DocuSign acquires ‘smart agreements’ startup Clause

Keumars Afifi-Sabet

28 May, 2021

Electronic signature provider DocuSign has acquired one of its key partners, Clause, alongside its intellectual property assets and staff, in order to integrate its technology into a broader cloud-based smart contracts platform.

Clause, which was founded five years ago, develops systems to assist digital contractual agreements, such as user verification and industry-specific services such as real-time, data-driven insurance contracts.

DocuSign, which has previously collaborated with Clause on developing digital contract technologies, will integrate the startup’s broader technology portfolio into its own Agreement Cloud platform. This system aims to elevate digital contracts from photos of paper documents into ‘living documents’ with interactivity and digital functionality.

“It is a compelling and exciting frontier of technology, and it’s an important enabler of making our Agreement Cloud smart,” said DocuSign CTO, Kamal Hathi. “It’s against that backdrop that DocuSign has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire the IP rights and hire the team from one of the industry’s smart agreement pioneers, Clause.

“Its products already integrate tightly with DocuSign eSignature, and we’re exploring deeper connections to contract lifecycle management (CLM) too.”

The company is also keen on integrating Clause’s services for various industries, including financial services, health care, and insurance companies, into its Agreement Cloud.

Among the features included in the latest release of Agreement Cloud are eSignature compatibility with Microsoft Teams and an eWitness feature that allows contract signers to include up to two witnesses per signer in the signing process.

Clause has been working closely with DocuSign to develop “groundbreaking capabilities” in contracting technology for the past two years, its founder Peter Hunn, said. This led to the conclusion that the scale and distribution of DocuSign would complement the innovations developed by Clause, with the two companies being a perfect fit for one another.

“The opportunity in front of us is to deliver Smart Agreements to the world, leveraging best-in-class eSignature and CLM products, as part of one of the largest tech companies,” Hunn said.

“The Clause team will continue our work within DocuSign to deliver on our shared vision for smart agreements—a development that will fundamentally change the future of contracts, just like word processing and eSignature.”

DocuSign has also been a keen investor in the startup, having led Clause’s Series A funding round of $5.5 million in 2019. The financial details of this acquisition haven’t been disclosed publicly, however.

Nvidia data centre revenues up 79% for Q1

Bobby Hellard

27 May, 2021

Nividia has reported revenues of $5.66 billion for the first fiscal quarter of 2021, with record growth in its gaming, professional visualisation, and data centre segments.

The overall revenue for the quarter ending 2 May is an increase of 84% year-on-year and a 13% rise from the previous quarter. It highlights the company’s stable growth at a time where global semiconductor shortages are hampering the wider industry.

Its data centre revenue was up 79% year-on-year, bringing in a record $2.05 billion, with the rise attributed to Mellanox, a data centre firm acquired in 2019, specialising in end-to-end services for servers, storage, and hyper-converged infrastructure.

“Mellanox, one year in, has exceeded our expectations and transformed Nvidia into a data-centre-scale computing company,” said Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang. “We had a fantastic quarter, with strong demand for our products driving record revenue. Our data centre business continues to expand, as the world’s industries take up Nvidia AI to process computer vision, conversational AI, natural language understanding and recommender systems.”

The firm’s graphics segment, comprised mostly of graphics cards, was up 81% to $3.45 billion in revenue, and its gaming products were up 106%, year-on-year, to $2.76 billion in sales. This was mainly fuelled by the increase in gaming during the pandemic, but the GPUs Nvidia makes are also essential for AI and cryptocurrency mining.

Nvidia recently unveiled its first Arm-based data centre CPU, Nvidia Grace, which is designed for AI and high-performance computing, which currently powers the Swiss National Supercomputer Centre. Its impending takeover of Arm is currently under investigation by the UK’s Competition and Market’s Authority, though Huang said Nvidia was continuing to “make headway” with the deal.

“From gaming, cloud computing, AI, robotics, self-driving cars, to genomics and computational biology, Nvidia continues to do impactful work to invent a better future,” Huang said.

Microsoft and the Linux Foundation launch green software initiative

Keumars Afifi-Sabet

26 May, 2021

Several major players in the tech industry have banded together to form a non-profit organisation directed at creating a trusted ecosystem of engineers, standards, tools and best practices for building green software

The Green Software Foundation sees Microsoft collaborating with the Linux Foundation, Joint Development Foundation Projects, Accenture, ThoughtWorks and GitHub to devise ways for making software development more sustainable.

The foundation aims to help the wider software industry contribute to the tech sector’s ambitions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45% in 2030, in line with the Paris Climate Agreement. 

“As we think about the future of the software industry, we believe we have a responsibility to help build a better future – a more sustainable future – both internally at our organisations and in partnership with industry leaders around the globe,” said corporate vice president for developer relations, Jeff Sandquist.

“With data centres around the world accounting for 1% of global electricity demand, and projections to consume 3-8% in the next decade, it’s imperative we address this as an industry.”

The Green Software Foundation will focus on three key pillars of standards, innovation and community. More specifically, the organisation will agree standards and best practices for building green software, nurturing the creation of trusted open source and open data protects, and allowing the growth of a diverse international community of developers.

The members will also endeavour to drive awareness about ways to build greener applications, and encourage the adoption of green software across the industry through ambassador programmes. 

The foundation will also encourage voluntary adoption and help guide government policy towards those standards for a consistent approach for measuring and reporting green software emissions.

Alongside the founding members, Goldman Sachs, Leaders for Climate Action, the Green Web Foundation and WattTime will join the organisation as general members. The Linux Foundation will manage these collaborative efforts, and other organisations are invited to apply to join as a general member.

VMware urges vCenter customers to immediately patch their systems

Keumars Afifi-Sabet

26 May, 2021

VMware is urging its customers to update vCenter Server versions 6.5, 6.7 and 7.0 immediately after fixing two vulnerabilities that could allow attackers to launch remote code execution attacks. 

The most severe bug is tracked as CVE-2021-21985 which lies in the vSphere Client. This flaw involves a lack of input validation in the Virtual SAN Health Check plugin, which is enabled by default in the system. 

The vSAN system is a software-defined storage platform that’s used to eliminate the need for additional storage boxes using the local server storage. The health check plugin enhances customer support and user experience by allowing customers to manage their virtual deployments, including dozens of automated health checks.

The vulnerability is rated 9.8 on the CVSS threat severity scale and could allow hackers with network access to port 443 to execute commands with unrestricted privileges on the operating system that hosts vCenter Server. The high base score suggests the effects are particularly devastating, and the vulnerability is relatively easy to exploit.

The second vulnerability, tracked as CVE-2021-21986, is less severe, but nonetheless would allow attackers with network access to port 443 on vCenter Server to perform actions allowed by the impacted plugins without authentication. 

This vulnerability concerns a vSphere authentication mechanism for the Virtual SAN Health Check, Site Recovery, vSphere Lifecycle Manager and VMware Cloud Director Availability plugins in the vSphere Client. 

The bugs are extremely serious, VMware has warned, and customers are being advised to patch immediately. 

“With the threat of ransomware looming nowadays the safest stance is to assume that an attacker may already have control of a desktop and a user account through the use of techniques like phishing or spearphishing, and act accordingly,” the firm says in its FAQs. 

“This means the attacker may already be able to reach vCenter Server from inside a corporate firewall, and time is of the essence.”

The issue affects all vCenter Server customers, not just those who use vSAN, because this plugin is shipped with all systems and is enabled by default. The company doesn’t advise disabling the vSAN plugin, because manageability and monitoring will not be possible, and customers using vSAN should only disable the plugin for short periods of time. 

Warning of the dangers, VMware said in its FAQs that customers without perimeter security controls on their virtualisation infrastructure may be in jeopardy. Ransomware gangs, particularly, have demonstrated they can compromise corporate networks and subsequently wait for new vulnerabilities in order to attack from inside a network.

The fear is very real given that ransomware operators had previously exploited critical ESXi and vSphere Client flaws, with Carbon Spider and Sprite Spider gangs exploiting the flaws to encrypt virtual machines (VMs).

Google Cloud launches trio of new database services

Bobby Hellard

26 May, 2021

Google Cloud is launching three database services across its analytical portfolio that aim to unify its data services. 

Dataplex, Analytics Hub and Datastream are all ‘previews’ that aim to reduce silos and securely predict business outcomes in ‘dynamic’ digital environments. 

Datastream is a serverless offering and replication service that enables customers to replicated data streams from Oracle and MySQL into Google Cloud products like BigQuery or Cloud Spanner.

The Analytics Hubs is a service where companies can create, curate and manage analytics tools. This includes sharing data insights, dynamic dashboards and machine learning models both internally and externally. Google said it builds on BigQuery’s existing sharing capabilities, which have already proven popular with organisations.

The third new service is called ‘Dataplex’ and is described as an ‘”intelligent data fabric”. It meshes the best of Google Cloud with open source technology to enables secure and rapid curation, integration, and analysation of data at scale. 

“Data must be thought of as an ability that integrates all aspects of working with it,” said Gerrit Kazmaier, VP and GM of Databases, Data Analytics and Looker, at Google Cloud. “Every industry is accelerating their shift of being digital-first as they recognise data is the essential ingredient for value creation and the key to advancing their digital transformation.”

“At Google Cloud, we’re committed to helping customers build the most powerful data cloud solution to unlock value and actionable, real-time insights, needed to future-proof their business.”

Equifax is an early user of the new previews, working with Google to incorporate Dataplex into the company’s core analytics platform. The firm is hoping to simplify its workloads and build a single interface for policy management and governance across all its analytics data offerings. 

“Google Cloud has been a critical part of the Equifax journey, helping us protect our customers’ sensitive and proprietary data,” said Bryson Koehler, Equifax CTO. “Google Cloud allows us to create a rich, unified and trusted data ecosystem between business units and partnerships – one in which everyone gains immediate value.”

Microsoft Teams’ new collaborative functions announced at Build 2021

Justin Cupler

26 May, 2021

Microsoft has been slowly making Teams a more collaborative environment, including the fall release of Teams Meetings and its subsequent upgrades. At Microsoft Build 2021, the tech giant announced a handful of Teams updates that’ll continue the path toward a more collaborative offering.

At Build 2021, Microsoft announced it’ll give developers significantly more liberty within the interface. This freedom will begin with Teams no longer relegating third-party apps to the sidebars. Instead, Teams is testing a main-stage collaboration tool that’ll allow these apps to live front and centre on the main screen.

This would be useful for a brainstorming session where there’s a whiteboard in the middle of the meeting for jotting down ideas and key points.

Teams will also allow developers to create custom scenes for company meetings. They can also use APIs that allow them to automate key tasks at specific times during a meeting. For example, reminding the host to start a wrap-up Q&A session with at least 15 minutes remaining.

Real-time transcription, translation, and note-taking during meetings are slated to arrive this summer. Of course, admins will have the ability to activate and deactivate these features with ease. This way, if there is a meeting that involves sensitive or confidential details, you can deactivate these services to keep the information secure.

Finally, using Fluid Framework components, Microsoft plans to allow users to work on tables, lists, and text fields in one Teams conversation and copy them into another conversion or into an Office 365 app. These files would also be editable by colleagues in real time.

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, collaboration and video conferencing software providers have been booming. Teams has been among those seeing quite the boost, as the company now says it has over 145 million daily users. And with remote working here to stay for many companies, now’s the perfect time for Microsoft to show off the flexibility of Teams.

Microsoft adds more services to its Azure Arc multi-cloud management stack

Rene Millman

26 May, 2021

Microsoft has launched a set of new Azure services that organisations can now run on any CNCF-conformant Kubernetes cluster using its Azure Arc multiple-cloud service.

At its virtual Build 2021 event, Microsoft said its cloud services, such as Azure App Service, Functions, Logic Apps, API Management, and Event Grid, would now all be Arc-enabled (in preview form). Azure Arc, launched in 2019, is Microsoft’s tool to help firms manage Kubernetes container clusters across clouds and on-premises data centres.

The firm said that these Azure application services can be deployed to any Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF)-conformant Kubernetes cluster connected via Azure Arc.

The services now enabled includes Azure App Service for creating and managing web apps and APIs with a fully managed platform and features like autoscaling, deployment slots, and integrated web authentication; Azure Functions for event-driven programming with autoscaling, and triggers and bindings to integrate with other Azure services; Azure Logic Apps for creating automated workflows for integrating apps, data, services, and backend systems, as well as Azure API Management for dealing with internal and external APIs.

“The app services are now Azure Arc-enabled, which means customers can deploy Web Apps, Functions, API gateways, Logic Apps and Event Grid services on pre-provisioned Kubernetes clusters,” the firm said in a statement.

“This takes advantage of features including deployment slots for A/B testing, storage queue triggers, and out-of-box connectors from the app services, regardless of run location. With these portable turnkey services, customers can save time building apps, then manage them consistently across hybrid and multi-cloud environments using Azure Arc.”

Microsoft added that with this capability now in preview, customers don’t have to choose between the productivity of platform as a service (PaaS) and the control of Kubernetes, as the same app services can run with either model.

Gabe Monroy, vice president for Azure Developer Experience at Microsoft, said in a blog post that one of the challenges he heard from customers was that despite the enhanced control and ecosystem benefits of Kubernetes, Kubernetes is difficult for developers to use directly. Developers must learn many advanced concepts and APIs, which can hurt their productivity.

“With today’s announcement, developers no longer have to choose between the productivity of Azure application services and the control of Kubernetes,” he added.

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.

Home Office reveals plans for long-overdue ‘digital border’

Bobby Hellard

25 May, 2021

The Home Office has published plans for its long-awaited digitisation of border controls and immigration

The new strategy promises a “fully end-to-end digital customer experience” for online applications, proof of identity and also crossing the border. 

It includes a new digital visa system to help count the number of people coming into the UK, which is said to be similar to the US Esta electronic travel authorisation. This would apply to any entrant that does not have an existing visa or immigration status.

“Our new fully digital border will provide the ability to count people in and count people out of the country,” home secretary Priti Patel told an online conference on Monday, according to the Guardian

The project was originally scheduled for completion in 2019 and has reportedly cost upwards of £173 million. The plans still appear to have missing details, such as the cost of the digital visa and specific details on when it will be finished. The move to a fully digital border system has been heavily criticised by MPs for being too slow. 

“As part of this, we are looking at further ways to remove physical documents from the process and streamline the system, such as potentially removing the need for separate vignettes and Biometric Residence Permits, taking out the cost and time for the user and the Home Office and improving security,” the department said in a statement.

“This would be supported by increased use of the online services to prove right to work and rent, simplifying the process for employers, landlords and individuals and reducing the number of documents relied on to prove status.”

In March, the Public Accounts Committee slammed the Home Office for failing to make progress on its digital border transformation, labelling it “miserable” and “exorbitantly expensive”. 

UK the ‘most digitally advanced country in Europe’

Bobby Hellard

24 May, 2021

A McKinsey survey of over 20,000 European citizens revealed that 86% of Brits have used e-commerce or online services in the past six months.

The report suggests that this makes the UK the most digitally advanced country in Europe, ahead of France (82%) and Germany (65%), and only behind India (88%) and Brazil (97%) on a global scale. 

Around seven million people in the UK have accessed new digital services since Christmas, mostly grocery and education services as a result of the pandemic, with McKinsey estimating a total of 43 million digital users in 2021.

Over the last six months, digital growth has remained the same, according to McKinsey, but it may drop once the pandemic is fully over. The report suggests that over nine million Brits are expected to return to physical stores as soon as they are safe to do so. 

“With consumers having reached high levels of digital penetration in most regions and industries, the acceleration into digital channels now seems to have levelled off in both Europe and the United States,” McKinsey said. 

“As a result, even as total digital adoption remains above pre-pandemic levels, many industries and regions may see a modest negative net change in post-pandemic digital use relative to 2020.” 

Consumer expectations of the post-pandemic future suggest a strong return of physical channels, according to the report, with some expecting to fully return to pre-pandemic behaviour. The main sectors here include travel, banking, telco carriers and entertainment. 

In the UK, 35-44 year-olds plan to use fewer digital services after the pandemic, citing “distrust” as a result of data handling. This was also apparent in questions around security, with 44% of the respondents suggested they didn’t fully trust digital services.