Google Cloud targets larger market share with engineering reshuffle

Bobby Hellard

16 Sep, 2021

The engineering teams at Google Cloud are set to be shaken up in a bid to improve the company’s standing in the wider market.

The organisation’s CEO, Thomas Kurian, alluded to a number of technical leadership changes, in an internal email seen by CNBC.

It includes the replacement of engineering lead Eyal Manor, a 15-year Google veteran who was a key part of developing a number of the firm’s cloud products, such as Anthos. Manor is not entirely leaving Google, however, as the emails suggest he will look for another role within the company.

Google Cloud will be replacing Manor with Brad Calder, the company’s current VP of engineering of technical infrastructure, but in a more expansive role that will also oversee security and data analytics, according to CNBC sources.

Calder will report directly to Kurian, according to the CEO’s email, as the change will allow the technical teams to “work more closely” with the Cloud leadership team, as well as Google CEO Sundar Pichai and the wider Google leadership team, on its longer-term strategy.​​

Kurian added that Calder’s 15-years of cloud experience meant he had the “proven expertise” to take on a broader role at the company and shape its entire strategy.

Google Cloud and its technical infrastructure business have more than doubled in the past few years, according to Kurian’s email, which also said: “the demands of shaping long-term strategy while focusing on day-to-day operations have continued to accelerate. As a result, we felt that it was the right time to unify the broad portfolio under Brad Calder.”

The changes are thought to be about improving Google’s chances in the hotly contested cloud services market. The company currently has a 10% share, according to analyst Synergy, far behind both Amazon Web Services (33%) and Microsoft (20%).

“We have an enormous opportunity to continue to grow the business by expanding our total addressable market in new ways,” Kurian said in his email. “As the market changes, the needs of our products continue to evolve, and it’s important that we evolve our organisation to support this growth.”

Citrix mulling potential sale after tumultuous 2021

Keumars Afifi-Sabet

15 Sep, 2021

Citrix is considering finding a buyer for itself to rejuvenate its fortunes after a shaky 2021 in which its share price has fallen to levels not recorded since mid-2019.

The virtualisation and workplace collaboration software firm is working with advisers to consider the benefits and drawbacks of selling itself, according to Bloomberg, with plans to approach potential buyers within weeks.

A final decision hasn’t been made on whether to proceed with a sale, regardless of whether the company finds a buyer, however. Citrix might also yet remain a standalone firm.

The firm has, in recent months, struggled to capitalise on a catalogue of successes over the last couple of years, with share prices dropping sharply in April 2021. Citrix encountered supply chain issues in the first three months of the year, which led to the company missing its revenue targets

These supply chain issues affected hardware shipments and the company also generated a lower-than-expected duration of on-premise licenses. This is despite the company handling a much higher demand for its software and services during the pandemic than Citrix otherwise would have expected.

Exemplifying this decline was the fact its flagship Workspace suite of tools and services recorded declining year-on-year revenues of 11%, while its app delivery and security revenues also fell by 6% against the first three months of 2020.

It was a similar story for the second quarter of the year, with shares falling further thanks to a “mixed” financial performance. CEO David Henshall pinned these difficulties on “sales execution challenges” caused by complexity in managing a rapid transition to the cloud among customers while managing different license model types.

The company has also had to endure a rocky few months due to a string of security issues, most notably in May 2019 in which an attack saw hackers seize 6TB of sensitive data. Since then, there have been a number of minor incidents, with cyber criminals taking advantage of flaws in Citrix systems.

The potential move comes after Elliot Management recently took more than a $1 billion stake in Citrix, as of last week, according to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ).

The firm has previously explored the option of selling itself in 2017, Bloomberg adds, although discussion with potential buyers stalled at the time due to differences in opinion over the valuation of the company.

Citrix has yet to respond to CloudPro’s request for comment. 

Google’s Grace Hopper subsea cable lands in Cornwall

Sabina Weston

15 Sep, 2021

Google has announced that its undersea cable connecting the US with Europe has arrived in Bude, Cornwall.

The fibre-optic network cable is estimated to be around 6,000km long and is named after the American computer science pioneer Grace Hopper.

First announced in July 2020, the Google-funded cable runs from New York and splits off in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean to arrive in Bilbao, Spain and Cornwall. 

Google Cloud strategic negotiator for Global Infrastructure, Jayne Stowell, described the Grace Hopper cable as an example of Google’s “ongoing investment” in the UK’s tech sector.

“Grace Hopper represents a new generation of transatlantic cable coming to the UK shores and is one of the first new cables to connect the US and the UK since 2003,” she announced in a company statement. Google has recently rolled out other subsea cables known as Curie, Dunant, Equiano, and Firmina.

The cable will use a technology known as “fibre switching,” allowing Google to manoeuvre traffic around outages and increase the reliability of its network. It will power popular Google services such as Meet, Gmail and Google Cloud – which all saw a surge in new customers due to last year’s mass shift to remote working.

“Moreover, with the ongoing pandemic fostering a new digital normal, Google-funded subsea cables allow us to plan and prepare for the future capacity needs of our customers, no matter where they are in the world. Grace Hopper will connect the UK to help meet the rapidly growing demand for high-bandwidth connectivity and services,” added Stowell.

The second European arm of the Grace Hopper cable landed on the Bilbao shoreline on 9 September, as the “first ever Google-funded route to Spain” which will integrate an upcoming Google Cloud region in Madrid. 

The entire cable is set to become operational in 2022. 

Earlier this year, Google announced that its other subsea cable connecting the US and Europe, Dunant, is ready for service. First announced in 2018, the Dunant cable runs 6,400km (3,977 miles) between Virginia Beach, Virginia and Saint-Hilaire-de-Riez in the Pays de la Loire region of France. Google says it has 250Tbps of bandwidth, meaning it can transfer the entire digitised Library of Congress three times every second.

Appian reengineers low-code platform for adaptability

Bobby Hellard

14 Sep, 2021

Workflow specialist Appian announced the latest version of its low-code automation service at its European conference on Tuesday. 

The refreshed Appian Low-Code Automation Platform promises to be faster and more efficient for building enterprise applications through advancements in low-code data and improvements to the user interface.

Appian hopes its new improved platform can make it easier for companies to access and transform their data with new services to sync, store and view it. In addition to new features that aim to improve automation, connected systems and application deployment. 

Ahead of the announcement, CEO Matt Calkins spoke to IT Pro about the improvements and how low-code has evolved over the course of the pandemic. 

“We went public as the first low-code firm in the world, back in 2017, and at that time, low code meant pretty much EPM or workflow,” Calkins said. “It was drawing instead of coding your application, but we have expanded it. In the years since then, we expanded downstream into automation.

“So you can now learn about the processes in your enterprise before you automate them. You can even translate the process mining map into a process model, and then edit it. So we’ve expanded both downstream and upstream from the original workflow centre of low code and now we believe that we’ve redefined what workflow needs to be to be viable in 2021.”

This new approach to workflow is about change and the need to be adaptable and change quickly has been “reordered” by the pandemic. According to Calkins. In response, Appian has made agility “imperative” and decided that it would make sense to gather a suite of products to make it as easy as possible to build a new app, a new process and to run that process. 

“We know how important it is now, to create change, to be empowered to change, and so we’re going to give you this platform that is the best possible way to define your new patterns and execute them. And we know that that’s what the market wants right now because they’re all desperate for ways to change for the better.” 

Intuit eyes SMBs with $12 billion Mailchimp acquisition

Keumars Afifi-Sabet

14 Sep, 2021

Intuit has agreed to purchase global customer engagement and marketing platform Mailchimp for $12 billion as it sets to cement its market position among small businesses.

Intuit and Mailchimp will combine their respective technologies to build an end-to-end customer growth and engagement platform for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), the company said. 

Founded in 2001, Mailchimp began offering email marketing services and has now evolved into a major name in customer engagement and marketing automation with AI-driven tools and services. Intuit, meanwhile, is most well known for its QuickBooks small business accounting software.

A unified platform between these two entities would allow customers to get their business online, market their business, manage customer relationships, benefit from analytics, get paid, access finance, optimise cash flow and remain compliant. This is alongside access to expertise the firm will provide in the form of a services offering.

Through this joint platform, SMBs can also combine customer data from Mailchimp and purchase data from QuickBooks to gain insights that can be used to grow their businesses.

“We’re focused on powering prosperity around the world for consumers and small businesses. Together, Mailchimp and QuickBooks will help solve small and mid-market businesses’ biggest barriers to growth, getting and retaining customers,” said Intuit CEO Sasan Goodarzi.

“Expanding our platform to be at the centre of small and mid-market business growth helps them overcome their most important financial challenges. Adding Mailchimp furthers our vision to provide an end-to-end customer growth platform to help our customers grow and run their businesses, putting the power of data in their hands to thrive.”

The firm has committed to another large-scale acquisition only months after completing its $8.1 billion purchase of Credit Karma, a startup with 110 million members. This firm offers financial services, including credit and loan comparison, alongside free credit score tracking. 

Intuit was mostly intrigued by the firm’s reach, according to Forbes, as it embarked on its vision to expand among smaller businesses.

The Mailchimp acquisition allows Intuit to build on these ambitions, given the company’s own global customer reach comprising 13 million users. Intuit will also benefit from taking over 2.2 million daily AI-driven predictions.

As part of its ambitions to target SMBs with a unified platform, the firm has embarked on an acquisition spree in recent years, also purchasing OneSaas in February and TradeGecko in August 2020.

Intuit expects the Mailchimp acquisition to close during the second quarter of the 2022 fiscal year, with the deal subject to standard regulatory hurdles.

Fuze deepens partnership with Microsoft Teams

Praharsha Anand

14 Sep, 2021

Web conferencing platform Fuze has extended its partnership with Microsoft to enhance Fuze for Teams.

Fuze for Microsoft Teams integrates Fuze Voice with Meetings, making it easy for users to call or meet from within their Microsoft ecosystem. In addition to Fuze Desktop, Web, and Mobile, Fuze for Teams is available across Teams environments.

According to the company, Fuze and Microsoft’s new strategic alliance will streamline workflows between Fuze and Teams. 

“Across the modern workforce, many employees must navigate between a range of communications platforms throughout their workday for internal and external meetings, including Microsoft Teams,” explained Fuze.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated this challenge for employees, as organizations now rely on a myriad of communication solutions to remain productive in a remote or hybrid work environment.”

The company said the software’s new features allow for improved flexibility and a consistent calling experience across enterprise communication channels. The firm also outlined three key capabilities.

Firstly, Fuze now offers flexible direct routing for users with any Teams license, an upgrade of critical importance to customers seeking to have all their communications occur inside Microsoft Teams. Fuze has also expanded click-to-connect functionality allows customers to use Microsoft Teams with Fuze Calling and Meetings at no additional cost.

Finally, enhanced add-on capabilities allow Teams users to access and control their voicemail, check call history, expand their contact list, and access the Fuze Contact Center agent tab regardless of the routing option.

Fuze president and CEO Rob Scudiere said: “At Fuze, we are committed to meeting users where they work, which means eliminating as many barriers as possible to efficient and productive workflows that meet all of today’s communications needs.”

“These integration updates provide users with a flexible and consistent communications experience across the Fuze and Microsoft Teams platforms while enabling users to mix-and-match Fuze for Teams solutions depending on their unique use case. This is an important step towards more productive and efficient communications across the enterprise.”

Lack of talent a “significant” barrier to emerging technologies

Bobby Hellard

14 Sep, 2021

lack of talent has been cited as the biggest barrier to the adoption of emerging technologies, according to a new Gartner survey. 

According to the analyst outfit’s ‘2021-2023 Emerging Technology Roadmap for Large Enterprises’ report, IT executives expect talent shortages to be a “significant” barrier to 64% of emerging technologies. 

The 2021-2023 survey provides a peer-based view of the adoption plans of over 100 emerging technologies from 437 IT global organisations in North America, EMEA and APAC over a 12- to 24-month-time period.

The availability of talent – or the perceived lack of it – was cited as the leading factor inhibiting adoption for six technology domains: compute infrastructure and platform services, network, security, digital workplace, IT automation and storage and database. For the same report in 2020, IT executives only saw a lack of talent as an issue for 4% of emerging technologies.  

This shortage is also cited as the main adoption risk factor for the majority of IT automation technologies (75%) and nearly half of digital workplace technologies (41%), according to Gartner’s report. 
“The ongoing push toward remote work and the acceleration of hiring plans in 2021 has exacerbated IT talent scarcity, especially for sourcing skills that enable cloud and edge, automation and continuous delivery,” said Yinuo Geng, research vice president at Gartner.
“As one example, of all the IT automation technologies profiled in the survey, only 20% of them have moved ahead in the adoption cycle since 2020. The issue of talent is to blame here.”

Infrastructure security is a significant priority for organisations, according to the report, with concerns over rising threats, particularly to endpoint devices in hybrid work environments. From 2020 to 2021, the number of security technologies in deployment rose dramatically, and 64% of respondents reported that they have either increased or are planning to increase investments in security technologies, up from just 31% the previous year.

WhatsApp activates end-to-end encrypted cloud backups

Keumars Afifi-Sabet

13 Sep, 2021

Facebook is launching end-to-end encryption protection for WhatsApp users who want to back up their chat histories to the cloud.

The firm has devised an entirely new system for encryption key storage that means end-to-end encrypted backups will be protected with a randomly generated 64-character encryption key. 

The firm’s two billion users will be able to benefit from this optional feature on their primary devices when it launches in the coming days.

“For years, in order to safeguard the privacy of people’s messages, WhatsApp has provided end-to-end encryption by default ​​so messages can be seen only by the sender and recipient, and no one in between,” said WhatsApp software engineer managers, Slavik Krassovsky and Gabriel Cadden. 

“Now, we’re planning to give people the option to protect their WhatsApp backups using end-to-end encryption as well.

“People can already back up their WhatsApp message history via cloud-based services like Google Drive and iCloud. WhatsApp does not have access to these backups, and they are secured by the individual cloud-based storage services. But now, if people choose to enable end-to-end encrypted (E2EE) backups once available, neither WhatsApp nor the backup service provider will be able to access their backup or their backup encryption key.”

All users can activate this method of backup to secure their accounts either with the key directly, or with a user password. If users choose a password, the key is stored in a Backup Key Vault that’s built on a component called a hardware security module (HSM). 

When the owner needs to access their backup, they can access it with the encryption key, or use their password to retrieve their key from the HSM-based vault. 

The vault enforces password verification and permanently disables the key after a number of failed attempts, however, meaning the backup will be lost forever. WhatsApp itself will only know that a key is being stored in the vault, and not what the key is. 

WhatsApp isn’t the first company to enforce end-to-end encrypted backups, with Apple enforcing encryption on iCloud backups.

However, the fact Facebook’s messaging service has expanded the level of encryption it uses on its service will likely anger law enforcement agencies across the world which have railed against the technology.

The Five Eyes nations of English-speaking countries, for example, have time after time asked for tech companies to water down or undermine the application of end-to-end encryption in their services. 

The group, for example, handed tech giants an ‘ultimatum’ in September 2018 to voluntarily insert a backdoor for law enforcement into their platforms. They have followed this up with repeated calls for a backdoor, and in October 2020, again, urged companies to implement a backdoor by-design into their services.

Five minutes with… Petr Janda, Pleo CTO

Adam Shepherd

14 Sep, 2021

Data is transforming virtually every industry, but arguably it’s the financial services sector that’s most heavily invested in building data-driven decision-making into its processes. For business expense management platform Pleo that’s a core strategy, and it informs much of the company’s IT investment. 

There’s a lot of investment to inform, too. The company recently broke records with a $150 million Series C funding round, the biggest in the history of its native Denmark. We asked CTO Petr Janda why data is such a priority for Pleo, and what challenges the organisation is hoping to overcome with it. 

What does your core infrastructure currently look like?

We’re leaning into a multi-cloud strategy. What that means is that we have a combination of different vendors: our core operation systems are running in Amazon Web Services, and we complement this with a data ecosystem from Google Cloud, so we’re operating across the two.

When it comes to going a step deeper, we’re staying away from bare metal, or even virtual machines: everything we deploy is containerised and managed by Kubernetes, which is standardised across all the back-end systems. That means that we offload a lot of management of the system onto cloud providers, and focus a lot more on the individual pieces of code we ship into them

On top of that, we’re very keen to make sure that we offload management of state. Anything that stores data, we ideally don’t want to host ourselves, even within our clusters. We make use of the solutions the cloud vendors have for us, be it managed Postgres databases or Google’s BigQuery. If something bad happens, we hope that these big tech companies with thousands of engineers should be able to solve it very quickly.

What’s your biggest priority within the business?

It’s the same as everyone else in the C-suite: we all focus on the customer, and how we can solve for them. For me, it’s about how we build a technology organisation that’s able to ship solutions and put products in front of the customer at a healthy pace. What I mean by that is, we can innovate as a company this year, but we have to be able to keep up a similar pace in a year or two, or three years from now. 

This, of course, is not trivial. If we focus too much on today’s world, we might be making things harder for the future. On the other hand, if you optimise too much for the future, you might be over-investing in areas where it’s not necessarily needed. We try to find a good rhythm, of innovating our current products whilst also building a long-term platform or infrastructure. At the core of that is balancing technology investments: I spend a lot of time focusing on how we design the organisation, and choosing the right initiatives to maintain this ability.

Which piece of technology would you say is most critical to achieving this?

I don’t think there’s a single piece which allows us to do that. It’s almost like, how does this system holistically work? How can we design a portfolio of services and a platform which allows us to build these products on top of that?

I guess one way to look at it is that, because we’re a financial institution, there’s quite a lot we have to do just to get the product in front of our customer. On one side, you have the parts of the platform that deliver the experience to the user, from the mobile app to a variety of web interfaces. But behind the scenes there is also a lot of infrastructure that has to integrate with the wider payment ecosystem, so we can effectively move money.

And behind all that there are additional building blocks: we have to comply with all the regulations, which are getting stricter as we go, and can differ across different markets. So there’s a lot of technology solutions and integrations we have to do to empower that. None of these pieces are crucial in isolation; solving in all these different levels is what allows us to innovate.

Do you have any preferred technology vendors that you especially invest in?

Enfuce is our payment processing provider – essentially our integration point between Pleo and the card networks, which is, of course, a central part of what we do. For anything else, we go in with an open mind. You can almost always find a solution from Amazon and Google – they have such a vast portfolio of products, servicing a very broad range of use cases. But we might also try to find more specialised vendors who have a deeper focus on the particular problem.

In a sense, we don’t really have a preference. We look at it as, okay, this is a problem, we need to solve it. Who are companies who play really well in this field? And how can we leverage that to push the product forward?

What’s the biggest IT challenge you’re currently facing?

Almost every company goes through a journey. When you’re an early-stage startup founder with, let’s say, a team of 10-15 engineers, you can get the sense of everything and manage that team as one. But as you scale beyond that point, you have to start to organise it more, and break it into smaller teams, which ship on a variety of different work streams.

That’s what Pleo has done. We have our portfolio of products, which we’re releasing to the market, and about 80 engineers, working across a number of teams. We’re now thinking more about how we can essentially create a platform on top of which all these things work.

One way you can look at it, of course, is the cloud infrastructure provided by Amazon and Google, and a layer of management on top of that, which we’ve already built inside of our team. But what I’m especially looking into is, how can we layer more reusable services on top of that, so they’re available to any team out there building Pleo’s applications?

What I see as the biggest challenge is that there’s about 13 teams running really fast, iterating and shipping to the market, and we kind of want to slot this platform under all of them as we go. There is no “let’s stop for six months, do this and then continue”. We want to find good initiatives, good technology solutions and good projects to take us towards that vision, while continuing to ship at a very fast pace, all the time. That is a big challenge for me.

Which part of your IT estate are you proudest of?

It’s hard to pick, but one thing worth mentioning, is our compliance solution, which gained us recognition from by one of the banks in Denmark – Danske Bank, I believe.

Essentially, when we onboard customers we’re required to disclose quite a lot about the client, such as the ownership structure of companies. Many fintechs handle this through partnerships and integrations with external parties, and there are a lot of great solutions out there. But doing it this way locks you a little bit into their way of thinking, and shapes the experience you can have on top of it. 

Early in Pleo, it was decided that compliance would be a key piece of our in-house tech estate. We built our own system which connects to a number of company registries, and helps us to model the compliance process and requirements into the technology stack. This then lets us build a different experience when working with the company going through onboarding.

Essentially, the idea is to minimise the work and input needed from clients, and from our employees inside Pleo. We lean into the technology, promoting the image of a company with automated data systems behind the scenes. And we believe it’s paying off, with stronger and more productised onboarding journeys. It’s definitely something we’re very happy with.  

What’s the next big project you’re planning?

This platform is a little bit of a moving target. We draw inspiration from companies like Spotify and their Backstage product, which essentially looks like an app for engineering teams, allowing you to spin up new services and infrastructure as needed. It almost feels like a product itself.

But if I had to point to one specific step we’re taking in this direction, it would probably be focusing on data. The organisation is growing very quickly, and without conscious effort we risk losing track of what is going on in the company, and how the different corners of the company relate to each other.

We see our data as the key to solving that. Data helps us to convey context from one side of the organisation to the other. We have a number of teams interacting with the customer on their journey to Pleo – from marketing, sales and customer success to the product and support teams – and we really want them to have a singular view of the customer, to provide the right data points to the relevant teams as they are interacting with the customer.

I see that as part of this overall platform – a big building block which is essentially our data ecosystem. We’re adopting this trend of a modern data stack, which essentially means building a platform which is provided as infrastructure to the rest of the organisation. The goal is to enable everyone to ingest data to the central data warehouse, which makes it interoperable, and there’s a number of discovery and quality aspects we’ve built on top of that. We basically allow a group of analysts to model the business and then distribute data back to different corners of the organisation.

If we nail this platform our teams will be able to work in a much more unified way, because they can look at the data and understand where this customer is coming from. “What just happened for them 30 seconds ago within the product, and how can I help them?”

Are you a Windows, Mac or Linux user?

My computer at home is a Mac, and I interact with Linux on our servers in one way or another. I’m trying to remember when I last used Windows… it’s probably 15 years ago, which I guess gives you the answer.

In the last ten years, what technology has made the biggest impact on the IT industry, and why?

I recall a time when I was building some systems for a customer, and I had to open an FTP terminal and move the files to the server. Looking back, it wasn’t the greatest experience. When I think of what we do today, shipping very large and complex systems relatively easily, I see it all as a massive journey. We have everything we need literally at our fingertips, and it’s powering innovation, because any company who adopts these cloud solutions has an almost endlessly scalable environment in which to operate.

If I dive one step deeper, I’m very passionate about data systems. Our cloud data warehouse, first starting with Redshift on AWS and later being pushed forward with BigQuery, feels almost like magic: I throw a lot of data in, and I start querying, and there are no indexes, no management of “how do I start today?”

I see data as the next wave, pushing the boundary of how much easier it’s becoming for companies to work without large teams of data engineers and custom pipelines between tools. That ecosystem is growing really quickly. And if you combine the cloud itself with the data aspects of solutions that are built on top of that, it’s a very interesting playground where products can be built far faster than 10 years ago.

Oracle launches free cloud training

Danny Bradbury

9 Sep, 2021

Oracle is offering free worldwide training and certification in its Oracle Cloud Infrastructure. Learners now have free access to the company’s entire learning curriculum across all skill levels. 

The training catalog includes courses at all levels across a range of IT roles, the company said. It includes preparation courses and practice exams to prepare people for testing and gives learners access to live sessions and personalised feedback. Career resources will also help people to secure jobs with their Oracle Cloud Infrastructure skills. 

The online courses are available on demand in 13 languages. They include hands-on labs so learners can test their skills in a simulated production environment. 

While the cloud training is available at no cost indefinitely, there is a time limit on the free certification. Learners can only get certified from the Oracle University for free until December 31. 

Launched in 2016, Oracle Cloud Infrastructure is the company’s cloud computing service. It offers infrastructure, platform, and software as a service (SaaS) options. It also offers Oracle Data Cloud, which offers analytics services. 

The company’s cloud service hasn’t seen the same traction as its competitors. Gartner placed the company in the “niche players” section of its latest public cloud infrastructure magic quadrant behind Alibaba Cloud. Google, Microsoft, and Amazon Web Services sat in the “leaders”’ section. Synergy Research Group placed the company eighth in market share terms based on its Q2 2021 research.

Oracle also lost its bid for the Pentagon’s since-disbanded JEDI cloud computing contract. 

Last year, German company Union Asset Management AG sued the software giant for allegedly misleading the market on its cloud revenues and bullying customers into cloud migrations with a strategy called Audit, Bargain, Close. 

This isn’t the first time Oracle has run free training. It also offered free Oracle cloud courses in spring 2020.