All posts by Zach Marzouk

UK gov agrees new three-year cloud deal with Microsoft


Zach Marzouk

21 Apr, 2021

The UK government has signed a three-year Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Microsoft to help public sector organisations continue to unlock the benefits of cloud computing and business applications.

The MoU is titled “Digital Transformation Agreement 2021” and allows all eligible public sector organisations to benefit from discounts and beneficial terms for Microsoft 365, Azure, and for the first time, Dynamics 365 and Power Platform cloud services.

The agreement renews the existing DTA MoU as a three-year agreement and will run from May 1 2021 to April 2024. It was negotiated between the tech giant and the Crown Commercial Service.

The relationship between the tech giant and the government has become increasingly focused on cloud services since the latter launched its Cloud First policy in 2013 which was reassessed in 2019 and remains a flagship technology policy, according to Microsoft.

“This new agreement with Microsoft builds on the government’s One Government Cloud Strategy, which supports the key principle of treating government as one single customer,” said Gareth Rhys Williams, the government chief commercial officer.

“It shows the government’s determination to drive transformation as well as adopt value for money technologies that improve services and ensure government departments and their staff have the digital tools they need, now and in the future.”

This isn’t the only company to have signed an MoU with the government. AWS signed one in November last year to help accelerate the public sector’s digital transformation drive and raise the level of participation among smaller cloud providers.

In June last year, UKCloud signed an MoU to allow the company to offer its services to the public sector either directly or indirectly through its partner community. The month before that, Google Cloud signed a similar agreement to provide cloud computing to the country’s public sector agencies.

The agreement, which isn’t legally binding, was set to make it easier and more affordable for public sector agencies to access the full range of Google Cloud services for digital transformation.

Remote workers spend more hours on the job, finds ONS


Zach Marzouk

20 Apr, 2021

People working from home during the pandemic spent more time at their job and were less likely to be promoted or receive a bonus, but their average pay was 20% higher.

That’s according to the ONS, which has been studying the shift to remote work throughout the pandemic. It found that there’s been a 9.4% increase of people who have completed some work at home, rising to 35.9% of the working population, between 2019 and 2020.

According to the study, those who completed any work from home did six hours of unpaid overtime on average per week in 2020, compared with 3.6 hours for those that never work from home. 

Homeworkers were more likely to work in the evenings too and were less than half as likely to be promoted than all other workers between 2012 and 2017. Moreover, those who worked from home were around 38% less likely to receive a bonus compared to those who never worked from home between 2013 and 2020.

Despite this, the average gross weekly pay of workers who had recently worked from home was about 20% higher in 2020 than those who had never worked from home in their main job, something the ONS explained continues a long-running trend.

The sickness rate was also 0.9% on average in 2020, compared with 2.2% for those who never worked from home. The working day of homeworkers is longer but also more flexible than those who work away from home, with later and more varied starts and more frequent breaks that are longer too.

The union Prospect told IT Pro that the research matches with the experiences of its own members, and highlighted that remote working has been instrumental in providing flexibility and keeping people safe during the pandemic.

“But for many it has also meant an always-on culture with longer unpaid hours and fewer opportunities to get on at work,” said Mike Clancy, the general secretary.

“This is a revolutionary moment for the future of workplaces, but there are too many in business and government rushing into decisions without thinking about long-term consequences and without listening to what workers actually want. 

The results of the ONS study come after Prospect called for a legal requirement to be put in place to bring about a “right to disconnect” policy that stipulates when companies can contact their employees when working from home. Prospect said that including this right in the Employment Bill would be a big step in redefining blurred boundaries and show the government is serious about taking on the “dark side” of remote working.

Siemens and Google Cloud join forces on factory automation


Zach Marzouk

19 Apr, 2021

Google Cloud and Siemens have announced a new partnership that will see AI and machine learning brought to factory floors.

Siemens is planning on integrating Google Cloud’s data cloud and artificial intelligence (AI) machine learning (ML) technologies with its factory automation tools.

With this partnership, the companies hope manufacturers will be able to harmonise factory data, run cloud-based AI/ML models from that data, and deploy algorithms at the network edge. This could produce applications that visually inspect products, for example, or predict the wear-and-tear of machines on the assembly line.

The ultimate goal, said the companies, is to make the deployment of AI in connection with the Industrial Edge easier. They hope this will empower employees as they work on the plant floor, automate mundane tasks and improve overall quality.

“The potential for artificial intelligence to radically transform the plant floor is far from being exhausted. Many manufacturers are still stuck in AI ‘pilot projects’ today – we want to change that,” said Axel Lorenz, VP of Control at Factory Automation of Siemens Digital Industries.

“Combining AI/ML technology from Google Cloud with Siemens’ solutions for Industrial Edge and industrial operation will be a game changer for the manufacturing industry.”

Google Cloud has forged a number of partnerships, including one with Intel which focused on developing integrating services for network providers to develop 5G innovations across various platforms. The collaboration highlighted Google Cloud’s ambitions in the 5G world, as well as Intel’s goal to develop 5G with software-defined infrastructures.

A month after that announcement, Google Cloud hired Uri Frank, an Intel engineering veteran, to ramp up in-house chip production. This was part of the company’s new server chip design efforts as part of its increasing investments in custom silicon. Frank was VP of Platform and Silicon Engineering at Intel and had been appointed corporate VP of Intel’s Design Engineering Group but chose to leave.

Nvidia takes aim at Intel with first data centre CPU


Zach Marzouk

13 Apr, 2021

Nvidia has unveiled Grace, an Arm-based data centre CPU designed for giant-scale artificial intelligence (AI) and high-performance computing (HPC) applications. 

This new processor combines Arm CPU cores with a low-power memory subsystem to help it analyse enormous datasets requiring both ultra-fast compute performance and massive memory.

Nvidia Grace, named after US programming pioneer Grace Hopper, is a highly specialised processor that will target workloads such as training next-generation NLP models that have over 1 trillion parameters, according to the company. 

Furthermore, Nvidia claims that a Grace CPU-based system will deliver 10x faster performance than the current Nvidia DGX-based systems that run on x86 CPUs. Nvidia expects this new processor to service a niche segment of computing.

“Leading-edge AI and data science are pushing today’s computer architecture beyond its limits – processing unthinkable amounts of data,” said Jensen Huang, founder and CEO of Nvidia.

“Using licensed Arm IP, Nvidia has designed Grace as a CPU specifically for giant-scale AI and HPC. Coupled with the GPU and DPU, Grace gives us the third foundational technology for computing, and the ability to re-architect the data centre to advance AI. Nvidia is now a three-chip company.”

The Swiss National Supercomputing Centre (CSCS) and the US Department of Energy’s Los Alamos National Laboratory have already announced plans to build Grace-powered supercomputers.

This move could spell trouble for other chipmakers who already have a strong presence in the data centre market like Intel, which is currently dominating with a 90% share, and AMD. By promising a 10x increase in processing performance, it may cause some customers to take note of Grace. This was reflected in the markets where Intel and AMD are both down several percentage points following Nvidia’s announcement.

Nvidia also announced eight Nvidia Ampere architecture GPUs for next-generation laptops, desktops and servers. 

The new Nvidia RTX A5000 and Nvidia RTX A4000 GPUs will help speed AI, graphics and real-time rendering up to 2x faster than previous generations in desktops. In laptops, the new Nvidia RTX A2000, Nvidia RTX A3000, RTX A4000 and RTX A5000 GPUs deliver accelerated performance without compromising mobility. 

For data centres, the new Nvidia A10 GPU provides up to 2.5x the virtual workstation performance of the previous generation while the A16 GPU provides up to 2x user density with lower total cost of ownership and an enhanced virtual desktop infrastructure experience over the previous generation.

In February, it emerged that Nvidia had turned to some of its older graphic cards to meet the demand for GPUs during a global shortage of PC components and chipsets. Nvidia was going to re-release its old chips, such as the GTX 1050 Ti chip, which was meant to have been phased out two years ago, as well as the GeForce RTX 2060.

Data belonging to 500 million LinkedIn users found on hacker marketplace


Zach Marzouk

8 Apr, 2021

The scraped data of over 500 million LinkedIn profiles has been put up for sale on a popular hacker forum.

The post’s author has leaked two million records already as proof of the existence of the much larger data trove, as reported by Cybernews.

The data, which is spread across four files, is said to include full names, email addresses, phone numbers, and information related to their place of work.

So far, no precise figure has been set for the data, although the user has said that interested parties should expect to pay a four-digit sum, likely in bitcoin.

While it has been confirmed that the data was scraped from LinkedIn, it’s unclear whether this is a new data breach or if the data has been taken from previous LinkedIn breaches.

A LinkedIn spokesperson told IT Pro: “While we’re still investigating this issue, the posted dataset appears to include publicly viewable information that was scraped from LinkedIn combined with data aggregated from other websites or companies. 

“Scraping our members’ data from LinkedIn violates our terms of service and we are constantly working to protect our members and their data.”

The full leaked files contain information including LinkedIn IDs, full names, email addresses, phone numbers, genders, links to LinkedIn profiles, and professional titles.

Although there was no evidence of sensitive information like credit card details or legal documents in the sample posted to the forum, the leaked information can still be used for phishing or social engineering attacks.

Earlier this month, it emerged that a hacking group was targeting LinkedIn users with fake job offers to infect them with malware that allowed them to take control of a victim’s computer. The Golden Chicken hacking group spread the malware through spear-phishing victims with a malicious .ZIP file that would provide remote access to their device.

The personal data of 533 million Facebook users was also found on a hacking forum this month and was available to download for free. The records, which represent around a fifth of the company’s entire user base, contained full names, birth dates, and the status of a user’s relationship.

Google defeats Oracle in decade-long API copyright feud


Zach Marzouk

6 Apr, 2021

Google has won a major copyright case after the US Supreme Court ruled in its favour over Oracle’s claim that the use of its software code in the Android OS violated copyright law.

In the 6-2 decision, justices decided to overturn a lower US court’s ruling that Google’s inclusion of Oracle’s software code in its operating system did not constitute fair use under US copyright law.

Justice Breyer, writing the opinion of the court for the justices that ruled on it, stated that allowing enforcement of Oracle’s copyright would “risk harm to the public”. 

“Given the costs and difficulties of producing alternative APIs with similar appeal to programmers, allowing enforcement here would make of the Sun Java API’s declaring code a lock limiting the future creativity of new programs. Oracle alone would hold the key. The result could well prove highly profitable to Oracle (or other firms holding a copyright in computer interfaces),” he wrote.

Breyer added that the “lock” would interfere with, not further, copyright’s basic creativity objectives.

The court found that Google’s copying of the Sun Java API was “a fair use of that material as a matter of law”. The Supreme Court reversed the Federal Circuit’s “contrary judgement” and the case has been remanded for further proceedings “in conformity with this opinion”.

Kent Walker, Google’s SVP of Global Affairs, told IT Pro that the ruling is a victory for consumers, interoperability, and computer science. 

“The decision gives legal certainty to the next generation of developers whose new products and services will benefit consumers. We are very grateful for the support from a wide range of organizations, from the National Consumers League to the American Library Association, as well as from established  companies, start-ups, and the country’s leading software engineers and copyright scholars,” he said.

Dorian Daley, executive vice president and general counsel at Oracle, said in a statement that Google’s platform just got bigger and its market power greater, which has elevated the barriers to entry and the ability to compete lower.

“They stole Java and spent a decade litigating as only a monopolist can. This behaviour is exactly why regulatory authorities around the world and in the United States are examining Google’s business practices,” Daley stated.

Google’s parent company, Alphabet, also has plans in the coming weeks to stop using Oracle’s financial software and instead use software from SAP, according to CNBC. The company’s core financial systems are reportedly scheduled to move to SAP in May, but for now, there is no other indication the company is moving other systems off Oracle.

Commenting on the court’s decision, Hannu Valtonen, chief product officer at Aiven, called it a “victory for the entire software industry”.

If Oracle had won, Google’s usage of the Java API in developing the Android operating system would be considered copyright infringement,” said Valtonen. “A change to the fair use of APIs would’ve severely slowed down the current pace of software innovation and created more cutthroat competition between tech giants who could potentially block the use of an API without payment. 

“For startups like ours, the fair and open usage of certain technologies promotes successful innovation for everyone, and Google’s win is certainly a positive result for end-users.”

Oracle’s copyright battle with Google has been ongoing for 11 years and in 2018 it was seeking around $8.8 billion in damages following the ruling in its favour.

In 2019, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the copyright lawsuit between the two tech giants as Google petitioned the court in January asking it to overturn “a devastating one-two punch at the software industry”.

Oracle will let UK businesses move to its cloud for free


Zach Marzouk

1 Apr, 2021

Oracle is offering new and existing customers free cloud engineering resources and tech support to help them migrate their workloads to Oracle Cloud Infrastructure.

The company has launched its Cloud Lift Services to give its customers “expanded access to technical tools and cloud engineering resources to quickly migrate workloads to Oracle Cloud Infrastructure (OCI),” it revealed in a blog post.

Oracle now offers these resources, at no additional cost, to all existing and new Oracle Cloud customers across the globe.

“Our customers want a seamless path to the cloud with the right guidance, solution architecture, and hands-on help we can provide,” said Vinay Kumar, senior vice president at Oracle Cloud Infrastructure. “Oracle Cloud Lift Services is just one of several changes we are implementing to accelerate customer success on Oracle Cloud.”

The company declared that its customers and partners are “already seeing value in this programme” and are getting through migrations faster, with more of their IT budget intact for other, “more valuable”, operational services and major digital transformation projects.

Through Oracle Cloud Lift Services, customers can access Oracle cloud engineers and premier technical services, as well as cloud engineering resources for activities like performance analysis, application architecture, hands-on migrations and go-live support.

The company will also work with its customers until their workloads are in production and will help train their staff on best practices.

“Oracle Cloud Lift Services together with Infosys Cobalt cloud offerings help our joint customers accelerate the work of migrating to the cloud and modernizing their landscape to drive faster business results,” said Gopikrishnan Konnanath, SVP & service offering head of Oracle Services at Infosys.

“As a partner, we ensure client success through outcome-driven transformation programs that build differentiated capabilities to help our clients become resilient, agile and competitive.”

Last month, the Home Office moved a number of its critical functions to Oracle Cloud in a drive to modernise its central back-office processes. This included HR, payroll, finance, customer support and employee analytics services.

In February, it was reported that rows had broken out within the government over cloud computing contracts given to Amazon. Some Conservative party members were reportedly concerned that the government was too dependent on one service, as Amazon had received a £75m contract for its services, nearly double that of its second-biggest vendor, Capgemini.

VMware patches critical flaws in vRealize AI platform


Zach Marzouk

31 Mar, 2021

VMware has patched a pair of vulnerabilities that could have given attackers access to admin credentials and file writing access.

The company stated that the first vulnerability, CVE-2021-21975, could allow a malicious actor with network access to the vRealize Operations Manager API to perform a Server Side Request Forgery attack to steal admin credentials

VMware evaluated the danger of the issue and decided it was an “important” severity with a maximum CVSS base score of 8.5. CVSS is an open framework for communicating the characteristics and severity of software vulnerabilities and is marked between 0 and 10, with 10 being critical.

vRealize is the company’s AI-powered platform that delivers “self-driving IT operations management for private, hybrid and multi-cloud environments.”

The second vulnerability, CVE-2021-21983, meant that an authenticated malicious actor with network access to the vRealize Operations Manager API could write files to arbitrary locations on the underlying photon operating system. VMware evaluated the issue to be of an “important” severity as well and gave it a CVSSv3 base score of 7.2.

The company published a security advisory on Tuesday to inform customers of the two vulnerabilities, of which both were reported by Egor Dimitrenko of Positive Technologies. The products impacted are the VMware vRealize Operations, VMware Cloud Foundation and vRealize Suite Lifecycle Manager.

A month ago it emerged that ransomware operators were exploiting VMware ESXi flaws by retooling their strains to exploit vulnerabilities. The flaws, which were patched by the company, included allowing hackers to execute commands on the underlying operating systems that hosts the VCenter Server.

In February, security researchers warned of two ESXi hypervisor flaws that ransomware gangs were using to encrypt virtual hard drives. Hackers reportedly encrypted 1,000 VMs at Brazil’s Superior Tribunal de Justicia, whereas other victims suffered as their VMs were shut down and datastores encrypted and left with a ransom note.

Ikea-owner invests £12m in London-based startup what3words


Zach Marzouk

25 Mar, 2021

Ingka Investments, owner and operator of 389 Ikea stores and e-commerce across 32 countries, has invested close to £12 million in London-based tech startup what3words.

What3words technology divides the world into a grid of 3-metre squares, with each square being assigned a unique combination of 3 words that can be used to pinpoint the area to a high degree of accuracy. This has a number of use cases, including helping emergency services locate 999 callers in locations that are difficult to describe, such as a remote hillside.

Ingka said that the technology would prove useful with efforts to reduce CO2 emissions and reduce the number of vehicles on the roads by ensuring more first-time deliveries are successful.

“As we look to a future of drone deliveries and autonomous vehicles, the system, also designed for voice entry, will provide the accuracy needed,” it added.

The investment is set to launch the startup into new international markets while continuing to develop partners within the e-commerce and logistics sector.

Krister Mattsson, managing director of Ingka Investments, said: “We are delighted with this new investment in what3words as they are an innovative company and we are confident of their continued growth. With an increasing demand for home deliveries, scalable and sustainable solutions are becoming increasingly important.

“We see value in helping to support the build-up of a universal addressing system that can lead to better customer experience, while the precise locations will allow for a reduction in overall miles travelled, reducing the carbon footprint of home deliveries.”

The Ingka Group has already made a number of investments to help support the core Ikea retail business, including in areas such as digitalisation, customer fulfilment, fintech, and sustainability.

“What3word’s ambition is to become a global standard for communicating location,” said Chris Sheldrick, CEO and co-founder of what3words. “We envisage a world where on every platform, in every checkout field, you can give your what3words address, with retailers able to deliver to that precise 3-metre square. The investment from Ingka Investments will help us unlock new markets while accelerating our position as a ‘must-have’ in the logistics industry.”

In November 2019, Capita integrated the what3words app into its “Vision” control systems to help emergency services locate 999 callers in difficult to pinpoint areas.

Ikea-owner invests £12m in London-based startup what3words


Zach Marzouk

25 Mar, 2021

Ingka Investments, owner and operator of 389 Ikea stores and e-commerce across 32 countries, has invested close to £12 million in London-based tech startup what3words.

What3words technology divides the world into a grid of 3-metre squares, with each square being assigned a unique combination of 3 words that can be used to pinpoint the area to a high degree of accuracy. This has a number of use cases, including helping emergency services locate 999 callers in locations that are difficult to describe, such as a remote hillside.

Ingka said that the technology would prove useful with efforts to reduce CO2 emissions and reduce the number of vehicles on the roads by ensuring more first-time deliveries are successful.

“As we look to a future of drone deliveries and autonomous vehicles, the system, also designed for voice entry, will provide the accuracy needed,” it added.

The investment is set to launch the startup into new international markets while continuing to develop partners within the e-commerce and logistics sector.

Krister Mattsson, managing director of Ingka Investments, said: “We are delighted with this new investment in what3words as they are an innovative company and we are confident of their continued growth. With an increasing demand for home deliveries, scalable and sustainable solutions are becoming increasingly important.

“We see value in helping to support the build-up of a universal addressing system that can lead to better customer experience, while the precise locations will allow for a reduction in overall miles travelled, reducing the carbon footprint of home deliveries.”

The Ingka Group has already made a number of investments to help support the core Ikea retail business, including in areas such as digitalisation, customer fulfilment, fintech, and sustainability.

“What3word’s ambition is to become a global standard for communicating location,” said Chris Sheldrick, CEO and co-founder of what3words. “We envisage a world where on every platform, in every checkout field, you can give your what3words address, with retailers able to deliver to that precise 3-metre square. The investment from Ingka Investments will help us unlock new markets while accelerating our position as a ‘must-have’ in the logistics industry.”

In November 2019, Capita integrated the what3words app into its “Vision” control systems to help emergency services locate 999 callers in difficult to pinpoint areas.