IT Pro 20/20: The future of augmentation

Dale Walker

30 Sep, 2020

Welcome to the ninth issue of IT Pro 20/20, our sister title’s digital magazine that brings all of the previous month’s most important tech issues into clear view.

Given all that’s going on in the world right now, it’s easy to forget that technology is still evolving. Whether it’s changes to how we work, how we interact with the world, or how we communicate with one another, the next decade will likely be drastically different to the current one. It’s this idea that is at the core of this month’s issue.

In the first of our three exclusive features, we take a look at the role of augmented technology in business, and how transformative the technology has already been. Unlike the much-hyped virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) has proven to be an exceptionally powerful tool for many roles across a business, from front line workers to executives in a boardroom.

Elsewhere, we examine the surge of interest that many ‘touchless technology’ companies have enjoyed ever since it became apparent how dangerous the coronavirus truly was.

We also examine a technology described as the most serious AI threat we face today – deepfakes. What danger does this tech pose to society and is it really a threat to our democracy?


We appreciate you taking the time to download IT Pro 20/20, and we hope you enjoy this month’s future tech-themed stories.

The next IT Pro 20/20 will be available on Friday 30 October – previous issues can be found here. If you would like to receive each issue in your inbox as they release, you can subscribe to our mailing list here.

Microsoft unveils Azure for Operators to unlock 5G potential

Daniel Todd

30 Sep, 2020

Microsoft has announced a new cloud platform called Azure for Operators that has been designed to help telecommunications operators unlock the full potential of 5G.

The new offering will help communication service providers create new opportunities and provide core infrastructure, the Redmond giant says, using cloud, cellular and edge to create the lowest latency and largest reach for a low cost.

Ultimately, Azure for Operators aims to help providers create advanced industry solutions based on connections to AI, signature consumer experiences with new forms of mixed reality content, as well as an ecosystem of developers that can quickly leverage 5G network opportunities. 

“We’re building a carrier-grade cloud and bringing more Microsoft technology to the operator’s edge,” commented Jason Zander, Executive Vice President of Microsoft Azure, in a blog post

“This, in combination with our developer ecosystem, will help operators to future-proof their networks, drive down costs, and create new services and business models.”

Building on its acquisitions of Affirmed Networks and Metaswitch, Microsoft says the move will enable operators to offer a wide range of services such as ultra-reliable, low-latency connectivity, mixed reality communications services, network slicing, as well as highly scalable Internet of Things (IoT) apps.

With Azure, businesses can also implement a more flexible and scalable model, bring down infrastructure cost, as well as automate operations using AI and machine learning to differentiate their services.

Microsoft also highlighted that it will support operators as they evolve their infrastructure and operations using tech such as software-defined networking, network function virtualisation and service-based architectures.  

“We are bringing to market a carrier-grade platform for edge and cloud to support the operator’s goals to future proof their infrastructure with disaggregated, and containerised network architectures,” Zander added. 

“Recognising that not everything will move to the public cloud, we will meet operators where they are—whether at the enterprise edge, the network edge, or in the cloud.”

Red Hat and Samsung team up to drive 5G adoption

Justin Cupler

28 Sep, 2020

Red Hat has announced it’s teaming with Samsung to help deliver 5G network solutions across various use cases, including 5G core, edge computing, IoT and machine learning.

This collaboration will be built atop Red Hat OpenShift, which Red Hat calls the “most comprehensive enterprise Kubernetes platform.” It will also include other components of Red Hat’s proven hybrid cloud portfolio, including  Red Hat OpenStack Platform, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Red Hat Ansible Automation Platform and Red Hat OpenShift Container Storage. 

Samsung will chip in with its 5G vRAN, vCore, MEC and management and analytics to expand 5G use cases. 

This new solution will allow providers to capitalize on edge economics and vRAN. According to Red Hat’s ACG report, operators can extend TCO benefits gained in horizontal designs in the core by using common horizontal infrastructure in 5G core and edge computing.

Operators can also support new applications and services based on location awareness, reduced latency and scalability in the distributed cloud when deploying horizontal clouds to vRAN sites.  

On top of all this, Red Hat has given Samsung’s virtual network functions its VNF certification, and it plans to give Samsung’s containerized network functions its CNF certification soon. These certifications are the highest standard for critical functions on Red Hat OpenShift and ensure vendors can effectively prepare their applications for a cloud-native future running in production on Red Hat OpenShift. 

These certified solutions help customers quickly reach their full 5G capabilities. With 5G rollout already underway, this partnership should help accelerate its spread. 

Wonil Roh, senior vice president and head of product strategy, networks business at Samsung Electronics said of the collaboration: “We are pleased to collaborate with Red Hat to help service providers stay competitive in this increasingly demanding global 5G market, especially on the cloud-native front.

“Through this partnership, Samsung 5G solutions will provide a highly efficient and reliable network experience for our customers by integration with Red Hat’s cloud-native solution.”

Chris Wright, senior vice president and chief technology officer and Red Hat said: “As service providers build 5G networks, they are forming the foundation for the next wave of cross-industry innovation.

“From helping businesses in their edge computing solutions to ensuring enterprises can successfully deploy their artificial intelligence and machine learning applications, we expect these services to be built on a proven, cloud-native infrastructure.

“We’re very excited to work with Samsung to bring this Kubernetes-driven solution to help service providers and their customers focus on complex and competitive use cases across the enterprise to every industry.”

Rackspace expands portfolio to hybrid cloud services

Bobby Hellard

29 Sep, 2020

Rackspace has joined forces with Dell Technologies and VMware to expand its private cloud portfolio to include a secure pathway to hybrid cloud services.

The new offering is described as “turnkey”, a ready to use pathway to hybrid cloud environments and includes access to the VMware Cloud Foundation (VCF).

According to VMware, the industry defines hybrid cloud as the combination of private cloud, public cloud and edge environments unified with consistent infrastructure and consistent operations. It’s popular because it allows IT organisations to determine what aspects of public cloud fit their application needs.

VCF runs on Dell EMC VxRail and is used by organisations to provide consistent and secure management for application portfolios across multiple cloud environments. It is the only hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) system fully integrated with VMware Cloud Foundation SDDC Manager.

What’s more, VxRail is proven to deliver up to 52% lower cost of operations over building a proprietary HCI and reduces unplanned downtime by 88%, according to Dell Technologies.

“A successful path to hybrid cloud is much like shooting a free throw in a basketball game – a simple, consistent process leads to more efficient results,” said Fidelma Russo, senior vice president and general manager for VMware’s Cloud Services Business Unit.

“Through simplifying IT transformation and enabling consistent and secure application management, this ecosystem delivers greatly reduced cost and downtime. Those are the types of results any organisation wants to see.”

Rackspace is hoping to bring the benefits of the Dell Technologies Cloud Platform (DTCP) to more organisations and applications, to accelerate multi cloud adoption. The idea is to capitalise on the increased investment in digital transformation as businesses add new cloud environments to their overall IT estate.

Expanding options for multi cloud services with Rackspace will help companies achieve better performance at a lower cost, according to Brian Payne, vice president of cloud for Dell Technologies. He suggested it could ultimately help them stay competitive in this rapidly changing business environment.

Schneider Electric, StorMagic and HPE unveil ‘Edge in a Box’

Daniel Todd

29 Sep, 2020

Schneider Electric, StorMagic and HPE have joined forces to create ‘Edge in a Box’, a new micro data centre solution that provides IT systems for edge computing environments.

Available immediately worldwide, the joint offering includes Schneider Electric’s 6U Wall Mount EcoStruxure Micro Data Centre, alongside StorMagic SvSAN software and two HPE ProLiant Servers.

Designed to meet the compute requirements of small workspaces, ‘Edge in a Box’ can be wall-mounted and fully customised through a global network of channel partners. In terms of performance, the solution delivers resilient power, ultra-low latency connectivity, as well as secure, on-premise servers and data storage, the trio says.

“Customers with edge sites are experiencing a number of unique challenges, including budget constraints, lack of space and limited, or non-existent IT support,” commented David Terry, vice president of IT Channels at Schneider Electric, Europe. 

“The 6U EcoStruxure Micro Data Center is the smallest, secure and lightweight data centre solution in the market, helping organisations to quickly modernise their IT infrastructure, while reducing the costs associated with deployment, servicing and maintenance.”

Optimised to run edge applications, the system offers up industry-leading uptime, the companies say, thanks to its combination of StorMagic software, two HPE ProLiant servers, choice of VMware vSphere, Microsoft Hyper-V or Linux KVM hypervisor, APC Smart-UPS with Lithium-ion models, APC power distribution unit (PDU), as well as HPE Aruba Networking. 

“IT teams must be able to quickly deliver what the business needs – simplicity, low-cost and 100% uptime to ensure confidence that business-critical applications are always running,” said Bruce Kornfeld, chief marketing and product officer at StorMagic. 

“By combining StorMagic SvSAN with APC by Schneider Electric infrastructure and HPE servers, customers can work with their integration partner of choice to customise, build and deploy ‘Edge in a Box’ solutions that meet their budget and space requirements.”

Ultimately, the trio says ‘Edge in a Box’ will enable IT professionals to mitigate IT downtime and its impact on business, reduce the complexity of on-site work, simplify system configuration and programming, as well as minimise order complexity and delivery times for rapid installation.

“By integrating HPE ProLiant servers with advanced technologies from Schneider Electric, we are able to power the edge in the box solution,” said David Stone, vice president, Worldwide Ecosystem Sales Leader at HPE. 

“Together we are making it easier for customers to deploy and manage edge computing solutions and enable them to focus on unlocking new value and creating new experiences from edge-driven data.”

Microsoft 365 outage hits Azure, Outlook and Teams

Carly Page

29 Sep, 2020

Microsoft 365 is back online after suffering a major global service outage on Monday. 

The outage, which lasted for more than five hours, affected Microsoft services including Azure,,, Power Platform, Dynamics365, and Microsoft Teams.

The downtime affected “millions” of users of Microsoft’s cloud-based services, according to reports, but Microsoft said people who were logged into an existing 365 session were still able to keep using the service.

“Affected users are encouraged to keep existing sessions going and to avoid re-authenticating to Microsoft 365 services,” the company said. “Any Microsoft 365 service that leverages Azure Active Directory (AAD) authentication may be impacted by this issue.”

Microsoft initially said the problem was linked to a recent update and restored the software to an earlier version. However, that fix failed to restore services.

“Rolling back the previously described change did not resolve the incident as expected,” Microsoft said on its status page. “We’re evaluating additional options to remediate the problem.”

About two hours later the company said it was seeing improvements after putting in place alternative mitigation steps. 

“After extended monitoring of our service, we have confirmed that the issue has been fully mitigated and is running within optimal service levels,” it said. 

The Microsoft 365 outage, which comes just months after Microsoft Teams went down across Europe, comes in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has seen employees rely on cloud-based productivity tools like Microsoft Teams as they carry out their roles remotely. In April, Microsoft reported 75 million daily active users of Teams as a result of more people working from home.

Several Twitter users also complained that the outage meant they could miss their job interviews and deadlines for school assignments.

Microsoft said it will be reviewing its code to understand what prevented users from being able to access multiple Microsoft 365 services.

Kaspersky blasts Amazon’s indoor drone as a ‘major security risk’

Bobby Hellard

25 Sep, 2020

Amazon‘s newly launched smart home security drone presents a “whole new wave of cyber security risks”, according to Kaspersky.

Researchers at the security firm have warned that if the technology is compromised it could give hackers a map of a user’s home and access to sensitive data, including bank details.

The flying camera drone, ‘Always Home’, is the latest product from Amazon’s Ring division. It’s a black device that sits in a white docking station that launches when something or someone sets off any home sensors.

The drone is controlled via a smartphone and is capable of capturing images which are then sent to the controlling device.

Kaspersky researchers claim it’s this functionality that has the potential to be used against the consumers who buy it.

“The development of unmanned security drones presents a whole new wave of cyber security risks,” said David Emm, principal security researcher at Kaspersky. “If hacked, this smart technology could provide cybercriminals with a complete map of an individual’s home – including the location of valuable items and possible access points to the house.

“The linked smartphone is also vulnerable to attack. If the connection between the drone and phone is compromised, then hackers can gain access to the individual’s sensitive data, including contact and banking details.”

Emm suggests that anyone considering buying the miniature security drone, or any smart device for that matter, should take steps to improve security, such as changing any default passwords, using WPA2 encryption on home routers and enabling automatic updates.

There have been a number of reports of Amazon IoT products being hacked, or at least found to have vulnerabilities, over the past year. In November 2019, researchers found an exploit in the Ring doorbell that allowed hackers to intercept Wi-Fi passwords in clear text.

Early in 2020, it was revealed that some hackers could gain access to user voice history via an Alexa subdomain attack. This was an exploit of a cross-origin resource sharing misconfiguration.

Microsoft hints at stand-alone successor to Office 2019 suite

Keumars Afifi-Sabet

24 Sep, 2020

Microsoft has suggested it will launch its Office productivity suite of apps and services in the form of a refreshed ‘perpetual release’ edition, two years after the launch of Office 2019.

Expected to be sold at a standalone cost to customers on Windows and Mac, this variety of Microsoft Office will bring the apps and services that compromise the Microsoft 365 suite to enterprises that don’t wish to buy a subscription.

The perpetual release, touted to launch in the second half of 2021, may come as welcome news to businesses not yet fully enticed by the nature of cloud services.

Office 2019, launched for Windows 10 devices two years ago, was released with a reduced extended support period against that offered in previous offline editions, namely Office 2016.

Although Microsoft offered five years of mainstream support, lasting through to 2023, the firm would only offer an additional two years of extended support, with updates ending on 14 October 2025. This was in order for the Office 2019 end-of-life cycle to align with Office 2016.

The announcement of another standalone Office suite, likely to be named Office 2022 based on historical naming conventions, suggests Microsoft has backed away from intentions to phase out this form of software launch. The firm had previously hinted it would abandon standalone releases and instead encourage its customers to opt for subscription-based services, honed by the launch of Microsoft 365 earlier this year.

“Software that is more than a decade old, and hasn’t benefited from this innovation, is difficult to secure and inherently less productive,” Barnardo Caldas, general manager for Windows and Jared Spataro, general manager for Office said in a joint blog post to mark the launch of Office 2019, for instance. “As the pace of change accelerates, it has become imperative to move our software to a more modern cadence.”

The firm announced the expected launch of a new ‘perpetual release’ for Microsoft Office alongside updates on Exchange Server as part of its Microsoft Ignite 2020 event.

The apps and services that will be available with this edition of Microsoft Office are also yet to be confirmed, although Office 2019 launched with a host of services, many of which are likely to be bundled into the release again.

These included Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, Publisher, Visio, Access, and Project at launch, as well as Exchange Server, Skype for Business Server, SharePoint Server, Project Server and Office Online Server released later down the line.

Microsoft has said it would share additional details around the official names, pricing and availability of this edition of Microsoft Office in the near future.

Salesforce launches remote marketing and commerce platform

Bobby Hellard

23 Sep, 2020

Salesforce has launched a new platform that combines its marketing, commerce and digital services into one single package. 

Called Digital 360, the platform claims it will give businesses the ability to operate at peak levels every single day.

With the continuing impact of the coronavirus pandemic being felt around the world, Salesforce’s Digital 360 platform aims to help make digital transformation faster and easier. It combines Salesforce’s Marketing Cloud, Commerce Cloud and Experience Cloud with access to the firm’s broad partner ecosystem.

There are also new products within Digital 360, such as a customer data platform called Customer 360 Audiences, a payment solution powered by Stripe called Commerce Cloud Payments, and Experience Cloud which enables fast CRM-powered digital experiences.

“Every company has gone digital overnight because of the pandemic,” said Adam Blitzer, EVP and GM of Digital at Salesforce. “With Digital 360, we’re delivering the full power of Salesforce tailored to digital leaders – our products, ecosystem, learning and expert services – enabling them to move with the speed, agility and scale they need to operate at Black Friday levels every single day.”

Digital revenue in 2020 grew by 71% compared to the previous year, according to Salesforce’s Q2 Shopping Index. As such, the cloud giant suggests that the key to success, in any industry, is scalable, data-driven solutions that personalise customer experiences, whether that be from marketing emails and timely advertising to online shopping and in store experiences.

The service has already seen success, with companies such as Sonos using it during the pandemic to sell directly to its partners. 

“Our collaboration with Salesforce has supported Sonos’ ability to scale and accommodate a massive influx in business to our e-commerce site as we focus on selling directly to our customers,” said Lindsay Whitworth, director global direct-to-consumer at Sonos.

“As a result, we’ve been able to deliver relevant, personalised engagement at scale using campaigns and data-driven insights.”

Microsoft now has a managed service for adding chat tools to existing apps

Dale Walker

23 Sep, 2020

Microsoft has announced the launch of a fully managed service that allows developers to add an array of communication tools to existing applications in a bid to help improve how businesses connect with their employees and customers.

Described by Microsoft as a first of its kind from a major cloud provider, the fully managed service, dubbed Azure Communications Service, lets businesses add voice and video calling, SMS text messaging, and instant chat support to mobile, desktop, and web apps, regardless of platform or device.

It’s currently possible for developers to add chat capabilities to existing applications, for example, by using Azure Functions. However, this is a fairly lengthy and laborious process involving sourcing code from GitHub and manually testing the application.

Microsoft claims the new set of APIs cuts much of the complexity out of the process, allowing for new integrations to be created “in a matter of minutes” using “just a few lines of code”.

Perhaps its biggest selling point is that these functions can then be integrated alongside other Microsoft services, including Azure Cognitive Services. This means businesses will be able to deploy tools like sentiment analysis and translation on top of any chat functions they add to their apps.

New chat functions will also benefit from any tools the base application has access to, which could be particularly powerful if those apps already have access to wider business operations, such as the company’s website.

Azure Communications Service will run off the same global network that underpins Microsoft Teams, the company added, allowing for much of the backend work and ongoing maintenance to be handled entirely by Microsoft.

Microsoft also confirmed that all communications, regardless of how they are delivered, will be encrypted and adhere to GDPR and similar frameworks.

The Azure Communications Service is the latest move from Microsoft to try and expand its footprint across business communications, having already opened up Microsoft Teams to third-party applications – apps that customers may have been reluctant to abandon in favour of Teams.

According to Nick McQuire, senior vice president of Enterprise Research at CCS Insight, Microsoft has managed to position itself as a major player in what is traditionally a telecommunications role.

“Azure Communications Services takes all the experience Microsoft has gained from its remote development and communications solutions during the pandemic and turns them into key developer services,” said McQuire.

“The shift to remote everything during the pandemic has meant that developers are now more attracted by communications-based features in their applications. It’s an area of opportunity that telcos worldwide have failed to grasp over the past few years and above all, shows that Microsoft has ascended to become one of the world’s most important communications companies as well.”

Voice and video calling and live chat functionality are available today, and support for both SMS text messaging and dedicated phone numbers will arrive in October.