Feb
20
2019
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New conflict evidence surfaces in JEDI cloud contract procurement process

For months, the drama has been steady in the Pentagon’s decade-long, $10 billion JEDI cloud contract procurement process. This week the plot thickened when the DOD reported that it has found new evidence of a possible conflict of interest, and has reopened its internal investigation into the matter.

“DOD can confirm that new information not previously provided to DOD has emerged related to potential conflicts of interest. As a result of this new information, DOD is continuing to investigate these potential conflicts,” Elissa Smith, Department of Defense spokesperson told TechCrunch.

It’s not clear what this new information is about, but The Wall Street Journal reported this week that senior federal judge Eric Bruggink of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims ordered that the lawsuit filed by Oracle in December would be put on hold to allow the DOD to investigate further.

From the start of the DOD RFP process, there have been complaints that the process itself was designed to favor Amazon, and that were possible conflicts of interest on the part of DOD personnel. The DOD’s position throughout has been that it is an open process and that an investigation found no bearing for the conflict charges. Something forced the department to rethink that position this week.

Oracle in particular has been a vocal critic of the process. Even before the RFP was officially opened, it was claiming that the process unfairly favored Amazon. In the court case, it made the conflict part clearer, claiming that an ex-Amazon employee named Deap Ubhi had influence over the process, a charge that Amazon denied when it joined the case to defend itself. Four weeks ago something changed when a single line in a court filing suggested that Ubhi’s involvement may have been more problematic than the DOD previously believed.

At the time, I wrote:

In the document, filed with the court on Wednesday, the government’s legal representatives sought to outline its legal arguments in the case. The line that attracted so much attention stated, “Now that Amazon has submitted a proposal, the contracting officer is considering whether Amazon’s re-hiring Mr. Ubhi creates an OCI that cannot be avoided, mitigated, or neutralized.” OCI stands for Organizational Conflict of Interest in DoD lingo.

And Pentagon spokesperson Heather Babb told TechCrunch:

During his employment with DDS, Mr. Deap Ubhi recused himself from work related to the JEDI contract. DOD has investigated this issue, and we have determined that Mr. Ubhi complied with all necessary laws and regulations.

Whether the new evidence that DOD has found is referring to Ubhi’s rehiring by Amazon or not is not clear at the moment, but it has clearly found new evidence it wants to explore in this case, and that has been enough to put the Oracle lawsuit on hold.

Oracle’s court case is the latest in a series of actions designed to protest the entire JEDI procurement process. The Washington Post reported last spring that co-CEO Safra Catz complained directly to the president. The company later filed a formal complaint with the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which it lost in November when the department’s investigation found no evidence of conflict. It finally made a federal case out of it when it filed suit in federal court in December, accusing the government of an unfair procurement process and a conflict on the part of Ubhi.

The cloud deal itself is what is at the root of this spectacle. It’s a 10-year contract worth up to $10 billion to handle the DOD’s cloud business — and it’s a winner-take-all proposition. There are three out clauses, which means it might never reach that number of years or dollars, but it is lucrative enough, and could possibly provide inroads for other government contracts, that every cloud company wants to win this.

The RFP process closed in October and the final decision on vendor selection is supposed to happen in April. It is unclear whether this latest development will delay that decision.

Feb
14
2019
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Peltarion raises $20M for its AI platform

Peltarion, a Swedish startup founded by former execs from companies like Spotify, Skype, King, TrueCaller and Google, today announced that it has raised a $20 million Series A funding round led by Euclidean Capital, the family office for hedge fund billionaire James Simons. Previous investors FAM and EQT Ventures also participated, and this round brings the company’s total funding to $35 million.

There is obviously no dearth of AI platforms these days. Peltarion focus on what it calls “operational AI.” The service offers an end-to-end platform that lets you do everything from pre-processing your data to building models and putting them into production. All of this runs in the cloud and developers get access to a graphical user interface for building and testing their models. All of this, the company stresses, ensures that Peltarion’s users don’t have to deal with any of the low-level hardware or software and can instead focus on building their models.

“The speed at which AI systems can be built and deployed on the operational platform is orders of magnitude faster compared to the industry standard tools such as TensorFlow and require far fewer people and decreases the level of technical expertise needed,” Luka Crnkovic-Friis, of Peltarion’s CEO and co-founder, tells me. “All this results in more organizations being able to operationalize AI and focusing on solving problems and creating change.”

In a world where businesses have a plethora of choices, though, why use Peltarion over more established players? “Almost all of our clients are worried about lock-in to any single cloud provider,” Crnkovic-Friis said. “They tend to be fine using storage and compute as they are relatively similar across all the providers and moving to another cloud provider is possible. Equally, they are very wary of the higher-level services that AWS, GCP, Azure, and others provide as it means a complete lock-in.”

Peltarion, of course, argues that its platform doesn’t lock in its users and that other platforms take far more AI expertise to produce commercially viable AI services. The company rightly notes that, outside of the tech giants, most companies still struggle with how to use AI at scale. “They are stuck on the starting blocks, held back by two primary barriers to progress: immature patchwork technology and skills shortage,” said Crnkovic-Friis.

The company will use the new funding to expand its development team and its teams working with its community and partners. It’ll also use the new funding for growth initiatives in the U.S. and other markets.

Feb
14
2019
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AWS announces new bare metal instances for companies who want more cloud control

When you think about Infrastructure as a Service, you typically pay for a virtual machine that resides in a multi-tenant environment. That means, it’s using a set of shared resources. For many companies that approach is fine, but when a customer wants more control, they may prefer a single tenant system where they control the entire set of hardware resources. This approach is also known as “bare metal” in the industry, and today AWS announced five new bare metal instances.

You end up paying more for this kind of service because you are getting more control over the processor, storage and other resources on your own dedicated underlying server. This is part of the range of products that all cloud vendors offer. You can have a vanilla virtual machine, with very little control over the hardware, or you can go with bare metal and get much finer grain control over the underlying hardware, something that companies require if they are going to move certain workloads to the cloud.

As AWS describes it in the blog post announcing these new instances, these are for highly specific use cases. “Bare metal instances allow EC2 customers to run applications that benefit from deep performance analysis tools, specialized workloads that require direct access to bare metal infrastructure, legacy workloads not supported in virtual environments, and licensing-restricted Tier 1 business critical applications,” the company explained.

The five new products, called m5.metal, m5d.metal, r5.metal, r5d.metal, and z1d.metal (catchy names there, Amazon) offer a variety of resources:

Chart courtesy of Amazon

These new offerings are available starting today as on-demand, reserved or spot instances, depending on your requirements.

Jan
23
2019
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AWS launches WorkLink to make accessing mobile intranet sites and web apps easier

If your company uses a VPN and/or a mobile device management service to give you access to its intranet and internal web apps, then you know how annoying those are. AWS today launched a new product, Amazon WorkLink, that promises to make this process significantly easier.

WorkLink is a fully managed service that, for $5 per month and per user, allows IT admins to give employees one-click access to internal sites, no matter whether they run on AWS or not.

After installing WorkLink on their phones, employees can then simply use their favorite browser to surf to an internal website (other solutions often force users to use a sub-par proprietary browser). WorkLink then goes to work, securely requests that site and — and that’s the smart part here — a secure WorkLink container converts the site into an interactive vector graphic and sends it back to the phone. Nothing is stored or cached on the phone and AWS says WorkLink knows nothing about personal device activity either. That also means when a device is lost or stolen, there’s no need to try to wipe it remotely because there’s simply no company data on it.

IT can either use a VPN to connect from an AWS Virtual Private Cloud to on-premise servers or use AWS Direct Connect to bypass a VPN solution. The service works with all SAML 2.0 identity providers (which is the majority of identity services used in the enterprise, including the likes of Okta and Ping Identity), and as a fully managed service, it handles scaling and updates in the background.

“When talking with customers, all of them expressed frustration that their workers don’t have an easy and secure way to access internal content, which means that their employees either waste time or don’t bother trying to access content that would make them more productive,” says Peter Hill, vice president of Productivity Applications at AWS, in today’s announcement. “With Amazon WorkLink, we’re enabling greater workplace productivity for those outside the corporate firewall in a way that IT administrators and security teams are happy with and employees are willing to use.”

WorkLink will work with both Android and iOS, but for the time being, only the iOS app (iOS 12+) is available. For now, it also only works with Safar, with Chrome support coming in the next few weeks. The service is also only available in Europe and North America for now, with additional regions coming later this year.

For the time being, AWS’s cloud archrivals Google and Microsoft don’t offer any services that are quite comparable with WorkLink. Google offers its Cloud Identity-Aware Proxy as a VPN alternative and as part of its BeyondCorp program, though that has a very different focus, while Microsoft offers a number of more traditional mobile device management solutions.

Jan
16
2019
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AWS launches Backup, a fully managed backup service for AWS

Amazon’s AWS cloud computing service today launched Backup, a new tool that makes it easier for developers on the platform to back up their data from various AWS services and their on-premises apps. Out of the box, the service, which is now available to all developers, lets you set up backup policies for services like Amazon EBS volumes, RDS databases, DynamoDB tables, EFS file systems and AWS Storage Gateway volumes. Support for more services is planned, too. To back up on-premises data, businesses can use the AWS Storage Gateway.

The service allows users to define their various backup policies and retention periods, including the ability to move backups to cold storage (for EFS data) or delete them completely after a certain time. By default, the data is stored in Amazon S3 buckets.

Most of the supported services, except for EFS file systems, already feature the ability to create snapshots. Backup essentially automates that process and creates rules around it, so it’s no surprise that pricing for Backup is the same as for using those snapshot features (with the exception of the file system backup, which will have a per-GB charge). It’s worth noting that you’ll also pay a per-GB fee for restoring data from EFS file systems and DynamoDB backups.

Currently, Backup’s scope is limited to a given AWS region, but the company says that it plans to offer cross-region functionality later this year.

“As the cloud has become the default choice for customers of all sizes, it has attracted two distinct types of builders,” writes Bill Vass, AWS’s VP of Storage, Automation, and Management Services. “Some are tinkerers who want to tweak and fine-tune the full range of AWS services into a desired architecture, and other builders are drawn to the same breadth and depth of functionality in AWS, but are willing to trade some of the service granularity to start at a higher abstraction layer, so they can build even faster. We designed AWS Backup for this second type of builder who has told us that they want one place to go for backups versus having to do it across multiple, individual services.”

Early adopters of AWS Backup are State Street Corporation, Smile Brands and Rackspace, though this is surely a service that will attract its fair share of users as it makes the life of admins quite a bit easier. AWS does have quite a few backup and storage partners, though, who may not be all that excited to see AWS jump into this market, too — though they often offer a wider range of functionality than AWS’s service, including cross-region and offsite backups.

 

Dec
17
2018
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AWS signs on to defend itself in Oracle’s JEDI RFP lawsuit against US government

Just when you didn’t think there could be any more drama over the Pentagon’s decade-long, $10 billion JEDI contract RFP, the plot thickened again last week when Amazon Web Services (AWS) joined the U.S. government as a defendant in Oracle’s lawsuit over the Pentagon’s handling of the contract RFP process.

Earlier this month, Oracle filed a complaint in the United States Court of Federal Claims alleging that the JEDI RFP process unfairly favored Amazon, that the single-vendor decision (which won’t be made until April) violates federal procurement rules and that two members of the JEDI team had a conflict of interest because of previous affiliations with Amazon Web Services.

AWS filed paperwork to join the case, stating that because of the claims being made by Oracle, it had a direct stake in the outcome. “Oracle’s Complaint specifically alleges conflicts of interest involving AWS. Thus, AWS has direct and substantial economic interests at stake in this case, and its disposition clearly could impair those interests,” the company’s attorneys stated in the motion.

The Motion to Intervene as a Defendant was approved by United States Court of Federal Claims Senior Judge, Eric G. Bruggink the same day.

Oracle filed a complaint alleging essentially the same issues with the Government Accountability Office earlier this year, but the GAO found no wrong-doing in a ruling last month. Oracle decided to take the case to court, where it has had some high-profile wins in recent years, including its case against Google over its use of the Java APIs.

The JEDI contract RFP has attracted attention for the length, the amount of money at stake and the single-vendor selection decision. This is a contract that every cloud company badly wants to have. Oracle has made it clear it’s not giving up without a fight, while Amazon Web Services intends to defend itself against Oracle’s claims.

Dec
12
2018
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Oracle is suing the US government over $10B Pentagon JEDI cloud contract process

Oracle filed suit in federal court last week alleging yet again that the decade-long $10 billion Pentagon JEDI contract with its single-vendor award is unfair and illegal. The complaint, which has been sealed at Oracle’s request, is available in the public record with redactions.

If all of this sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the same argument the company used when it filed a similar complaint with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) last August. The GAO ruled against Oracle last month stating, “…the Defense Department’s decision to pursue a single-award approach to obtain these cloud services is consistent with applicable statutes (and regulations) because the agency reasonably determined that a single-award approach is in the government’s best interests for various reasons, including national security concerns, as the statute allows.”

That hasn’t stopped Oracle from trying one more time, this time filing suit in the United States Court of Federal Claims this week, alleging pretty much the same thing it did with the GAO, that the process was unfair and violated federal procurement law.

Oracle Senior Vice President Ken Glueck reiterated this point in a statement to TechCrunch. “The technology industry is innovating around next generation cloud at an unprecedented pace and JEDI as currently envisioned virtually assures DoD will be locked into legacy cloud for a decade or more. The single-award approach is contrary to well established procurement requirements and is out of sync with industry’s multi-cloud strategy, which promotes constant competition, fosters rapid innovation and lowers prices,” he said, echoing the language in the complaint.

The JEDI contract process is about determining the cloud strategy for the Department of Defense for the next decade, but it’s important to point out that even though it is framed as a 10-year contract, it has been designed with several opt-out points for DOD with an initial two-year option, two three-year options and a final two-year option, leaving open the possibility it might never go the full 10 years.

Oracle has complained for months that it believes the contract has been written to favor the industry leader, Amazon Web Services. Company co-CEO Safra Catz even complained directly to the president in April, before the RFP process even started. IBM filed a similar protest in October, citing many of the same arguments. Oracle’s federal court complaint filing cites the IBM complaint and language from other bidders including, Google (which has since withdrawn from the process) and Microsoft that supports their point that a multi-vendor solution would make more sense.

The Department of Justice, which represents the U.S. government in the complaint, declined to comment.

The DOD also indicated it wouldn’t comment on pending litigation, but in September spokesperson Heather Babb told TechCrunch that the contract RFP was not written to favor any vendor in advance. “The JEDI Cloud final RFP reflects the unique and critical needs of DOD, employing the best practices of competitive pricing and security. No vendors have been pre-selected,” she said at the time.

That hasn’t stopped Oracle from continually complaining about the process to whomever would listen. This time they have literally made a federal case out of it. The lawsuit is only the latest move by the company. It’s worth pointing out that the RFP process closed in October and a winner won’t be chosen until April. In other words, they appear to be assuming they will lose before the vendor selection process is even completed.

Nov
29
2018
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New AWS tool helps customers understand best cloud practices

Since 2015, AWS has had a team of solution architects working with customers to make sure they are using AWS services in a way that meets best practices around a set of defined criteria. Today, the company announced a new Well Architected tool that helps customers do this themselves in an automated way without the help of a human consultant.

As Amazon CTO Werner Vogels said in his keynote address at AWS re:Invent in Las Vegas, it’s hard to scale a human team inside the company to meet the needs of thousands of customers, especially when so many want to be sure they are complying with these best practices. He indicated that they even brought on a network of certified partners to help, but it still has not been enough to meet demand.

In typical AWS fashion, they decided to create a service to help customers measure how well they are doing in terms of operations, security, reliability, cost optimization and performance efficiency. Customers can run this tool against the AWS services they are using and get a full report of how they measure up against these five factors.

“I think of it as a way to make sure that you are using the cloud right, and that you are using it well,” Jeff Barr wrote in a blog post introducing the new service.

Instead of working with a human to analyze your systems, you answer a series of questions and then generate a report based on those answers. When the process is complete you generate a pdf report with all the recommendations for your particular situation.

Image: AWS

While it’s doubtful that such an approach can be as comprehensive as a conversation between client and consultant, it is a starting point to at least get you on the road to thinking about such things, and as a free service, you have little to lose by at least trying the tool and seeing what it tells you.

more AWS re:Invent 2018 coverage

Nov
29
2018
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AWS announces a slew of new Lambda features

AWS launched Lambda in 2015 and with it helped popularize serverless computing. You simply write code (event triggers) and AWS deals with whatever compute, memory and storage you need to make that work. Today at AWS re:Invent in Las Vegas, the company announced several new features to make it more developer friendly, while acknowledging that even while serverless reduced complexity, it still requires more sophisticated tools as it matures

It’s called serverless because you don’t have to worry about the underlying servers. The cloud vendors take care of all that for you, serving whatever resources you need to run your event and no more. It means you no longer have to worry about coding for all your infrastructure and you only pay for the computing you need at any given moment to make the application work.

The way AWS works is that it tends to release something, then builds more functionality on top of a base service as it sees increasing requirements as customers use it. As Amazon CTO Werner Vogels pointed out in his keynote on Thursday, developers debate about tools and everyone has their own idea of what tools they bring to the task every day.

For starters, they decided to please the language folks introducing support for new languages. Those developers who use Ruby can now use Ruby Support for AWS Lambda. “Now it’s possible to write Lambda functions as idiomatic Ruby code, and run them on AWS. The AWS SDK for Ruby is included in the Lambda execution environment by default,” Chris Munns from AWS wrote in a blog post introducing the new language support.

If C++ is your thing, AWS announced C++ Lambda Runtime. If neither of those match your programming language tastes, AWS opened it up for just about any language with the new Lambda Runtime API, which Danilo Poccia from AWS described in a blog post as “a simple interface to use any programming language, or a specific language version, for developing your functions.”

AWS didn’t want to stop with languages though. They also recognize that even though Lambda (and serverless in general) is designed to remove a level of complexity for developers, that doesn’t mean that all serverless applications consist of simple event triggers. As developers build more sophisticated serverless apps, they have to bring in system components and compose multiple pieces together, as Vogels explained in his keynote today.

To address this requirement, the company introduced Lambda Layers, which they describe as “a way to centrally manage code and data that is shared across multiple functions.” This could be custom code used by multiple functions or a way to share code used to simplify business logic.

As Lambda matures, developer requirements grow and these announcements and others are part of trying to meet those needs.

more AWS re:Invent 2018 coverage

Nov
26
2018
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AWS Transit Gateway helps customers understand their entire network

Tonight at AWS re:Invent, the company announced a new tool called AWS Transit Gateway designed to help build a network topology inside of AWS that lets you share resources across accounts and bring together on premises and cloud resources in a single network topology.

Amazon already has a popular product called Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (VPC), which helps customers build private instances of their applications. The Transit Gateway is designed to help build connections between VPCs, which, up until now, has been tricky to do.

As Peter DeSantis, VP of global infrastructure and customer support at AWS speaking at an event Monday night at AWS Re:Invent explained, AWS Transit Gateway gives you a single set of controls that lets you connect to a centrally managed gateway to grow your network easily and quickly.

Diagram: AWS

DeSantis said that this tool also gives you the ability to traverse your AWS and on-premises networks. “A gateway is another way that we’re innovating to enable customers to have secure, easy-to-manage networking across both on premise and their AWS cloud environment,” he explained.

AWS Transit Gateway lets you build connections across a network wherever the resources live in a standard kind of network topology. “Today we are giving you the ability to use the new AWS Transit Gateway to build a hub-and-spoke network topology. You can connect your existing VPCs, data centers, remote offices, and remote gateways to a managed Transit Gateway, with full control over network routing and security, even if your VPCs, Active Directories, shared services, and other resources span multiple AWS accounts,” Amazon’s Jeff Barr wrote in a blog post announcing to the new feature.

For much of its existence, AWS was about getting you to the cloud and managing your cloud resources. This makes sense for a pure cloud company like AWS, but customers tend to have complex configurations with some infrastructure and software still living on premises and some in the cloud. This could help bridge the two worlds.

more AWS re:Invent 2018 coverage

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