch rival Google, this time arguing that the lower cost of Google Apps for Business may be a mirage.

Google Apps for Business costs $50 per year. Microsoft's equivalent offering, the forthcoming Office 365 Plan P1, which includes Exchange Online, calendaring and Office Web Apps, will cost $72 per year.

In a new whitepaper titled "Counting the Hidden Costs of Google Apps," Microsoft points to the following Google add-ons and their associated price tags:

  • Postini, which offers security and Gmail retention: $33 per year
  • Power Panel, which provides delegation of administrative tasks: $8 per year
  • Google Apps help desk support: $360 per year

There's a laundry list of other potential costs, but you get the point. Tom Rizzo, Microsoft's senior director of online services, calls it the "The Hidden Google Tax."

"The 'Google Tax' is unnecessary and can add up quite quickly," Rizzo said in a blog post. "This is especially true when running Google Apps alongside Microsoft Office. On the surface, Google Apps may seem like acceptable replacements for enterprise-grade products such as Microsoft Exchange Server or Microsoft Office. But many IT organizations have found that Google Apps bring extra hidden costs."

Opinions will vary as to whether this is Microsoft's latest attempt at FUD, or if these add-ons really add up. A commenter on Rizzo's own post raised the question of how many shops will opt to pay the $360 per year for Google Apps help desk support. Another said Rizzo's post was spot-on.

For shops where cost will dictate which vendor to go with, this debate will rage on and require companies to look at their needs and actual migration costs.

What's your take on Microsoft's latest assault? Fact or FUD? Drop me a line at [email protected].

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on May 05, 20115 comments

HP Exec Leaks Cloud Plans

More information on Hewlett-Packard's public cloud strategy came to light on Tuesday when The Register's Cade Metz stumbled upon a key HP executive's LinkedIn profile.

The exec, Scott McClellan, chief technologist and interim VP of engineering and cloud services at HP, has since removed the info from his profile. But The Register captured the information, which reveals that McClellan was responsible for helping build a distributed object storage business from scratch, a service that offers compute, networking and block storage, and what appears to be a Platform as a Service (PaaS) offering that is optimized for Java, Ruby and other open source languages.

According to The Register, HP plans to announce more about its cloud services at VMworld this August, suggesting it will be based on VMware's technology. Here's the LinkedIn profile information captured before McClellan removed the data:

HP "object storage" service: built from scratch, distributed system, designed to solve for cost, scale, and reliability without compromise.

HP "compute," "networking" and "block storage" service: an innovative and highly differentiated approach to "cloud computing" -- a declarative/model-based approach where users provide a specification and the system automates deployment and management.

Common/shared services: user management, key management, identity management & federation, authentication (incl. multi-factor), authorization, and auditing (AAA), billing/metering, alerting/logging, analytics.

Website and User/Developer/Experience. Future HP "cloud" website including the public content and authenticated user content. APIs and language bindings for Java, Ruby, and other open source languages. Full functional GUI and CLI (both Linux.Unix and Windows).

Quality assurance, code/design inspection processes, security and penetration testing.

HP CEO Leo Apotheker disclosed the company's plan to offer a cloud service during its analyst meeting back in mid-March. At the time, the company said it will first offer a storage service toward the end of this year or early next year. That would be followed by a compute service and, ultimately, a PaaS offering.

The LinkedIn entry appears consistent with that plan, though it suggests HP is favoring an open source approach to its PaaS. It remains to be seen whether HP will support Microsoft's .NET Framework or move forward with plans to deliver technology based on Microsoft's Windows Azure platform.

Last summer, HP, along with Dell and Fujitsu, announced plans to deliver technology based on Microsoft's Windows Azure Appliance. So far, none of the companies have delivered the appliances or services based on the platform.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on May 05, 20112 comments