All posts by Dale Walker

Mozilla, Google move to block Kazakhstan’s attempts to spy on its citizens

Dale Walker

21 Aug, 2019

Google and Firefox developer Mozilla will block attempts by the government of Kazakhstan to intercept the web traffic of its citizens, the companies announced on Wednesday.

The joint action follows reports in July that the Kazakh regime had started forcing internet service providers to adopt custom web certificates, allowing officials to decrypt HTTPS internet traffic.

Despite claiming the certificate would provide greater protection for users against fraud and hacking attempts, the decision sparked widespread condemnation, with many arguing it severely undermines privacy.

Google and Mozilla have both said they distrust this certificate and as such have introduced “technical solutions” that will prevent traffic from being intercepted. For Mozilla’s part, it has revoked the certificate using OneCRL, said to be a “non-bypassable block”.

Google has said it will also block the certificate the government required users to install and added it to the list of those blocked inside Chromium’s source code.

Mozilla, known for its staunch support of user privacy, described Kazakhstan’s methods as an “attack” on user privacy.

“People around the world trust Firefox to protect them as they navigate the internet, especially when it comes to keeping them safe from attacks like this that undermine their security,” said Marshall Erwin, senior director of Trust and Security at Mozilla. “We don’t take actions like this lightly, but protecting our users and the integrity of the web is the reason Firefox exists.”

Google’s senior engineering director Parisa Tabriz said her company would “never tolerate any attempt, by any organisation – government or otherwise – to compromise Chrome user’s data”.

“We have implemented protections from this specific issue, and will always take action to secure our users around the world.”

This marks the second time Mozilla has worked actively against the Kazakh government. In 2015 government agencies asked to have its root certificate included in Mozilla’s root store program, its list of approved certificates that can be used with its browsers. However, the request was eventually denied after it was discovered the certificate would be used to intercept user data.

Further government attempts then ended in failure after a number of organisations took legal action against the administration.

Mozilla is known for taking a stand against state surveillance attempts, maintaining a section on its company website showcasing its latest investigations and providing support for those concerned about privacy.

Data centre M&As surge as companies turn to cloud providers

Dale Walker

15 Aug, 2019

2019 is set to be another record year for data centre mergers and acquisitions, with 52 such deals being signed in the first six months, up 18% on the previous year.

A further eight deals have been closed during the past month alone, as well as a further 14 acquisitions awaiting formal closure, with the total number for 2019 now having exceeded the entirety of 2016.

Research by market analysis firm Synergy found that since the start of 2015, there have been over 300 M&As in the data centre space, said to be worth over $65 billion in total.

Data centre M&A closures since 2015

Synergy chief analyst John Dinsdale believes the figures represent a clear trend of companies not wanting to operate their own data centres, preferring instead to hand them off to specialists.

“As enterprises either shift workloads to cloud providers or use colocation facilities to house their IT infrastructure, more and more data centers are being put up for sale,” said Dinsdale. “This in turn is driving change in the colocation market, with industry giants on a never-ending quest to grow their global footprint and a constant ebb and flow of ownership among small local players.”

It’s likely that this trend is going to continue as a small group of data centre operators seek to consolidate their hold on the market.

The majority of acquisitions during the 2015-19 period have involved Equinix, which famously acquired Verizon’s data centres in 2017, and Digital Reality, which has been on a recent spending spree with facilities in Seoul and Frankfurt. The two colocation providers accounted for 36% of the total deal value over the period.

Data centre operators such as US-based CyrusOne, Iron Mountain, Digital Bridge, Carter Validus, as well as Japan’s NTT, have all been on similar spending sprees in 2019.

VMware in talks to acquire Pivotal

Dale Walker

15 Aug, 2019

VMware has said it is in talks to buy Pivotal Software, the virtualisation company revealed in a filing on Wednesday.

The deal would see VMware acquire all outstanding shares of Class A common stock of Pivotal, priced at $15 per share, although all aspects of the agreement are subject to change and VMware is permitted to walk away at any time.

However, if agreed, that price would be substantially higher than Pivotal’s recent share price, which naturally rebounded to around $14 following news of the deal. It would also be the exact same price it listed during its IPO.

The deal is quite unique in the industry, given that Dell continues to own a majority stake in both VMware and Pivotal. Since being spun off from EMC Corporation (now Dell EMC) in 2012, Pivotal has worked to champion the Cloud Foundry, an open-source software platform used by most of the Fortune 500.

Despite seeing initial growth, with stocks rising to as much as $30, the company has struggled of late, and a disastrous financial quarter in 2019 saw stocks drop to as low as $8, losing $31.7 million in the process.

For its part, VMware has continued to work closely with Pivotal. Alongside Dell EMC, VMware remains a Cloud Foundry Foundation platinum partner, which includes sales of Pivotal services to its customers.

“VMware regularly evaluates potential partnerships and acquisitions that would accelerate our strategy,” the company said in a statement. “Pivotal is a long-term strategic partner and we’re already successfully collaborating to help enterprises in their application development and infrastructure transformation.

“VMware’s Board of Directors will continue to act in the best interest of all shareholders. There can be no assurance that any such agreement regarding the potential transaction will occur, and VMware does not intend to communicate further on this matter unless and until a definitive agreement is reached.”

Salesforce buys field services firm ClickSoftware for $1.35bn

Dale Walker

8 Aug, 2019

Salesforce has said it’s acquiring field service software firm ClickSoftware for around $1.35 billion as it seeks to maintain growth in its Service Cloud division.

The company reported in June that its Service Cloud unit, which includes its Field Service Lightning product, managed to pass $1 billion in revenue, something it hopes to improve upon over the coming year.

The acquisition comes just days after the signing of a $15.7 billion deal to purchase data visualisation firm Tableau, by far the largest deal in Salesforce’s history.

“Delivering exceptional field service is an increasingly important priority for companies across industries with more than 70 percent of customer service leaders making significant investments to transform their mobile workforce,” said Bill Patterson, EVP and GM at Salesforce Service Cloud.

“Our acquisition of ClickSoftware will not only accelerate the growth of Service Cloud, but drive further innovation with Field Service Lightning to better meet the needs of our customers. We are thrilled to welcome the ClickSoftware team to Salesforce.”

Field Service Lightning was first introduced in 2016 and since then Salesforce has partnered with ClickSoftware to help develop its division. With its current product, if mobile employees find themselves stuck in traffic, a dispatcher is able to use the platform to quickly direct another technician to the job. This data is then updated across the entirety of the Salesforce suite, so that customers, sales, and the service departments have visibility.

The acquisition of ClickSoftware will “create strategic synergies, technological unity and new innovation opportunities for Salesforce to better meet the needs of existing and new customers around the world”, according to a company statement.

The deal is said to be a mix of cash and Salesforce common stock, and is expected to close during Salesforce’s fiscal quarter ending in October.

Office 365 ban in German schools ‘temporarily’ lifted

Dale Walker

2 Aug, 2019

A ban on the use of Office 365 products in German schools has been temporarily lifted following a series of talks between Microsoft and the Hessian Data Protection Commissioner, according to an updated statement released today.

The German state of Hesse imposed restrictions on the use of Microsoft software in July after ruling Office 365 exposed information on students and teachers to potential access from US officials, and was therefore in breach of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation.

The decision followed several years of debate around whether German public authorities should use such cloud software at all, given that a large chunk of data is funnelled back to the US.

Office 365 was largely tolerated so long as Microsoft continued to invest in a local German cloud service, removing the need to send data back to the US. However, last August the company decided to shutter this service, leading officials to eventually conclude last month that Office 365 use no longer complied with data laws.

Yet, in another twist, the Hessian Data Protection Commissioner, Professor Michael Ronellenfitsch has now decided to “provisionally tolerate” the use of Office 365 in German schools, provided a series of conditions are met.

“The legality of using Office 365 is not yet fully understood,” said Ronellenfitsch, in a statement. “In my opinion dated 09.07.2019 I have drawn the conclusion and explained that according to the state of the checks, the use of Office 365 in Hessian schools can not be tolerated.

“Since then, there have been intensive discussions with Microsoft about the privacy compliance of Office 365’s use in the school, which has led to a privacy-related assessment and has invalidated a significant proportion of the concerns.”

The ruling allows schools that have already purchased version 1904 of Office 365 and its various apps to continue using the software “until further notice”.

However, those schools are also required block the transmission of any kind of diagnostic data themselves, although Microsoft is required to provide support with this – that is until the data protection authorities are able to provide a more permanent solution.

The Hessian data authority has also promised to conduct an audit of the current arrangement over the next few months, and will deliver a more permanent data protection assessment for the school sector, the statement added.

The decision appears to be something of an attempt to limit any potential disruption an outright Office 365 ban might have. However, it’s likely that the ban will return unless Microsoft comes up with a way of preventing diagnostic data from leaving the country.

Facebook confirms Workplace price hike is on the horizon

Dale Walker

17 Jul, 2019

Facebook is set to remodel its pricing structure for its collaboration service Workplace in what equates to a price hike for users currently paying for the service.

Since its launch in 2016, the two million paying users the company has attracted have been on a $3 per user per month plan, the only ‘premium’ tier available, with a basic version given to users for free.

As of September, Workplace will offer three pricing tiers instead, including a rebranded premium tier – Workplace Advanced – that raises the cost of the platform to $4 per user per month. The basic package has also had a name change, now called “Essential”, and a new tier known as “Enterprise” will run at $8 per user per month and will offer priority support services and early access to new features.

The “per user per month” format is also a change for the company, having previously charged based on how many users were currently active on a company’s account. Charging a flat fee will generally result in higher overall costs, but this will also mean customers will pay the same predictable rate each month.

Facebook has confirmed that existing paying users will continue to pay $3 per user per month until 30 September 2020, after which time the new pricing structure will come into effect.

Interestingly, Facebook is also introducing a new add-on package called Workplace Frontline, specifically designed to cater for those frontline workers who engage directly with the general public, such as a cashier or those on a shop floor, who may sometimes feel disconnected from the rest of the business.

Organisations on the Advanced or Enterprise plans can bolt-on these users to their price plan for an additional $1.50 per user per month, regardless of whether they are active or not.

According to Facebook, workers are classed as frontline if they spend less than 50% of their time at a desk, are paid hourly, or do not have an email address. Nurses, doctors, facility workers, those in public services, couriers, warehouse staff, and those in the hospitality industry would all qualify for this status.

Aside from these changes, the individual features assigned to the tiers will remain the same.

The platform currently boasts over two million paid users, having attracted big brands like Walmart, Nestlé and Teléfonica, as well as the likes of Spotify, Grab, WWF and Save the Children.

While a price hike is never a welcome change, the restructure is the first in the platform’s short history and somewhat necessary given the fierce competition in the market. It needs to mature in the face of the rapidly growing Microsoft Teams, which recently passed Slack in terms of subscribers and offers similar services targeting both backend and frontline workers.

Slack, for its part, is also garnering a great deal of attention following its decision to become a publicly traded company, particularly as stocks sold far higher than expected. It, too, will be looking to compete against its rivals, but doubts remain as to whether it has the business model and infrastructure clout to remain competitive.

AWS hopes to entice more cloud customers with streamlined security tools

Dale Walker

25 Jun, 2019

AWS has made its Control Tower and Security Hub services generally available to all customers, designed to make it easier for organisations to manage security policies across their cloud environments.

Both platforms aim to ease the process for organisations looking to shift over to the cloud by removing a great deal of the heavy lifting involved, something that is being echoed by rivals in the industry.

In the case of Control Tower, automated and preconfigured services allow organisations to deploy a set of guardrails for their cloud environment, safe in the knowledge that these are built to AWS best practices. Importantly, AWS isn’t charging extra for this tool, and users can apply it to any AWS service that they currently pay for.

Once set up, organisations are able to build a secure AWS environment using these preconfigured best practices, defining policies around areas such as compliance and permissions. Control Tower should be especially useful for those organisations who need more prescriptive guidance on how to set up secure environments across multiple accounts, as the guardrails will prevent users from deploying tools that don’t conform to security policies.

The second release this week, AWS Security Hub, aims to solve the problem having too many disparate security packages running across an organisation and being unable to manage them centrally. Now, AWS customers can access all security tools within a single dashboard view, including those provided by third-parties.

The platform is similar to those offered by rivals Microsoft and Google, in the form of Azure Security Center and Google Cloud Security Command Center respectively, however even smaller companies such as Box are pushing for all-in-one windows for security management.

The cloud giant says it already has companies such as GoDaddy, Rackspace, Splunk and PagerDuty, T-Mobile, Uber and Sony Interactive signed up to either Security Hub or Control Tower.

AWS Control Tower is available to all customers using US East (N Virginia), US East (Ohio), US West (Oregon), and EU (Ireland) data centres, with additional regions coming in the near future.

While Control Tower is free, Security Hub is generally available to all customers on a per-usage pricing scheme, although there is a 30-day trial for new users.

Box overhauls its Relay workflow tool

Dale Walker

22 May, 2019

Box has launched what it describes as an “all-new” version of its Box Relay workflow management tool, featuring a more powerful workflow engine, a simplified UI, and improved tools for manipulating data.

The company first introduced the platform back in 2016 in a bid to make it easier for multiple departments, both inside and outside an organisation, to collaborate on projects from within the Box app, while automating much of the configuration side. It’s designed to make repeated processes, such as the onboarding of a new employee to the company, easier to automate.

The platform has since received a number of updates and developments, including the launch of an API in July 2018, which allowed Relay to be integrated into other business systems, such as CRM and ERP tools.

The latest version now brings improvements to its core engine, which now builds workflows based on ‘if this then that’ (IFTTT) triggers to support processes that require a larger number of intricate steps. The platform will now also support the option to route content based on metadata attributes, for example, date, dropdown, multi-select and open text fields.

More immediately noticeable changes can be found in the updated visuals, including a new UI that’s been redesigned to allow non-IT staff to build their own processes without the need for additional technical support. The main dashboard has also been given a fresh look, which will now display real-time metrics for workflow history, details on who created, updated or deleted workflows, and the option to export the audit history.

“Enterprise workflows built around content like document reviews and approvals and employee on-boarding and off-boarding need to be reimagined,” said Jeetu Patel, chief product officer at Box. “They’re disconnected from the apps teams use every day, locked behind IT, and don’t support external collaboration.”

“The new Box Relay brings powerful automation to improve these critical business processes, whether it’s creating sales proposals and marketing assets, or driving budget sign-offs and contract renewals, and more. Enterprises now have one platform for secure content management, workflow, and collaboration that’s built for how we work today.”

Relay has also been more tightly integrated into the Box portfolio. Specifically, users can call upon all the tools found in Box Cloud Content Management, including the security and compliance features, as well as the same integrations, such as Office 365 and DocuSign.

The new Box Relay is currently in private beta but will become generally available in “late June 2019”. The platform will release with both a paid version and a free ‘Lite’ version.

Alongside the Relay update, Box said it is also working on a new single view UI as part of Box Tasks, which is designed to make it easier for users to see all their tasks at once, which will be supported with mobile push notifications. This addition is currently in public beta and will be added for all users for free once it launches generally.

Red Hat Enterprise Linux 8 launches with simplified multicloud tools

Dale Walker

7 May, 2019

Open source giant Red Hat has made the latest generation of its Enterprise Linux operating system generally available, bringing with it a host of new features that it hopes will support the growing adoption of hybrid and multicloud deployments.

By upgrading to the new Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) 8, customers will be able to benefit from a more streamlined process for updating developer tools and frameworks, better security support, compatibility with some of Red Hat’s newest services out of the box, and a more user-friendly GUI that aims to reduce the barrier to entry for Linux beginners.

Red Hat is hoping to capitalise on a growing multicloud industry that’s seen adoption across 70% of customers, according to recent IDC data. What’s more, 64% of applications from an average company’s IT portfolio are based in either public or private cloud.

With Linux poised to play a part in around $10 trillion in global business revenue this year, Red Hat believes that the software layer should be keeping pace in the multicloud era, particularly when companies are also adopting other disruptive strategies, like AI and DevOps.

Speaking at Red Hat Summit this week, Stefanie Chiras, vice president and general manager of Red Hat Enterprise Linux, explained that the company wants to serve as a “junction” between innovative products and applying these to a business ecosystem.

“Innovation and Linux are inseparable – from building the Internet’s backbone to forming the first neurons of AI, Linux drives IT’s present and future,” said Chiras. “We want to redefine the value of an operating system in this new era of IT. We want to really show to the industry that Red Hat is an enterprise software portfolio company, not a product company.”

As an example, she highlighted the addition of Insights into RHEL 8 by default, effectively a support service that allows customers to access expertise on their Linux deployments. This will monitor a business’ deployment and flag any security vulnerabilities or stability issues, and flag these automatically to admins. Red Hat was keen to state that this was more of a “coaching” approach to support, as customers become more familiar with the platform, and effectively replaces the idea of support tickets.

“We’ve pulled Insights directly into the RHEL subscription – that allows customers to use a software-as-a-service offering, [and] leverage all the tools that we offer,” Chiras explained.

Another major addition is Application Streams feature, a tool that aims to improve the platform’s process of updating languages and frameworks, something that has traditionally been difficult to do without creating instability. With Application Streams, these languages and frameworks will be updated far more frequently without straining core resources.

It’s clear that making things easier is the theme of the iteration, something that’s certainly resonated with Red Hat’s customers. Today, RHEL enjoys over 50,000 deployments, and recorded 8,000 downloads for its beta phase of version 8 – compared to just 400 for RHEL 7.

Specifically, it has hidden many of the more granular system tasks behind the updated RHEL GUI, which now also makes it easier to update instances from version 7 to 8. It also draws upon Ansible, Red Hat’s automation platform, to power new system roles and allows the creation of workflows for more complex management tasks. This should make it far easier for, for example, new system admins to adopt new protocols and reduce the possibility of human error.

RHEL is still Red Hat’s flagship product, and will certainly serve as a springboard for the rest of its portfolio. In fact, Red Hat also plans to introduce Enterprise Linux CoreOS, a lightweight version of RHEL 8 designed for customers using OpenShift 4.

The release marks the last iteration of RHEL released before the completion of the $33 billion acquisition by IBM, which was approved by the US Department of Justice this week.

HPE hails ‘major leap in storage’ with memory-driven flash

Dale Walker

28 Nov, 2018

HPE has announced a host of new enhancements to its storage portfolio, including the introduction of memory-driven flash and an expansion to the coverage of its multi-cloud service.

The new additions come at a time when the company has all but given up on keeping pace with market leader Dell, and is instead seeking to build out its Intelligent Infrastructure range with new capabilities.

Chief among these is the introduction of Memory-Driven Flash to its 3PAR family of data centre flash storage modules and its Nimble Storage range, something that HPE described as the biggest leap in storage in 25 years. It essentially combines HPE software with storage class memory (SCM) and non-volatile memory (NVMe), based on Intel’s Octane hardware.

The result is a new class of storage that’s designed to lower latency by 2x, and is billed as being 50% faster than all-flash arrays using non-volatile memory SSDs. This is particularly important for those latency-sensitive workloads that rely on real-time processing, or those that use AI at scale.

“Most applications can benefit from adding memory, but memory is very expensive,” said Milan Shetti, GM of HPE Storage, speaking at HPE Discover in Madrid this week. “You can also have intelligent storage, but one of the key attributes of this is you need to have memory.

“[This] is the industry’s first enterprise storage operating system, which will support storage-class memory,” he added. “This is something we’ve been working on for a while. With [Memory-Driven] operating system, at the speed of memory and at the cost of flash, you’re getting an entirely new way of building computing, storage and data management.

This new architecture will be available in December 2018 for 3PAR as a straightforward upgrade, and sometime in 2019 for Nimble Storage.

Another major announcement was the introduction of new tools to its InfoSight product, a management platform that is designed to predict and prevent errors across an organisation’s infrastructure without user involvement, as well as predict bandwidth, capacity and performance needs.

Now the platform can also utilise more machine learning-based controls, including an enhanced recommendation engine that replaces its basic predictive analytics with an AI-based system. This drastically improves optimisation guidance across HPE Nimble Storage as a result, the company explained.

Also announced was the release of machine learning tools for its HPE 3PAR storage range, which allows for self-diagnosis of performance bottlenecks and means InfoSight can be extended to purely on-premise deployments. HPE explained this addresses the issue of being unable to provide InfoSight analytics to data centres which may have limited access to the cloud.

The company also revealed that its Cloud Volumes, a hybrid cloud storage-as-a-service platform, is now expanding into the UK and Ireland regions in 2019. Currently available for HPE Nimble Storage, the pay-as-you-use service allows customers to move their on-prem applications to the AWS or Azure cloud, only with enterprise-grade storage instead of the default storage offered by those clouds.

This platform also now includes containers-as-a-service for the provisioning of applications hosted by HPE, and compliance certifications, including SoC Type 1, HIPAA for healthcare, and GDPR.