Oct
10
2018
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Google introduces dual-region storage buckets to simplify data redundancy

Google is playing catch-up in the cloud, and as such it wants to provide flexibility to differentiate itself from AWS and Microsoft. Today, the company announced a couple of new options to help separate it from the cloud storage pack.

Storage may seem stodgy, but it’s a primary building block for many cloud applications. Before you can build an application you need the data that will drive it, and that’s where the storage component comes into play.

One of the issues companies have as they move data to the cloud is making sure it stays close to the application when it’s needed to reduce latency. Customers also require redundancy in the event of a catastrophic failure, but still need access with low latency. The latter has been a hard problem to solve until today when Google introduced a new dual-regional storage option.

As Google described it in the blog post announcing the new feature, “With this new option, you write to a single dual-regional bucket without having to manually copy data between primary and secondary locations. No replication tool is needed to do this and there are no network charges associated with replicating the data, which means less overhead for you storage administrators out there. In the event of a region failure, we transparently handle the failover and ensure continuity for your users and applications accessing data in Cloud Storage.”

This allows companies to have redundancy with low latency, while controlling where it goes without having to manually move it should the need arise.

Knowing what you’re paying

Companies don’t always require instant access to data, and Google (and other cloud vendors) offer a variety of storage options, making it cheaper to store and retrieve archived data. As of today, Google is offering a clear way to determine costs, based on customer storage choice types. While it might not seem revolutionary to let customers know what they are paying, Dominic Preuss, Google’s director of product management says it hasn’t always been a simple matter to calculate these kinds of costs in the cloud. Google decided to simplify it by clearly outlining the costs for medium (Nearline) and long-term (Coldline) storage across multiple regions.

As Google describes it, “With multi-regional Nearline and Coldline storage, you can access your data with millisecond latency, it’s distributed redundantly across a multi-region (U.S., EU or Asia), and you pay archival prices. This is helpful when you have data that won’t be accessed very often, but still needs to be protected with geographically dispersed copies, like media archives or regulated content. It also simplifies management.”

Under the new plan, you can select the type of storage you need, the kind of regional coverage you want and you can see exactly what you are paying.

Google Cloud storage pricing options. Chart: Google

Each of these new storage services has been designed to provide additional options for Google Cloud customers, giving them more transparency around pricing and flexibility and control over storage types, regions and the way they deal with redundancy across data stores.

Sep
27
2018
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Dropbox overhauls internal search to improve speed and accuracy

Over the last several months, Dropbox has been undertaking an overhaul of its internal search engine for the first time since 2015. Today, the company announced that the new version, dubbed Nautilus, is ready for the world. The latest search tool takes advantage of a new architecture powered by machine learning to help pinpoint the exact piece of content a user is looking for.

While an individual user may have a much smaller body of documents to search across than the World Wide Web, the paradox of enterprise search says that the fewer documents you have, the harder it is to locate the correct one. Yet Dropbox faces of a host of additional challenges when it comes to search. It has more than 500 million users and hundreds of billions of documents, making finding the correct piece for a particular user even more difficult. The company had to take all of this into consideration when it was rebuilding its internal search engine.

One way for the search team to attack a problem of this scale was to put machine learning to bear on it, but it required more than an underlying level of intelligence to make this work. It also required completely rethinking the entire search tool from an architectural level.

That meant separating two main pieces of the system, indexing and serving. The indexing piece is crucial of course in any search engine. A system of this size and scope needs a fast indexing engine to cover the number of documents in a whirl of changing content. This is the piece that’s hidden behind the scenes. The serving side of the equation is what end users see when they query the search engine, and the system generates a set of results.

Nautilus Architecture Diagram: Dropbox

Dropbox described the indexing system in a blog post announcing the new search engine: “The role of the indexing pipeline is to process file and user activity, extract content and metadata out of it, and create a search index.” They added that the easiest way to index a corpus of documents would be to just keep checking and iterating, but that couldn’t keep up with a system this large and complex, especially one that is focused on a unique set of content for each user (or group of users in the business tool).

They account for that in a couple of ways. They create offline builds every few days, but they also watch as users interact with their content and try to learn from that. As that happens, Dropbox creates what it calls “index mutations,” which they merge with the running indexes from the offline builds to help provide ever more accurate results.

The indexing process has to take into account the textual content assuming it’s a document, but it also has to look at the underlying metadata as a clue to the content. They use this information to feed a retrieval engine, whose job is to find as many documents as it can, as fast it can and worry about accuracy later.

It has to make sure it checks all of the repositories. For instance, Dropbox Paper is a separate repository, so the answer could be found there. It also has to take into account the access-level security, only displaying content that the person querying has the right to access.

Once it has a set of possible results, it uses machine learning to pinpoint the correct content. “The ranking engine is powered by a [machine learning] model that outputs a score for each document based on a variety of signals. Some signals measure the relevance of the document to the query (e.g., BM25), while others measure the relevance of the document to the user at the current moment in time,” they explained in the blog post.

After the system has a list of potential candidates, it ranks them and displays the results for the end user in the search interface, but a lot of work goes into that from the moment the user types the query until it displays a set of potential files. This new system is designed to make that process as fast and accurate as possible.

Sep
24
2018
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Microsoft wants to put your data in a box

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

Aug
29
2018
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Storage provider Cloudian raises $94M

Cloudian, a company that specializes in helping businesses store petabytes of data, today announced that it has raised a $94 million Series E funding round. Investors in this round, which is one of the largest we have seen for a storage vendor, include Digital Alpha, Fidelity Eight Roads, Goldman Sachs, INCJ, JPIC (Japan Post Investment Corporation), NTT DOCOMO Ventures and WS Investments. This round includes a $25 million investment from Digital Alpha, which was first announced earlier this year.

With this, the seven-year-old company has now raised a total of $174 million.

As the company told me, it now has about 160 employees and 240 enterprise customers. Cloudian has found its sweet spot in managing the large video archives of entertainment companies, but its customers also include healthcare companies, automobile manufacturers and Formula One teams.

What’s important to stress here is that Cloudian’s focus is on on-premise storage, not cloud storage, though it does offer support for multi-cloud data management, as well. “Data tends to be most effectively used close to where it is created and close to where it’s being used,” Cloudian VP of worldwide sales Jon Ash told me. “That’s because of latency, because of network traffic. You can almost always get better performance, better control over your data if it is being stored close to where it’s being used.” He also noted that it’s often costly and complex to move that data elsewhere, especially when you’re talking about the large amounts of information that Cloudian’s customers need to manage.

Unsurprisingly, companies that have this much data now want to use it for machine learning, too, so Cloudian is starting to get into this space, as well. As Cloudian CEO and co-founder Michael Tso also told me, companies are now aware that the data they pull in, whether from IoT sensors, cameras or medical imaging devices, will only become more valuable over time as they try to train their models. If they decide to throw the data away, they run the risk of having nothing with which to train their models.

Cloudian plans to use the new funding to expand its global sales and marketing efforts and increase its engineering team. “We have to invest in engineering and our core technology, as well,” Tso noted. “We have to innovate in new areas like AI.”

As Ash also stressed, Cloudian’s business is really data management — not just storage. “Data is coming from everywhere and it’s going everywhere,” he said. “The old-school storage platforms that were siloed just don’t work anywhere.”

Mar
12
2018
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Dropbox sets IPO range $16-18, valuing it below $10B, as Salesforce ponies up $100M

After announcing an IPO in February, today Dropbox updated its S-1 filing with pricing. The cloud services and storage company said that it expects to price its IPO at between $16 and $18 per share when it sells 36,000,000 shares to raise $648 million as “DBX” on the Nasdaq exchange.

In addition to that, Dropbox announced that it will be selling $100 million in stock to Salesforce — its new integration partner — right after the IPO, “at a price per share equal to the initial offering price.”

A specific date has not yet been set for Dropbox’s listing later this month.

The IPO pricing values the company at between $7 billion and nearly $8 billion when you factor in restricted stock units — making it the biggest tech IPO since Snap last year, but still falling well below the $10 billion valuation that Dropbox crept up to back in 2014 when it raised $350 million in venture funding.

Many will be watching Dropbox’s IPO to see if it stands up longer term and becomes a bellwether for the fortunes and fates of many other outsized “startups” that many have also expecting to list, including those that have already filed to go public like Spotify, as well as those that have yet to make any official pronouncements, like Airbnb.

Some might argue that it’s illogical to compare a company whose business model is built around cloud storage with a travel and accommodation business, or a music streaming platform. Perhaps especially now: at a time when people are still wincing from Snap’s drastic drop — the company is trading more than 30 percent down from its IPO debut — Dropbox presents a challenging picture.

On the plus side, the company has helped bring the concept of cloud storage services to the masses. Riding on the wave of mobile devices, lightweight apps, and faster internet connections, it has changed the conversation about how many conceive of handling their data and offloading it off of their devices. Today, Dropbox has more than 500 million users in more than 180 countries.

On the minus side, only around 11 million of those customers are paying users. The company reported around $1.1 billion in revenues in 2017, representing a rise on $845 million in 2016 and $604 million in 2015. But it’s unprofitable, reporting a loss of $112 million in 2017.

Again, that’s a large improvement when you compare Dropbox’s 2016 loss of $210 million in 2016 and $326 million in 2015. But it does raise more pressing questions: Does Dropbox have a big plan for how to convert more people into paying users? And will its investors have the patience to watch its business models play out?

In that regard, the Salesforce investment and integration, and its timing of being announced alongside the sober IPO range, is a notable vote of confidence in Dropbox. Salesforce has staked its whole business model around cloud services — its ticker may be “CRM,” but its logo is its name inside a cloud — and it’s passed into the pantheon of tech giants with flying colors.

Having Salesforce buy into Dropbox not only shows how it’s bolstering its new partner Dropbox in the next phase, but I’d argue also gives Dropbox one potential exit strategy. Salesforce, after all, has been interested in playing more directly in this space for years at this point.

Nov
14
2017
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Dropbox partners with Autodesk to help users collaborate on large design files

 Dropbox announced a couple of products today to make it easier for Autodesk users to access and share large design files. The products include an integrated desktop app for opening and saving Autodesk files stored in Dropbox and an app for viewing design files without the need for owning Autodesk. These products are long overdue given that Dropbox’s Ross Piper, who is head of ecosystem… Read More

Sep
15
2017
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Why Dropbox decided to drop AWS and build its own infrastructure and network

 There is always a tension inside companies about whether to build or to buy, whatever the need. A few years ago Dropbox decided it was going to move the majority of its infrastructure requirements from AWS into its own data centers. As you can imagine, it took a monumental effort, but the company believed that the advantages of controlling its own destiny would be worth all of the challenges… Read More

Apr
26
2017
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Dropbox really wants us to know its finances are healthy

 Healthy financial milestones sugarcoat the conversation temporarily, but eventually Drew Houston is going to have to step into the public markets. At that point nobody will care how fast Dropbox grew its revenue back in the day. The question will be whether Dropbox is a company that can eventually sustain $10 billion in yearly revenue. Read More

Oct
31
2016
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Microsoft open sources its next-gen cloud hardware design

80527689-6b4f-4ac8-bb93-25556376560c Microsoft today open sourced its next-gen hyperscale cloud hardware design and contributed it to the Open Compute Project (OCP). Microsoft joined the OCP, which also includes Facebook, Google, Intel, IBM, Rackspace and many other cloud vendors, back in 2014. Over the last two years, it already contributed a number of server, networking and data center designs. With this new contribution,… Read More

Oct
20
2016
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Google’s Cloud Platform gets new a cold storage service

Toy Polar bears in freezer At an event in London today Google announced a couple of updates to its cloud storage services. The most important of these is the launch of Coldline, a new cold storage service for archival data, but the company also announced its new Regional storage service and the rebranding of its Standard storage under the “Multi-Region” moniker. If you know your Google Cloud Storage,… Read More

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