Friday, May 30, 2014

The datacentre that sits behind a moat (TechRepublic)

By May 29, 2014 

The cube

Sat outside the city of Covilha, at the foot of Portugal's highest mountain range, is what will be one of Europe's largest datacentres.
Surrounded by a moat, the 75,500 square metre site will eventually house four buildings offering 12,000 square metres of datacentre space.
From a distance the first facility to open on the site - a three-storey cube - appears to be floating on the water.
The moat not only captures the desire of the site's owner's, Portugal Telecom (PT), to create a distinctive design, but also reflects its environmental ambitions. The water creates a microclimate that cools the environment, as well as collecting rain for use in chillers.
The region is the one of the coldest in Portugal and the climate allows the centre to use fresh air cooling for 99 percent of the time according to PT, which expects it will need to run chillers for no more than six days of the year.
The datacentre runs at above average efficiency, with a 1.25 power usage effectiveness (PUE) rating. PUE reflects how much of the electricity used by a facility ends up powering the servers, rather than driving associated infrastructure handling cooling and power distribution. Some of the best PUEs worldwide are achieved by the likes of Facebook and Google, with Facebook reporting a PUE of around 1.05 at its Prineville datacentre.

Image: Portugal Telecom
Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic UK. He writes about the technology that IT-decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Tech and HealthCare, on the raise (ZDNet)

Summary: The chief strategy officer of Samsung Electronics defined the intersection of health and tech as the single greatest opportunity of our generation.

SAN FRANCISCO---Promising "a new conversation around the future of health is about to begin,Samsung peeled back the curtain on its health tech strategy.
Speaking during an invite-only event at the translucent new SFJAZZ Center, Young Sohn, president and chief strategy officer for Samsung Electronics, said the Galaxy device maker has been aiming to figure out how to converge IT technology with health awareness.
Defining it as the "single greatest opportunity of our generation," Sohn outlined Samsung's vision for the consumer adoption of digital health technology.
This particular initiative stems from Samsung's Strategy and Innovation Center (SSIC),  a Silicon Valley-located hub established in 2013 to discover, in a paraphrase of the tech giant's tag line, the next big things along the lines of connected systems and the Internet-of-Everything.
Citing a composite of stats from the CDC, the World Health Organization and, Sohn noted that healthcare costs total more than $6.5 trillion annually, which he suggested will only grow as 1.2 billion people are projected to be over the age of 60 by 2025.
Google labors on with trying to solve health problems via new Calico project
Google labors on with trying to solve health problems via new Calico project

Sohn remarked, "We should be able to know more about us, not just waiting until the last minute when seeing a doctor."
Quite simply, Sohn summed up "we can do more" to address healthcare now, starting with "combining the advancement of what we have seen in mobile technology" with hardware, sensors, algorithms, behavioral science, big data, and the cloud.
Acknowledging plenty of concerns right out of the gate from accuracy to security, Sohn revealed Samsung's efforts to build an advanced modular sensor platform that can accelerate the innovations for connected devices.
The modular sensor platform goes hand-in-hand with Samsung Architecture Multimodal Interactions (SAMI), a cloud-based sensor data platform set up to translate all of that unstructured data coming from the sensors into contextual insights.
Ram Fish, vice president of digital health at Samsung Electronics, posited that once we are all working from a common platform, the aforementioned hurdles will become easier to surpass while also clearing the time-to-market path faster.
Simband is equipped with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth to push data to the cloud, in effect supporting Samsung's master plan to establish a new "voice of the body."
After pointing toward an outline of the human body, Fish argued there is only "one location" for a "great, truly wearable wearable."
He then unveiled a pair of new prototype technologies: the Simband open reference sensor module followed by the sleek Simband wristband itself, already displaying vitals such as heart rate, body temperature, and blood pressure in real-time.
The modular design is built for customization with a standard electrical and mechanical interface covered by a secure communication link.
Simband is equipped with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth to push data to the cloud, in effect supporting Samsung's master plan to establish a new "voice of the body."
"In the end, it's all about data," quipped Dr. Luc Julia, vice president of innovation at Samsung Electronics.
Julia characterized SAMI as an "agnostic data broker," or a bank that stores and secures data, promising that users themselves are the exclusive owners of that data with the sole power to grant access.
"Today the devices we know only capture data in their own silos. They are not combined with any other information," Julia lamented.
But SAMI, he continued, offers the possibility of "cross-fertilization of silos" through products such as the Simband SDK and a set of open APIs available to anyone for frictionless data synthesis and predictive analytics. These APIs are scheduled to roll out by the end of 2014.
The SSIC also tapped the University of California, San Francisco's Center for Digital Health Innovation to validate its wearable and healthcare technology to ensure the platforms are both accurate and actionable.
Nevertheless, Sohn stressed that this strategy is not just about promoting Samsung-branded gadgets, emphasizing his interest in the next era of wearable sensors.
Sohn remarked, "We should be able to know more about us, not just waiting until the last minute when seeing a doctor."
Rachel King is a staff writer for ZDNet based in San Francisco. 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

What Microsoft didn't announce today: An ARM-based Surface Mini (ZDNet)

Summary: In spite of numerous leaks indicating an ARM-based Surface was going to be launched at Microsoft's "small gathering" in New York City, no such device materialized. What happened?
It's not fair to call an unofficially announced product "delayed" when it doesn't debut according to the rumored schedule.
But that said, I'm calling the ARM-based Surface Mini delayed. I won't say the long-rumored device has been axed (though it may have been). But I will say, based on reports from my own trusted sources, not to mention sources from a number of my colleagues, Microsoft was planning to unveil a seven-to-eight-inch ARM-based Surface tablet on May 20 in New York City.
It didn't happen. Instead, the company rolled out an Intel Core-based Surface Pro 3 with a 12-inch screen.
So what happened to the Surface Mini? I have a couple theories.
One, I'd say Windows 9, a k a "Threshold," happened.
It was no secret that Microsoft Operating System Group chief, the Terry Myerson is/was no fan of Windows RT operating system that currently powers the Surface RT and Surface 2 devices. And it's also widely believed that Myerson's team is in the midst of revamping the version of Windows that runs on ARM so that the same version of Windows will be able to run on ARM-based Windows Phones and smaller ARM-based Windows tablets.
Secondly, Microsoft officials said that the reason the company got into the PC/tablet business was to address the segments of the market that its partners couldn't/wouldn't. There are already a few affordable 8-inch Windows 8.x tablets on the market from Dell and Lenovo, among others.
And without the "Gemini" touch-first versions of Office apps for Windows that are in development, would a Surface Mini make a lot of sense? There is a version of OneNote that works on Windows RT, but the other core Office apps still require the Desktop in Windows 8.X. 
What are your theories? Why did Microsoft either kill or postpone again the Surface Mini? Will it ever surface?
Update 1 on May 21: Bloomberg had an interesting take on why Microsoft didn't announce the Surface Mini on May 20. According to their sources, CEO Satya Nadella and Devices group chief Stephen Elop put the kibosh on the product because it wasn't differentiated enough from rival offerings. 
Update 2 on May 21: Neowin is reporting that Microsoft went so far as to make 15,000 to 20,000 Surface Mini units before deciding to put the announcement on hold. These units aren't being warehoused and dumped; they're probably test units or partially finished product, I'd bet. Like I speculated above, the reason for the hold-up could be the unavailability of Office Gemini, Neowin claims.
Microsoft execs aren't commenting on why/whether the Surface Mini was delayed again. But as Surface chief Panos Panay has made clear, Microsoft's Surface team isn't writing off ARM or the 8-inch form-factor space.
Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Trouble With IBM (BusinessWeek)

The Trouble With IBM

In the summer of 2012, five American technology companies bid on a project for a demanding new client: the CIA. The spy agency was collecting so much information, its computers couldn’t keep up. To deal with the onslaught of data, the CIA wanted to build its own private cloud computing system—an internal version of the vast fleets of efficient, adaptable servers that run technically complex commercial services such as Netflix  (NFLX.  
For the agency, the power of the cloud was tantalizing. “It is nearly within our grasp to compute on all human-generated information,” the CIA’s chief technology officer, Ira “Gus” Hunt, told a gathering of industry leaders earlier that year, calling it “high noon in the Information Age.” For the bidders, more was at stake than a piece of the lucrative federal IT market. Whoever won the 10-year, $600 million contract could boast that its technology met the highest standards, with the tightest security, at the most competitive prices, at a time when customers of all kinds were beginning to spend more on data and analytics.
Behind this week’s cover
Behind this week’s cover
IBM (IBM) was one of two finalists. The company would have been a logical, even obvious, choice. Big Blue had a decades-long history of contracting with the federal government, and many of the breakthroughs in distributed computing can be traced back to its labs. The cloud was a priority and a point of pride. In 2012, IBM’s new chief executive officer, Virginia Rometty, used her first speech to shareholders to describe big data as a “vast new natural resource” that would fuel the company’s growth for a decade.

On Feb. 14, 2013, the CIA awarded the contract to (AMZN)
The e-commerce company, a pioneer in offering cloud computing services to corporate customers from Nokia (NOK) to Pfizer(PFE), had persuaded the spymasters that its public cloud could be replicated within the CIA’s walls. Amazon had been bleeding IBM for years—its rent-a-server-with-your-credit-card model was a direct threat to IBM’s IT outsourcing business—but this was different. Amazon beat IBM for a plum contract on something like its home turf, and it hadn’t done so simply by undercutting IBM on price. IBM learned that its bid was more than a third cheaper than Amazon’s and officially protested the CIA decision.
It would have been better to walk away. As the Government Accountability Office reviewed the award, documents showed the CIA’s opinion of IBM was tepid at best. The agency had “grave” concerns about the ability of IBM technology to scale up and down in response to usage spikes, and it rated the company’s technical demo as “marginal.” Overall, the CIA concluded, IBM was a high-risk choice. In a court filing, Amazon blasted the elder company as a “late entrant to the cloud computing market” with an “uncompetitive, materially deficient proposal.” A federal judge agreed, ruling in October that with the “overall inferiority of its proposal,” IBM “lacked any chance of winning” the contract. The corporate cliché of the 1970s and ’80s, that no one ever got fired for buying IBM, had never seemed less true. IBM withdrew its challenge.
No single deal encapsulates a 103-year-old company with a market capitalization of $185 billion. But the CIA butt kicking is a microcosm of larger problems IBM is having as it struggles to adapt to the cloud era, in which clients large and small rent technology cheaply over the Internet instead of buying costly fixed arrays. Under Rometty’s leadership, revenue has declined for eight consecutive quarters, a period when most of corporate America has flourished. In January, after a year in which IBM was the only company in the Dow Jones industrial average whose shares lost value, Rometty and her top executives turned down their annual bonuses, worth in her case as much as $8 million. (Rometty, 56, who goes by Ginni, declined to be interviewed for this article.)
Much of what is wrong stems from something IBM is doing “right”: steadily increasing its adjusted earnings per share, a measurement Wall Street adores. In 2010, Rometty’s predecessor, Sam Palmisano, pledged that per-share earnings would reach $20 in five years, a plan called Roadmap 2015. In interviews, and even in public Internet posts, employees refer to the plan bitterly as Roadkill 2015. To make earnings rise while revenue is falling, Rometty has cut costs, sold business lines, fired workers, figured out ways to lower IBM’s tax rate, bought back shares, and taken on debt. Of the 25 analysts tracked by Bloomberg, nine predict that IBM will indeed hit the $20 target. The question is what type of company Rometty will have left when she gets there.IBM has three core businesses: services, software, and hardware. When times are good, they work in concert. When, for example, it recommends that a customer of its consulting business enter a foreign market, it supplies the servers and the applications that run on them and charges for the system’s upkeep. In the same way, a decline in one of these businesses can hobble the whole company, a destructive spiral IBM is fighting to break. As more customers get their computing done cheaply in the cloud, IBM is selling less hardware, which imperils its high-margin software products. And any perception that IBM is adrift threatens its ability to advise clients on anything at all.
 A technology company doesn’t survive for a century without an ability to reinvent itself—sometimes with foresight, sometimes on the brink. Founded in 1911 as the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Co., the outfit that would become IBM sold accounting machines and punch-card systems and survived the Great Depression by servicing the growing federal government. IBM was bold, willing to take huge bets on the future. It became a behemoth by creating and dominating the mainframe computing market in the 1960s, and then, in 1981, it ignited the desktop revolution with the introduction of the IBM PC.

By 1990 the Armonk (N.Y.) company had almost 400,000 employees—and acted like it, reacting lethargically as nimbler competitors commodified the industry.

Near bankruptcy and losing $8 billion a year, it brought in its first outside CEO, Louis Gerstner Jr., a former American Express and RJR Nabisco executive, to orchestrate a turnaround. Rejecting calls to dismantle the IBM empire, Gerstner shed declining products, slashed tens of thousands of jobs, and built a consulting unit within IBM. Gerstner titled his memoir of the time Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance?
On retiring in 2002, Gerstner handed the top job to Palmisano, an IBM lifer who dramatically expanded the bet on software and services and against personal computers. (Palmisano is currently an adviser to Bloomberg LP, which ownsBloomberg Businessweek.) With margins on desktops and laptops melting away, Palmisano sold the PC business to China’s Lenovo, shortly after buying the consulting division of PricewaterhouseCoopers for $3.5 billion. 

The job of integrating the acquisition into IBM’s bureaucracy fell to an up-and-coming executive: Rometty, a Chicago native who’d joined IBM in 1981, two years out of Northwestern University. She was credited with making the operation thrive, as corporate customers overwhelmed with the Internet were only too happy to sign fat, recurring contracts with IBM to take IT problems off their hands. Over the next decade software and services would grow to a full 80 percent of revenue. The hardware division (whose chief, Robert Moffat, pleaded guilty to insider-trading charges in 2010) was understood to form a smaller but still essential arc in the IBM circle of businesses.
That was the IBM Rometty inherited in October 2011, when Palmisano named her the company’s first female CEO. It seemed like a golden moment. IBM was celebrating its centennial with record sales, record profits, and a record share price. An artificial-intelligence project called Watson hit the publicity jackpot by beating human champions on Jeopardy! And in November, IBM received the ultimate financial benediction: Warren Buffett revealed he had broken his rule of not investing in technology stocks with the purchase of a 5.5 percent stake in IBM for more than $10 billion. Buffett liked how entrenched the company had become in the world’s IT departments; he said Big Blue was like an auditor or a law firm—really difficult to break up with. He especially liked the road map Palmisano had pledged before stepping down. “They have this terrific reverence for the shareholder, which I think is very, very important,” Buffett said on CNBC.
The honeymoon proved short-lived. Rometty is by many accounts a smart, vigorous CEO—who turned out to have inherited a far more dire position than she, or much of Wall Street, may have realized. The megatrend is corporate America’s move to the cloud. It’s not just Amazon that IBM needs to worry about: In an August 2013 study of 15 cloud infrastructure providers, research firm Gartner (IT) rated IBM worst, behind Microsoft (MSFT)Rackspace (RAX), and Verizon (VZ).
Hardware sales have plummeted 24 percent in two years, turning a manageable decline into a full-on implosion. As a rule, new companies are not buying their own servers and mainframes, and larger corporations, instead of ordering new machines when they reach an upgrade point, are moving their workloads to the cloud, too. Rometty, keeping with Gerstner and Palmisano’s practice of selling businesses with shrinking profit margins, agreed in January to sell IBM’s low-end server business to Lenovo for $2.3 billion. (The deal awaits U.S. government approval.) IBM will attempt to resurrect its hardware sales with a new line of high-end servers unveiled in April called Power8, which it says can churn through massive data sets at record rates.
To capture and make sense of big data, corporate customers are asking for new kinds of software, another change to which IBM is racing to adjust. The software unit’s revenue growth is slowing, from 8.7 percent in 2011 to 2.9 percent last year. Rometty has made more than a dozen acquisitions to boost IBM’s offerings, including Aspera, which helps clients move large volumes of data quickly; Cloudant, a service for mobile and Web apps; and TeaLeaf, a tool for retail marketers. The acquisitions come despite a $6 billion annual budget for research and development.
Rometty’s most significant investment has been SoftLayer Technologies, a smaller rival to Amazon in selling cloud computing to companies. IBM paid $2 billion for SoftLayer last summer, in the middle of its bruising CIA fight with Amazon, and afterward began to wind down its own corporate cloud product. SoftLayer had attracted startups such as Tumblr (YHOO) and WhatsApp (FB), which grew to require humongous power—and which never would have considered hiring IBM. A respectable player in the cloud business, SoftLayer had multiple suitors. Lance Crosby, SoftLayer’s CEO, picked Rometty. “She was the only one who truly grasped what the cloud was and the impact it was going to have on enterprise and governments worldwide,” Crosby says. “Ginni’s whole take on it is the entire IT industry is going to be transformed in the cloud, and this is going to be the future of all IT for the next couple decades.”
“IBM has had a history of successfully dealing with industry changes and making the right investment for the long-term,” Palmisano said in an e-mail. “I’m glad to see that continuing under Ginni.”
Rometty gets that this is an urgent moment for IBM. “Cloud is going to change the way IT operates,” she told an audience of a few dozen employees last fall at an internal “Think Academy” lecture that was recorded for IBM’s 431,000 employees. “And our strategic imperative is absolutely that we will remake enterprise IT for the era of cloud.” Rometty has sought out other CEOs, including JPMorgan Chase’s(JPM) Jamie Dimon, to ask their advice on reinvigorating a company’s culture at a time of disruption. Last year she began distributing black plastic cards bearing the phrase “One Purpose: Be essential” to IBM’s roughly 50,000 managers and has been known to demand to see them as she walks the halls. At IBM, even clarity is complicated—on the back of the cards are three values and nine instructions for making customers happy, including “Unite to get it done now” and “Treasure wild ducks.”
In February, during an onstage interview at a mobile technology conference in Barcelona, Rometty was asked whether business leaders understood just how rapidly their industries are being disrupted. “If you try to compare today to the past,” Rometty said, “the speed of change is much faster. And you should not be dissuaded by that, meaning, that is all the more reason to push forward with things.”
The cold-sweat scenario for IBM is that it does catch up to Amazon and other cloud providers—only to find that competition has driven margins toward zero. In March a price war broke out among Amazon, Google (GOOG), and Microsoft, as each announced cuts of as much as 35 percent on computing; 65 percent on storage; and 85 percent on other services. Rometty has made two promises to investors: to lead corporate IT into the cloud and to deliver lustrously thick margins. Those goals may be irreconcilable, as long as IBM faces competitors willing to make the cloud a place of ever-diminishing returns. In a March 25 blog post that surely sent shivers through Armonk, Google declared that cloud pricing should follow Moore’s law, falling as the cost of hardware inevitably declines.
 On April 16, as IBM reported its first-quarter earnings, Bill Fleckenstein was waiting. A Seattle hedge fund manager famous among investors for predicting bubbles, Fleckenstein had been shorting IBM off and on for years. This quarter he’d planned to be on the sidelines. IBM’s brand-new chief financial officer, Martin Schroeter, had told Wall Street to expect “very weak” performance, and Fleckenstein figured the company would easily meet the softened consensus.

As the results flashed onto his screen, Fleckenstein saw they were worse than he had imagined. IBM had barely made its numbers and, in forecasting the rest of the year, said it expected to set aside less in taxes while producing the same profit. That meant, logically, that pretax income would otherwise decline. “I thought, ‘There’s no way this thing can rally—too many people are starting to understand that something’s not quite right here,’” he says. He shorted the stock again that night.
It would be hard enough for Rometty to bring IBM into the cloud era. Doing so while yoked to her predecessor’s $20-per-share earnings promise is almost impossible, says Fleckenstein. Short interest in IBM has increased from 15 million shares at the start of Rometty’s tenure to 30 million at the end of April.
“You ask anyone who follows balance sheets—tell me this is not a scary prospect,” says Fred Hickey, another IBM short seller, who edits a cult Wall Street newsletter called High-Tech Strategist. “I look at Accenture (ACN), I see tangible assets growing. Oracle (ORCL), Microsoft, others. I don’t see anything like this anywhere. OK? Anywhere. It is the poster child for financial engineering, in my world.”
That phrase, financial engineering, is a catchall used by critics for the variety of ways IBM has made earnings per share go up even as revenue goes down. The spectrum of maneuvers starts with common practices like dividend increases and share buybacks, and extends to more esoteric tactics like designating major costs as “extraordinary” and devising ways to pay lower tax rates. The most transparent companies present their performance according to generally accepted accounting principles, or GAAP. IBM’s 2009 annual report didn’t use the phrase “non-GAAP” at all; the 2013 report used it 125 times.

IBM’s income statement creativity may get labeled as financial engineering, says Steven Mills, IBM’s senior vice president for software and systems, “but think about it the other way: You’d be criticized for not doing a good job of managing your tax rate or not doing a good job with disposition of your cash and managing how you most effectively use it to deliver shareholder value.”
Wall Street analysts have been warning, louder and louder, that IBM can’t keep cutting its way to profits forever. In May 2013, by Bloomberg’s count, half the analysts covering the stock rated it a buy. Today the rate is less than one in four. The rising chorus against IBM as an investment has created one of the more fascinating showdowns in finance, given that its largest shareholder is none other than the Oracle of Omaha. Since his initial purchase became public in 2011, Buffett has added to his stake and now owns 6.75 percent of the company. It’s the worst-performing of his “big four” investments, which include Wells Fargo (WFC)Coca-Cola (KO), and American Express (AXP). Buffett’s chief of staff did not respond to an interview request.
“The most shocking thing to me is, Warren Buffett, who professes many, many times not to buy technology stocks, has picked the one that’s got the single funkiest financial statements, and that’s his area of expertise,” says Fleckenstein. “I find that quite curious. He’s Warren Buffett, and I’m not, but I don’t see how you could look at this and feel anything other than uncomfortable.” 
Like an upright coffin, a black metal server rack big enough to hold a man was parked in the middle of a Las Vegas convention hall. One of IBM’s new Power8 servers lay on a slab next to it. It was late April, and 9,000 customers and partners had come to the company’s annual Impact conference for keynote speeches and workshops on cloud services. As IBM pitched the future, it celebrated the past. Banners heralded the 50th anniversary of IBM’s System/360 mainframe.

On footpaths between the vendor booths, IBM had stuck a series of corporate koans to the carpet. “How do I know what I don’t know?” read one. “What can I accomplish with real-time analytics?” “Can I really predict the future with big data?” The idea was to stimulate customers to pay IBM for answers. But the questions were obviously ones the company could have asked itself, before its CEO guaranteed a doubling in earnings per share five years out and during a disruptive transition to its industry. IBM’s failure to foresee the changes in its own future makes it less plausible that it can accurately guide customers to theirs. “You have to time your steps into these markets,” says Michael Rhodin, senior vice president for IBM’s Watson Group, in a conference room off the convention floor. “I think we’ve entered mobile at the right time. I think we’ve entered cloud at a perfect time.”
In mid-May, Rometty addressed a group of analysts in New York at IBM’s annual investor briefing. The researchers peppered her with questions: Why were IBM’s growth markets, notably China, shrinking? Did existing businesses or acquisitions deserve more blame for IBM being $20 billion below the revenue level it had predicted in 2010? Was Big Blue actually two companies—Good IBM and Bad IBM?
“Let me start with this idea that we are going to lead the IT industry through this change,” Rometty said. “I’m very clear with my words in that this industry is going to reorder. It will not look the same 10 years from now. And we will be the leader in this industry.” Cloud sales delivered as a service, she said, were growing rapidly, on pace for $2.3 billion in 2014. IBM’s total revenue is $100 billion. “Look, this is not the first time we’ve transformed,” Rometty said. “This will not be the last time.” The $20-per-share target for 2015, she confirmed, is still the plan. No one asked her if there would be a Roadmap 2020.
Nick Summers covers Wall Street and finance for Bloomberg Businessweek

What's right (and wrong) with the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 (ZDNet)

(Lo Bueno y lo Malo) de la Surface Pro 3

Summary: Yesterday Microsoft unveiled its next-generation Surface tablet – the Surface Pro 3. But does it have what it takes to be a success?

By  for Hardware 2.0 |
Yesterday Microsoft unveiled its next-generation Surface tablet – the Surface Pro 3. Coming eight months after the release of the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 tablets, this is Microsoft's bid at making the tablet the new PC.
(Image source: Microsoft)
But does it have what it takes to be a success?
What's right with the Surface Pro 3:
  • The hardware – Good range of hardware, spanning Core i3 to Core i7, 4 to 8GB of RAM, and storage options going from 64GB to 512GB.
  • The screen aspect ratio closer to 3:2 – Far better for tablets than the 16:10 that most Android tablets opt for, and is a more web friendly ratio (16:9 and 16:10 are more suited to video).
  • No Windows RT – I see removing this confusion as beneficial.
  • The target market – Microsoft is clearly aiming this as a competitor to the likes of the MacBook Air and other ultramobile systems, rather than the iPad.  
  • Long battery life – The nine-hour battery life brings it into the realm of an "all day device."
  • Light and thin – In a market that appreciates light and thin devices, Microsoft has certainly worked hard to deliver. The Surface Pro 3 is the thinnest Intel Core product to date.
What's wrong with the Surface Pro 3:
  • The price – The $799 to $1,949 price range is staggering, even if this is being pushed as a laptop replacement. A 15-inch 2.0GHz MacBook Pro is only a stone's throw away from this price, at $1,999. I believe that part of the steep price is because of the Intel chip, and the company's desire to hold onto a high gross margin for components.
  • The optional keyboard – The keyboard – which adds a further $130 to the price – really should be bundled with the tablet. Making this an optional extra will mean a lot of people will pass on it, and their enjoyment and productivity are likely to suffer as a consequence.
  • The thermals – The Intel Core processors generate so much heat inside the Surface Pro 3 that Microsoft saw fit to kit it out with a fan. While I don't see the fan itself as a cause for concern, I would be worried that this is going to mean the tablet can get hot during use, and that the exhaust vents built into it could make it awkward to use. Microsoft demoed Photoshop CC running on the Surface Pro 3, a very demanding application that can make notebooks and desktops run hot. How will this heat feel when held in the hand?
  • The pen – Microsoft's obsession with pens and styli continue. While I don't see the pen as a negative in of itself, it does make the package more of a hassle. You need the tablet, the pen, and possibly an optional keyboard. Oh, and if you don't get the Type Cover keyboard, you have nowhere to park the pen when carrying and storing the tablet.
  • Keyboard worries – If the Surface Pro 3 is to replace a notebook, that Type Cover keyboard better be brilliant.
  • The rebranding – Microsoft is insistent that the Surface Pro 3 is a PC, and a notebook replacement, and not a tablet. But to everyone else, it's clearly a tablet. I see this as a potential source of confusion.
  • Windows 8 – Even rebranding to Windows 8.1 doesn't feel like enough to distance the OS from the fog of negativity surrounding Windows 8. This could be a weakness, especially as businesses seem to be taking a very cautious approach to Windows 8.
  • Potentially short lifespan – The Surface Pro 3 is not cheap, and the tablet it replaced was only released eight months ago. Microsoft also didn't make any guarantees of it being compatible with Windows 9, and hasn't announced any plans to make the OS a free upgrade for the platform.
  • Attention will shift to Apple soon – WWDC is around the corner, so Microsoft time in the media is limited.
  • Budget may be too budget for business – The Core i3 processor lacks certain features – such as Trusted Execution Technology – that businesses might need, pushing them to the higher-priced Core i5 versions.
  • Long wait time – Some variants won't ship until late August, which is eons in tech time.
Bottom line: The Surface Pro 3 is an interesting play for Microsoft, but success relies heavily on the hardware getting traction. Some metrics suggest Surface usage has slipped recently, so this could adversely affect the new tablets.
There's no doubt that the new Surface Pro 3 is far ahead of the original Surface, and a huge leap forward from the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 tablets, and people who have played the waiting game before jumping onto the Surface bandwagon are getting a far superior product.
Price certainly is a worry, especially given the absence of any assurances of future support. The guarantee that all Surface Pro 3 tablets would get an upgrade to Windows 9 would help on this front.
The quality is now there – for a price – but we have to wait and see whether it will tempt buyers to adopt Microsoft's take on the tablet. 
Adrian Kingsley-Hughes is an internationally published technology author who has devoted over a decade to helping users get the most from technology.