All posts by Keumars Afifi-Sabet

Nokia begins major data centre networking gambit


Keumars Afifi-Sabet

10 Jul, 2020

Nokia has launched a set of tools, equipment and an operating system for data centre networking to help large companies manage growing traffic in light of increased 5G and machine learning adoption.

Working in collaboration with Apple to build the technology, Nokia has launched a data centre Network Operating System (NOS) as a toolkit to allow for intent-based automation and operations in data centres. This is in addition to new routers and switches.

The company’s data centre venture is based on the idea that the data centre will overlap with cloud and telecoms networks, with technologies like 5G and the Internet of Things (IoT) causing demand for data movements to rise.

All together, Nokia’s foray will allow what it describes as ‘cloud builders’ – webscale firms, service providers and large enterprises – to scale-up and adapt their data centre environments in light of the surging traffic.

“With decades of experience serving the world’s telecom operators, we understand the engineering challenges of building and operating business and mission-critical IP networks on a global scale,” said Nokia’s president of IP and optical networks, Basil Alwan.

“However, today’s massive data centers have their own unique operational challenges. The SR Linux project was the proverbial ’clean-sheet’ rethink, drawing from our partnership with Apple and others. The resulting design is impressive in its depth and strikes the needed balance for the future.”

Nokia describes its Service Router Linux as the first fully modern microservices-based network operating system. It’s built on technology used in more than a million IP network routers, and runs standard Linux. This can be combined with the Nokia Service Router Linux NetOps development kit, which allows customers to take advantage of a rich set of programming capabilities.

Oracle to put its own hardware in customer data centres


Keumars Afifi-Sabet

9 Jul, 2020

Oracle has announced a package for enterprise customers to give them the full benefits of the company’s public cloud services while retaining all their data on-premise.

Dubbed Oracle Dedicated Region Cloud@Customer, the service is touted as the industry’s first fully-managed cloud region that brings more than 50 cloud services that can run from customers’ own data centres.

With packages starting at $500,000 per month, installing Oracle hardware in their own data centres allows enterprise customers with high security and regulatory commitments to benefit from cloud-based software without migrating their data.

Previously, Oracle customers adopting hybrid cloud configurations weren’t necessarily able to use all of the company’s cloud-based services due to incompatibility with their own hardware.

This new service will allow customers to port the entirety of Oracle’s software stack to their own data centres by installing Oracle hardware onsite.

“Enterprise customers have told us that they want the full experience of a public cloud on-premises, including access to all of Oracle’s cloud services, to run their most important workloads,” said executive vice president of engineering for Oracle Cloud Infrastructure, Clay Magouyrk.

“With Oracle Dedicated Region Cloud@Customer, enterprises get all of our second-generation cloud services, including Autonomous Database, in their datacenters. Our major competitors can’t offer customers a comparable dedicated cloud region running on-premises.”

However, the service will likely draw attention from those who campaign against practices that create vendor lock-in, as the installation of Oracle’s own hardware may make it more difficult for enterprise customers to transition to other providers should they wish.

Taking the fight to AWS

The move also represents an attempt to bring the fight to Amazon Web Services (AWS), as part of a long-running feud between the two companies, with Oracle taking on the highly similar AWS Outposts service.

AWS Outposts is Amazon’s fully managed and configurable compute and storage rack service built with AWS-designed hardware. The service allows AWS customers to run on-premise computing while connected to AWS services in the cloud.

Compared with Oracle Dedicated Region Cloud@Customer’s 50 cloud services, AWS Outposts only offers four, Oracle’s Larry Ellison claimed during an online event, according to Tech Radar.

AWS, incidentally, offers six services, including Amazon EC2, Amazon EBS, Amazon Elastic Container Service (ECS), Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service (EKS), Amazon Relational Database Service (RDS), and Amazon Elastic MapReduce (EMR).

Ellison threw additional barbs at AWS while making the announcement, claiming Oracle’s compliance certifications and management are the same across the public cloud and dedicated region, unlike AWS Outposts.

He also highlighted AWS’ role – as he sees it – in last year’s infamous Capital One data breach in which the personal information of 100 million customers was targeted by cyber criminals due to a misconfigured web application.

The Oracle CEO said it happened because Amazon cloud databases require complex and manual provisioning, configuration, encryption, backup and security, suggesting it was very complicated and that human beings can make mistakes as a result, leading to data loss.

“With Oracle, it is 100% automated and users cannot make mistakes on 100% automated processes. It is the only database where a person who runs the database has no access to users’ data,” he added.

Despite the war of words, however, AWS still dominates the cloud market, leading the industry in terms of market share, followed by Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform.

Royal Marsden powers virtual COVID-19 agent with IBM Watson


Keumars Afifi-Sabet

8 Jul, 2020

The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust has partnered with IBM to launch an AI-powered virtual agent that will provide staff with up-to-date HR and workplace information as the UK emerges from lockdown.

Ask Maisie, powered by IBM Watson, will give the Royal Marsden’s hospitals in London and Surrey the capacity to manage its workforce by serving as an information hub accessed through the intranet. 

Common questions can be answered through automation and AI with the HR department freed to engage in more complex areas, and handle more sensitive matters. Ask Maisie combines IBM Watson Assistant and natural langue processing (NLP) capabilities through the IBM public cloud. 

“As the pandemic evolves so have the long term implications on healthcare which include a growing expectation for immediate and remote access to trusted information,” said director for healthcare and life sciences with IBM UK and Ireland, Andreas Haimböck-Tichy. 

“This has led to many healthcare providers accelerating digital transformation plans to give clinicians time to focus on patients alongside helping to manage the physical and mental health of their key workers. Digital transformation in healthcare is not just limited to the clinical environment.

“Modern technology has an incredible potential to change the way a hospital operates for the better and help revolutionise the care patients receive.”

Topics the staff can access range from advice for high-risk workers, how to self-isolate, and what happens when staff receive official shielding letters. The sources of all information will be ‘trusted sources’ including the hospitals’ own policy handbooks as well as official bodies such as NHS England. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a highly disruptive force, but for many public sector organisations, it’s given development and engineering teams an opportunity to implement digital systems to help deliver services

For Royal Marsden, the crisis has triggered the need for technology to help manage its staff, with the organisation claiming the right investments in technology can help organisations build resilience and prepare for any future turmoil. 

Now that Ask Maisie has been launched, it can continue to enhance it knowledge-base as well as learning from interactions it has. 

Imperial aims to fight coronavirus with AI-powered data hub


Keumars Afifi-Sabet

7 Jul, 2020

Imperial College has partnered with several organisations to build a globally-sourced COVID-19 data hub designed to offer AI-powered insights to medical professionals to fight future infections. 

Using Amazon Web Services (AWS) machine learning tools, the REaltime Data Analysis and Synthesis (REDASA) platform aims to help the healthcare industry with real-time insights to help medical action and policymaking. 

The hub has been developed by PanSurg, a surgical network comprising Imperial health professionals and academics, in collaboration with a consortium of tech firms including Cloudwick and MirrorWeb alongside AWS.

It has been launched to pool together the insights and expertise of professionals working to fight the spread of infection by joining up a huge mass of material scattered across more than half a million different sources.

“Healthcare professionals are facing huge volumes of academic literature, public information and noise on COVID-19, making it challenging to extract key insights and translate these into best clinical practice,” said clinical senior lecturer and lead for PanSurg James Kinross.

“We are excited to collaborate with Cloudwick, MirrorWeb and Amazon Web Services to create a reliable, accurate information source with REDASA, for healthcare professionals seeking guidance during the pandemic.”

The project has recruited MirrorWeb’s website-capture technology to harvest large volumes of data at pace, with the organisation using machine learning to ensure the information gathered from public sources is accurate. These would include medical journals, healthcare literature and news sources.

This data is then stored and processed on Cloudwick’s Amorphic data and analytics platform, with advanced data science techniques used to generate automated insights and provide a secure way for users to access the intelligence.

Machine learning services by AWS, alongside an element of human curation, then allows REDASA to perform deep data analysis and extract the most important and relevant insights. Teams would, therefore, be able to process and make sense of the huge amounts of data flooding into the system.

The hub is centred on ‘live systematic review’ which means information is continuously updated and analysed, with data provided to private and public sector healthcare organisations and physicians to improve treatment and boost research.

COVID-19 has made it clear just how challenging it is to find critical information quickly and easily in an ‘infodemic’ situation, with the noise of millions of articles to sift through,” said international healthcare data science lead at AWS EMEA SARL Dr Matthew Howard.

“This solution we are developing with PanSurg, and AWS Partner Network (APN) Partners, Cloudwick and MirrorWeb, combines the best of expert human review with AWS machine learning technologies. 

“Our aim is to provide a new approach that will put the most accurate information possible in the hands of healthcare professionals, help improve medical knowledge, and develop more effective methods of patient care that will make a difference to frontline healthcare workers.”

The product is expected to launch in the coming months and will become a key legacy project with applications that stretch beyond coronavirus. While the main focus, for now, is to support the healthcare response to COVID-19, the team behind REDASA believes the model can be adapted and extended to encompass many other diseases, including cancer.

Developers welcome major overhaul to GitHub’s support documentation


Keumars Afifi-Sabet

2 Jul, 2020

GitHub has merged its two developer support sites into a single unified documentation hub to support users and integrators, offering a single repository of guidance and resources.

The platform, docs.github.com, merges the now-defunct help.github.com site and the widely-used developer.github.com, giving users the capacity to search across all of GitHub’s product content in a single place.

Previously, users seeking support would navigate either to the help platform, which was primarily curated for beginners, or the development platform, targeting advanced users, with GitHub addressing these two communities separately.

“As our product offerings have evolved, we decided to create a single place where everyone can find the information they need, whether you’re a new developer signing up for your GitHub account or a seasoned developer in the community,” said the platform’s product documentation team manager Jenn Leaver.

“This new site combines the product content that was on help.github.com and developer.github.com into a unified experience. With docs.github.com, you’re able to search across all of GitHub’s product content in one place.”

Users can explore docs.github.com by product, with support documents divided into branches, from GraphQL API to GitHub Actions, or they can use the search function to find something specific. The platform also lists a collection of getting started articles, as well as the most popular entries.

Leaver added this launch was the first step in creating an advisory platform on which users can discover new tools and methods, with further improvements coming in future. Language support, for example, will soon be expanded beyond its existing support for English, Japanese, Simplified Chinese, Brazilian Portuguese and Spanish.

The news has been welcomed by developers on social media, with others also calling for the concept to be extended to private repositories. Startup CTO and advisor Tom Jowitt, for example, called on GitHub to roll out an organisation-wide private documentation hub.

The project has been a long time in the making for the development hub and represents a culmination of efforts from engineers, designers, content strategists, writers, and many others. GitHub is expected to post further details in a behind-the-scenes blog post soon.

AWS launches CodeGuru to identify ‘most expensive’ code


Keumars Afifi-Sabet

30 Jun, 2020

Amazon Web Services (AWS) has taken its machine learning-powered CodeGuru development tool out of preview and rendered it generally available, alongside a host of additional features.

CodeGuru is being launched as a tool to help developers improve their applications and troubleshoot issues with automated code reviews and performance recommendations, available in Reviewer and Profiler modes.

CodeGuru Reviewer uses programme analysis and machine learning to detect potential defects that are tricky to find and recommend fixes in Java code. Code can be stored in GitHub, AWS CodeCommit, or Bitbucket.

Pull requests submitted also provide recommendations for how to improve the code, with each pull request also corresponding to a code review, and each code review including multiple recommendations that appear as comments on the pull request. 

Profiler mode, meanwhile, provides interactive visualisations and recommendations that help fine-tune application performance and troubleshoot operational issues using runtime data from live applications. This mode can also help find the most intensive lines of code, in terms of CPU usage or latency, and suggest ways to improve efficiency and reduce bottlenecks 

“Bringing new applications into production, maintaining their code base as they grow and evolve, and at the same time respond to operational issues, is a challenging task,” said chief evangelist for EMEA at AWS, Danilo Poccia. 

“For this reason, you can find many ideas on how to structure your teams, on which methodologies to apply, and how to safely automate your software delivery pipeline.

“CodeGuru helps you improve your application code and reduce compute and infrastructure costs with an automated code reviewer and application profiler that provide intelligent recommendations. Using visualizations based on runtime data, you can quickly find the most expensive lines of code of your applications.”

CodeGuru was first announced at AWS Re:Invent 2019 towards the end of last year as an AI-powered service designed to help write code. It was launched as an automated tool, trained on several decades of code reviews, adding comments to pull requests if it discovers an issue, also recommending remediation, including example code and links to documentation.

AWS has made a number of improvements to Amazon CodeGuru in the last few months, including a more cost-effective pricing model, support for Bitbucket repositories, and the capacity to start the profiling agent using a command-line switch.

In addition to existing features, the generally-available version of CodeGuru includes support for GitHub Enterprise in Reviewer mode, as well as new types of recommendations to solve defects and improve code. For Profiler mode, meanwhile, AWS has added anomaly detection, support for AWS Lambda, as well as the total CPU cost of issues in a recommendations report, among a number of others.

CodeGuru has been released days after AWS launched Honeycode, a visual application builder that can be used to create interactive web and mobile apps on a code-free basis. These can range in complexity from a task-tracking application for a small team to a project management system that controls complex workflows, with Honeycode aimed at those in need of innovative online capabilities but without the means to hire experienced engineers.

Safe Documents sandbox tool released for Microsoft 365


Keumars Afifi-Sabet

23 Jun, 2020

Microsoft has rolled out its Safe Documents feature for all Microsoft 365 customers in a bid to boost enterprise security by verifying untrusted files when they’re opened by a user.

When enabled by an administrator, the feature will automatically scan documents for any threats after opening the file in Protected View. This is an additional step which involves uploading and scanning by Microsoft Defender ATP.

Safe Documents essentially brings the power of the firm’s enterprise security platform Intelligent Security Graph to the desktop, with access to a live dataset of billions of data points, combing to form massive security-centric datasets.

The feature has been rolled out to rectify the limitations of Protected View, which is currently in play for all Microsoft 365 users. When opening documents received from external sources, the company suggested, people often exit the Protected View sandbox without considering whether the document is safe.

It was initially previewed in February 2020, when it was touted as a means to automate a crucial phase in the security of opening documents, which may often be overlooked if this decision is in the hands of the individual user.

“While a scan is in progress, Safe Documents will prevent users from exiting the Protected View container,” Microsoft’s security employee Kenny Shi said. “Users are still able to access and read the document during this process but will be unable to make any edits until the scan has completed.

“Once the file has been successfully scanned, users will be able to leave the Protected View container with confidence that their file is safe.”

If the file being scanned is identified as being malicious, users will be prevented from leaving Protected View entirely, with administrators able to decide whether users can bypass and ‘enable editing’ for malicious files using the Admin portal.

In addition to the added security features, IT admins will be given access to an Advanced Hunting feature to get additional analytical information on users.

Safe Documents is turned off by default, with security administrators able to activate the feature by navigating to the Security and Compliance centre within Microsoft 365. Organisations will need a Microsoft 365 E5 Security license in order to use the feature.

Microsoft acquires data model provider ADRM


Keumars Afifi-Sabet

19 Jun, 2020

Microsoft has snapped up enterprise data modelling company ADRM Software with a view to combining the firm’s “information blueprints” with Azure storage and compute to create sophisticated data lakes.

ADRM, which providers large-scale sector-specific industrial data models to large enterprises, has built and refined its services over decades for business-critical analytics. These models allow organisations to more completely capture and define their business processes and build interoperability across IT infrastructures.

Microsoft is hoping to combine these comprehensive industrial models with the limitless storage and computing power of Azure to create intelligent data lakes where data from several lines of businesses can be combined more efficiently.

“Data and AI are the foundation of modern technological innovation, yet businesses today struggle to unlock the full value data has to offer as fragmented data estates hinder digital transformation,” said Microsoft’s CVP for Azure Global Industry Ravi Krishnaswamy said.

“Without a comprehensive and integrated view of their data, companies are at a competitive disadvantage, which hinders digital adoption and data-driven innovation.

Combining ADRM Software’s services with Azure, these capabilities can be offered to enterprises at scale, and allow customers to embark on digital projects quicker and with less risk, Microsoft explained.

Although data and AI are considered key to modern innovation, many businesses struggle to fully extract value from datasets due to fragmentation. Without a comprehensive and integrated view of their data, companies may find their digital transformation plans disrupted. This is the issue that Microsoft is hoping to resolve by feeding ADRM’s data models into its cloud computing platform.

“As we worked closely with the Azure global engineering team during the past year, we became very enthusiastic about the tremendous additional value and acceleration we believe can be unlocked for large enterprises across many industries,” said ADRM Software in an announcement.

The post added that the data lakes that can be created as a result of the acquisition aren’t “just vast reservoirs” but are also metadata-rich foundations that can supercharge data warehouses, analytics, AI and machine learning.

‘Severe’ Cisco WebEx flaw grants hackers access to meeting data


Keumars Afifi-Sabet

19 Jun, 2020

Cisco has patched a dangerous flaw that allows a hacker to access victims’ accounts from another machine in order to see all meetings, individuals invited, meeting passwords and past meeting records.

The shared memory information leakage vulnerability, found in the Cisco WebEx Meetings desktop app for Windows, allows an authenticated attacker to gain access to sensitive information either locally, or by running a malicious programme.

Assigned CVE-2020-3347, the exploitation is based on the unsafe usage of shared memory used by the video conferencing platform’s desktop client, according to Trustwave researchers, who discovered the flaw.

Once the WebEx Meetings application is installed, it adds an application to the tray that starts up automatically once the user logs on. If the user has configured the client to log on automatically too, which by default it does, several memory-mapping files open, with some unprotected from opening for reading and writing.

An attacker with permissions to view system memory could exploit this vulnerability by running an application that’s designed to read shared memory. The hacker can loop over sessions and try to open, read and save content for future examination.

Successful exploitation could give the hacker the power to retrieve sensitive information through this mechanism, including usernames, meeting information, as well as authentication tokens that can be used in future attacks.

“Due to the global pandemic of COVID-19, there’s been an explosion of video conferencing and messaging software usage to help people transition their work-life to a work from home environment,” said Trustwave security research manager Martin Rakhmanov.

“Vulnerabilities in this type of software now present an even greater risk to its users. Cisco WebEx is one of the most popular video conferencing solutions available, so I decided to turn my research skills to see how secure the platform is.

“In an attack scenario, any malicious local user or malicious process running on a computer where WebEx Client for Windows is installed can monitor the memory-mapped file for a login token. Once found the token, like any leaked credentials, can be transmitted somewhere so that it can be used to login to the WebEx account in question, download Recordings, view/edit Meetings, etc.”

Cisco has released a software update addressing this vulnerability, urging users to update their Cisco Webex Meetings software to version 40.6.0 and higher. The “relatively severe” flaw affected versions of the platform released earlier than this, with Rakhmanov testing the exploitation on version 40.4.12.8.

Cisco unveils tools to service the post-coronavirus workplace


Keumars Afifi-Sabet

17 Jun, 2020

Cisco has unveiled a ‘business resiliency’ portfolio that offers enterprises the tools to cope with the realities of a post-COVID business landscape, including remote working technologies and workplace systems.

The portfolio combines industry-specific as well as general-purposes services to give customers the means to cope with the new reality of social distancing in the workplace and difficulties in engaging remote workers. 

Cisco is rolling out the portfolio as the effects of COVID-19 continue to take their toll, and challenges such as mass remote working and fragmented IT continue to loom. This is in addition to further updates to WebEx, Cisco’s video conferencing platform, and integration with collaboration platform WebEx Teams and Box.

Industry-specific tools released as part of the business resilience package including a remote learning system, as well as an IT infrastructure kit to allow governments to establish a temporary hospital, in the mould of the NHS Nightingale sites. The temporary connected field hospital, as it’s dubbed, includes wireless networking and the associated technology to establish a temporary facility within five days.  

“Over the past several months we’ve seen major disruption to many industries and organizations at a pace like never before. Businesses that once mapped digital strategy in one to three-year periods have been required to scale their initiatives essentially overnight,” said Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins. 

“Cisco’s new business resiliency portfolio will help customers reevaluate their business strategies and implement solutions more quickly and easily than ever before.”

The remote workforce systems include a remote contact centre system, enabling contact centre agents to work from home using cloud-based systems or the capabilities to securely access their on-premise tech remotely. 

Flexible remote access gives employees the expertise and tools to access the network, endpoints and applications remotely, while the final prong, secure remote worker, offers businesses tools to analyse the effectiveness and security of their VPNs.

Among the workplace technologies being rolled out is remote office connectivity that extends a corporate network to adjacent and remote locations so workers can benefit from increased bandwidth and faster connectivity. 

Finally, social density monitoring and insights gives workplaces a view on how busy their workplace environments might be at any one time. This is in order for facilities teams to plan return-to-work strategies with social distancing in mind.

The WebEx integration with Box, meanwhile, allows workers to use the content management platform’s secure file-sharing capabilities to share documents with colleagues. With regards to WebEx, Cisco has tripled the video conferencing platform’s capacity in light of the surge in users as a result of the pandemic. 

WebEx will also introduce a fully-fledge voice-activated virtual assistant, building on Cisco’s intentions to use voice tools to explore the ‘next frontier’ of data insights, outlined in January this year.