Mindtree achieves Google Cloud partner status

Bobby Hellard

23 Feb, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IBM reportedly mulls sale of Watson Health business

Bobby Hellard

22 Feb, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bobby Hellard

19 Feb, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Microsoft to launch standalone Office 2021 suite

Keumars Afifi-Sabet

19 Feb, 2021

Microsoft will launch a standalone, offline version of its flagship Office productivity suite for users and businesses unwilling to take out a subscription, more than two years after launching Office 2019.

Dubbed Office 2021, this software suite will launch alongside a long-term servicing channel (LTSC) version developed primarily for enterprises, according to the Verge.

Office LTSC will include new features such as support for dark mode, and accessibility improvements, alongside enhancements to core functionality – although the company has refrained from detailing these feature changes.

The announcement follows the company’s hints last year that it would release a ‘perpetual licence’ edition of its productivity suite. This is despite an understanding that Microsoft was seeking to phase out offline variants of Office in light of the huge shift to cloud-based collaboration

Office 2019, for example, was released with a reduced extended support period against that offered in previous offline editions. Users were able to tap into just five years of mainstream support, as opposed to the standard seven years afforded in the past.

Microsoft’s desire to migrate its customers to subscription-based services was also signalled by the launch of Microsoft 365, which encompasses the breadth of its workplace services, including Outlook and Teams.

The imminent launch of Office 2021 and Office LTSC, however, suggests the company understands not all its customers are ready to move to the cloud. 

“It’s just a matter of trying to meet customers where they are,” head of Microsoft 365, Jared Spataro, told the Verge.

“We certainly have a lot of customers that have moved to the cloud over the last 10 months, that’s happened en masse really. At the same time, we definitely have customers who have specific scenarios where they don’t feel like they can move to the cloud.”

Like Office 2019, Office LTSC will only be supported for five years, excluding extended support. Pricing for Office Professional Plus, Office Standard and individual apps will also increase by 10% for commercial customers against Office 2019. Pricing for consumer and small business customers with Office 2021, however, will not change. 

The software giant is planning to release a preview of Office LTSC in April ahead of a full release later this year. Office 2021 will launch at the same time, but won’t be available in preview.

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.

Google Cloud partners with Databricks for enterprise analytics

Bobby Hellard

18 Feb, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Samsung debuts ‘industry’s-first’ AI-powered memory

Keumars Afifi-Sabet

17 Feb, 2021

Samsung has developed a computing architecture that combines memory with artificial intelligence (AI) processing power to double the performance of data centres and high-performance computing (HPC) tasks while reducing power consumption.

Branded an ‘industry first’, this processor-in-memory (PIM) architecture brings AI computing capabilities to systems normally powered by high-bandwidth memory (HBM), such as data centres and supercomputers. HBM is an existing technology developed by companies including AMD and SK Hynix.

The result, according to Samsung, is twice the performance in high-powered systems, and a reduction in power consumption by more than 70%. This is driven largely by the fact the memory and processor components are integrated and no longer separated, vastly reducing the latency in the data transferred between them.

“Our groundbreaking HBM-PIM is the industry’s first programmable PIM solution tailored for diverse AI-driven workloads such as HPC, training and inference,” said Samsungs vice president of memory product planning, Kwangil Park. 

“We plan to build upon this breakthrough by further collaborating with AI solution providers for even more advanced PIM-powered applications.”

Most computing systems today are based on an architecture which uses separate memory and processor units to carry out data processing tasks, known as von Neumann architecture. 

This approach requires data to move back and forth on a constant basis between the two components, which can result in a bottleneck when handling ever-increasing volumes of data, slowing system performance.

HBM-PIM, developed by Samsung, places a DRAM-optimised AI engine within each memory bank, enabling parallel processing and minimising the movement of data.

“I’m delighted to see that Samsung is addressing the memory bandwidth/power challenges for HPC and AI computing,” said Argonne’s associate laboratory director for computing, environment and life sciences, Rick Stevens. Argonne National Laboratory is a US Department of Energy research centre.  

“HBM-PIM design has demonstrated impressive performance and power gains on important classes of AI applications, so we look forward to working together to evaluate its performance on additional problems of interest to Argonne National Laboratory.”

Samsung’s innovation is being tested inside AI accelerators by third-parties in the AI sector, with work expected to be completed within the first half of 2021. Early tests with Samsung’s HBM2 Aquabolt memory system demonstrated the performance improvements and power consumption reduction cited previously.

Trello overhauls platform to cater to remote working

Bobby Hellard

17 Feb, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Palo Alto Networks to acquire Bridgecrew for $156 million

Daniel Todd

17 Feb, 2021

Cyber security specialist Palo Alto Networks has announced it has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Bridgecrew, a developer-first cloud security provider, for $156 million.

The firm said the acquisition will enable “shift-left” security, with its Prisma Cloud offering becoming the first cloud security platform to cover the full application lifecycle. 

The platform will now be able to provide developers with security assessment and enforcement capabilities throughout the DevOps process. Ultimately, Prisma customers will benefit from a single platform that can deliver cloud security from build time to runtime, seamlessly connecting security and DevOps teams, Palo Alto added.

“Shift left security is a must-have in any cloud security platform,” commented Nikesh Arora, chairman and CEO of Palo Alto Networks. “Developers don’t want to wait until runtime to find out their security is not working, and the CISO charged with protecting the entire organisation certainly values higher security from fixing issues earlier in the development lifecycle.

“We are thrilled to welcome Bridgecrew, and its widely adopted and trusted developer security platform, to Palo Alto Networks. When combined, Prisma Cloud customers will benefit from having security embedded in the very foundation of their cloud infrastructure.”

A pioneer in shift-left, Bridgecrew focuses on infrastructure as a code (IaC), which sees infrastructure configuration codified during development. The provider’s IaC platform offers developers and DevOps teams a systematic way to enforce infrastructure security standards throughout the development lifecycle. 

Additionally, Bridgecrew’s open source IaC scanner Checkov has gained significant early traction with developers, surpassing one million downloads in 2020 – its first full year of availability. The firm’s full security platform is also seeing strong early traction across many cloud-first organisations and several industries. 

Palo Alto said it will continue to invest in Bridgecrew’s open-source initiatives as part of its ongoing commitment to DevOps security.

The acquisition will also see Bridgecrew co-founders, Idan Tendler, Barak Schoster and Guy Eisenkot, join Palo Alto Networks along with their teams.

“We have dedicated ourselves to building developer-first tools that bridge the gap between developers and cloud security,” said Idan Tendler, co-founder and CEO of Bridgecrew. “By joining Palo Alto Networks, we will be able to bring codified cloud security to the developer community on a wider scale. We look forward to working together to continue shifting cloud security left.”

The deal is expected to close during Palo Alto Networks’ fiscal third quarter, subject to customary closing conditions.