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4:43PM

Andy Marken’s Content Insider #389–Unicorns: The Fantasy World of the Billion Dollar Club

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I hope you're not busy for about a month...” – Man Stoner, “Up in Smoke,” Paramount, 1978

There was a time when a couple of late teen/early millenniums would get together, max out their credit cards, borrow from their parents and anyone who would listen to them, work (and sometimes sleep) in a garage and emerge with the next great idea.

Not anymore.

Now, they see what someone else has done; give it a new twist, new coat of lipstick, an incomprehensible name and trot off to Sandhill Road and/or other VC (venture capital) organizations around the globe to collect a few hundred million so they can start out in style.

What are they worth?

Billions.

What have they “sold?”

Well, they closed a few or dozen VC deals and have risen to the elite unicorn status.

Isn’t entrepreneurship grand?

Unicorn status was initially bestowed upon the category of firms valued at over $1B.

Today, the low end is $10B and entry in the club will probably rise to $100B in no time.

And just think, we can credit this all to the iNet that speeds information around town, around the globe in the blink of an eye.

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Global Contact – The Internet may have been designed as a means to help engineers, academics and scientists to exchange information more rapidly; but it has quickly become the tool of commerce and the way folks communicate across the table, across town and across vast oceans. In no time, you can exchange news, data, images; buy/sell goods and make a fool of yourself or insult/abuse people you don’t even know with a click of the mouse. It’s fantastic.

If it weren’t for the used, abused, misused Internet; there would be utter silence.

Instead, every minute:

    • 10M ads are displayed
    • 500K tweets are sent
    • 7M messages sent
    • 3.5 pieces of content shared
    • 100 hours of video uploaded
    • 6.9M Facebook messages sent
    • $134K Amazon sales made
    • 1,572,877 GB of IP data transferred

And in two years, there will be 3x more connected things than people on Earth.
We’ll be driving 13x more mobile traffic and it will all produce more than 5ZB (Zettabytes) of data that has to be stored.

When Pedro was asked how long it would take, he said; “A week. I mean a day. A weekday.”

All on the lowly global backbone and technology that the US government initially funded.

No wonder every government feels entitled to listen in and see what’s going on.

Except for the underappreciated hardware, software and service providers; it’s a regular money-making machine, so why not invest big!

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Up, Up and Away – New start-ups get funded almost every day because they have a new idea, new way to interest/attract people that will make all of the early stage investors (and early employees) amazingly rich for only a few hundred million dollars invested. Funds are rushing to get on the table early before the stakes go up.

Of course, not all of them will survive to go public; but VCs don’t care, which is why they invest in 10 or so of the same thing.

If the company burns through the paltry $40 - $80M too quickly, no problem … they simply go back and dip into the money well with an even bigger idea and they’re good for another couple of years.

After all, look at their valuation.

Besides, they’re private firms so they don’t have to play by the same rules public companies have with things like quarterly filings, SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) documents like audited numbers of real users (not deceased, one timers), real traffic (not bots), revenues and burn rate (how fast you’re going through the stash of cash).

That’s one of the perks of being private vs. public.

You don’t have to tell them a **** thing if you don’t want to!

So folks can let their imaginations go wild … and they do.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so get in before this sucka’ goes ballistic.

None of them heard Man Stoner’s warning, “Hey, hey don't take those, man.”

Of course, it may not take off because history has an ugly way of repeating itself in business.

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That’s So Yesterday – While the industry may have experienced a bubble/burst situation a few years ago, there’s no reason to think the rapid advance of unicorn firms will encounter the same disaster. Of course, there’s no reason to think it won’t happen again either.

Back in 1999-2000, we had this thing called the dot.com bubble.

It was a beautiful thing – pixie dust, rainbows and good times that would go on forever.

Until they didn’t.

Back in those days, people were betting huge sums of money on young companies run by folks with no track record in business who found it fun and easy to spend the chunks of cash people gave them.

Talking about today’s environment but sounding a lot like the ‘90s, Bill Gurley, a VC, told the SXSW (South by Southwest) folks, “There is no fear in Silicon Valley right now. A complete absence of fear.”

Of course, there are entrepreneurs who didn’t take the easy route to getting their ideas off the ground and growing their firms.

Take Daymond John, of Shark Tank, and Larry O’Connor, of OWC.

John, of Shark Tank, started a clothing line called FUBU (For Us By You) with a second mortgage on the house he and his mother shared. He likes to look at boring things like COG (cost of goods) and sales, margins instead of nebulous numbers like somehow getting one percent of a $50B market.

He doesn’t think the idea of dropping $1M on 100 untested/unproven companies or management teams is a really swift move.

Being in line with comparables in the market (revenues and spending) doesn’t mean much when the market correction comes … and it will come.

Actually, he calls it “dumb money.”

Like most successful entrepreneurs today, both John and O’Connor had an idea, believed in it, and found a way to make it happen.

When he was “tuning” Apple computers back in 1988, O’Connor thought improving systems was too expensive and something most users could do themselves with the right “stuff.” He started OWC (Other World Computing).in his folk’s kitchen and barn.

He continued growing the product lines for the Apple, Apple II and beyond systems. Today, he and his team focuses on good products, customer value, customer service and … oh yeah, retained earnings.

Fortunately, there are a lot of great firms like FUBU and OWC today that have deep roots and resist the temptation of the fast/easy money route. They always remember their first sale, their first customer that launched the company.

Private or public, they know it’s about the customer, not the deep pocket folks.

Pedro looked at the quick and easy VC-funded approach and said, “Kinda looks like a toothpick.”

Of course there is another factor to consider – global economic cycles – that occur regularly as markets adjust to try and equalize supply and demand.

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Ups ‘n Downs – Since perhaps the beginning of time there has been an imbalance in supply and demand which held sway over the price of goods, products and services. Excess demand produces higher costs, higher profits; while excess production drives prices and profits down. That may be why they’re called business cycles.

For example, when there’s a shortage of technology products – flash memory, hard drives, CPUs (central processing units), GPUs (graphic processor units), rare earth, you name it, demand and prices go up.

To get their unfair share, firms ramp up their production to take advantage of the demand and increased margins.

Then suddenly, there’s a glut. Prices go down – to keep the lines running – and margins disappear.

It happens with almost boring regularity because it’s a constant guessing game as to what’s hot, what’s not.

Of course that will never happen in the rarified game we’re playing today – you know, giant sums of money, sky-high valuations and everyone looking to score with the next blockbuster company.

Oh sure, for some it will end badly and for scores of others, it has; but most assuredly not with the one you’re in or the one your mutual fund is invested in.

After all, everyone knows unicorns don’t really exist, so how could they disappear or die?

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Beautiful – Yes, we admit unicorns do look beautiful in our dreams; but unfortunately, at some point in time we have to wake up. And when we do, the pixies, mermaids and unicorns disappear; so as much as we’d like them to exist, we know they really don’t.

Man Stoner looked at what was going on and said, “I think we're parked.”

G. ‘Andy’ Marken is founder and president of Marken Communications

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11:43PM

Guest Post: Updates on the HP MSA and using it with Windows Server 2012

I am lucky to present my good friend HP’s Calvin Zito, a Blogger and HP Storage Evangelist, answer a question on HP MSA Storage posed here on AbsolutelyWindows.

Calvin took the time to search out an answer, and said answer was detailed enough to merit it’s own blog post.

Thank you for doing this, Calvin. Much Appreciated.

Calvin’s blog is Around The Storage Blog.

There was a question from one of John’s readers on his blog titled The HP Storage MSA 2040 SAN & Why I like It.  The question was this:

When you set up your MSA2040's in Windows 2012, are you storing all data in VHDX files, or using pass-through storage? We just purchased an MSA2040 and saw that Microsoft recommends using VHDX files, but can't figure out how to set them up in Windows (our MSA2040 is SAS-based). Setting up a physical device (pass-through) to the LUN is easy, but we're not sure how to save a VHDX to the LUN. Are we missing something really obvious?

I’m going to assume that the question is about the idea of creating .vhdx files on a file system and mounting them as volumes for use by the host operating system.  And this is best answered with a few screenshots to tell the story. 

Picture 1

Note that the location of the .vhdx file is on a SAN-based volume:

Picture 2

The .vhdx file is seen as a normal disk, all that need be done is to initialize and format it as per any other disk.

Picture 3

I hope that answers the question.  And since John has graciously let me write a guest post, I wanted to take the opportunity to mention a few things that have been added to the MSA family since John’s original article. There are three big things to point out and I’ll point you to a blog post about each:

    • About a year ago, we introduced the MSA1040.  The MSA2040 is the entry level performance leader while the MSA1040 is the entry level price leader.  They complement each other very nicely. My post titled Introducing the MSA 1040 gives a good overview.
    • Late last year, the MSA was extended with some very interesting virtualization features.  They include data tiering, wide striping, thin provisioning, SSD read cache and more.  I have a blog I wrote that gives the whole story, HP MSA Gets Exciting Virtualization Features.
    • With the addition of the virtualization features, we were able to extend the MSA 2040 to include SSD.  SSD can be added either as a storage tier or as SSD read cache. Extending the MSA 2040 with Flash is the post that covers that.

Thanks John for the opportunity to write a guest post to answer the question.  Hope to see you soon my friend!

No, thank you, Cal. You rock!

John Obeto is CEO of Blackfriars Capital
© 2002 – 2015, John Obeto for Blackground Media Unlimited

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11:38PM

Verizon Virtual Communications Express VOIP

Communications is the lifeblood of any enterprise.

In fact, I can declare that it is indeed one of the components of humanity, and our civilizations.

For businesses though, it is more than that: it is vital. To survival, thriving, and continued success.

Traditionally, communications, especially voice communications has been a service delivered via fixed lines by the local mega-Telco.

No longer.

The advent of voice-over-IP (Internet Protocol), commonly abbreviated and pronounced as VOIP, has changed that paradigm completely, as users can now obtain their phone service n=from non-traditional means, from cable companies, and more recently from even wireless Telco's.

Verizon is a local PSTN – fixed telephone provider – in many jurisdictions, but if rumors are to be believed, moving to a wireless-first firm, possibly shedding wireline assets in the future.

As a result, Verizon has been making more moves into delivering services, especially data services.

One of these is their VOIP bundle, Verizon Virtual Communications Express, or VCE.

What is Verizon Virtual Communications Express, VCE?
Verizon describes VCE as:

With our advanced voice, Internet, cloud, and machine-to-machine solutions, you can distinguish your company from the competition while securely fostering collaboration, improving productivity, and simplifying IT management.

Or in plain English, it is an alternative to the trusty old PBX, albeit with really advanced featured.

VCE is based in the Verizon Cloud, which makes management and upgrades to the service something user firms do not have to bother with.

Verizon VCE Features
The basic features of Verizon VCE are extensive:

    • · Provides a high degree of control and management
    • · Enables large companies to communicate and share information in real time
    • · Flexible and scalable growth
    • · Connects mobile devices to company phone systems
    • · Combines voice and data over a single network
    • · Eliminates long distance and domestic calling costs with unlimited voice calling plans
    • · Reduces cost and resources required to manage an on-premises phone system
    • · Enables near real-time collaboration with cloud-based productivity apps
    • · Helps maintain business communications, even during disasters

What I like about VCE it that it has some features that help mobile, remote businesses stay in touch, especially a softphone.

VCE, as I understand it, is targeted at businesses of a minimum of 20 seats, leaving out truly small businesses any business with at least one user. The maximum number of users per VCE account is limited to 1,000.

This solution is totally cloud based. This geographic transparency is a big boon for companies that have remote staff: each remote staffer gets a handset that shows up on CallerID as the parent company. There is no switching or routing hardware installed at client locations.

Verizon VCE is the result of a collaboration between Verizon, Polycom, and BroadSoft.

Cloud_Voice_160X300_bannerEach member of this corporate triumvirate brings their specialty to the table: Polycom in hardware, BroadSoft in software, and Verizon as systems integrator, sales, and cloud provider.

The use of Polycom for hardware means that the market leader in collaborative telephony hardware is aboard, and has put their HD audio phones as options for this service. In fact, some hardware models have video capabilities built into the Polycom hardware itself!

Verizon’s direct salesdrones, external salesdroids, or partners, upon getting pertinent information from the prospective partner, initiate a series of diagnostic tests using a tool call then Examinet (I may be wrong on the correct moniker, but, hey!), that determines their broadband network’s suitability to transporting the VOIP traffic. As I understand it, this allows Verizon to be correctly aware of the limitations of the broadband. As I was told, this then sets the parameters for the service delivery. Smooth, reliable broadband is a requirement for the top tier of VCE’s service, HD audio and videoconferencing combo.

This product is interesting in the level of customer self-install it allows. Every facet of VCE is configurable through a web interface. In fact, VCE is designed to be installed by non-technical customers.

Customers can keep their existing phone numbers, and have a selection of hardware

From sales to implementation requires a time of about 3-4 weeks.

Released to market in 2012, VCE is available nationwide, and with or without Verizon as your local mega-Telco.

SMB & Midmarket Impact
For the SMB and Midmarket, not having to worry about a PBX or a full-featured telephony solution is key. Verizon VCE is an all-inclusive solution that has all the features that businesses need.

More information on Verizon Virtual Communications Express can be found here.

This blog post came out of conversations sponsored by Verizon.

CORRECTION: I corrected the minimum number of VCE users. VCE is available to any business with at least one user.

John Obeto is CEO of Blackfriars Capital
© 2002 – 2015, John Obeto for Blackground Media Unlimited

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10:48AM

Shiny New Thing: The HP EliteBook Folio 1020 G1

I don’t believe there has been an HP EliteBook I so desperately wanted to review like the HP EliteBook Folio 1020 G1!

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Lightweight, running Windows 8.1, and weighing in at 2.68lbs as equipped with the latest Intel Core M CPU and Intel HD Graphics 5300, the EliteBook Folio 1020 has Miracast, NFC, an HP webcam, 8 GB of DDR3 RAM, a 500 GB SSD, USB 3.0, and much more.20150407_010218941_iOS

Suffice it to say, I will be conducting this review personally.

My previous article on this fine device can be found here.

Stay tuned!

John Obeto is CEO of Blackfriars Capital
© 2002 – 2015, John Obeto for Blackground Media Unlimited

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10:47AM

2015 HP GPC Rewind: Talking about the new LaserJet Pro Printers with Alyson Griffin

The HP Global Partner Conference, commonly known as HP GPC, is an invite-only confab where HP’s top 2,000 global partners are invited to hobnob with HP insiders about the direction and roadmaps concerning their various agendas.

I was there this year, as in past years.

Alyson Griffin is Vice President*, Worldwide Integrated Marketing & Communications, LaserJet and Enterprise Solutions for HP.

At the 2015 HP Global Partner Conference, I had the opportunity to speak with Alyson on her recently-released – the week before – HP LaserJet Pro (R-series) printers.

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“What’s different about these new LaserJets?” we askedc03211008

She listed the new technologies:

  • For one, Alyson was stoked about the new toner technologies in the printers. The new toners are the recipients of HP’s materials research, I am told, and as a result, deliver 40% smaller toner particulates that have a lower melting point, require less heat, and melt faster.
  • The new toners also allow the printers to utilize 53% less energy than comparable devices, saving enterprises on OPEX costs.
  • Less componentry is used in the printers, helping the already legendary – my words, based on several decades of HP LaserJet printer use and thousands of them recommended and purchased by client companies – LaserJets become even more reliable.
  • How fast again, are these new printers, we ask? 9 seconds for the first page to print from sleep. In fact, the new r-series LaserJets print duplex documents as fast as other [manufacturer’s] printers print in simplex mode!
  • These printers are part of HP’s enterprise printer portfolio, and as a result, they can leverage the intelligence HP has in the cloud.
  • Oh, and they are priced starting from $250 US.

I am told that four products were released: 2 color LaserJets, and 2 monochrome products.

I can’t wait to lay my mitts on them.

Next, we get to something I always want to talk to HP about: the cost of printing consumables, specifically hardware consumables, as I can use 3rd-party paper anytime.

“Do you use refurbished or remarked toner?” I am asked.

The look of horror on Alyson’s face as I say yes speaks volumes.c03022211

I soon learn why: HP toner cartridges are created and tested for single-use. Remarked cartridges are not new cartridges, but used cartridges refilled with that company’s toner. It is not HP toner, and despite received assurances, the use of such toner most likely slowly kills the printer!

I’m sold. No more penny-wise, dollar-foolish stuff there.

It was very good to see Alyson again, and I thank Nancy B. for making it happen.c04583897

*Subsequent to GPC, Alyson got elevated to another post, of which the actual moniker escapes me right now. I both congratulate her, and wish her luck in that new rôle.

10:45AM

Shiny New Thing: the Logitech MX Master Wireless Mouse

The Logitech MX Master is a wireless mouse that boasts something new, and necessary: dual connectivity.

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You can either connect it to your PC via that smart Logitech solution, the Logitech Unifying dongle, which allows several Logitech devices to use just one USB connector, and by proxy, just a single USB port, or you can connect it via Bluetooth.

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Just how cool is that?

We have a one of them here for review.

John Obeto is CEO of Blackfriars Capital
© 2002 – 2015, John Obeto for Blackground Media Unlimited

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10:45AM

Shiny New Thing: Epson WorkForce Pro WF-4630 AIO Printer

We are in possession of the new Epson WorkForce Pro WF-4630 AIO multifunction device here at The Orbiting O’Odua for an AbsolutelyWindows review.

Slotted in lower than the award-winning Epson WorkForce Pro WF-5690 in Epson’s lineup, this device, like other Epson WorkForce printers, delivers laser-like speeds and quality at lower, inkjet prices.wfp4630_fca-cor-fn_396x264

With a 330-sheet paper capacity and a fairly high 30,000 page duty cycle – Drink! As I do when duty cycles are mentioned – this looks to be an able deskside printer, especially when you factor in it’s MSRP of $199.99.

We look forward to giving it a workout.

John Obeto is CEO of Blackfriars Capital
© 2002 – 2015, John Obeto for Blackground Media Unlimited

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10:44AM

Shiny New Thing: Epson WorkForce WF-7610 Large-Format AIO Printer

The wide-format Epson WorkForce WF-7610 AIO multifunction device is also here for review at AbsolutelyWindows.

Imbued with all the goodness we have come to expect from Epson’s WorkForce series, the WF-7610 adds a new wrinkle: large-format scanning and printingwf7610_fca-cos-fn_396x264

I believe this requires my personal attention, and I will be doing as suck with it.

Stay tuned.

John Obeto is CEO of Blackfriars Capital
© 2002 – 2015, John Obeto for Blackground Media Unlimited

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7:34AM

2015 HP GPC Rewind: HP Zvr Virtual Reality Display

The HP Global Partner Conference, commonly known as HP GPC, is an invite-only confab where HP’s top 2,000 global partners are invited to hobnob with HP insiders about the direction and roadmaps concerning their various agendas.

I was there this year as in past years.

Since the introduction of the HP DreamColor, HP has led monitor OEMs in the delivery of specialized monitors aimed at specific segments that completely redefine what the norm is.

At the 2014 HP Global Workstations Event in Fort Collins Colorado, I was introduced to the HP Zvr monitor, a 3D monitor solution created by HP* in order to lower the cost of entry for end users and firms into the world of 3D modeling and visualization.

As the the photos below illustrate, the Zvr looks like an ordinary monitor.ZvrLeftFacing

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ZvrLeftFacing4

ZvrRightFacing

However, donning the 3D specs and using the included stylus, allows users to manipulate the 3D objects as they ‘float’ in front of the user.

This is quite cool.

This 3D solution is being used and further developed for a myriad number of disciplines, including engineering, education, and healthcare.

The HP Zvr has the following specs:

  • 23.6”diagonal Full HD stereoscopic display with full images rendered for each eye
  • Seamless interaction with an intuitive user interface
  • Lightweight passive tracking eyewear for viewing comfort
  • Stylus pen to rotate, manipulate, navigate, and zoom in and out of every detail of the holographic image
  • Real-time sharing on a large 2D display with zView
  • DisplayPort and DVI connectivity
  • Adjustable height and tilt features

Further information on the HP Zvr Virtual Reality Display can be found here.

*HP partnered with a company called ZSpace in order to create the entire solution. As I understand it, the SDK and some of the 3D visualization assets were brought into the mix by ZSpace.

John Obeto is CEO of Blackfriars Capital
© 2002 – 2015, John Obeto for Blackground Media Unlimited

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11:34PM

The AbsolutelyWindows Dell XPS 13 Follow-on Review

3The Dell XPS 13 is the recipient of the SmallBizWindows Superstar Award.

This is a truly splendid device.

If the design goals included handily trouncing the Apple MacBook Air 13 and surpassing the baseline set by Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3 laptop hybrid for the 13” space, the Dell XPS 13 has succeeded.

Since my first review of the XPS 13 posted here on February 24, 2015, I have been using the XPS 13 constantly as part of the contingent of laptop PCs I use on a daily basis.

What have I found out?

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The Dell XPS 13 is Beautiful
Aesthetically, the Dell XPS 13 is one of a new class of PCs that are redefining laptop computing.

XPS 13 (7)

The Dell XPS 13 is Powerful
Equipped with the latest (5th generation) Intel Core i5 CPU, and coupled with the new Intel Graphics 5500 HD graphics, the XPS 13 is really powerful. *The XPS 13 is also available with an Intel Core i7.Alas we didn’t get to test that!

The Dell XPS 13 is built for Business
Weighing in about 2½ lbs for the non-touchscreen model and at under 2.8 lbs with a touchscreen, the XPS 13 is equipped with a 13.3” 3200x1600 QHD IPS panel.

The Dell XPS 13 comes standard with 9-15 hour battery. It adheres to all the latest Wi-Fi standards. It is light,

Solid SSDs are standard, and coupled with Intel® Rapid Start, XPS 13 boots from a cold start in mere seconds.

Single-source encryption, authentication and malware prevention

The XPS 12 also allows consumers to do all ‘consumery’ stuff very well. In particular, watching movies on it is amazing.

XPS 13 (3)

The Dell XPS13 is a Superstar
3
The Dell XPS 13 is the smallest 13” laptop you can buy in all known worlds. The impressive, bright, beautiful quad-HD display is built to be worked with, especially the touchscreen model.

The XPS 13 is part of a complete solution, whereby it has an optional external battery – a “Power Companion” in Dell-speak and a USB 3.0 to HDMI/Ethernet/USB 2.0 and VGA adaptor.

The edge-to-edge keyboard is comfortable, precise.

I really like this device.

It shows what PC OEMs can do when they decide to create game-changers. Which, is exactly what this device is.

Based on all these, especially the beauuuuutiful screen, and the incredible battery life, the Dell XPS 13 is our Superstar.

What, you ask, about my threat to review it against the Apple MacBook 13?

Well, it is more advanced than the last MacBook 13, and to be completely fair, I wanted to test it against the then-rumored ‘new’ Apple MacBook Air.

Well, Apple released their new MacBook – inexplicably called MacBook, no Air or anything – offering last month.

As Wifey put it: if, based on the specs, the [Dell] XPS 13 is more advanced that the MacBook, new or otherwise, why waste your time performing that testing?

I listened to the voice of reason.

John Obeto is CEO of Blackfriars Capital
© 2002 – 2015, John Obeto for Blackground Media Unlimited

Blackground Media

4:36PM

The AbsolutelyWindows Epson WorkForce WF-2660 Review

1This is a guest post and review by Markham Lee, who modestly describes himself as "a tech consultant and co-founder of ABS Payment Systems, who also blogs at www.markhamlee.com

He’s more than that: he possess a great analytical mind that is quite knowledgeable in both technology and business, and his works have been published all over the web. Read on.

The Epson WorkForce WF-2660 is a color printer, scanner and fax machine, with Wi-Fi and LAN capabilities that is best suited as a personal printer or in a small office where high-volume print jobs are rare.

I tested the device using my MacBook Pro running OSX Mavericks, and I primarily printed and scanned black and white text documents.

Set-up
After years of “fighting” with various printer models to get them fully set-up or to work right, I actually avoided setting the WF-2660 for about a week. The week the unit arrived was fairly busy for me, and considering I still hadn’t gotten wireless printing to fully work with the HP LaserJet I was borrowing until the Epson arrived, I decided to wait until the weekend to set it up.

My worries proved unfounded

Setting up the printer was as simple as following directions that actually worked as advertised. You could say I’m stating the obvious, but we all know that printer set-ups rarely go smoothly. The set-up was really easy, unpack the devices, plug it in, run through the easy on-screen configuration, install the ink, install the drivers* and you’re good to go.

Ease of Use
It just works. Once I ran the set-up program from my Mac all of the other iOS or OSX devices in the house had no problems printing to the WF-2660. Printing from an iOS device was simple as tapping “print” and then selecting the right device from the menu. The same goes for future wife’s MacBook, as she was able to print several documents by clicking print and then selecting the right device.

Printing from my Android device was slightly more difficult as I had to download a software plugin first, but after that it was no different from printing from an iOS device: select print, select the device and you’re off the races.

Scanning was easy as well; the printer we borrowed (a more expensive unit at that) would sometimes fail to recognize that there were documents in the feeder and/or would bring in two or more pages at once. As a result it would sometimes take me 20-30 minutes to scan 3-5 signature pages so I could e-mail tem out.

The Epson had none of those issues and performs quite well in our common use of scanning the signature pages of contracts to be e-faxed or e-mailed to business partners.

Performance & Daily Usage
Black and white text appeared to be similar in quality to the LaserJet and color printing appears above average for a device in this price range. I used it to print a full color commercial real estate ad with color photos, and it looked of very similar quality to the real estate flyers you’d find at most open house that aren’t on the high quality glossy paper. So while an Inkjet that retails for $99-$149.99 may not be your first choice for those types of documents, if it was your only option it definitely wouldn’t embarrass you.

It seems to print a touch slower than other Inkjets I’ve encountered, but the trade-off for quality seems a fair one.

Overall I think the WF-2660 is a great value in a full featured MFC for a home office, as the small foot print, ease in set-up and high print quality should make for a pain free user experience. The paper tray only holds 150 sheets so it might be a great choice as a shared printer across multiple users, but for home use, as a personal printer or in a small office it’s a great choice.

Verdict: highly recommended 1

You can read the device’s specs here.

*I had to download the drivers for my Mac; Windows users can use the included disk.

Based on his review, we are bestowing the SmallBizWindows Business Ready Award of Excellence on this device, because as Markham put it, “considering all the posters and promotional materials  printed with it over the last couple of days, it’s quite the workhorse that punches well above it’s weight class.” 

I am delighted he did this for AbsolutelyWindows.

Thanks, Markham.

© 2002 – 2015, John Obeto for Blackground Media Unlimited

 

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9:48PM

The SmallBizWindows Product of the Year 2015: HP RDX

32 - POTYThe SmallBizWindows Product of the Year 2015 is the HP RDX.

As mentioned here, HP RDX is a rugged, hard disk-based backup solution with native capacities that span four steps from 320 GB to 2 TB.

It is fast, reliable, fully compatible with Windows Server, and can run automated tasks via the included HP CDP application.4

More than anything else, it is quite inexpensive to deploy.

We are in the process of replacing DAT installations at client locations with this fast solution.

More on RDX can be found here.

c04217353c04045082Resultantly, and unequivocally, the HP RDX system is the SmallBizWindows Product of the Year 2015.

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Our sincere thanks to HP, and especially Paula Dallabetta and Calvin Z. for making this review happen.

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9:26PM

The SmallBizWindows Hardware of the Year 2015: HP Proliant Servers

30 - hardwareHP Proliant servers rock.

That’s no spin.

In fact, there’s no other way to spin it.

In performance, reliability, manageability, and serviceability, HP Proliant servers are completely peerless, and make other look like befuddled arrivistes.

One of the reasons for this are the innovations that HP constantly adds to the Proliants.

These investments add immense value to an already special product, and constantly increase the distance between it and competing offerings.

In September 2014, HP unveiled the latest iteration of their server line, Proliant Gen9 series.

Coincident with the release, I had the opportunity to be briefed a day or so later that same September by Mike Gill, VP, Platform Engineering, HP Servers, on the new ‘new’ in Proliant Gen9.

According to Mike, Gen9 required a completely new way of thinking about servers by HP.

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Servers had to stop being dumb, and begging to be part of the computing thought process, dynamically aligning pools of resources to a firm’s goal with laser-like precision.

The new Proliant Gen9 series are built for a software-defined world. They are cloud-ready, workload optimized, and fit into HP’s Converged Infrastructure offerings.

HP, I am reminded, is the only vendor able to deliver a full portfolio of servers to meet current and anticipated needs.

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That said, what bottom-line benefits do the Gen9 bring to the table?

    • 4x faster performance
    • 3x compute capacity with a lower TCO
    • 66x faster service delivery
    • Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) Boot Mode in addition to Legacy BIOS Boot Mode
    • HP Integrated Lights-Out (iLO) 4 v2.00
    • Smart array controllers: performance, data resilience & security
    • iLO-based Agentless Management 2.0
    • HP RESTful Interface Tool: use of RESTful APIs through UEFI for server configuration
    • HP Intelligent Provisioning: supporting StoreVirtual Storage Appliance
    • HP Smart Update Manager (SUM) 7.1.0: stability with iLO federation
    • HP Insight Online: expanded device, configuration coverage and services support
    • HP OneView: enterprise partner integrations and automated storage

For SMBs and the lower midmarket, it gets better: the target here by HP is to lower CapEX by 60% in 33% less time.

That, folks, brought out the sunshine smile to my face!

Then there’s HP OneView, which is HP’s converged management platform for Proliant Gen9.

It has been further simplified, beefed up, and made more intelligent.

OneView is now 66x faster, and coincidentally, 66% faster at problem resolution when used with HP Insight Online. It now allows automated firmware updates to be replicated across a ‘sea’ of hundreds of servers in conjunction with HP iLO Federation. Server profiles are integrated with storage volumes, SAN provisioning, and direct-attach storage devices. HP VirtualConnect is also amped up, supporting both FC and FlexFabric. OneView converged management supports Microsoft System Center, and server profiling has been extended to HP Proliant DL servers.

With all these enhancements, HP Proliant Servers were again selected unanimously the SmallBizWindows Servers of the Year 2014.

My thanks to Mike Gill for taking the time to converse with me on Proliant Gen9 five months ago.

Many thanks to HP’s Jill S. & Kristen R. for making the briefing with Mike possible.

John Obeto is CEO of Blackfriars Capital
© 2002 – 2015, John Obeto for Blackground Media Unlimited

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9:09PM

The SmallBizWindows Networking Product of the Year 2015: HP 5406R zl2 Switch

19 - NETWORKING -ZThe SmallBizWindows Networking Product of the Year 2015 is the HP 5406R zl2 Switch.

HP has always been in the networking business, through its Procurve division.

However, their acquisition of the old 3Com/H3C products brought a broader range of products under the HP umbrella.

Since then, HP switches have grown more robust, more feature rich, more powerful, and infinitely more reliable.

The current culmination of that expansive growth is the HP 5406R zl2 Switch, which allows for wired and wireless switching for core and access layer solutions for both branch office and enterprise environments.

Image converted using ifftoanyThe HP 5406R zl2 was, IMO, created explicitly for the SMB space. It features a converged platform with built-in resiliency simplifies deployment, providing a minimum 30% improvement in SDN performance to enable business agility, and delivering a 43% lower cost than competition backed by no hidden-cost limited lifetime warranty.

Additionally, the 5406R zl2 also brings to the table

    • Provides out-of-box simplicity requiring no software licenses
    • Unifies wired & wireless policy via IMC single pane-of-glass
    • Provides investment protection with future-proof SDN-capability & OpenFlow 1.3
    • Improves application performance with low 2.1us latency & powerful 2 Tbps backplane
    • Offers flexible connectivity on up to 288 ports with PoE+, 1/10 GbE, & 40 GbE-ready
    • Eliminates up to 37% SmartNet surcharge1 with HP Limited Lifetime Warranty 2.0
    • Removes hidden costs with no add-on software licenses – all features included
    • Reduces CAPEX by up to 36% with 1 GbE, 10 GbE & PoE+ starter bundles

With those improvements, and the inclusion of HP IMC, which provides a single pane of glass management console and framework for managing this device, you can see why we had no second thoughts selecting the HP 5406R zl2 as the SmallBizWindows Networking Product of the Year 2015.Image converted using ifftoany

I have been in possession of the HP 5406R zl2 chassis which came with an HP 20-port Gig-T PoE+ with 2-port 10GbE SFP+ v2 Zl module and a 24-port HP Gig-T PoE v2 Zl module, two (2) HP 5400R zl2 management modules, and two (2) HP 5400R 2750W PoE zl2 power supplies.

HP’s excellent IMC management solution is, of course, standard. (I hope to snag IMC brain trust’s  Les Stuart and Chris Young for a detailed tutorial on IMC one of these days.)

We hope to bring you a detailed review of this product in the April timeframe.

Our sincere thanks to HP, and to Sue Gillespie for taking the time to brief me on this product.

John Obeto is CEO of Blackfriars Capital
© 2002 – 2015, John Obeto for Blackground Media Unlimited

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9:07PM

The SmallBizWindows Storage Backup Product of the Year: HP RDX

28 -STORAGE BACKUP - ZThe SmallBizWindows Storage Backup Product of the Year 2015 is the HP RDX.

Prior to my introduction to RDX by HP’s Calvin Walker, my faith in backups resided solely in tape.

That hasn’t changed.

Especially for larger backup jobs that require automated tape libraries.

However, the utility of RDX is apparent from the instant you think about it.

4Fully integrated with Windows Server, and with cartridges that range from 320 GB to 2Tb in capacity, RDX brings fast USB 3.0 hard drive speeds to SMB server backups, with rates approaching 360 GB per hour.

With the simple drag-and-drop UI, and compatibility with most CDP (Continuous Data Protection) backup solutions, RDX comes in portable, shock-proof, and static-proof cartridges that are durable, yet interchangeable with all HP RDX docking stations, future-proofing your investment in the platform.

c04217353A free HP CDP application is included in the package. This is a full-featured program, allowing for scheduling backup tasks while running automatically in the background. RDX is also smart, disallowing the removal of cartridges whilst backups are scheduled, or running.WP_20141019_16_47_36_Raw

It is rated for 5,000+ load/unload insertions.

HP RDX is available in internal or external models. A rack mount model is also available.

WP_20140904_11_15_54_RawFinally, this rugged solution is very cost efficient.

This, without a doubt, is the premiere SMB backup and CDP solution on the market today. That is why it also a winner of the SmallBizWindows Absolute Best Award.

Our sincere thanks to HP, and especially Paula Dallabetta and Calvin Z. for making this review happen.

John Obeto is CEO of Blackfriars Capital
© 2002 – 2015, John Obeto for Blackground Media Unlimited

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9:06PM

The SmallBizWindows Storage Product of the Year 2015: HP MSA 1040 SAN

27 - storageThe HP MSA 1040 SAN is the SmallBizWindows Storage Product of the Year 2015.

HP’s MSA-series entry-level SANs are favorites here, and the MSA 2040 entry level SAN has won our coveted SmallBizWindows Absolute Best Award in 2013.

It has gotten better, with new software, and the line has expanded with the new MSA 1040 SAN, which runs away with this year’s top award for storage.MSA1040_SFF_LF

What impresses about the entry level MSA 1040 SAN are

    • Thin provisioning.
    • Wide-striping & rebalancing. This allows all volumes to utilize all storage resources in order to produce more performance. It also facilitates instantaneous volume expansion and rebalancing in the background to “level” the capacity utilization and boost performance.
    • Auto sub-LUN tiering: This is an automated, real-time tiering feature featuring two modes: performance, and archive. Both modes are automatic, and do not require user attention or input beyond mode settings.
    • Virtualized Re-direct-on-write snapshotting. According to HP, this feature “dramatically simplifies snapshot management by eliminating snap pool management. All snapshots have similar performance enabling more complex snap-of-snap and nesting capabilities.” Please see my clarification below.
    • 12Gb hard drives.

It also natively supports Microsoft Windows Server and Microsoft Hyper-V.

Most importantly, MSA 1040 fully supports data-in-place upgrades to MSA 2040, future-proofing your investment.

All this, in a package that starts at under $6,500 MSRP for a SAN with the following specs:

  • 2 Ports/Controller, and each controller with 4GB cache each. Controllers are factory-configured with SFPs, and each controller supports the following interfaces: 1GbE, 8GbFC, 10GbE iSCSI
  • A maximum of 3 Disk expansion enclosures using enterprise SAS, SAS Midline drives.
  • Standard local replication, and optional remote replication
  • 64 standard snapshots with 512 optional
  • 29.4k/19.7k Random R/W (IOPS)

When you look at the advancements listed here, you can see why the HP MSA-series of SANs are without a doubt, both bestsellers, and definitely game-changers, in the entry level SAN space.MSA1040_LFF_LF

CORRECTIONS: March 3, 2015

      • The MSA 1040 can be upgraded to a MSA 2040-class SAN via a data-in-place upgrade.
      • The MSA 1040 does NOT support SSDs at all. That feature benefit is reserved for the 2040.
      • The MSA 1040’s virtualization features are available with the purchase of the available Advanced Virtualization Upgrade

We hope to bring you a detailed review of this product in the June 2015 timeframe.

John Obeto is CEO of Blackfriars Capital
© 2002 – 2015, John Obeto for Blackground Media Unlimited

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11:16PM

The AbsolutelyWindows Dell XPS 13 Review

There was a time laptop OEMs the world over seemed to be quite fearful of Apple, and tried not to upset that company by competing with Apple’s laptops, the MacBook Air, and the MacBook Pro.

No longer.XPS 13 (5)

At their HP Discover Europe event in Barcelona, Spain, last December, HP threw down the gauntlet by previewing the HP EliteBook Folio 1020, which is designed to compete with the Apple MacBook Air.

Now, Dell has stepped up to the plate.

At the Consumer Electronics Association’s flagship event, CES (Consumer Electronics Show) 2015 this past January, Dell picked up said gauntlet, and proceeded to smack Apple unceremoniously, yet definitively, across their corporate face repeatedly with their new Dell XPS 13.

Folks, welcome to the future of Windows PCs.

At that time, I publicly expressed a desire to test, and review this device.

Well, my desire has been granted, as I am a recipient of a max’d out XPS 13 featuring the latest iteration of the Intel Core i5 CPU.

The Dell XPS 13 is both a stunner, and a flag-bearer. XPS 13 (4)

I have had the XPS 13 for a couple of weeks now, and I must tell you, Dell has seriously upped their game!

Dell is onto something good here.

The Dell XPS
Thanks to the investment, innovations, and advancements in central processing unit chip technologies being made by Intel, laptop computers have progressive gotten smaller and lighter, at the same time, performance is vastly improved or doubling every CPU rev, battery runtime is sweet, storage is hellishly improved, and screens are much better.

This XPS 13 comes with a quad-HD screen, ample RAM, a solid-state drive, and internal battery life listed at being up to 15 hours.

Unboxing
Fantastic job by Dell here.

The XPS 13 came in a package designed for the business professional on the go.

It came in a box that seemed quite hefty for the purported size of the XPS 13, which I hadn’t seen in real life at that time.

However, the big box was required for the package that came within it:

  •  
    • The Dell XPS 13,
    • The Dell Executive Backpack,
    • A laptop sleeve,
    • A multi-port adapter,
    • An external battery
    • A Microsoft Office 2013 Product key box
    • Multiple power adaptors
    • A welcome letter

The OOBE
I’ll let you peruse the OOBE slideshow below.

 

 

 

The Specs
The XPS 13 I have for review has the following specs:

  • Intel Core i5, latest (5th) generation part,
  • Quad-HD+ (QHD) 3200x1800 touchscreen
  • Intel HD 5500 graphics
  • 8GB RAM
  • 256GB SSD.
  • Bluetooth
  • A/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi
  • Intel Ultrabook® format device

First bootup
I turned on the device after charging it for 4 hours. (I always charge new devices to 100% prior to first use. You should too.)

Bootup was normal.

I created my account, made me an administrator on the device, then deleted the default account.

I then proceeded to delete all Dell installed apps except Microsoft Office.

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Initial Review
This is a serious device.

Though only 4mm wider than a MacBook Air, XPS 13 packs a 13” monitor due to its impossibly slim – and almost visually nonexistent – 5mm wide bezel. Measurement taken at the top and sides.

The touchscreen, dubbed an ‘infinity display’ – think “infinity pool”, and you’d get the idea – is made an edge-to-edge Gorilla Glass display delivering 5.7 million pixels which is bonded to the aluminum case.XPS 13 (9)

Looks: This device is a stunner. For an angular device, it has none of the baggage that angularity brings. it is quite sleek, light, and, being machined of aluminum, sturdy enough to hold as a folio by itself, a thing I seem to be doing right now in order to speed my way through airports on day trips.

Display: The touchscreen QHD+ display on the XPS 13 is just beautiful. It is very responsive, and just exudes a feeling of competence. Apart from being visually stunning, the presented colors are vibrant. I enjoyed watching Snowpiercer, The Starvin’ Games, and the Nollywood movie Eran-Oku on it during a recent trip.

Power: It is powerful, sporting the latest Intel Core i5 CPU running along at 2.2 GHz. I played with the latest build of Windows 10 Technical Preview running in a Hyper-V VM on it without lags, hiccups, or whatnots.

Aesthetics: The full size keyboard is backlit, a requirement for me. The hand rest is sturdy – made of carbon fibre, I’m told. The entire packaging is solid, and feels bespoke, not like a frankendevice.

Battery Life: Without the benefit of a timer, I can declare without equivocation that this device had the longest battery life I have ever enjoyed on a laptop. Bar none!

I used the XPS 13 as my primary device on a short trip to Deepest Darkest just after I got it. The internal battery lasted as long as I needed it, through watching movies, playing around in a Windows 10 beta VM, working, and sleeping.

I didn’t even have a reason to use the battery pack in either direction.

Behold, another MacBook Killer!
In my preview of the HP EliteBook Folio 1020, I declared that I would like to test that device against a MacBook Air.

I want to do the same with the Dell XPS 13 as well.

Why?

Simple: these devices have raised the bar not just the difference between other laptops, they have, I believe, surpassed any Apple MacBook Air device out there.

This, is a MacBook Air 13 Terminator.

However, I want to dispense with anecdotal remarks, and give it a mano e mano test against that Apple device.

My dilemma is now which MacBook to buy to test against: the MacBook Air 13 for this XPS 13 or the MacBook Air 11 for the HP EliteBook 1020.

What is quite clear here is that Dell is starting to do good things again.

If the Dell XPS 13 is any indication, then the comeback of the company is rolling along smoothly.

I applaud it.

In about a month or so, I will be publishing a review of my extended time with the XPS 13.

Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Wifey has chimed in: I could buy a MacBook Air 11 for my review, wrapping it up within the 14-day return period, and then purchase a MacBook Air 13 for a test against this XPS 13. Returning it within 14 days as well. That’s why she’s the brains of this operation!

Disclosure: This Dell XPS 13 has been provided to me gratis by Dell for my review and to keep if I want to.

I had been thinking of giving away the device at the end of my review, but now, I’m not so sure. If anyone can come up with a reason why I should give it away, I may yet do so in a giveaway at the end of the review.

The backstory on the Dell XPS product line is here, while the Dell XPS 13 Product page is here.

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John Obeto is CEO of Blackfriars Capital
© 2002 – 2015, John Obeto for Blackground Media Unlimited

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9:32AM

The SmallBizWindows Rackmount Server of the Year 2015: HP Proliant DL180 Gen9

25 - RACKMOUNT - ZThe SmallBizWindows Rackmount Server of the Year 2015 is the HP Proliant DL180 Gen9.

Why the DL180, and not the perennial winner, the Proliant DL380?

Simple: it is the new entry in HP’s Proliant rackmount offerings that excites us the most due to its combination of palatable pricing and features.

The dual-CPU-capable Proliant DL180 comes with the latest generation of Intel Xeon processors, offering users up to 12 cores and 16 DIMM slots supporting DDR4 SmartMemory. It can accommodate up to 12 LFF (large form factor) or up to 16 SFF (small small factor) hard drives. A pair of 1GBE ports are standard, 10GbE adapters are available. A SmartArray controller is also standard.

And it gets better. clip_image002

As with all Gen9 Proliant servers, HP has added several enhancements to Proliant: performance, manageability, support are all improved.

OneView is also enhanced in this generation.

For this and other improvements, coupled with the low-low entry cost, the HP Proliant beat out its bigger brother DL380, and is the SmallBizWindows Rackmount Server of the Year 2015.

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We hope to bring you a detailed review of this product in the April 2015 timeframe.

Our sincere thanks to HP, and especially Kenn D. for making this review happen.

John Obeto is CEO of Blackfriars Capital
© 2002 – 2015, John Obeto for Blackground Media Unlimited

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9:28AM

The SmallBizWindows Blade Server of the Year 2015: HP Proliant BL460c Gen9

24 - Blade ServerThe HP Proliant BL460c is, without a doubt, the best selling blade server on Planet Earth, and arguably the best performing in that same category.

For the Gen9 iteration of the BL460c, HP outfits the device with the new Intel Xeon E5-2600 v3 CPU that should have users experience up to a 70% gain in performance over Bl460c Gen8. It has a 20Gb FlexibleLOM NIC, and USB 3.0. DDR4 DIMMs are standard over 16 slots, and if 64GB DIMMs are used, maximum memory for this server is 1TB. Not a misprint: one terabyte! Storage is available for 2 SFF (small form factor) drives.

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While being a Proliant is the most obvious reason why this server sits atop the pantheon of blade servers, there are a plethora of other reasons why.

Blade serves cannot be talked about without their management framework brought in.

Here, HP’s OneView platform coupled with iLO 4.0, iLO Federation, SmartArray storage controllers, exposed RESTful APIs, Insight Online, and Smart Update Manager extend the value proposition of Proliant BL460c.

clip_image004Consequently, the HP Proliant BL460c Gen9 is the SmallBizWindows Blade Server of the Year 2015.

Pending our upgrade to the latest HP Proliant c3000 blade chassis, we hope to bring you a detailed review of this product in the April 2015 timeframe.

Our sincere thanks to HP, and especially Kenn D. for making this review happen.

John Obeto is CEO of Blackfriars Capital
© 2002 – 2015, John Obeto for Blackground Media Unlimited

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8:55AM

The SmallBizWindows Tower Server of the Year 2015: HP Proliant ML310e

23 - TOWER-ZThe SmallBizWindows Tower Server of the Year 2015 is the HP Proliant ML310e.

Why the ML310e?

Simple, in our review of the ML310e here, we detailed what we liked about the server, and why we selected it.

From our review:

clip_image002What HP has done with the new entry-level Proliant ML310e is to raise the bar in performance, storage, and storage options, with the hot-pluggable hard drive bays, for example, reliability, implementation and management.

The ML310e Gen8 v2’s performance is several levels above that of the ML110 it replaces. Storage and RAM are expanded, and manageability, with iLO4, is quite smooth and easy.

We awarded it the SmallBizWindows Absolute Best Award in July, and we are now bestowing the SmallBizWindows Tower Server of the Year 2015 Award on it.

Our review is here.

Our sincere thanks to HP, and especially Kenn D. for making this review happen.

John Obeto is CEO of Blackfriars Capital
© 2002 – 2015, John Obeto for Blackground Media Unlimited

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