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Microsoft has responded by saying it’s “very surprised” by Google’s decision and claimed users of free Gmail services “are facing a situation where they might have to degrade their mobile email experience by downgrading to an older protocol.”Meanwhile, Redmond’s product management senior director, Dharmesh Mehta, urged users to do some “winter cleaning” of their own. “If you want a better email, especially on your phone or tablet, it’s time to join the millions who have already made the choice to upgrade to Outlook.com,” Mehta wrote.Google and Microsoft are becoming firm adversaries on free email and online collaboration. The pair have been engaged in a battle to sign up high-profile public and private sector customers, while Microsoft this year re-branded its existing Hotmail service as Outlook.com. Pure Storage has announced its FlashArray is ready and waiting to accelerate virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) applications at scale, ready to support thousands of skinny and full-fat desktops. It also join the rest of the flash start-up brigade - Greenbytes, Nimble Storage, Tintri, Tegile, Violin Memory and Whiptail - in saying flash acceleration makes VDI at scale possible, desirable, and compelling. What are you waiting for? Rip and replace those horrible desktop PCs with virtual ones.

It has a VMware-certified VDI reference architecture and a VDI starter kit, using its FlashArray, which it says is the first “production-hardened” (whatever that means) all-flash array to have a lower cost than the spinning disk, with the help of in-line dedupe shrinking VDI images to between a fifth and a tenth of their raw size. Pure claims: “FlashArray makes it affordable for every enterprise to offer their users the best all-flash VDI experience.”It says spinning disk-based VDI costs $300-$500 per desktop: “Rel[ies] heavily on stateless images to constrain storage growth, fails to scale past 100s of users and ultimately eliminates the overall ROI of VDI due to exorbitant storage costs.” The FlashArray with its inline dedupe brings the cost to less than $100/desktop, “less expensive than putting an SSD in a user’s laptop,” Pure claims.It also says hybrid disk/flash VDI systems can have variable performance due to caching constriants.

The VDI starter kit, which installs in 15 minutes and comes in high-availability (HA) and non-HA configs, supports hundreds of users and can be expanded in increments to a fully configured FlashArray supporting 5,000 or more VDI users, both stateless and persistent. The system can be managed from vSphere.The VDI reference architecture is actually two: one for VMware, compatible with VMware View 5, and one for Citrix XenDesktop. FlashArray is an approved Rapid Desktop configuration. The Pure Storage VDI starter kit is available now and - according to Pure’s VP Products, Matt Kixmoeller - “has an unprecedentedly low point of entry that easily fits within existing IT budgets” - meaning a street price well under $100,000, depending on its configuration. The All-Flash VDI Reference Architecture is available for download today from purestorage.com.Tintri has one user running 800 desktops off its 540 3U hybrid flash/disk system of eight 3TB disk drives and eight 300GB solid state drives costing somewhere around $75,000.

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Nimble Storage, a hybrid disk drive/flash array start-up, produced a VDI reference architecture with Cisco in October. It supports 1,000 VDI uses with a 3U enclosure, a Nimble CS220G-X2 array with twelve 1TB hard disk drives and four 160GB flash SSDs, costing $43,000.This is small potatoes compared to Greenbytes, whose 4TB Offload Engine can support 5,000 fat VDI clones each 40GB in size and with 2GB of swap space. Greenbytes uses deduplication and compression to get the nominal 210TB of storage needed down to 4TB.Whiptail says its all-flash INVICTA array can boot 600 VDI seats in three minutes and 47 seconds while doing other work as well. It’s all-flash ACCELA arrays are being used by a Netherlands government department in a 20,000-seat VDI deployment with expansion to 40,000 seats coming. ACCELA costs $49,000 per TB suggested retail price level. A 2-node INVICTA has a $250,000 suggested price, while a fully loaded 72TB 6-node INVICTA will set you back $1.8m.

It looks at first glance as if Greenbytes, Violin Memory and Pure Storage are three all-flash array players in the same VDI scale ballpark. Have at it guys - may the best product, support and service player win. Samsung has taken an expensive legal hit from Apple over copying design elements in the iPhone. Yet with the Series 9, Samsung has created something a bit special. The entire Ultrabook concept took its inspiration from the Apple MacBook Air, of course. But Samsung’s Series 9 has developed a confident design language of its own.The Series 9 Core i5 model I used – NP900X4C, to be precise – doesn’t leave you much change from 900 quid if you shop around, but it is greatly improved over the model I tried almost a year ago. Indeed, it lays to rest any qualms that ‘Ultrabook’ inevitably means underpowered and overpriced, as you do get considerable oomph for your money.The display has been upgraded too, notching up a 1600 x 900 resolution which is a welcome sight after years of 1366 x 768 screens. The specific model inspected here uses an Intel 1.7GHz Core i5-3317U, running Windows 7 Home Premium. Since you’ll want to retain your sanity, this is obviously the one to go for, as the Charge of the Metro Brigade is now upon us.

This 900X model, like its predecessor, also uses the sandblasted aluminium material with a wave-style design that resembles, but isn’t, an Apple unibody enclosure. In fact, there are actually ten screws holding a bottom plate in place. Gone are the unforgivingly sharp edges I found made the previous incarnation, the 900X3A, somewhat uncomfortable to use. These are no sharper than an Apple machine.There are other changes. The most important peripheral ports are no longer hidden by a door - the USB, mini-Ethernet, HDMI, USB and audio ports are always accessible, on the left of the machine. A nice touch is the mini to regular Ethernet adapter included in the box. A bay-style housing is still present, used to cover the SD card slot when it’s not in use.Software includes a backup program, a configuration manager, and Samsung’s Fast Boot. Which does what it says on the tin: bringing you to the login screen in around 10 seconds. The only nagware is Norton’s anti-virus software.

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Battery life was terrific in real life, giving over 5:30, and typically well over 6 hours in real-life usage, with WiFi on. The display is, as you would expect from Samsung, quite splendid, and as close to matte as you can get these days without actually buying a ThinkPad.The only let down is the keyboard. This is fine by any other standards - but it has a rather tinselly feel, and in such an otherwise well-made machine, was a little incongruous. I should stress, I’ve used many worse keyboards. And I did like the illuminated indicator light inside the keys for CapsLock and Wi-Fi. Why has it taken laptop manufacturers 30 years to include this on laptops, when regular keyboards have had this for so long?All in all, the Series 9 is a very well made laptop, with many small but significant improvements made over a year. The question remains – do you want to throw approaching a grand at a 15in laptop when you can get one cheaper? When I posed that question a year ago, those willing to make the investment appeared to be professionals who need to make a statement: a salesman or business owner pitching for some big contract. But it’s a question that’s much easier to answer this year: the matte-ish expansive screen, slimness and excellent construction make it a very good piece of kit with a broader appeal. Even more so with Windows 8 coming in, so it’s worth shopping around for a bargain.

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Something for the Weekend, Sir? In flagrant negation of the forces of nature, I seem to be growing less clumsy as I get older. That is, I break fewer things and do it less often.This is partly the result of a series of conscious decisions to be more careful. One such was choosing to don my spectacles before making breakfast rather than after, thus cutting back on my annual expenditure on replacing broken tumblers, bowls, teapots and mugs.Another was after my first experience of receiving an item of hardware for review that had previously been tested by a rival computer magazine. When this happens, you can all but guarantee that, apart from the core product itself in a crushed and torn box, everything that was originally supplied in that box will be missing: cables, adapters, power supply, installation CDs, user manuals and even the moulded polystyrene packing.If it’s a printer, the cassette will be cracked and manual paper tray snapped off. If it’s a display, it’ll be scratched. If it’s a computer, someone will have uninstalled the operating system and stolen the recovery CD.

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