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August 31, 2012

Office365 Era

In the world of productivity everyone wants to rely on a secure anytime anywhere access to professional email, shared calendars, IM, online conferencing and collaboration on documents.The ease of using Microsoft Office products has always attracted large community of users. But for small scale organizations with fewer than 50 users; a typical IT environment as well as a dedicated IT administrator is not feasible because of lack of both skills and budget to implement and maintain the infrastructure.

Posted by

Kalyani Koul, Technology Architect, Product Engineering, Infosys

Office365 which offers cloud-based suite has many more things to like but the one of the most compelling features of the service is the price. It offers the power of cloud productivity to all size businesses to save time and money and also free up lots of valuable resources.
This new era in Microsoft Online Services combines the very familiar Office desktop suite with online versions of next generation communication and collaboration services. These collaborative servicesincludes the new cloud-based versions of SharePoint Online, Exchange Online and Lync Online each based on 2010 versions of their servers as well as Office Professional Plus 2010 as subscription.
Businesses have been using the power of Microsoft email and collaboration products since decades as desktop suites. When these suites are offered with efficiency without involving business resources then it brings real value by eliminating the time and effort involved in managing the email and collaboration servers and at the same time keeping you in control. The seamless integration with Office Outlook and other office programs which business users already count on brings real productivity in the business processing. Gartner has evaluated Office 365 solutions of Microsoft as a Market Challenger. The collaboration and communication services of Office 365 are well experienced by the customers such as Patagonia and New Belgium Brewing. You can view the Gartner report to know what Office 365 suites of Microsoft stands as Market Challenger.

What attracts customers
The pricing model that O365 offers to its customers virtually pays for itself. It offers the services ranging from $2 to $ 27 per user per month. Depending on the business needs and volume of users, customers can opt to choose the entire suite of O365 or they can opt for the standalone plan which offers the key components that the organization needs. Each plan has the same 99.9% uptime guarantee and includes the security and support from Microsoft.

O365 solutions are designed specifically for secure access over the internet. It provides 2 options for user identification like Microsoft Online IDs and Federated IDs. The connections established over the Internet to the Office 365 service are encrypted using industry-standard, 128-bit Secure Sockets Layer/Transport Layer Security (SSL/TLS) encryption. Office 365 supports additional security measures to protect sensitive information such as Secure/Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions (S/MIME) for public key encryption and digital signatures as well as Information Rights Management protection for restricting who can access and perform specific actions on documents, email, and even voicemail messages.

It also has subscription plans for kiosk workers that offer value and flexibility with $4 per user per month. The standalone plans and their pricing structure are described in the following metric. Each plan is rated on per user basis.
 
O365PricingModel.jpg

Customers can easily transition to Office 365 as Microsoft offers a full fledge transition center that guides to the customer at every step of their transition. The support at each step of transition right from planning till deployment makes the overall transition hassle free.
Microsoft also offers a transition forum on TechNet where customers can communicate with other customers or Microsoft SMEs to discuss and resolve their issues.
The operational cost is cut by an estimated 30% and the variable cost model provides increased flexibility.

What it offers Developers
Developers can write their common solutions which can be reused for Exchange Online, Lync Online and SharePoint Online. This greatly incurs the reusability and reduces the development efforts, time and cost.
With Office 365 developers can reach to larger audiences as their solutions would be used by more customers. Also they would be able to enhance their knowledge as they will get to communicate to these customers on and often to understand their pain points and to resolve their queries.
Microsoft offers huge information about developing applications for Exchange Online, Lync Online and SharePoint Online as part of Office 365 solution development.  The articles are available in MSDN as well as in TechNet articles. 

Office 365 is the future of productivity that brings together next generation cloud based services. So when customers think about saving their high valued resources, time and cost; Office 365 suites may be the solution they are looking for!


 

August 30, 2012

The Apple Vs Samsung Verdict - Repercussions

There was high excitement over the Apple vs. Samsung lawsuit this week as the battle reached its climax with a US federal jury turning in a decisive verdict in favor of Apple. It had been a monumental task, with the jury having had to deal with a 20 page verdict form that had around 700 specific questions covering every issue at the trial. The form apparently contained a mix of charts, legal language, patent references, and technical jargon. After pouring and deliberating over all the evidence presented, the jury had held that Samsung owed Apple $1.05 billion for copying Apple's intellectual property. Interestingly, on the same day that Samsung lost in the U.S., it partially won a fight in South Korea though the decision seemed to be evenly split between Samsung and Apple. There have been multiple major skirmishes between the two giants in courts in Australia, UK, Germany and other countries while heading into the US courts.

The trial and verdict is obviously a setback to Samsung's global repute. Apart from the compensation to be paid to Apple, the decline in stock value and the requirement to make changes in the upcoming gadgets will have a financial cost attached. As the verdict does not apply outside the U.S and doesn't apply to all Samsung devices, Samsung can still manage to hold a relative footing in the smartphone market. However, it is very much likely that consumers may end up paying more for Samsung phones to compensate for royalties that Samsung might need to pay Apple on the sale of each phone.

It's however worth noting that Samsung has already begun innovating by re-inventing some of its features and ensuring a consistent changed user experience. Samsung's latest entrant in the market - Galaxy III - already has a unique design. Samsung is also unveiling the second generation of its popular Galaxy Note phone-cum-tablet (phablet). This illustrates Samsung's drive towards making bold design changes to differentiate from Apple's products. Apparently, Samsung is also working on introducing phones with bendable screens in the near future. Samsung might also distract its energies into phones running Windows Phone OS - as it announced the first Windows Phone 8 smartphone here potentially to try to assert its market leader position in another operating system.

Google's response to the verdict has been that the patent claims being disputed do not relate to the core Android operating system. The verdict, though not directed directly at Google, will surely bring its Android OS into focus. One reason for this could be that Samsung is probably the only globally known successful Android OEM - having had high brand recognition (they already made good TVs, consumer goods), completive prices and availability on many carriers. Even though critics claim that Samsung has brought this on itself, the outcome may be negative to Android's image. Google uses the Android platform to push its search advertisements on the mobile platforms. Google's bottom line could be hit in the long term, if OEMs become risk averse and move away from Android.

The ruling could have an effect on other makers of Android devices and they would need to ensure that their devices are clearly distinguishable from Apple products. Manufacturers differentiate their products by innovating around skins as a mechanism to assert their own brand and providing functionality that can help them gain an advantage in the smartphone market. This is possible because Android is open and customizable and allows manufacturers to innovate around its base platform.  Android backers point out that it is this openness that promotes diversity which allows the customer to potentially have more choices to select from - thus working to the customer's advantage.

There are however a section of Android purists who believe that the original Android experience has to be maintained and that Samsung has had to bear the negative publicity because they chose to deviate and cover up the unique Android experience in favor of looking more like a competitor (The example of Dell, Acer, HP, Lenovo etc. all competing with each other in the PC market despite running stock Windows, without skins). The contention is that the OS should remain original with OEMs competing in terms of hardware and potentially extra apps that they could provide out of the box.

This verdict could also help rejuvenate interest in development of mobile operating systems that have been pushed out of the limelight by Android's dynamic growth. Operating systems like MeeGo, Firefox OS etc. will potentially garner more OEM attention as alternatives to Android.  That will translate into more consumer options. Nokia's new flagship phones with Windows Phone 8 will potentially be stiff competition for Android phones - having looked beyond the Android platform almost entirely. In the US, Nokia might even attract consumer attention to replace the void due to decreased sales of Samsung/Android phones as a result of Apple's pursuit. Windows Phone 8 could emerge as a strong competitor to Android.

The immediate fallout could potentially see Apple gain market share at the expense of Android phones. Per IDC, at the time of the verdict, Apple held 19% of the world's smartphone market as compared to Android phones in various avatars holding 64%. The high price of Apple products had been a damper in this regard.

A colleague at work believes that the jury decision in favor of Apple seems to be thumbs up to companies that spend billions of dollars on research and hiring brilliant researchers and thought leaders to create an environment that incubates and generates innovative and revolutionary ideas. Capital gains made from holding rights over such ideas (at least for some time ) and using it to their business advantage enables such companies to plough in profits back to research that will once again generate revolutionary findings to the end consumers advantage.

There are widely disparate opinions being discussed around this particular verdict and its repercussions. There are interesting debates about what should be allowed to be patented and what should not (natural gestures, user interface features etc.). There are discussions around parallels in other industries - for example, the medical industry and how third world countries could be affected by monopolized pricing of drugs etc.  How things play on from here is anybody's guess. It is however clear that the verdict is likely to have a massive shakeup in smartphone and tablets industry - the hottest technology sector today.

 

Smart Grid - Enabling Energy Conservation

It is widely perceived that energy demand is expected to double every 20 years while at the same time, there is going to be a need to halve carbon emissions in the next 20 years, to avoid dramatic climate changes. Key mitigation technologies and practices have been proposed across sectors to enable control over energy usage and atmospheric pollution. Improved energy supply and distribution efficiency, more fuel efficient vehicles, efficient lighting and day lighting in buildings, efficient reuse of electrical equipment and many more policies have been proposed to counter the threat on the planet. The consequence of not arresting the current slide in energy utilization and environment degradation will result in frequent power loss, high energy prices, climatic changes and conflicts over control of natural resources.

It is important that we strive to make the most of available energy by thinking up mechanisms of improving energy efficiency by enabling control and analysis both from the supply side (power plant improvement, transmission equipment improvement, energy auditing etc.) and demand side (demand management control, optimization through automation/sensors, efficient equipment installation in the last mile of energy usage - low consumption devices etc.). Intel CTO of Datacentre and Connected Systems Group and senior fellow Steve Pawlowski predicts that sometime in future, sensors that harvest energy from the environment will be all-around us, that are self-configuring and self-healing.

Concerns of wasted power in the face of increasing demand for energy has led to serious deliberations around the objectives of the world's power systems. (India's power transmission and distribution losses for 2011 is considered to be between 25 and 30 per cent of total power generated).Thoughts have been primarily around marrying digital systems with hitherto power analogue systems. The concept of Smart Grid is a result of such a thought process where electrical power systems use digital information to monitor supplier and consumer behavior in an automated fashion. In a more localized set up, Smart Grid allows power distributors to monitor end customers power usage patterns and in case of overloading, the consumer can be instructed to switch of a particular appliance (this could be automated too, if the consumer has signed up for such a feature). Another use case is to divide times of the day into sections where customers may have to pay premium prices for energy consumption during times of the day when energy consumption is maximized (for example, morning hours of a working day in typical Indian cities) thus generating revenue for power utility companies. This can also enable reduction in overall demand on the grid by encouraging people to save money by shifting to off peak times.

Smart Grids enable integration of utilities or green and renewable energy resources as one thus enabling generation of energy at various points of the energy distribution cycle.Wind, solar and hydel mechanisms are some diverse ways of harnessing energy. While the harnessing of wind, solar and hydel energy are common and more cost-effective, they would need to be controlled and operated differently because they are highly variable.  End consumers harnessing solar energy can contribute excess harnessed energy to the distribution system - and realize some benefits thereof. Such contributions to the distribution system can help reduce overall demand on the grid.

In the backdrop of the massive power breakdown that affected many states in India this year, if a Smart Grid system were in place, that would probably have enabled monitoring and shedding automatically of only those segments that were overdrawing. Those segments could have been brought back into grids once the distributing system of the concerned state corrected the faults. Sensors could be used to detect deviations and fluctuations and provide signals to the monitoring system for areas to be isolated.

For the consumer, a Smart Grid would mean meters installed in the home that can be read automatically over the network.  The Smart Meter includes a display that conveys the current rate of electricity use at programmed intervals. Smart Plugs are used between the electrical socket and the appliance being connected.  They are also intelligent in providing updates about the current, voltage and power being drawn by the appliance to a PC communicating over networks like Zigbee for example. Such sockets can be controlled (switch on/off) using software. RIA based solutions enable a customer to view power consumption trends in his house remotely on his smartphone, tablet, laptop or PC at work or during travel. He can remotely switch off such sockets using facilities in applications running on his smartphone/tablet or PC based on his analysis or based on information from the distributor (via an SMS for example) as regards appliances in his house overdrawing during peak consumption periods. Consumers can also move towards installing smart appliances, that can automatically shut off in response to fluctuations that are potentially damaging.

Smart Grid is indeed garnering a lot of attention.In India, Bangalore's BESCOM has approved India's first Smart Grid system that is being deployed in Electronics City - the place where Infosys is based out of. Considering that Bangalore's uninhibited development and growing populace is also leading to dangerously fast depletion of water resources (ground water levels in many parts of the city are already alarmingly low), the drivers for Smart Grid technology in water conversation is compelling. There is a need to move to smart technology solutions to ensure more efficient water systems. The hope is that this will be a trigger for wider implementation which would enable a more responsible consumer attitude towards energy conservation in India.

 

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