CeBIT India reaches out to small and medium companies

I’m glad that CeBIT India is not just another conference with speakers and topics — it goes beyond that.

On attending a press conference in Bangalore this week, I learnt that CeBIT India wants to be a platform to promote industry, innovation, and Indian talent.

The story on the partnership between CeBIT India, IESA and MAIT appeared in many publications. Sujith John and Shilpa Phadnis of the Times of India wrote a very aspiration type story, ‘CeBIT hopes to bring tech biggies to Bangalore’. But yes, we will see speakers of that caliber at CeBIT India. It is my job to ensure that (with the support of my A-team).

Now coming to this week’s announcement about the partnership between MAIT and IESA.

CeBIT signed an MoU with IESA (Indian Electronics Semiconductor Association) and MAIT (Manufacturers Association of Information Technology) this week to promote the ESDM (Electronics System Design and Manufacturing) sector in India. And how exactly will it be doing this?

Well you see, both bodies have a number of members from companies of all sizes. Some of these companies are start-ups or so small, that they would not be able to fund themselves for individual partnership at CeBIT. But by coming in through MAIT or IESA, they are getting an opportunity to present themselves to the world, through the CeBIT platform — at a very low cost.

So essentially, they will be part of the MAIT or IESA pavilion at CeBIT — showcasing their innovation to international businesses that are visiting CeBIT. That’s a pure B2B opportunity!

Rahul Gupta, Chairman, SME Chapter, MAIT also heads a company called Smile Security and Surveillance Pvt. Ltd (http://SSSL.co.in). His company is participating at CeBIT through MAIT.

Gupta says: “I feel that this is a very big opportunity for a small SME company like me to showcase myself to the world — at a very special rate — through MAIT”.

I feel that CeBIT India needs to look at more such “clusters” and theme based pavilions to get more companies to come and participate in the Expo at CeBIT India (November 12 – 14, 2014, Bangalore International Exhibition Center).

http://www.cebit-india.com

 

How VMware is making a push into #Mobility (and why #Security is not yet core)

Jonathan Chadwick, EVP & CFO, VMware

Jonathan Chadwick, EVP & CFO, VMware

Last week, I was privileged to meet and interview Jonathan Chadwick, the CFO of VMware. Let me share with you some excerpts from that hour-long interview.

First impressions count!  I observed that Jonathan has a deep understanding of technology, more than most CFOs in the tech sector. And understandably so. A quick look at his profile on LinkedIn and I see that he’s also served at tech companies like McAfee (a maker of anti-virus and security software), Skype and Cisco Systems. He’s also on the board at F5 Networks.

So I am keen to know what VMware has achieved in the past year. And I also have questions to ask about the AirWatch acquisition and Security.

You can read my abridged interview in InformationWeek India here (it’s selected as the Top Story this week).

While VMware has achieved leadership in virtualization (compute) it is now making a push into storage virtualization (with its just launched vSAN product) and network virtualization (through its 2012 Nicira acquisition and the NSX product).

MOBILITY

On the Mobility front, the crucial piece that VMware was lacking all along was MDM or Mobile Device Management. MDM is a USD 1.8 billion market and addresses an important enterprise trend called BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), wherein businesses have to adapt its infrastructure to accept a plethora of diverse employee devices — and yet secure its data assets.  VMware took a leap on the MDM bandwagon through its recent acquisition of AirWatch, for an eye-popping $1.54 billion.

Based in Atlanta, Georgia, AirWatch is a 1,600 person company that has been growing extremely fast. Jonathan informs me that AirWatch has built up a base in excess of a 100 million dollar bookings in 2013 alone —  that despite the fact that the company has been in existence for just about 3 – 4 years.

MDM is a USD 1.8 billion market long dominated by players like BlackBerry, Citrix, IBM, and SAP. So I wondered how AirWatch compares with these heavyweights and first movers. And I asked Jonathan what’s the proposition offered by AirWatch, and how VMware is going to leverage this.

Here is Jonathan’s response:

“If you look at Gartner’s Magic Quadrant, of all those players you mentioned plus a few others, AirWatch is in the top right hand quadrant (Leadership) based on the ability to innovate and deliver. They have been proven in the marketplace, and their position with the ten thousand customers so far, has been differentiated against all of the people around them, and they have been doing that as a standalone. With this partnership, we can leverage our presence in enterprise, and especially their enterprise position on end-user computing. We see a really nice combination of very, very little overlap in terms of our own offerings, where we differentiate in the marketplace. And this is one of those examples where the market is moving so quickly, that the big guys have not been able to respond fast enough; and so, five-year startups, a three-year-old startup like AirWatch, in terms of revenue base, has been able to really drive a significant market presence and customer loyalty. It is estimated, I think by IDC, to be around 2 billion smartphone devices on the global basis very shortly. So with data points like that, this is why they are winning,” informs Jonathan Chadwick, EVP and CFO of VMware .

SECURITY

I also see that VMware has not made a strong play on the Security front — and this is an important area, more so in virtualized environments. So how about Virtualized Security? Is that the next thing that VMware is setting its sights on?

Jonathan replied: 

“I do not think that part is so crucial. I think where we see security playing a really big role beyond just the AirWatch example I just quoted, is inside the data center. So what is pretty well understood today is the provisioning of very capable firewalls at the edge of the data center, the ingress and egress points, but the interesting thing, especially now, when you look at how data centers are particularly virtualized today, is a lot of the traffic — about 80 percent of data center traffic now is actually inside the data center.

“The NSX capability (from the Nicira acquisition) as a distributed architecture, includes distributed firewalls that actually firewall the data center virtually in a way that is just not protected today. So if companies want to avoid shocks like some of the bigger security breaches that we’ve heard about in the past, increasingly they are going to be looking at how do I take virtual machine type capabilities, virtualized data centers and deploy things like distributed firewalls. The NSX technology is a highly important part of that security solution. ”

So are we talking about virtualized security? Is that the next area in virtualization?

Jonathan: “Precisely, in fact in the data center today, we have virtualized the machine; we virtualized the compute layer; we are virtualizing storage; and within the virtual networking stack, there is a series of distributed firewall capabilities, so each of the virtual machines are firewalled off each other. That is really important technology. It is directly complementary to what the edge firewall vendors are doing, who are pretty much doing the ingress and egress points. This is dealing with the relatively unprotected world inside the data center.”

CONCLUSION

I am betting that VMware will acquire one of the security companies this year. The potential targets for acquisition are CheckPoint or Symantec.

Remember — you read about the idea here first (a line that a leading business newspaper in India uses often).

Dell reboots to ‘start-up’ mode

Announces new tech innovations and four customer imperatives to surge ahead into the enterprise IT solutions market

What would Dell as a company be like after going private? How much would change? What would be its go-to-market strategy for 2014? How would Dell absorb and integrate all the companies and technologies it had acquired, into its product mix? What are the hot profit segments that Dell will pursue in 2014 and beyond? Will it continue to make and sell PCs in a shrinking market? These were questions on everyone’s mind at Dell World 2013 (December 11- 13) in Austin Texas.

IMG_0425Listening to the highly charged keynote speeches, meeting with Dell leadership and technologists, listening to customer panels, and walking around the glitzy solutions expo floor, it became obvious that, as a private company, Dell is raring to go — and wants to put the fun element back in work. It has a longer-term strategy, new technology innovations like Dell PowerEdge VRTX, Fluid Cache for SAN, 12th generation PowerEdge servers, and Dell Mobile Workspace (more on these later), aggressive pricing, and more delight for customers and channel partners. It’s more committed to entrepreneurship and innovation, and open to industry partnerships.

IMG_0422At Dell World on December 12, a visibly relieved and ecstatic Michael Dell (Founder & CEO) said, “It feels like I am a part of the world’s largest start-up company. As a private company, we have the freedom to make the bold moves that are necessary, investing in emerging markets, in PCs, tablets, software, solutions, and in data centres.”

You can watch the keynote video on demand here: http://dellworld.com/liveonline

Michael Dell

Michael Dell

Dell World is an annual event that’s attended by Dell customers, ecosystem partners, media professionals, technologists and analysts, who get to see and experience Dell’s solutions, and hear about its plans for the coming year. Last year, Dell World had a footfall of 3,000 people; a similar number was expected this year. Dell World 2013 was held at the sprawling, multi-level Austin Convention Center, spanning over 881,400 square feet, or six blocks long.

IMG_0390Dell may be running neck-to-neck with giants like HP, IBM, and Lenovo, but at heart, it was always a company driven by innovation and entrepreneurship – something it can readily get back to, post-privatization. Those tracking Dell’s origins will recall how Michael Dell started the company in his dorm room in 1984, with seed capital of $1,000 at the age of 20. At 18, while studying at the University of Texas, he took apart IBM PCs, studied them and then built and sold customized PCs with better performance specs, yet priced far lower (at that time IBM PCs sold in retail stores for $3,000).

“I realized that the components in those (IBM) computers were all made by somebody else, yet they were charging four times the cost of those components. It just didn’t seem fair,” said Michael Dell.

CUSTOMER FOCUS

Dell as a company is known for identifying technologies and products that make fat profits for its competitors, and then reengineering the same, to offer better performance at lower costs, yet embracing open industry standards. And it tops that with fantastic customer support, although it has received criticism for telephonic support in recent times. In the days of selling PCs, savings for Dell came in by eliminating the middle man (channel and retail), to sell directly to customers through the Internet and phone. Of course, Dell no longer sells direct today, yet the spirit of innovation and aggressive pricing continues within Dell, as it sells enterprise IT solutions: servers, PCs, tablets, thin clients, storage, networking, software and services.

Dell also continues that close engagement with its customers and partners; Michael Dell spends 40 percent of his time with customers and personally conducts “platinum councils” with CIOs around the world. He’s now doing the same with other entities like universities, where a lot of tech talent exists.

With the exception of direct selling, nothing else changes, inform Dell executives.

While Dell’s successes came from selling PCs and servers in the earlier years, it has now repositioned itself as an end-to-end enterprise IT solutions company, that wants to work closely with customers, to solve business problems and understand the opportunities.

“We are disrupting and democratising software, services and solutions the way we did with PCs and servers,” said Michael Dell during the keynote address.

FOUR IMPERATIVES

Dell is known to be a very customer-centric company, and it has aligned its business groups to better address customer challenges. To that effect, it identified four customer imperatives: Transform, Connect, Inform, and Protect.

‘Transform’ is about helping customers migrate from legacy infrastructure (mainframes, minis) to a new technology environment (with virtualization, cloud computing and data centres).  In migrating, customers will have access to flexible, scalable and agile architectures.

‘Connect’ focuses on increasing productivity by enabling the next generation workforce to work securely from anywhere, anytime and on any device (BYOD).

‘Inform’ helps customers gain control of their big data and to use it to drive insights, to gain a competitive advantage.

‘Protect’ refers to the protection from organised attacks to everyday behaviours of employees that unknowingly enable cyber theft.

FUTURE OF THE PC

Market research reports show a shrinking PC market, yet Dell continues to believe in, and sell  thousands of PCs to large customers such as Boeing. Industry observers say that PCs are a way for Dell to get its foot in the door — to sell other enterprise solutions to corporations.

“Customers tell me that these devices are extremely important and relevant. PCs help get business done. So we’re investing, innovating , and differentiating in this space,” said Michael Dell.

IMG_0372The flood of tablet brands in the market does not deter Dell from making its own. We checked out the Dell Venue range of tablets at Dell World, and were surprised by their form factor and unique features like full Windows 8.1 (not RT), IMG_0373USB ports, wide HD screens, large memory, good battery life, and smart accessories. Aggressive low pricing, security, and management features make the Venue tablets a worthy consideration. However, these tablets are configured mainly for business applications, and ideal for use by a sales force or on the shop floor, for instance. We’ll have to see how home users take to the Dell Venue tablets, this holiday season.

The other area where Dell sees huge potential is virtual PCs or thin clients. It offers a product called Dell Wyse — an integrated hardware and software solution. As organizations increasingly take to the cloud, there is demand for front-end devices like virtual PCs to access back-end applications and data residing in data centers. And this is what Dell Wyse offers.

TECH INNOVATIONS

Dell has always been known for its disruptive tech innovations. In 1996, Dell surprised audiences at the Comdex IT exhibition (the major industry show back then) with the launch of a 12 Mhz PC (the fastest PC until then was clocked at 6 Mhz). Dell knew that if it did 8 Mhz, the competition would soon catch up, so why not 12 Mhz (although it also had a 16 Mhz unit in its lab)?

IMG_0368That spirit of disruptive innovation continues even today. For instance, Dell proudly showed its Fluid Cache for SAN breaking the IOPS record (Input/Output Operations Per Second) and clocking in at 5 million IOPS (its competitor did 3 million IOPS). This is a flexible enterprise application acceleration solution that integrates servers, networking and storage. With that kind of performance, enterprises will be able to handle a greater number of transactions, and experience faster response times. And that’s good for business especially during peak periods.

The other tech innovation on display at Dell World was the 4K x 2K ultra HD, UltraSharp monitors. These monitors are aimed at professionals in the creative and design space. Of course, the natural progression for Dell in this area is smart TVs and Internet TVs with ultra high resolution displays. In fact Dell currently sells smart TVs from Samsung and Sharp.

We’ve mentioned the innovations in the tablet space, but there was another mobility innovation that caught our attention at Dell World. It’s called the Dell Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM) solution. The mobility solution is currently in the beta testing phase. The unified mobility solution can manage both consumer-owned and company-owned mobile devices, through policies. For enterprise devices, it offers the usual end-point management. But for consumer-owned devices it builds a secure container in the device, and holds all corporate data and applications in a ‘container’. The user’s personal data and applications (outside the container) are not compromised or governed by the corporate policies — nor can they intrude on corporate data. This technology comes from its acquisition of KACE last year.

Unlike traditional EMM platforms, which typically include separate tools for managing mobile devices, apps, content and users, Dell has consolidated the capabilities organizations need in an end-to-end mobile enablement solution.

Dell VRTX servers and 12th generation PowerEdge servers have also been acclaimed for their engineering innovations and performance. The former is a shared infrastructure platform with simplified management features, making it ideal for small to mid-sized businesses — or remote/branch offices.

INNOVATION VENTURE FUND

As we mentioned earlier, Dell fosters the spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation. Dell Ventures, Dell’s strategic investment arm, announced an expanded commitment to entrepreneurship and innovation with a $300 million Strategic Innovation Venture Fund. The fund will enable Dell to invest in early-to-growth-stage companies in emerging technology areas including storage, cloud computing, big data, next-generation data center, security and mobility.

The Strategic Innovation Venture Fund is Dell’s second major investment fund and builds on the $60 million Dell Fluid Data Storage Fund announced last year. Since then, Dell has completed road shows to meet with entrepreneurs and VCs in Silicon Valley, Boston and Israel, reviewed hundreds of companies and invested in numerous start-ups that have contributed to Dell’s storage and end-to-end solutions innovation. As the global business environment evolves and customers are increasingly challenged by the pace of change with virtualization, cloud computing, big data and mobility, Dell is expanding its venture investments to new areas of IT innovation.

INDUSTRY PARTNERSHIPS

Dell is also known for its affable industry partnerships and is a long-time ally with Microsoft. At Dell world it also announced partnerships with Red Hat and Accenture.

Dell and Red Hat will jointly engineer enterprise-grade, private cloud solutions based on OpenStack to help customers move to, and deploy highly-scalable cloud computing models. As part of the expanded relationship, Dell becomes the first company to OEM Red Hat Enterprise Linux OpenStack Platform. The co-engineered solution will be built on Dell infrastructure and Red Hat Enterprise Linux OpenStack Platform. The solution will be delivered by a Red Hat Enterprise Linux OpenStack Platform practice within Dell Cloud Services.

At Dell WorldDell announced that it is expanding its worldwide agreement with Accenture to address some of the most pressing technology challenges businesses face today, particularly during business transformation. To accomplish this, Dell and Accenture have signed a four-year global go-to-market agreement to jointly develop and sell a new set of offerings designed to deliver improved enterprise efficiency, higher security, and better business outcomes.

Under the go-to-market agreement, the companies will work together to build, implement and manage data center solutions for mid-market and select enterprise customers who want to drive business innovation while controlling costs and reducing risk. The agreement will bring together Dell’s end-to-end portfolio of infrastructure, software, and services with Accenture’s capabilities as well as Avanade’s, which was created in 2000 as a joint venture between Accenture and Microsoft. This agreement augments Dell’s existing cloud capabilities in hardware, software and services.

And Dell announced it is building on its strategic alliance with Microsoft to deliver Windows Azure to Dell customers worldwide through the Dell Cloud Partner Program. This expands upon the previously announced alliance providing Application Development Services on Windows Azure.

With the evolving Dell-Microsoft relationship, current and future customers will have even more choice and flexibility when pursuing and planning public cloud infrastructures. Acting as a single-source supplier through the Dell Cloud Partner Program, Dell will offer customers a central point of solution integration, control and direct support, lessening the complexity and challenges of deploying cloud environments.

THE NEW DELL

As a private company, analysts says Dell will move at a faster pace, making faster strategic decisions, introducing new products, moving to new markets, making strategic acquisitions (particularly for Cloud and data center), and continuing to invest in start-ups. Now it can also take a longer term view, as against a quarter-to-quarter review and realignment, as public company.

At a customer panel discussion, Kevin Dunn, VP Business Information Services, First Command Financial Services was asked how he sees the new privatised Dell. “I see more engineering and collaboration coming out of Dell, in a private way,” he said.

Another customer on the panel said, “A lot of innovation comes from (start-up) companies that have ideas, so it is great to see that Dell is going to fund and work closely with a lot of start-ups.”

And yet another customer said, “The days of doing generic boxes are done. Now it is all about technology innovation. It is also about building an ecosystem and working with trusted partners.”

We think that Dell has all these ingredients that will ensure its success. As a privatised entity it will move towards market leadership more quickly. What we are unsure about is how it will continue to get its funding to invest in R&D and market expansion. What happens once the funding from Silver Lake Partners dries up?

To keep going, Dell will need to pursue new areas of profitability such as Analytics, Business Intelligence, Security, automated tools, and network or data center management software. And that’s where its one-year old software division (headed by former CA CEO John Swainson) will have to chip in, with engineering effort and new products. Software defined networks and data centers are the future.

Services (led by Suresh Vaswani) also holds a lot of potential, with Dell currently playing in sectors like Healthcare, BFSI, Education and Government/PSU.

Mobility and devices is another area that Dell is hotly pursuing. And solutions that help companies get on the cloud will bring in significant revenue.

But to sell all this, Dell will need to revitalize its sales force and channel (see box, Dell revamps channel program). Presently, channel confidence is at an all-time low in India.

To know Dell’s destiny you need to watch its performance closely in 2014, as this will be its inflection point.

The next Dell World will be conducted in Austin, TX in November 2014.

Cisco Cius: The little tablet that could

Cisco Cius

The Cisco Cius running a telepresence session

When IT majors like HP are struggling to sell tablets, can Cisco succeed? The answer was obvious in the first five minutes of the exclusive Cius tablet demo at the Cisco Telepresence room in Mumbai. Firstly, the Cius, pronounced “See Us” does not compete with the likes of iPad and Galaxy, although it is an Android-based (Froyo) tablet. Cisco calls it an “Enterprise-class tablet” and it’s designed for video or visual communications (See us – get it?)  Cisco wants you to believe that this is not an end-point solution – rather it is a “converged device”. Secondly, the tablet is designed for enterprise/business use, and largely depends on Wi-fi connectivity and a desktop dock/handset (sold separately) for extended connectivity. It also has enterprise-grade security features akin to what you get on a Blackberry device. Thirdly, Cius can act as thin client for desktop virtualization/VDI. Fourthly, Cius is a part of a “system” of collaboration tools; though it can be used as a standalone Android tablet, the real utility of the tablet comes when it is hooked up to the Cisco system of Telepresence, Unified Communications, IP Telephony, various collaboration applications and the Cisco Unified Communications Manager (CallManager) in the data center. That means you need to have a backend and all this IT infrastructure in place to fully appreciate the benefits of the Cius. So Cisco is really doing what Apple does best  – selling not just a product but a complete system of intricately linked components that collectively offer a lot of possibilities. A Cisco spokesperson sums it up saying, “Cius does collaboration, communication and compute.”

CONNECTIVITY & DOCK

The Cius depends largely on Wi-Fi for connectivity and it supports IEEE 802.11 a/b/g/n standards. Cisco says it will add 3G and 4G data service options in the near future.
So if you want to take your Cius tablet on the road, you’ll need to find a Wi-Fi hotspot. But remote connectivity should become easier next year — we have learnt that Cisco is working with service providers to make its visual communication services and IP Telephony available over their networks. So perhaps in a year’s time you can be on the road and still participate in a telepresence session or answer an IP call using a Cius tablet.
Let’s talk about connectivity options. The tablet itself has a Micro SD slot, Micro USB, and Micro HDMI. For extended connectivity place it in the HD Media Station — its desktop dock cum handset. The dock has ports for USB (3), Ethernet (up to 1000 Gbps), and HDMI. It also charges the tablet through its 29-pin connector. In addition, the dock has hi-grade audio speakers and also a 3.5 mm headset connector.

APP STORE

No discussion on tablet is complete with deliberating on the number of apps and the type of apps available for it. In this case we were obviously looking for enterprise-grade apps. Being an Andriod device, you have access to over 100,000 apps in the Andriod Market. But Cisco also offers its own store for enterprise applications, called Cisco AppHQ.
Since this is an enterprise device, security is a consequential concern. Through policies the administrator can lock access to Android apps or prevent downloading of specific categories of apps. Cisco claims there are more than 2,000 enterprise applications, and each of these has been tested and validated by an internal team at Cisco.
AppHQ looks similar to other Android app stores on the Web. But there is a distinguishing feature called AppHQ Manager, which allows companies to establish customized, branded storefronts, featuring a subset of its own AppHQ apps, for employees. That’s great for customizing and standardizing collaboration apps and enterprise apps.

VISUAL COMMUNICATIONS & COLLABORATION

Cius

Cius has native telepresence capability

They say 85 percent of communication is visual. But for truly immersive visual communications you need high definition. That’s why Cisco fitted two high definition 720p cameras (front and rear facing) into the Cius; it has native telepresence capability. We “immersed” ourselves in a telepresence session on giant LCD screens with the Cisco media team in Bangalore. That session was instantly relayed to the Cius tablet. What’s more, we could walk around the room and watch colleagues on the tablet in high-definition video. PowerPoint and whiteboarding (done remotely) can also be beamed across to the tablet (during a WebEx session). So you can move into a meeting room and continue your Webex or telepresence session.
Further, collaboration tools such as email (Cisco Inbox), Social Media  (Cisco Quad), instant messaging and presence (Cisco Jabber) are also available on the Cius, as witnessed during the demo.
Mounted in its desktop dock, the tablet can also be used for multi-way audio conferencing (without video).

COMPUTE / VIRTUAL DESKTOP

The Cius has compute capability and offers desktop virtualization too. One could use the QuickOffice suite and save documents on the server. The Cisco spokesperson said it could be used as a desktop replacement, though I can’t image myself doing serious work on Spreadsheets on the tablet’s 7-inch screen; I’ll probably end up attaching a larger monitor to it. The compute power comes from an Intel Atom Z615 Processor (512-KB cache, 1.6 GHz). The device has 1GB RAM and no hard disk; it relies on its expandable 32-GB eMMC flash memory for storage.
The device also has enterprise enterprise-grade security features such as secure credential for storage, secure boot, image authentication and encryption, certificate management, network and wireless security, media and data security, an AnyConnect Secure Mobility Client, remote wipe, policy management features, and a hardware security foundation layer.

——-

PlayBook tablet set to ‘amplify’ BlackBerry success in India

Playbook

The 7-inch tablet has a nice form factor. It is packed with features.

RIM launches its PlayBook tablet in India. With unique features like easy connectivity to the Internet and TV; easy manipulation of BlackBerry handset data and applications; uncompromised Web browsing; free user-to-user Wi-Fi video, Flash and HTML 5 support; HD multimedia and gaming; multi-tasking — all packed into a small form factor device — PlayBook is poised to capture a major chunk of the Indian tablet market

Research In Motion (RIM), the makers of the popular BlackBerry phones launched its PlayBook tablet in India. At a glittery launch event, attended by a posse of 100 media persons, RIM got a top Bollywood actor to launch its much-awaited tablet. But what chance does the PlayBook have in a crowded tablet market that has two dominant players (Apple and Samsung)? And what are the product differentiators to catch the attention of tech-savvy Indian consumers?

To find out, I spoke to Francois Mahieu, Senior Director, Head of Asia-Pacific Product Management, RIM. He also gave me a demo of the device before the press conference.

 “There are more than 200 tablets in existence (worldwide). But the tablet market (in India) is not yet mature; it is very open. I don’t think an Apple iPad or Samsung Galaxy are reference tablets here. These tablets have not achieved the same success as they have in other markets and I think PlayBook is poised to be the number one tablet here.”

Mahieu said he was confident because of the huge base of BlackBerry users in India. Also, some of the product features are unique and “good for the Indian market”. He is also counting on BlackBerry’s excellent reputation in the business world. Speaking at the launch, Frenny Bawa, Managing Director, India – RIM said, “With the launch of the PlayBook we are stepping into a different category of communication, computing devices, and mobility. With the PlayBook we intend to redefine the tablet space in India. The adoption of BlackBerry handsets in India is growing at a faster rate than the overall mobile market itself. The PlayBook has been built on our experience of the BlackBerry smart phone and we’ve just taken it one step further, and effectively amplified the experience of the BlackBerry smart phone into the tablet space.”

RIM is confident that its growing presence in India will contribute to the success of the PlayBook tablet, even though Apple, Samsung and others already offer tablets in this market. There are 1 million Blackberry users in India. RIM operates in close to 80 cities in India and its smart phones are available in thousands of outlets across the sub-continent. RIM has partnerships with nine telecom operators and has three distribution partners in India. It feels it has the right mix of products and plans that cater to the Indian consumer.

FEATURES & DIFFERENTIATORS

Indian consumers are tech-savvy and like feature heavy products. They are bound to be smitten by some of the unique features of the Playbook tablet.

Perhaps the most important one is the manner in which the PlayBook pairs with a BlackBerry smart phone. This is done over a Bluetooth connection. BlackBerry handset users must download a free application called BlackBerry Bridge from the BlackBerry AppWorld. Once you download and install it on your handset, you activate the Bluetooth connection. Then activate BlackBerry Bridge on the PlayBook (pre-installed) and it will detect and pair up with your handset. Enter the password and the current screen on the handset would appear on the PlayBook almost instantly. To navigate one touches the screen and applies short, quick vertical or horizontal finger strokes (as done on the optical trackpad of the handset).

With other tablets it is not as easy to pair the tablet and a handset. You either need to use Wi-Fi (which is not pervasive here) or you need to insert a SIM card. That means additional costs for the data card. The PlayBook utilizes the existing data plan of the handset and does not need a SIM card.

Once you pair the two devices you can read or send emails, edit documents or even project presentations or spreadsheets on to a big screen LCD TV. The PlayBook has a built-in micro-HDMI port for this purpose. It can also be tethered to a PC via its USB connection.

RIM has also taken steps to ensure that handset data is secure and not compromised if a PlayBook is stolen. Once the Bluetooth connection is broken all the copied data on the tablet is erased.

The other feature that will wow Indian consumers is the Web browsing experience. With support for Flash and HTML 5, backed by high-definition graphics, the tablet offers the same surfing experience that’s available on notebook computers. And since it can be connected to a TV, one can also watch YouTube videos or play games using a larger screen.

“So the PlayBook is really what we call a BlackBerry Amplifier — it offers a larger form factor to enhance the handset experience,” said Mahieu.  Speaking at the launch, Bawa said, “The PlayBook has been built on our experience of the BlackBerry smart phone and we’ve just taken it one step further effectively amplified the experience of the BlackBerry smart phone into the tablet space. The device fits the needs of professionals, prosumers, artists, designers, IT executives, and healthcare professionals. It can be used on the shop floor for production related tasks or for enterprise applications. It can also be used for customer facing applications too.

APPS

The success of tablets is also determined by the number of applications available and we wondered what kind of, and how many applications are available for PlayBook today.

“We have more than 17,000 application developers in India, the largest community in all of Asia Pacific. Out of the gate we have more than 100 applications available for the PlayBook. Some applications have been created specifically for Indian audiences,” said Bawa.

While there may be a lot of consumer-oriented applications, not too many business applications are available for the PlayBook today. Mahieu informed us that RIM is working with Microsoft, IBM, SAP and Salesforce.com to develop enterprise apps. Although it acknowledges a need for vertical specific enterprise apps (such as those used in healthcare), RIM believes that enterprise users will really be comfortable accessing corporate data via a Web browser. And the PlayBook has built-in VPN functionality for accessing corporate intranets.

The other bonus feature for enterprise users is free one-on-one video calls over Wi-Fi networks. A pre-loaded application, simply called Video Chat, could help enterprises cut down costs for internal communications.

PRICING AND AVAILABILITY

The PlayBook is available in three versions, depending on memory capacity required: The 16GB version is priced at Rs 27,990. The 32 GB  and 64 GB versions are priced at Rs 32,990 and Rs 37,990 respectively. It would be available at select retail outlets and users can try the product at Wi-Fi enabled experience zones around the country. The three national distributors are Redington India, Brightpoint India and Ingram Micro.

Is your data high definition?

At the outset I’d like to wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

You could well call 2010 the year of high-definition and 3D. We saw the launch of HD Satellite TV, HD cameras, 3D movies and TVs and now we also have HD contact lenses! How about high-definition data?

While technology vendors are trying to squeeze more pixels into displays I am suggesting a refinement of bits. There is a stream of data flowing through enterprise networks and settling in storage repositories. You can classify it all as Structured and Unstructured. In the case of the former, data is organized in rows, columns, tables and databases. So it’s easy to sift through it, and search for something meaningful. But what about unstructured data? The type that does not have a data model?

According to Merrill Lynch as much as 80 percent of business data is in unstructured form. And a lot of this is user generated content like e-mail, audio and video clips, and documents that users exchange such as PDFs, PPTs and DOC files.

There is a lot of meaningful information in these files. But how do you organize/classify it and tag it? That’s what I mean by ‘high definition data’—it’s about getting more meaningful information from the large morass of data that’s accumulated in storage pools.

There are commercial solutions available for analyzing and understanding unstructured data for business applications. Companies like Inxight and SPSS offer these tools and there are more specialized offerings such as Attensity360 and Sysomos.

Are you using these tools? How accurate and effective are these? Do they actually help you mine useful data or see patterns and trends?

Write to me and let me know.

Meanwhile, enjoy your end-of-year vacations and don’t think too much about work!

The next enterprise killer app

Now that the iPad is declared “Gadget of the Year” by T3 magazine and there is a flood of tablets coming our way, it’s time to ponder about how these will be used productively in the enterprise. And it’s not hard to predict the next killer app for the corporate world.

The smartphone, already an essential tool, and the tablet, each have their inherent limitations. The smartphone is in essence a mini computer, but is just not practical for extended periods of usage. For one, its screen size is too small, and secondly, onscreen keyboards or slide-out physical keyboards are just not comfortable enough. Those who have attempted typing an entire report or story on their smartphones will agree. 

 The tablet too has its limitations. It’s a device for consuming content and is not very apt for creating content or editing documents.

But pair these two devices together and you have a killer app. That’s what RIM is trying to do with its PlayBook tablet (due early next year). The PlayBook will pair up with a BlackBerry handset via a Bluetooth connection. Then content that appears on the Blackberry phone’s screen will also appear on the tablet. That will overcome the limitation of screen size. We can also expect a virtual keypad with animation that simulates the tactile key presses of a physical keyboard.

Microsoft and Samsung will be launching tablets this year and Dell has just launched the Streak. And Cisco’s Cius enterprise tablet is expected in Q4 2010.

I see lots of useful applications for the smartphone-tablet combo. One of these is video conferencing on-the-go. Then there’s virtual computing—images of your desktop environment will be pushed to your smartphone and tablet, thus enabling employees to work from anywhere. But for that we are going to need faster 3G connectivity. The possibilities seem endless especially when you consider the hundreds of enterprise applications available from App stores. And then a company could have custom-built applications for the highly-specific needs of its mobile workforce. *