All posts by Bobby Hellard

Intel joins forces with Google Cloud for 5G edge services

Bobby Hellard

24 Feb, 2021

Intel and Google Cloud have announced a partnership that will see the two firms develop integrated services for network providers to develop 5G innovations across various platforms.

The collaboration is another step towards Intel’s goal to develop 5G networks with software-defined infrastructures and further evidence of Google Cloud’s ambitions in the 5G arena.

Telecom-based cloud architectures and integrated services from both Intel and Google Ccloud will help to accelerate scalable network and edge deployments, particularly with multi-cloud architectures. These are thought to be critical in achieving the full potential of 5G, edge computing and AI across many industries, such as manufacturing, retail and healthcare.

The partnership will focus on three areas, the first of which will be to aid the acceleration of Virtualised RAN (vRAN) and Open Radio Access Networks (ORAN) with infrastructure and hardware support. There will also be a Network Functions Validation lab to support vendors in testing, optimising, and validating their core network functions that run on Google Cloud’s Anthos for Telecom platform. The lab environment will also expand to help customers conceive, plan, and validate their 5G and edge application strategies.

The partnership also includes edge services developed with Intel’s compute-optimisation technology and blueprints to accelerate edge transformation in certain industries.

“The next wave of network transformation is fueled by 5G and is driving a rapid transition to cloud-native technologies,” said Dan Rodriguez, Intel corporate vice president and general manager of the network platforms group.

“As communications service providers build out their 5G network infrastructure, our efforts with Google Cloud and the broader ecosystem will help them deliver agile, scalable solutions for emerging 5G and edge use cases.”

Google Cloud has been very active in this space. The firm recently announced an initiative to deliver more than 200 partner applications to the edge via its network and 5G service.

Mindtree achieves Google Cloud partner status

Bobby Hellard

23 Feb, 2021

Mindtree has announced it has achieved the Application Development Partner Specialisation in Google Cloud’s Partner Advantage Programme. 

The ‘specialisation’ is an acknowledgement of the cloud firm’s expertise and success in building apps and services using the Google Cloud Platform.

Mindtree is an Indian-based tech with offices in Banglore and the US. The firm provides services for outsourcing, data analytics, e-commerce, mobile applications and cloud migrations. 

Google Cloud’s Partner Advantage Programme is designed to provide its customers with access to qualified companies that have demonstrated technical expertise and is designed for firms that show particular success in specialised service areas. For Mindtree, that specialism is in driving digital transformations with cloud migrations and application adoption. 

“Mindtree is committed to helping enterprises grow and scale their business leveraging Google Cloud’s world-class infrastructure and robust set of cloud solutions,” said Radhakrishnan Rajagopalan, the global head of customer success, data and intelligence at Mindtree.

“This recognition instils further confidence in enterprises seeking to migrate their legacy applications and workloads onto Google Cloud that Mindtree can effectively help an organisation drive their cloud adoption initiatives forward.”

Through its collaboration with Google Cloud, Mindtree has boosted its status as cloud migration and digital transformation specialists. For Google, it is further evidence of its cloud strategy to priorities migration and analytical services as it looks to cement its place as the third-biggest cloud provider. 

While they cannot match the sheer breadth of services offered by AWS, other providers like Google and IBM have taken different approaches and sought to specialise in areas of cloud computing,

In 2020, Google Cloud acquired a number of analytical firms and also migration specialists, such as Cornerstone Technologies and Looker. In May 2020, Google also announced that Splunk services were available in beta, with a full rollout later in the year. That partnership was also aimed at providing fast and reliable analytical services to Google Cloud customers. 

IBM reportedly mulls sale of Watson Health business

Bobby Hellard

22 Feb, 2021

IBM is reportedly considering a sale of Watson Health, its artificial intelligence-based medical data service, in order to further streamline its business. 

Talks are at an early stage, according to sources cited in The Wall Street Journal, and the tech giant is thought to be exploring all options.

The sale of Watson Health would be another significant change to IBM’s business under CEO Arvind Krishna. He has yet to complete his first full year in the role but has already overseen multiple acquisitions, including cloud monitoring service Instana and Salesforce consultancy 7Summits.

The company is also in the process of splitting its business in two, which will see its managed infrastructure services unit spun off into a separate entity with the IBM brand focusing on cloud computing.

It’s part of a wider strategy to gain market share in the hybrid cloud market, following the company’s $34bn acquisition of Red Hat in 2019. However, going forward, it appears that Watson Health isn’t part of those plans. The WSJ suggests the tech giant may still continue running the service, but it is in the early stages of pursuing a deal. The company is thought to be exploring a range of options from a sale to a merger with a ‘blank-check’ company. 

IT Pro has approached IBM for confirmation but had not received a response at the time of publication.

Watson Health helps medical providers manage and process data and it generates around $1 billion annually, but it isn’t thought to be profitable as yet. The service was launched with high expectations for revolutionising healthcare with artificial intelligence, with IBM aiming to speed up diagnoses for cancer and other serious conditions. 

However, Watson hasn’t seen much success in the healthcare sector, the WSJ notes, “in part because physicians were hesitant to adopt artificial intelligence”. This lead to IBM laying off a percentage of its Watson Health workforce back in 2018. 

Dropbox takes $400m hit after move to sublease office space

Bobby Hellard

19 Feb, 2021

Cloud storage firm Dropbox has reported a ‘one-off’ loss of $398.2 million in its fourth-quarter report, due to its decision to sublease most its office space as part of a remote work strategy.

The company announced in October that it would be shifting all of its employees to permanent remote work, with the company only using a small portion of its office space for occasional in-person collaboration. As a result, Dropbox then moved to sublease the rest of its space to the market.

The cloud firm, which has leases in San Francisco, Seattle, Austin, and Ireland, noted in its Q4 results that it had incurred impairment charges of $398.2 million after an assessment of its current real estate was downgraded.

“We reassessed our real estate asset groups and estimated the fair value of the office space to be subleased using current market conditions,” the firm noted in its report. “Where the carrying value of the individual asset groups exceeded their fair value, an impairment charge was recognised for the difference. As a result, we recorded total impairment charges of $398.2 million in the fourth quarter of 2020 for right-of-use and other lease-related assets.” 

Although this is regarded as a ‘one-off’ loss, it stands as a significant slump for a company that would have otherwise recorded a strong 2020 performance. In Q1 the firm recorded a profit for the first time since it debuted on the stock market in 2018. With the spread of COVID and the swift change to remote working, the company reported further gains in Q2 and Q3, the latter of which saw net incomes of $32.7 million, almost double the figure reported in the same period a year before ($17.2m).

Dropbox notably decided not to implement the sort of ‘hybrid‘ work strategy that has become popular throughout the industry, where employees can choose to work from home or in the office. The company has maintained that hybrid work arrangements could create two different employee experiences that could ultimately create “barriers to inclusion” and career inequalities.

Instead, it’s ushering in a ‘Virtual First‘ strategy where remote is now the “primary” setup for all of its employees and the day-to-day default for individual work, with the remaining office space being used for occasional collaborative work. 

The firm is also planning to spread further afield with on-demand, collaborative spaces touted for other regions, although these are yet to be announced.

Google Cloud partners with Databricks for enterprise analytics

Bobby Hellard

18 Feb, 2021

Google Cloud has announced a new partnership with analytics firm Databricks to offer data-driven services to enterprise customers. 

The deal means businesses can now use Databricks to create a lakehouse capable of data engineering, data science, machine learning, and analytics on Google Cloud’s elastic network.

This will include integrations with BigQuery and Google’s Kubernetes Engine (GKE), opening up the chance to deploy Databricks in fully containerised cloud environments for the first time, according to Google. 

The deal is further evidence of Google’s cloud strategy to prioritise analytical tools and processes, which has been a key driver of its most recent acquisitions and new offerings

“Businesses with a strong foundation of data and analytics are well-positioned to grow and thrive in the next decade,” the Google Cloud CEO, Thomas Kurian, said. 

“By combining Databricks capabilities in data engineering and analytics with Google Cloud’s global, secure network – and our expertise in analytics and delivering containerised applications – we can help companies transform their businesses through the power of data.”

The pandemic has transformed businesses in ways that most experts thought technologies would do and as such, these technologies are now at the forefront of the so-called new normal. The key is scalability, specifically the ability to increase or reduce the use of certain services depending on the user’s needs. 

Google suggests its deployment of Databricks will offer a customisable service for analytics that can be customised to suit a businesses’ needs. The tight integration with Google BigQuery gives customers the freedom to choose a number of data analytics services in a range of sizes.

Similarly, Databricks for containerised workloads highlights one of the most rapidly evolving ways of working within the cloud. Kubernetes is swiftly becoming the de facto orchestration system for enterprise workloads and most AI and machine learning tools. 

Trello overhauls platform to cater to remote working

Bobby Hellard

17 Feb, 2021

Trello has completely redesigned its platform with a greater push towards multi-team collaboration and third-party integrations to cater to remote working trends

The workflow management service is also getting a refreshed design, but it’s the changes to its boards and cards that will be of most interest to enterprise customers. 

“We are building for an entirely new era of teamwork – where people live in different locations, but work stays connected,” Trello’s head of product, Michael Pryor wrote in a blog post. “This is the beginning of a whole new Trello.”

The cards within Trello have been tweaked to improve workflows and also increase integration with third-party services, such as Dropbox, Google Drive and Salesforce. 

‘Link’ cards can now preview content from sites like YouTube, Dropbox and even Instagram with just a simple copy and paste of a URL. There are also new ‘Board’ cards which can render a direct visual link to another board to connect projects across Trello.

The company has also announced that ‘Mirror’ cards will be coming in the next few months, enabling users to clone one card to appear on a number of other boards. An update to one of those cards then updates on all its copies. 

The wider platform has also been updated with ‘Views’ which adds more collaborative layers to the platform by providing a collection of new dashboards that show projects in a number of different forms. The first is ‘Timeline’, which as the name suggests, lets users see how different projects fit in a workflow. Similarly, ‘Calendar view’ will display start and due dates across a traditional calendar layout. 

If your workflow is too big and spans across multiple teams and boards, Trello’s new ‘Table view’ offers a more simplistic visual. It pulls cards in from selected boards across your team and displays them in a spreadsheet-style list that can be sorted and filtered down to your exact workload. 

For data-driven business, Trello’s new ‘Dashboard’ transforms workloads and projects into tables and charts. It ‘visualises’ key metrics, such as due date, card assignments and cards-per-list to offer a different look at your operation.

All the updates have been ushered in with a refreshed logo and platform design with greater use of pastel colours.

Microsoft is building a Teams tool that can tell if you’re bored during a video call

Bobby Hellard

12 Feb, 2021

Microsoft researchers are testing a new feature for Teams that aims to provide speakers on calls with a near-real-time assessment of the moods and reactions of their audience.

The ‘AffectiveSpotflight‘ is said to be built from a type of facial recognition algorithm that uses a neural network to capture and assess the expressions of call participants, monitoring for changes in emotions such as happiness, sadness and surprise.

The software is being developed by researchers across a number of Microsoft facilities in Redmond, Boston and Cambridge, MA, with findings expected to be revealed at Japan’s CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in May.

The system is said to be able to spot subtle movements, such as the shake of a head, a furrowed brow, and even a raised eyebrow. Each of these is then rated between 0 and 1, with positive emotions scoring higher. The person with the highest score is highlighted to the presenter, every 15 seconds.

The facial expressions of the participants are also matched to datasets in Microsoft’s Convolutional Neural Network (CNN), which has expression categories for anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, surprise, and neutral.

“Public speaking is often regarded as one of the most stressful daily activities and is heavily influenced by audience responses to the presenter,” the research states. “In fact, studies that seek to reliably induce acute stress on people often involve giving a presentation in front of a neutral-looking audience (a.k.a., Trier social stress test). While research on audience responses in online settings is still nascent, there is prior work considering the impact of in-person audience responses, especially in the context of alleviating public speaking anxiety.”

The feature isn’t available on Microsoft Teams as yet, but it is very much in keeping with recent updates to the platform that focuses on wellbeing and combating so-called ‘video call fatigue‘.

However, this may be seen as a somewhat overly technical solution to a problem that is fairly easily solved with feedback, and it isn’t difficult to imagine how this feature could create further anxiety as it tries to reduce it.

Volkswagen to tap Azure for self-driving software updates

Bobby Hellard

11 Feb, 2021

Volkswagen has extended its partnership with Microsoft to further boost the development of its self-driving car software.

The German automotive giant will use Azure services to update the software in its vehicles, as a way of gradually building up automated functions over time.

Volkswagen has developed some driver-assistance features in its current models, such as cruise control, through its software subsidiary Car.Software. However, the new deal with Microsoft is about tapping into the tech giant’s expertise with software updates.

With Volkswagen and Car.Software building the initial layer of software in its cars, it is hoped that Microsoft will be able to add more and more automated functions, in a way similar to the smartphone industry’s approach of adapting new features for older hardware.

“For our phones 15 or 20 years ago, when you bought it, it pretty much never changed. Now, we expected every week or every couple of days that, silently, there’s new features,” Scott Guthrie, executive vice president of cloud and artificial intelligence at Microsoft, told Reuters. “That ability to start to program the vehicle in richer and richer ways, and in a safe way, transforms how the experience works.”

This technique is already used by Tesla and is thought to be one of the main reasons why it was able to take the lead in the industry.

Volkswagen originally signed a deal with Microsoft in 2018 to connect its cars to Azure services, but the new agreement could help the German giant catchup to the likes of Telsa with ‘over-the-air updates’ using the industry’s second-largest cloud infrastructure provider.

“As we transform Volkswagen Group into a digital mobility provider, we are looking to continuously increase the efficiency of our software development,” said Dirk Hilgenberg, CEO of the Car.Software Organisation.

“We are building the Automated Driving Platform with Microsoft to simplify our developers’ work through one scalable and data-based engineering environment. By combining our comprehensive expertise in the development of connected driving solutions with Microsoft’s cloud and software engineering know-how, we will accelerate the delivery of safe and comfortable mobility services.”

Microsoft’s interest in Pinterest falls flat

Bobby Hellard

11 Feb, 2021

Microsoft has reportedly been in talks to acquire the social media firm Pinterest in recent months, although the company has so far been unable to secure a deal.

It’s the second time the tech giant has attempted to buy a large social media platform, with negotiations reportedly ending after Pinterest expressed a wish to remain independent, according to The Financial Times.

In the summer Microsoft also failed in a bid to take over Chinese video-sharing app TikTok, after the company was put up for sale to avoid a complete ban in the US. Microsoft ultimately lost out to Oracle and Walmart, though that deal is still yet to be completed.

Pinterest, however, is valued at around $51 billion (£36bn), which would not only have resulted in Microsoft’s biggest acquisition ever, but also likely one of the largest tech acquisitions in history – potentially only behind Dell’s $67 billion takeover of EMC in 2015. It would also have been the company’s most notable acquisition since it bought LinkedIn for around $26 billion in 2016.

It’s suggested that Microsoft is interested in amassing a portfolio of active online communities that can run on top of its Azure cloud platform, according to sources with knowledge of the deal, speaking to the Financial Times. Aside from LinkedIn, the other notable ‘community’ acquisitions in Microsoft’s portfolio are GitHub and Minecraft.

Owning a company with large numbers of active users, many of which post frequently, can provide valuable data for a business like Microsoft. LinkedIn data, for example, is used to customise other Microsoft apps and services, such as Outlook, which can show shared LinkedIn connections with your email contacts.

What exact use Microsoft would have had with Pinterest data is unknown, but the firm is rapidly growing with 459 million active users. It is also worth noting that the social media site currently relies on Amazon Web Services (AWS) for its infrastructure.

“In Pinterest and TikTok before it, Microsoft is clearly demonstrating that it wants to build up more consumer-facing assets within its flywheel of operations beyond hardware and its Xbox and PC businesses,” argued Nick McQuire, chief of research for enterprise at CCS Insight, speaking to IT Pro.

“When compared to its cloud competitors, particularly its archrival next door, this is a glaring gap for Microsoft. This matters, but it’s less about increasing the diversity of its revenue in new areas like advertising, which through Bing, is not an insignificant business for Microsoft. It’s about winning cloud customers, particularly in consumer-facing industries where the other clouds have bigger assets to bring to bear to win larger deals.”

He added that this approach, the type of corporate style cloud deal between cloud providers and customers that involve a wider set of assets, is becoming increasingly common.

“Having an online B2C asset within its organisation not only helps it address sentiment that it’s just a sober enterprise play, but it also gives it more credibility with customers addressing the huge shifts in consumer behaviour and brand preferences as well,” said McQuire.

Although Microsoft also failed in its bid for TikTok, Oracle and Walmart’s deal has been put on hold pending a review by US President Biden over the previous administration’s national security policies targeting Chinese firms.

Salesforce claims the 9-to-5 workday is dead

Bobby Hellard

10 Feb, 2021

Salesforce is redesigning its office culture and giving employees more choice around when and where they work.

The cloud giant declared the 9-to-5 workday “dead” in a blog post on Tuesday, claiming its demise would lead to a greater work-life balance and, ultimately, a better business.  

Going forward, Salesforce employees will have the choice of three working models; flex, fully remote and office-based. For those that work under the ‘Flex’ bracket, which Salesforce suggests will be the majority of its employees, their time in the office will be between one and three days a week, mostly for collaborative projects, customer meetings and presentations. Otherwise, they will work remotely.

There will also be an option to work remotely on a permanent basis to accommodate those that do not live in close proximity to a Salesforce office and those who have jobs that are not dependent on office attendance.

For a small group of workers, there is the option to work in the office four to five days a week if they are in roles that require it, potentially in segregated shifts. 

“As we enter a new year, we must continue to go forward with agility, creativity and a beginner’s mind – and that includes how we cultivate our culture,” said Brent Hyder, president and chief people officer. “An immersive workspace is no longer limited to a desk in our towers; the 9-to-5 workday is dead, and the employee experience is about more than ping-pong tables and snacks.

“We have an opportunity to create an even better workplace – one that allows us to be more connected to each other, find more balance between work and home, and advance equality – ultimately leading to increased innovation and better business outcomes.”

Not everyone agrees that remote working is the way forward, however. Both Google and Microsoft have expressed concerns about prolonged working from home and Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins on Tuesday suggested that some people were tired of working from home. It’s worth noting that the only examples Robbins gave were from Cisco employees, which he claimed were longing to get back into the office.

“I think we sort of moved into that phase where people actually struggle mentally, people are – they’re not enjoying it,” Robbins said according to CNBC. “One of our employees said to me the other day, ‘I don’t mind the option of working from home. I don’t like being forced to work from home,'” he said.

Unlike most tech firms, Cisco has struggled during the pandemic. The company this week reported a decline in revenue for the fifth quarter in a row, blaming a slowdown in infrastructure spending.