Apr
11
2019
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Much to Oracle’s chagrin, Pentagon names Microsoft and Amazon as $10B JEDI cloud contract finalists

Yesterday, the Pentagon announced two finalists in the $10 billion, decade-long JEDI cloud contract process — and Oracle was not one of them. In spite of lawsuits, official protests and even back-channel complaining to the president, the two finalists are Microsoft and Amazon.

“After evaluating all of the proposals received, the Department of Defense has made a competitive range determination for the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure Cloud request for proposals, in accordance with all applicable laws and regulations. The two companies within the competitive range will participate further in the procurement process,” Elissa Smith, DoD spokesperson for Public Affairs Operations told TechCrunch. She added that those two finalists were in fact Microsoft and Amazon Web Services (AWS, the cloud computing arm of Amazon).

This contract procurement process has caught the attention of the cloud computing market for a number of reasons. For starters, it’s a large amount of money, but perhaps the biggest reason it had cloud companies going nuts was that it is a winner-take-all proposition.

It is important to keep in mind that whether it’s Microsoft or Amazon that is ultimately chosen for this contract, the winner may never see $10 billion, and it may not last 10 years, because there are a number of points where the DoD could back out —  but the idea of a single winner has been irksome for participants in the process from the start.

Over the course of the last year, Google dropped out of the running, while IBM and Oracle have been complaining to anyone who will listen that the contract unfairly favored Amazon. Others have questioned the wisdom of even going with a single-vendor approach. Even at $10 billion, an astronomical sum to be sure, we have pointed out that in the scheme of the cloud business, it’s not all that much money — but there is more at stake here than money.

There is a belief here that the winner could have an upper hand in other government contracts, that this is an entrée into a much bigger pot of money. After all, if you are building the cloud for the Department of Defense and preparing it for a modern approach to computing in a highly secure way, you would be in a pretty good position to argue for other contracts with similar requirements.

In the end, in spite of the protests of the other companies involved, the Pentagon probably got this right. The two finalists are the most qualified to carry out the contract’s requirements. They are the top two cloud infrastructure vendors on the market, although Microsoft is far behind with around 13 or 14 percent market share. Amazon is far head, with around 33 percent, according to several companies that track such things.

Microsoft in particular has tools and resources that would be very appealing, especially Azure Stack — a mini private version of Azure, that you can stand up anywhere, an approach that would have great appeal to the military — but both companies have experience with government contracts, and both bring strengths and weaknesses to the table. It will undoubtedly be a tough decision.

In February, the contract drama took yet another turn when the department reported it was investigating new evidence of conflict of interest by a former Amazon employee who was involved in the RFP process for a time before returning to the company. Smith reports that the department found no such conflict, but there could be some ethical violations they are looking into.

“The department’s investigation has determined that there is no adverse impact on the integrity of the acquisition process. However, the investigation also uncovered potential ethical violations, which have been further referred to DOD IG,” Smith explained.

The DoD is supposed to announce the winner this month, but the drama has continued non-stop.

Apr
09
2019
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Google Cloud challenges AWS with new open-source integrations

Google today announced that it has partnered with a number of top open-source data management and analytics companies to integrate their products into its Google Cloud Platform and offer them as managed services operated by its partners. The partners here are Confluent, DataStax, Elastic, InfluxData, MongoDB, Neo4j and Redis Labs.

The idea here, Google says, is to provide users with a seamless user experience and the ability to easily leverage these open-source technologies in Google’s cloud. But there is a lot more at play here, even though Google never quite says so. That’s because Google’s move here is clearly meant to contrast its approach to open-source ecosystems with Amazon’s. It’s no secret that Amazon’s AWS cloud computing platform has a reputation for taking some of the best open-source projects and then forking those and packaging them up under its own brand, often without giving back to the original project. There are some signs that this is changing, but a number of companies have recently taken action and changed their open-source licenses to explicitly prevent this from happening.

That’s where things get interesting, because those companies include Confluent, Elastic, MongoDB, Neo4j and Redis Labs — and those are all partnering with Google on this new project, though it’s worth noting that InfluxData is not taking this new licensing approach and that while DataStax uses lots of open-source technologies, its focus is very much on its enterprise edition.

“As you are aware, there has been a lot of debate in the industry about the best way of delivering these open-source technologies as services in the cloud,” Manvinder Singh, the head of infrastructure partnerships at Google Cloud, said in a press briefing. “Given Google’s DNA and the belief that we have in the open-source model, which is demonstrated by projects like Kubernetes, TensorFlow, Go and so forth, we believe the right way to solve this it to work closely together with companies that have invested their resources in developing these open-source technologies.”

So while AWS takes these projects and then makes them its own, Google has decided to partner with these companies. While Google and its partners declined to comment on the financial arrangements behind these deals, chances are we’re talking about some degree of profit-sharing here.

“Each of the major cloud players is trying to differentiate what it brings to the table for customers, and while we have a strong partnership with Microsoft and Amazon, it’s nice to see that Google has chosen to deepen its partnership with Atlas instead of launching an imitation service,” Sahir Azam, the senior VP of Cloud Products at MongoDB told me. “MongoDB and GCP have been working closely together for years, dating back to the development of Atlas on GCP in early 2017. Over the past two years running Atlas on GCP, our joint teams have developed a strong working relationship and support model for supporting our customers’ mission critical applications.”

As for the actual functionality, the core principle here is that Google will deeply integrate these services into its Cloud Console; for example, similar to what Microsoft did with Databricks on Azure. These will be managed services and Google Cloud will handle the invoicing and the billings will count toward a user’s Google Cloud spending commitments. Support will also run through Google, so users can use a single service to manage and log tickets across all of these services.

Redis Labs CEO and co-founder Ofer Bengal echoed this. “Through this partnership, Redis Labs and Google Cloud are bringing these innovations to enterprise customers, while giving them the choice of where to run their workloads in the cloud, he said. “Customers now have the flexibility to develop applications with Redis Enterprise using the fully integrated managed services on GCP. This will include the ability to manage Redis Enterprise from the GCP console, provisioning, billing, support, and other deep integrations with GCP.”

Apr
09
2019
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Google’s hybrid cloud platform is coming to AWS and Azure

Google’s Cloud Services Platform for managing hybrid clouds that span on-premise data centers and the Google cloud is coming out of beta today. The company is also changing the product’s name to Anthos, a name that either refers to a lost Greek tragedy, the name of an obscure god in the Marvel universe or rosemary. That by itself would be interesting, but minor news. What makes this interesting is that Google also today announced that Anthos will run on third-party clouds, as well, including AWS and Azure.

“We will support Anthos and AWS and Azure as well, so people get one way to manage their application and that one way works across their on-premise environments and all other clouds,” Google’s senior VP for its technical infrastructure, Urs Hölzle, explained in a press conference ahead of today’s announcement.

So with Anthos, Google will offer a single managed service that will let you manage and deploy workloads across clouds, all without having to worry about the different environments and APIs. That’s a big deal and one that clearly delineates Google’s approach from its competitors’. This is Google, after all, managing your applications for you on AWS and Azure.

“You can use one consistent approach — one open-source based approach — across all environments,” Hölzle said. “I can’t really stress how big a change that is in the industry, because this is really the stack for the next 20 years, meaning that it’s not really about the three different clouds that are all randomly different in small ways. This is the way that makes these three cloud — and actually on-premise environments, too — look the same.”

Anthos/Google Cloud Services Platform is based on the Google Kubernetes Engine, as well as other open-source projects like the Istio service mesh. It’s also hardware agnostic, meaning that users can take their current hardware and run the service on top of that without having to immediately invest in new servers.

Why is Google doing this? “We hear from our customers that multi-cloud and hybrid is really an acute pain point,” Hölzle said. He noted that containers are the enabling technology for this but that few enterprises have developed a unifying strategy to manage these deployments and that it takes expertise in all major clouds to get the most out of them.

Enterprises already have major investments in their infrastructure and created relationships with their vendors, though, so it’s no surprise that Google is launching Anthos with more than 30 major hardware and software partners that range from Cisco to Dell EMC, HPE and VMware, as well as application vendors like Confluent, Datastax, Elastic, Portworx, Tigera, Splunk, GitLab, MongoDB and others.

Robin.io, a data management service that offers a hyper-converged storage platform based on Kubernetes, also tells me that it worked closely with Google to develop the Anthos Storage API. “Robin Storage offers bare metal performance, powerful data management capabilities and Kubernetes-native management to support running enterprise applications on Google Cloud’s Anthos across on-premises data centers and the cloud,” said Premal Buch, CEO of Robin.io.

Anthos is a subscription-based service, with the list prices starting at $10,000/month per 100 vCPU block. Enterprise prices will then be up for negotiation, though, so many customers will likely pay less.

It’s one thing to use a service like this for new applications, but many enterprises already have plenty of line-of-business tools that they would like to bring to the cloud as well. For them, Google is launching the first beta of Anthos Migrate today. This service will auto-migrate VMs from on-premises or other clouds into containers in the Google Kubernetes Engine. The promise here is that this is essentially an automatic process and once the container is on Google’s platform, you’ll be able to use all of the other features that come with the Anthos platform, too.

Google’s Hölzle noted that the emphasis here was on making this migration as easy as possible. “There’s no manual effort there,” he said.

Apr
05
2019
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On balance, the cloud has been a huge boon to startups

Today’s startups have a distinct advantage when it comes to launching a company because of the public cloud. You don’t have to build infrastructure or worry about what happens when you scale too quickly. The cloud vendors take care of all that for you.

But last month when Pinterest announced its IPO, the company’s cloud spend raised eyebrows. You see, the company is spending $750 million a year on cloud services, more specifically to AWS. When your business is primarily focused on photos and video, and needs to scale at a regular basis, that bill is going to be high.

That price tag prompted Erica Joy, a Microsoft engineer to publish this Tweet and start a little internal debate here at TechCrunch. Startups, after all, have a dog in this fight, and it’s worth exploring if the cloud is helping feed the startup ecosystem, or sending your bills soaring as they have with Pinterest.

For starters, it’s worth pointing out that Ms. Joy works for Microsoft, which just happens to be a primary competitor of Amazon’s in the cloud business. Regardless of her personal feelings on the matter, I’m sure Microsoft would be more than happy to take over that $750 million bill from Amazon. It’s a nice chunk of business, but all that aside, do startups benefit from having access to cloud vendors?

Mar
05
2019
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How to Upgrade Amazon Aurora MySQL from 5.6 to 5.7

Over time, software evolves and it is important to stay up to date if you want to benefit from new features and performance improvements.  Database engines follow the exact same logic and providers are always careful to provide an easy upgrade path. With MySQL, the mysql_upgrade tool serves that purpose.

A database upgrade process becomes more challenging in a managed environment like AWS RDS where you don’t have shell access to the database host and don’t have access to the SUPER MySQL privilege. This post is a collaboration between Fattmerchant and Percona following an engagement focused on the upgrade of the Fattmerchant database from Amazon Aurora MySQL 5.6 to Amazon Aurora MySQL 5.7. Jacques Fu, the CTO of Fattmerchant, is the co-author of this post.  Our initial plan was to follow a path laid out previously by others but we had difficulties finding any complete and detailed procedure outlining the steps. At least, with this post, there is now one.

Issues with the regular upgrade procedure

How do we normally upgrade a busy production server with minimal downtime?  The simplest solution is to use a slave server with the newer version. Such a procedure has the side benefit of providing a “staging” database server which can be used to test the application with the new version. Basically we need to follow these steps:

  1. Enable replication on the old server
  2. Make a consistent backup
  3. Restore the backup on a second server with the newer database version – it can be a temporary server
  4. Run mysql_upgrade if needed
  5. Configure replication with the old server
  6. Test the application against the new version. If the tests includes conflicting writes, you may have to jump back to step 3
  7. If tests are OK and the new server is in sync, replication wise, with the old server, stop the application (only for a short while)
  8. Repoint the application to the new server
  9. Reset the slave
  10. Start the application

If the new server was temporary, you’ll need to repeat most of the steps the other way around, this time starting from the new server and ending on the old one.

What we thought would be a simple task turned out to be much more complicated. We were preparing to upgrade our database from Amazon Aurora MySQL 5.6 to 5.7 when we discovered that there was no option for an in-place upgrade. Unlike a standard AWS RDS MySQL (RDS MySQL upgrade 5.6 to 5.7) at the time of this article you cannot perform an in-place upgrade or even restore a backup across the major versions of Amazon Aurora MySQL.

We initially chose Amazon Aurora for the benefits of the tuning work that AWS provided out of the box, but we realized with any set of pros there comes a list of cons. In this case, the limitations meant that something that should have been straightforward took us off the documented path.

Our original high-level plan

Since we couldn’t use an RDS snapshot to provision a new Amazon Aurora MySQL 5.7 instance, we had to fallback to the use of a logical backup. The intended steps were:

  1. Backup the Amazon Aurora MySQL 5.6 write node with mysqldump
  2. Spin up an empty Amazon Aurora MySQL 5.7 cluster
  3. Restore the backup
  4. Make the Amazon Aurora MySQL 5.7 write node a slave of the Amazon Aurora MySQL 5.6 write node
  5. Once in sync, transfer the application to the Amazon Aurora MySQL 5.7 cluster

Even those simple steps proved to be challenging.

Backup of the Amazon Aurora MySQL 5.6 cluster

First, the Amazon Aurora MySQL 5.6 write node must generate binary log files. The default cluster parameter group that is generated when creating an Amazon Aurora instance does not enable these settings. Our 5.6 write node was not generating binary log files, so we copied the default cluster parameter group to a new “replication” parameter group and changed the “binlog_format” variable to MIXED.  The parameter is only effective after a reboot, so overnight we rebooted the node. That was a first short downtime.

At that point, we were able to confirm, using “show master status;” that the write node was indeed generating binlog files.  Since our procedure involves a logical backup and restore, we had to make sure the binary log files are kept for a long enough time. With a regular MySQL server the variable “expire_logs_days” controls the binary log files retention time. With RDS, you have to use the mysql.rds_set_configuration. We set the retention time to two weeks:

CALL mysql.rds_set_configuration('binlog retention hours', 336);

You can confirm the new setting is used with:

CALL mysql.rds_show_configuration;

For the following step, we needed a mysqldump backup along with its consistent replication coordinates. The option

--master-data

   of mysqldump implies “Flush table with read lock;” while the replication coordinates are read from the server.  A “Flush table” requires the SUPER privilege and this privilege is not available in RDS.

Since we wanted to avoid downtime, it is out of question to pause the application for the time it would take to backup 100GB of data. The solution was to take a snapshot and use it to provision a temporary Amazon Aurora MySQL 5.6 cluster of one node. As part of the creation process, the events tab of the AWS console will show the binary log file and position consistent with the snapshot, it looks like this:

Consistent snapshot replication coordinates

Consistent snapshot replication coordinates

From there, the temporary cluster is idle so it is easy to back it up with mysqldump. Since our dataset is large we considered the use of MyDumper but the added complexity was not worthwhile for a one time operation. The dump of a large database can take many hours. Essentially we performed:

mysqldump -h entrypoint-temporary-cluster -u awsrootuser -pxxxx \
 --no-data --single-transaction -R -E -B db1 db2 db3 > schema.sql
mysqldump -h entrypoint-temporary-cluster -nt --single-transaction \
 -u awsrootuser -pxxxx -B db1 db2 db3 | gzip -1 > dump.sql.gz
pt-show-grants -h entrypoint-temporary-cluster -u awsrootuser -pxxxx > grants.sql

The schema consist of three databases: db1, db2 and db3.  We have not included the mysql schema because it will cause issues with the new 5.7 instance. You’ll see why we dumped the schema and the data separately in the next section.

Restore to an empty Amazon Aurora MySQL 5.7 cluster

With our backup done, we are ready to spin up a brand new Amazon Aurora MySQL 5.7 cluster and restore the backup. Make sure the new Amazon Aurora MySQL 5.7 cluster is in a subnet with access to the Amazon Aurora MySQL 5.6 production cluster. In our schema, there a few very large tables with a significant number of secondary keys. To speed up the restore, we removed the secondary indexes of these tables from the schema.sql file and created a restore-indexes.sql file with the list of alter table statements needed to recreate them. Then we restored the data using these steps:

cat grants.sql | mysql -h entrypoint-new-aurora-57 -u awsroot -pxxxx
cat schema-modified.sql | mysql -h entrypoint-new-aurora-57 -u awsroot -pxxxx
zcat dump.sql.gz | mysql -h entrypoint-new-aurora-57 -u awsroot -pxxxx
cat restore-indexes.sql | mysql -h entrypoint-new-aurora-57 -u awsroot -pxxxx

Configure replication

At this point, we have a new Amazon Aurora MySQL 5.7 cluster provisioned with a dataset at a known replication coordinates from the Amazon Aurora MySQL 5.6 production cluster.  It is now very easy to setup replication. First we need to create a replication user in the Amazon Aurora MySQL 5.6 production cluster:

GRANT REPLICATION CLIENT, REPLICATION SLAVE ON *.* TO 'repl_user'@'%' identified by 'agoodpassword';

Then, in the new Amazon Aurora MySQL 5.7 cluster, you configure replication and start it by:

CALL mysql.rds_set_external_master ('mydbcluster.cluster-123456789012.us-east-1.rds.amazonaws.com', 3306,
  'repl_user', 'agoodpassword', 'mysql-bin-changelog.000018', 65932380, 0);
CALL mysql.rds_start_replication;

The endpoint mydbcluster.cluster-123456789012.us-east-1.rds.amazonaws.com points to the Amazon Aurora MySQL 5.6 production cluster.

Now, if everything went well, the new Amazon Aurora MySQL 5.7 cluster will be actively syncing with its master, the current Amazon Aurora MySQL 5.6 production cluster. This process can take a significant amount of time depending on the write load and the type of instance used for the new cluster. You can monitor the progress with the show slave status\G command, the Seconds_Behind_Master will tell you how far behind in seconds the new cluster is compared to the old one.  It is not a measurement of how long it will take to resync.

You can also monitor throughput using the AWS console. In this screenshot you can see the replication speeding up over time before it peaks when it is completed.

Replication speed

Test with Amazon Aurora MySQL 5.7

At this point, we have an Amazon Aurora MySQL 5.7 cluster in sync with the production Amazon Aurora MySQL 5.6 cluster. Before transferring the production load to the new cluster, you need to test your application with MySQL 5.7. The easiest way is to snapshot the new Amazon Aurora MySQL 5.7 cluster and, using the snapshot, provision a staging Amazon Aurora MySQL 5.7 cluster. Test your application against the staging cluster and, once tested, destroy the staging cluster and any unneeded snapshots.

Switch production to the Amazon Aurora MySQL 5.7 cluster

Now that you have tested your application with the staging cluster and are satisfied how it behaves with Amazon Aurora MySQL 5.7, the very last step is to migrate the production load. Here are the last steps you need to follow:

  1. Make sure the Amazon Aurora MySQL 5.7 cluster is still in sync with the Amazon Aurora MySQL 5.6 cluster
  2. Stop the application
  3. Validate the Show master status; of the 5.6 cluster is no longer moving
  4. Validate from the Show slave status\G in the 5.7 cluster the Master_Log_File and Exec_Master_Log_Pos match the output of the “Show master status;” from the 5.6 cluster
  5. Stop the slave in the 5.7 cluster with CALL mysql.rds_stop_replication;
  6. Reset the slave in the 5.7 cluster with CALL mysql.rds_reset_external_master;
  7. Reconfigure the application to use the 5.7 cluster endpoint
  8. Start the application

The application is down from steps 2 to 8.  Although that might appear to be a long time, these steps can easily be executed within a few minutes.

Summary

So, in summary, although RDS Aurora doesn’t support an in place upgrade between Amazon Aurora MySQL 5.6 and 5.7, there is a possible migration path, minimizing downtime.  In our case, we were able to limit the downtime to only a few minutes.

Co-Author: Jacques Fu, Fattmerchant

 

Jacques is CTO and co-founder at the fintech startup Fattmerchant, author of Time Hacks, and co-founder of the Orlando Devs, the largest developer meetup in Orlando. He has a passion for building products, bringing them to market, and scaling them.

Feb
20
2019
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Percona Monitoring and Management (PMM) 1.17.1 Is Now Available

Percona Monitoring and Management 1.17.0

Percona Monitoring and Management

Percona Monitoring and Management (PMM) is a free and open-source platform for managing and monitoring MySQL®, MongoDB®, and PostgreSQL performance. You can run PMM in your own environment for maximum security and reliability. It provides thorough time-based analysis for MySQL®, MongoDB®, and PostgreSQL® servers to ensure that your data works as efficiently as possible.

In this release, we are introducing support for detection of our upcoming PMM 2.0 release in order to avoid potential version conflicts in the future, as PMM 1.x will not be compatible with PMM 2.x.

Another improvement in this release is we have updated the Tooltips for Dashboard MySQL Query Response Time by providing a description of what the graphs display, along with links to related documentation resources. An example of Tooltips in action:

PMM 1.17.1 release provides fixes for CVE-2018-16492 and CVE-2018-16487 vulnerabilities, related to Node.js modules. The authentication system used in PMM is not susceptible to the attacks described in these CVE reports. PMM does not use client-side data objects to control user-access.

In release 1.17.1 we have included two improvements and fixed nine bugs.

Improvements

  • PMM-1339: Improve tooltips for MySQL Query Response Time dashboard
  • PMM-3477: Add Ubuntu 18.10 support

Fixed Bugs

  • PMM-3471: Fix global status metric names in mysqld_exporter for MySQL 8.0 compatibility
  • PMM-3400: Duplicate column in the Query Analytics dashboard Explain section
  • PMM-3353: postgres_exporter does not work with PostgreSQL 11
  • PMM-3188: Duplicate data on Amazon RDS / Aurora MySQL Metrics dashboard
  • PMM-2615: Fix wrong formatting in log which appears if pmm-qan-agent process fails to start
  • PMM-2592: MySQL Replication Dashboard shows error with multi-source replication
  • PMM-2327: Member State Uptime and Max Member Ping time charts on the MongoDB ReplSet dashboard return an error
  • PMM-955: Fix format of User Time and CPU Time Graphs on MySQL User Statistics dashboard
  • PMM-3522: CVE-2018-16492 and CVE-2018-16487

Help us improve our software quality by reporting any Percona Monitoring and Management bugs you encounter using our bug tracking system.

Jan
25
2019
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Pentagon stands by finding of no conflict of interest in JEDI RFP process

A line in a new court filing by the Department of Defense suggests that it might reopen the investigation into a possible conflict of interest in the JEDI contract RFP process involving a former AWS employee. The story has attracted a great deal of attention in major news publications, including The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, but a Pentagon spokesperson has told TechCrunch that nothing has changed.

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.

When asked about this specific passage, Pentagon spokesperson Heather Babb made clear the conflict had been investigated earlier and that Ubhi had recused himself from the process. “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,” Babb told TechCrunch.

She repeated that statement when asked specifically about the language in the DoD’s filing. Ubhi did work at Amazon prior to joining the DoD and returned to work for them after he left.

The Department of Defense’s decade-long, $10 billion JEDI cloud contract process has attracted a lot of attention, and not just for the size of the deal. The Pentagon has said this will be a winner-take-all affair. Oracle and IBM have filed formal complaints and Oracle filed a lawsuit in December alleging, among other things, that there was a conflict of interest by Ubhi, and that they believed the single-vendor approach was designed to favor AWS. The Pentagon has denied these allegations.

The DoD completed the RFP process at the end of October and is expected to choose the winning vendor in April.

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
22
2019
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Upcoming Webinar Thurs 1/24: Databases Gone Serverless?

Databases Gone Serverless Webinar

Databases Gone Serverless WebinarPlease join Percona’s Senior Technical Manager, Alkin Tezuysal, as he presents Databases Gone Serverless? on Thursday, January 24th, at 6:00 AM PDT (UTC-7) / 9:00 AM EDT (UTC-4).

Register Now

Serverless computing is becoming more popular with developers. For instance, it enables them to build and run applications without needing to operate and manage servers. This talk will provide a high-level overview of serverless applications in the database world, including the use cases, possible solutions, services and benefits provided through the cloud ecosystem. In particular, we will focus on the capabilities of the AWS serverless platform.

In order to learn more, register for this webinar on Databases Gone Serverless.

Jan
17
2019
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Former Facebook engineer picks up $15M for AI platform Spell

In 2016, Serkan Piantino packed up his desk at Facebook with hopes to move on to something new. The former director of Engineering for Facebook AI Research had every intention to keep working on AI, but quickly realized a huge issue.

Unless you’re under the umbrella of one of these big tech companies like Facebook, it can be very difficult and incredibly expensive to get your hands on the hardware necessary to run machine learning experiments.

So he built Spell, which today received $15 million in Series A funding led by Eclipse Ventures and Two Sigma Ventures.

Spell is a collaborative platform that lets anyone run machine learning experiments. The company connects clients with the best, newest hardware hosted by Google, AWS and Microsoft Azure and gives them the software interface they need to run, collaborate and build with AI.

“We spent decades getting to a laptop powerful enough to develop a mobile app or a website, but we’re struggling with things we develop in AI that we haven’t struggled with since the 70s,” said Piantino. “Before PCs existed, the computers filled the whole room at a university or NASA and people used terminals to log into a single main frame. It’s why Unix was invented, and that’s kind of what AI needs right now.”

In a meeting with Piantino this week, TechCrunch got a peek at the product. First, Piantino pulled out his MacBook and opened up Terminal. He began to run his own code against MNIST, which is a database of handwritten digits commonly used to train image detection algorithms.

He started the program and then moved over to the Spell platform. While the original program was just getting started, Spell’s cloud computing platform had completed the test in less than a minute.

The advantage here is obvious. Engineers who want to work on AI, either on their own or for a company, have a huge task in front of them. They essentially have to build their own computer, complete with the high-powered GPUs necessary to run their tests.

With Spell, the newest GPUs from Nvidia and Google are virtually available for anyone to run their tests.

Individual users can get on for free, specify the type of GPU they need to compute their experiment and simply let it run. Corporate users, on the other hand, are able to view the runs taking place on Spell and compare experiments, allowing users to collaborate on their projects from within the platform.

Enterprise clients can set up their own cluster, and keep all of their programs private on the Spell platform, rather than running tests on the public cluster.

Spell also offers enterprise customers a “spell hyper” command that offers built-in support for hyperparameter optimization. Folks can track their models and results and deploy them to Kubernetes/Kubeflow in a single click.

But perhaps most importantly, Spell allows an organization to instantly transform their model into an API that can be used more broadly throughout the organization, or used directly within an app or website.

The implications here are huge. Small companies and startups looking to get into AI now have a much lower barrier to entry, whereas large traditional companies can build out their own proprietary machine learning algorithms for use within the organization without an outrageous upfront investment.

Individual users can get on the platform for free, whereas enterprise clients can get started for $99/month per host you use over the course of a month. Piantino explains that Spell charges based on concurrent usage, so if the customer has 10 concurrent things running, the company considers that the “size” of the Spell cluster and charges based on that.

Piantino sees Spell’s model as the key to defensibility. Whereas many cloud platforms try to lock customers in to their entire suite of products, Spell works with any language framework and lets users plug and play on the platforms of their choice by simply commodifying the hardware. In fact, Spell doesn’t even share with clients which cloud cluster (Microsoft Azure, Google or AWS) they’re on.

So, on the one hand the speed of the tests themselves goes up based on access to new hardware, but, because Spell is an agnostic platform, there is also a huge advantage in how quickly one can get set up and start working.

The company plans to use the funding to further grow the team and the product, and Piantino says he has his eye out for top-tier engineering talent, as well as a designer.

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