All posts by Bobby Hellard

Box updates bring collaboration and security improvements for remote workers

Bobby Hellard

18 Sep, 2020

Box has revealed a slew of integrations and updates designed to help users manage and secure their workflows from anywhere.

The new features include integrations with Apple and Microsoft Teams, collaboration updates, and some new security and compliance settings within Box Shield.

Revealing the updates at the company’s BoxWorks conference, CEO Aaron Levie said that it has never been more challenging for enterprises to both secure their data and keep up with the pace of business.

“Our vision has always been to provide a central source of truth for your content in the cloud,” sai Levie. “At BoxWorks Digital, we’re enhancing that vision with innovation that will make it incredibly easy to collaborate on a single platform that’s secure, simple to use, easy to manage, and that extends to all the apps your teams use every day.”

Earlier in the year, Box introduced a feature that allowed users to create annotations in the Box web app. As of Thursday, this feature is now also available on iOS and fully supports the Apple Pencil. With it, users can highlight text and images, or leave a comment on the preview of a document.

Box has also expanded its integration with Microsoft Teams with users able to choose a Box folder to be synced automatically with a Microsoft Teams chat group. Users can also instantly grant access to Box files from within Teams and receive Box notifications related to content activity.

With more emphasis on remote working, Box has also updated some security and compliance protocols within its automated security hub, Box Shield. It starts with a new policy exception feature, which must be opted-into at corporate level. It allows employees to suggest policy exceptions by providing a business justification, which is then recorded for auditing purposes. This is expected to be made available to Box Shield customers sometime next year.

The company is also adding event-based retention to its content lifecycle management toolset. With this, users will be able to retain and migrate files for a configurable amount of time depending on their business needs. This includes changing schedules for the migration of files after a client account is closed, a contract expires, or an employee leaves the company.

UK’s WANdisco partners with AWS to drive cloud migration projects

Bobby Hellard

17 Sep, 2020

Cloud specialist WANdisco has partnered with Amazon Web Services (AWS) to launch a rapid self-service data migration tool, in a deal that’s seen as a major win for the UK cloud industry.

The ‘LiveData Migrator’ lets companies move any size of on-premises data to AWS within minutes and without the need of engineers or specialists.

WANdisco, a publicly listed company with dual headquarters in Sheffield and California that specialises in distributed computing, is already an ‘Advanced Technology Partner’ in the AWS network and its LiveData Migrator services has also achieved AWS Migration Competency status – which requires a proven level of technical proficiency and customer success.

It is one of four AWS partners to collaborate on migration requirements for use cases including Hadoop, storage and database data migration, and mainframe data integration.

One of the first to use the LiveData Migrator is website hosting platform GoDaddy, which shifted 500 terabytes of Hadoop Distributed File System (HDFS) data to Amazon S3.

“We found that WANdisco’s LiveData Migrator delivered the best time to value solution in the use case of a Hadoop to Amazon S3 data migration and replication,” said GoDaddy chief data and analytics officer Wayne Peacock.

“Rather than running an internal time-consuming and costly manual migration project, using LiveData Migrator has helped us avoid disruption to our production processes and made 70 TB of data immediately available for Amazon S3 testing.”

Migrating large data volumes with traditional approaches requires disrupting the operation of on-premises applications, but the LiveData Migrator works without any production system downtime or business disruption, according to WANdisco.

“Enterprises that want to move their data to the cloud but are concerned about the risks of doing so now have a powerful solution that’s self-service and extremely easy to use,” said WANdicso CEO David Richards.

“Regardless of company size or technical expertise, LiveData Migrator enables businesses to migrate their data risk-free to the cloud on a massive scale without any disruption to business operations. Data can be accommodated without any risk of data loss while modernising data and applications to stay competitive.”

Zoom will reportedly add ‘Slack-like’ chat functionality

Bobby Hellard

16 Sep, 2020

Zoom is reportedly working on a major update to the messaging functionality of its video conferencing platform to build a more ‘Slack-like’ service. 

The company has hired a “significant number of engineers” to move its basic text interface to a more advanced setup, according to The Information

Zoom is actually a partner of Slack and both services offer similar products, though each specialises in different segments. Slack is mostly a chat-based platform – though it does have low key video comm services, while Zoom is a rapidly growing video conferencing platform.

A lot of companies, particularly in the startup space, use both in tandem. 

However, as standalone services, both are rivals of Microsoft Teams which has both video conferencing and instant messaging capabilities. Slack has been heavily critical of Teams, calling it a “weak copycat product” when filling an antitrust complaint. Zoom, however, hasn’t voiced any concerns over Microsoft’s rival product – despite Microsoft reportedly labelling the firms as a “threat”. 

All three services have seen gains during the pandemic, particularly Zoom, with its revenue shooting up 355% year on year. Teams reportedly surpassed 44 million daily active users at the very start of lockdown, but Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield argued that the figure was inflated by the fact Teams was bundled into Office 365, suggesting it was anti-competitive.

Slack’s own revenue has seen a sharp decline with growth falling 32% compared to the 49% recorded in Q1. 

The general consensus seems to be that Slack is falling behind Teams, and unless its antitrust complaint is successful, its growth could be hampered. The company recently launched a service for adding external organisation to channels, called ‘Slack Connect‘, which is seen as a big play to kill off email. 

The current chat capabilities on Zoom already resembles Teams, though it doesn’t have ‘channels’ and seems more like a rudimentary instant messaging service. It does, however, sync with Google services. 

Microsoft retrieves underwater data centre after two years

Bobby Hellard

15 Sep, 2020

Microsoft has retrieved a data centre from the ocean floor, just off the coast of Orkney, Scotland, and early signs show that the project was a successful moonshot. 

Of the 864 servers onboard, Microsoft reports that only eight faulted, which is an eighth of the failure rate of a typical land-based data centre.

A team from Microsoft sank the cylindrical storage container, called “project Natick“, in 2018. It was loaded with 12 server racks and ocean water was used to keep the servers cool. The container was also sealed and filled with nitrogen, which is not as corrosive to computer equipment as oxygen.

The Natick research team are now conducting tests on the data centre to see what they can learn from the experiment and how it could help to solve environmental problems raised by conventional data centres.  

“Computers are not designed to work in the environment we humans operate,” said Spencer Fowers, principal researcher for project Natick. “Things like oxygen, moisture in the air, that is really bad for computers, it causes corrosion on the components. 

“You also get temperature fluctuations. The heat from night to day, summer to winter, can cause those components to fail so we had this theory: if we’re in a really stable environment, we’re in this cylinder, we’ve taken all the oxygen out, controlled the humidity, no one’s walking around, bumping into things, causing additional failures, we’d see better reliability.” 

The concept of an underwater data centre first came up at Microsoft’s 2014 ‘ThinkWeek’ as a way to provide fast cloud services to coastal populations. With more than half of the world’s population living within 120 miles of a coast, localised hubs would give data a shorter distance to travel, leading to smoother, faster services. 

Once it was hauled out of the sea, the container was cleaned and air-samples were retrieved. The data centre was then loaded onto a truck and driven to a facility in the North of Scotland, where the server racks were slid out so Fowers and his team could perform health checks and collect components to send to Microsoft for analysis.

Among the components boxed up and sent were the failed servers and related cables. The researchers think this hardware will help them to understand why the servers in the underwater data centre are seemingly more reliable than those on land.

For the desperate, the cloud is there, but the hardware is not

Bobby Hellard

10 Sep, 2020

In 2009, during the most brutal part of the recession caused by the global financial crisis, I found myself unemployed, unqualified and without a laptop. 

For six months, my life was held together through financial support from family, job recommendations from friends and daily trips to the local library for a mere hour on the internet. 

Although I fondly remember it as the year I decided to embark on a career in journalism, I can’t help but think myself extremely lucky to have been able to access cloud services through the library. Because without that my life might have gone in a very grim direction.

With those precious internet hours, I did career research, CV workshops, job applications and even some social media networking. Those were the slow and frustrating initial steps I needed to take to get off the bottom and into a career. The first job was horrendous, but when my first payday came I bought a very basic laptop for £200. It served me well, helping me gradually move up the job ladder over the near decade I owned it, as well as seeing me through a number of online courses. And while I can’t remember the brand, nor would I likely recognise it if I saw it, it will always have a special place in my heart.  

You see, while the cloud is free and you pretty much get all you need to get started when you sign up to a Gmail account, the hardware to access it isn’t. For many, particularly the types of people who make up little library communities, limited access to computers is a barrier to a better life.  

It’s not just job-seekers who face this problem, either. According to research by the National Union of Students (NUS), a third of university students were unable to access online learning during the coronavirus lockdown, with disabled students and those from poor backgrounds being worst affected. Among the reasons for this were insufficient course materials, poor internet connections and (surprise, surprise) a lack of IT equipment and software. 

There used to be a government scheme that acknowledged this problem and sought to remedy it by providing low-income households with £500 to put towards a home computer and broadband access. It was launched in 2008 and reportedly helped around 270,000 families over the course of its existence. But with the arrival of the new Conservative government in 2010 and its focus on austerity, the programme was axed and we’ve seen nothing like it since.

Right now, as we begin a new cycle of recession and the government tries to find ways of getting people back to work in the new normal, a £500 handout could feasibly pay for a laptop and some decent internet access. Hell, it could arguably get you an entry-level or second-hand smartphone, too. With these tools, the possibilities are only limited by the imagination. 

For me, getting the hardware I needed accelerated my route into journalism, for others it can be the first step on the path to becoming an entrepreneur.

Laptops and phones are also essential tools for remote working, which may be a barrier to some businesses right now. The cost of kitting out your small operation might be too much and it can turn into a decision to furlough staff, make them redundant or even close down your business if it can’t operate in these difficult times. However, with a little help from some hardware schemes, the government can accelerate some aspects of digital transformation. 

When I see the almost daily reports of mass job cuts now as a result of COVID-19, I can’t help but reflect on my own experience of unemployment. With the coronavirus still lurking, a trip to the library or an increasingly rare internet cafe might not be safe, but help for people to buy the hardware themselves could do wonders for equality and maybe even the economy.

IBM and Red Hat to build oil and gas industry hybrid cloud

Bobby Hellard

9 Sep, 2020

Schlumberger, IBM and Red Hat have joined forces to accelerate digital transformation across the oil and gas industry. 

The collaboration will initially focus on private, hybrid and multi-cloud deployments for Schlumberger’s own services with Red Hat OpenShift. This will then hopefully lead to the delivery of the first hybrid cloud implementation for the OSDU – an open data standard for the oil and gas industry. 

Schlumberger has committed to exclusively using Red Hat Openshift with the container platform deploying applications across all of its infrastructure, from traditional data centres to multiple clouds – including private and public. 

The organisation’s DELFI cognitive exploration and product (E&P) environment is a secure, cloud-based platform that uses data on all aspects of its value chain. It incorporates data analytics and AI, drawing upon multiple sources and automating workflows for seamless collaboration for its domain teams. 

The collaboration with IBM and Red Hat will allow many more oil and gas operators, suppliers and partners to work from the industry’s digital environment where they can ‘write once and run everywhere’, according to Schlumberger. 

The hope is that this new way of hosting will offer the possibility to use multiple cloud providers, addressing critical issues and facilitating in-country deployments in compliance with local regulations and data residency requirements.

“By expanding market access to the DELFI environment we take a major step forward on the journey to establishing the open and flexible digital environment our industry needs,” said Olivier Le Peuch, CEO of Schlumberger. 
“Our collaboration with IBM and Red Hat complements our established digital partnerships to produce an industry-first solution to overcome our customers’ challenges,” he added. “Together, we are enabling seamless access to a hybrid cloud platform in all countries across the globe for deployment in any basin, for any operator.”

Joker fleeceware “thriving” on Google Play Store, researchers claim

Bobby Hellard

3 Sep, 2020

Six apps have been deleted from the Google Play store after it was discovered they were infected with malware that simulates clicks and intercepts SMS messages to commit fraud.

Joker, also known as “Bread”, is a billing-fraud strain of malware that advertises itself as a legitimate app, according to security researchers at Pradeo.

The six apps account for nearly 200,000 installs and, despite confirmation of their removal from Google’s Play Store, researchers have suggested they are still installed on the devices of their users.

The researchers have urged users to immediately delete the apps: Convenient Scanner 2, Separate Doc Scanner, Safety AppLock, Push Message-Texting & SMS, Emoji Wallpaper and Fingertip GameBox.

Often described as ‘fleeceware’, this type of malware is designed to simulate clicks and intercept SMS text messages to trick users into subscribing to unwanted paid premium services. These types of malware generally have a fairly discreet footprint as they tend to use as little code as possible, making their fraudulent activity difficult to spot.

Apps that spread the Joker malware have continued to bypass Google security mechanisms since 2019 as those behind its spread are constantly updating its source code.

“Most apps embedding Joker malware are programmed to load and execute external code after being published on the store,” Pradeo researcher Roxane Suau said, speaking to Threatpost.

“First, these apps are riddled with permission requests and submitted to Google Play by their developers. They get approved, published and installed by users. Once running on users’ devices, they automatically download malicious code. Then, they leverage their numerous permissions to execute the malicious code.”

The malware has “thrived” on Google Play in 2020, according to the team. In January, researchers revealed that Google had removed 17,000 Android apps that had been conduits for the Joker malware, with 11 more removed in July.

Oracle loses $10bn JEDI contract appeal

Bobby Hellard

3 Sep, 2020

A US Court of Appeals has rejected Oracle’s challenge over the awarding of a $10 billion Pentagon cloud computing contract to Microsoft in 2019.

The decision affirmed a lower court ruling that Oracle wasn’t harmed by any errors made by the Pentagon while creating the contract proposal as the company qualify as a legitimate bidder, as reported by Bloomberg.

Oracle raised a number of complaints, including that the Pentagon violated its own rules when it set up the contract to be awarded to a single firm, arguing that by calling for extensive data centre capabilities it unfairly excluded Oracle from the process.

The company also filed a lawsuit against the Department of Defence (DoD) in December, arguing that there were conflicts of interest between former Pentagon and AWS employees.

However, before any decision on the contract was made, Oracle was removed from the bidding process in April 2020, as it failed to meet the requirement of having three data centres with FedRAMP Moderate ‘Authorised’ support – which has now been affirmed by the US Court of Appeal.

The panel did suggest that the conflict of interest allegations raised by Oracle were “troubling” but still ruled that it “had no effect on the JEDI Cloud solicitation”.

“Notwithstanding the extensive array of claims raised by Oracle, we find no reversible error,” circuit judge William Bryson wrote regarding the decision by the US Court of Federal Claims.

Although Microsoft was awarded the $10 billion Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) contract in November, work has been on hold following a successful appeal from rival bidder AWS. A Federal Claims judge said that the DoD had improperly evaluated a Microsoft storage price scenario and that the process should be reviewed.

AWS also cited other problems with the bidding, including “political influence” resulting from long-running feud between US President Donald Trump and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. These claims are still being weighed up by the courts with a 30-day extension put in place at the end of August.

Google-Facebook undersea cable to China cut short by US

Bobby Hellard

1 Sep, 2020

Plans for an underwater data cable between LA and Hong Kong have been scrapped after the US government suggested that China could use it to steal data.

The project is run by the Pacific Light Data Company and includes tech firms like Google and Facebook. 

The issue is that the Hong Kong section would have been managed by China’s Dr Peng Group, a firm the US government believes has a relationship with the Chinese intelligence and security services.

The project was first announced in 2016. At that time, Google said the cable would “provide enough capacity for Hong Kong to have 80 million concurrent HD video conference calls with Los Angeles”. To use the cable, however, companies need permission from the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Around 12,800 km (800 miles) of the cable has already been laid but, according to new plans submitted to the US communication authority, it now only links the US to the Philippines and Taiwan.

“We can confirm that the original application for the PLCN cable system has been withdrawn, and a revised application for the US-Taiwan and US-Philippines portions of the system has been submitted,” a spokeswoman for Google told the BBC. “We continue to work through established channels to obtain cable landing licenses for our undersea cables.”
FCC Commissioner Geoffery Stark said in a tweet that he “shared the concerns” of the US Department of Justice, adding that he would “continue to speak out” against China accessing data carried by the cables. 
Operation of the cable has been caught in the ongoing US-China trade war, which doesn’t seem to have an end in sight. 
A similar fibre-optic cable has been announced between the UK, US and Spain. The ‘Grace Hopper‘ cable will run from New York and split off to Bilbao in Spain and Cornwall in the UK.

Zoom revenues up 355% in second quarter of 2020

Bobby Hellard

1 Sep, 2020

Videoconferencing company Zoom reported strong second-quarter earnings with revenue up 355% year on year.

Shares in the firm rose as much as 25% in extended trading after beating analyst expectations for the three months ending 31 July. 

For the first quarter of 2020, just as the pandemic started to spread, Zoom reported revenue growth of 169%. New customer subscriptions brought in 81% of that growth, according to financial chief Kelly Stechleberg. 

In the following three months, however, Q2 revenue is more than double Q1 at £663.5 million, growing 355% compared to the same period in 2019. As such, the company has raised its full-year guidance.

Zoom is arguably one of the biggest beneficiaries of the global lockdown, capitalising on the sudden need to communicate remotely with work, friends and family. The firm averaged 148.4 million monthly active users in the second quarter, an increase of 4,700% year on year, according to CNBC.

At the same time, the firm was also hit by criticism regarding its security capabilities. A number of high-profile organisations, including the FBI, Google, and even the country of Taiwan, banned its use after multiple reports pointed to a lack of end-to-end encryption. There was also the rise of so-called Zoom bombing where third-parties could hack into meetings by accessing the ID number. 

The company has sought to fix these issues by recruiting security experts and tweaking its platform in various ways, but it looks to have avoided any real damage to its reputation. Zoom’s income neared $186 million, up from a mere $5.5 million a year ago. 

However, the company’s gross profit of 71% is still under the 80% range the firm operated at before free users adopted the service at the start of the pandemic. 

On a conference call with investors, Steckelberg said the company’s gross profits will remain in the same range as the fiscal second quarter for the rest of the fiscal year. She also added the company was experiencing slightly higher rates of customer cancellation than normal, but that these new rates had been factored into its forecast.