Google Cloud releases VM Manager to help automate infrastructure management

Sabina Weston

29 Jan, 2021

Google Cloud has announced a new tool for managing large fleets of virtual machines (VMs).

The VM Manager is a suite of infrastructure management tools which aims to simplify the process of ensuring the security, compliance, and observability of large VM fleets as businesses scale their operations.

The suite supports Windows and Linux operating system environments and comprises a single dashboard to allow real-time tracking of inventory.

It offers services such as configuration management and patch management, with the latter including patch compliance reporting, which provides insights on the patch status of users’ VMs across Windows and Linux distributions. It also includes patch deployment, which automates the OS and software patch update process, the company explained in a blog post on Thursday.

Lastly, VM Manager also includes an inventory management service which is integrated with Google’s Cloud Asset Inventory product, in order to simplify the analysis of customers’ Google Cloud fleet data.

Announcing the new management tool, product manager Ravi Kiran Chintalapudi and product marketing manager Senanu Aggor said that the new suite “reduces complexity, improves security and compliance reporting, and simplifies monitoring resources in a large cloud environment”.

“By taking advantage of automated tools to keep systems up-to-date, reduce the risk of downtime, and improve productivity of internal users, early VM Manager users tell us that it allows their IT administrators to focus on other business-critical tasks,” they added.

VM Manager is available for testing in the customers’ environment using a free tier which provides a monthly usage of 100 VMs per Cloud Billing account. Once the free tier is exhausted, for all VMs that have an active OS Config agent, each active agent is charged at a rate of $0.003 (approximately £0,002) per hour per VM.

IT Pro has contacted Google Cloud about the availability of VM Manager in the UK and will update this article when more information becomes available.

Last year, the company announced Confidential VMs – Google Cloud’s first product in its new confidential computing portfolio which allows companies to process sensitive data while keeping it encrypted in memory. The feature is an evolution of its Shielded VMs, a tool launched in 2018 that companies could deploy to strip out most of the potentially vulnerable startup processes that trigger when attempting to create a new environment.

Until then, like many cloud providers, Google offered encryption on data at rest and while in transit, requiring that data to be decrypted before it could be processed.

Apple’s block on activity tracking to arrive ‘early spring’

Sabina Weston

28 Jan, 2021

Apple is reportedly planning to roll out its new App Tracking Transparency tool sometime in “early spring”, following months of delays and criticism from competitors.

The tool forces app developers to ask an iPhone user’s permission before the app tracks their activity “across other companies’ apps and websites”. The user will see a notification pop-up on their screen and will be able to decide whether they want to opt in or out of sharing their data with other firms to aid in advertising.

The App Tracking Transparency marks a significant change to Apple’s privacy settings, shifting the responsibility from the user to the app developer. Apple previously only let users disable this kind of tracking manually in their iPhone settings.

The update was first announced in June last year but was delayed in September in order to provide digital advertisers with more time to adjust.

According to Reuters, the tool is now expected to be rolled out for most iPhone users as soon as “early spring”, but Apple didn’t provide a specific date. CEO Tim Cook is expected to provide further details later today at the Computers, Privacy and Data Protection conference in Brussels, which coincides with Data Protection Day.

The update has received criticism from other tech giants, with Facebook executives telling investors on Wednesday that the change could have a negative effect on the company’s revenues in the first quarter. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg also accused Apple of having “every incentive to use their dominant platform position to interfere with how our apps and other apps work”.

Earlier this week, Google said that it would cease using an Apple-supplied tracking identifier which would require it to show the warning. However, it also added that it is working with Apple to improve an alternative offering which would help advertisers attribute paid clicks and taps without engaging in what Apple classifies as tracking.

Google also recently released a new tool which would improve users’ privacy. On Monday, it announced that Chrome will now automatically hide the content of web pop-up notifications, including email notifications, Google Chat messages, and other third party websites, when the user is sharing their screen. 

A new age of asset management

David Howell

28 Jan, 2021

The COVID pandemic has changed many aspects of IT, including how businesses manage their digital assets. For many organisations, Active Directory (AD) has for many years been a workhorse that could be depended upon when most of their workforce was centrally located, however the move to mass remote working means it’s vulnerable to cyberattacks. Nevertheless, it remains a critical support mechanism for each worker connected to a company’s network, which leaves IT teams in a tricky situation.

According to Gartner, over 90% of businesses and organisations use AD, and it has become one of the most valuable assets they possess. However, as the business environment AD is used to manage has become more complex and geographically dispersed, the way it’s deployed in most organisations must change.

Businesses have also had to re-evaluate and redraw their digital transformation roadmaps to take into consideration how their processes have changed and what this means for their more comprehensive strategic planning. And while bring your own device (BYOD) has long been a security issue for organisations, the upheaval the pandemic has delivered opens a new series of logistical, human resource, and security challenges, as devices – both company and employee-owned – proliferate.

“Active Directory is like the spinal column of an enterprise and it must be closely protected,” explains Matt Lock, technical director at data security firm Varonis. “If an attacker manages to seize control of AD, they effectively hold the keys to an organisation’s digital kingdom and have privileged access throughout the domain, where they can cause serious damage.”

The cloud has played a critical role in enabling businesses to scale and manage digital assets using AD as the primary management hub. However, companies’ current deployments are likely to become fragile and vulnerable to attack; whereas until last year IT departments had a clear sight of each asset within a business and who has what level of access privileges, this view has moved out of focus with the sudden shift to mass remote working. 

What’s needed is a new approach beginning with migrating AD to a cloud service. Performing this migration gives businesses a more detailed view of your asset landscape and enables higher levels of security to be deployed and maintained.

AD transformation

For most organisations, asset management pre-COVID was a relatively straightforward exercise in user and device tracking. Now the working and threat perimeter has moved to the homes of their workforce, keeping track of the entire IT estate and ensuring high levels of security are maintained has become much more complex. Migrating AD to the cloud can deliver more oversight and integrated support to users who need this to secure their equipment and network connections.

Dan Conrad, field strategist at One Identity, tells IT Pro: “Since the rollout in 2000, AD has changed significantly and the impact of Zero Trust campaigns will change this further. At its core, AD is an SSO (Single Sign-On) solution designed for an easy user experience by providing easy access to objects. Active Directory and Azure Active Directory (AAD) have changed the game a bit by still providing the good user experience but detaching some of the vulnerabilities. For instance, the idea of joining every corporate system to the AD is no longer necessary. AAD and solutions such as Intune allow management of the systems without the vulnerability that goes with every system being ‘trusted.’” 

Many companies see the continued migration of AD to the cloud as the solution to the issues they face managing the array of assets their businesses use. With security front of mind, migrating an AD to a cloud platform can deliver a level of insulation from some cyberattacks.

The holistic approach to managing what could be a diverse range of devices now being used across your business, requires your control and security systems to change. Businesses are increasingly creating domain-joined and BYOD/non-domain-joined systems to give themselves the maximum flexibility with the assets their staff uses, simultaneously delivering a security infrastructure that is more resilient than a simple cloud or on-prem solution.

The business of consumerisation

The threat surface all businesses now face requires a new approach to network management and device security. As early as March 2020, IDC predicted that within two years, over 90% of enterprises worldwide will have a hybrid cloud deployment. As the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, there has been a rush to implement this approach, with businesses being pushed to radically alter how they manage their workforces and the technologies and services they use.

Rajesh Ganesan, vice president at ManageEngine, tells IT Pro: “A cloud-native hybrid IT infrastructure helps organisations respond to change and uncertainty better. That said, even as organisations move to a cloud-first or cloud-dominant approach, it’s important that application, infrastructure, and data security are not compromised.”

Alastair Pooley, CIO of Snow Software, adds: “As we switch to more SaaS applications, you either need to use Azure Active Directory (along with the relevant licenses) or something like Okta to provide that single sign on experience to your staff. Either approach allows you to maintain a corporate directory to control access to resources. It is worth noting that you should re-examine your endpoint security, as traditional group policy (GPO) doesn’t deliver for remote workers. Microsoft’s Defender ATP coupled with Intune is a powerful combination but again you need new licenses to deliver that.”

How your business will manage its human resources and digital assets in a post-COVID-19 environment remains to be seen, as enterprises have yet to make firm plans regarding where the vast majority of their employees will work from. Some workers will return to centralised offices. 

However, a high percentage will remain as remote workers. In this scenario, putting place a flexible and secure system to manage your company’s assets is a sensible move. The agility migrating AD to the cloud can deliver is a desirable option. Review your business’s asset management as it stands today. With some realistic forward planning, you will be able to create bespoke asset management protocols that are right for your staff, and the long-term security of your business.

Microsoft Azure revenues climb 50% as cloud demand continues

Bobby Hellard

27 Jan, 2021

Microsoft brought in revenues of $43.1 billion for the second quarter of fiscal 2021, a 17% year-on-year increase that was fueled by businesses’ continued demand for cloud services. 

The company reported that Office commercial products and cloud service revenues increased by 11%, with Office 365 commercial revenue up 21% and Microsoft 365 consumer subscriptions increasing from 45.3 million to 47.5 million. 

Microsoft has reported impressive growth reported across almost all its services throughout 2020. At the very beginning of the pandemic, the firm reported massive adoption figures for Microsoft Teams which surpassed 44 million daily active users. 

For Q2, cloud computing services took centre stage. Dynamics 365 revenue was up 39%, Intelligent Cloud climbed 23% and Microsoft’s server business recorded growth of 23%. As a result, its Azure cloud platform grew 50% year-over-year, the company said.

“What we have witnessed over the past year is the dawn of a second wave of digital transformation sweeping every company and every industry,” said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. 

“Building their own digital capability is the new currency driving every organisation’s resilience and growth. Microsoft is powering this shift with the world’s largest and most comprehensive cloud platform.”

Elsewhere, Microsoft reported a 23% increase in LinkedIn revenue, and Windows Commercial and Surface growth of 10% and 3$, respectively. The biggest increase, however, was its Xbox content and services revenue, which climbed by 40% during the three-month period. 

The results showcase the breadth of services Microsoft offer and how well it has responded to the outbreak of COVID. Compared to other cloud providers, such as IBM, the company has seen increases in almost every segment of its business. 

The growth in Azure, and cloud services, in particular, suggest that remote working is likely to continue, even beyond a full rollout of the coronavirus vaccine. 

Accenture and Salesforce join forces to bring sustainability to organisations’ front offices

Praharsha Anand

27 Jan, 2021

Accenture and Salesforce have expanded their partnership to help companies embed sustainability into their business, meet growing end-user demand for data-based insights and accelerate towards United Nations’ sustainable development goals (SDGs).

The new partnership also focuses on providing the C-suite with true visibility into their company’s historical and real-time environmental, social, and governance (ESG) data. Organisations will track, measure, and act on a range of sustainability initiatives, including reporting on carbon usage, supporting customer engagements, creating positive consumer experiences, meeting regulatory requirements, and developing new business models.

“Every CEO is recognising their responsibilities don’t stop at the edge of the corporate campus or Zoom,” said Marc Benioff, chairman and CEO at Salesforce. 

“By integrating sustainability deep into the fabric of our companies, our businesses will become more successful, our communities more equal, our societies more just and our planet healthier. We’re incredibly proud to be working with Accenture to help customers more readily drive sustainability programs that benefit all stakeholders and create business value.”

Salesforce Sustainability Cloud helps businesses measure and manage their carbon footprint by offering a 360-degree view of their corporate environmental impact. It also helps organisations transparently report their investor-grade climate data. As part of their new collaboration, Accenture will leverage Salesforce’s Sustainability Cloud to develop sustainability insights that can scale across organisations and their ecosystems.

“Climate change continues to be one of the most critical challenges facing business and the broader planet,” adds George Oliver, CEO of Johnson Controls. 

“We are pleased to be working with Salesforce and Accenture in accelerating sustainability activities for JCI, for our customers and our communities, especially as momentum for action continues to grow.”

Later this year, Accenture and Salesforce will work together to expand their combined platform and services to track and analyse broader ESG metrics, from water and waste management to diversity and inclusion.

Cisco’s new SD-WAN routers bring 5G and virtualisation to enterprises

Danny Bradbury

27 Jan, 2021

Cisco has launched four new devices in its Catalyst 8000 Edge series. They include a 5G cellular gateway, two Virtual CPE Edge units, and a heavy-duty aggregation router, all designed to support SD-WAN networking.

The company debuted its Catalyst 8000 family last October, and Cisco expanded the range by launching the Cisco Catalyst 8500L, the latest addition to the Catalyst 8500 Edge family. This is a collection of what Cisco calls aggregated service routers designed with large enterprises and cloud service providers in mind. They’re an evolution of the company’s ASR 1000 series of routers. 

Cisco designed the Catalyst 8500L for SD-WAN use cases, where wide area network (WAN) connectivity is configurable via software. They also support the emerging secure access service edge (SASE) model that Gartner defined in mid-2019. That builds on SD-WAN to offer zero-trust networking capabilities for secure access.

The 8500L is an SD-WAN capable router that offers WAN connectivity at speeds of up to 10 Gbps. Rackable in a 1RU form factor, it runs either at core sites or colocation sites and features twelve x86 cores and up to 64 GB of memory, which Cisco says will support secure connectivity for thousands of remote sites. It also includes Cisco Trust Anchor technology, a tamper-proof trusted platform module that guarantees the hardware is authentic to protect against supply chain attacks.

The Cisco Catalyst 8200 is a 1 Gbps branch office router with eight CPU cores and 8 GB of RAM, which Cisco says doubles the performance over the existing ISR 4300 series. That is helped by a hardware performance acceleration feature called Intel QuickAssist.

Complementing the Catalyst 8200 is the Cisco Catalyst 8200 uCPE, a branch office customer premises equipment (CPE) device with a small physical footprint. It features eight CPU cores and supports up to 500 Mbps aggregate IPsec performance. It can also take pluggable interface modules (PIMs), which are hardware extensions giving it cellular connectivity options.

Speaking of cellular communications, the new Cisco Catalyst Cellular Gateway 5G plugs into a router to offer on-premises cellular connectivity in sub-6GHz bands. The device uses Power over Ethernet (PoE) to relay cellular communications back to the router.

Admins can manage the devices using software, including vManage, licensed under Cisco’s DNA model. vManage has three tiers: 

  • DNA Essentials offers core SD-WAN, routing, and security features. 
  • DNA Advantage gives subscribers the Essentials package, plus support for advanced routing capabilities including MPLS BGP; better security support with Advanced Malware Protection and SSL proxy features; and access to Cisco’s Cloud OnRamp, which helps with connectivity to multiple cloud service providers.
  • DNA Premier adds centralized security management for all locations.

Three-quarters of over-45s keen to invest in digital skills

Bobby Hellard

27 Jan, 2021

Nearly three-quarters of people over the age of 45 say they are willing to invest time in learning digital skills

The findings come from a Microsoft report, which reveals that many (44%) of over-45s are keen to pursue a new career, with 23% of workers over 45 years saying they would consider switching to a role in tech. 

In order to do so, 73% of over-45s said they would commit over three hours a week to reskilling. However, 60% of the same generation said they do not know what resources are available for them to improve their digital skills. 

The sudden appetite to learn IT skills in the over-45s is largely due to long-term financial concerns, as the impact of the pandemic has many fearing for both job security and also retirement plans. Around 32% of respondents said they were worried about financial security and 26% expressed concerns about the rising state pension ages – currently 66-years-old for both men and women in the UK. 

Concurrently, the tech industry is one of the fastest-growing sectors and Microsoft believes it needs to avoid misconceptions that recruitment mainly focuses on the young.  

“There has never been a greater need for individuals to invest time in upskilling and developing their digital skills,” said Simon Lambert, Microsoft’s chief learning officer.

“There is a dangerous misconception that the tech industry is just an industry for the young. The truth is that we need people with a diverse range of experiences, backgrounds and ages. And we need them now to fill the growing skills gap which, left unplugged, will significantly impact the UK’s recovery.”
Lambert is encouraging people who are considering exploring an “encore” career to look at opportunities available at Microsoft Digital Skills Hub, where they can also seek advice on how to get started.

The top roles for over-45s that were identified in the research were IT support (35%), design (25%), ops manager (18%), data scientist (17%) and developer (16%).

SonicWall hacked via zero-day flaw in remote access tools

Sabina Weston

25 Jan, 2021

SonicWall has admitted that it’s been the target of a cyber attack which saw hackers take advantage of zero-day vulnerabilities in its secure remote access products.

The network security provider issued a statement confirming the incident after being contacted by SC Media, which received an anonymous tip that SonicWall’s systems had been breached.

The company stated that it had “identified a coordinated attack on its internal systems by highly sophisticated threat actors exploiting probable zero-day vulnerabilities on certain SonicWall secure remote access products”.

The company didn’t specify when exactly the incident took place. CloudPro contacted SonicWall for a timeline of the attack but is yet to receive a response from the company.

Over the weekend, SonicWall issued an additional statement which ruled out that its NetExtender VPN Client product had been compromised, adding that the only products to remain under investigation are from the SMA 100 series which “provide Secure, Mobile and Remote Access” to SMBs. 

However, SonicWall clarified that, despite the investigation, all “SMA 100 series products may be used safely in common deployment use cases”.

The company also said that it “fully understands the challenges previous guidance had in a work-from-home environment, but the communicated steps were measured and purposeful in ensuring the safety and security of [its] global community of customers and partners”.

“As the front line of cyber defense, we have seen a dramatic surge in cyberattacks on governments and businesses, specifically on firms that provide critical infrastructure and security controls to those organizations,” it added.

Despite a decline in the number of security incidents, the last year was deemed as the worst for data breaches on record.

The news of the incident comes months after SonicWall released patches for a critical vulnerability in the SonicOS operating system, which is responsible for running SonicWall virtual private network (VPN) appliances.

Enterprise software to lead IT spending rebound in 2021

Sabina Weston

25 Jan, 2021

Enterprise software is expected to grow by 8.8% in 2021 as businesses seek to expand and improve remote work environments, according to new predictions from Gartner.

Global IT spending fell by 3.2% in 2020 as a result of the COVID pandemic, but the research firm expects spending this year to rise by 6.2% to a total of $3.9 trillion (£2.85 trillion) before surpassing the $4 trillion (£2.93 trillion) mark in 2022.

Enterprise software is expected to witness the strongest rebound followed by the devices segment, which is expected to see growth of 8% in 2021. Garner expects spending on data centre systems to increase by 6.2% during the 12-month period, while IT and communications services are predicted to grow by 6% and 4% respectively. 

Commenting on the predictions, Gartner distinguished research VP John-David Lovelock said that CIOs “have a balancing act to perform in 2021 — saving cash and expanding IT”.

“With the economy returning to a level of certainty, companies are investing in IT in a manner consistent with their expectations for growth, not their current revenue levels. Digital business, led by projects with a short Time to Value, will get more money and board-level attention going into 2021,” he added.

Gartner also projects that, through 2024, businesses will be forced to accelerate their digital transformation plans by at least five years in order to survive in a post-COVID world, where remote work and digital touchpoints will be the norm.

“Digital business represents the dominant technology trend in late 2020 and early 2021 with areas such as cloud computing, core business applications, security and customer experience at the forefront,” said Lovelock. 

“Optimisation initiatives, such as hyperautomation, will continue and the focus of these projects will remain on returning cash and eliminating work from processes, not just tasks.”

Moreover, non-COVID-19 geopolitical factors are expected to inhibit recovery for some regions, such as Brexit for the UK and the difficult China-US relations.

Microsoft and SAP expand partnership due to increase in digital transformation

Bobby Hellard

25 Jan, 2021

SAP has announced plans to integrate Microsoft Teams into its suite of services to help customers migrate to the cloud.

The two tech firms share an existing strategic partnership which now includes a formalised plan to accelerate the adoption of SAP S/4HANA on Azure.

The extension of the partnership will focus on simplifying cloud journeys for SAP customers. The increase in adoption of video conferencing services last year saw Microsoft Teams surpass 75 million active users, and as a result, Microsoft and SAP have announced plans to build new integrations between Teams and SAP services, such as S/4HANA.

The integrations are planned for the middle of 2021 and the hope is that it boosts innovation, increases productivity and supports business growth.

“New ways of working, collaborating and interacting completely transform how we operate,” said Christian Klein, CEO of SAP. “By integrating Microsoft Teams across our solution portfolio, we will bring collaboration to the next level, jointly determining the future of work and enabling the frictionless enterprise.

“Our trusted partnership with Microsoft is focused on continuously advancing customer success. That’s why we are also expanding interoperability with Azure.”

The Azure expansion builds upon a partnership forged in 2016. The two firms want to introduce new capabilities around cloud automation for both HANA and Azure in order to simplify cloud migration and digital transformation – both of which are now priorities for businesses in all sectors around the world.

It will feature SAP, Microsoft and system integrator partners providing digital enterprise roadmaps for customers, which includes immediate and actionable reference architectures and technical guidance to aid their journey to the cloud.

There will also be increased investments in platform and infrastructure, such as further development of automated migrations, improved operations, monitoring and security.

“The case for digital transformation has never been more urgent,” said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. “By bringing together the power of Azure and Teams with SAP’s solutions, we will help more organisations harness the power of the cloud so they can more quickly adapt and innovate going forward.”