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Softcat Tech Update: November 2015

Posted on Monday, November 02, 2015
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By Oliver Neville-Payne
Pre-Sales Executive

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Welcome to our November Tech Update.  As ever, I'll be rounding up the latest and greatest technology releases and corporate tech-news from the past month.


After much speculation surrounding the sale of EMC, and in turn quelling rumours of an HP buyout, Dell has sealed a deal with EMC in the IT sector’s largest ever merger at £44 billion. This dwarfs the previous record following the acquisition of Compaq by HP at just under £10 billion set in 2001. The move sees Dell expanding beyond its bread and butter end user device market and towards an all-needs-met corporate solutions provider. EMC will remain independent, but with governance coming from Dell HQ, pressure for more efficient practices will likely be seen; with target savings of almost £555 million set for 2017.

Michael Dell speaking to CNBC commented, "We're creating an unbelievable powerhouse of an enterprise company. This is really all about bringing together complementary technologies and helping our customers address the challenges and opportunities that this digital future is creating."


The long term storage programme companies – HP, IBM and Quantum have announced the 7th generation specifications for the almost universally renowned tape-storage medium – Linear Tape Open, affectionately known as LTO. Each LTO generation is backwards compatible, LTO7 meeting all of the functionality of its predecessor LTO6, but with impressive new specifications, such as improved compressed storage capability – 15TB compressed, per cartridge in this case – and  transfer speeds of 750MB per second, the 7th generation is breaking new ground. That’s 2.7TB of data per hour, per drive – no mean feat. While the transfer rates are down on previous generation hops, the LTO technology group are looking at the welcome capacity increase as the winner, especially with the almost exponential demand for data gathering and analysis in recent years.

LTO-7’s beefed up specifications include a number of other improvements to support a matured backup strategy – doubling the read/write head count and a new magnetic tape formula to increase capacity. An extended roadmap has also been released highlighting the next generations, LTO 8, 9 and 10, with noted compressed capacities of 32TB, 62.5TB and 120TB respectively.


The long standing Office Suite from Microsoft has been renewed in the latest of Microsoft’s product launches. Available through Office365 and standalone varieties, Office 2016 brings a host of new interaction and collaboration qualities that give potential efficiency improvements in group projects or editorial processes, alongside improved help features with “Tell Me”.

With this in mind, Outlook now encourages links to documents stored on OneDrive, with permissions set for editing / view only. Once the recipients have the necessary links, real-time collaboration is possible, akin to already cloud-based and matured document editors such as Google Docs. The collaboration features show their strengths most notably in Word and PowerPoint, with more features reportedly on the way in future updates. Going further with the concept, Outlook also introduces Groups – a follow-on to the Office365 groups where you can sort various groups of people into a meeting space, complete with document store, shared calendar and mailing list.

Excel is the standout app in the suite, undergoing a number of notable improvements.  In particular, it introduces a host of new charts and data thrown-at-wall style eccentricities; if you ever needed a way to convince your manager that a particular set of figures is looking great right now, look no further. Waterfall, Box and Whisker, Treemap and Sunburst charts are new additions for displaying data. Likewise, a forecasting sheet wizard and most notably (and very handy for touch screen devices) a formula recognition tool has also arrived. Write the formula in the provided window, and Excel will recognise the necessary symbols and hieroglyphs necessary to make the math work.


Microsoft’s Windows 10 devices event pulled out all the stops as Surface Pro 4 was launched to the sound of thunderous applause and whooping. Now in its 4th generation, the hybrid-laptop-tablet-killer includes a 12.3” 267PPI screen, a Skylake-based Intel processor range, and memory and storage topping out at 16GB with a 1TB PCI-E based solid state drive. The new docking station allows for 2x 4K displays to be run with 4xUSB3 periphery connected – a tribute to Intel’s embedded IO architecture improvements with Skylake (no more additional controllers all over the place). Craig Lodzinski’s more down to earth look at the device with Microsoft’s Dale Perrigo can be found here.

In tandem, Redmond announced at the event a push against competitors into a platform redesign of the traditional Laptop, with the Surface Book.  A squared off, fulcrum-hinged solution, the Surface Book allows for the addition of a mobile GPU within a detachable keyboard/mouse/battery base, attached to a slightly larger, familiar looking Surface tablet. With all the features in play, the industrial “game-changer” packs up to and including a Core i7 processor, 16GB RAM, a 512GB SSD and 12 hours battery life with the base attached.

Microsoft also demonstrated Continuum - using the latest Lumia Windows 10-based smartphones.  A simple yet impressive feature was that one can attach into a USB-C port replicator and work off mobile applications in a full desktop environment. Fantastic for that last minute PowerPoint show and indeed, edit!


Late last month Gigabyte pushed out the G250-G52 HPC server chassis. A figurative monster as computing potential goes, the chassis is able to support 8 GPGPU cards – directly validated with Nvidia’s Tesla K80 accelerators, but Intel Phi and AMD PirePro solutions are also supported. For more traditional compute muscle the G250-G52 supports dual Xeon E5-2600 v3 CPUs and has room for 24 DDR4 DIMM slots, all powered by a 2000W redundant PSU.

More traditional topologies allow for two, or at the most four GPGPUs in a compact HPC rackmount server. Gigabyte have gone with a complete redesign from what is expected in the traditional 2U space, and for rendering/graphics design specialists struggling with limited rack space, this could be an interesting solution.


Since NetWorker 8.2 was released, EMC has been quietly developing v9.0. For the 25th anniversary, the enterprise backup product sees in a new Policy Engine for all workflows, Client Connectivity Check, Data Domain Cloning, Enhanced NetWorker Snapshot Management and a Management console to boot. Legacy components have been replaced too – save Groups Scheduled Staging and Cloning are all out in favour of a brand new policy engine.  Some commentators are suggesting this is the biggest set of changes to NetWorker ever and is a response to the changing datacentre environment for whose data it protects.

NetWorker 9 represents a move towards a simpler, more containerised approach to configuration, with an emphasis on the service catalogue approach – and here’s what it looks like:

NetWorker v9.0 is part of The Data Protection Suite from EMC, and forms part of the simplification of several backup products that were essentially competing against each other. These have now been consolidated into a single product; Data Protection Suite 2015. Moving forward DPS will move integration with Spanning to enable backup for 'born in the cloud' applications, completing the backup journey.


So as not to bore you to death, here’s a short and sweet round-up of what else you need-to-know from the last month:

  • Mozilla is making a sharp left at Plug-In Boulevard - NPAPI plugins with the exception of Adobe Flash will no longer be supported from the end of next year on its Firefox web browser.
  • Cisco has released a priority security patch for its networking equipment following the Angler Exploit Kit, at its height targeting up to 90’000 users a day, operating through a cyber-crime operation worth almost £20million a year.
  • Dell has renewed the XPS 13 and 15 line up with an addition to the family of a convertible XPS 12. Skylake processors all round, up to 16GB RAM and 1TB storage on a PCI-E SSD. The ultrabook reboots are available now, with the XPS 12 pending a UK-Euro release date.
  • Amazon is moving data to the cloud in a very physical sense using a new solution, Snowball. The unit can be connected to an existing environment and transfer up to 50TB of data. From the customer site the unit is then shipped back to AWS and presented in the form of an S3 Simple Storage Service bucket.


That’s it for November, don’t forget to check out the rest of our posts on our news pages and by following us through social networks. Please contact your Softcat account manager or get in touch below to discuss any of the topics or products we have mentioned above.


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