Google to invest up to $1 billion in India’s second largest telco

Zach Marzouk

28 Jan, 2022

Google is investing up to $1 billion in Bharti Airtel as part of its Google for India Digitisation Fund.

The deal includes an investment of $700 million to acquire a 1.28% ownership in the Indian telco and up to $300 million towards mutually agreed multi-year commercial agreements over the course of the next five years.

As part of the first commercial agreement under the deal, the companies will work to scale Airtel’s offerings that cover a range of devices through affordability programmes. In the long term, both companies also plan to co-create India-specific network domain use cases for 5G and other standards, and focus on shaping and growing the cloud ecosystem in India by helping to accelerate digital transformation.

Google also said it’s looking to create new business models to help grow the Android OEM ecosystem in India with Airtel, but didn’t specify what kind of models these would be.

It also highlighted that it has made steady progress on the goals it set out to achieve with its Google for India Digitisation Fund, including building an India-focused Android experience and partnering with companies that build localised content experiences.

Airtel is a leading pioneer shaping India’s digital future, and we are proud to partner on a shared vision for expanding connectivity and ensuring equitable access to the Internet for more Indians,” said Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google and Alphabet. “Our commercial and equity investment in Airtel is a continuation of our Google for India Digitization Fund’s efforts to increase access to smartphones, enhance connectivity to support new business models, and help companies on their digital transformation journey.”

Airtel has around 30.43% market share of wireless subscribers in India as of 30 November, 2021, according to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India. Reliance Jio leads the market with a 36.71% share, while Vodafone Idea has 22.88%.

Google outlined in 2020 that it would invest $10 billion in India over the following five to seven years through its India Digitisation Fund. The company is set to invest it through a mix of equity investments, partnerships, operations, infrastructure, and ecosystem investments.

Google said its goal was to make the Internet helpful for 1.3 billion Indians and help power the country’s economic engine.

Google, however, isn’t the only tech firm that has invested in Indian telcos, as in July 2020 Intel invested $253.5 million in Jio platforms, the country’s biggest telco, through its Intel Capital investment arm. The deal gave it a 0.39% stake in Jio.

Three months earlier, Facebook also invested $5.7 billion in Jio, as the telco’s owner Mukesh Ambani was selling off 20-25% of the company to raise money for its debt-ridden parent company, Reliance Industries.

Apple will let businesses accept payments on iPhones without the need for extra hardware

Zach Marzouk

27 Jan, 2022

Apple is reportedly planning a new service that will allow businesses to accept payments using an iPhone without the need for extra hardware.

The new feature has been in development since 2020, following Apple’s acquisition of Canadian startup Mobeewave for around $100 million, according to a report from Bloomberg. Mobeewave previously developed technology for smartphones to accept payments with a tap of a credit card.

The system is likely to use the iPhone’s near field communications (NFC) chip that it currently uses for Apple Pay. This is seen as a boost for small businesses as currently to accept an order on an iPhone, merchants must use third-party payment terminals that plug into the device or communicate with it via Bluetooth.

The new feature, however, will effectively create a payment terminal inside the device and remove the need for additional hardware. Users will be able to accept payments with a tap of a credit card or another iPhone onto the back of their device.

This could be bad news for payment providers that use the iPhone to facilitate sales, like Block’s Square. If Apple requires merchants to use Apple Pay or its own payment processing system to use the technology, this would shut out other providers.

For now, it’s unclear whether the new payment functionality will be part of Apple Pay, although Bloomberg has reported that the team building the feature have been working with Apple’s payment division since the Mobeewave acquisition.

Apple could potentially start introducing the feature in a software update in the coming months. It’s expected to release its first beta version of iOS 15.4 soon, with a potential final release for consumers in the spring.

IT Pro has contacted Apple and Square for comment.

The technology is yet another example of Apple’s attempt to dig further into the small business space. The company recently launched a new package of support services designed to help SMB IT teams manage their employee devices in November last year. The package includes 24/7 phone support for IT managers and end-users, business iCloud storage, device management capabilities, and on-site repairs for businesses of 500 employees or fewer.

IBM reports biggest sales growth in ten years

Zach Marzouk

25 Jan, 2022

IBM reported its biggest sales growth in the last ten years in its first quarterly earnings report following the spinoff of Kyndryl.

Sales increased by 6.5% to 16.7 billion in the quarter between October and December, while IBM’s software unit, its biggest business group, grew by 8.2% to $7.3 billion. Its consulting unit also reported $4.7 billion in revenue, up 13%, while its infrastructure revenue was flat, up 2% to reach $4.4 billion.

Hybrid cloud revenue also grew to $6.2 billion, an increase of 16%. Red Hat sales led this area, which increased by a total of 19%. For the full year, hybrid cloud revenue took in $20.2 billion, up by 20% overall.

“We increased revenue in the fourth quarter with hybrid cloud adoption driving growth in software and consulting,” said Arvind Krishna, IBM chairman and chief executive officer. “Our fourth-quarter results give us confidence in our ability to deliver our objectives of sustained mid-single-digit revenue growth and strong free cash flow in 2022.”

Krishna continues to make strategic moves for the business, as yesterday IBM entered into an agreement to sell its Watson Health assets to private equity firm Francisco Partners. The deal will allow IBM to focus on its platform-based hybrid cloud and AI strategy. Although terms of the deal weren’t announced, there were reports that the value of the assets being sold was over $1 billion.

“In 2021, we continued to invest for the future by increasing R&D spending, expanding our ecosystem and acquiring 15 companies to strengthen our hybrid cloud and AI capabilities,” said James Kavanaugh, IBM senior vice president and chief financial officer.

“With the separation of Kyndryl we now have taken the next step in the evolution of our strategy, creating value through focus and strengthening our financial profile.”

This is the first earnings report after IBM completed the spinoff of Kyndryl in November, which it hoped would give the business more freedom to pursue new opportunities. Its first major deal following the split was with Microsoft, where it was set to develop new products built on the Microsoft Cloud to drive digital transformation for customers.

Meta teams with Nvidia to build the ‘world’s fastest’ AI supercomputer

Bobby Hellard

25 Jan, 2022

Meta has announced that it’s building the “world’s fastest” AI supercomputer as part of its plans to build a virtual metaverse

The AI Research SuperCluster (RSC), which Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg claims is already the fifth-fastest AI supercomputer in the world, uses Nvidia’s DGX A100 system and is already training new models to advance artificial intelligence capabilities. According to early Meta benchmarks, RSC can train large natural-language processing (NLP) models three times faster and run computer vision jobs 20 times faster than its previous systems. 

The project is expected to be fully constructed midway through the year and will add various AI-based features to Meta’s platforms, including its proposed metaverse. According to a blog post from Zuckerberg, the company aims to use the RSC to train AI models to advance fields such as NLP and image enhancement.

More specifically, Meta hopes to generate models that can work across multiple languages, analyse text, images and video simultaneously, and also develop augmented reality tools.

Key use cases will include the identification of harmful content and the ability to translate multiple languages of audio, in real-time from large groups of people, which appears to be a Metaverse-specific use case.  

The RSC currently uses 760 Nvidia DGX A100 systems as its computer nodes and these pack a total of 6,080 A100 GPUs onto a Nvidia Quantum network said to deliver 1,896 petaflops of performance. Speed was also shown in the installation, with the RCS taking just 18 months to go from idea to fully working supercomputer, according to Nvidia. 

The second phase of the project, which begins later in the year, will expand the RSC to 16,000 GPUs, which Meta suggests will deliver 5 exaflops of “mixed precision AI performance”. This will be buoyed by further plans to expand RSC’s storage systems so that it can deliver up to an exabyte of data at 16 terabytes per second. 

This is the second time Meta has partnered with Nvidia for research infrastructure, with a project conducted in 2017, also for the advancement of AI. 

IBM to sell off Watson Health assets

Sabina Weston

24 Jan, 2022

IBM has announced that it has entered into an agreement to sell its Watson Health assets to private equity firm Francisco Partners.

The deal, which is expected to close in the second quarter of 2022, will allow IBM to focus on its platform-based hybrid cloud and artificial intelligence (AI) strategy, according to the tech giant’s SVP Tom Rosamilia.

“IBM remains committed to Watson, our broader AI business, and to the clients and partners we support in healthcare IT. Through this transaction, Francisco Partners acquires data and analytics assets that will benefit from the enhanced investment and expertise of a healthcare industry focused portfolio,” he stated.

Terms of the deal were not announced, but Bloomberg reports that the value of the assets being sold is more than $1 billion.

Founded in 1999, Francisco Partners specialises in investing in tech companies, including businesses within the healthcare sector.

Commenting on the acquisition, Francisco Partners co-president Ezra Perlman said that the San Francisco-based private equity firm has followed IBM’s journey in healthcare data and analytics for a number of years and has “a deep appreciation for its portfolio of innovative healthcare products”.

Principal Justin Chen added that Francisco Partners looks forward to “supporting the talented employees and management team”, which is expected to continue in similar roles in the new standalone company with a “focus on growth opportunities to realise its full potential, and delivering enhanced value to customers and partners”.

The sale of the healthcare data and analytics unit comes amidst the wave of investments in healthcare technology fuelled by the pandemic. For instance, Oracle recently acquired the digital medical records business Cerner for $28.3 billion (£21.4 billion), with plans to use the company as an anchor asset into the healthcare sector.

IBM’s focus on AI and cloud growth was cemented in October 2020, when it announced the split from its Managed Infrastructure Services business, now known as Kyndryl, in what is now known as one of the most significant tech industry moves of that year. At the 2020 Think Digital virtual conference, CEO Arvind Krishna said that “every company will become an AI company, not because they can, but because they must”. 

Google Cloud to open new office in Pune

Zach Marzouk

24 Jan, 2022

Google has announced it is opening a new office in the city of Pune, expanding on its investment in India after opening its second cloud region in the country last July.

The company will focus on hiring members for its cloud product engineering, technical support, and global delivery centre organisations. It said these teams will help build advanced enterprise cloud technologies in collaboration with global engineering teams, provide real-time technical advice, and deliver product and implementation expertise for digital transformation.

The new location is set to open in the second half of 2022 but the company is eager to begin hiring now alongside its growing teams in Gurgaon, Hyderabad, and Bangalore. Google revealed that the planned expansion is the latest in a series of investments to fuel its customer growth and valued offerings to organisations of all sizes.

There are already open positions on Google careers for jobs located in the new office, including roles such as manager of technical solutions engineering, an engineering manager, a big data technical solutions specialist, and a software engineer.

“India has long been a hub for technology and innovation, and the strong talent pool here makes it a strategic location for Google Cloud to invest in our cloud infrastructure, grow our operations and expand our workforce to support our growing customer base,” said Anil Bhansali, Google Cloud’s VP of cloud engineering in India.

Bhansali underlined that India is one of a small handful of countries in Asia Pacific where Google operates two Google Cloud regions, and last October the company committed to training over 40 million new people globally on Google Cloud skills, which many in India continue to take advantage of.

Google Cloud opened its new region last July in Delhi, after launching the Mumbai region in 2017. The company said this would better support customers and the public sector in India and actress Asia Pacific. The region has three availability zones to protect against service disruptions, and customers are able to benefit from low latency and high performance of their cloud-based workloads and data, according to the company.

Applications open for government’s Help to Grow: Digital scheme

Bobby Hellard

20 Jan, 2022

The UK government has opened an online scheme that offers discounts for small businesses and startups looking to adopt digital services.

The Help to Grow: Digital website launched on Thursday with a number of ‘approved’ software service packages and a range of video guides already available.

Small businesses can get discounts of up to £5,000 off the retail price for a selection of customer relationship management (CRM) and accounting services.

Approved CRM providers include UK-based companies Zemplify, Swiftcase, and Gold-Vision, while accounting deals are provided by Sage, Quickbooks, and a number of smaller British providers.

The government has also said that additional software categories will be available soon, but has only confirmed e-commerce so far.

The scheme was pitched as part of chancellor Rishi Sunak’s spring budget in 2021 as a response to the pandemic and the increased uptake of online and digital software. It’s aimed at SMBs and startups that are at least 12 months old and have between 5 and 249 employees.

Eligible businesses must also be purchasing the approved software for the first time, with the financial discount only covering 12-months worth of product costs (exclusive of VAT).

The scheme can be accessed through a government portal where applicants can search and compare all the ‘approved’ services. A tool has also been provided to help less experienced applicants find out what services they could use, although this does require handing over additional business information, such as how they typically engage with customers and the size of their IT teams.

Those that are new to digital tools can also browse a library of video explainers and tutorials that walk them through various elements of software adoption and how businesses can best make use of them. It also includes explainers on CRM software and guides to finding out which products are best, as well as a complete list of the ‘approved’ providers.

Singapore and Madrid named biggest movers in latest data centre rankings

Zach Marzouk

20 Jan, 2022

Singapore and Silicon Valley ranked joint second when it comes to data centres, with Northern Virginia taking first place and expected to become the world’s first two-gigawatt market.

A new report from Cushman & Wakefield, a global real estate firm, has ranked global data centres by scrutinising them against 13 factors, including political stability, connectivity, and sustainability.

The authors analysed 30 research sources, 55 global markets, and 1,333 data centres as part of the study.

Atlanta and Chicago were ranked in joint-fourth place, followed by Hong Kong, Phoenix, Sydney and Dallas. In joint tenth place were Portland and Seattle.

The report said it comes as no surprise that Northern Virginia finished in first place as it’s the largest data centre market in the world, with excellent connectivity, attractive incentives, and low-cost power. Demand for data centres is high, with operators and tenants alike interested in expansion. The report predicts the area will become the world’s first two-gigawatt market over the next two years.

Singapore moved up from fifth place last year to joint second with Silicon Valley, despite a lack of available development land in both. This is especially surprising in Singapore’s case, as it has had a ban on new data centre construction over the past year.

The report said both have strong ecosystems, excellent connectivity, consistent demand, and all major cloud services available and expanding where possible.

Hong Kong jumped into the top 10 for the first time this year, largely due to its robust development pipeline, excellent networks, and availability of all major cloud services.

However, Madrid was by far the largest gainer in the rankings, moving up to 19 from 34, thanks to it’s low-risk location in respect to natural disasters, and its support for major cloud services.

Singapore also came first when it came to fibre connectivity and smart cities. However, it also ranked in 53rd place when it came to land price for data centres, priced at just under $2,000 per square foot at land, compared to Columbus in first place which was priced at less than $5.

The city-state has had a moratorium on building new data centres for the past year, although the government is planning to lift this soon after constructing new rules that place strict energy efficiency requirements on all new sites. Singapore’s government plans to only authorise new data centres that are best in class in terms of resource efficiency, and it will be more selective of which data centres it can accommodate.

Google to shut down free G Suite accounts

Sabina Weston

20 Jan, 2022

Google has said it will give those with free G Suite accounts until 1 July to upgrade their plans to a paid subscription, after which point they will lose access to most of its services.

Announced in an email to customers on Wednesday, the policy will not apply to those businesses in the non-profit and education sectors, which can continue to use the services free of charge.

The announcement comes a decade after the tech giant suspended the free basic tier for access to Gmail, Calendar, and Google Docs.

Prior to this, between 2006 and 2012, the tech giant allowed business users to create their own custom domain account for free, as opposed to using the email address.

The service has been a paid privilege since 2012, yet legacy G Suite users have been able to continue using their custom domain accounts for free for ten years.

However, based on emails sent to account administrators yesterday, Google seems to have had a change of heart.

“We are writing to let you know that your G Suite free edition will no longer be available starting July 1, 2022,” the email, seen by Google9to5, reads.

The message warns account administrators that, in order to maintain their services and accounts, they will have to upgrade to Google Workspace, which was launched in 2020 as a fully-integrated productivity platform containing widely-used G Suite apps including Gmail, Calendar and Drive, among others.

Users that upgrade to a paid business tier by 1 May 2022 will be able to use their new subscription for free until “at least” 1 July, the tech giant stated.

Meanwhile, those who don’t select a tier and have their billing details available will be automatically upgraded to a paid subscription by Google. If no billing information is available for an account, Google will suspend the account for up to 60 days, after which users “will no longer have access to Google Workspace core services, such as Gmail, Calendar, and Meet”.

However, they “may still retain access to additional Google services, such as YouTube and Google Photos”.

In order to restore their suspended account, users will have to provide a valid form of payment.

Google’s most basic tier, the Business Starter, costs £4.60 per user per month, and is currently discounted to £4.14. However, the tier only allows 30 GB cloud storage per user, with users wishing to upgrade their storage having to pay twice as much per user per month.

Rackspace fortifies APAC footprint with new acquisition

Zach Marzouk

19 Jan, 2022

Rackspace has agreed to acquire cloud-based data, analytics, and AI firm Just Analytics as it aims to strengthen its APAC footprint.

Just Analytics was founded in 2011 and has over 100 employees headquartered in Singapore with others based in Vietnam and India. The company helps clients to design and create scalable data pipelines using its proprietary data platform Guzzle, paired with cloud-based data and analytics services that give customers a unified view of their information assets.

Rackspace said the acquisition brings strong regional ties into the Microsoft Azure ecosystem, as Just Analytics was recently awarded four regional Microsoft partner of the year awards.

The data platform is on the Microsoft Azure Marketplace and automates the movement and transformation of any volume, variety, and velocity of data from a range of sources to data pipelines at scale for production. Just Analytics AI also uses Guzzle to deploy predictive capabilities and business intelligence to analyse data from critical business and operational functions for business end-users.

“The acquisition of Just Analytics ties into our growing professional services focus and brings market-leading cloud-based data, analytics and AI capabilities that are in demand from our customers and prospects,” said Kevin Jones, CEO of Rackspace Technology. “In addition, we will benefit from the company’s strong APJ regional ties, talented employee base, and natural evolution up the IT services stack. These benefits will provide a clear tie between our services and important customer business metrics.”

For now, Rackspace will keep the Just Analytics brand for the foreseeable future as it said the company has built a well-known and respected brand among the leaders and customers of Microsoft Azure Data Analytics.

The APAC region continues to garner interest from technology companies, with Google Cloud opening a new region in Melbourne last July. This was the firm’s second region in Australia and its 11th in APAC overall, stating that its customers operating in Australia and New Zealand would now be able to benefit from low latency and high performance of their cloud-based workloads and data.

This was followed in September by AWS saying it would launch its first New Zealand data centre by 2024 by investing around £3.9 billion over the next 15 years and creating 1,000 jobs. The Auckland region is set to be made up of three availability zones and joined the existing 81 zones across 25 geographic AWS regions.