Microsoft updates its planet-scale Cosmos DB database service

Posted by on 24 September, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

Cosmos DB is undoubtedly one of the most interesting products in Microsoft’s Azure portfolio. It’s a fully managed, globally distributed multi-model database that offers throughput guarantees, a number of different consistency models and high read and write availability guarantees. Now that’s a mouthful, but basically, it means that developers can build a truly global product, write database updates to Cosmos DB and rest assured that every other user across the world will see those updates within 20 milliseconds or so. And to write their applications, they can pretend that Cosmos DB is a SQL- or MongoDB-compatible database, for example.

CosmosDB officially launched in May 2017, though in many ways it’s an evolution of Microsoft’s existing Document DB product, which was far less flexible. Today, a lot of Microsoft’s own products run on CosmosDB, including the Azure Portal itself, as well as Skype, Office 365 and Xbox.

Today, Microsoft is extending Cosmos DB with the launch of its multi-master replication feature into general availability, as well as support for the Cassandra API, giving developers yet another option to bring existing products to CosmosDB, which in this case are those written for Cassandra.

Microsoft now also promises 99.999 percent read and write availability. Previously, it’s read availability promise was 99.99 percent. And while that may not seem like a big difference, it does show that after more of a year of operating Cosmos DB with customers, Microsoft now feels more confident that it’s a highly stable system. In addition, Microsoft is also updating its write latency SLA and now promises less than 10 milliseconds at the 99th percentile.

“If you have write-heavy workloads, spanning multiple geos, and you need this near real-time ingest of your data, this becomes extremely attractive for IoT, web, mobile gaming scenarios,” Microsoft CosmosDB architect and product manager Rimma Nehme told me. She also stressed that she believes Microsoft’s SLA definitions are far more stringent than those of its competitors.

The highlight of the update, though, is multi-master replication. “We believe that we’re really the first operational database out there in the marketplace that runs on such a scale and will enable globally scalable multi-master available to the customers,” Nehme said. “The underlying protocols were designed to be multi-master from the very beginning.”

Why is this such a big deal? With this, developers can designate every region they run Cosmos DB in as a master in its own right, making for a far more scalable system in terms of being able to write updates to the database. There’s no need to first write to a single master node, which may be far away, and then have that node push the update to every other region. Instead, applications can write to the nearest region, and Cosmos DB handles everything from there. If there are conflicts, the user can decide how those should be resolved based on their own needs.

Nehme noted that all of this still plays well with CosmosDB’s existing set of consistency models. If you don’t spend your days thinking about database consistency models, then this may sound arcane, but there’s a whole area of computer science that focuses on little else but how to best handle a scenario where two users virtually simultaneously try to change the same cell in a distributed database.

Unlike other databases, Cosmos DB allows for a variety of consistency models, ranging from strong to eventual, with three intermediary models. And it actually turns out that most CosmosDB users opt for one of those intermediary models.

Interestingly, when I talked to Leslie Lamport, the Turing award winner who developed some of the fundamental concepts behind these consistency models (and the popular LaTeX document preparation system), he wasn’t all that sure that the developers are making the right choice. “I don’t know whether they really understand the consequences or whether their customers are going to be in for some surprises,” he told me. “If they’re smart, they are getting just the amount of consistency that they need. If they’re not smart, it means they’re trying to gain some efficiency and their users might not be happy about that.” He noted that when you give up strong consistency, it’s often hard to understand what exactly is happening.

But strong consistency comes with its drawbacks, too, which leads to higher latency. “For strong consistency there are a certain number of roundtrip message delays that you can’t avoid,” Lamport noted.

The CosmosDB team isn’t just building on some of the fundamental work Lamport did around databases, but it’s also making extensive use of TLA+, the formal specification language Lamport developed in the late 90s. Microsoft, as well as Amazon and others, are now training their engineers to use TLA+ to describe their algorithms mathematically before they implement them in whatever language they prefer.

“Because [CosmosDB is] a massively complicated system, there is no way to ensure the correctness of it because we are humans, and trying to hold all of these failure conditions and the complexity in any one person’s — one engineer’s — head, is impossible,” Microsoft Technical Follow Dharma Shukla noted. “TLA+ is huge in terms of getting the design done correctly, specified and validated using the TLA+ tools even before a single line of code is written. You cover all of those hundreds of thousands of edge cases that can potentially lead to data loss or availability loss, or race conditions that you had never thought about, but that two or three years ago after you have deployed the code can lead to some data corruption for customers. That would be disastrous.”

“Programming languages have a very precise goal, which is to be able to write code. And the thing that I’ve been saying over and over again is that programming is more than just coding,” Lamport added. “It’s not just coding, that’s the easy part of programming. The hard part of programming is getting the algorithms right.”

Lamport also noted that he deliberately chose to make TLA+ look like mathematics, not like another programming languages. “It really forces people to think above the code level,” Lamport noted and added that engineers often tell him that it changes the way they think.

As for those companies that don’t use TLA+ or a similar methodology, Lamport says he’s worried. “I’m really comforted that [Microsoft] is using TLA+ because I don’t see how anyone could do it without using that kind of mathematical thinking — and I worry about what the other systems that we wind up using built by other organizations — I worry about how reliable they are.”

more Microsoft Ignite 2018 coverage

Posted Under: Tech News
Microsoft wants to put your data in a box

Posted by on 24 September, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

AWS has its Snowball (and Snowmobile truck), Google Cloud has its data transfer appliance and Microsoft has its Azure Data Box. All of these are physical appliances that allow enterprises to ship lots of data to the cloud by uploading it into these machines and then shipping them to the cloud. Microsoft’s Azure Data Box launched into preview about a year ago and today, the company is announcing a number of updates and adding a few new boxes, too.

First of all, the standard 50-pound, 100-terabyte Data Box is now generally available. If you’ve got a lot of data to transfer to the cloud — or maybe collect a lot of offline data — then FedEx will happily pick this one up and Microsoft will upload the data to Azure and charge you for your storage allotment.

If you’ve got a lot more data, though, then Microsoft now also offers the Azure Data Box Heavy. This new box, which is now in preview, can hold up to one petabyte of data. Microsoft did not say how heavy the Data Box Heavy is, though.

Also new is the Azure Data Box Edge, which is now also in preview. In many ways, this is the most interesting of the additions since it goes well beyond transporting data. As the name implies, Data Box Edge is meant for edge deployments where a company collects data. What makes this version stand out is that it’s basically a small data center rack that lets you process data as it comes in. It even includes an FPGA to run AI algorithms at the edge.

Using this box, enterprises can collect the data, transform and analyze it on the box, and then send it to Azure over the network (and not in a truck). Using this, users can cut back on bandwidth cost and don’t have to send all of their data to the cloud for processing.

Also part of the same Data Box family is the Data Box Gateway. This is a virtual appliance, however, that runs on Hyper-V and VMWare and lets users create a data transfer gateway for importing data in Azure. That’s not quite as interesting as a hardware appliance but useful nonetheless.

more Microsoft Ignite 2018 coverage

Posted Under: Tech News
Microsoft Teams gets bokeh and meeting recordings with transcripts

Posted by on 24 September, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

If you’ve ever attended a video meeting and wished that the speakers used really expensive cameras and lenses that allowed for that soft classy background blur of a portrait photo, then Microsoft wants to make that wish come true. The company announced a number of updates to Microsoft Teams today, and one of those is a feature that automatically detects faces and blurs the background behind a speaker.

While background blur is nice (or at least we have to assume it will be because we haven’t been able to try it yet), the more useful new feature in Teams is intelligent recordings. Teams can now automatically generate captions and provide time-coded transcripts for the replays. This feature is coming to Office 365 commercial customers now.

Microsoft first demoed these new transcription capabilities at its Build developer conference earlier this year. In that demo, the transcription service was able to distinguish between speakers and create a real-time transcript of the meeting.

If you want to create live streams and on-demand video for a wider audience inside your company, Teams is also getting that capability next month, together with Microsoft Stream and Yammer (which seems to be lingering in the shadow of Teams these days).

more Microsoft Ignite 2018 coverage

Posted Under: Tech News
Microsoft’s SQL Server gets built-in support for Spark and Hadoop

Posted by on 24 September, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

It’s time for the next version of SQL Server, Microsoft’s flagship database product. The company today announced the first public preview of SQL Server 2019 and while yet another update to a proprietary database may not seem all that exciting at first glance, Microsoft is trying to do a few rather interesting things with this update.

What’s at the core of all of the most interesting updates is an acknowledgement that there are very few companies that only use a single database product. So what Microsoft is doing with SQL Server is adding new connectors that allow business to use SQL Server to query other databases, including those of Oracle, Teradata and MongoDB. This turns SQL Server into something of a virtual integration layer — yet the data never needs to be replicated or moved to SQL Server.

But there is more! SQL Server 2019 will come with built-in support for Spark and the Hadoop File System. That’s an acknowledgement of the popularity of these open-source tools, as well as the importance of big data workloads that SQL Server, if it wants to say relevant, has to be able to support, too, and it has to do so in a way that many companies are already familiar with.

There’s another open source aspect here, too: SQL Server will support these big data clusters with the help of the Google-incubated Kubernetes container orchestration system. Every cluster will include SQL Server, the Hadoop file system and Spark.

As for the name, it’s worth noting that many pundits expected a “SQL Server 2018,” but Microsoft opted to skip a year after SQL Server 2016 and 2017. So SQL Server 2019 it is.

more Microsoft Ignite 2018 coverage

Posted Under: Tech News
Yubico’s new security keys now support FIDO2

Posted by on 24 September, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

Yubico, the company behind the popular Yubikey security keys, today announced the launch of its 5 Series keys. The company argues that these new keys, which start at $45, are the first multi-protocol securities keys that supports the FIDO2 standard. With this, Yubico argues, the company will be able to replace password-based authentication, which is often a hassle and unsecure, with stronger hardware-based authentication.

“Innovation is core to all we do, from the launch of the original YubiKey ten years ago, to the concept of one authentication device across multiple services, and today as we are accelerating into the passwordless era,” said Stina Ehrensvard, the CEO and founder of Yubico in today’s announcement. “The YubiKey 5 Series can deliver single-factor, two-factor, or multi-factor secure login, supporting many different uses cases on different platforms for different verticals with a variety of authentication scenarios.”

The company made the announcement ahead of Microsoft’s Ignite conference this week, where Microsoft, too, is expect to make a number of security announcements around the future of passwords.

“Passwordless login brings a monumental change to how business users and consumers will securely log in to applications and services,” said Alex Simons, the corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Identity Division. “With FIDO2, Microsoft is working to remove the dependency on password-based logins, with support from devices like the YubiKey 5.”

For the most part, the new keys looks very much like the existing ones, but new to the series is the YubiKey 5 NFC, which combines supports all of the major security protocols over both USB and NFC — and the addition of NFC makes it a better option for those who want to use the same key on they desktops, laptops and mobile phones or tablets.

Supported protocols, in addition to FIDO2, include FIDO U2F, smart card (PIV), Yubico OTP, OpenPGP, OATH-TOTP, OATH-HOTP, and Challenge-Response.

The new keys will come in all of the standard Yubico form factors, including the large USB-A key with NFC support, as well as smaller versions and those for USB-C devices.

In its press release, Yubico stresses that its keys are manufactured and programmed in the USA and Sweden. The fact that it’s saying that is no accident, given that Google recently launched its own take on security keys (after years of recommending Yubikeys). Google’s keys, however, are being built by a Chinese company and while Google is building its own firmware for them, there are plenty of sceptics out there who aren’t exactly waiting for a key that was manufactured in China.

Posted Under: Tech News
Adobe gets its company, snaring Marketo for $4.75 billion

Posted by on 20 September, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

A week ago rumors were flying that Adobe would be buying Marketo, and lo and behold it announced today that it was acquiring the marketing automation company for $4.75 billion.

It was a pretty nice return for Vista Equity partners, which purchased Marketo in May 2016 for $1.8 billion in cash. They held onto it for two years and hauled in a hefty $2.95 billion in profit.

We published a story last week, speculating that such a deal would make sense for Adobe, which just bought Magento in May for $1.6 billion. The deal gives Adobe a strong position in enterprise marketing as it competes with Salesforce, Microsoft, Oracle and SAP. Put together with Magento, it gives them marketing and ecommerce, and all it cost was over $6 billion to get there.

“The acquisition of Marketo widens Adobe’s lead in customer experience across B2C and B2B and puts Adobe Experience Cloud at the heart of all marketing,” Brad Rencher, executive vice president and general manager, Digital Experience at Adobe said in a statement.

Ray Wang, principal analyst and founder at Constellation Research sees it as a way for Adobe to compete stronger with Salesforce in this space. “If Adobe takes a stand on Marketo, it means they are serious about B2B and furthering the Microsoft-Adobe vs Salesforce-Google battle ahead,” he told TechCrunch. He’s referring to the deepening relationships between these companies.

Adobe reported its earnings last Thursday announcing $2.29 billion for the third quarter, which represented a 24 percent year over year increase and a new record for the company. While Adobe is well on its way to being a $10 billion company, the majority of its income continues to come from Creative Cloud, which includes Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator, among other Adobe software stalwarts.

But for a long time, the company has wanted to be much more than a creative software company. It’s wanted a piece of the enterprise marketing pie. Up until now, that part of the company, which includes marketing and analytics software, has lagged well behind the Creative Cloud business. In its last report, Digital Experience revenue, which is where Adobe counts this revenue represented $614 million of total revenue. While it continues to grow, up 21 percent year over year, there is much greater potential here for more.

Adobe had less than $5 billion in cash after the Mageno acquisition, but it has seen its stock price rise dramatically in the last year rising from $149.96 last year at this time to $266.05 as of publication.

The acquisition comes as there is a lot of maneuvering going on this space and the various giant companies vie for market share. Today’s acquisition gives Adobe a huge boost and provides them with not only a missing piece, but Marketo’s base of 5000 customers and the opportunity to increase revenue in this part of their catalogue, while allowing them to compete harder inside the enterprise.

The deal is expected to close in Adobe’s 4th quarter. Marketo CEO Steve Lucas will join Adobe’s senior leadership team and report to Rencher.

It’s also worth noting that the announcement comes just days before Dreamforce, Salesforce’s massive customer conference will be taking place in San Francisco, and Microsoft will be holding its Ignite conference in Orlando. While the timing may be coincidental, it does end up stealing some of their competitors’ thunder.

Posted Under: Tech News
AI could help push Neo4j graph database growth

Posted by on 20 September, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

Graph databases have always been useful to help find connections across a vast data set, and it turns out that capability is quite handy in artificial intelligence and machine learning too. Today, Neo4j, the makers of the open source and commercial graph database platform, announced the release of Neo4j 3.5, which has a number of new features aimed specifically at AI and machine learning.

Neo4j founder and CEO Emil Eifrem says he had recognized the connection between AI and machine learning and graph databases for awhile, but he says that it has taken some time for the market to catch up to the idea.

“There has been a lot momentum around AI and graphs…Graphs are very fundamental to AI. At the same time we were seeing some early use cases, but not really broad adoption, and that’s what we’re seeing right now,” he explained.

AI graph uses cases. Graphic: Neo4j

To help advance AI uses cases, today’s release includes a new full text search capability, which Eifrem says has been one of the most requested features. This is important because when you are making connections between entities, you have to be able to find all of the examples regardless of how it’s worded — for example, human versus humans versus people.

Part of that was building their own indexing engine to increase indexing speed, which becomes essential with ever more data to process. “Another really important piece of functionality is that we have improved our data ingestion very significantly. We have 5x end-to-end performance improvements when it comes to importing data. And this is really important for connected feature extraction, where obviously, you need a lot of data to be able to train the machine learning,” he said. That also means faster sorting of data too.

Other features in the new release include improvements to the company’s own Cypher database query language and better visualization of the graphs to give more visibility, which is useful for visualizing how machine learning algorithms work, which is known as AI explainability. They also announced support for the Go language and increased security.

Graph databases are growing increasingly important as we look to find connections between data. The most common use case is the knowledge graph, which is what lets us see connections in a huge data sets. Common examples include who we are connected to on a social network like Facebook, or if we bought one item, we might like similar items on an ecommerce site.

Other use cases include connected feature extraction, a common machine learning training techniques that can look at a lot of data and extract the connections, the context and the relationships for a particular piece of data, such as suspects in a criminal case and the people connected to them.

Neo4j has over 300 large enterprise customers including Adobe, Microsoft, Walmart, UBS and NASA. The company launched in 2007 and has raised $80 million. The last round was $36 million in November 2016.

Posted Under: Tech News
MariaDB acquires Clustrix

Posted by on 20 September, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

MariaDB, the company behind the eponymous MySQL drop-in replacement database, today announced that it has acquired Clustrix, which itself is a MySQL drop-in replacement database, but with a focus on scalability. MariaDB will integrate Clustrix’s technology into its own database, which will allow it to offer its users a more scalable database service in the long run.

That by itself would be an interesting development for the popular open source database company. But there’s another angle to this story, too. In addition to the acquisition, MariaDB also today announced that cloud computing company ServiceNow is investing in MariaDB, an investment that helped it get to today’s acquisition. ServiceNow doesn’t typically make investments, though it has made a few acquisitions. It is a very large MariaDB user, though, and it’s exactly the kind of customer that will benefit from the Clustrix acquisition.

MariaDB CEO Michael Howard tells me that ServiceNow current supports about 80,000 instances of MariaDB. With this investment (which is actually an add-on to MariaDB’s 2017 Series C round), ServiceNow’s SVP of Development and Operations Pat Casey will join MariaDB’s board.

Why would MariaDB acquire a company like Clustrix, though? When I asked Howard about the motivation, he noted that he’s now seeing more companies like ServiceNow that are looking at a more scalable way to run MariaDB. Howard noted that it would take years to build a new database engine from the ground up.

“You can hire a lot of smart people individually, but not necessarily have that experience built into their profile,” he said. “So that was important and then to have a jumpstart in relation to this market opportunity — this mandate from our market. It typically takes about nine years, to get a brand new, thorough database technology off the ground. It’s not like a SaaS application where you can get a front-end going in about a year or so.

Howard also stressed that the fact that the teams at Clustrix and MariaDB share the same vocabulary, given that they both work on similar problems and aim to be compatible with MySQL, made this a good fit.

While integrating the Clustrix database technology into MariaDB won’t be trivial, Howard stressed that the database was always built to accommodate external database storage engines. MariaDB will have to make some changes to its APIs to be ready for the clustering features of Clustrix. “It’s not going to be a 1-2-3 effort,” he said. “It’s going to be a heavy-duty effort for us to do this right. But everyone on the team wants to do it because it’s good for the company and our customers.

MariaDB did not disclose the price of the acquisition. Since it was founded in 2006, though, the Y Combinator-incubated Clustrix had raised just under $72 million, though. MariaDB has raised just under $100 million so far, so it’s probably a fair guess that Clustrix didn’t necessarily sell for a large multiple of that.

 

Posted Under: Tech News
Google’s Cloud Memorystore for Redis is now generally available

Posted by on 19 September, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

After five months in public beta, Google today announced that its Cloud Memorystore for Redis, its fully managed in-memory data store, is now generally available.

The service, which is fully compatible with the Redis protocol, promises to offer sub-millisecond responses for applications that need to use in-memory caching. And because of its compatibility with Redis, developers should be able to easily migrate their applications to this service without making any code changes.

Cloud Memorystore offers two service tiers — a basic one for simple caching and a standard tier for users who need a highly available Redis instance. For the standard tier, Google offers a 99.9 percent availability SLA.

Since it first launched in beta, Google added a few additional capabilities to the service. You can now see your metrics in Stackdriver, for example. Google also added custom IAM roles and improved logging.

As for pricing, Google charges per GB-hour, depending on the service level and capacity you use. You can find the full pricing list here.

Posted Under: Tech News
GitLab raises $100M

Posted by on 19 September, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

GitLab, the developer service that aims to offer a full lifecycle DevOps platform, today announced that it has raised a $100 million Series D funding round at a valuation of $1.1 billion. The round was led by Iconiq.

As GitLab CEO Sid Sijbrandij told me, this round, which brings the company’s total funding to $145.5 million, will help it enable its goal of reaching an IPO by November 2020.

According to Sijbrandij, GitLab’s original plan was to raise a new funding round at a valuation over $1 billion early next year. But since Iconiq came along with an offer that pretty much matched what the company set out to achieve in a few months anyway, the team decided to go ahead and raise the round now. Unsurprisingly, Microsoft’s acquisition of GitHub earlier this year helped to accelerate those plans, too.

“We weren’t planning on fundraising actually. I did block off some time in my calendar next year, starting from February 25th to do the next fundraise,” Sijbrandij said. “Our plan is to IPO in November of 2020 and we anticipated one more fundraise. I think in the current climate, where the macroeconomics are really good and GitHub got acquired, people are seeing that there’s one independent company, one startup left basically in this space. And we saw an opportunity to become best in class in a lot of categories.”

As Sijbrandij stressed, while most people still look at GitLab as a GitHub and Bitbucket competitor (and given the similarity in their names, who wouldn’t?), GitLab’s wants to be far more than that. It now offers products in nine categories and also sees itself as competing with the likes of VersionOne, Jira, Jenkins, Artifactory, Electric Cloud, Puppet, New Relic, and BlackDuck.

“The biggest misunderstanding we’re seeing is that GitLab is an alternative to GitHub and we’ve grown beyond that,” he said. “We are now in nine categories all the way from planning to monitoring.”

Sijbrandij notes that there’s a billion-dollar player in every space that GitLab competes it. “But we want to be better,” he said. “And that’s only possible because we are open core, so people co-create these products with us. That being said, there’s still a lot of work on our side, helping to get those contributions over the finish line, making sure performance and quality stay up, establish a consistent user interface. These are things that typically don’t come from the wider community and with this fundraise of $100 million, we will be able to make sure we can sustain that effort in all the different product categories.”

Given this focus, GitLab will invest most of the funding in its engineering efforts to build out its existing products but also to launch new ones. The company plans to launch new features like tracing and log aggregation, for example.

With this very public commitment to an IPO, GitLab is also signaling that it plans to stay independent. That’s very much Sijbrandij’s plan, at least, though he admitted that “there’s always a price” if somebody came along and wanted to acquire the company. He did note that he likes the transparency that comes with being a public company.

“We always managed to be more bullish about the company than the rest of the world,” he said. “But the rest of the world is starting to catch up. This fundraise is a statement that we now have the money to become a public company where we’re not we’re not interested in being acquired. That is what we’re setting out to do.”

Posted Under: Tech News
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