All posts by Bobby Hellard

Six Nations broadcasts to get AWS machine learning stats

Bobby Hellard

22 Jan, 2020

The Six Nations rugby tournament is expanding its partnership with AWS to add live in-game analytics during this season’s broadcast of the competition.

Fans will be placed “at the tactics board”, according to AWS, with five new statistical features that analyse key segments of the game.

This follows on from the 2019 Championships, where AWS technology provided fans with insights into scrummages, play patterns, try origins and team trends with statistics generated by data gathered during the games. This is streamed and analysed by AWS platforms like SageMaker and then delivered as insights back to the live TV broadcasts.

“The introduction of the advanced statistics – powered by AWS – in the 2019 Guinness Six Nations Championship was just the start of how we are planning to change the game of rugby through advanced in-game analytics,” said Ben Morel, CEO of Six Nations Rugby.

“This year will see the introduction of even more engaging and informative stats that bring fans even closer to the action. With these innovations, together with AWS, we are seeking to significantly enhance the viewing experience for all rugby fans by providing them with unique data-led insights.”

These have been developed in partnership with data analytics firm Stats Perform and the Amazon Machine Learning Solutions Lab (as well as SageMaker). One of the first new features will be a heatmap of the pitch that illustrates where most of the action is taking place. This will also “visualise” where a team is turning over possession, according to AWS.

Tackling will also be analysed with machine learning models that will map out the location of success and highlight areas that should be exploited. Fans will also be able to “visit the 22” with insights into how successful a team is at entering the oppositions 22-metre area. This will be calculated for every phase of play, with the aim of gaining deeper insight into how long a team stays in the attacking area, how many opportunities it creates and how many it converts.

When it comes to conversions, kicks from the side of the pitch are extremely difficult and with AWS Kick predictor, machine learning will inform fans just how difficult they are. According to AWS, the calculation happens in real-time, during a break in play while the kicker sets himself up. It takes into account a number of real-time, in-game factors, such as the location of the kick, the period of the game it’s being taken, the current score and if the kicking team is playing home or away.

Additionally, it analyses other historical data, for example, the average success rate of the kicking player in the given field zone, during the Championship and during the player’s entire career.

This is very similar to the NFL Next Gen stats platform that predicts the likely success of passes from a quarterback. It also further expands AWS’ portfolio of sports partnership after its recent deal with the German Bundesliga and its deep ties with Formula 1.

Lufthansa to tackle flight delays with Google Cloud migration

Bobby Hellard

21 Jan, 2020

German airline Lufthansa will use Google Cloud services to minimise disruptions caused by flight delays and other irregularities.

The two companies will build an AI-based platform that will suggest scenarios to return to a stable flight plan should adverse weather or flight delays impact customers.

The company will be migrating data from various parts of its business that are relevant to flight schedules, such as aircraft replacements and its crews work patterns.

In the future, it will be possible to offer faster rebooking possibilities across all Lufthansa services, the airline said.

A joint team of operations experts, developers and engineers from the Lufthansa and software engineers from Google Cloud will be developing and testing the appropriate platform, with a test launch set to take place in Zurich with SWISS.

“Through this collaboration, we have a significant opportunity to revolutionise the future of airline operations,” said Thomas Kurian, CEO for Google Cloud. “We’re bringing the best of Lufthansa Group and Google Cloud together to solve airlines biggest challenges and positively impact the travel experience of the more than 145 million passengers that fly annually with them.”

A number of companies have already begun the AI revolution of airlines, such as British Airways and its AI-powered robots that aim to help reduce congestion and help customers with queries at Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 5.

The two bots will take part in a trial, which is part of a wider, five-year plan to improve customer experience. This is backed by a £6.5 billion investment, which has also seen BA roll out 3D printing, driverless baggage vehicles, and other innovations such as automated check-in desks and more.

At Heathrow, traffic controllers are trialling AI technology that could see the proposed third runway built without the need for a new control tower.

The airport has said that a 2.5 million “digital tower laboratory“, with a suite of ultra-high definition cameras and AI technology, has been built at the base of Heathrow’s existing tower.

Google-parent Alphabet now worth $1 trillion

Bobby Hellard

17 Jan, 2020

Google’s parent company Alphabet has become the fourth US tech company to reach a market value of $1 trillion (£765 billion), ending trading at $1,451.70 per share on Thursday.

It will hold a quarterly conference to discuss Q4 and 2019 financial results on 3 February but Wall Street Analysts are expecting it to report revenue of $46.9 billion – up 20% year-on-year.

Alphabet is now part of a US tech elite with Apple, Amazon and Microsoft all having reached the $1 trillion market cap over the past two years. The iPhone maker was the first to surpass the mark in August 2018 with Amazon hitting it a month later. Microsoft was the third company, doing so in April 2019.

Like Amazon and Microsoft, revenues from its cloud ventures are believed to have heavily contributed to Alphabet’s overall growth, with the Google Cloud Platform doubling it’s revenue run rate to £2 billion per quarter between February 2018 and July 2019, according to CNBC.

Cloud, Google’s Play app store and Google’s hardware division have all been key drivers for the company, according to its earnings report. In Q3 of 2019, revenue from these segments of the business increase 39% year-on-year.

Sundar Pichai’s recent promotion to CEO of Alphabet has also helped to increase optimism among stockholders, according to Pivotal Research Group analyst Michael Levine.

“We are incrementally more constructive about what we perceive as multiple ways to get paid under the recently appointed Pichai regime,” Levine wrote, as reported by Markets Insider. His evaluation is reportedly based on an estimate of Alphabet’s 2021 EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization).

Pichai took over as CEO of both Alphabet and Google after co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin stepped down in December. The change of leadership offers “the most optionality for multiple expansion for the stock we have seen in years,” according to Levine, who also sighted Thomas Kurian‘s helm of Google’s cloud business as a positive sign.

Does blockchain have a place in business?

Bobby Hellard
Cloud Pro

16 May, 2018

Every day, more and more blockchain stories find their way into news feeds as the technology is implemented into the industry in some form or another.

It’s a distributed database that can be used to store ordered records in real-real time, called blocks, which are linked and secured using cryptography, which is the ‘chain’ part.

The technology has long been associated with Bitcoin, which is one of the world’s most popular cryptocurrencies and is the original use for blockchain. The first blockchain was conceptualised by the pseudonymous Satoshi Nakamoto in 2008 who implemented it into Bitcoin.

In recent years, more applications and use-cases have arisen due to the technologies fundamental secure by design and decentralised architecture Because of this, it has grown as an effective way to store important, timely data such as names, identities, medical records, and, of course, financial transactions.

Despite the obvious benefits and clear evolution of the technology, it’s still in the early stages and has yet to have won the world over. But, there are many who believe it could have the capacity to completely transform business.

Wide business applications

A common presumption around blockchain is that its only application is cryptocurrency. But this is far from the reality, with businesses and organisations constantly exploring new avenues of how this technology can help streamline operations and processes, especially with regards to organising critical information.

Blockchain is changing the cards for storing, distributing and transacting data, according to WhiteHat Security’s security manager Ruchika Mishra. She expects blockchain to transform the financial sector particularly in the next few years; used to ensure institutions conduct transactions more efficiently.

“Despite blockchain technology underpinning cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, the concept of a de-centralised and cryptographically secured ledger has multiple business applications. Any ‘asset’ that can be stored, distributed or transacted property titles, music, insurance and even personal data could make use of blockchain technology,” she says.

“The technology shows great promise for improving the financial industry’s efficiency. For example, the three-day wait on ‘pending’ transactions could be eliminated if a distributed ledger were implemented. This is because a public registry, such as blockchain, would remove the need for a central authority to verify the identities of all parties in the transaction. Settlement could then be instantaneous, since the transaction and settlement would happen simultaneously once the ledger is updated,” she adds.

Mishra can also see blockchain having a positive impact on identity management, providing companies with a way to control who has access to valuable information and ensuring it’s protected from cyber criminals. This is something that’s crucial for firms, especially as the number of cyber attacks carried out each year is constantly increasing.

“An alternative business application is to use blockchain technology for identity management. As we go through our lives, each snippet of our digital identity is being collected to form a publicly-obtainable digital profile of us. Blockchain technology could help us take control back over our virtual data: who has access to it and how much they can obtain. This could be a great leap forward for privacy protection,” she says.

High-growth industry

Blockchain is an emerging technology and one that’s advancing rapidly, with people quickly realising the potential it offers. Sam Davies, lead technologist at UK tech industry growth organisation Digital Catapult, says blockchain will grow immensely over the next decade. In the 2020s, it’ll be an industry generating billions, many predict.

“The impact Blockchain will have on business over the next 10 years will be transformational. This distributed ledger technology will completely reimagine the way data and transactions are recorded and processed,” he tells IT Pro.

“Well-known for its applications in fintech, this disruptive technology is growing at an unprecedented rate with potential reaching far beyond finance. Gartner predicts that by 2022 a blockchain-based business will be worth $10 billion, and the technology itself will be established as the next revolution in transaction recording.”

Davies believes that as blockchain technology improves, it will become an integral part of the business world and Internet of Things (IoT) industry. “As the underlying blockchain infrastructure matures, businesses are presented with a great opportunity to implement increasingly automated and intelligent smart contracts,” he says.

“This, for example, offers the potential to redefine what the IoT can deliver. By taking away the need for a centralised broker, the distributed, decentralised nature of IoT devices can be reflected in any underlying access, management or marketplace systems,” he adds.

Streamlining government and banking

Jason Ward, senior director of enterprise UK&I at Dell EMC, says blockchain can streamline clearing processes and internal operations for banks. There’s also huge potential for governments right around the world, such as civil servants using blockchain to combat fraud, error and the cost of paper-based systems.

“Blockchain offers the promise of addressing some of the key challenges faced by the financial sector and offers a way of improving central clearing, back office operations and cross-border payments. If banks started sharing data using a tailor-made version of Blockchain, they could essentially remove the need for a lot of manual processing, and speed up transactions,” Ward explains.

Governments are also starting to explore the possibilities of blockchain, he says, as exemplified by a recently-published report from the Office for Science, which recommended the UK government begins work to exploit distributed ledger technology in the public sector.

“The report highlighted how distributed ledger technology could provide governments with new tools to reduce fraud, error and the cost of paper intensive processes,” explains Ward. “Of course, there is a need for more education if we are to ensure policy makers understand how it works and its potential applications, independently from bitcoin.”

“Blockchain has the potential to help drive unprecedented opportunities for innovation, as well as new and better ways to interact with citizens and businesses, and more efficient regulatory initiatives.”

Challenges ahead

James Lowry, EMEA head of state at Street Global Exchange, is also a believer in blockchain technology. He says it’ll transform the global financial system, but there are still some challenges the biggest of which is cyber security.

“Blockchain is one of the more compelling vehicles in terms of technological disruption and opportunity because it could create a single source of truth for transactions and other types of shared data. We believe that this could have far-reaching consequences for the global financial system,” Lowry says.

“There are some challenges,” he adds. “One is that blockchain must show that it has the wherewithal to withstand a major cyber attack. Its cryptography does provide a strong element of security but it is unlikely to be infallible against all cyber threats. Secondly, numerous firms are creating their own private blockchains, which is somewhat contrary to the idea of a public, shared blockchain.”

But, in the end, the technology will evolve and even more benefits will be realised.

“While the industry is still far from realising the full impact of blockchain and other emerging technologies within financial services, if we can make blockchain the internet of financial services, we all benefit particularly if it allows for real-time settlement across different geographies and currencies,” concludes Lowry.

Banco Sabadell signs up to 10-year IBM deal

Bobby Hellard

15 Jan, 2020

Spain’s Banco Sabadell has agreed on a €1 billion (£852.5 million) digital transformation deal with IBM to overhaul its IT systems over the next ten years.

The bank will migrate to a hybrid cloud infrastructure, developed by IBM’s Red Hat unit, which it acquired in 2019.

The deal is an extension of an existing partnership between the two companies that will see IBM transform Sabadell’s technological infrastructure into an advanced platform, able to integrate all its data and applications and facilitate a centralised single customer view.

Sabadell is aiming to upgrade its computer systems to be more efficient as it handles more data and transactions from customers. The bank has also prioritised security and a readiness to adapt to regulatory changes as digitisation sweeps through the industry.

“As the financial sector develops its digitalisation process in a highly regulated environment, banks need to combine a huge capacity for customer-focused innovation with a technological environment that offers maximum levels of solidity, resilience and security,” said Marta Martinez, president of IBM Spain, Portugal, Greece and Israel.

“An open hybrid cloud platform, created and managed with in-depth knowledge of the financial sector, is the best possible foundation for confronting these challenges.”

According to Sabadell’s CEO, Jamie Guardiola Romojaro, the deal will not only increase its resilience, security and scalability but also help the bank adopt key elements of the new technologies and processes such as cloud, intensive use of data and artificial intelligence.

In November, IBM announced a deal with Bank of America to develop “the world’s first financial services-ready public cloud”. Like the Sabadell deal, the public cloud platform was said to be built using services acquired through its Red Hat deal.

The deal also extends to UK bank TSB, which is a subsidiary of Banco Sabadell and has previously worked with IBM during its 2018 meltdown nightmare. A report from IBM suggested that the bank didn’t carry out rigorous enough testing of its new systems.

German football league picks AWS to score with real-time data

Bobby Hellard

14 Jan, 2020

Germany’s top football league has partnered with AWS to bring more in-depth insight into live broadcasts and enable more personalised fan experiences.

The Bundesliga will use a range of machine learning, analytical and storage services to build a statistical platform to provide viewers with real-time information on player statistics, game outcomes and predictions on future play. 

The league has the highest average number of goals per game and the highest stadium attendance globally, according to AWS, and the partnership is about improving the fan experience. It also makes Bundesliga the first soccer organisation in Europe to work with Amazon’s cloud computing arm.

“Innovation means challenging the status quo,” said Christian Seifert, CEO of the Bundesliga. “Working closely with AWS significantly enhances the investment we’ve made in innovation over the past two decades, all of which contributes to us being able to deliver a world-class football experience for our fans.”

A number of sporting organisations have taken on such digital transformation projects, using some of the biggest technology companies around. AWS has had plenty of success in this regard, with deep partnerships in Basketball, Formula 1 and the National Football League (NFL).

Real-time statistics

For fans of Germany’s top division, the work AWS has done with the NFL is arguably the closest example of what they can expect. 

With the NFL, during live games, broadcasters can pull up statistics as the game develops. The available pass options a quarterback has will appear on the screen as a graphic; each receivable player will have a percentage for the likelihood they will catch the pass in their given situation.

The Bundesliga system will be based on a similar concept, with the goal of providing insightful information on how likely a goal is to be scored or highlight how teams are positioning and controlling the field.

Such smart real-time functions will be powered by Amazon SageMaker – a managed service that can build, train and deploy machine learning models – which will come up with its predictions and insights through analysing historical data from more than 10,000 Bundesliga games, as well as live match data. 

Match day-ready machine learning 

Other AWS machine learning systems will also be used by Bundesliga. Amazon Personalise, which is used to create individually personalised recommendations in real-time, will be used to offer fans personalised footage, and search results based on their favourite teams, players or matches, as well as serving up tailored marketing promotions. 
However, processing all the information could be an arduous task for Bundesliga’s IT team, so to optimise such operations, Amazon’s Rekognition facial recognition technology will be put to the task. 

Bundesliga will create a cloud-based media archive with Rekognition being used to automatically tag specific frames with metadata on the players, team, game, and venue. This will avoid the need for the manual tagging of some 150,000 hours worth of video, and will make it easier to search for historical match footage and “pivotal plays” to be added into in-game broadcasts. 

As such, Amazon’s cloud-based machine learning services will not only help Bundesliga provide its football fans with a new way to receive match and league information, but also streamline the way the football league accesses and handles its match and team data. 

With cloud platforms and services being ever-more capable and accessible, Bundesliga is yet another example of how the cloud can be used to drive digital transformation in an organisation, whether that involves overhauling archaic IT systems or finding new ways to deliver services to customers.

Warner Bros turns to AI to greenlight movies

Bobby Hellard

9 Jan, 2020

Warner Bros will trial a machine-learning platform to help predict how movies will perform at the box office. 

The iconic film studio said it will use Cinelytics’ AI and cloud-based project management system to inform its decision around talent valuations and release strategies.

Cinelytic is a Hollywood-based business that applies machine-learning models to licensed performance data from the box office, home rentals and even pirated downloads, which it cross-references with information about genres, seasonal release dates and even actors. 

The company claims it can predict the economic value of a film and potentially the total revenues it will have over its lifetime. The deal is only a trial at the moment and will only involve the international side of the studio. 

“Warner Bros is excited to employ Cinelytic’s cutting-edge system,” said Tonis Kiis, Senior VP for international pictures at Warner Bros. “In our industry, we make tough decisions every day that affect what – and how – we produce and deliver films to theatres around the world, and the more precise our data is, the better we will be able to engage our audiences.”

Cinelytics’ platform is a subscription-based interface that works like a questionnaire, similar to an online insurance form. Users can enter information about their projects, such as budget, who is in it, who is directing, when and where it’s being released and the machine learning algorithms match that its dataset. 

The company’s CEO Tobias Queisser spoke to IT Pro last year and used the movie Hellboy as an example. Before its release, Queisser’s team ran the film’s information through the platform and its estimated box office takings were $23.3 million – less than half of its $50 million budget. 

It earned $21.8 million and the reason appeared to be the timing of its release. The film came out in a comic book-heavy spring schedule between DC’s Shazam and  Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame.

Insight Partners snaps up Veeam for $5bn

Bobby Hellard

9 Jan, 2020

Data management firm Veeam has been acquired by software investors Insight Partners in a deal worth approximately $5 billion.

The change will see the Swiss firm become a US company, with an American leadership team take the helm.

Veeam offers backup solutions for cloud data management. According to the latest IDC Software Tracker, it’s the number one market share leader in EMEA and number four in the world, behind Dell, Veritas and IBM.

The deal will be completed by the end of the first quarter of 2020 and will enable Veeam to expand its hybrid cloud platform.

“Veeam’s strong growth, coupled with high customer retention, unparalleled data management solutions and the opportunities to expand services into new markets, make it one of the most exciting software companies in the world today,” said Mike Triplett, Insight Partners managing director.

“We are committed to supporting Veeam’s next phase of leadership and growth in the United States, continued market-share leadership position in EMEA and continued global expansion,” Triplett said. 

As part of the deal, former chief of staff to the VP of the United States, Nick Ayers will join Insight Partners managing director Mike Triplett and Veeam CEO, William H. Largent on the board. Co-Founders Andrei Baronov and Ratmir Timashev will step down. Additionally, Insight Partners managing directors Ryan Hinkle and Ross Devor will each serve on the Board once the acquisition has been completed.

“With the acquisition, we are excited that our current US workforce of more than 1,200 will be expanded and strengthened to acquire and support more customers,” said Largent. “Veeam has one of the highest calibre global workforces of any technology company, and we believe this acquisition will allow us to scale our team and technology at an unrivalled pace.”

Microsoft has an edge on AWS, according to IT executives

Bobby Hellard

8 Jan, 2020

Microsoft is the most popular supplier of public cloud services and is continuing to gain on AWS, according to research.

What’s more, the tech giant’s cloud platform, Azure, is expected to dominate the market over the next three years.

This is according to a survey of over 100 IT executives from Global 2000 companies, conducted by financial giant Goldman Sachs. Of the executives surveyed, 56  said they were using Azure for cloud infrastructure, with only 48 saying they used AWS.

The research focused on cloud infrastructure and platform as a service, an area in which Goldman Sachs analysts said Microsoft has been in the lead since December 2017, with its popularity growing with each passing year.

This growth it set to continue, according to the survey, with 66 CIOs suggesting their companies will be using Azure more than any other cloud in the next three years.

“Respondents expect today’s top vendors to continue to dominate the rankings in three years. Microsoft remains the clear leader, with 22% of the votes today and in three years respectively,” the analysts wrote.

Since taking becoming CEO, Satya Nadella has helped to change Microsoft’s focus towards cloud services for business and in recent years the company has made up lots of ground on the overall market leader, AWS.

In April last year, Microsoft briefly hit a $1 trillion market cap for the first time, buoyed by 73% growth in its Azure cloud business. Its strategy has focused on large enterprise companies, business-friendly features and a more collaborative attitude with its cloud platform.

This is in contrast to AWS, which is a favourite of startups and encourages companies to go all-in on its services.

The analysts concluded that about 23% of IT workloads are now on public clouds, which was at 19% in June. They expect the number to rise to 43% in the next three years which could open opportunities for other cloud providers, such as Google.

Google services knocked offline after fibre cables cut

Bobby Hellard

20 Dec, 2019

Fibre optic cables in two separate areas were cut at the same time on Thursday morning, leaving parts of Eastern Europe, Iran and Turkey without internet access.

The severing of cables belonging to a third-party telecommunications provider resulted in a loss of connectivity for Google between Bulgaria and the rest of its production network. The issue lasted for two hours and took down Google’s services in those regions.

Sadjad Bonabi, a director at Iran’s Communications Infrastructure Company, told the BBC that two cuts happened at once: one between Iran and Bucharest and the other on a line to Munich.

Multiple cuts to fibre optic cables happening at the same time is a very rare occurrence, according to Google, which also said it has now launched an investigation into the incident.

“The issue with multiple simultaneous fibre cuts affecting traffic routed through Google’s network in Bulgaria has been resolved for all affected users as of 2019-12-19 2:36 US/Pacific,” Google Cloud’s status dashboard said. “Google services were not reachable for users who were accessing these Google services primarily through our Bulgaria network point of presence.”

“We have identified the root cause and routed affected traffic around the impacted parts of our network. We are conducting an internal investigation and will provide a detailed public incident summary at a later date.”

The UK has also experienced a number of incidents involving cable theft or damage throughout 2019. In August and September a spate of attacks on broadband cabling in Cambridgeshire left 4,000 homes and businesses without internet access, with 500 metres of copper wiring stolen as a result.