All posts by Sabina Weston

HPE’s new business unit aims to fuel enterprise 5G adoption

Sabina Weston

25 Feb, 2021

Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) has unveiled a new organisation that aims to help telcos and enterprises take advantage of the wide range of opportunities offered by the 5G market.

The newly-formed Communications Technology Group (CTG) was created by combining HPE’s Telco Infrastructure team with its Communications & Media Solutions (CMS) software arm. The latter alone has generated more than $500 million (£355m) of revenue in the fiscal year 2020, with orders growing by 18% and revenue increasing by 6% sequentially in the fourth quarter of the fiscal year 2020, according to HPE.

CTG comprises over 5,000 professionals who aim to provide consultancy, integration, installation, and support services tailored to the telecoms market.

Commenting on the announcement, CTG SVP and GM Phil Mottram said that “HPE aims to become the transformation catalyst for the 5G economy”, building on “more than 30 years of experience designing, building and tuning telco-grade infrastructure and software”.

“CTG’s founding principle is to drive innovation from edge to cloud through secure, open solutions. We are collaborating with customers and partners to build open 5G solutions that deliver efficiency, reduce risk and complexity, and future-proof the network across the telco core, the radio access network and the telco edge,” he added.

Mottram also unveiled two solutions which he described as foundational to HPE CTG, the first one being the HPE Open RAN Solution Stack, which features the industry’s first Open RAN workload-optimised server – the new HPE ProLiant DL110 Gen10 Plus. The Open RAN Solution Stack aims to enable the commercial deployment of Open RAN at scale in global 5G networks and includes infrastructure with RAN-specific blueprints, as well as orchestration and automation software.

The second “foundational” solution is the HPE 5G Core Stack, first announced in March 2020, which provides telecoms firms with 5G tech at the core of their mobile networks.

CTG’s portfolio is expected to play a crucial part in advancing HPE’s edge-to-cloud platform as a service strategy, providing enterprise and telco solutions alike, such as open, cloud-native, and flexible solutions which aim to facilitate the rollout of 5G services or modular aaS solutions that use cloud economics in order to help businesses manage demand and future-proof their enterprise.

“I am confident that with such a solid foundation and common purpose, we will strengthen our thought leadership in the telecoms sector and are set on a path for innovation and growth,” said Mottram.

WhatsApp presses ahead with privacy changes despite backlash

Sabina Weston

19 Feb, 2021

WhatsApp has said that a controversial change to its privacy terms that would see the creation of a limited data sharing agreement with its parent company Facebook will now going ahead as planned.

The update to WhatsApp’s privacy policy, which would allow the messaging platform to share some user data with Facebook, was supposed to come into effect on 8 February. However, public backlash prompted WhatsApp to delay the implementation by three months, to 15 May, in order to clarify the details of what the agreement would entail.

Under the new privacy policy, WhatsApp will be able to share limited user data with Facebook and its group firms in order to allow businesses to use the platform for customer service purposes.

However, the company said that this would not affect users’ personal conversations and that it will be up to the user to decide whether they “want to engage with businesses, or not”,  according to a blog post on Thursday. It also added that it will “clearly label chats” in order to make users aware when businesses are managing their conversations using Facebook, and the implementation of the update will first result in the displaying of banners providing additional information on the new terms.

Accepting the new terms will be compulsory in order to continue using the messaging platform, a rule that last month led to millions of users downloading alternative apps such as Telegram and Signal.

As a result. WhatsApp fell from being the eighth most downloaded app in the UK at the start of the year, to the 23rd most downloaded by 12 January, when discussion around the update started gaining momentum.

By contrast, Telegram and Signal gained 25 million and 7.5 million users respectively during the same period, resulting in a brief crash of Signal’s servers. However, it’s unclear how many of these users still have WhatsApp installed, so it’s difficult to assess how many users WhatsApp lost entirely as a result of the move.

WhatsApp acknowledged that it “could have done better” and told users that it will be “doing much more to make [its] voice clear going forward” by using its app’s Status feature to share information on updates and company values directly to its users.

It also addressed the mass uptake in Signal and Telegram downloads, saying that it understands that “some people may check out other apps to see what they have to offer”.

“We’ve seen some of our competitors try to get away with claiming they can’t see people’s messages – if an app doesn’t offer end-to-end encryption by default that means they can read your messages,” the company stated in its blog post. “Other apps say they’re better because they know even less information than WhatsApp. We believe people are looking for apps to be both reliable and safe, even if that requires WhatsApp having some limited data.

“We strive to be thoughtful on the decisions we make and we’ll continue to develop new ways of meeting these responsibilities with less information, not more,” it added.

Google introduces new video tools for Meet, Chrome OS

Sabina Weston

18 Feb, 2021

Chrome OS users will now be able to record their screens in meetings, as part of a slew of new features and devices announced by Google.

Although mostly aimed at children and teenagers confined to remote learning as schools remain closed, the new tools are likely to be found useful by a wider audience.

The screen recording tool will be rolled out in March with the latest Chrome OS update, and other new video conferencing features will follow.

For instance, Google Meet is providing teachers with increased control over the virtual classroom, soon giving them the option to end meetings for everyone on the call, which will prevent students from staying on after the teacher has left — including in breakout rooms. They will also be able to prevent interruptions with a new “mute all” tool, which will become available in the next few weeks.

Over the next few months, Google will also be adding a tool which will allow meeting hosts to control when other participants can unmute themselves, as well as provide better access to key moderation controls when using iOS or Android devices.

The newly-announced features are all part of Google’s efforts to increase the safety of underage users, bettering their quality of education as well as preventing major security incidents such as ‘Zoom-bombing’.

To coincide with the release, the company also announced that it will be launching over 40 new Chromebooks, many of which will be 2-in-1 devices that combine the features of laptops and tablets.

The new devices are to be equipped with a stylus, touchscreen, as well as dual-cameras, making it easier for users to take notes, edit videos, record screencasts, and create a range of media, from podcasts to books and illustrations.

Google also announced that it will roll out a range of Chromebooks that can better support students with limited access to a Wi-Fi connection. The “Always Connected” devices will be equipped with LTE connectivity, allowing users to access the internet using their preferred mobile network provider. It’s currently unclear when these devices will become available – IT Pro has sought clarification on this.

Chromebook shipments between October and December 2020 hit an all-time high of 11.2 million shipped units, an increase of 287% from the same quarter in 2019.

Digital investment could add £232 billion to UK economy by 2040

Sabina Weston

16 Feb, 2021

Investing in digital technology could increase the UK’s GDP by almost 7%, delivering a £232 billion boost to the economy by 2040.

That’s according to new research from the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr) and Virgin Media Business

The study examined how focusing on digital ways of working, which has been magnified by lockdown restrictions, could help the UK recover from the economic effects of the pandemic. The report claims that investing in digital technology could boost the economy by £74 billion in the next four years, and by £127 billion by the end of this decade.

By 2040, if these investments are sustained, digital technology is expected to add £232 billion to the national economy – equivalent to 6.9% of the UK’s GDP.

Digital processes in the public sector will create efficiency gains and cost-savings of £75 billion, according to the report, while investments in digitising health and social care, as well as the justice, central, and local government sectors could add £33 billion and £32 billion to the UK economy, respectively.

Cebr also found that digital investment in private sectors such as retail, professional services, and construction, could be worth an additional £40 billion by 2040, with other parts of the economy also predicted to experience similar gains.

Cebr director of Economic Analysis, Cristian Niculescu-Marcu, said that the economic impacts of the pandemic alone “fall far short of capturing the scale of the pandemic’s toll on people’s lives and wellbeing”. 

“Within this research we have examined the potential economic impact of a wave of digital transformation, driven by the rollout of new ways of working and connecting,” he said, adding that “this could create an economic high road over the coming decades, helping the UK economy to grow while also having the flexibility to deal with future challenges”.

Commenting on the Virgin Media Business managing director Peter Kelly said that “the UK has a £232 billion opportunity ahead of it which we must now grasp with both hands”. 

“By continuing to invest in new digital ways of working, we can seize this moment and help UK businesses to bounce back better. Moves to accelerate digital adoption are driving extraordinary outcomes across private and public sector organisations, helping them to revolutionise how they work, deliver for customers, and provide vital services for our communities,” he added.

The release of Virgin Media’s report comes days after the company announced that it is planning to create more than 400 new graduate, intern, and apprenticeship roles over the course of 2021.

Post Office embraces biometrics for new digital identity app

Sabina Weston

15 Feb, 2021

The Post Office has announced plans to launch a free-to-use app that will use biometrics to authenticate customers and prevent fraud.

The new app will be based on software supplied by London-based company Yoti, which launched in 2014 and specialises in digital identity technology. It will take advantage of biometric-face matching and liveness detection in order to ensure the privacy of Post Office customers and prevent potential imposters from obtaining sensitive information.

The app could help to ensure social distancing by enabling customers to be identified for passport and driving licence renewals from the safety of their homes, without the need to attend a post office in-person.

Set to launch in the spring, the app will also enable customers to use their digital identity to carry out a range of online and in-person transactions such as one-click bank account applications, job applications, mortgage applications, picking up parcels and for travel purposes.

Along with this will be new in-branch services for customers who do not have access to a smartphone, or who prefer face-to-face contact when asked to confirm their identity.

As part of this partnership with Yoti in July, a pilot, initially at around 750 Post Offices, will offer these new in-branch services. This will enable those people without a smartphone, secure internet access, or photo ID to complete their identity verification at a Post Office. Those who simply prefer face-to-face transactions will also be able to have their identity verified by a Postmaster in-branch.

Post Office chief executive Nick Read said that he is “delighted that Post Office and Yoti are joining forces” in order to expand the former’s identity services.

“We have an ambitious strategy to deliver a unique offer to the market that integrates digital and physical identity verification at scale benefitting both individuals and businesses,” he added.

“Post Office is embracing new technologies and this partnership will enhance our reputation as the trusted go-to destination for identity solutions. Whether it’s proving your identity on a smartphone or face-to-face with a Postmaster, we will make transactions faster and simpler than ever before.”

Yoti CEO Robin Tombs said that the company had “already invested over £85m creating a world-leading ID platform that removes the friction from outdated ID processes, puts individuals in control of their identity, preserves privacy and helps reduce identity fraud”. 

“Together with the Post Office, we will help drive the UK’s digital transformation, making life simpler and safer for individuals and businesses online, in-branch and on the high street,” he added.

Commenting on the partnership, Cabinet office minister Julia Lopez said that “products that help digitally to verify a person’s identity are becoming increasingly important as more areas of our work and home lives move online”. 

“Creating a common trust framework will give greater clarity and certainty to organisations who want to work in this field about what is expected of them. More importantly, however, it will help to deepen users’ trust and confidence in digital identities and the standards we expect in the safeguarding of their personal data and privacy.”

Google Cloud lost £4.1 billion in 2020

Sabina Weston

3 Feb, 2021

Google Cloud has reported a loss of $5.61 billion (£4.1bn) for the fiscal year 2020, which ended on 31 December.

The cloud business brought in revenue of $3.83 billion (£2.8 billion) and recorded a loss $1.24 billion (£900 million) for Q4 2020, Google revealed on Tuesday. This marks the first time the company has announced the operating income metric for Google Cloud.

With 2020 dubbed as the year of the cloud due to the fact it’s helped keep people connected during the pandemic, an operating loss of $5.61 billion may seem like a grim result for Google. 

However, the company also managed to deliver $13 billion (£9.53 billion) of revenue during 2020, a steady increase from $5.8 billion (£4.25 billion) in 2018 and $8.9 billion (£6.53 billion) in 2019. Despite mounting losses over the year – $4.3 billion in 2018 and $4.6 billion in 2019 – this has been attributed to investment in new data centres as Google Cloud expands its operations. 

In 2020, the cloud giant launched four new cloud regions in Indonesia, South Korea, and the US, and announced another four to come in Qatar, Spain, Italy, and France.

On an earnings call with investors, CEO Sundar Pichai said that Google Cloud will continue to invest going forward.

“The market dynamics and our momentum in the context of the market is the framework in which we are thinking about the scale of investments – and the pace of investments,” he said, adding that the cloud giant is “definitely investing ahead” in order to ensure that the company is “able to serve the customers globally across all the offerings they are interested in”.

When it comes to Google as a whole, the tech giant reported Q4 revenues of $56.9 billion (£41.73 billion) which, according to CFO Ruth Porat, “was driven by Search and YouTube, as consumer and business activity recovered from earlier in the year”.

Porat also touched on Google Cloud’s results, adding that Workspace is experiencing strong growth among larger businesses, “which are signing meaningful, long-term commitment agreements”.

Google Cloud competitor AWS reported revenues of $12.74 billion (£9.34 billion) and an operating income of $3.56 billion (£2.6 billion) for Q4 alone. For 2020, AWS’s operating income was $13.5 billion (£9.89 billion).

Google Cloud releases VM Manager to help automate infrastructure management

Sabina Weston

29 Jan, 2021

Google Cloud has announced a new tool for managing large fleets of virtual machines (VMs).

The VM Manager is a suite of infrastructure management tools which aims to simplify the process of ensuring the security, compliance, and observability of large VM fleets as businesses scale their operations.

The suite supports Windows and Linux operating system environments and comprises a single dashboard to allow real-time tracking of inventory.

It offers services such as configuration management and patch management, with the latter including patch compliance reporting, which provides insights on the patch status of users’ VMs across Windows and Linux distributions. It also includes patch deployment, which automates the OS and software patch update process, the company explained in a blog post on Thursday.

Lastly, VM Manager also includes an inventory management service which is integrated with Google’s Cloud Asset Inventory product, in order to simplify the analysis of customers’ Google Cloud fleet data.

Announcing the new management tool, product manager Ravi Kiran Chintalapudi and product marketing manager Senanu Aggor said that the new suite “reduces complexity, improves security and compliance reporting, and simplifies monitoring resources in a large cloud environment”.

“By taking advantage of automated tools to keep systems up-to-date, reduce the risk of downtime, and improve productivity of internal users, early VM Manager users tell us that it allows their IT administrators to focus on other business-critical tasks,” they added.

VM Manager is available for testing in the customers’ environment using a free tier which provides a monthly usage of 100 VMs per Cloud Billing account. Once the free tier is exhausted, for all VMs that have an active OS Config agent, each active agent is charged at a rate of $0.003 (approximately £0,002) per hour per VM.

IT Pro has contacted Google Cloud about the availability of VM Manager in the UK and will update this article when more information becomes available.

Last year, the company announced Confidential VMs – Google Cloud’s first product in its new confidential computing portfolio which allows companies to process sensitive data while keeping it encrypted in memory. The feature is an evolution of its Shielded VMs, a tool launched in 2018 that companies could deploy to strip out most of the potentially vulnerable startup processes that trigger when attempting to create a new environment.

Until then, like many cloud providers, Google offered encryption on data at rest and while in transit, requiring that data to be decrypted before it could be processed.

Apple’s block on activity tracking to arrive ‘early spring’

Sabina Weston

28 Jan, 2021

Apple is reportedly planning to roll out its new App Tracking Transparency tool sometime in “early spring”, following months of delays and criticism from competitors.

The tool forces app developers to ask an iPhone user’s permission before the app tracks their activity “across other companies’ apps and websites”. The user will see a notification pop-up on their screen and will be able to decide whether they want to opt in or out of sharing their data with other firms to aid in advertising.

The App Tracking Transparency marks a significant change to Apple’s privacy settings, shifting the responsibility from the user to the app developer. Apple previously only let users disable this kind of tracking manually in their iPhone settings.

The update was first announced in June last year but was delayed in September in order to provide digital advertisers with more time to adjust.

According to Reuters, the tool is now expected to be rolled out for most iPhone users as soon as “early spring”, but Apple didn’t provide a specific date. CEO Tim Cook is expected to provide further details later today at the Computers, Privacy and Data Protection conference in Brussels, which coincides with Data Protection Day.

The update has received criticism from other tech giants, with Facebook executives telling investors on Wednesday that the change could have a negative effect on the company’s revenues in the first quarter. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg also accused Apple of having “every incentive to use their dominant platform position to interfere with how our apps and other apps work”.

Earlier this week, Google said that it would cease using an Apple-supplied tracking identifier which would require it to show the warning. However, it also added that it is working with Apple to improve an alternative offering which would help advertisers attribute paid clicks and taps without engaging in what Apple classifies as tracking.

Google also recently released a new tool which would improve users’ privacy. On Monday, it announced that Chrome will now automatically hide the content of web pop-up notifications, including email notifications, Google Chat messages, and other third party websites, when the user is sharing their screen. 

SonicWall hacked via zero-day flaw in remote access tools

Sabina Weston

25 Jan, 2021

SonicWall has admitted that it’s been the target of a cyber attack which saw hackers take advantage of zero-day vulnerabilities in its secure remote access products.

The network security provider issued a statement confirming the incident after being contacted by SC Media, which received an anonymous tip that SonicWall’s systems had been breached.

The company stated that it had “identified a coordinated attack on its internal systems by highly sophisticated threat actors exploiting probable zero-day vulnerabilities on certain SonicWall secure remote access products”.

The company didn’t specify when exactly the incident took place. CloudPro contacted SonicWall for a timeline of the attack but is yet to receive a response from the company.

Over the weekend, SonicWall issued an additional statement which ruled out that its NetExtender VPN Client product had been compromised, adding that the only products to remain under investigation are from the SMA 100 series which “provide Secure, Mobile and Remote Access” to SMBs. 

However, SonicWall clarified that, despite the investigation, all “SMA 100 series products may be used safely in common deployment use cases”.

The company also said that it “fully understands the challenges previous guidance had in a work-from-home environment, but the communicated steps were measured and purposeful in ensuring the safety and security of [its] global community of customers and partners”.

“As the front line of cyber defense, we have seen a dramatic surge in cyberattacks on governments and businesses, specifically on firms that provide critical infrastructure and security controls to those organizations,” it added.

Despite a decline in the number of security incidents, the last year was deemed as the worst for data breaches on record.

The news of the incident comes months after SonicWall released patches for a critical vulnerability in the SonicOS operating system, which is responsible for running SonicWall virtual private network (VPN) appliances.

Enterprise software to lead IT spending rebound in 2021

Sabina Weston

25 Jan, 2021

Enterprise software is expected to grow by 8.8% in 2021 as businesses seek to expand and improve remote work environments, according to new predictions from Gartner.

Global IT spending fell by 3.2% in 2020 as a result of the COVID pandemic, but the research firm expects spending this year to rise by 6.2% to a total of $3.9 trillion (£2.85 trillion) before surpassing the $4 trillion (£2.93 trillion) mark in 2022.

Enterprise software is expected to witness the strongest rebound followed by the devices segment, which is expected to see growth of 8% in 2021. Garner expects spending on data centre systems to increase by 6.2% during the 12-month period, while IT and communications services are predicted to grow by 6% and 4% respectively. 

Commenting on the predictions, Gartner distinguished research VP John-David Lovelock said that CIOs “have a balancing act to perform in 2021 — saving cash and expanding IT”.

“With the economy returning to a level of certainty, companies are investing in IT in a manner consistent with their expectations for growth, not their current revenue levels. Digital business, led by projects with a short Time to Value, will get more money and board-level attention going into 2021,” he added.

Gartner also projects that, through 2024, businesses will be forced to accelerate their digital transformation plans by at least five years in order to survive in a post-COVID world, where remote work and digital touchpoints will be the norm.

“Digital business represents the dominant technology trend in late 2020 and early 2021 with areas such as cloud computing, core business applications, security and customer experience at the forefront,” said Lovelock. 

“Optimisation initiatives, such as hyperautomation, will continue and the focus of these projects will remain on returning cash and eliminating work from processes, not just tasks.”

Moreover, non-COVID-19 geopolitical factors are expected to inhibit recovery for some regions, such as Brexit for the UK and the difficult China-US relations.