Feb
06
2019
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Google doubles down on its Asylo confidential computing framework

Last May, Google introduced Asylo, an open-source framework for confidential computing, a technique favored by many of the big cloud vendors because it allows you to set up trusted execution environments that are shielded from the rest of the (potentially untrusted) system. Workloads and their data basically sit in a trusted enclave that adds another layer of protection against network and operating system vulnerabilities.

That’s not a new concept, but, as Google argues, it has been hard to adopt. “Despite this promise, the adoption of this emerging technology has been hampered by dependence on specific hardware, complexity and the lack of an application development tool to run in confidential computing environments,” Google Cloud Engineering Director Jason Garms and Senior Product Manager Nelly Porter write in a blog post today. The promise of the Asylo framework, as you can probably guess, is to make confidential computing easy.

Asylo makes it easier to build applications that can run in these enclaves and can use various software- and hardware-based security back ends like Intel’s SGX and others. Once an app has been ported to support Asylo, you should also be able to take that code with you and run it on any other Asylo-supported enclave.

Right now, though, many of these technologies and practices around confidential computing remain in flux. Google notes there are no set design patterns for building applications that then use the Asylo API and run in these enclaves, for example.The different hardware manufacturers also don’t necessarily work together to ensure their technologies are interoperable.

“Together with the industry, we can work toward more transparent and interoperable services to support confidential computing apps, for example, making it easy to understand and verify attestation claims, inter-enclave communication protocols, and federated identity systems across enclaves,” write Garms and Porter.

And to do that, Google is launching its Confidential Computing Challenge (C3) today. The idea here is to have developers create novel use cases for confidential computing — or to advance the current state of the technologies. If you do that and win, you’ll get $15,000 in cash, $5,000 in Google Cloud Platform credits and an undisclosed hardware gift (a Pixelbook or Pixel phone, if I had to guess).

In addition, Google now also offers developers three hands-on labs that teach how to build apps using Asylo’s tools. Those are free for the first month if you use the code in Google’s blog post.

Jan
31
2019
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Google’s Cloud Firestore NoSQL database hits general availability

Google today announced that Cloud Firestore, its serverless NoSQL document database for mobile, web and IoT apps, is now generally available. In addition, Google is also introducing a few new features and bringing the service to 10 new regions.

With this launch, Google is giving developers the option to run their databases in a single region. During the beta, developers had to use multi-region instances, and, while that obviously has some advantages with regard to resilience, it’s also more expensive and not every app needs to run in multiple regions.

“Some people don’t need the added reliability and durability of a multi-region application,” Google product manager Dan McGrath told me. “So for them, having a more cost-effective regional instance is very attractive, as well as data locality and being able to place a Cloud Firestore database as close as possible to their user base.”

The new regional instance pricing is up to 50 percent cheaper than the current multi-cloud instance prices. Which solution you pick does influence the SLA guarantee Google gives you, though. While the regional instances are still replicated within multiple zones inside the region, all of the data is still within a limited geographic area. Hence, Google promises 99.999 percent availability for multi-region instances and 99.99 percent availability for regional instances.

And talking about regions, Cloud Firestore is now available in 10 new regions around the world. Firestore launched with a single location when it launched and added two more during the beta. With this, Firestore is now available in 13 locations (including the North America and Europe multi-region offerings). McGrath tells me Google is still in the planning stage for deciding the next phase of locations, but he stressed that the current set provides pretty good coverage across the globe.

Also new in this release is deeper integration with Stackdriver, the Google Cloud monitoring service, which can now monitor read, write and delete operations in near-real time. McGrath also noted that Google plans to add the ability to query documents across collections and increment database values without needing a transaction.

It’s worth noting that while Cloud Firestore falls under the Google Firebase brand, which typically focuses on mobile developers, Firestore offers all of the usual client-side libraries for Compute Engine or Kubernetes Engine applications, too.

“If you’re looking for a more traditional NoSQL document database, then Cloud Firestore gives you a great solution that has all the benefits of not needing to manage the database at all,” McGrath said. “And then, through the Firebase SDK, you can use it as a more comprehensive back-end as a service that takes care of things like authentication for you.”

One of the advantages of Firestore is that it has extensive offline support, which makes it ideal for mobile developers but also IoT solutions. Maybe it’s no surprise, then, that Google is positioning it as a tool for both Google Cloud and Firebase users.

Dec
19
2018
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Google’s Cloud Spanner database adds new features and regions

Cloud Spanner, Google’s globally distributed relational database service, is getting a bit more distributed today with the launch of a new region and new ways to set up multi-region configurations. The service is also getting a new feature that gives developers deeper insights into their most resource-consuming queries.

With this update, Google is adding to the Cloud Spanner lineup Hong Kong (asia-east2), its newest data center location. With this, Cloud Spanner is now available in 14 out of 18 Google Cloud Platform (GCP) regions, including seven the company added this year alone. The plan is to bring Cloud Spanner to every new GCP region as they come online.

The other new region-related news is the launch of two new configurations for multi-region coverage. One, called eur3, focuses on the European Union, and is obviously meant for users there who mostly serve a local customer base. The other is called nam6 and focuses on North America, with coverage across both costs and the middle of the country, using data centers in Oregon, Los Angeles, South Carolina and Iowa. Previously, the service only offered a North American configuration with three regions and a global configuration with three data centers spread across North America, Europe and Asia.

While Cloud Spanner is obviously meant for global deployments, these new configurations are great for users who only need to serve certain markets.

As far as the new query features are concerned, Cloud Spanner is now making it easier for developers to view, inspect and debug queries. The idea here is to give developers better visibility into their most frequent and expensive queries (and maybe make them less expensive in the process).

In addition to the Cloud Spanner news, Google Cloud today announced that its Cloud Dataproc Hadoop and Spark service now supports the R language, in addition to Python 3.7 support on App Engine.

Nov
18
2018
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Google looks to former Oracle exec Thomas Kurian to move cloud business along

Diane Greene announced on Friday that she was stepping down after three years running Google’s cloud business. She will stay on until the first of the year to help her successor, Thomas Kurian in the transition. He left Oracle at the end of September after more than 20 years with the company, and is charged with making Google’s cloud division more enterprise-friendly, a goal that has oddly eluded the company.

Greene was brought on board in 2015 to bring some order and enterprise savvy to the company’s cloud business. While she did help move them along that path, and grew the cloud business, it simply hasn’t been enough. There have been rumblings for months that Greene’s time was coming to an end.

So the torch is being passed to Kurian, a man who spent over two decades at a company that might be the exact opposite of Google. He ran product at Oracle, a traditional enterprise software company. Oracle itself has struggled to make the transition to a cloud company, but Bloomberg reported in September that one of the reasons Kurian was taking a leave of absence at the time was a difference of opinion with Chairman Larry Ellison over cloud strategy. According to the report, Kurian wanted to make Oracle’s software available on public clouds like AWS and Azure (and Google Cloud). Ellison apparently didn’t agree and a couple of weeks later Kurian announced he was moving on.

Even though Kurian’s background might not seem to be perfectly aligned with Google, it’s important to keep in mind that his thinking was evolving. He was also in charge of thousands of products and helped champion Oracle’s move to the cloud. He has experience successfully nurturing products enterprises have wanted, and perhaps that’s the kind of knowledge Google was looking for in its next cloud leader.

Ray Wang, founder and principal analyst at Constellation Research says Google still needs to learn to support the enterprise, and he believes Kurian is the right person to help the company get there. “Kurian knows what’s required to make a cloud company work for enterprise customers,” Wang said.

If he’s right, perhaps an old-school enterprise executive is just what Google requires to turn its Cloud division into an enterprise-friendly powerhouse. Greene has always maintained that it was still early days for the cloud and Google had plenty of time to capture part of the untapped market, a point she reiterated in her blog post on Friday. “The cloud space is early and there is an enormous opportunity ahead,” she wrote.

She may be right about that, but marketshare positions seem to be hardening. AWS, which was first to market, has an enormous marketshare lead with over 30 percent by most accounts. Microsoft is the only company with the market strength at the moment to give them a run for their money and the only other company with double digit market share numbers. In fact, Amazon has a larger marketshare than the next four companies combined, according to data from Synergy Research.

While Google is always mentioned in the Big 3 cloud companies with AWS and Microsoft, with around $4 billion revenue a year, it has a long way to go to get to the level of these other companies. Despite Greene’s assertions, time could be running out to make a run. Perhaps Kurian is the person to push the company to grab some of that untapped market as companies move more workloads to the cloud. At this point, Google is counting on him to do just that.

Nov
16
2018
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Former Oracle exec Thomas Kurian to replace Diane Greene as head of Google Cloud

Diane Greene announced in a blog post today that she would be stepping down as CEO of Google Cloud and will be helping transition former Oracle executive Thomas Kurian to take over early next year.

Greene took over the position almost exactly three years ago when Google bought Bebop, the startup she was running. The thinking at the time was that the company needed someone with a strong enterprise background and Greene, who helped launch VMware, certainly had the enterprise credentials they were looking for.

In the blog post announcing the transition, she trumpeted her accomplishments. “The Google Cloud team has accomplished amazing things over the last three years, and I’m proud to have been a part of this transformative work. We have moved Google Cloud from having only two significant customers and a collection of startups to having major Fortune 1000 enterprises betting their future on Google Cloud, something we should accept as a great compliment as well as a huge responsibility,” she wrote.

The company had a disparate set of cloud services when she took over, and one of the first things Greene did was to put them all under a single Google Cloud umbrella. “We’ve built a strong business together — set up by integrating sales, marketing, Google Cloud Platform (GCP), and Google Apps/G Suite into what is now called Google Cloud,” she wrote in the blog post.

As for Kurian, he stepped down as president of product development at Oracle at the end of September. He had announced a leave of absence earlier in the month before making the exit permanent. Like Greene before him, he brings a level of enterprise street cred, which the company needs as it continues to try to grow its cloud business.

After three years with Greene at the helm, Google, which has tried to position itself as the more open cloud alternative to Microsoft and Amazon, has still struggled to gain market share against its competitors, remaining under 10 percent consistently throughout Greene’s tenure.

As Synergy’s John Dinsdale told TechCrunch in an article on Google Cloud’s strategy in 2017, the company had not been particularly strong in the enterprise to that point. “The issues of course are around it being late to market and the perception that Google isn’t strong in the enterprise. Until recently Google never gave the impression (through words or deeds) that cloud services were really important to it. It is now trying to make up for lost ground, but AWS and Microsoft are streets ahead,” Dinsdale explained at the time. Greene was trying hard to change that perception.

Holger Mueller, an analyst at Constellation Research says Greene was able to shift the focus to enterprise more, but he likes what Kurian brings to the table, even if it will take a bit of a cultural shift from his many years at Oracle. “What Greene did not address has been how to tie the product portfolio of Google’s autonomous and disparate development teams together. Kurian is a great fit for that job, having lead 35k+ developers at Oracle, ending the trench warfare between product teams and divisions that has plagued Oracle a decade ago,” Mueller explained.

Google has not released many revenue numbers related to the cloud, but in February it indicated they were earning a billion dollars a quarter, a number that Greene felt put Google in elite company. Amazon and Google were reporting numbers like that for a quarter at the time. Google stopped reporting cloud revenue after that report.

Regardless, the company will turn to Kurian to continue growing those numbers now. “I will continue as CEO through January, working with Thomas to ensure a smooth transition. I will remain a Director on the Alphabet board,” Greene wrote in her blog post.

Interestingly enough, Oracle has struggled with its own transition to the cloud. Kurian gets a company that was born in the cloud, rather than one that has made a transition from on-prem software and hardware to one solely in the cloud. It will be up to him to steer Google Cloud moving forward.

Jul
31
2018
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The Istio service mesh hits version 1.0

Istio, the service mesh for microservices from Google, IBM, Lyft, Red Hat and many other players in the open-source community, launched version 1.0 of its tools today.

If you’re not into service meshes, that’s understandable. Few people are. But Istio is probably one of the most important new open-source projects out there right now. It sits at the intersection of a number of industry trends, like containers, microservices and serverless computing, and makes it easier for enterprises to embrace them. Istio now has more than 200 contributors and the code has seen more than 4,000 check-ins since the launch of  version 0.1.

Istio, at its core, handles the routing, load balancing, flow control and security needs of microservices. It sits on top of existing distributed applications and basically helps them talk to each other securely, while also providing logging, telemetry and the necessary policies that keep things under control (and secure). It also features support for canary releases, which allow developers to test updates with a few users before launching them to a wider audience, something that Google and other webscale companies have long done internally.

“In the area of microservices, things are moving so quickly,” Google product manager Jennifer Lin told me. “And with the success of Kubernetes and the abstraction around container orchestration, Istio was formed as an open-source project to really take the next step in terms of a substrate for microservice development as well as a path for VM-based workloads to move into more of a service management layer. So it’s really focused around the right level of abstractions for services and creating a consistent environment for managing that.”

Even before the 1.0 release, a number of companies already adopted Istio in production, including the likes of eBay and Auto Trader UK. Lin argues that this is a sign that Istio solves a problem that a lot of businesses are facing today as they adopt microservices. “A number of more sophisticated customers tried to build their own service management layer and while we hadn’t yet declared 1.0, we hard a number of customers — including a surprising number of large enterprise customer — say, ‘you know, even though you’re not 1.0, I’m very comfortable putting this in production because what I’m comparing it to is much more raw.’”

IBM Fellow and VP of Cloud Jason McGee agrees with this and notes that “our mission since Istio’s launch has been to enable everyone to succeed with microservices, especially in the enterprise. This is why we’ve focused the community around improving security and scale, and heavily leaned our contributions on what we’ve learned from building agile cloud architectures for companies of all sizes.”

A lot of the large cloud players now support Istio directly, too. IBM supports it on top of its Kubernetes Service, for example, and Google even announced a managed Istio service for its Google Cloud users, as well as some additional open-source tooling for serverless applications built on top of Kubernetes and Istio.

Two names missing from today’s party are Microsoft and Amazon. I think that’ll change over time, though, assuming the project keeps its momentum.

Istio also isn’t part of any major open-source foundation yet. The Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF), the home of Kubernetes, is backing linkerd, a project that isn’t all that dissimilar from Istio. Once a 1.0 release of these kinds of projects rolls around, the maintainers often start looking for a foundation that can shepherd the development of the project over time. I’m guessing it’s only a matter of time before we hear more about where Istio will land.

Jul
26
2018
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Amazon’s AWS continues to lead its performance highlights

Amazon’s web services AWS continue to be the highlight of the company’s balance sheet, once again showing the kind of growth Amazon is looking for in a new business for the second quarter — especially one that has dramatically better margins than its core retail business.

Despite now running a grocery chain, the company’s AWS division — which has an operating margin over 25 percent compared to its tiny margins on retail — grew 49 percent year-over-year in the quarter compared to last year’s second quarter. It’s also up 49 percent year-over-year when comparing the most recent six months to the same period last year. AWS is now on a run rate well north of $10 billion annually, generating more than $6 billion in revenue in the second quarter this year. Meanwhile, Amazon’s retail operations generated nearly $47 billion with a net income of just over $1.3 billion (unaudited). Amazon’s AWS generated $1.6 billion in operating income on its $6.1 billion in revenue.

So, in short, Amazon’s dramatically more efficient AWS business is its biggest contributor to its actual net income. The company reported earnings of $5.07 per share, compared to analyst estimates of around $2.50 per share, on revenue of $52.9 billion. That revenue number fell under what investors were looking for, so the stock isn’t really doing anything in after-hours, and Amazon still remains in the race to become a company with a market cap of $1 trillion alongside Google, Apple and Microsoft.

This isn’t extremely surprising, as Amazon was one of the original harbingers of the move to a cloud computing-focused world, and, as a result, Microsoft and Google are now chasing it to capture up as much share as possible. While Microsoft doesn’t break out Azure, the company says it’s one of its fastest-growing businesses, and Google’s “other revenue” segment that includes Google Cloud Platform also continues to be one of its fastest-growing divisions. Running a bunch of servers with access to on-demand compute, it turns out, is a pretty efficient business that can account for the very slim margins that Amazon has on the rest of its core business.

Jul
25
2018
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Google is rolling out a version of Google Voice for enterprise G Suite customers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jul
24
2018
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Google’s Cloud Functions serverless platform is now generally available

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

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

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

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

Jul
24
2018
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Google announces a suite of updates to its contact center tools

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

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

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

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

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

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