AWS makes its Panorama Appliance generally available

Praharsha Anand

21 Oct, 2021

Amazon Web Services (AWS) has announced the general availability of its Panorama Appliance.

The device integrates computer vision into on-premises internet protocol (IP) cameras, allowing fast and easy visual inspections of production lines, drive-thru queue management, layout optimisations of physical stores, and more.

“While some smart cameras can provide real-time visual inspection, replacing existing cameras with new smart cameras can be cost prohibitive. Even then, smart cameras are often ineffective because they are limited to specific use cases and require additional effort to fine-tune,” explained AWS.

“Alternatively, some customers send video feeds from existing on-premises cameras to third-party servers, but often the required internet bandwidth is costly or facilities are in remote locations where internet connectivity can be slow, all of which degrades the usefulness and practicality of the analysis.”

AWS’ Panorama device minimises costs by enabling customers to pair the solution with existing on-premises cameras and monitor video streams locally through computer vision.

Customers can update their computer vision application in Amazon SageMaker and deploy the model to the AWS Panorama Appliance, thanks to the device’s full integration with Amazon SageMaker.

Together, AWS Panorama Appliance, Amazon Monitron, Amazon Lookout for Equipment, and Amazon Lookout for Vision deliver the most comprehensive cloud-to-edge machine learning solution for industrial applications.

AWS offers its Panorama Appliance in Virginia, Oregon, Canada, and Ireland. Support for additional regions will follow soon.

“CVG Airport is committed to providing a world-class traveler experience through continuous innovation and strategic cooperation,” said Brian Cobb, chief innovation officer at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.

Cobb added, “By using TaskWatch’s application on AWS Panorama, we are able to bring machine learning to our existing IP cameras and automatically monitor congestion over 70,000 square feet of airport traffic lanes. Once an issue is detected, such as a disabled vehicle, TaskWatch sends real-time alerts to airport staff so they can provide assistance, keep the traffic flowing, and reduce delays for our passengers.”

You can now test Android apps on Windows 11

Zach Marzouk

22 Oct, 2021

Microsoft has released the preview of Android apps to Windows 11 testers, after launching the new operating system without the feature at the start of October and promising to do so in the next few months.

The preview is available for anyone on the Windows Insider Program as well as Beta Channel users in the US on eligible devices running Intel, AMD, and Qualcomm platforms. It allows apps to be viewed through the Microsoft store before taking users to the Amazon Appstore to load and install them.

The apps can be run side-by-side with other apps and can be pinned to the Start menu or Taskbar, or even integrated into Alt+Tab and Task view to quickly move back and forth between them. Android app notifications can be viewed in the Action Center and users can share their clipboard between a Windows app and Android app too. Windows accessibility settings also apply to Android apps and Microsoft is working with Amazon to deliver more improvements in the coming months.

Microsoft revealed it has partnered with Amazon and app developers to curate 50 apps for Windows Insiders to test and validate across a broad set of hardware. These will be released in the coming months and allow users to try the game Lords Mobile, read Kindle books, and access Khan Academy Kids’ library of learning tools.

The tech giant has also built the Windows Subsystem for Android, which powers the Amazon Appstore and its catalogue. The subsystem includes the Linux kernel and Android OS based on the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) version 11.

“The Subsystem runs in a Hyper-V Virtual Machine, like the Windows Subsystem for Linux,” said Aidan Marcuss, corporate vice president at Windows. “It understands how to map the runtime and APIs of apps in the AOSP environment to the Windows graphic layer, the memory buffers, the input modes, the physical and virtual devices, and the sensors.”

The subsystem is available on AMD, Intel, and Qualcomm chips, and Microsoft is also partnering with Intel to enable Arm-only apps to run on AMD and Intel devices.

The Windows 11 rollout began on 5 October with all eligible devices to be offered the free upgrade by mid-2022. The update is being rolled out in a phased approach, meaning that new eligible devices will be offered the upgrade first.

PayPal in talks to buy Pinterest for $45 billion

Sabina Weston

21 Oct, 2021

PayPal is in talks to acquire digital pinboard platform Pinterest for $45 billion (£32.6 billion), according to people familiar with the matter.

The deal is said to be in “late-stage talks”, confidential sources told Bloomberg on Wednesday, with Pinterest reportedly being offered $70 per share, mostly in stock.

If accepted, the deal would be the biggest acquisition of a social media company to date, surpassing Microsoft’s $26.2 billion takeover of LinkedIn in June 2016. PayPal is likely to announce the acquisition by the time it reports quarterly earnings on 8 November, according to one of the sources. However, the deal is still uncertain and its terms could be subject to change.

News of the potential acquisition caused Pinterest shares to surge by 12.8% to $62.68, with CEO Ben Silbermann’s net worth skyrocketing by an estimated $400 million to $3.8 million. PayPal, on the other hand, saw its shares slump by 4.9% to $258.36 at closing. Neither company was immediately available for comment.

Founded in 2019, Pinterest allows users to “pin” posts, such as cooking recipes or decoration ideas, organise them into folders, as well as share them with friends. It makes its money by letting companies advertise their services through promoted posts.

PayPal’s interest in the social media platform stems from the shifting landscape of retail, with customers opting to buy products advertised by “influencers” – popular social media users with high rates of followers and engagement. The trend is seen across other social media platforms: in May 2020, Instagram and Facebook introduced Shops, which allow users to browse and purchase products directly from a business’ Facebook or Instagram profile, while TikTok’s partnership with ecommerce giant Shopify allows retail brands to link their product catalogues to the app.

Pinterest had previously been in talks to be acquired by Microsoft, but the deal fell through in February 2021 after Pinterest expressed a wish to remain independent. This was the second time that Microsoft had attempted to buy a large social media platform, following its failed bid to take over Chinese video-sharing app TikTok.

Alkira deepens partnership with AWS

Praharsha Anand

20 Oct, 2021

Alkira has announced the expansion of its business ties with Amazon Web Services (AWS).

The firm also announced integration with AWS Transit Gateway Connect, a service that allows native integration of software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN) appliances with AWS.

The combined solution will provide seamless AWS capabilities to Alkira customers and simplify cloud networking services for on-premises, cloud, and multi-cloud environments.

Furthermore, Alkira announced a multi-year international agreement with AWS customer Warner Music Group to deploy Alkira Cloud Services Exchange (CSX).

“Alkira is thrilled with this closer business engagement with AWS to offer hundreds of thousands of AWS customers a more sophisticated, yet simplified network infrastructure, consumed completely as-a-service,” said Amir Khan, CEO and founder of Alkira.

Khan added, “Visionaries like Ralph Munsen, CIO of Warner Music Group can now realise the company’s cloud networking vision and consume their complete network infrastructure directly from the only comprehensive Cloud Network infrastructure as-a-Service (CNaaS) in the AWS.”

Alkira has also been accepted into the AWS ISV Accelerate Program, a co-sell program for AWS partners that offer solutions integrated with or running on AWS.

Alkira will also participate in the AWS Global Startup Program aimed at supporting mid-to-late-stage startups that have raised institutional funding, achieved product-market fit, and are ready for scaling.

“Cloud has a lot of promise, but we’re always working to improve our network agility and performance and to ensure a seamless process especially in this fast-moving virtual world we’re doing business in,” said Ralph Munsen, CIO of Warner Music Group.

Munsen continued, “Alkira addresses our cloud networking infrastructure as-a-service needs and we’re pleased to see the close collaboration with AWS. WMG evaluated multiple multi-cloud networking solutions and selected Alkira because the Alkira CSX greatly simplifies management of our network infrastructure and enables us to focus on the growth of our business.”

Together, Alkira and AWS will provide customers with enhanced agility, more advanced networking, and improved procurement experiences.

UK and US defence labs collaborate on mission-ready AI tech

Bobby Hellard

19 Oct, 2021

Researchers from the US Air Force have demonstrated ways that the UK can partner with America to develop and deploy ‘state of the art’ machine learning algorithms to support ground troops. 

The US Air Force Research laboratory (AFRL) has been working with the UK’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) since December 2020 to develop artificial intelligence (AI) systems for warfare.

The four-year partnership agreement is aimed at accelerating joint US-UK collaboration of AI technologies, which will largely focus on research and development for command and control capabilities for both nations.

The first project of the collaboration was demonstrated via dual virtual events in New York and Salisbury, UK. It featured an integrated system with the ability to share data and algorithms through a common development and deployment platform. The platform is said to enable the rapid selection, testing, and deployment of artificial intelligence capabilities. 

This was the first in a series of events that will be hosted by the joint and international signatories of the Autonomy and Artificial Intelligence Collaboration (AAIC) Partnership Agreement, with more projects to improve combat technologies. 

“We are dedicated to getting robotics and autonomous systems capability into the hands of the warfighters,” ​​Dr Robert W Sadowski, US Army DEVCOM, said. “Advances in robotics and autonomy will make our formations more capable and mission-ready while providing protection to our warfighters through unprecedented stand-off while enabling enhanced lethality on the battlefield.”

The demonstration featured a simulated scenario focusing on how the UK and US can cooperate and share AI capabilities to support troops. Where both countries operate in adjacent areas, they will be able to share data, AI algorithms “tightly” during missions.

Some of the technology on show included the UK’s Model Cards, which are able to present to a commander the ability to quickly understand, explore, and select appropriate machine learning models to deploy in missions. 

Alibaba unveils custom Arm-based server chip

Zach Marzouk

19 Oct, 2021

Alibaba has unveiled a new in-house processor that will be used to power servers in its data centres, as China aims to increase its domestic chip production in the face of a global chip shortage and US sanctions targeting the country.

The server chips, named Yitian 710, are custom-built by the company’s chip development business, named T-Head. It’s powered by 128 Arm cores with a 3.2GHz top clock speed and is the first server processor compatible with the latest Armv9 architecture. It includes 8 DDR5 channels and 96-lane PCIe 5.0, providing high memory and I/O bandwidth.

Alibaba has also developed proprietary servers, called Panjiu, for the next generation of cloud-native infrastructure. The company said that by separating computing from storage, the servers are optimised for both general-purpose and specialised AI computing, as well as high-performance storage.

The servers have been developed for large-scale data centre deployment through their modular design, and the company expects them to serve a variety of cloud-native workloads such as containerised applications and computed optimised workloads.

“Customizing our own server chips is consistent with our ongoing efforts toward boosting our computing capabilities with better performance and improved energy efficiency,” said Jeff Zhang, president of Alibaba Cloud Intelligence and head of Alibaba DAMO Academy. “We plan to use the chips to support current and future businesses across the Alibaba Group ecosystem. We will also offer our clients next-generation computing services powered by the new chip-powered servers in the near future.”

Zhang added that, together with IntelNvidiaAMD, and Arm, Alibaba will continue to innovate its compute infrastructure and other diverse computing services for global customers.

Alibaba also announced it would open the source code of the XuanTie IP core series, the company’s custom-built processors based on RISC-V instruction-set architecture. Developers will not be able to access the cores’ source code on GitHub and Open Chip Community to build prototype chips of their own.

This coincides with the Chinese government’s “Made in China 2025” initiative of lifting the country’s chip production from less than 10% at the time to 40% in 2020 and 70% in 2025, as reported by NIkkei Asia. The government has invested in the semiconductor industry to try and meet these goals although this appears to be a long way off considering data from IC Insights shows that the country only sourced 16% of its semiconductors domestically.

Being self-reliant on chips is a key issue for the country, especially as it has been hit by a number of US sanctions targeting the tech sector in recent years. In April this year, the US government added seven Chinese supercomputing entities to its Entity List, restricting US exports to them. The US government adds entities to this list as it feels they are working against US national security or foreign policy interests.

Arm launches cloud-based IoT platform

Zach Marzouk

19 Oct, 2021

Arm has launched Arm Total Solutions for IoT, a cloud-based platform to enable software development without the need for physical silicon.

The company hopes this will simplify and modernise software development, resulting in accelerated time to market for developers, OEMs, and service providers at all stages of the Internet of Things (IoT) value chain. It also claims it will reduce the product design cycles by up to two years.

The new platform is built on Arm Corstone, the company’s IoT system on a chip (SoC) package, and will deliver a virtual model of the Corston subsystem to allow for software development without the need for physical silicon. It will provide mechanisms for simulating memory, peripherals, and more, to allow for development and testing of software before hardware is available.

The company said this will allow users to reduce a typical product design cycle from an average of five years to as little as three. It will help Arm customers get customer feedback for chips before release and allows the entire IoT value chain to develop and test code on the latest IP ahead of chips being released.

To help it simplify the design process and streamline product development, it contains hardware IP, software, machine learning models, and application-specific reference code.

“Through a radical change in how systems are designed, Arm is uniquely positioned to fuel a new IoT economy that rivals the shape, speed and size of the smartphone industry’s app economy,” said Mohamed Awad, vice president of IoT and Embedded at Arm. “Arm Total Solutions for IoT changes the way we’re delivering key technology to the entire ecosystem and demonstrates our significant and ongoing investment in the software that will empower developers to innovate for global impact.”

Arm is also set to introduce Project Centauri, a set of device and platform standards as well as reference implementations for device boot, security, and cloud integration. The company hopes this will reduce engineering costs, accelerate time to market, enable IoT deployments at scale, and improve security.

In March, Arm launched its first new chip architecture in a decade, focusing on security and AI. It is called v9 and the company hoped it would help it move from general-purpose to more specialised compute across applications like AI, 5G, and IoT.

WordPress plugin exploit puts over 90,000 sites at risk

Bobby Hellard

14 Oct, 2021

Researchers have unearthed a series of vulnerabilities that could have compromised thousands of WordPress websites.

Potentially exploitable bugs were found in the Brizy Page Builder, a WordPress plugin that is installed across more than 90,000 websites, according to security firm Wordfence.

The company’s Threat Intelligence team reported the issues in August and a fix was released shortly afterwards, but it’s likely that a number of installations still remain unpatched. If exploited, it could allow attackers to execute “complete site takeover” and add malicious code to existing posts.

The vulnerabilities could also allow for any registered user, including subscribers, to pass as an administrator, where they could modify posts and pages, even if they had already been published on a site.

The Wordfence’s Threat Intelligence team said it stumbled upon the vulnerability while conducting a routine review of the Wordfence firewall in July. It said the plugin “did not appear” to be under active attack, but they were led to believe that there was something amiss following “unusual traffic”.

“The unusual traffic led us to discover two new vulnerabilities as well as a previously patched access control vulnerability in the plugin that had been reintroduced,” Wordfence wrote in a blog post. “Both new vulnerabilities could take advantage of the access control vulnerability to allow complete site takeover.”

A patched version of the Brizy Page Builder plugin, was released on 24 August, just a few days after Wordfence disclosed the vulnerability. Wordfence “strongly recommends” users update to the latest version of the Brizy Page Builder (2.3.17) as soon as possible.

Acer confirms breach after cyber attack on Indian servers

Zach Marzouk

14 Oct, 2021

A hacker group has claimed to have breached the servers of Acer India, with approximately 60GB of sensitive data belonging to several million of the company’s customers being leaked online.

Known as Desordern, the group said it had stolen customer information, corporate data, financial data, and information related to recent company audits, according to a post on a popular hacking forum, seen by Privacy Affairs researchers.

The hackers said that the breach includes data on several million Acer customers, mostly from India. It appears to have taken place on 5 October, as this is the most recent date listed in the leaked databases.

Desordern also said that it will give Acer access to the database to verify the data and prove the breach is real. A sample of the data released for free, which included information on over 10,000 individuals, was found to be accurate and genuine by researchers at Privacy Affairs, who were able to make contact with some of those affected.

The group has said that data belonging to several million more Acer customers will be released for a fee at a later date.

“We have recently detected an isolated attack on our local after-sales service system in India,” an Acer spokesperson told IT Pro. “Upon detection, we immediately initiated our security protocols and conducted a full scan of our systems. We are notifying all potentially affected customers in India.”

The spokesperson added that the incident has been reported to local law enforcement and the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team, and there has been no material impact to the company’s operations and business continuity.

In March this year, Acer fell victim to a $50 million ransomware attack carried out by the notorious ransomware gang REvil. The group announced the Acer breach on its website where it presented images of allegedly stolen files, including financial spreadsheets, bank communications, and bank balances. The breach was believed to be linked to the Microsoft Exchange cyber attack, which was carried out by at least ten hacker groups.

Using HCI to merge a cacophony of legacy IT systems

Mark Samuels

15 Oct, 2021

Dal Virdi, IT director at Shakespeare Martineau, found himself in an intriguing position when he joined the law firm in 2018. The business had grown quickly due to a series of mergers and acquisitions, but rapid growth also meant the firm’s digital infrastructure was overly complex and inefficient. 

Virdi knew he’d need to take a different approach if IT was going to continue supporting business growth. After assessing the options with his team, he decided the solution to the challenge the firm faced would come in the form of a hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) platform supplied by technology specialist Nutanix.

“We wanted to deliver value to our external and internal clients,” Virdi tells IT Pro. “There’s never going to be a silver bullet, but the technology we introduced needed to simplify the operations of our internal team, so they could invest their time and effort into activities that will create an advantage for the firm.”

Handling a mishmash of old and new

Virdi inherited a complex IT environment. The business doubled in size with the merger of Shakespeares and SGH Martineau in 2015. Subsequent acquisitions meant the firm, which now employs more than 850 legal experts in offices across the UK, was left with a mix of external providers and internal IT resources. 

With Shakespeare Martineau also having ambitious plans to double its size by 2025, Virdi knew IT systems would have to work more effectively, reliably and efficiently to support the firm’s business strategy. The aim was to create a “one-stop-shop”.

“We’d inherited lots of staff, with different skill sets and different backgrounds, and we really wanted to simplify what IT needed to do moving forward. It was a difficult decision – and it took us a long time to make that decision – but Nutanix absolutely ticked that box,” says Virdi.

The firm implemented the Nutanix HCI platform after a thorough evaluation process. Virdi’s direct reports explored various hardware options and were “blown away” by a demonstration at an IT conference. Virdi says, however, he was nervous about their recommendations, at first, because he didn’t have much experience with Nutanix or converged platforms.

“I guess I can be quite challenging in terms of some of the probing questions that I ask around the technology and how it works, so it took many months for that decision to be reached,” he says. “It was either going to be our traditional HP hardware or an alternative – and Nutanix was the only provider that met the brief as an alternative.”

The selection process took nine months from the initial discussions to the implementation, during which time Virdi explored reference customers and talked with some of Nutanix’s international clients. He also met the company’s CEO in London and was impressed by how the provider took the time to show how they could make a difference. 

“A number of factors – the cost being very comparative to what the HP traditional architecture would have incurred, but with the opportunities of improved performance and easy upgrades – swayed the decision in Nutanix’s favour,” he says. “We went forward with some specialist tests and the performance just flew, so it was an absolute no-brainer for us.”

The best of both worlds 

Virdi says the Nutanix platform offered all the abilities of a public cloud-first strategy, combined with the security, performance and compliance needed from an on-premises private cloud solution. The ability to reduce the complexity around support and management was a key factor in adopting the Nutanix platform.

“We decided a few years ago that we would have a cloud-first approach. But being a law firm – with many of the legacy applications and systems that we have, and some of the sensitivity around our data – means that we have to consider anything that we introduce alongside every other system that we still need to run the firm in the way we do,” he says.

“Because of that, we always considered a hybrid approach – and Nutanix gave us that opportunity to start to de-camp some of those legacy systems and move them on to a newer platform, to maintain the other systems that were needed, and also give us the performance that we required.”

Shakespeare Martineau went live with the converged platform in early 2020. The IT team used Softcat as its implementation partner, but also leant on Nutanix’s own expertise to ensure the firm received the desired high quality of delivery.

“The experience, once we started to migrate services, and the support that Nutanix gave the internal team, via upskilling and internal education, meant the internal team could pick up how to make the most of the technology very quickly,” says Virdi.

Back from the brink

The firm’s initial investment in Nutanix technology cost just below £1.5 million. Virdi says choosing Nutanix gave the company a more performant platform for less money than going down the non-converged route. Traditional hardware would have cost more than £2 million, and as the firm’s kit was old it needed to be updated anyway.

The technology is already delivering a tangible return on investment by helping the firm transition its legacy systems to the cloud. It also provides a flexible and scalable platform for long-term digital transformation plans. 

Benefits have come from other unanticipated places, too. Last Christmas, the firm ran an annual power down to service generators in its Birmingham office, which also houses the firm’s internal data centre. When it was given the green light to return power to IT, the team encountered a number of issues with its traditional HP environment. 

These problems meant Virdi’s team had to invoke a full disaster recovery scenario on the Sunday morning. Thankfully, the firm’s commitment to HCI meant the IT team was able to recover systems within 24 hours – and before any end users noticed.

“If we hadn’t had Nutanix in place, we would probably have been in a world of pain,” he says. “But we accelerated all of our designs and migration plans wherever we could, and we actually recovered onto our Nutanix platform. The firm was up and running again by the Monday morning without anybody outside the C-suite knowing what had happened.”

Virdi says this episode proved the value of the technology and meant the IT team felt sufficiently confident to continue migrating more services to Nutanix. The next step is for Shakespeare Martineau to implement the Nutanix Xi Leap capability, which provides disaster recovery as a service. The long-term aim is to push more systems to the cloud.

“That’s the sort of strategic direction that we’re trying to take,” he says. “We’re a law firm, so why would we want to water, maintain and feed our own internal data centres? For lots of new services that we’re buying in, we’ve got a cloud-first approach – and as technology changes, that becomes even more viable.”