Monthly Archives: July 2018

The Istio service mesh hits version 1.0

Posted by on 31 July, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

Istio, the service mesh for microservices from Google, IBM, Lyft, Red Hat and many other players in the open-source community, launched version 1.0 of its tools today.

If you’re not into service meshes, that’s understandable. Few people are. But Istio is probably one of the most important new open-source projects out there right now. It sits at the intersection of a number of industry trends, like containers, microservices and serverless computing, and makes it easier for enterprises to embrace them. Istio now has more than 200 contributors and the code has seen more than 4,000 check-ins since the launch of  version 0.1.

Istio, at its core, handles the routing, load balancing, flow control and security needs of microservices. It sits on top of existing distributed applications and basically helps them talk to each other securely, while also providing logging, telemetry and the necessary policies that keep things under control (and secure). It also features support for canary releases, which allow developers to test updates with a few users before launching them to a wider audience, something that Google and other webscale companies have long done internally.

“In the area of microservices, things are moving so quickly,” Google product manager Jennifer Lin told me. “And with the success of Kubernetes and the abstraction around container orchestration, Istio was formed as an open-source project to really take the next step in terms of a substrate for microservice development as well as a path for VM-based workloads to move into more of a service management layer. So it’s really focused around the right level of abstractions for services and creating a consistent environment for managing that.”

Even before the 1.0 release, a number of companies already adopted Istio in production, including the likes of eBay and Auto Trader UK. Lin argues that this is a sign that Istio solves a problem that a lot of businesses are facing today as they adopt microservices. “A number of more sophisticated customers tried to build their own service management layer and while we hadn’t yet declared 1.0, we hard a number of customers — including a surprising number of large enterprise customer — say, ‘you know, even though you’re not 1.0, I’m very comfortable putting this in production because what I’m comparing it to is much more raw.’”

IBM Fellow and VP of Cloud Jason McGee agrees with this and notes that “our mission since Istio’s launch has been to enable everyone to succeed with microservices, especially in the enterprise. This is why we’ve focused the community around improving security and scale, and heavily leaned our contributions on what we’ve learned from building agile cloud architectures for companies of all sizes.”

A lot of the large cloud players now support Istio directly, too. IBM supports it on top of its Kubernetes Service, for example, and Google even announced a managed Istio service for its Google Cloud users, as well as some additional open-source tooling for serverless applications built on top of Kubernetes and Istio.

Two names missing from today’s party are Microsoft and Amazon. I think that’ll change over time, though, assuming the project keeps its momentum.

Istio also isn’t part of any major open-source foundation yet. The Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF), the home of Kubernetes, is backing linkerd, a project that isn’t all that dissimilar from Istio. Once a 1.0 release of these kinds of projects rolls around, the maintainers often start looking for a foundation that can shepherd the development of the project over time. I’m guessing it’s only a matter of time before we hear more about where Istio will land.

Posted Under: Tech News
A pickaxe for the AI gold rush, Labelbox sells training data software

Posted by on 30 July, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

Every artificial intelligence startup or corporate R&D lab has to reinvent the wheel when it comes to how humans annotate training data to teach algorithms what to look for. Whether it’s doctors assessing the size of cancer from a scan or drivers circling street signs in self-driving car footage, all this labeling has to happen somewhere. Often that means wasting six months and as much as a million dollars just developing a training data system. With nearly every type of business racing to adopt AI, that spend in cash and time adds up.

Labelbox builds artificial intelligence training data labeling software so nobody else has to. What Salesforce is to a sales team, Labelbox is to an AI engineering team. The software-as-a-service acts as the interface for human experts or crowdsourced labor to instruct computers how to spot relevant signals in data by themselves and continuously improve their algorithms’ accuracy.

Today, Labelbox is emerging from six months in stealth with a $3.9 million seed round led by Kleiner Perkins and joined by First Round and Google’s Gradient Ventures.

“There haven’t been seamless tools to allow AI teams to transfer institutional knowledge from their brains to software,” says co-founder Manu Sharma. “Now we have over 5,000 customers, and many big companies have replaced their own internal tools with Labelbox.”

Kleiner’s Ilya Fushman explains that “If you have these tools, you can ramp up to the AI curve much faster, allowing companies to realize the dream of AI.”

Inventing the best wheel

Sharma knew how annoying it was to try to forge training data systems from scratch because he’d seen it done before at Planet Labs, a satellite imaging startup. “One of the things that I observed was that Planet Labs has a superb AI team, but that team had been for over six months building labeling and training tools. Is this really how teams around the world are approaching building AI?,” he wondered.

Before that, he’d worked at DroneDeploy alongside Labelbox co-founder and CTO Daniel Rasmuson, who was leading the aerial data startup’s developer platform. “Many drone analytics companies that were also building AI were going through the same pain point,” Sharma tells me. In September, the two began to explore the idea and found that 20 other companies big and small were also burning talent and capital on the problem. “We thought we could make that much smarter so AI teams can focus on algorithms,” Sharma decided.

Labelbox’s team, with co-founders Ysiad Ferreiras (third from left), Manu Sharma (fourth from left), Brian Rieger (sixth from left) Daniel Rasmuson (seventh from left)

Labelbox launched its early alpha in January and saw swift pickup from the AI community that immediately asked for additional features. With time, the tool expanded with more and more ways to manually annotate data, from gradation levels like how sick a cow is for judging its milk production to matching systems like whether a dress fits a fashion brand’s aesthetic. Rigorous data science is applied to weed out discrepancies between reviewers’ decisions and identify edge cases that don’t fit the models.

“There are all these research studies about how to make training data” that Labelbox analyzes and applies, says co-founder and COO Ysiad Ferreiras, who’d led all of sales and revenue at fast-rising grassroots campaign texting startup Hustle. “We can let people tweak different settings so they can run their own machine learning program the way they want to, instead of being limited by what they can build really quickly.” When Norway mandated all citizens get colon cancer screenings, it had to build AI for recognizing polyps. Instead of spending half a year creating the training tool, they just signed up all the doctors on Labelbox.

Any organization can try Labelbox for free, and Ferreiras claims hundreds of thousands have. Once they hit a usage threshold, the startup works with them on appropriate SaaS pricing related to the revenue the client’s AI will generate. One called Lytx makes DriveCam, a system installed on half a million trucks with cameras that use AI to detect unsafe driver behavior so they can be coached to improve. Conde Nast is using Labelbox to match runway fashion to related items in their archive of content.

Eliminating redundancy, and jobs?

The big challenge is convincing companies that they’re better off leaving the training software to the experts instead of building it in-house where they’re intimately, though perhaps inefficiently, involved in every step of development. Some turn to crowdsourcing agencies like CrowdFlower, which has their own training data interface, but they only work with generalist labor, not the experts required for many fields. Labelbox wants to cooperate rather than compete here, serving as the management software that treats outsourcers as just another data input.

Long-term, the risk for Labelbox is that it’s arrived too early for the AI revolution. Most potential corporate customers are still in the R&D phase around AI, not at scaled deployment into real-world products. The big business isn’t selling the labeling software. That’s just the start. Labelbox wants to continuously manage the fine-tuning data to help optimize an algorithm through its entire life cycle. That requires AI being part of the actual engineering process. Right now it’s often stuck as an experiment in the lab. “We’re not concerned about our ability to build the tool to do that. Our concern is ‘will the industry get there fast enough?’” Ferreiras declares.

Their investor agrees. Last year’s big joke in venture capital was that suddenly you couldn’t hear a startup pitch without “AI” being referenced. “There was a big wave where everything was AI. I think at this point it’s almost a bit implied,” says Fushman. But it’s corporations that already have plenty of data, and plenty of human jobs to obfuscate, that are Labelbox’s opportunity. “The bigger question is ‘when does that [AI] reality reach consumers, not just from the Googles and Amazons of the world, but the mainstream corporations?’”

Labelbox is willing to wait it out, or better yet, accelerate that arrival — even if it means eliminating jobs. That’s because the team believes the benefits to humanity will outweigh the transition troubles.

“For a colonoscopy or mammogram, you only have a certain number of people in the world who can do that. That limits how many of those can be performed. In the future, that could only be limited by the computational power provided so it could be exponentially cheaper” says co-founder Brian Rieger. With Labelbox, tens of thousands of radiology exams can be quickly ingested to produce cancer-spotting algorithms that he says studies show can become more accurate than humans. Employment might get tougher to find, but hopefully life will get easier and cheaper too. Meanwhile, improving underwater pipeline inspections could protect the environment from its biggest threat: us.

“AI can solve such important problems in our society,” Sharma concludes. “We want to accelerate that by helping companies tell AI what to learn.”

Posted Under: Tech News
Google Calendar makes rescheduling meetings easier

Posted by on 30 July, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

Nobody really likes meetings — and the few people who do like them are the ones with whom you probably don’t want to have meetings. So when you’ve reached your fill and decide to reschedule some of those obligations, the usual process of trying to find a new meeting time begins. Thankfully, the Google Calendar team has heard your sighs of frustration and built a new tool that makes rescheduling meetings much easier.

Starting in two weeks, on August 13th, every guest will be able to propose a new meeting time and attach to that update a message to the organizer to explain themselves. The organizer can then review and accept or deny that new time slot. If the other guests have made their calendars public, the organizer can also see the other attendees’ availability in a new side-by-side view to find a new time.

What’s a bit odd here is that this is still mostly a manual feature. To find meeting slots to begin with, Google already employs some of its machine learning smarts to find the best times. This new feature doesn’t seem to employ the same algorithms to proposed dates and times for rescheduled meetings.

This new feature will work across G Suite domains and also with Microsoft Exchange. It’s worth noting, though, that this new option won’t be available for meetings with more than 200 attendees and all-day events.

Posted Under: Tech News
Slack forms key alliance as Atlassian throws in the towel on enterprise collaboration

Posted by on 26 July, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

With today’s announcement from Atlassian that it was selling to Slack the IP assets of its two enterprise communications tools, HipChat and Stride, it closes the book on one of the earliest competitors in the modern enterprise collaboration space. It also was a clear signal that Slack is not afraid to take on its giant competitors by forming key alliances.

That the announcement came from Slack co-founder and CEO Stewart Butterfield on Twitter only exacerbated that fact. Atlassian has a set of popular developer tools like Jira, Confluence and Bitbucket. At this point, HipChat and Stride had really become superfluous to the company and they sold the IP to their competitor.

Not only is Slack buying the assets and Atlassian is effectively shutting down these products, Atlassian is also investing in Slack, a move that shows it’s throwing its financial weight behind the company, as well, and forming an alliance with them.

Slack has been burning it up since in launched in 2014 with just 16,000 daily active users. At last count, in May, the company was reporting 8 million active users, 3 million of which were paid. That’s up from 6 million DAUs and 2 million paid users in September 2017. At the time, the company was reporting $200 million in annual recurring revenue. It’s a fair bet with the number of paid users growing by one-third at last count, that revenue number has increased significantly, as well.

Slack and products of its ilk like Workplace by Facebook, Google Hangouts and Microsoft Teams are trying to revolutionize the way we communicate and collaborate inside organizations. Slack has managed to advance the idea of enterprise communications that began in the early 2000s with chat clients, advanced to Enterprise 2.0 tools like Yammer and Jive in the mid-2000s and finally evolved into modern tools like Slack we are using today in the mobile-cloud era.

Slack has been able to succeed so well in business because it does much more than provide a channel to communicate. It has built a platform on top of which companies can plug in an assortment of tools they are using every day to do their jobs, like ServiceNow for help desk tickets, Salesforce for CRM and marketing data and Zendesk for customer service information.

This ability to provide a simple way to do all of your business in one place without a lot of task switching has been a Holy Grail of sorts in the enterprise for years. The two previously mentioned iterations, chat clients and Enterprise 2.0 tools, tried and failed to achieve this, but Slack has managed to create this single platform and made it easy for companies to integrate services.

This has been automated even further by the use of bots, which can act as trusted assistants inside of Slack, providing additional information and performing tasks for you on your behalf when it makes sense.

Slack has an otherworldly valuation of more than $5 billion right now, and is on its way to an eventual IPO. Atlassian might have thrown in the towel on enterprise communications, but it has opened the door to getting a piece of that IPO action while giving its customers what they want and forming a strong bond with Slack.

Others like Facebook and Microsoft also have a strong presence in this space and continue to build out their products. It’s not as though anyone else is showing signs of throwing up their hands just yet. In fact, just today Facebook bought Redkix to enhance its offering by giving users the ability to collaborate via email or the Workplace by Facebook interface, but Atlassian’s acquiescence is a strong signal that if you had any doubt, Slack is a leader here — and they got a big boost with today’s announcement.

Posted Under: Tech News
Amazon’s AWS continues to lead its performance highlights

Posted by on 26 July, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

Amazon’s web services AWS continue to be the highlight of the company’s balance sheet, once again showing the kind of growth Amazon is looking for in a new business for the second quarter — especially one that has dramatically better margins than its core retail business.

Despite now running a grocery chain, the company’s AWS division — which has an operating margin over 25 percent compared to its tiny margins on retail — grew 49 percent year-over-year in the quarter compared to last year’s second quarter. It’s also up 49 percent year-over-year when comparing the most recent six months to the same period last year. AWS is now on a run rate well north of $10 billion annually, generating more than $6 billion in revenue in the second quarter this year. Meanwhile, Amazon’s retail operations generated nearly $47 billion with a net income of just over $1.3 billion (unaudited). Amazon’s AWS generated $1.6 billion in operating income on its $6.1 billion in revenue.

So, in short, Amazon’s dramatically more efficient AWS business is its biggest contributor to its actual net income. The company reported earnings of $5.07 per share, compared to analyst estimates of around $2.50 per share, on revenue of $52.9 billion. That revenue number fell under what investors were looking for, so the stock isn’t really doing anything in after-hours, and Amazon still remains in the race to become a company with a market cap of $1 trillion alongside Google, Apple and Microsoft.

This isn’t extremely surprising, as Amazon was one of the original harbingers of the move to a cloud computing-focused world, and, as a result, Microsoft and Google are now chasing it to capture up as much share as possible. While Microsoft doesn’t break out Azure, the company says it’s one of its fastest-growing businesses, and Google’s “other revenue” segment that includes Google Cloud Platform also continues to be one of its fastest-growing divisions. Running a bunch of servers with access to on-demand compute, it turns out, is a pretty efficient business that can account for the very slim margins that Amazon has on the rest of its core business.

Posted Under: Tech News
GitHub and Google reaffirm partnership with Cloud Build CI/CD tool integration

Posted by on 26 July, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

When Microsoft acquired GitHub for $7.5 billion smackeroos in June, it sent some shock waves through the developer community as it is a key code repository. Google certainly took notice, but the two companies continue to work closely together. Today at Google Next, they announced an expansion of their partnership around Google’s new CI/CD tool, Cloud Build, which was unveiled this week at the conference.

Politics aside, the purpose of the integration is to make life easier for developers by reducing the need to switch between tools. If GitHub recognizes a Docker file without a corresponding CI/CD tool, the developer will be prompted to grab one from the GitHub Marketplace with Google Cloud Build offered prominently as one of the suggested tools.

Photo: GitHub

Should the developer choose to install Cloud Build, that’s where the tight integration comes into play. Developers can run Cloud Build against their code directly from GitHub, and the results will appear directly in the GitHub interface. They won’t have to switch applications to make this work together, and that should go a long way toward saving developer time and effort.

Google Cloud Build. Photo: Google

This is part of GitHub’s new “Smart Recommendations,” which will be rolling out to users in the coming months.

Melody Meckfessel, VP of Engineering for Google Cloud says that the two companies have a history and a context and they have always worked extremely well together on an engineer-to-engineer level. “We have been working together from an engineering standpoint for so many years. We both believe in doing the right thing for developers. We believe that success as it relates to cloud adoption comes from collaborating in the ecosystem,” she said.

Given that close relationship, it had to be disappointing on some level when Microsoft acquired GitHub. In fact, Google Cloud head, Diane Greene expressed sadness about the deal in an interview with CNBC earlier this week, but GitHub’s SVP of Technology Jason Warner believes that Microsoft will be a good steward and that the relationship with Google will remain strong.

Warner says the company’s founding principles were about not getting locked in to any particularly platform and he doesn’t see that changing after the acquisition is finalized. “One of the things that was critical in any discussion about an acquisition was that GitHub shall remain an open platform,” Warner explained.

He indicated that today’s announcement is just a starting point, and the two companies intend to build on this integration moving forward. “We worked pretty closely on this together. This announcement is a nod to some of the future oriented partnerships that we will be announcing later in the year,” he said. And that partnership should continue unabated, even after the Microsoft acquisition is finalized later this year.

Posted Under: Tech News
Facebook acquires Redkix to enhance communications on Workplace by Facebook

Posted by on 26 July, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

Facebook had a rough day yesterday when its stock plunged after a poor earnings report. What better way to pick yourself up and dust yourself off than to buy a little something for yourself. Today the company announced it has acquired Redkix, a startup that provides tools to communicate more effectively by combining email with a more formal collaboration tool. The companies did not reveal the acquisition price.

Redkix burst out of the gate two years ago with a $17 million seed round, a hefty seed amount by any measure. What prompted this kind of investment was a tool that combined a collaboration tool like Slack or Workplace by Facebook with email. People could collaborate in Redkix itself, or if you weren’t a registered user, you could still participate by email, providing a more seamless way to work together.

Alan Lepofsky, who covers enterprise collaboration at Constellation Research, sees this tool as providing a key missing link. “Redkix is a great solution for bridging the worlds between traditional email messaging and more modern conversational messaging. Not all enterprises are ready to simply switch from one to the other, and Redkix allows for users to work in whichever method they want, seamlessly communicating with the other,” Lepofsky told TechCrunch.

As is often the case with these kinds of acquisitions, the company bought the technology  itself along with the team that created it. This means that the Redkix team including the CEO and CTO will join Facebook and they will very likely be shutting down the application after the acquisition is finalized.

Lepofsky thinks that enterprises that are adopting Facebook’s enterprise tool will be able to more seamlessly transition between the two modes of communication, the Workplace by Facebook tool and email, as they prefer.

Although a deal like this has probably been in the works for some time, after yesterday’s earning’s debacle, Facebook could be looking for ways to enhance its revenue in areas beyond the core Facebook platform. The enterprise collaboration tool does offer a possible way to do that in the future, and if they can find a way to incorporate email into it, it could make it a more attractive and broader offering.

Facebook is competing with Slack, the darling of this space and others like Microsoft, Cisco and Google around communications and collaboration. When it launched in 2015, it was trying to take that core Facebook product and put it in a business context, something Slack had been doing since the beginning.

To succeed in business, Facebook had to think differently than as a consumer tool, driven by advertising revenue and had to convince large organizations that they understood their requirements. Today, Facebook claims 30,000 organizations are using the tool and over time they have built in integrations to other key enterprise products, and keep enhancing it.

Perhaps with today’s acquisition, they can offer a more flexible way to interact with the platform and could increase those numbers over time.

Posted Under: Tech News
Facebook acquires Redikix to enhance communications on Workplace by Facebook

Posted by on 26 July, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

Facebook had a rough day yesterday when its stock plunged after a poor earnings report. What better way to pick yourself up and dust yourself off than to buy a little something for yourself. Today the company announced it has acquired Redkix, a startup that provides tools to communicate more effectively by combining email with a more formal collaboration tool. The companies did not reveal the acquisition price.

Redkix burst out of the gate two years ago with a $17 million seed round, a hefty seed amount by any measure. What prompted this kind of investment was a tool that combined a collaboration tool like Slack or Workplace by Facebook with email. People could collaborate in Redkix itself, or if you weren’t a registered user, you could still participate by email, providing a more seamless way to work together.

Alan Lepofsky, who covers enterprise collaboration at Constellation Research, sees this tool as providing a key missing link. “Redkix is a great solution for bridging the worlds between traditional email messaging and more modern conversational messaging. Not all enterprises are ready to simply switch from one to the other, and Redkix allows for users to work in whichever method they want, seamlessly communicating with the other,” Lepofsky told TechCrunch.

As is often the case with these kinds of acquisitions, the company bought the technology  itself along with the team that created it. This means that the Redikix team including the CEO and CTO will join Facebook and they will very likely be shutting down the application after the acquisition is finalized.

After yesterday’s earning’s debacle, Facebook could be looking for ways to enhance its revenue in areas beyond the core Facebook platform. The enterprise collaboration tool does offer a possible way to do that in the future, and if they can find a way to incorporate email into it, it could make it a more attractive and broader offering.

Facebook is competing with Slack, the darling of this space and others like Microsoft, Cisco and Google around communications and collaboration. When it launched in 2015, it was trying to take that core Facebook product and put it in a business context, something Slack had been doing since the beginning.

To succeed in business, Facebook had to think differently than as a consumer tool, driven by advertising revenue and had to convince large organizations that they understood their requirements. Today, Facebook claims 30,000 organizations are using the tool and over time they have built in integrations to other key enterprise products and keep enhancing it.

Perhaps with today’s acquisition, they can offer a more flexible way to interact with platform and could increase those numbers over time.

Posted Under: Tech News
Qualcomm says it will drop its massive $44B offer to acquire NXP

Posted by on 25 July, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

Qualcomm today said it wouldn’t extend its offer to buy NXP for $44 billion today as part of its release for its quarterly earnings, and instead be returning $30 billion to investors in the form of a share buy-back.

So, barring any last-second changes in the approval process in China or “other material developments”, the deal is basically dead after failing to clear China’s SAMR. As the tariff battle between the U.S. and China has heated up, it appears the Qualcomm/NXP deal — one of the largest in the semiconductor industry ever — may be one of its casualties. The White House announced it would impose tariffs on Chinese tech products in May earlier this year, kicking off an extended delay in the deal between Qualcomm and NXP even after Qualcomm tried to close the deal in an expedient fashion. Qualcomm issued the announcement this afternoon, and the company’s shares rose more than 5% when its earnings report came out.

“We reported results significantly above our prior expectations for our fiscal third quarter, driven by solid execution across the company, including very strong results in our licensing business,” Qualcomm CEO Steve Mollenkopf said in a statement with the report. “We intend to terminate our purchase agreement to acquire NXP when the agreement expires at the end of the day today, pending any new material developments. In addition, as previously indicated, upon termination of the agreement, we intend to pursue a stock repurchase program of up to $30 billion to deliver significant value to our stockholders.”

Today’s termination also marks the end of another chapter for a tumultuous couple of months for Qualcomm. The White House blocked Broadcom’s massive takeover attempt of Qualcomm in March earlier this year, and there’s the still-looming specter of its patent spat with Apple. Now Qualcomm will instead be returning an enormous amount of capital to investors instead of tacking on NXP in the largest ever consolidation deal in the semiconductor industry.

Posted Under: Tech News
Virtu teams up with Google to bring its end-to-end encryption service to Google Drive

Posted by on 25 July, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

Virtu, which is best known for its email encryption service for both enterprises and consumers, is announcing a partnership with Google today that will bring the company’s encryption technology to Google Drive.

Only a few years ago, the company was still bolting its solution on top of Gmail without Google’s blessing, but these days, Google is fully on board with Virtu’s plans.

Its new Data Protection for Google Drive extends its service for Gmail to Google’s online file storage service. It ensures that files are encrypted before upload, which ensures the files remain protected, even when they are shared outside of an organization. The customer remains in full control of the encryption keys, so Google, too, has no access to these files, and admins can set and manage access policies by document, folder and team drive.

Virtu’s service uses the Trusted Data Format, an open standard the company’s CTO Will Ackerly developed at the NSA.

While it started as a hack, Virtu is Google’s only data protection partner for G Suite today, and its CEO John Ackerly tells me the company now gets what he and his team are trying to achieve. Indeed, Virtu now has a team of engineers that works with Google. As John Ackerly also noted, GDPR and the renewed discussion around data privacy is helping it gain traction in many businesses, especially in Europe, where the company is opening new offices to support its customers there. In total, about 8,000 organization now use its services.

It’s worth noting that while Virtu is announcing this new Google partnership today, the company also supports email encryption in Microsoft’s Office 365 suite.

Posted Under: Tech News
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