All posts by Zach Marzouk

Google continues New Zealand investment with Auckland office and engineering team

Zach Marzouk

29 Jul, 2021

Google has opened a new Google Cloud Dedicated Interconnect location in New Zealand as part of its new investment in the region.

Based in Auckland, the site will also create new engineering roles that will contribute to some of the research and development work being done by Google, as well as work with local institutions to raise the importance of machine learning and AI in the country’s tech landscape.

Google is investing in expanded cloud infrastructure in response to local customer demand, which includes the Google Cloud Dedicated Interconnect location that connects the country to the company’s private secure network. This will ensure customer data “never traverses the public internet”, according to the firm.

Google also hopes that this, along with the new Google Cloud region in Melbourne, will “deliver geographically distributed and secure infrastructure to customers across New Zealand”.

“As we approach 15 years on the ground here our new home will foster the creativity and collaboration that inspires the team to use innovation and technology to solve problems for Kiwi businesses, schools, teachers, communities and more,” said Caroline Rainsford, Google New Zealand country director. “As New Zealand moves through the next phase of economic recovery we’ll continue to find ways to bring the best of Google to Aotearoa.”

A new office is set to accompany the Dedicated Interconnect site, described as a “uniquely-Google space” containing “an experiential ceiling, kayaks for a reception desk, a cafe that takes its likeness from a chilly bin and an event space where the Google team plan to host business leaders, technologists and the wider community over the coming years”. 

The office, which will accommodate around 50 employees from Auckland and Wellington, is also designed to suit Google’s new hybrid approach to work.

Google’s SVP of cloud infrastructure Urs Hölzle, who recently announced he would move to New Zealand to work remotely from the country, said that the Dedicated Cloud Interconnect would “hardwire” New Zealand into the company’s global infrastructure backbone.

He added that “Kiwi organisations of all sizes will benefit from the speed, scalability and security of our expanded Cloud region footprint in AUNZ as they continue to drive their digital transformation agenda”.

Google Cloud also announced yesterday it was opening a new cloud region in Melbourne, the firm’s second region in Australia and 11th in APAC overall. The company said its cloud customers operating in Australia and New Zealand would benefit from low latency and high performance of their cloud-based workloads and data thanks to the new initiative.

Google Cloud to open new region in Melbourne

Zach Marzouk

28 Jul, 2021

Google Cloud is set to open a new cloud region in Melbourne, which will be the firm’s second region in Australia and its 11th in the APAC region overall.

The tech giant revealed that Melbourne joins the existing 26 Google Cloud regions worldwide connected via its high-performance network.

“With this our second region in Australia, customers benefit from improved business continuity planning with distributed, secure infrastructure needed to meet IT and business requirements for disaster recovery, all the while maintaining data sovereignty in-country,” said Alister Dias, Google Cloud vice president of Australia & New Zealand.

The company stated that its cloud customers operating in Australia and New Zealand will benefit from low latency and high performance of their cloud-based workloads and data. 

Furthermore, the region opens with three zones to protect against service disruptions and offers a portfolio of key products like Google Kubernetes Engine, Cloud Spanner, and Compute Engine.

Google Cloud stated that it will continue to invest in expanding connectivity across Australia and New Zealand by working with partners to establish subsea cables and new Dedicated Cloud Interconnect locations and points of presence in major cities including Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra and Auckland.

This aims to deliver geographically distributed and secure infrastructure to customers across the region, which it said is especially important for those in regulated industries like Financial Services and the Public Sector.

Earlier this month, Google Cloud opened its second region in India in Delhi, four years after the launch of its Mumbai cloud region in 2017. The company said this new region would better support customers and the public sector in India and across the Asia Pacific. 

Thomas Kurian, Google Cloud CEO, said that the company had seen “enormous growth in demand for Google Cloud services in India” so wanted to be able to offer more capacity with the new region. He called it a “large commitment” from Google Cloud in terms of capital and infrastructure investment and was designed to allow the company to capture the opportunity it sees around growth.

Google opens its second cloud region in India

Zach Marzouk

15 Jul, 2021

Google Cloud has opened a new cloud region in Delhi National Capital Region (NCR), its second in India after the launch of its Mumbai region in 2017.

The company said the new region would better support customers and the public sector in India and across Asia pacific.

“We have seen enormous growth in demand for Google Cloud services in India so expanding our footprint in a new cloud region gives us the ability to offer more capacity for growth over many years,” Thomas Kurian, CEO at Google Cloud, said at a news conference this week, as reported by Reuters. “It’s a large commitment from us in capital and infrastructure investment and it’s designed to allow us to capture the opportunity that we see around growth.”

Bikram Singh Bedi, managing director of Google Cloud India, said in a blog post that the region will open with three “availability zones” to protect against service disruptions.

“With this new region, Google Cloud customers operating in India also benefit from low latency and high performance of their cloud-based workloads and data,” added Bedi.

Delhi NCR joins 25 existing Google Cloud regions connected via a high-performance network throughout the globe.

The other Google Cloud region in India is located in Mumbai, around 883 miles towards the south-west of Delhi, which the tech giant opened in 2017. At the time of its launch, the company claimed that hosting applications in the new region could improve latency from 20-90% for end users in Chennai, Hyderabad, Bangalore and Mumbai, compared to hosting them in the closest region, Singapore.

Last month, Google Cloud revealed it was partnering with Reliance Jio to provide 5G technology for enterprise customers and consumers across India. This would involve the creation of a complete end-to-end cloud offering for a fully automated lifecycle of Jio’s 5G network and services.

Furthermore, Google and Jio also announced they were jointly developing a new smartphone, the JioPhone Next, which will launch on 10 September 2021. This will use a bespoke version of Android and will have access to the Play Store.

Cisco launches Webex for Defense for the Pentagon

Zach Marzouk

7 Jul, 2021

Cisco has launched Webex for Defense, a collaboration platform specifically made for the US Department of Defense (DoD).

Webex for Defense has received provisional authorisation from the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) to operate at DoD Impact Level 5 (IL5), which means it is authorised to work with the DoD’s national security systems, higher sensitivity CUI, and mission-critical information across all workloads.

It is an all-in-one collaboration tool connected to the DoD Information Network via DISA-managed Cloud Access Points and delivered out of Cisco-hosted, DoD IL5-certified data centres.

The new tool integrates with Cisco’s full Webex portfolio of devices, allowing users to connect securely from phone, desktop, or video. 

“A full set of admin and end-user controls enables seamless, secure collaboration with internal and external users as well as DoD partners, and ensures that sensitive data never leaks and information is kept private,” said Javed Khan, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco Collaboration.

Khan added that it’s easy for administrators and organisers to apply agency-specific policies to meetings as necessary, through features like meeting context and classification indicators. Webex for Defense is also built upon the Cisco Unified Communications Manager and its feature set, including local survivability.

He also claimed that thanks to Cisco’s “mature development methodology and transparent privacy posture” Webex’s security advantage “goes above and beyond the specification of DoD IL5”.

Last month, Cisco unveiled an all-new suite of services for its Webex platform with features it hoped would serve as the foundation for “inclusive” hybrid work environments. The new suite of services included an end-to-end platform, analytics tools to track audience engagement, speech optimisation, machine learning software for video quality, data-loss prevention, and collaborative hardware.

CEO Chuck Robbins said that the company’s collaboration business is “incredibly essential to our customers”. He revealed that the company has added 800 new features and devices since September and said the platform would power the future of hybrid work.

GitHub Copilot is an AI tool that helps devs to write better code

Zach Marzouk

30 Jun, 2021

GitHub has launched a preview of GitHub Copilot, a new AI pair programmer that helps developers to write better code.

The Microsoft-owned company said the tool “draws context from the code you’re working on,” and suggests whole lines or entire functions. This, GitHub says, could enable engineers to be more productive and potentially lower the barriers to enter software development.

“It helps you quickly discover alternative ways to solve problems, write tests, and explore new APIs without having to tediously tailor a search for answers on the internet. As you type, it adapts to the way you write code—to help you complete your work faster,” said Nat Friedman, CEO of GitHub.

GitHub Copilot was developed in collaboration with OpenAI, an AI research startup backed by Microsoft, and powered by OpenAI Codex, a new AI system created by the company. Essentially, the GitHub Copilot editor extension sends comments and code to the GitHub Copilot service, which in turn uses OpenAI Codex to synthesise and suggest individual lines and whole functions.

The company said the system “has broad knowledge of how people use code” and is more capable than GPT -3 in code generation, as it was trained on a data set that includes a larger concentration of public source code.

GitHub expects the technology to “enable existing engineers to be more productive, reducing manual tasks and helping them focus on interesting work”. It also believes the tool has the potential to lower barriers to entry, enabling more people to explore software development and join the next generation of developers.

GitHub added that the new tool works with a broad set of frameworks and languages, but the technical preview, which is now open to be signed up to, works “especially well” for Python, JavaScript, TypeScript, Ruby and Go.

The company benchmarked the tool against a set of Python functions and blanked out the function bodies and asked GitHub Copilot to fill them in. The model got them right 43% of the time on the first try and 57% of the time when allowed 10 attempts.

If the technical preview is a success, GitHub plans to build a commercial version of GitHub Copilot in the future. Through the preview it aims to learn how people use the tool and what it takes to operate at scale.

NSW extends IBM contract for another three years

Zach Marzouk

23 Jun, 2021

IBM has expanded its agreement with the New South Wales (NSW) government which will see the company continue offering services to its departments and agencies for another three years.

The vendor has revised the whole-of-government agreement, which was originally signed in 2019, claiming it would deliver cost savings to the NSW government over the next three years, according to IT News. It will also reportedly provide a more streamlined process for agencies to access emerging technology, including IBM hybrid cloud, AI, and security.

“When the agreement was signed in 2019, it was limited to IBM technology hardware and software, and has now expanded to include IBM professional services and IBM cloud services,” IBM said. 

In addition, the NSW government can now use IBM Garage as part of the professional services offering, which is a network of physical hubs that aims to help customers quickly turn ideas into products

“With access to this, government agencies will be able to explore impacts of new technology such as blockchain, IoT and AI computing on government services,” the IBM spokesperson continued. 

Furthermore, Katrina Troughton, IBM’s Australia and New Zealand managing director, said the partnership would create job opportunities and advance the skill profile of the state.

“After more than 30 years of working with the NSW government, this is an important milestone for our relationship and we look forward to collaborating on solutions that impact the lives of the more than eight million people who call NSW home,” she said.

In May, DCI Data Centers announced it would invest AU$70 million (£38 million) into South Australia and construct a new data centre to meet the needs of local business and government. The funds were destined to be used in the region’s first purpose-built Tier-Ready III/IV secure cloud edge data centre which came with defence-grade security requirements.

Moreover, the Australian government announced at the start of May it was investing $1.2 billion AUD (£670 million) in its digital future as part of a strategy to transform the country into a modern and leading digital economy by 2030. The investment included over $100 million to support digital skills and the launch of a $124.1 million National Artificial Intelligence Centre.

NSW Police Force is using AI to analyse CCTV footage

Zach Marzouk

7 Jun, 2021

The New South Wales (NSW) Police Force is using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to speed up investigations by automating manual tasks.

The force’s AI-infused platform, called Insights, gives police access to a wide array of critical information and automates many tasks such as transcribing recordings of audio interviews or poring through petabytes of CCTV footage.

A 20-minute recording of a statement can take a police officer two to three hours to manually transcribe, but through the Insights platform, this is now completed in seconds or minutes, according to Gordon Dunsford, CITO and executive director of digital technology and innovation at the police force.

In one investigation, NSW Police collected 14,000 pieces of CCTV footage that would have previously taken detectives months to analyse. With the AI/ML technology, the platform ingested all the CCTV for the analysis in around five hours. 

Insights is currently hosted internally but is expected to migrate to the cloud soon. NSW Police is using a containerisation strategy to parcel up data that needs to be interpreted rapidly and sends it to Azure for processing. Dunsford said Microsoft Azure’s security credentials are highly valued by NSW Police, helping it to de-risk its modernisation program.

Microsoft and NSW Police claim the system has been designed with ethics front and centre, and in consultation with privacy experts with a particular focus on avoiding bias. In June 2020, Microsoft confirmed it would not sell or deploy facial recognition to police services, and stated that the Insights platform aligned with that commitment and brings significant value to the NSW Police in their pursuit of justice.

NSW has the largest police force in Australia, with over 22,000 members. Since 2017/18 it has been pursuing a new Digital IT Strategy, with one of the landmark programmes being the Integrated Policing Operating System (IPOS), a modern cloud-based platform replacing the force’s 27-year-old central database. The NSW Police is working with Microsoft Consulting Services on the build of the IPOS application with Protected level security in the Microsoft Azure cloud.

Following a fortnight of Black Lives Matter protests, IBM decided to “sunset” its general-purpose facial recognition and analysis software over ethical concerns last June. The cloud giant declared it would no longer distribute these systems for fear it could be used for purposes that go against the company’s principles of trust and transparency. 

Microsoft followed in the footsteps of IBM and Amazon and declared it would not sell facial recognition technology to police departments in the US until a national law was in place that could govern the technology.

IBM collaborates with Indian universities on quantum research

Zach Marzouk

25 May, 2021

IBM will provide over-the-cloud access to its quantum systems for Indian institutions to accelerate advanced training and research in quantum computing as it hopes to help build a “quantum-ready” workforce.

Faculty and students will be able to access IBM quantum systems, quantum learning resources, and quantum tools over the IBM Cloud for education and research purposes. The company hopes this will enable them to work with actual quantum computers and programmes using the Qiskit open-source framework.

“IBM is committed to growing a quantum-ready workforce and building an ecosystem to nurture the quantum community in India. With this engagement, we can take it a step further to scale up this ecosystem in India, for India and the world,” said Gargi Dasgupta, director of IBM Research India and CTO of IBM India/South Asia.

The institutions taking part are the Indian Institute of Science Education & Research (IISER) – Pune, IISER – Thiruvananthapuram, Indian Institute of Science (IISc) Bangalore, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) – Jodhpur, IIT – Kanpur, IIT – Kharagpur, IIT – Madras, Indian Statistical Institute (ISI) Kolkata, Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology (IIIT) Delhi, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) Mumbai, and the University of Calcutta.

This partnership will also be part of the IBM Quantum Educators programme that helps faculty in the quantum field to connect with one another and provides them with educational resources.

Plus, IISER- Thiruvananthapuram, ISI-Kolkata, and IIT-Madras will host their own Quantum Computing Lab courses for students which will include lab sessions using IBM quantum systems.

Earlier this year, IBM offered the quantum industry’s first developer certification to help workforces become “quantum-ready”. Developers have to display their knowledge of Qiskit, the company’s open source quantum development kit, and answer 60 questions in the certification exam.

Using the knowledge of how to utilise Python and basic linear algebra, Qiskit allows users to programme quantum computing hardware. Since it was launched in 2017, thousands of users have developed applications and maintained and improved code, according to the company.

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.

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.