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PC quarterly sales plummet, sharpest drop on record

File of attendant checking a computer during launch of Microsoft Windows 8 in Hong Kong

(Reuters) – Personal computer sales plunged 14 percent in the first three months of the year, the biggest decline in two decades of keeping records, as tablets continue to gain in popularity and buyers appear to be avoiding Microsoft Corp’s new Windows 8 system, according to a leading tech tracking firm.

The huge drop over a year ago, the steepest since International Data Corp started publishing sales numbers in 1994, mark a new milestone in the apparent decline of the age of the PC as computing goes mobile via tablets and smartphones.

Total worldwide PC sales fell 14 percent to 76.3 million units in the first quarter, IDC said on Wednesday, exceeding its forecast of a 7.7 percent drop. It was the fourth consecutive quarter of year-on-year declines.

That marked the lowest level since the middle of 2009, according to competing data tracker Gartner Inc, which published its own figures showing an 11 percent decline on the same day.

Both firms blamed the sales drop on fading sales of netbooks, the small laptops that have been rendered obsolete by tablets, and more consumer spending going toward smartphones.

“Consumers are migrating content consumption from PCs to other connected devices, such as tablets and smartphones,” said Mikako Kitagawa, an analyst at Gartner. “Even emerging markets, where PC penetration is low, are not expected to be a strong growth area for PC vendors.”

Microsoft’s new Windows 8 actually deterred potential PC buyers, IDC said, as users felt they could not afford touch-screen models required to make the most of Windows 8, even though the system runs equally well on standard PCs and laptops.

“People think they have to have touch, and they go look at the price points for these touch machines, and they are above where they want to be and they say, ‘I guess I’ll wait,'” said Bob O’Donnell, an analyst at IDC.

O’Donnell said other users were simply uncomfortable with the new Windows system, which dispensed with the familiar start menu and uses colorful ’tiles’ to represent applications.

New Microsoft operating systems usually boost PC sales, but the lukewarm reception for Windows 8 will likely mean an even greater drop in the market this year, said Jay Chou, senior research analyst with the IDC unit that tracks PC sales.

“Users are finding Windows 8 to offer a compromised experience that doesn’t excel either as a new mobile interface or in a classic desktop interface,” he said. “As a result, many users find a decline in the traditional PC experience without gaining much from new features like touch. The result is that many consumers are worried about upgrading to Windows 8, to say nothing of business users who are still just getting into Windows 7.”

Among manufacturers, Hewlett-Packard Co saw a 24 percent decline in sales in the quarter, but narrowly held on to its title of No. 1 global PC supplier, with 15.7 percent market share. Fast-growing rival Lenovo Group managed to keep sales flat and is now just behind HP with a 15.3 percent global share.

Dell Inc, roiled by plans to go private, along with rivals Acer Inc and Asustek, all saw double-digit declines in PC sales.

Apple Inc was not immune from the decline, as some sales of its own Macs appeared to be displaced by iPads. Its U.S. PC sales fell 7.5 percent in the quarter, but it held on to its spot as No. 3 U.S. PC manufacturer, behind HP and Dell.

(Reporting by Bill Rigby; Editing by Phil Berlowitz and Leslie Gevirtz)

(VIA. Reuters)

ProfitBricks Shows It Can Take On AWS With 2.0 Infrastructure

ProfitBricks Shows It Can Take On AWS With 2.0 Infrastructure

The infrastructure-as-a-service-providers (IaaS) market is starting to exhibit a deeper diversity. Call it the “Cloud 2.0″ era if you will. ProfitBricks is one of these companies showing its muscle in this new arena with the announcement of the world’s largest instance size.

These large instance sizes scale to 62 cores and 240GB of RAM and reflect how the company is trying to differentiate against reigning cloud giant AWS. ProfitBricks pairs these giant, flexible instances with pricing granularity and super-fast InfiniBand networking technology.

The new instances are designed for companies that run large databases and multiple compute nodes in a cluster, or those that are looking for compute power to help run big data implementations. ProfitBricks U.S. CEO Bob Rizika said it offers high-performance networking by combining the large instance sizes with the InfiniBand networking that can run at 80 gigabytes per second.

ProfitBricks Cloud Platform Evangelist Pete Johnson likens IaaS to a game of Tetris – in which you are trying to fit various sizes of virtual machines on top of physical hardware to maximize utilization. This is particularly critical for a public cloud provider. With InfiniBand, ProfitBricks can rearrange the pieces, and at 80 Gbits/sec, its hypervisor can move a VM from one physical machine to another without the VM ever knowing. This helps maximize the physical hardware and keep prices competitive.

As a result, the company claims it has the best price-performance ratio. Customers can deploy fewer, more powerful instances. ProfitBricks bills by the minute and customers can provision any combination of CPU cores and RAM that they wish. They can change the number of CPU cores or amount of RAM on-the-fly, live, without rebooting the VM.

ProfitBricks raised $19.5 million in March and now has a total of $38.3 million in funding. Founders Achim Weiss and Andreas Gauger built 1&1 Internet, one of the world’s largest web-hosting providers with 70,000 servers and 10 million customers. The company has some muscle not only in funding, but also what it can offer in terms of scaling out and up. Scaling up allows for new apps to be deployed in an environment similar to AWS and means building out vertically to one stack with up to 62 cores.

Analyst Ben Kepes said this last September about ProfitBricks:

In order to reach these massive machine levels, ProfitBricks runs on its own proprietary virtual machine management software – this software has the ability to add cores to a virtual machine on the fly and, according to ProfitBricks, without disrupting the operation of the original machine. ProfitBricks does this by using a highly modified form of KVM.

AWS has specific instance sizes that come with preset cores and RAM allotments. ProfitBricks is exploiting the inevitable under or over utilization of instance types, which can affect profitability.

ProfitBricks shows how fast disruption can happen even in the cloud. It’s reminiscent in some respects to the build-out of factories in the Industrial Age. Companies that invested most wisely in their machinery could produce faster and offer a deeper variety of products. Today, companies are less inclined to own their own server farms, instead turning to the digital factories that can offer the most cost-efficient service and the capability to produce an ever-expanding variety of digital products.

(VIA. Tech Crunch)

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Obama’s energy, environment picks face Senate grilling this week

(Reuters) – President Barack Obama’s picks to lead energy and environmental policy face scrutiny this week as Senate panels try to tease out details of the administration’s agenda, which had been maligned by Republicans and some Democrats during Obama’s first four years.

U.S. President Barack Obama stands next to two new nominees for his staff in Washington

Both nominees are Massachusetts natives with Washington experience. Nuclear physicist Ernest Moniz, Obama’s nominee for energy secretary, will appear before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on Tuesday.

On Thursday, Gina McCarthy, the Environmental Protection Agency’s top air quality official since 2009, will sit before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in her effort to succeed Lisa Jackson as EPA administrator.

After accusations of regulatory overreach at the EPA and scandals surrounding the failure of Energy Department-backed companies during Obama’s first term, the pair – and McCarthy in particular – are likely to face tough questioning.

Republican Senator Roy Blunt placed a hold last month on McCarthy’s nomination over a spat involving a levee project in his home state of Missouri.

Until that hold is lifted, McCarthy would need 60 votes in the 100-seat Senate to be confirmed in the post, instead of a simple majority.


Moniz, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is well known in Washington after working at the Department of Energy during the Clinton administration.

The nation’s shale oil and gas bonanza will likely be front and center when he faces the Senate energy panel.

Committee chairman Ron Wyden of Oregon has made confronting the shale gas revolution a top priorities of the panel this year, holding a hearing on the issue earlier this year and scheduling a series of public forums for May.

Moniz will almost certainly face questions on his views of allowing companies to export large amounts of natural gas. More than a dozen companies have requests pending with the Energy Department for liquefied natural gas exports.

While Wyden has raised concerns about allowing unlimited exports, as a recent government-commissioned study supported, his Republican counterpart, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, is pushing for expediting the permit process.

Lawmakers will likely also press Moniz on how he plans to handle the department’s controversial loan guarantee program for energy development. Murkowski has called for reforming the program after the high profile failure of solar panel maker Solyndra during predecessor Steven Chu’s four-year tenure at the agency.

Although Moniz will not have the billions of dollars in stimulus funding to dole out as Chu did, he will oversee the current loan portfolio and decide how to proceed with the still active loan program that has offered conditional loan aid to two nuclear projects.

Moniz is also likely to face questions from Wyden about the U.S. government-led, decades-long cleanup effort at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, a World War Two-era nuclear weapons site leaking radioactive waste in Washington state.

Wyden said last week that he will emphasize during the confirmation hearing that the Department of Energy “needs a viable plan to clean up” the site, which includes millions of cubic yards of contaminated soil and debris and the construction of a special treatment plant to immobilize waste.


McCarthy, meanwhile, could be fully in the firing line at her confirmation hearing. Republicans on the committee have been pressing the nominee to disclose personal and agency emails about its plans to regulate carbon emissions.

Senator David Vitter of Louisiana, the lead Republican on the panel, requested information from McCarthy as soon as her name was floated for the EPA’s top job.

Vitter has said the EPA is needlessly opaque about its plans to regulate carbon emissions from new and existing power plants, and of secretly trying to impose a national carbon tax.

“A lot of my questions will focus on openness and transparency – how is she going to change the abysmal record we have had so far with the Obama EPA,” Vitter said in a radio interview last week.

Vitter also said McCarthy and the EPA have worked with left-leaning environmental groups on crafting stringent carbon regulations and hiding this from Congress.

He sent a letter to McCarthy in March to ask her about the intent of the Institute for Policy Integrity at the New York University School of Law to threaten litigation as a way to “force a cap-and-trade system on the transportation fuels sector” – a process known as “sue and settle.”

“Such a process is wholly unacceptable, especially considering the administration’s pattern of excluding states and economically impacted individuals and businesses from important rule-making decisions,” Vitter wrote.

Analysts said the candidates have enough experience with the rough-and-tumble world of politics to win confirmation and set about implementing Obama’s vision of an “all of the above” energy strategy that address climate change at a time of tight budgets and a polarized Congress.

“We’re in a time where you need someone … that really knows how to navigate Washington because there are a lot of things that are changing very quickly,” said Ken Medlock, an energy fellow at the Baker Institute at Rice University in Houston. “If you put someone in there that’s a novice, then they’re going to get eaten alive,” Medlock said.

(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici and Ayesha Rascoe; editing by Ros Krasny and Jackie Frank)