Sabre Systems IT outage hits global airline operations

Zach Marzouk

24 May, 2021

Sabre Systems experienced an outage on Friday 21 May that impacted a number of airlines around the world and interrupted their scheduled flights.

Sabre is a third-party IT system used for check-in, boarding and flight bookings. The outage affected global airlines including Virgin AustraliaJet BlueAlaskan Airlines and American Airlines.

A spokesperson for Virgin Australia confirmed the company had experienced an outage with the Sabre booking system which had resulted in over 30 flights cancelled on Friday and a “small number of flights” cancelled or delayed on Saturday.

Tweets from the airline suggested that the outage affecting Virgin Australia lasted for around three hours.

JetBlue spokesperson told IT Pro: “JetBlue systems are back online following a Sabre outage impacting multiple airlines. We apologise for any inconvenience this caused.” 

Moreover, when IT Pro asked the company for comment, Sabre blamed the outage on Dell EMC.

“Dell/EMC has confirmed it experienced a hardware redundancy failure that impacted Sabre’s system, including PSS and check-in. The issue has been resolved. Dell/EMC is working to understand why the failure occurred,” said the spokesperson.

IT Pro has contacted Dell for comment.

Meanwhile, Air India stated that a cyber attack which took place three months ago on the systems of its data processor has exposed information belonging to around 4.5 million of its customers worldwide.

The breach which affected SITA, the data processor, involved personal data registered over a ten year period which exposed information such as passport information, date of birth and credit card data. The airline is now encouraging passengers to change passwords to ensure the safety of their personal data.

Amazon to shut down Prime Now quick delivery app

Bobby Hellard

21 May, 2021

Amazon has announced it is retiring its standalone Prime Now service, with its app and website shutting down globally by the end of 2021.

Prime Now has been available since 2014 as a way for members of Amazon’s Prime subscription service to get items delivered straight to their doors within a few hours for an extra fee.

However, the e-commerce giant is now directing users that want these fast deliveries to the Amazon app and website where a two-hour delivery option will be made available. This also includes Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods, which are both available in the app and website.

The move will also incorporate any third-party retailers or local stores that were offered within Prime Now, such as the supermarket chain Morrisons. Available retailers differed slightly from region to region, but the service was used in more than 5,000 cities and towns and even operated out of dedicated Prime Now warehouses.

“To make this experience even more seamless for customers, we are moving the experience from a separate Prime Now app onto the Amazon app and website so customers can shop all Amazon has to offer from one convenient location,” the company’s vice president of grocery, Stephenie Landry, said in a blog post.

“In 2014, I wrote a six-page document outlining a service that would allow customers to get last-minute items in about an hour. We even gave the project the internal code name ‘Houdini.’ In just 111 days, our team took the concept outlined in that six-page document and turned it into Prime Now, which became the foundation for Amazon’s ultrafast grocery and same-day delivery businesses.”

The change has been planned for some time with pop-up notifications in Prime Now directing users to the new website and app. The service has also been discontinued in India, Japan, and Singapore.

Microsoft expands retail tech presence in China with Hanshow deal

Zach Marzouk

21 May, 2021

Chinese digital retail firm Hanshow will use Microsoft’s technology to expand globally, undergo digital transformation, and produce cloud-based software for its clients around the world, as part of a new deal.

Through the new collaboration, Hanshow is set to adopt Microsoft Azure while prioritising Microsoft technology in its products to retail clients. Hanshow said this will allow it to unify its global information systems, improve efficiency and security, and consequently enhance the company’s competitiveness.

Microsoft will also provide technical support to the digital retail firm in co-creating cloud-based products that use the tech giant’s machine learning, IoT, and data technology.

“Hanshow’s solutions empowered by Microsoft Azure are at the heart of digital transformation in the retail industry, and by partnering with Hanshow we can enable retail customers around the world together,” said Joe Bao, VP of Microsoft in China.

Hanshow claims to be one of the world’s leading electronic shelf label (ESL) providers, with products in use at over 20,000 stores across 50 countries. It said many of its clients are some of the world’s top retailers, operating hundreds of stores across multiple geographies.

Hanshow stated that managing ESL across a retailer’s multiple stores requires significant investment in IT infrastructure and technology. However, as the company has already seen in Europe and Australia, by adopting a SaaS solution using Microsoft Azure, it can manage over 10 million ESL and other IoT devices across geographies through a remote network, and it can be done without new infrastructure or other investments.

“This partnership with Microsoft not only helps streamline our company’s operations,” said Hou Shiguo, Hanshow CEO, “it also provides us with the lightweight and highly adaptable technology our retail clients need to dramatically increase their efficiency and drive profits for their business.”

Microsoft announced its new retail-focused cloud service in January this year, which includes features from Azure, Microsoft 365, Dynamics 365, Power Platform, and Microsoft Advertising. It’s unified through a common data model and built on a compliant and secure platform.

The tech giant’s services already operate across several retail chains, with, for example, Microsoft Azure delivering 200 million purchase forecasts a day to Walgreens to help the retail company ensure the right items are in stock at the right time. Microsoft also has a deal with Chipotle to supply the firm with analytical tools to help it better understand customer preferences and expand its loyalty programme.

Acronis Cyber Protect 15 Advanced review: A well-rounded package

Dave Mitchell

28 May, 2021

An all-you-can-eat data backup and security buffet with superb support for virtual environments

£458 exc VAT

Acronis takes a broad view to data protection: its Cyber Protect software doesn’t just take care of backup, but adds a heap of AI-driven cybersecurity measures, including malware protection, vulnerability assessments, patch management, hard disk health monitoring and remote desktop services.

Both local and cloud management options are provided; we went for the latter, as it gives you the ability to extend protection to home workers. There are also Essentials, Standard and Advanced editions, with the top-tier package including shared protection plans, deduplication, backup fingerprinting and backup malware scans. Check out Acronis’ website for a full breakdown of the differences between the various versions. 

Whichever permutation you opt for, all versions are subscription only. The Advanced licence includes protection for one physical or virtual server and 250GB of cloud storage for £458 per year; further 1TB chunks are £379 per year, while cloud seeding incurs a one-time fee of £59.

As for self-hosted backups, there’s plenty of flexibility. Supported destinations include SMB and NFS shares, IP SANs and tape drives, and Acronis also offers its own storage node service with deduplication.

For management, the web-based dashboard offers a wealth of information about your protected systems and backup repository status, along with details of any malware detections, blocked URLs, missing patches and more. It’s customisable too, allowing you to personalise and reorganise widgets to focus on whatever’s most important to you.

The only clunky aspect of the cloud-based approach is agent deployment; the client software has to be downloaded from the portal and manually installed, which might not be ideal for full-time home workers. It’s not complicated, though, and you can check the Devices page in the console to confirm that all computers have been successfully registered.

There’s also an agent specifically for Hyper-V systems, while for VMware you can download an agent VM and configure it with your cloud credentials and vCenter server details. Once we’d deployed these agents, the portal happily presented a list of all their VMs available for backup.

Cloud storage is automatically assigned to your account, and for local backups we were easily able to point the software to shares on remote Synology and Qnap NAS appliances using their UNC paths.

The specifics of your backups are configured in the form of plans, which define items to be copied, security settings, schedules and storage devices. A plan can be associated with any number of devices; a clever data protection map exposes files not covered by a backup plan, while plans created at the virtual host level will helpfully take in any new VMs as they’re added. Configuring hybrid backups is as easy as specifying two destinations in your plan, so each run backs up to both on-premises storage and the cloud repository. Malware scanning can be included in your plan too, along with URL filtering (using a predefined list of 44 categories), vulnerability assessments and other security checks. 

Acronis also shines when it’s time for recovery. Regular system backups can be easily mounted as virtual machines, so you can browse and pick out individual files or folders for restoration. Backed-up VMs can be restored to their original location, either as a new VM on the same host or to another location. It’s fast, too, which is great news for your RTOs: we restored an entire Windows Server 2019 VM back to our vSphere host in just 100 seconds.

Acronis Cyber Protect is a great all-round data protection solution, thanks to its smart combination of cybersecurity measures and cloud-managed backup. The portal is well designed too, making it easy to create and manage hybrid backup strategies, and the protection for virtualised environments is first class.

Global chip shortage hits Cisco supply chain

Sabina Weston

20 May, 2021

Cisco has confirmed that its recent supply chain disruption has been a direct result of the larger global semiconductor shortage.

Chief financial officer Scott Herren estimated during an earnings call on Wednesday that the supply chain issues, which are impacting the forecast for the current quarter’s adjusted gross margins, could last until the end of 2021, with a possibility that they would extend until 2022.

“I think the supply chain issues will stay with us at least through the end of this calendar year,” he told the attendees, adding that Cisco had “locked in both supply and pricing with some of the key component providers”.

Although no specifics were given during the call, a spokesperson for the company has since confirmed to IT Pro that the supply chain issues were related to the global semiconductor shortage, which has been plaguing the tech and automotive industries for the duration of the pandemic.

“Due to material shortages across the semiconductor industry that are outside of our control, Cisco is experiencing extended lead times on select components. While the impacts are not broad-based across all Cisco products, there are some delays to production schedules for certain product families,” the spokesperson told IT Pro.

They added that the situation is expected to last through the end of our current fiscal year and into the next as efforts to expand capacity are realised and demand stabilises.

“Cisco has and will continue to be proactive in mitigating the impacts of these supply constraints and we are working closely with our network of suppliers and manufacturing partners to minimise delays and expedite orders for our customers,” they added.

The confirmation comes weeks after CEO Chuck Robbins told the BBC that it would take “another six months to get through the short term” of the global chip shortage, adding that the crisis is unlikely to be fully resolved until 2022.

“The providers are building out more capacity. And that’ll get better and better over the next 12 to 18 months,” he said, adding that the shortage was caused by unprecedented demand for semiconductors, which “go in virtually everything”.

The shortage is what might have prompted the company to acquire fabless semiconductor company Acacia Communications, the finalisation of which was announced on Wednesday. Cisco also reported a 10% year-on-year growth in total orders, representing the strongest demand in its products for almost a decade.

The company generated $12.8 billion in revenue, up 7% year-over-year, with continued momentum in transforming its business to software and subscriptions. According to the company, 81% of software revenue was sold as a subscription, up from 76% last quarter.

Zoom to launch virtual events platform in the summer

Bobby Hellard

20 May, 2021

Zoom has announced a platform for hosting virtual events that will be available to its paid tier of customers in the summer.

The service, called ‘Zoom Events’, is described as a “comprehensive solution for event organisers” that offers features to ticket and monetise audiences of any size.

It will include a hub to manage and share events, registration portals, integrated networking, and an analytics dashboard to monitor and review attendance and revenues. The events can be hosted as both one-offs or as part of a series of conferences that can also be made private or posted on a public directory for others to discover.

Most of those features have come from a rebranded version of the ‘OnZoom’ platform, which has been in beta since October 2020. This was a service for people to adapt their in-person events, such as fitness classes or music lessons, so that they could work as virtual or hybrid ones. It included tools for monetising sessions and a marketplace to search for them.

However, OnZoom will no longer be available as a standalone service as it will be folded into Zoom Events.

“It’s an exciting time to be at Zoom where the pace of innovation continues to accelerate,” said Oded Gal, the firm’s chief product officer. “We know that people are looking for flexibility in how they attend events in the future. The hybrid model is here to stay, and Zoom Events is a perfect solution for our customers who are looking to produce and host customer, company, and public events with an easy, yet powerful solution.”

The timing of the announcement may come as a surprise to some, given that the popularity of virtual events is almost certainly going to decline as lockdown restrictions begin to lift and companies jump on the novelty of hosting a physical event.

Google, for instance, hosted its I/O developer conference earlier in the week with people allowed to attend at its Mountain View campus. MWC 2021 is also still aiming to host 50,000 people at Barcelona’s Fira Grand Via in June, despite a number of high profile companies pulling out of the event.

Microsoft to retire Internet Explorer 11 in 2022

Keumars Afifi-Sabet

20 May, 2021

Microsoft’s once widely-used Internet Explorer browser will reach end-of-life status from June 2022, with the firm no longer supporting the desktop application.

The legacy browser will also be absorbed into Microsoft Edge through an in-browser Internet Explorer mode, so organisations still reliant on the out-of-date service can continue to run critical applications in an emulated environment.

The number of users still relying on Internet Explorer is minimal compared with historic standards, with the soon-to-be legacy browser holding a 0.71% market share as of April 2021. Chrome, by contrast, holds a 64.47% market share, according to Stat Counter.

Microsoft launched the next generation of its web browser, Microsoft Edge, in 2015 as a replacement for Internet Explorer 11.

The company then launched the second iteration of its flagship browser in 2020, powered by the open source Chromium engine, while announcing plans to retire the ‘legacy’ Edge version. Chromium-based Edge is now the default browser for Windows 10, with the 2015 version removed as of last month.

“With Microsoft Edge, we provide a path to the web’s future while still respecting the web’s past,” said Microsoft developer Sean Lyndersay. “Change was necessary, but we didn’t want to leave reliable, still-functioning websites and applications behind.

“We’re here to help you transition to the more comprehensive browsing experience of Microsoft Edge and tell you a bit more about why we think it will address your needs, both at home and at work.”

Microsoft is encouraging its users to transition to Edge by promoting the wide range of benefits it over the Internet Explorer user experience. The use of a dual-engine, for example, supports both legacy and modern sites, while the Internet Explorer mode will allow users to continue using sites and apps that are only compatible with Internet Explorer.

The Edge browser is also more secure than Internet Explorer, offering a host of features including Microsoft Defender SmartScreen to block phishing attacks and malware infection attempts. While Internet Explorer 11 packaged security updates monthly, Edge can issue security patches for flaws within days.

Organisations using Internet Explorer are being encouraged to move to Microsoft Edge immediately, and continue to use their legacy applications through the dedicated Internet Explorer mode, which Microsoft will continue to support until 2029.

Internet Explorer was first released in 1995 as part of the add-on package Plus! for Windows 95. The project was started by developer Thomas Reardon in 1994 who used source code from Spyglass’ Mosaic web browser.

The web browser underwent several transformations and redesigns through the years, before its final version, Internet Explorer 11, was released in 2013 alongside Windows 8. Development on the project was suspended in 2016 when all work was shifted over to Microsoft Edge, which launched in the previous year.

Microsoft announced in February that Internet Explorer would no longer be compatible with Microsoft 365 apps from August 2021. This follows Microsoft Teams dropping support for the browser in November last year.

Users have until June 2022 before the Internet Explorer desktop app will no longer be supported, or available to download.

Microsoft rolls out Windows 10X-inspired May 2021 Update

Keumars Afifi-Sabet

19 May, 2021

Businesses are able to update their Windows 10 systems with version 21H1, dubbed the May 2021 Update, which is designed to deliver features that improve security, remote access and the quality of experience.

The update, which will take a staggered and measured approach to rollout, introduces several new security-oriented features, namely multi-camera support for Windows Hello, Windows Defender Application Guard, and a group policy service. 

These are inspired by work Microsoft has done on its Windows 10X operating system, which was initially designed for dual-screen foldable devices but has since evolved to be a more general-purpose system.

“In the current environment, we know that you continue to rely on your PCs more than ever. As a result, we are initially taking a measured seeker-based approach to the rollout of the May 2021 Update,” said Microsoft’s vice president for program management, Windows servicing and delivery, John Cable. 

“We are throttling availability up over the coming weeks to ensure a reliable download experience for all, so the update may not be offered to you right away. Additionally, some devices might have a compatibility issue for which a safeguard hold is in place. In these cases, we will not offer the update until we are confident that you will have a good update experience.”

Among the features included in 21H1 is Windows Hello multi-camera support, which will set the default as the external camera when both external and internal Windows Hello cameras are connected to a device. 

Application Guard, meanwhile, is designed to help prevent old and emerging attacks by isolating untrusted entities in a Hyper-V-powered container. The Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) Group Policy Service (GPSVC), finally, will receive a performance update to better support remote work scenarios.

All editions of the May 2021 Update will receive 18 months of servicing and support, with commercial organisations recommended to begin targeted deployments to ensure services and infrastructure works as expected. 

The update also integrates elements of the once completely separated Windows 10X platform that had been in development. Instead of launching Windows 10X as a standalone product, Cable said, Microsoft is using teachings from the development process to integrate its core elements into other parts of Windows and alternative services. 

The new app container technology at the heart of Microsoft Defender Application Guard, for example, is derived from Windows 10X, as is an enhanced voice typing experience, and a modernised touch keyboard. 

London-based employees most likely to work from home

Bobby Hellard

18 May, 2021

Londoners were more likely to work from home during the pandemic than those living elsewhere in the country, according to an official snapshot.

An annual population survey conducted by the National Office of Statistics (ONS) found that working from home doubled in 2020, but it still remained an overall minority across the whole of the UK.

Around a quarter of people (25.9%) worked from home at some point over the year, compared with just 12.4% in 2019. But there was a concentration of remote workers in London (46.4%) that actually offset the figures for the whole country, with rural and northern towns having considerably fewer remote workers – below 14% in Burnely and Middlesbrough, for instance.

“The ONS figures confirm what we already know, that highly productive, digitally savvy jobs are concentrated in London and the South East,” said teckUK’s head of policy, Neil Ross. 

“We know as well that digital adoption, such as the uptake of home working technologies can lead to increased productivity and business performance. To prevent the pandemic from compounding the existing regional inequalities we know about we need to double down on our ambition to improve digital skills across the UK as well as incentivising business adoption of digital tech.”

Additionally, occupation also played a crucial role in the likelihood of remote working. The highest rates of people that said they had worked from home were in the communication and information (59%) and financial services (56%) sectors. The lowest numbers were in the retail and transport sectors (roughly 11% each).

It also appears that the more senior the role, the more likely people were to work from home. For example, 39% of managers, directors and senior officials and 40% of those in professional occupations said they had worked from home, compared to just 11% for those in sales and customer services and 7% for care and leisure workers. 

HPE launches key framework for EU’s Gaia-X project

Keumars Afifi-Sabet

18 May, 2021

HPE has announced a set of capabilities to equip organisations with the tools required to monetise data by tapping into the EU’s in-development Gaia-X federated data infrastructure.

Companies, service providers and public organisations can use HPE’s Solution Framework for Gaia-X to gear up to be compatible with the data platform when it launches in the near future. The system supports all functionality required to provide and consume data and services in a decentralised, federated environment. 

By buying into HPE’s framework, organisations can tap into huge distributed data pools, strengthen data sovereignty and create value from data in ways they could never have prior to involvement in Gaia-X. 

This framework is based on a reference architecture comprising key components of HPE’s software portfolio, third-party software, and the Cloud28+ network, a marketplace for monetising data and services. Everything will also be bundled in an ‘as a service’ HPE Greenlake model, meaning it’s more accessible to customers and partners. 

“Gaia-X is not about US versus Europe, but about the key question of the next wave of digital transformation and how to create network effects without centralisation in order to unlock the value of distributed data, while at the same time reserving sovereignty of every participant,” said Johannes Koch, HPE’s senior vice president for Germany, Austria and Switzerland, and MD for Germany. 

“Gaia-X is the focal point of this endeavour, and as such is also a catalyst to create the future architecture of the digital world. In essence, it’s about restoring the original freedom of the internet and about creating an open, decentralised cloud.” 

The EU proposed Gaia-X as a next-gen continental-wide system in order to reduce the reliance on, and domination of, large US tech companies with regards to data, the cloud, and digital transformation. 

The platform connects a host of cloud service suppliers through an interoperable data exchange platform that serves as a warehouse for several industries and data sources. It also acts as a data repository for businesses to pick specific services, such as IoTbig data and machine learning

HPE joined the non-profit organisation managing and contributing to Gaia-X on day one, and has contributed to its architecture, standards and certification since. 

The message HPE was keen to stress is that businesses cannot reap the benefits of Gaia-X unless their infrastructures and data operations are configured in such a way that they’re compatible with the platform. This is where the firm’s HPE Solution Framework for Gaia-X steps in as a means of getting businesses ready to be a part of the Gaia-X project.

The firm says its own strategy is perfectly aligned with the approach Gaia-X is taking, and the problems that it’s trying to solve, with HPE’s software portfolio and business model pivoted to it. 

A key component of the HPE Solution Framework for Gaia-X is a reference architecture that defines the foundation of the components needed to decentralise workloads, and this also includes a central governance structure 

The HPE Ezmeral Software Platform, which provides tools such as access to distributed data and unified control of distributed Kubernetes clusters, serves as the technological foundation of its framework. 

Its Secure Production Identity Framework for Everyone (SPIFFE) and the SPIFFE Runtime Environment (SPIRE) offer open source standards for securely authenticating software services.

Finally, Cloud28+ allows customers to monetise their data and services through the marketplace that this platform offers, and the partners associated with the community.