Google launches a standalone version of Drive for businesses that don’t want the full G Suite

Posted by on 25 July, 2018

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If you are a business and want to use Google Drive, then your only option until now was to buy a full G Suite subscription, even if you don’t want or need access to the rest of the company’s productivity tools. Starting today, though, these businesses will be able to buy a subscription to a standalone version of Google Drive, too.

Google says that a standalone version of Drive has been at the top of the list of requests from prospective customers, so it’s now giving this option to them in the form of this new service (though to be honest, I’m not sure how much demand there really is for this product). Standalone Google Drive will come with all the usual online storage and sharing features as the G Suite version.

Pricing will be based on usage. Google will charge $8 per month per active user and $0.04 per GB stored in a company’s Drive.

Google’s idea here is surely to convert those standalone Drive users to full G Suite users over time, but it’s also an acknowledgement on Google’s part that not every business is ready to move away from legacy email tools and desktop-based productivity applications like Word and Excel just yet (and that its online productivity suite may not be right for all of those businesses, too).

Drive, by the way, is going to hit a billion users this week, Google keeps saying. I guess I appreciate that they don’t want to jump the gun and are actually waiting for that to happen instead of just announcing it now when it’s convenient. Once it does, though, it’ll become the company’s eighth product with more than a billion users.

Posted Under: Tech News
Google takes on Yubico and builds its own hardware security keys

Posted by on 25 July, 2018

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Google today announced it is launching its own hardware security keys for two-factor authentication. These so-called Titan Security Keys will go up against similar keys from companies like Yubico, which Google has long championed as the de facto standard for hardware-based two-factor authentication for Gmail and other services.

The FIDO-compatible Titan keys will come in two versions. One with Bluetooth support for mobile devices and one that plugs directly into your computer’s USB port. In terms of looks and functionality, those keys look quite a lot like the existing keys from Yubico, though our understanding is that these are Google’s own designs.

Unsurprisingly, the folks over at Yubico got wind of today’s announcement ahead of time and have already posted a reaction to today’s news (and the company is exhibiting at Google Cloud Next, too, which may be a bit awkward after today’s announcement).

“Yubico strongly believes there are security and privacy benefits for our customers, by manufacturing and programming our products in USA and Sweden,” Yubico founder and CEO Stina Ehrensvard writes, and goes on to throw a bit of shade on Google’s decision to support Bluetooth. “Google’s offering includes a Bluetooth (BLE) capable key. While Yubico previously initiated development of a BLE security key, and contributed to the BLE U2F standards work, we decided not to launch the product as it does not meet our standards for security, usability and durability. BLE does not provide the security assurance levels of NFC and USB, and requires batteries and pairing that offer a poor user experience.”

It’s unclear who is manufacturing the Titan keys for Google (the company spokesperson didn’t know when asked during the press conference), but the company says that it developed its own firmware for the keys. And while Google is obviously using the same Titan brand it uses for the custom chips that protect the servers that make up its cloud, it’s also unclear if there is any relation between those.

No word on pricing yet, but the keys are now available to Google Cloud customers and will be available for purchase for anyone in the Google Store, soon. Comparable keys tend to sell for around $20 to $25.

Posted Under: Tech News
Google brings its search technology to the enterprise

Posted by on 25 July, 2018

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One of Google’s first hardware products was its search appliance, a custom-built server that allowed businesses to bring Google’s search tools to the data behind their firewalls. That appliance is no more, but Google today announced the spiritual successor to it with an update to Cloud Search. Until today, Cloud Search only indexed G Suite data. Now, it can pull in data from a variety of third-party services that can run on-premise or in the cloud, making the tool far more useful for large businesses that want to make all of their data searchable by their employees.

“We are essentially taking all of Google expertise in search and are applying it to your enterprise content,” Google said.

One of the launch customers for this new service is Whirlpool, which built its own search portal and indexed more than 12 million documents from more than a dozen services using this new service.

“This is about giving employees access to all the information from across the enterprise, even if it’s traditionally siloed data, whether that’s in a database or a legacy productivity tool and make all of that available in a single index,” Google explained.

To enable this functionality, Google is making a number of software adapters available that will bridge the gap between these third-party services and Cloud Search. Over time, Google wants to add support for more services and bring this cloud-based technology on par with what its search appliance was once capable of.

The service is now rolling out to a select number of users. Over time, it’ll become available to both G Suite users and as a standalone version.

Posted Under: Tech News
Snark AI looks to help companies get on-demand access to idle GPUs

Posted by on 25 July, 2018

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Riding on a wave of an explosion in the use of machine learning to power, well, just about everything is the emergence of GPUs as one of the go-to methods to handle all the processing for those operations.

But getting access to those GPUs — whether using the cards themselves or possibly through something like AWS — might still be too difficult or too expensive for some companies or research teams. So Davit Buniatyan and his co-founders decided to start Snark AI, which helps companies rent GPUs that aren’t in use across a distributed network of companies that just have them sitting there, rather than through a service like Amazon. While the larger cloud providers offer similar access to GPUs, Buniatyan’s hope is that it’ll be attractive enough to companies and developers to tap a different network if they can lower that barrier to entry. The company is launching out of Y Combinator’s Summer 2018 class.

“We bet on that there will always be a gap between mining and AWS or Google Cloud prices,” Buniatyan said. “If the mining will be [more profitable than the cost of running a GPU], anyone can get into AWS and do mining and be profitable. We’re building a distributed cloud computing platform for clients that can easily access the resources there but are not used.”

The startup works with companies with a lot of spare GPUs that aren’t in use, such as gaming cloud companies or crypto mining companies. Teams that need GPUs for training their machine learning models get access to the raw hardware, while teams that just need those GPUs to handle inference get access to them through a set of APIs. There’s a distinction between the two because they are two sides to machine learning — the former building the model that the latter uses to execute some task, like image or speech recognition. When the GPUs are idle, they run mining to pay the hardware providers, and Snark AI also offers the capability to both mine and run deep learning inference on a piece of hardware simultaneously, Buniatyan said.

Snark AI matches the proper amount of GPU power to whatever a team needs, and then deploys it across a network of distributed idle cards that companies have in various data centers. It’s one way to potentially reduce the cost of that GPU over time, which may be a substantial investment initially but get a return over time while it isn’t in use. If that’s the case, it may also encourage more companies to sign up with a network like this — Snark AI or otherwise — and deploy similar cards.

There’s also an emerging trend of specialized chips that focus on machine learning or inference, which look to reduce the cost, power consumption or space requirements of machine learning tasks. That ecosystem of startups, like Cerebras Systems, Mythic, Graphcore or any of the other well-funded startups, all potentially have a shot at unseating GPUs for machine learning tasks. There’s also the emergence of ASICs, customized chips that are better suited to tasks like crypto mining, which could fracture an ecosystem like this — especially if the larger cloud providers decide to build or deploy something similar (such as Google’s TPU). But this also means that there’s room to potentially create some new interface layer that can snap up all the leftovers for tasks that companies might need, but don’t necessarily need bleeding-edge technology like that from those startups.

There’s always going to be the same argument that was made for Dropbox prior to its significant focus on enterprises and collaboration: the price falls dramatically as it becomes more commoditized. That might be especially true for companies like Amazon and Google, which have already run that playbook, and could leverage their dominance in cloud computing to put a significant amount of pressure on a third-party network like Snark AI. Google also has the ability to build proprietary hardware like the TPU for specialized operations. But Buniatyan said the company’s focus on being able to juggle inference and mining, in addition to keeping that cost low for idle GPUs of companies that are just looking to deploy, should keep it viable, even amid a changing ecosystem that’s focusing on machine learning.

Posted Under: Tech News
Google Cloud introduces shielded virtual machines for additional security

Posted by on 25 July, 2018

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While we might like to think all of our applications are equal in our eyes, in reality some are more important than others and require an additional level of security. To meet those requirements, Google introduced shielded virtual machines at Google Next today.

As Google describes it, “Shielded VMs leverage advanced platform security capabilities to help ensure your VMs have not been tampered with. With Shielded VMs, you can monitor and react to any changes in the VM baseline as well as its current runtime state.”

These specialized VMs run on GCP and come with a set of partner security controls to defend against things like rootkits and bootkits, according to Google. There are a whole bunch of things that happen even before an application launches inside a VM, and each step in that process is vulnerable to attack.

That’s because as the machine starts up, before you even get to your security application, it launches the firmware, the boot sequence, the kernel, then the operating system — and then and only then, does your security application launch.

That time between startup and the security application launching could leave you vulnerable to certain exploits that take advantage of those openings. The shielded VMs strip out as much of that process as possible to reduce the risk.

“What we’re doing here is we are stripping out any of the binary that doesn’t absolutely have to be there. We’re ensuring that every binary that is there is signed, that it’s signed by the right party, and that they load in the proper sequence,” a Google spokesperson explained. All of these steps should reduce overall risk.

Shielded VMs are available in Beta now

Posted Under: Tech News
Google is rolling out a version of Google Voice for enterprise G Suite customers

Posted by on 25 July, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

Google today said it will be rolling out an enterprise version of its Google Voice service for G Suite users, potentially tapping a new demand source for Google that could help attract a whole host of new users.

Google voice has been a long-enjoyed service for everyday consumers, and offers a lot of benefits beyond just having a normal phone number. The enterprise version of Google Voice appears to give companies a way to offer those kinds of tools, including AI-powered parts of it like voicemail transcription, that employees may be already using and potentially skirting the guidelines of a company. Administrators can provision and port phone numbers, get detailed reports and set up call routing functionality. They can also deploy phone numbers to departments or employees, giving them a sort of universal number that isn’t tied to a device — and making it easier to get in touch with someone where necessary.

All of this is an effort to spread adoption of G Suite among larger enterprises as it offers a nice consistent business for Google. While its advertising business continues to grow, the company is investing in cloud products as another revenue stream. That division offers a lot of overhead while Google figures out where the actual total market capture of its advertising is and starts to work on other projects like its hardware, Google Home, and others.

While Google didn’t explicitly talk about it ahead of the conference today, there’s another potential opportunity for something like this: call centers. An enterprise version of Google Voice could give companies a way to provision out certain phone numbers to employees to handle customer service requests and get a lot of information about those calls. Google yesterday announced that it was rolling out a more robust set of call center tools that lean on its expertise in machine learning and artificial intelligence, and getting control of the actual numbers that those calls take in is one part of that equation.

There’s also a spam filtering feature, which will probably be useful in handling waves of robo-calls for various purposes. It’s another product that Google is porting over to its enterprise customers with a bit better controls for CTOs and CIOs after years of understanding how normal consumers are using it and having an opportunity to rigorously test parts of the product. That time also gives Google an opportunity to thoroughly research the gaps in the product that enterprise customers might need in order to sell them on the product.

Google Voice enterprise is going to be available as an early adopter product.

Posted Under: Tech News
Google’s Cloud Functions serverless platform is now generally available

Posted by on 24 July, 2018

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Cloud Functions, Google’s serverless platform that competes directly with tools like AWS Lambda and Azure Functions from Microsoft, is now generally available, the company announced at its Cloud Next conference in San Francisco today.

Google first announced Cloud Functions back in 2016, so this has been a long beta. Overall, it also always seemed as if Google wasn’t quite putting the same resources behind its serverless play when compared to its major competitors. AWS, for example, is placing a major bet on serverless, as is Microsoft. And there are also plenty of startups in this space, too.

Like all Google products that come out of beta, Cloud Functions is now backed by an SLA and the company also today announced that the service now runs in more regions in the U.S. and Europe.

In addition to these hosted options, Google also today announced its new Cloud Services platform for enterprises that want to run hybrid clouds. While this doesn’t include a self-hosted Cloud Functions option, Google is betting on Kubernetes as the foundation for businesses that want to run serverless applications (and yes, I hate the term ‘serverless,’ too) in their own data centers.

Posted Under: Tech News
Google announces a suite of updates to its contact center tools

Posted by on 24 July, 2018

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As Google pushes further and further into enterprise services, it’s looking to leverage what it’s known for — a strong expertise in machine learning — to power some of the most common enterprise functions, including contact centers.

Now Google is applying a lot of those learnings in a bunch of new updates for its contact center tools. That’s basically leaning on a key focus Google has, which is using machine learning for natural language recognition and image recognition. Those tools have natural applications in enterprises, especially those looking to spin up the kinds of tools that larger companies have with complex customer service requests and niche tools. Today’s updates, announced at the Google Cloud Next conference, include a suite of AI tools for its Google Cloud Contact Center.

Today the company said it is releasing a couple of updates to its Dialogflow tools, including a new one called phone gateway, which helps companies automatically assign a working phone number to a virtual agent. The company says you can begin taking those calls in “less than a minute” without infrastructure, with the rest of the machine learning-powered functions like speech recognition and natural language understanding managed by Google.

Google is adding AI-powered tools to the contact center with agent assistant tools, which can quickly pull in with relevant information, like suggested articles. It also has an update to its analytics tools, which lets companies sift through historical audio data to pull in trends — like common calls and complaints. One application here would be to be able to spot some confusing update or a broken tool based on a high volume of complaints, and that helps companies get a handle on what’s happening without a ton of overhead.

Other new tools include sentiment analysis, correcting spelling mistakes, tools to understand unstructured documents within a company like knowledge base articles — streaming that into Dialogflow. Dialogflow is also getting native audio response.

Posted Under: Tech News
Outlier raises $6.2 M Series A to change how companies use data

Posted by on 24 July, 2018

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Traditionally, companies have gathered data from a variety of sources, then used spreadsheets and dashboards to try and make sense of it all. Outlier wants to change that and deliver a handful of insights that matter most for your job, company and industry right to your inbox. Today the company announced a $6.2 million Series A to further develop that vision.

The round was led by Ridge Ventures with assistance from 11.2 Capital, First Round Capital, Homebrew, Susa Ventures and SV Angel. The company has raised over $8 million.

The startup is trying to solve a difficult problem around delivering meaningful insight without requiring the customer to ask the right questions. With traditional BI tools, you get your data and you start asking questions and seeing if the data can give you some answers. Outliers wants to bring a level of intelligence and automation by pointing out insight without having to explicitly ask the right question.

Company founder and CEO Sean Byrnes says his previous company, Flurry, helped deliver mobile analytics to customers, but in his travels meeting customers in that previous iteration, he always came up against the same question: “This is great, but what should I look for in all that data?”

It was such a compelling question that after he sold Flurry in 2014 to Yahoo for more than $200 million, that question stuck in the back of his mind and he decided to start a business to solve it. He contends that the first 15 years of BI was about getting answers to basic questions about company performance, but the next 15 will be about finding a way to get the software to ask good questions for you based on the huge amounts data.

Byrnes admits that when he launched, he didn’t have much sense of how to put this notion into action, and most people he approached didn’t think it was a great idea. He says he heard “No” from a fair number of investors early on because the artificial intelligence required to fuel a solution like this really wasn’t ready in 2015 when he started the company.

He says that it took four or five iterations to get to today’s product, which lets you connect to various data sources, and using artificial intelligence and machine learning delivers a list of four or five relevant questions to the user’s email inbox that points out data you might not have noticed, what he calls “shifts below the surface.” If you’re a retailer that could be changing market conditions that signal you might want to change your production goals.

Outlier email example. Photo: Outlier

The company launched in 2015. It took some time to polish the product, but today they have 14 employees and 14 customers including Jack Rogers, Celebrity Cruises and Swarovski.

This round should allow them to continuing working to grow the company. “We feel like we hit the right product-market fit because we have customers [generating] reproducible results and really changing the way people use the data,” he said.

Posted Under: Tech News
Google Cloud goes all-in on hybrid with its new Cloud Services Platform

Posted by on 24 July, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

The cloud isn’t right for every business, be that because of latency constraints at the edge, regulatory requirements or because it’s simply cheaper to own and operate their own data centers for their specific workloads. Given this, it’s maybe no surprise that the vast majority of enterprises today use both public and private clouds in parallel. That’s something Microsoft has long been betting on as part of its strategy for its Azure cloud, and Google, too, is now taking a number of steps in this direction.

With the open-source Kubernetes project, Google launched one of the fundamental building blocks that make running and managing applications in hybrid environments easier for large enterprises. What Google hadn’t done until today, though, is launch a comprehensive solution that includes all of the necessary parts for this kind of deployment. With its new Cloud Services Platform, though, the company is now offering businesses an integrated set of cloud services that can be deployed on both the Google Cloud Platform and in on-premise environments.

As Google Cloud engineering director Chen Goldberg noted in a press briefing ahead of today’s announcement, many businesses also simply want to be able to manage their own workloads on-premise but still be able to access new machine learning tools in the cloud, for example. “Today, to achieve this, use cases involve a compromise between cost, consistency, control and flexibility,” she said. “And this all negatively impacts the desired result.”

Goldberg stressed that the idea behind the Cloud Services Platform is to meet businesses where they are and then allow them to modernize their stack at their own pace. But she also noted that businesses want more than just the ability to move workloads between environments. “Portability isn’t enough,” she said. “Users want consistent experiences so that they can train their team once and run anywhere — and have a single playbook for all environments.”

The two services at the core of this new offering are the Kubernetes container orchestration tool and Istio, a relatively new but quickly growing tool for connecting, managing and securing microservices. Istio is about to hit its 1.0 release.

We’re not simply talking about a collection of open-source tools here. The core of the Cloud Services Platform, Goldberg noted, is “custom configured and battle-tested for enterprises by Google.” In addition, it is deeply integrated with other services in the Google Cloud, including the company’s machine learning tools.

GKE On-Prem

Among these new custom-configured tools are a number of new offerings, which are all part of the larger platform. Maybe the most interesting of these is GKE On-Prem. GKE, the Google Kubernetes Engine, is the core Google Cloud service for managing containers in the cloud. And now Google is essentially bringing this service to the enterprise data center, too.

The service includes access to all of the usual features of GKE in the cloud, including the ability to register and manage clusters and monitor them with Stackdriver, as well as identity and access management. It also includes a direct line to the GCP Marketplace, which recently launched support for Kubernetes-based applications.

Using the GCP Console, enterprises can manage both their on-premise and GKE clusters without having to switch between different environments. GKE on-prem connects seamlessly to a Google Cloud Platform environment and looks and behaves exactly like the cloud version.

Enterprise users also can get access to professional services and enterprise-grade support for help with managing the service.

“Google Cloud is the first and only major cloud vendor to deliver managed Kubernetes on-prem,” Goldberg argued.

GKE Policy Management

Related to this, Google also today announced GKE Policy Management, which is meant to provide Kubernetes administrators with a single tool for managing all of their security policies across clusters. It’s agnostic as to where the Kubernetes cluster is running, but you can use it to port your existing Google Cloud identity-based policies to these clusters. This new feature will soon launch in alpha.

Managed Istio

The other major new service Google is launching is Managed Istio (together with Apigee API Management for Istio) to help businesses manage and secure their microservices. The open source Istio service mesh gives admins and operators the tools to manage these services and, with this new managed offering, Google is taking the core of Istio and making it available as a managed service for GKE users.

With this, users get access to Istio’s service discovery mechanisms and its traffic management tools for load balancing and routing traffic to containers and VMs, as well as its tools for getting telemetry back from the workloads that run on these clusters.

In addition to these three main new services, Google is also launching a couple of auxiliary tools around GKE and the serverless computing paradigm today. The first of these is the GKE serverless add-on, which makes it easy to run serverless workloads on GKE with a single-step deploy process. This, Google says, will allow developers to go from source code to container “instantaneously.” This tool is currently available as a preview and Google is making parts of this technology available under the umbrella of its new native open source components. These are the same components that make the serverless add-on possible.

And to wrap it all up, Google also today mentioned a new fully managed continuous integration and delivery service, Google Cloud Build, though the details around this service remain under wraps.

So there you have it. By themselves, all of those announcements may seem a bit esoteric. As a whole, though, they show how Google’s bet on Kubernetes is starting to pay off. As businesses opt for containers to deploy and run their new workloads (and maybe even bring older applications into the cloud), GKE has put Google Cloud on the map to run them in a hosted environment. Now, it makes sense for Google to extend this to its users’ data centers, too. With managed Kubernetes from large and small companies like SUSE, Platform 9, containership is starting to become a big business. It’s no surprise the company that started it all wants to get a piece of this pie, too.

Posted Under: Tech News
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