Jun
22
2020
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Hasura launches managed cloud service for its open-source GraphQL API platform

Hasura is an open-source engine that can connect to PostgreSQL databases and microservices across hybrid- and multi-cloud environments and then automatically build a GraphQL API backend for them, making it easier for developers to then build their own data-driven applications on top of this unified API . For a while now, the San Francisco-based startup has offered a paid version (Hasura Pro) with enterprise-ready reliability and security tools, in addition to its free open-source version. Today, the company launched Hasura Cloud, which takes the existing Pro version, adds a number of cloud-specific features like dynamic caching, auto-scaling and consumption-based pricing, and brings those together in a fully managed service.

Image Credits: Hasura

At its core, Hasura’s service promises businesses the ability to bring together data from their various siloed databases and allow their developers to extract value from them through its GraphQL APIs. While GraphQL is still relatively new, the Facebook-incubated technology has quickly become extremely popular among many development teams.

Before founding the company and launching it in 2018, Hasura CEO and co-founder Tanmai Gopal worked for a consulting firm — and like with so many founders, that’s where he got the inspiration for the service.

“One of the key things that we noticed was that in the entire landscape, computing is becoming better, there are better frameworks, it is easier to deploy code, databases are becoming better and they kind of work everywhere,” he said. “But this kind of piece in the middle that is still a bottleneck and that there isn’t really a good solution for is this data access piece.” Almost by default, most companies host data in various SaaS services and databases — and now they were trying to figure out how to develop apps based on this for both internal and external consumers, noted Gopal. “This data distribution problem was this bottleneck where everybody would just spend massive amounts of time and money. And we invented a way of kind of automating that,” he explained.

The choice of GraphQL was also pretty straightforward, especially because GraphQL services are an easy way for developers to consume data (even though, as Gopal noted, it’s not always fun to build the GraphQL service itself). One thing that’s unusual and worth noting about the core Hasura engine itself is that it is written in Haskell, which is a rather unusual choice.

Image Credits: Hasura

The team tells me that Hasura is now nearing 50 million downloads for its free version and the company is seeing large and small users from across various industries relying on its products, which is probably no surprise, given that the company is trying to solve a pretty universal problem around data access and consumption.

Over the last few quarters, the team worked on launching its cloud service. “We’ve been thinking of the cloud in a very different way,” Gopal said. “It’s not your usual, take the open-source solution and host it, like a MongoDB Atlas or Confluent. What we’ve done is we’ve said, we’re going to re-engineer the open-source solution to be entirely multi-tenant and be completely pay-per pricing.”

Given this philosophy, it’s no surprise that Hasura’s pricing is purely based on how much data a user moves through the service. “It’s much closer to our value proposition,” Hasura co-founder and COO Rajoshi Ghosh said. “The value proposition is about data access. The big part of it is the fact that you’re getting this data from your databases. But the very interesting part is that this data can actually come from anywhere. This data could be in your third-party services, part of your data could be living in Stripe and it could be living in Salesforce, and it could be living in other services. […] We’re the data access infrastructure in that sense. And this pricing also — from a mental model perspective — makes it much clearer that that’s the value that we’re adding.”

Now, there are obviously plenty of other data-centric API services on the market, but Gopal argues that Hasura has an advantage because of its advanced caching for dynamic data, for example.

Apr
22
2020
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Google Meet launches improved Zoom-like tiled layout, low-light mode and more

Google Meet, like all video chat products, is seeing rapid growth in user numbers right now, so it’s no surprise that Google is trying to capitalize on this and is quickly iterating on its product. Today, it is officially launching a set of new features that include a more Zoom-like tiled layout, a low-light mode for when you have to make calls at night and the ability to present a single Chrome tab instead of a specific window or your entire screen. Soon, Meet will also get built-in noise cancellation so nobody will hear your dog bark in the background.

If all of this sounds a bit familiar, it’s probably because G Suite exec Javier Soltero already talked to Reuters about these features last week. Google PR is usually pretty straightforward, but in this case, it moved in mysterious ways. Today, though, these features are actually starting to roll out to users, a Google spokesperson told me, and today’s announcement does actually provide more details about each of these features.

For the most part, what’s being announced here is obvious. The tiled layout allows web users to see up to 16 participants at once. Previously, that number was limited to four and Google promises it will offer additional layouts for larger meetings and better presentation layouts, as well as support for more devices in the future.

For the most part, having this many people stare at me from my screen doesn’t seem necessary (and more likely to induce stress than anything else), but the ability to present a single Chrome tab is surely a welcome new feature for many. But what’s probably just as important is that this means you can share higher-quality video content from these tabs than before.

If you often take meetings in the dark, low-light mode uses AI to brighten up your video. Unlike some of the other features, this one is coming to mobile first and will come to web users in the future.

Personally, I’m most excited about the new noise cancellation feature. Typically, noise cancellation works best for noises that repeat and are predictable. Think about the constant drone of an airplane or your neighbor’s old lawnmower. But Google says Meet can now go beyond this and also cancel out barking dogs and your noisy keystrokes. That has increasingly become table stakes, with even Discord offering similar capabilities and Nvidia RTX Voice now making this available in a slew of applications for users of its high-end graphics cards, but it’s nice to see this as a built-in feature for Meet now.

This feature will only roll out in the coming weeks and will initially be available to G Suite Enterprise and G Suite Enterprise for Education users on the web, with mobile support coming later.

Apr
08
2020
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Mozilla names long-time chairwoman Mitchell Baker as CEO

Mozilla Corporation announced today that it has chosen long-time chairwoman Mitchell Baker to be CEO, replacing Chris Beard, who announced last August he would be stepping down at the end of the year.

Baker represents a logical choice to lead the company. At a time of great turmoil in the world at large, she brings the stability of someone who has been with Mozilla Corporation since 2003. Writing in a company blog post, she certainly recognized the challenges ahead, navigating the current economic uncertainty and the competitive challenges the company faces with its flagship Firefox browser.

“It’s a time of challenge on many levels, there’s no question about that. Mozilla’s flagship product remains excellent, but the competition is stiff. The increasing vertical integration of internet experience remains a deep challenge. It’s also a time of need, and of opportunity. Increasingly, numbers of people recognize that the internet needs attention,” Baker wrote.

Baker has been acting as interim CEO since December when Beard officially left the company. In a blog post from the board announcing Baker’s official new title, they certainly recognized that it would take someone with her unique combination of skills and experience to guide the company through this next phase.

“Mitchell’s deep understanding of Mozilla’s existing businesses gives her the ability to provide direction and support to drive this important work forward,” they wrote. Adding, “And her leadership style grounded in openness and honesty is helping the organization navigate through the uncertainty that COVID-19 has created for Mozillians at work and at home.”

Mozilla Corporation was founded in 1998 and is best known for its flagship, open-source Firefox browser. The company faces stiff competition in the browser market from Google, Apple and Microsoft.

Mar
03
2020
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Stack Overflow expands its Teams service with new integrations

Most developers think of Stack Overflow as a question and answer site for their programming questions. But over the last few years, the company has also built a successful business in its Stack Overflow for Teams product, which essentially offers companies a private version of its Q&A product. Indeed, the Teams product now brings in a significant amount of revenue for the company and the new executive team at Stack Overflow is betting that it can help the company grow rapidly in the years to come.

To make Teams even more attractive to businesses, the company today launched a number of new integrations with Jira (Enterprise and Business), GitHub (Enterprise and Business) and Microsoft Teams (Enterprise). These join existing integrations with Slack, Okta and the Business tier of Microsoft Teams.

“I think the integrations that we have been building are reflective of that developer workflow and all of the number of tools that someone who is building and leveraging technology has to interact with,” Stack Overflow Chief Product Officer Teresa Dietrich told me. “When we think about integrations, we think about the vertical right, and I think that ‘developer workflow’ is one of those industry verticals that we’re thinking about. ChatOps is obviously another one, as you can see from our Slack and Teams integration. And the JIRA and GitHub [integrations] that we’re building are really at the core of a developer workflow.”

Current Stack Overflow for Teams customers include the likes of Microsoft, Expensify and Wix. As the company noted, 65 percent of its existing Teams customers use GitHub, so it’s no surprise that it is building out this integration.

Dec
16
2019
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Cisco acquires ultra-low latency networking specialist Exablaze

Cisco today announced that it has acquired Exablaze, an Australia-based company that designs and builds advanced networking gear based on field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs). The company focuses on solutions for businesses that need ultra-low latency networking, with a special emphasis on high-frequency trading. Cisco plans to integrate Exablaze’s technology into its own product portfolio.

“By adding Exablaze’s segment leading ultra-low latency devices and FPGA-based applications to our portfolio, financial and HFT customers will be better positioned to achieve their business objectives and deliver on their customer value proposition,” writes Cisco’s head of corporate development Rob Salvagno.

Founded in 2013, Exablaze has offices in Sydney, New York, London and Shanghai. While financial trading is an obvious application for its solutions, the company also notes that it has users in the big data analytics, high-performance computing and telecom space.

Cisco plans to add Exablaze to its Nexus portfolio of data center switches. The company also argues that in addition to integrating Exablaze’s current portfolio, the two companies will work on next-generation switches, with an emphasis on creating opportunities for expanding its solutions into AI and ML segments.

“The acquisition will bring together Cisco’s global reach, extensive sales and support teams, and broad technology and manufacturing base, with Exablaze’s cutting-edge low-latency networking, layer 1 switching, timing and time synchronization technologies, and low-latency FPGA expertise,” explains Exablaze co-founder and chairman Greg Robinson.

Cisco, which has always been quite acquisitive, has now made six acquisitions this year. Most of these were software companies, but with Acacia Communications, it also recently announced its intention to acquire another fabless semiconductor company that builds optical interconnects.

 

Nov
04
2019
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Microsoft Teams gets Yammer integration, secure private channels and more

You’re forgiven if you thought Yammer — Microsoft’s proto-Slack, not quite real-time chat application — was dead. It’s actually still alive (and well) — and still serves a purpose as a slower-moving social network-like channel for company and team-wide announcements. Today, Microsoft announced that, among other updates, it will offer a Yammer integration in Teams, its Slack competitor. Yammer in Teams will live in the left-hand sidebar.

With this, Microsoft’s two main enterprise communications platforms are finally growing together and will give users the option to use Teams for fast-moving chats and Yammer as their enterprise social network in the same way Facebook messenger and its news feed complement each other.

Screen Shot 2019 10 31 at 2.36.27 PM

Oh, and Yammer itself has been redesigned, too, using Microsoft’s Fluent Design System across all platforms. And Microsoft is also building it into Outlook, too, to let you respond to messages right from your inbox. This new Yammer will roll out as a private preview in December.

With this update, Teams is getting a number of other new features, too. These include secure private channels, multi-window chats and meetings, pinned channels and task integration with Microsoft To Do and Planner (because having one to-do app is never enough). Microsoft is also making a number of enhancements to Teams Rooms, with upcoming support for Cisco WebEx and Zoom meetings, the Teams Phone System, which is getting emergency calling, and the IT management features that help admins keep Teams secure.

A Teams client for Linux is also in the works and will be available in public preview later this year.

Nov
04
2019
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You can now ask Excel questions about your data

Microsoft today announced an update to Excel that brings natural language queries to the venerable spreadsheet tool. Available now to Office Insiders, this new feature allows you to talk to Excel like you’re talking to a person, and get quick answers to your queries without having to write a query.

“Natural language query is another step toward making data insights and visualization more approachable and accessible to users with various levels of Excel experience,” Microsoft explains. “Novice users will not need to know how to write a formula to gain useful insights from their data, while power users will be able to save time by automating the data discovery process by simply asking the right questions and quickly adding charts and tables they need for better and faster decisions.”

It’s worth noting that Google already offers similar features in Google Sheets. In my experience, Google sometimes does a pretty good job at finding data but also regularly fails to find even a single relevant data point, so it remains to be seen how good Excel is compared to that.

Today’s announcement is one in a series of recent launches for Excel that brought a number of new machine learning smarts to the spreadsheet. Among those is Excel’s ability to better understand your entries and provide you with additional information about stocks, geographical data and more.

Nov
04
2019
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Microsoft launches Power Virtual Agents, its no-code bot builder

Microsoft today announced the public preview of its Power Virtual Agents tool, a new no-code tool for building chatbots that’s part of the company’s Power Platform, which also includes the Microsoft Flow automation tool, which is being renamed to Power Automate today, and Power BI.

Built on top of Azure’s existing AI smarts and tools for building bots, Power Virtual Agents promises to make building a chatbot almost as easy as writing a Word document. With this, anybody within an organization could build a bot that walks a new employee through the onboarding experience, for example.

“Power Virtual Agent is the newest addition to the Power Platform family,” said Microsoft’s Charles Lamanna in an interview ahead of today’s announcement. “Power Virtual Agent is very much focused on the same type of low-code, accessible to anybody, no matter whether they’re a business user or business analyst or professional developer, to go build a conversational agent that’s AI-driven and can actually solve problems for your employees, for your customers, for your partners, in a very natural way.”

Power Virtual Agents handles the full lifecycle of the bot-building experience, from the creation of the dialog to making it available in chat systems that include Teams, Slack, Facebook Messenger and others. Using Microsoft’s AI smarts, users don’t have to spend a lot of time defining every possible question and answer, but can instead rely on the tool to understand intentions and trigger the right action. “We do intent understanding, as well as entity extraction, to go and find the best topic for you to go down,” explained Lamanna. Like similar AI systems, the service also learns over time, based on feedback it receives from users.

One nice feature here is that if your setup outgrows the no-code/low-code stage and you need to get to the actual code, you’ll be able to convert the bot to Azure resources as that’s what’s powering the bot anyway. Once you’ve edited the code, you obviously can’t take it back into the no-code environment. “We have an expression for Power Platform, which is ‘no cliffs.’ […] The idea of ‘no cliffs’ is that the most common problem with a low-code platform is that, at some point, you want more control, you want code. And that’s frequently where low-code platforms run out of gas and you really have issues because you can’t have the pro dev take it over, you can’t make it mission-critical.”

The service is also integrated with tools like Power Automate/Microsoft Flow to allow users to trigger actions on other services based on the information the chatbot gathers.

Lamanna stressed that the service also generates lots of advanced analytics for those who are building bots with it. With this, users can see what topics are being asked about and where the system fails to provide answers, for example. It also visualizes the different text inputs that people provide so that bot builders can react to that.

Over the course of the last two or three years, we went from a lot of hype around chatbots to deep disillusionment with the experience they actually delivered. Lamanna isn’t fazed by that. In part, those earlier efforts failed because the developers weren’t close enough to the users. They weren’t product experts or part of the HR team inside a company. By using a low-code/no-code tool, he argues, the actual topic experts can build these bots. “If you hand it over to a developer or an AI specialist, they’re geniuses when it comes to developing code, but they won’t know the details and ins and outs of, say, the shoe business — and vice versa. So it actually changes how development happens.”

Sep
29
2019
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Why is Dropbox reinventing itself?

According to Dropbox CEO Drew Houston, 80% of the product’s users rely on it, at least partially, for work.

It makes sense, then, that the company is refocusing to try and cement its spot in the workplace; to shed its image as “just” a file storage company (in a time when just about every big company has its own cloud storage offering) and evolve into something more immutably core to daily operations.

Earlier this week, Dropbox announced that the “new Dropbox” would be rolling out to all users. It takes the simple, shared folders that Dropbox is known for and turns them into what the company calls “Spaces” — little mini collaboration hubs for your team, complete with comment streams, AI for highlighting files you might need mid-meeting, and integrations into things like Slack, Trello and G Suite. With an overhauled interface that brings much of Dropbox’s functionality out of the OS and into its own dedicated app, it’s by far the biggest user-facing change the product has seen since launching 12 years ago.

Shortly after the announcement, I sat down with Dropbox VP of Product Adam Nash and CTO Quentin Clark . We chatted about why the company is changing things up, why they’re building this on top of the existing Dropbox product, and the things they know they just can’t change.

You can find these interviews below, edited for brevity and clarity.

Greg Kumparak: Can you explain the new focus a bit?

Adam Nash: Sure! I think you know this already, but I run products and growth, so I’m gonna have a bit of a product bias to this whole thing. But Dropbox… one of its differentiating characteristics is really that when we built this utility, this “magic folder”, it kind of went everywhere.

Aug
26
2019
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Nvidia and VMware team up to make GPU virtualization easier

Nvidia today announced that it has been working with VMware to bring its virtual GPU technology (vGPU) to VMware’s vSphere and VMware Cloud on AWS. The company’s core vGPU technology isn’t new, but it now supports server virtualization to enable enterprises to run their hardware-accelerated AI and data science workloads in environments like VMware’s vSphere, using its new vComputeServer technology.

Traditionally (as far as that’s a thing in AI training), GPU-accelerated workloads tend to run on bare metal servers, which were typically managed separately from the rest of a company’s servers.

“With vComputeServer, IT admins can better streamline management of GPU accelerated virtualized servers while retaining existing workflows and lowering overall operational costs,” Nvidia explains in today’s announcement. This also means that businesses will reap the cost benefits of GPU sharing and aggregation, thanks to the improved utilization this technology promises.

Note that vComputeServer works with VMware Sphere, vCenter and vMotion, as well as VMware Cloud. Indeed, the two companies are using the same vComputeServer technology to also bring accelerated GPU services to VMware Cloud on AWS. This allows enterprises to take their containerized applications and from their own data center to the cloud as needed — and then hook into AWS’s other cloud-based technologies.

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“From operational intelligence to artificial intelligence, businesses rely on GPU-accelerated computing to make fast, accurate predictions that directly impact their bottom line,” said Nvidia founder and CEO Jensen Huang . “Together with VMware, we’re designing the most advanced and highest performing GPU- accelerated hybrid cloud infrastructure to foster innovation across the enterprise.”

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