All posts by Adam Shepherd

Welcome to the age of the platform


Adam Shepherd

17 Jun, 2019

It’s hard to argue against the idea that Dropbox has been a hugely influential company. It’s synonymous with consumer cloud storage and was one of the first companies to popularise the concept. In many ways, it was instrumental to the growth of cloud computing as a mainstream technology.

Now, however, it’s changing tack and reinventing itself. No longer content to merely be the place where users and teams store their documents, the company wants to become the connective tissue that links all the digital elements of your working life. As founder and CEO Drew Houston puts it, he wants Dropbox to move from the filing cabinet to the boardroom.

In Houston’s view, work revolves around content; whether it’s contracts, proposals, timesheets, web pages or blueprints, files are the one constant within every business. With that in mind, your filesystem should be at the heart of your workflow. This is fundamentally what the newly-redesigned Dropbox is all about: using your files as a jumping-off point for collaboration within the organisation.

“We see no shortage of opportunity to help kind of build this workspace that organises itself, that lets you use any of the tools you want to use. But instead of being organised around the concept of messaging, we think the starting point is really around the content,” Houston tells me.

“What are people talking about when they’re in Slack? It’s usually content that lives in Dropbox. Or like Salesforce; the salesperson’s day revolves around content that lives in Dropbox, because they’re getting a proposal together, or they’re getting contracts signed. They’re round-tripping with Dropbox all day. And if instead of having to jump from back and forth, if we can smooth that over, that’s really valuable.”

The app now boarding at Platform One

It’s fundamentally a platform play. Houston wants Dropbox to be the first thing workers open when they get to their desk and the one they come back to most regularly throughout the day, maximising the amount of time spent in the app and minimising time spent outside it. In order to do that, the company is pursuing a number of integrations with other services such as Zoom, Slack and Jira, which will allow users to take actions within those services without actually leaving the Dropbox app.

“A lot of this fragmentation in the end user experience, IT is also experiencing,” Houston says. “We see a big opportunity to help them kind of wrangle all the different tools that their employees are bringing in and help them get some semblance of control, and visibility back.”

“We want to occupy a little bit of different space and people’s minds, from just being a passive content repository to being the living workspace where you get things done. So moving from the filing cabinet to the conference room, where the difference is, you can still have stuff and content, but then you see people and you can have conversations and you can be up on the whiteboard.”

Dropbox is far from the only company doing this; virtually every other business cloud company is pursuing a similar strategy. Salesforce, Box and even Slack itself have been opening up app stores and bolting on integrations left and right in an effort to make their applications as much of a one-stop-shop for their customers’ needs as possible.

Collaboration has also been a key focus for these companies, incorporating messaging, sharing and other communication functionalities into their products. For some, like Microsoft and Google, this takes the form of integrating their storage platforms with full-blown unified comms solutions or collaboration suites like Teams and Hangouts. For others (including Dropbox), it’s comments and activity tracking.

All this is a clear indication that ‘just’ doing cloud-based file storage really isn’t enough of a differentiator any more. Businesses now require a level of added service, whether it’s curating and cataloguing files or helping businesses seamlessly integrate those files into broader workflows, customers expect their storage platform to help take some extra hassle out of modern business.

One big happy family

The benefit of this shift is a potential increase in customer choice and flexibility; you can use Office 365 for its excellent productivity software, but you can also use Dropbox to store your content without being locked into OneDrive, and use Slack for messaging without having to stick to Teams. As these platforms grow in maturity and their integrations grow deeper and more plentiful, businesses will end up with the ability to combine them in whatever way works for them.

On the other hand, this proliferation also runs the risk of increased fragmentation and creep. Without careful management, organisations could easily find themselves with multiple different collaboration and filesharing platforms, all performing nearly identical roles and with content scattered between them. Cost models and licensing also have to be carefully monitored, lest organisations find themselves paying for multiple platforms that fulfil the same role.

These problems can be solved, though. The answer is deep and genuine collaboration between tech companies, such as using machine learning to detect when a file is shared in a Slack channel and automatically uploading it to the relevant Dropbox folder, or Microsoft and Dropbox jointly offering co-branded packages of Office 365 software and Dropbox storage. These ideas might seem unrealistic, but the growing trend towards cooperation and partnership within the tech industry means they’re not as outlandish as they might once have been.

“We’re thinking excitedly about these opportunities,” Dropbox’s group product manager John Hrvatin tells me. “When you’re talking about productivity tools, that data is housed in these silos, and that’s why you end up having to have 10 search boxes. But we’re going through the effort of creating these partnerships with these key partners, because we want to break down those silos. Just the user experience of joining a meeting, or sharing a file, or managing a Trello board [from Dropbox]; just that is user benefit. But search is the other thing that we can fix with these partnerships. And there really isn’t a good way of doing that – unless you build [them].”

Once tech companies figure out a way not just to co-exist but to genuinely collaborate, a world of possibilities opens up. Imagine a system where every single tool or piece of software you use was genuinely and deeply connected; where one search bar allowed you to simultaneously search your cloud storage, emails, hard drive, Slack workspace, Github repos and every other tool besides. Imagine if machine learning and OCR could work together to automatically title, tag and organise files – no more vague titles like ‘proposalV3.doc’ or searching through 18 sub-folders because someone’s mis-filed a crucial document.

These sound like utopian pipe dreams, but it’s all technically feasible. All tech companies have to do is stop trying to beat each other to the finish line and start helping each other – and if Dropbox’s latest pivot is anything to go by, that might happen sooner than we think.

“We’re really at the beginning of that journey,” Dropbox CTO Quentin Clarke says. “But we’re actually uniquely positioned here, because of our neutrality, because we’re so committed to being a system player, we’re going to have access to information – because of these integration with zoom, Slack, etc – that no other players will even have. So our ability to make something good of that using machine learning is actually super high. And that’s something I think you should keep an eye on over the over the coming months and years as we continue to roll out on top of this foundation.”

Dropbox reforges itself as digital workspace software


Adam Shepherd

12 Jun, 2019

Cloud storage firm Dropbox has announced a huge overhaul of its core desktop app, moving away from being a simple shared folder platform and becoming a unified cloud-based workspace.

As well as redesigning the look and feel of its platform, Dropbox has also introduced native support for Google G Suite and Microsoft Office files, as well as native integrations with partners including Atlassian, Zoom and Slack. The changes are designed to make Dropbox the central hub through which organisations do all their work, pulling in content from multiple sources to prevent having to switch between multiple tabs and workspaces.

“When we talk about the experience of using technology at work, what was stunning to me, even a few years ago was like, man, our industry just keeps making things more complicated, and just keeps throwing new stuff onto the pile,” Dropbox founder and CEO Drew Houston told Cloud Pro. “Like, who’s making everything work together?”

“And so we see, for better or worse, there’s no shortage of opportunity to improve the experience, to make it more seamless, to sand down a lot of the rough edges, and give people the best of both worlds, where they have the freedom of choice, and they can benefit from all the different tools that are out there.”

“Increasingly we saw that our customers are seeing Dropbox more as this workspace in which they use the Office suites and things like that, which triggered a pretty big mental shift for us and completely changed the concept of the product that we wanted to build.”

The difference is immediately apparent from the design changes. While folders are still listed in a pane on the left-hand side (which is now an attractive navy colour), the main body of the app is now broken up into multiple sections. At the top is a text field which allows you to add an editable summary of the folders contents or the project it relates to, as well as to-do lists. Files and sub-folders now fit below this, with badges to indicate the owner and any other people who have access. Files can be viewed in either list or grid layout, and important content can be pinned below the description for easy access.

The biggest functional change is that along with traditional desktop files, cloud-based documents from Google’s G Suite can now be stored natively within Dropbox folders. This allows teams to store all the files they’re using in one place, regardless of what software they or their clients are using.

Clicking on a G Suite file launches it in a browser window for editing, with any changes made automatically synced back to Dropbox. Microsoft Office documents can also be edited in the same way thanks to G Suite’s recent addition of Office file format support, or you can use Office Online’s web editor. If you have the desktop Office apps installed, you can still open them with these as normal.

The company has introduced new integrations with videoconferencing provider Zoom, allowing users to launch or join a Zoom meeting from within the Dropbox app, and can also present files from your Dropbox to meeting participants. Thanks to new integrations with Google Calendar and Microsoft Outlook calendar, you can also see any upcoming meetings you have with co-workers and add videoconferencing details. New integrations with Slack also allow users to share files or send messages via Slack from within the Dropbox app.

This is part and parcel of Dropbox’s efforts to make its platform more collaboration friendly. As before, users can add comments to individual files (including replies and @-mentions), as well as viewing their team’s activity on them, not just on Dropbox but now also across Zoom and Slack as well. There’s a new ‘team activity’ view within the notifications menu as well, which shows you which files and folders your team has accessed or edited.

Many projects also rely on web-based content, such as informational resources like wikis or web-native SaaS tools. These can now be included in folders as web shortcuts, which will open in a browser window just like a G Suite file.

More integrations are soon to follow, too. The company is working with project management company Atlassian on functions that will allow Trello and Jira users to link these tools more effectively with their Dropbox resources, which Atlassian’s global head of partnerships Bryant Lee told Cloud Pro would be available “over the coming months”. In addition, Dropbox’s global head of business development and partnerships Billy Blau indicated that further integrations with Microsoft and Google’s additional products would be coming in the future.

“Our core premise is ‘Dropbox works with all the applications you use every day’. And if you play that forward, [Microsoft Teams] is an application a lot of people use every day; we need to have an experience that works there,” Blau told Cloud Pro. “So I don’t have timing or specifics, but you could assume in the future, that would be something we’d do.”

The redesigned desktop apps for macOS and Windows are currently in early access, and anyone is able to sign up to try them out, regardless of whether you’re a free, paid or business user. General availability has yet to be announced.

According to Dropbox CTO Quentin Clarke, the process of switching over from the old version to the new one will be seamless. Companies’ existing file structures will remain intact, and there’s no installation required – opted-in Dropbox admins can simply activate it the new interface via a toggle in their admin console.

“We’re constantly maintaining up-to-date client software on millions and millions of desktops around the world all the time. And so we can deploy the software and not turn it on – and then the matter of turning it on is just enablement.”

The new changes will be key for Dropbox’s growth in the enterprise market. Functions like searchability, version history and content centralisation have been highlighted as key considerations for enterprises, but it’s the enhanced collaboration functions that will make businesses it up and take notice, according to analysts.

“The Dropbox enhancements are additive in connecting people and content, rather than replacement of any one application,” said Wayne Kurtzman, IDC’s research director for social and collaboration. “What it does is it changes the narrative for Dropbox from being just file storage into being an enterprise collaborative app. And that brings substantially more value to any given enterprise.”

Microsoft introduces native VMware support for Azure


Adam Shepherd

30 Apr, 2019

VMware has expanded its presence in the public cloud, with the news that Microsoft will be introducing native support for VMware workloads to Azure.

The announcement was made at Dell Technologies World in Las Vegas by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, who took to the main stage alongside VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger and Dell Technologies CEO and founder Michael Dell.

“In my close to 30 years of working in technology, I’ve never seen a trend like digital transformation,” Nadella told attendees. “It’s just phenomenal to see that and what is fueling that, or what is needed in order to fuel that is great infrastructure; the flexibility with which people can get at the infrastructure, the compute that is needed, the storage that’s needed, the networking capabilities that are needed in order to drive that business forward.

“And so I’m really thrilled and pleased to announce the availability of Azure VMware solutions, which brings all of the VMware capabilities natively to Azure and to Azure customers so that every customer has that infrastructure: the best of VMware, as well as the best of Azure.”

Azure VMware Solutions will allow customers to run VMware workloads in native environments, utilising VMware tools like vSphere, vSAN, vCenter and NSX. These workloads can be ported directly over to Azure with no refactoring necessary, enabling organisations to cut down on migration and deployment time.

Built using VMware Cloud Foundation, the Azure VMware Solutions have been developed in partnership with CloudSimple and Dell subsidiary Virtustream, but will be sold by Microsoft as a first-party product.

The announcement marks a turning point in the so-called ‘hypervisor wars’ between VMware and Microsoft’s competing virtualisation product, Hyper-V, indicating that Microsoft may have abandoned its ambition to make Hyper-V a sizeable player in the industry.

“It’s interesting because I’m sure Microsoft would have liked the world to be Hyper-V,” said Phil Mogavero, the vice president of HDC partnerships for channel vendor PCM. “Some of it will be Hyper V but I think for VMware really to be truly legitimate, it has to be on Azure. And I think for Microsoft to truly be legitimate it’s got to have VMware vSphere capability within Azure. So I think it’s a good move.”

It also means that Google Cloud Platform is now the only one of the major public cloud providers that does not support VMware, following the introduction of VMware on Azure a number of years ago.

In addition to Azure VMware Solutions, the three companies also announced further integrations across various products. For example, VMware’s Workspace One platform will now integrate with Microsoft Intune and Azure Active Directory, allowing customers to manage their Microsoft 356 and Office 365 deployments with Workspace One. Similarly, Microsoft’s recently-announced Windows Virtual Desktop platform will also be supported by VMware Horizon Cloud on Microsoft Azure, with early previews expected by the end of the year. VMware and Microsoft are also reportedly working on more general integrations, such as between Azure Networking and VMware NSX.

VMware announces data centre-as-a-Service offering


Adam Shepherd

30 Apr, 2019

VMware has formally announced its data centre-as-a-service offering, allowing customers to deploy on-premise infrastructure on a subscription basis, completely managed by VMware.

Previously teased at VMworld last year under the codename ‘Project Dimension’, the service was unveiled at Dell Technologies World in Las Vegas, and is officially known as VMware Cloud on Dell EMC. The offering will consist of pre-packaged bundles consisting of VMware’s vShere, vSAN and NSX management products, running on three or more of Dell EMC’s VxRail hyperconverged infrastructure nodes, along with two switches and SD-WAN appliances, as well as an uninterruptible power supply.

The product offers cloud-like deployment models, not just in terms of pricing, but also with regard to deployment and management. Customers can order new infrastructure capacity via an API call or via the VMware Cloud management console, and Dell EMC will construct, deliver, install and configure it. Not only that, but VMware will fully manage the infrastructure from that point on, monitoring for performance issues, applying patches and upgrades on the customer’s behalf and automatically deploying a Dell EMC engineer in the event of hardware problems.

Customers will pay a single monthly price based on the number of hosts per rack, with no added charges for support or services. Software and hardware fees are also included in the cost.

“You have the agility with the hands-off simplicity of the public cloud, while retaining that predictable and controlled environment of your own data center, delivered as a fully managed solution by Dell Technologies,” VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger explained in a keynote speech. “Also, we are responsible for doing software patching, upgrading and lifecycle management. We take care of that, as well as the hardware service upgrade and firmware management, as well. And it’s fully bought as a purchase subscription, just like you would a cloud service. It’s just your on premise hardware, your environment, in your datacenter or branch.”

VMware Cloud on Dell EMC falls under the umbrella of the newly-launched Dell Technologies Cloud brand, a subset of the company’s portfolio that aims to use VMware as a consistent management and infrastructure layer for hybrid and multi-cloud deployments. VMware Cloud Foundation on VxRail – which was announced at VMworld last year and started shipping last month – also comes under this banner. This, by contrast, uses a more traditional VMware deployment model, and is managed by the customer.

“In going for the future there will be additional routes,” said Tom O’Reilly, Dell EMC’s EMEA field CTO for cloud, converged and hyperconverged infrastructure, “so we’ll have not just VxRail but we’ll have converged infrastructure that can be delivered on premise, we’ll have bundles and ready solutions that can deliver it, if you don’t want to go with a converged or hyperconverged experience. So we’ll have multiple routes to deliver Dell Technologies Cloud, but the experience, the software layer, the operational and management experience, will be consistent across all these.”

Dell has been a major proponent of the multi-cloud model, so unsurprisingly, VMware Cloud on Dell EMC also allows customers to manage their VMware workloads in the public cloud, migrating them between public and private as necessary. This will also includes Azure workloads, following the announcement that Microsoft was introducing native support for the full range of VMware capabilities on Azure.

This new service dovetails with Dell’s new Unified Workspace service, which offers a comprehensive endpoint management suite for customers, spanning the initial ordering and configuration process all the way up to patching and ongoing support.

VMware Cloud on Dell EMC is currently available in beta, with full US availability scheduled for the second half of this year. While no timeline has been given for European availability, O’Reilly told Cloud Pro that the region will be next in line after North America.

“The way Dell EMC divides the world is into different tiers of countries,” he said, “and Northern Europe is tier one. So, this will be the first to get it outside of the US.”

Dell unveils cloud-based endpoint management platform


Adam Shepherd

30 Apr, 2019

Dell is aiming to take the hassle out of configuring and deploying laptops, with the launch of a new endpoint management platform that brings together a number of the company’s technologies and services.

The platform, dubbed the Dell Technologies Unified Workspace, is designed to give IT departments a simple and automated platform for managing devices.

Based on VMware’s Workspace One product, the Unified Workspace allows IT departments to order devices which are imaged, configured and provisioned with all of the customer’s business applications before they leave the factory, including the ability to personalise which applications are installed on a per-user basis. When customers receive their devices, Dell said, end users will be able to start working in minutes, as opposed to hours.

The platform also supports endpoint management tasks over the entire lifecycle of corporate devices, including automated patch deployment, device health and status information, and cloud-based policy tools. In line with Dell’s emphasis on the importance of data analysis, the Unified Workspace will collect and collate data from customers’ device fleets, which will allow IT departments to analyse usage patterns and identify their most widely-used apps.

To ensure security, the Unified Workspace platform integrates with tools from SecureWorks and CrowdStrike, including off-host BIOS storage and verification, threat intelligence data, behavioural analytics and more. In addition, the platform includes integrated support capabilities to allow IT to shorten the time it takes to resolve helpdesk tickets.

Customers can also spread the cost over monthly instalments via Dell Financial Services’ PC-as-a-Service offering, which offers a cloud-style consumption-based payment model for physical devices.

“No setup, no imaging, no provisioning, no installation,” said Dell vice chairman of products and operations Jeff Clarke. “No configuration is, we like to say, no problem.”

These capabilities aren’t new, however; the company already offers all of them, in the form of services like the Dell ProDeploy Client Suite and ProSupport.

Rather, the Dell Technologies Unified Workspace combines all of these functions into a single, unified console.

The value for customers comes from the simplicity and time savings that this centralisation can bring, along with the benefits of rolling all of the various costs into one monthly fee.

Alongside this new service, Dell also unveiled a brand new Data Centre-as-a-Service offering, VMware Cloud on Dell EMC. Coming as part of the newly-launched Dell Technologies Cloud portfolio, the offering is a fully managed VMware cloud solution, controlled through VMware’s cloud management console and deployed on Dell EMC hardware within the customer’s own data centre.

The aim is to allow customers to seamlessly move their workloads between public cloud, on-premise infrastructure and edge installations, with VMware acting as a central, consistent infrastructure layer.

Dell set to triple its AMD server offering


Adam Shepherd

30 Apr, 2019

Dell EMC is planning on tripling the amount of AMD-based servers in its portfolio, following the success of the chip manufacturer’s EPYC range.

AMD spent a long time in the wilderness, playing second fiddle to main rival Intel across both the desktop and server markets. Its Zen microarchitecture, however, has been met with widespread acclaim, with Zen-based chips offering a noticeably lower TCO than equivalent Intel parts. In our tests, EPYC-based servers from Dell EMC, Broadberry and HPE all showcased phenomenal per-core performance for an excellent price.

This has not gone unnoticed by Dell. The company currently offers three server platforms that use AMD chips but Dominique Vanhamme, the company’s EMEA vice president and general manager for storage and compute told IT Pro that the company is planning to triple the number of AMD-based platforms it offers by the end of the year.

“Out of, let’s say, 50 or so platforms that we have today,” he said, “three of them are AMD – we’ll probably triple that by the end of this year.”

He also confirmed that Dell EMC will be launching servers powered by AMD’s newest architecture – a 7nm architecture codenamed ‘Rome’ – in the second half of 2019.

While AMD will still be a minority among Dell’s server platforms, this planned expansion is in contrast to comments made by Dell EMC CTO John Roese last year, who told Cloud  Pro that Intel was still “the big player” in the market and that the company had no plans to substantially increase its AMD offering, stating “don’t expect it to be a duopoly any time soon”.

A significant barrier to AMD’s growth in the server market, as Vanhamme pointed out, is that any workloads that currently run on Intel servers will need to be re-validated to run on AMD-powered hardware. Given Intel’s relative stranglehold on the market, this means that a full AMD migration is likely to be a major project for any sizeable company.

One of the primary driving factors behind this expansion of AMD platforms is a growing demand from customers, according to Vanhamme. The lower TCO offered by AMD’s EPYC chips is a large factor, he says; along with a cheaper list price, many EPYC chips use fewer cores and sockets to match the performance of equivalent Intel systems, which means that CIOs can save money on per-core and per-socket licensing costs. Lower power consumption is also attractive, he said.

One thing that surprised Vanhamme was the demand for EPYC servers from general-purpose customers. For example. high-performance computing was expected to be the biggest revenue driver, due to the per-core and per-socket performance advantages, but general demand has been surprisingly strong.

“So in the original plan, we were thinking that it will be a few first verticals that will pick up, like service providers,” he said. “We thought that maybe there are some hosters that may want to have that extra capacity when they provide IaaS services. We clearly see HPC, but we also see general customers for sure.”

What to expect from Dell Technologies World 2019


Adam Shepherd

29 Apr, 2019

It’s the end of April, and that can mean only one thing: Michael Dell is getting ready to emerge, bear-like, from his Winter slumber and ravenously tear into something; in this case, insufficiently transformed data centres.

For the next week, Las Vegas’ Sands expo centre will be swarming with Dell’s customers, partners and technologists, all eager to hear what the company has in store over the next 12 months.

The answer, I suspect, will not be a surprise. Dell has been beating the ‘digital transformation’ drum for several years, and it shows no signs of letting up.

As such, we can expect to hear all about the company’s favourite talking-points (sing along if you know the worlds), including the importance of multi-cloud architectures, the growing role of data analytics in business and how software-defined storage and networking can unlock ‘the data centre of the future’. All important topics, to be sure, but nothing that we haven’t heard Dell talking about at its previous conferences.

In the years since the arrival of cloud to the enterprise market, Dell has pivoted rather impressively to being a full-stack provider, broadening its focus from on-premise infrastructure to hybrid cloud, edge computing and IoT in a way that its rivals haven’t been able to match quite as effectively. Realistically, there are very few parts of the modern data centre that Dell doesn’t touch in some way, and the company will be making full use of this position.

Edge computing and IoT, in particular, will almost certainly play a major role in this year’s conference; both areas are a key part of the so-called ‘4th industrial revolution’, and are supported by Dell’s product portfolio.

Analytics will likely be a major theme too – data-crunching is increasingly vital for companies, and by happy coincidence, the high performance and low-latency storage of Dell’s equipment makes it well-suited to this task.

Expect to hear the phrase ‘multi-cloud’ a lot, as well. Dell likes to emphasise how well the full suite of Dell Technologies brands (primarily VMware, Dell EMC and Pivotal) lend themselves to mixed estates, lest anyone think of it solely as a tin shop.

What all of these areas mean for customers, in practical terms, is another matter. We’d be surprised to see any major announcements from VMware – they’re usually saved for VMware’s own conference later in the year – but CEO Pat Gelsinger is all but certain to deliver his usual keynote. This will probably be where 5G, IoT and Edge receive the most airtime.

VMware aside, any cloud announcements are likely to come from Pivotal Cloud Foundry, which is one of Dell Technologies’ major entry-points to the cloud market.

The meat of Dell’s announcements is most likely to focus on new hardware. We’re a little too early in the lifespan of Dell’s latest range of 14G PowerEdge servers to expect a whole new generation. But what we could well see are some newer, more powerful products. Intel has recently announced a swathe of new Xeon server processors, so we’re expecting Dell to show off some fancy new iron that actually makes use of them.

These servers will, no doubt, be touted as an ideal way to accelerate your machine learning and/or data analytics deployments; a position that neatly dovetails with Dell’s preferred messaging.

Equally, don’t be shocked to see Dell unveiling some new servers running on AMD’s EPYC architecture. It’s less likely than new Xeon-powered models – Intel is a major Dell partner with a lot of behind-the-scenes pull, so the company will want to avoid antagonising Intel – but at the same time, Dell’s run by smart people. It’s no secret that Intel’s 10nm development has hit a bit of a brick wall, while AMD has sailed merrily past it onto the 7nm process node.

The results speak for themselves, too: Dell EMC servers fitted with AMD’s EPYC processors can match the performance of Xeon-based equivalents for a considerably lower price point, and that can’t have gone unnoticed. How much attention AMD gets (both on stage and in the halls) should give a good indication of whether the tide is starting to turn in its favour.

Long story short, keep an eye out for more AMD servers than usual – although they won’t be sporting the company’s newest Rome architecture, as it’s still too early for production servers to be ready.

We wouldn’t discount the possibility of Dell launching some new storage or networking hardware, either. We’re not betting the farm on this as it’s usually not a ‘sexy’ enough area to get much attention at the company’s major league show, not to mention that both portfolios got a full refresh not long after the close of the EMC acquisition. That being said, both storage and networking are key areas of data centre transformation, and Dell has been impressing in both categories recently.

Additionally, it’s worth noting that this may well be a more cautious show than we’ve seen in recent years, as it’s the first annual conference since Michael Dell took the company back onto the public market last year. This means that, for the first time since 2013, he’s once again answerable to shareholders. Dell is riding high on the successful execution of its roadmap, but tech investors are a notoriously skittish bunch, so the pressure will be focussed on not spooking them with any controversial announcements.

Thematically-speaking, then, this year’s Dell World is set to be more of the same. Regular attendees probably aren’t going to find themselves surprised by the company’s agenda, and although we may have some excitement on hand in the form of new hardware releases, the looming spectre of public investors makes any big shocks fairly unlikely.

Still, for customers and partners, it’s an opportunity to get a closer look at the latest products and services rolling out of Dell’s development facilities; at the end of the day, that’s what it’s really all about.

Intel courts cloud service providers with new Xeon Scalable platform


Adam Shepherd

3 Apr, 2019

Intel has further demonstrated its intention to cosy up to cloud service providers, with the announcement of a number of cloud-focused products and features as part of its new second-generation Xeon Scalable platform.

More than fifty new processors were unveiled, including two new additions to the Xeon Gold family which have been specifically built to support networking functions. Both the Xeon Gold 6200 and 5200 series’ are NFV-optimised, and support Intel’s Select Speed technology.

A new feature introduced with the updated platform, Select Speed allows IaaS providers much more flexibility and granularity to manage the frequencies and per-core performance settings of the processors in their servers, enabling them to meet more elastic workload demands.

The new Xeon Gold chips also both promise up to 1.76x improvements to NFV workloads, according to Intel, as well as the option to assign a subset of their cores to handle high-priority virtualised workload acceleration.

To accompany the new processors, Intel also unveiled a new range of Intel Ethernet 800 Series controllers and adapters, which will be hitting production lines in Q3 this year. These networking components will support maximum speeds of 100Gb/sec, and will also make application response times more than 50% more predictable, with over 45% lower latency and thoughput improvements of more than 30% when running open source Redis – all through the implementation of Application Device Queues. They’ll also support iWARP and RoCE v2 Remote Direct Memory Access (RDMA), as well as dynamic device personalisation.

On the software side, the company introduced Intel Security Libraries for Data Center (Intel SecL-DC), providing an easier way for cloud companies to manage and deploy all of Intel’s hardware-rooted security technologies through a single set of tools and libraries which integrate with OpenStack, Kubernetes Extensions and Docker.

Edge computing is a growing area of interest for the cloud industry, and Intel isn’t ignoring it; the company launched a new range of Xeon D-1600 SoC processors for edge computing applications in high-density environments, including built-in QuickAssist and virtualisation tools. It also debuted its new line of Agilex FPGAs, built with a 10nm process andOptane support, aimed at hardware acceleration for edge computing.

Also updated was the company’s range of co-developed Select Solutions, produced in association with key partners to suit specific tasks. It launched new products geared towards AI, HPC and SAP HANA, as well as updates to its Microsoft SQL Server, Azure Stack HCI, VMware vSAN and more.

Apple launches TV, gaming and finance services


Adam Shepherd

26 Mar, 2019

Apple has launched a huge slate of new services, expanding the company’s presence in sectors such as video, news, gaming and finance.

Announced at a live event at the company’s Cupertino headquarters, the biggest news was the arrival of Apple’s long-expected TV streaming service, Apple TV+. The company has partnered with a laundry-list of top talent to create a slate of new original content, including new shows from Steven Spielberg, J.J. Abrams, Kumail Nanjiani and even Oprah Winfrey.

Apple TV+ will be arriving in Autumn. The service’s original programming will be ad-free and fully downloadable for offline viewing. Pricing and availability dates for the service are being withheld until Autumn.

This announcement was preceded by a number of updates surrounding the pre-existing Apple TV app, including the news that the app will be coming to smart TVs from the likes of Samsung, LG and Sony and that the service is expected to be available in 100 countries by the end of the year.

The Apple TV app will also include the ability to subscribe to and access streaming services from within the app, as well as the ability to purchase specific individual cable channels.

The company also announced Apple Arcade, a subscription service for games on its App Store. The company will be offering more than 100 exclusive games via Apple Arcade, which will not be available on other platforms, or for non-subscribing users. Apple Arcade will be launching in Autumn, although full pricing has yet to be announced.

One of the most shocking reveals was the introduction of Apple Card, a new financial offering that provides users with a full bank account, powered by Goldman Sachs and MasterCard. The digital card will be accessible through the Wallet app and is accepted anywhere that supports Apple Pay, offering 2% cashback on all purchases. The company is also providing a physical card, which will be cut from titanium and feature only the owner’s name, with no identifiers such as a signature or card number. Apple Card is coming to the US this Summer, but there’s currently no word on when (or if) it will be coming to the rest of the world.

Apple News was expanded too, with the addition of magazines, all of which have been specifically formatted and designed for iPhone and iPad, including digital features like video covers, integrated infographics and AI-driven content recommendations.

The service – which, like the new TV package, is dubbed Apple News+ – will also include select newspapers like the Wall Street Journal and the LA Times, as well as a handful of digital publications. Apple News+ will be an additional subscription of $9.99 per month with free Family Sharing included as standard. It will be coming to the UK in Autumn, with UK pricing yet to be announced.

The announcements distinctly underscore Apple’s ongoing pivot from hardware sales to services and subscriptions as its primary revenue driver. The company has been experiencing a slowdown in growth as sales of recent iPhone models continue to perform below expectations.

Services like Apple Music and the App Store, meanwhile, have become a substantial chunk of the company’s revenue – a chunk that it will be hoping to augment with the addition of several new streams.

Microsoft launches cloud-native security management tool Azure Sentinel


Adam Shepherd

1 Mar, 2019

Microsoft has announced a new inbuilt security information and event management (SIEM) tool for its Azure cloud customers, which promises to use AI to slash the number of alerts that security teams need to respond to.

The new tool, dubbed ‘Azure Sentinel’, will help infosec professionals monitor and defend their cloud environments by collating all of their security logs and threat data in one place. As well as information from Office 365 and Azure, customers will be able to process data from partners such as F5 Networks, Cisco, Palo Alto Networks, Symantec, Fortinet and more, including partners outside the security sector.

Unsurprisingly, Microsoft is touting the speed and scale that the cloud can offer as one of the biggest benefits of this service, promising it allows customers to “invest your time in security and not servers”. In a blog post announcing the new product, the corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Cybersecurity Solutions Group Ann Johnson boasted that early adopters of the product have seen up to 90% reductions in ‘alert fatigue’ – although she neglected to mention how this was measured.

“Azure Sentinel is the product of Microsoft’s close partnership with customers on their journey to digital transformation,” Johnson wrote “We worked hand in hand with dozens of customers and partners to rearchitect a modern security tool built from the ground up to help defenders do what they do best – solve complex security problems. Early adopters are finding that Azure Sentinel reduces threat hunting from hours to seconds.”

While other companies like Splunk and Sumo Logic have previously unveiled cloud-based SIEM tools, Microsoft says that it’s the first major cloud provider to offer one as an integrated part of its portfolio.

Azure Sentinel is currently available in preview via the Azure portal; the product is currently free to use, with future pricing to be announced at a later date. Microsoft has also said that there may be additional charges for automation workflows, machine learning model customisation and data ingestion, importing Office 365 data will be free.

The company also announced a tool that allows customers to call in the cavalry in the event of a security crisis. Microsoft Threat Experts, a new capability which will be introduced to Windows Defender ATP, allows customers to call on the expertise of Microsoft’s own security specialists, who will scour your (anonymised) security data to identify the most pressing threats to your organisation.

Customers can apply to join the service through their Windows Defender ATP settings and once approved, can access it via a button in the console labelled ‘Ask a Threat Expert’.