Uncommon Wisdom

Nov 2 2010   12:27PM GMT

Google sues Department of Interior over Google Apps slight

Tom Nolle Tom Nolle Profile: Tom Nolle

The IT world has provided us with a number of interesting developments this week, starting with a Google suit filed over a proposed Department of the Interior (DoI) messaging system award to Microsoft.  Google feels that its own Google Apps could have been used for this and that it should have been given the opportunity to demonstrate compliance with federal security requirements and bid on the contract.  Thus, the lawsuit.

Some in the DoI have suggested to us that the problem with Google Apps is the same one that’s a problem for users of Google’s online competitors to Microsoft Office: The features Google provides are a subset of those already in use rather than the full set.  What’s not totally clear is whether the missing features are actually used at DoI. But in some ways, you have to be sympathetic with the department. How easily could DoI find out whether all or some features were used?

As a result, the suit may be an important one for cloud computing services in general.  Many (probably most) cloud-based alternatives to popular installed software tools are functionally more limited than the stuff they’re intended to replace.  That’s also true with most open-source tools.  I’ve tried Google’s document tools and they won’t properly process either our spreadsheets or our presentations. They create problems with some publication/paper styles, as well.  Same for OpenOffice.  But there’s no question that you could do most of what I do in either Apps or OpenOffice if you started from scratch.  So cloud applications would be promoted if they were deemed acceptable, if they offered relatively full functionality — even if they do it differently, or if they offered at least some way of doing what buyers actually did rather than what they could do.  Without that kind of ruling, it may be hard to promote the cloud version of many apps unless cloud providers step up and fully duplicate capabilities.  Frankly, that’s what they should do.  You can’t sue your buyer into submission as a long-term business strategy.

The other interesting development is in the chip space, and the two vendors making the news were Intel and Oracle.  Intel abandoned a long practice of keeping its fabrication to itself by doing a deal with an FPGA chip specialist Achronix for 22nm capacity.  The actual volume of fabrication here is small, but what may be interesting is that Achronix is perhaps the speed king of FPGAs, which are field-programmable chips that can be used for fast responses to market needs or applications where volumes won’t justify a custom ASIC.  It’s not hard to see that such chips might be very valuable in the consumer device market, which could mean either that Intel may want a stake in Achronix later, or that it may be thinking about getting into the consumer space on a larger scale itself.  Recall that Intel has its own mobile OS and that it’s often been said to have aspirations of being a player in a retail space.  What better market than devices?

Oracle’s move is even more interesting. Oracle has taken a stake in Mellanox, which is one of the key chip providers for InfiniBand data center switches.  It has been a partner with Sun and also provides stuff for Oracle’s storage appliances. But as we’ve noted before, Oracle is the only data center player with no position in networking, and nowhere is that position more important than in the data center.  InfiniBand is a superior technology to at least the current generation of Ethernet in terms of latency and capacity, and were Oracle to be planning to do a big flat fabric for the data center, Mellanox would be a likely player in its decision.  It’s also interesting to note that the deal includes Mellanox supporting Solaris as one of its host OSs.  That suggests that Oracle may be planning to continue to field Solaris as an alternative to Linux.  We think that’s smart. Solaris has a good following, and for specialty applications like OLTP, we think it’s the best OS out there.  Could Oracle be planning a major data center move?  It certainly could be.

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