All posts by James

AWS makes Amazon Detective generally available for greater security awareness

Amazon Web Services (AWS) has announced the general availability of Amazon Detective, a new offering which aims to help customers remediate security issues across their AWS workloads more easily.

Amazon Detective, which was launched in preview at re:Invent last year, automatically collects log data from a customer's resources and uses machine learning and statistical analysis to build interactive visualisations which customers can use to deduce security anomalies.

Sebastien Stormacq, Amazon senior developer advocate, noted in a blog post how customer demands had changed from five years ago, when AWS released a solution which automatically analysed AWS CloudTrail data to generate alerts around sensitive API usage.

"Today, when a security issue is detected, such as compromised credentials or unauthorised access to a resource, security analysts cross-analyse several data logs to understand the root cause of the issue and its impact on the environment," wrote Stormacq. "In-depth analysis often requires scripting and ETL to connect the dots between data generated by multiple siloed systems.

"To further complicate matters, new AWS accounts, and new applications are constantly introduced, forcing analysts to constantly reestablish baselines of normal behaviour, and to understand new patterns of activities every time they evaluate a new security issue," added Stormacq.

Among the customers rolling out with Detective are T-Systems and Warner Media, with the product available in 14 AWS regions upon launch. There are no additional charges or upfront commitments to customers, the company added.

This can be seen as another step in the largest cloud vendors giving customers a helping hand around the ever-thorny issue of security. Yet the element of give-and-take has to remain. Take the launch of Amazon S3 Block Public Access in late 2018, which enabled extra controls to ensure S3 buckets did not become misconfigured. The year before, the company updated its dashboard so public buckets were signified with bright orange indicators. As cloud workloads become more complex, security needs to adapt with it – which is what AWS is aiming for here.

You can read the full blog post here.

Photo by Agence Olloweb on Unsplash

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Microsoft to acquire Affirmed Networks to get onto AWS’ wavelength

Microsoft has announced it is to acquire Affirmed Networks, a provider of network functions virtualisation (NFV) software – as the telecoms space heats up for the biggest cloud players. 

As 5G is becoming more of a reality, cloud vendors see their role as enabling telecom operators to deploy and maintain next-generation networks more efficiently.  

“At Microsoft, we intend to empower the telecommunications industry as it continues its move to 5G and support both network equipment manufacturers and operators in their efforts to find solutions that are faster, easier and cost effective,” wrote Yousef Khalidi, corporate vice president for Azure networking in a blog post. “This acquisition will allow us to evolve our work with the telecommunications industry, building on our secure and trusted cloud platform for operators. 

“With Affirmed Networks, we will be able to offer new and innovative solutions tailored to the unique needs of operators, including managing their network workloads in the cloud,” Khalidi added. 

Anand Krishnamurthy, president and CEO of Affirmed Networks – who only became CEO earlier this month – said the company had delivered on its vision. “Working together, we have created a model for mobile networks of the future that is open, cloud-native and capable of being web-scale, all at 70% of the cost of traditional networks,” wrote Krishnamurthy. “We have been their partner of choice as they prepare for fifth generation (5G) networks and infrastructure.  

“Now, the combined technologies of Microsoft and Affirmed will further accelerate this momentous shift.” 

This move makes for an interesting comparison with what Amazon Web Services (AWS) is doing with its Wavelength project. The initiative is an edge play which embeds AWS’ compute and storage services on the edge of operators’ 5G networks, enabling the delivery of ultra-low latency applications. 

At re:Invent back in December, in what was seen as the biggest item of the main keynotes – or in other words, the last item – Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg joined AWS chief Andy Jassy on stage to discuss the collaboration between the two companies. Jassy noted the most exciting applications to be ushered in, such as autonomous industrial equipment, or applications for smart cities, can’t wait that long.  

“If you want to have the types of applications that have that last mile connectivity, but actually do something meaningful, those applications need a certain amount of compute and a certain amount of storage,” he said. “What [developers] really want is AWS to be embedded somehow in these 5G edge locations.” 

For Microsoft’s part, the company said it was looking at extending ‘deep, strong partnerships’ and ensuring interoperability to ensure cloud-based software-defined networking (SDN) fits into the 5G landscape. The company’s partnership with AT&T, beefed up in November, is seen by many in the industry to be a particularly interesting one in the space. 

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. You can read the full announcement of the acquisition here. 

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Hyperscale operators invest hard in data centres amid modest overall capex, says Synergy

In the land of the hyperscale cloud operators, all remains relatively rosy in the garden. New data from Synergy Research shows that hyperscale operator capex set a new record in the most recent quarter.

In total, more than $32 billion was laid down in the fourth quarter of 2019, beating the previous record set by Q418. Synergy noted that a lot of spend – and strategy – was going into data centres. Capex specifically targeted at data centres grew 11% in 2019 in a move which ‘reflected ongoing strength in their core business operations’, as the analyst firm put it.

The top five spenders, far ahead of the rest of the hyperscalers, are Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Apple – although the latter dropped off sharply in 2019 to the detriment of overall figures. To the old adage that attack is the best form of defence, the top 20 companies analysed – including Alibaba, IBM, Oracle and Tencent in the challengers section – generated $1.4 trillion between them in revenues for 2019, up 13% from 2018.

Yet the inevitable question around what will happen amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic is not too far away. John Dinsdale, a chief analyst at Synergy Research, said that while nothing was certain, hyperscale cloud players were on a surer footing than most.

“While there are many unknowns, what is clear is that the hyperscale operators generate well over 80% of their revenues from cloud, digital services and online activities,” said Dinsdale. “The radical shifts we are seeing in social and business behaviour will actually provide some substantive tailwinds for many of these businesses.

“These hyperscale firms are much better insulated against the current crisis than most others and we expect to see ongoing robust levels of capex,” added Dinsdale.

Many of the leading cloud players are in a position to funnel some of their resources into combating Covid-19, as well as provide free services to those researching and working in healthcare. Amazon Web Services is committing $20 million to customers working on diagnostics solutions, while Microsoft, Google, Alibaba and others have offered free products to healthcare professionals.

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Blog: How cloud companies are reacting to Covid-19 and services offered: AWS, Alibaba, and more

LIVE As the Covid-19 pandemic continues, with citizens across many countries urged to work from home where possible, it has posed a unique challenge for both frontend applications and the backend technologies underpinning them.

A lot of attention has, understandably, focused on the former. Zoom, which appears to be the videoconferencing tool du jour for many businesses, has held up well thus far, although at the time of print (March 23) some downtime issues in the UK have been detected. Similarly, outside of work, Netflix is lowering its video quality to keep up with demand. Yet underneath it all, cloud infrastructure providers are aiming to keep their systems online throughout the pandemic.

Whether it is cloud software or infrastructure, many of the world’s leading companies are making their tools available for certain users – primarily healthcare organisations or researchers working on Covid-19.

CloudTech is putting together a list of offerings from vendors reacting to the Covid-19 crisis, which can be found below. If your organisation is not on this list and is making products available, let us know at editorial@techforge.pub.

Hyperscaler highlights

Alibaba Cloud said on March 23 that the Alibaba Foundation and Jack Ma Foundation had recently launched the Global MediXchange for Combating Covid-19. The project, with the support of Alibaba Cloud Intelligence and Alibaba Health, was established to ‘facilitate continued communication and collaboration across borders, as well as to provide the necessary computing capabilities and data intelligence to empower pivotal research efforts’, the company said. You can find out more about the initiative here.

In a previous Canalys report, Alibaba Cloud had been praised for offering credits to organisations enabling them to buy its Elastic Compute Service, as well as cybersecurity services. The company also made its AI-powered platform freely available to research institutions working on treating and preventing coronavirus. You can find out more about these services here.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) announced on March 20 that it was committing $20 million for customers working on diagnostics solutions. The AWS Diagnostic Development Initiative is open to accredited research institutions and private entities using AWS to support research-oriented workloads for the development of Covid-19 testing and diagnostics.

The initiative is being put together alongside 35 global research institutions, startups, and other businesses, and is being aided by an outside technical advisory group of leading scientists and global health policy experts. You can find out more about the project here.

Google Cloud announced on March 3 that it was rolling out free access to advanced Hangouts Meet videoconferencing capabilities to all G Suite and G Suite for Education customers globally, including larger meetings – up to 250 participants per call – as well as live streaming up to 100,000 viewers, and the ability to record meetings and save them to Google Drive.

The company has already taken other steps. On March 17, Google postponed its Cloud Next event, having previously made the decision to take its April 6-8 gathering virtual-only.

IBM said on March 22 that it was collaborating with the White House and the US Department of Energy among others to launch the Covid-19 High Performance Computing Consortium. The company said it would pool an ‘unprecedented’ amount of computing power – 16 systems with more than 330 petaflops, 775,000 CPU cores, 34,000 GPUs and more – to ‘help researchers everywhere better understand Covid-19, its treatments and potential cures.’

The next step, IBM added, is to work with consortium partners to ‘evaluate proposals from researchers around the world and provide access to this supercomputing capacity for the projects that can have the most immediate impact.’ According to reports, citing President Trump, Amazon, Google, and Microsoft are also part of the consortium.

Microsoft announced on March 19 that National Health Service (NHS) staff in the UK can use collaboration tool Microsoft Teams for free. NHS Digital rolled out Teams across all NHSmail users between March 16 and March 20.

In the US, Microsoft has helped design a ‘coronavirus self-checker’ in a project alongside the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As reported on March 23 the bot, called Clara, aims to help people make decisions about what to do if they have potential Covid-19 symptoms.

Timeline

March 23: Banyan Security, a San Francisco-based vendor, said it would offer free access to its Zero Trust security offering ‘for a limited time’ in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

March 23: Cisco said it would commit $225 million to coronavirus response to ‘support healthcare and education, government response and critical technology.’ The funds, $8m in cash and $210 in product, will in part go to the United Nations Foundation’s Covid-19 Solidarity Response Fund.

March 20: Huawei said it had worked with Huazhong University of Science & Technology and Lanwon Technology on an AI project to help ease the burden on imaging doctors who are able to diagnose and quantitatively analyse Covid-19.

March 17: ServiceNow announced it was making certain apps available to any public agency in the world to help deal with the coronavirus pandemic. The primary app, an emergency response operations app, was built by Washington State on the ServiceNow platform.

March 17: Okta is offering free single sign-on (SSO) and multi-factor authentication (MFA) for secure remote working. “Any organisation that would find value in leveraging the Okta Identity Cloud for remote work during an emergency situation should be able to do so at no cost,” the company wrote.

March 17: Dropbox said it was ‘proud’ to offer free Dropbox Business and HelloSign Enterprise subscriptions for a three-month period to non-profits and NGOs focused on fighting Covid-19. Eligible organisations are encouraged to apply here.

March 16: Box CEO Aaron Levie said via Twitter that anybody working on Covid-19 research or response efforts could email rapid-response@box.com to set up free secure file sharing and storage.

March 16: Stewart Butterfield, CEO of Slack, said people working on Covid-19 research, response or mitigation were entitled to free upgrades to paid plans, setting up consultation for remote collaboration best practices among others. Users are asked to email covid@slack.com

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China cloud infrastructure services grew 67% in Q419 says Canalys – as Covid-19 response praised

China’s cloud computing market continues to intrigue because of its potential – and according to a new study from analyst firm Canalys, cloud infrastructure services in China grew 67% in Q419, making the country’s spend at more than one tenth of the overall market.

Total spend reached $3.3 billion (£2.8bn) in the quarter, with Alibaba Cloud accounting for almost half (46.4%) of outlay making it the clear market leader. Tencent Cloud increased its share to 18%, while Baidu AI Cloud is the third ranked vendor with 8.8% market share.

Not surprisingly, business in the most recent three months has been dominated by the Covid-19 outbreak. The Canalys note found that China’s cloud companies were quick to act and get resources available to businesses who needed it – something that Western providers are beginning to do themselves as the epidemic became a pandemic.

Alibaba Cloud offered credits to organisations enabling them to buy its Elastic Compute Service, as well as cybersecurity services, alongside making its AI-powered platform available for free to research institutions working on treating and preventing coronavirus. Tencent Cloud did the same, as well as launching a remote working offering, while Baidu AI Cloud made its online doctor consultation platform free for any queries.

Examples of US-headquartered companies following suit include Slack and Box, who earlier this week said researchers working on Covid-19 research, response or mitigation can access their paid plans for free. Dropbox said it would offer free Dropbox Business and HelloSign Enterprise subscriptions for a three-month period to non-profits and NGOs ‘focused on fighting Covid-19.’

“The benefits of cloud computing were demonstrated by the leading cloud service providers in response to the escalating coronavirus crisis,” said Yih Khai Wong, Canalys senior analyst. “They rapidly deployed continuity measures for organisations and established resource-intensive workloads to analyse vast datasets.

“Cloud companies opened their platforms, allowing new and existing customers to use more resources for free to help maintain operations,” Wong added. “This set the precedent for technology companies around the world that offer cloud-based services in their response to helping organisations affected by coronavirus.”

This can be seen as an optimistic analysis of China’s cloud ecosystem. According to Synergy Research, in September, hyperscaler capex was down 2% based on year-by-year figures, with the Chinese market, dropping 37% year on year in Q2, primarily responsible. China’s overall outlook remains poor, with the most recent analysis from the Asia Cloud Computing Association (ACCA) playing the country in second-last position for infrastructure, although noting that, alongside India, the size of the operation counted against them.

According to further Synergy figures from May, Amazon Web Services (AWS) remains the cloud market leader across all geographies, but the Asia Pacific (APAC) landscape differs from the other AWS-Azure-Google 1-2-3. Alibaba is the second player across APAC, with Tencent at #4 and Sinnet #6.

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Google Cloud postpones Next event after initial online-only move

Google Cloud is postponing its Cloud Next event over coronavirus fears, having previously made the move to stage the conference virtually.

The company had at the start of this month announced that Next, originally due to be at San Francisco on April 6-8 with an expected attendance of more than 30,000, was going online-only.

Now Google is scrapping things altogether, although promising that the event will still take place ‘when the timing is right.’

“Google Cloud has decided to postpone Google Cloud Next ’20: Digital Connect out of concern for the health and safety of our customers, partners, employees and local communities, and based on recent decisions made by the federal and local governments regarding the coronavirus,” wrote Google Cloud chief marketing officer Alison Wagonfeld in a blog post.

“Right now, the most important thing we can do is focus our attention on supporting our customers, partners, and each other.

“Please know that we are fully committed to bringing Google Cloud Next ’20 to life, but will hold the event when the timing is right,” added Wagonfeld. “We will share the new date when we have a better sense of the evolving situation.”

Google parent Alphabet has already issued guidance to employees over remote working. As reported by CNN, the company is recommending that all workers in North America, Europe, Africa and the Middle East work remotely. Yet as alleged by Business Insider (paywall), some contract workers appear to not be bound by this commitment, with employees – both full-time and contractors – sending a memo to executives demanding stronger policies.

Whatever would have been in store at Next, Google Cloud has certainly been busy on the news front this year. Partnerships have been struck, such as with Bharti Airtel, customers have been won in the shape of Lloyds Banking Group and Major League Baseball, while various product launches and iterations have come through, announced at events such as security conference RSA and retail gathering NRF.

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Pentagon to ‘reconsider certain aspects’ of JEDI Microsoft cloud contract award

The Pentagon has asked a federal court for 120 days to ‘reconsider certain aspects’ of the decision to award Microsoft the $10 billion (£7.9bn) federal cloud computing contract.

The ruling, in a court order published on Thursday, noted that Amazon Web Services (AWS), who last month won a temporary injunction against the award, would ‘likely be able to show that the Department of Defense (DoD) erred’ in its evaluation.

Both parties would not be able to re-evaluate their proposals in terms of adding new offerings, aside from one particular price scenario, the order added.

Microsoft had been announced as the winner of the JEDI (Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure) contract in October, to the surprise of many in the industry. Of particular interest to pundits was the explanation, in the DoD’s news release, that the award ‘continued [its] strategy of a multi-vendor, multi-cloud environment… as the department’s needs are diverse and cannot be met by any single supplier’.

AWS has been running the CIA’s cloud operations for the past five years, with multiple reports last month saying the agency was looking to upgrade its offering in a ‘tens of billions’ deal. A month later, it was reported that AWS had filed with the US Court of Federal Claims to protest the decision, with chief executive Andy Jassy telling employees at an all-hands meeting that potential presidential interference made the contract process ‘very difficult’ for government agencies.

Jassy also reportedly said during the meeting that AWS was ‘about 24 months ahead of Microsoft’ when it came to functionality and maturity. Per the terms of the injunction last month, Amazon is betting $42 million to cover costs should the final ruling fall to Microsoft.

Cloud pundit Bill Mew, however, said the update shows how the story has moved away from technology to one purely around procurement. “JEDI has gone from being about the comparative merits of a single cloud or multi-cloud approach to being a case study in procurement dysfunction,” Mew told CloudTech. “The lobbying, dirty tricks and arguments about political bias have completely eclipsed any technology arguments. This in itself shows how badly JEDI has gone off the rails.”

Mew, whose career has not only spanned 15 years at IBM but a stint as an officer in the Royal Navy, analysed the DoD function alongside the UK government’s upcoming review of foreign policy, defence, security and international development. “Compared to JEDI, even UK defence procurement looks good,” he added.

CloudTech has reached out to Amazon and Microsoft for comment and will update this story as and when it arrives.

You can take a look at the court order, as published by the Washington Post, here. (Disclosure: Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, is also owner of the Washington Post).

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Google Cloud and AWS launch new services on machine learning and containers respectively

Another day, another product launch in the land of the hyperscalers – and for Google Cloud and Amazon Web Services (AWS), their new services are focusing on machine learning (ML) and containers respectively.

Google’s launch of Cloud AI Platform Pipelines, in beta, aims to provide a way to deploy ‘robust, repeatable machine learning pipelines… and delivers an enterprise-ready, easy to install, secure execution environment for ML workflows.’

This can be seen, for Google Cloud’s customers, as a potential maturation of their machine learning initiatives. “When you’re just prototyping a machine learning model in a notebook, it can seem fairly straightforward,” the company notes, in a blog post authored by product manager Anusha Ramesh and developer advocate Amy Unruh. “But when you need to start paying attention to the other pieces required to make a ML workflow sustainable and scalable, things become more complex.

“A machine learning workflow can involve many steps with dependencies on each other, from data preparation and analysis, to training, to evaluation, to deployment, and more,” they added. “It’s hard to compose and track these processes in an ad-hoc manner – for example, in a set of notebooks or scripts – and things like auditing and reproducibility become increasingly problematic.”

The solution will naturally integrate seamlessly with Google Cloud’s various managed services, such as BigQuery, stream and batch processing service Dataflow, and serverless platform Cloud Functions, the company promises. The move comes at an interesting time given Google’s ranking in Gartner’s most recent Magic Quadrant for cloud AI developer services; placed as a leader, alongside IBM, Microsoft and Amazon Web Services (AWS), but just behind the latter two, with AWS on top.

AWS, meanwhile, has launched Bottlerocket, an open source operating system designed and optimised specifically for hosting containers. The company notes the importance of containers to package and scale applications for its customers, with chief evangelist Jeff Barr noting in a blog post that more than four in five cloud-based containers are running on Amazon’s cloud.

Bottlerocket aims to solve some of the challenges around container rollouts, using an image-based model instead of a package update system to enable a quick rollback and potentially avoid breakages. Like other aspects of cloud security, surveys have shown that container security snafus are caused frequently by human error. In a recent report StackRox said misconfigured containers were ‘alarmingly common’ as a root cause.

Barr noted security – in this case installing extra packages and increasing the attack surface – was a problem Bottlerocket aimed to remediate, alongside updates, increasing overheads, and inconsistent configurations.

“Bottlerocket reflects much of what we have learned over the year,” wrote Barr. “It includes only the packages that are needed to make it a great container host, and integrates with existing container orchestrators.”

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Cloud complexity and ‘terrifying’ IoT means organisations’ asset visibility is worsening – report

As security best practice continues to be a battle between organisations closing the gap of hackers who stay one step ahead, a new report from cybersecurity asset management provider Axonius has argued the complexity of cloud infrastructure means companies are ‘rapidly’ losing sight of their asset landscape.

The study, put together by Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) and which polled 200 North America-based IT and cybersecurity professionals, found that for respondents overall, more than half (52%) of VMs now reside in the cloud and running in multiple environments.

The report describes cloud visibility as ‘hazy at best’, with more than two thirds (69%) of those polled admitting they have a cloud visibility gap. Three quarters of those polled said they had experienced several serious cloud VM security incidents. Adding to this mix is a rise in container usage, with plenty of research reports previously noting dire consequences may be afoot if the spike was not adequately secured. Axonius describes container uptake as ‘mainstream’ today.

Internet of Things (IoT) projects are gaining steam yet an even wider visibility gap remains – 77% of respondents report a disparity. The report describes this trend as ‘inevitable or terrifying’; four in five (81%) say IoT devices will outnumber all other devices within three years, while more than half (58%) admit diversity in devices was their biggest management headache.

Bring your own device (BYOD) is still a sticking point for many companies, even if the hype and coverage has since died down. Almost half (49%) of organisations polled said they prohibit BYOD for work-related activities, while three in five (61%) of those who have policies in place are worried about violations. “BYOD looks to be here to stay… even if security suspects that policies are being circumvented,” the report notes.

Part of the solution is also part of the problem. Organisations are using on average more than 100 separate security tools, making the already-complicated task of IT asset management even more fiendish. A new approach is needed, the report warns: IT asset inventories currently demand the involvement of multiple teams, and take more than two weeks of effort.

“When we speak with customers from the midmarket up to the Fortune 100, we hear the same challenges: teams are faced with too many assets, a patchwork of security tools, and maddeningly manual processes to understand what is there and whether those assets are secure,” said Dean Sysman, CEO and co-founder at Axonius. “This survey uncovers the depth and breadth of the asset management challenges we see today and what’s on the horizon.”

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Lloyds Banking Group signs up to Google Cloud in five-year partnership

Google Cloud continues to secure the big-ticket clients, with the company announcing that Lloyds Banking Group is set to embark on its ‘cloud transformation’ journey with Google.

The bank will invest a total of £3 billion ($3.9bn) in a five-year deal which will see Lloyds deploy various Google Cloud services focused around the customer experience. Google Cloud will also ensure that Lloyds engineers are trained to ‘enhance disciplines… all in an effort to boost efficiency and offer innovative new services to the bank’s retail and commercial customers.’

“The size of our digital transformation is huge and Google Cloud’s capabilities will help drive this forward, increasing the pace of innovation, as well as bringing new services to our customers quickly and at scale,” said Zaka Mian, group transformation director at Lloyds in a statement. “This collaboration gives us a strategic advantage to continue as a leader in banking technology.”

Alongside retail and healthcare, financial services is one of the three primary customer target areas for Google. HSBC is arguably the best-known financial customer, with the company speaking at Google Next as far back as 2017. In September Srinivas Vaddadi, delivery head for data services engineering at HSBC, elaborated on the bank’s ongoing process of moving its legacy data warehouse onto BigQuery. Other Google Cloud financial services customers include PayPal, Ravelin, and Charles Schwab.

Recent customer wins include Major League Baseball, who is discontinuing its relationship with Amazon Web Services as a result, and Hedera Hashgraph.

“Banking customers today expect secure access to their funds, without downtime, and delivered through the modern experiences they receive in other aspects of their lives,” said Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian. “We are proud to work with such a storied institution as Lloyds, which helped to create – and continues to redefine – the next generation of financial services.”

Picture credit: Lloyds Branch Manchester Exterior, by Money Bright, used under CC BY 2.0

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