Dec
11
2018
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The Cloud Native Computing Foundation adds etcd to its open-source stable

The Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF), the open-source home of projects like Kubernetes and Vitess, today announced that its technical committee has voted to bring a new project on board. That project is etcd, the distributed key-value store that was first developed by CoreOS (now owned by Red Hat, which in turn will soon be owned by IBM). Red Hat has now contributed this project to the CNCF.

Etcd, which is written in Go, is already a major component of many Kubernetes deployments, where it functions as a source of truth for coordinating clusters and managing the state of the system. Other open-source projects that use etcd include Cloud Foundry, and companies that use it in production include Alibaba, ING, Pinterest, Uber, The New York Times and Nordstrom.

“Kubernetes and many other projects like Cloud Foundry depend on etcd for reliable data storage. We’re excited to have etcd join CNCF as an incubation project and look forward to cultivating its community by improving its technical documentation, governance and more,” said Chris Aniszczyk, COO of CNCF, in today’s announcement. “Etcd is a fantastic addition to our community of projects.”

Today, etcd has well over 450 contributors and nine maintainers from eight different companies. The fact that it ended up at the CNCF is only logical, given that the foundation is also the host of Kubernetes. With this, the CNCF now plays host to 17 projects that fall under its “incubated technologies” umbrella. In addition to etcd, these include OpenTracing, Fluentd, Linkerd, gRPC, CoreDNS, containerd, rkt, CNI, Jaeger, Notary, TUF, Vitess, NATS Helm, Rook and Harbor. Kubernetes, Prometheus and Envoy have already graduated from this incubation stage.

That’s a lot of projects for one foundation to manage, but the CNCF community is also extraordinarily large. This week alone about 8,000 developers are converging on Seattle for KubeCon/CloudNativeCon, the organization’s biggest event yet, to talk all things containers. It surely helps that the CNCF has managed to bring competitors like AWS, Microsoft, Google, IBM and Oracle under a single roof to collaboratively work on building these new technologies. There is a risk of losing focus here, though, something that happened to the OpenStack project when it went through a similar growth and hype phase. It’ll be interesting to see how the CNCF will manage this as it brings on more projects (with Istio, the increasingly popular service mesh, being a likely candidate for coming over to the CNCF as well).

Dec
04
2018
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Microsoft and Docker team up to make packaging and running cloud-native applications easier

Microsoft and Docker today announced a new joint open-source project, the Cloud Native Application Bundle (CNAB), that aims to make the lifecycle management of cloud-native applications easier. At its core, the CNAB is nothing but a specification that allows developers to declare how an application should be packaged and run. With this, developers can define their resources and then deploy the application to anything from their local workstation to public clouds.

The specification was born inside Microsoft, but as the team talked to Docker, it turns out that the engineers there were working on a similar project. The two decided to combine forces and launch the result as a single open-source project. “About a year ago, we realized we’re both working on the same thing,” Microsoft’s Gabe Monroy told me. “We decided to combine forces and bring it together as an industry standard.”

As part of this, Microsoft is launching its own reference implementation of a CNAB client today. Duffle, as it’s called, allows users to perform all the usual lifecycle steps (install, upgrade, uninstall), create new CNAB bundles and sign them cryptographically. Docker is working on integrating CNAB into its own tools, too.

Microsoft also today launched Visual Studio extension for building and hosting these bundles, as well as an example implementation of a bundle repository server and an Electron installer that lets you install a bundle with the help of a GUI.

Now it’s worth noting that we’re talking about a specification and reference implementations here. There is obviously a huge ecosystem of lifecycle management tools on the market today that all have their own strengths and weaknesses. “We’re not going to be able to unify that tooling,” said Monroy. “I don’t think that’s a feasible goal. But what we can do is we can unify the model around it, specifically the lifecycle management experience as well as the packaging and distribution experience. That’s effectively what Docker has been able to do with the single-workload case.”

Over time, Microsoft and Docker would like for the specification to end up in a vendor-neutral foundation. Which one remains to be seen, though the Open Container Initiative seems like the natural home for a project like this.

Nov
19
2018
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Microsoft acquires FSLogix to enhance Office 365 virtual desktop experience

Back in September, Microsoft announced a virtual desktop solution that lets customers run Office 365 and Windows 10 in the cloud. They mentioned several partners in the announcement that were working on solutions with them. One of those was FSLogix, a Georgia virtual desktop startup. Today, Microsoft announced it has acquired FSLogix. It did not share the purchase price.

“FSLogix is a next-generation app-provisioning platform that reduces the resources, time and labor required to support virtualization,” Brad Anderson, corporate VP for Microsoft Office 365 and Julia White, corporate VP for Microsoft Azure,  href=”https://blogs.microsoft.com/blog/2018/11/19/microsoft-acquires-fslogix-to-enhance-the-office-365-virtualization-experience/”>wrote in a joint blog post today.

When Microsoft made the virtual desktop announcement in September they named Citrix, CloudJumper, Lakeside Software, Liquidware, People Tech Group, ThinPrint and FSLogix as partners working on solutions. Apparently, the company decided it wanted to own one of those experiences and acquired FSLogix.

Microsoft believes by incorporating the FSLogix solution, it will provide a better virtual desktop experience for its customers by enabling better performance and faster load times, especially for Office 365 ProPlus customers.

Randy Cook, founder and CTO at FSLogix, said the acquisition made sense given how well the two companies have worked together over the years. “From the beginning, in working closely with several teams at Microsoft, we recognized that our missions were completely aligned. Both FSLogix and Microsoft are dedicated to providing the absolute best experience for companies choosing to deploy virtual desktops,” Cook wrote in a blog post announcing the acquisition.

Lots of companies have what are essentially dumb terminals running just the tools each employee needs, rather than a fully functioning standalone PC. Citrix has made a living offering these services. When employees come in to start the day, they sign in with their credentials and they get a virtual desktop with the tools they need to do their jobs. Microsoft’s version of this involves Office 365 and Windows 10 running on Azure.

FSLogix was founded in 2013 and has raised more than $10 million, according to data on Crunchbase. Today’s acquisition, which has already closed according to Microsoft, comes on the heels of last week’s announcement that the company was buying Xoxco, an Austin-based developer shop with experience building conversational bots.

Nov
14
2018
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Microsoft to acquire Xoxco as focus on AI and bot developers continues

Microsoft has been all in on AI this year, and in the build versus buy equation, the company has been leaning heavily toward buying. This morning, the company announced its intent to acquire Xoxco, an Austin-based software developer with a focus on bot design, making it the fourth AI-related company Microsoft has purchased this year.

“Today, we are announcing we have signed an agreement to acquire Xoxco, a software product design and development studio known for its conversational AI and bot development capabilities,” Lili Cheng, corporate VP for conversational AI at Microsoft wrote in a blog post announcing the acquisition.

Xoxco, which was founded in 2009 — long before most of us were thinking about conversational bots — has raised $1.5 million. It began working on bots in 2013, and is credited with developing the first bot for Slack to help schedule meetings. The companies did not reveal the price, but it fits nicely with Microsoft’s overall acquisition strategy this year, and an announcement today involving a new bot building tool to help companies build conversational bots more easily.

When you call into a call center these days, or even interact on chat, chances are your initial interaction is with a conversational bot, rather than a human. Microsoft is trying to make it easier for developers without AI experience to tap into Microsoft’s expertise on the Azure platform (or by downloading the bot framework from its newly acquired GitHub).

“With this acquisition, we are continuing to realize our approach of democratizing AI development, conversation and dialog, and integrating conversational experiences where people communicate,” Cheng wrote.

The new Virtual Assistant Accelerator solution announced today also aligns with the Xoxco purchase. Eric Boyd, corporate VP for AI at Microsoft, says the Virtual Assistant Accelerator pulls together some AI tools such as speech-to-text, natural language processing and an action engine into a single place to simplify bot creation.

“It’s a tool that makes it much easier for you to go and create a virtual assistant. It orchestrates a number of components that we offer, but we didn’t make them easy to use [together]. And so it’s really simplifying the creation of a virtual assistant,” he explained.

Today’s acquisition comes on the heels of a number of AI-related acquisitions. The company bought Semantic Machines in May to give users a more life-like conversation with bots. It snagged Bonsai in June to help simplify AI development. And it grabbed Lobe in September, another tool for making it easier for developers to incorporate AI in their applications.

Oct
30
2018
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The hybrid cloud market just got a heck of a lot more compelling

Let’s start with a basic premise that the vast majority of the world’s workloads remain in private data centers. Cloud infrastructure vendors are working hard to shift those workloads, but technology always moves a lot slower than we think. That is the lens through which many cloud companies operate.

The idea that you operate both on prem and in the cloud with multiple vendors is the whole idea behind the notion of the hybrid cloud. It’s where companies like Microsoft, IBM, Dell and Oracle are placing their bets. These died-in-the-wool enterprise companies see their large customers making a slower slog to the cloud than you would imagine, and they want to provide them with the tools and technologies to manage across both worlds, while helping them shift when they are ready.

Cloud-native computing developed in part to provide a single management fabric across on prem and cloud, freeing IT from having two sets of tools and trying somehow to bridge the gap between the two worlds.

What every cloud vendor wants

Red Hat — you know, that company that was sold to IBM for $34 billion this week — has operated in this world. While most people think of the company as the one responsible for bringing Linux to the enterprise, over the last several years, it has been helping customers manage this transition and build applications that could live partly on prem and partly in the cloud.

As an example, it has built OpenShift, its version of Kubernetes. As CEO Jim Whitehurst told me last year, “Our hottest product is OpenShift. People talk about containers and they forget it’s a feature of Linux,” he said. That is an operating system that Red Hat knows a thing or two about.

With Red Hat in the fold, IBM can contend that being open source; they can build modern applications on top of open source tools and run them on IBM’s cloud or any of their competitors, a real hybrid approach.

Microsoft has a huge advantage here, of course, because it has a massive presence in the enterprise already. Many companies out there could be described as Microsoft shops, and for those companies moving from on prem Microsoft to cloud Microsoft represents a less daunting challenge than starting from scratch.

Oracle brings similar value with its core database products. Companies using Oracle databases — just about everyone — might find it easier to move that valuable data to Oracle’s cloud, although the numbers don’t suggest that’s necessarily happening (and Oracle has stopped breaking out its cloud revenue).

Dell, which spent $67 billion for EMC, making the Red Hat purchase pale by comparison, has been trying to pull together a hybrid solution by combining VMware, Pivotal and Dell/EMC hardware.

Cloud vendors reporting

You could argue that hybrid is a temporary state, that at some point, the vast majority of workloads will eventually be running in the cloud and the hybrid business as we know it today will continually shrink over time. We are certainly seeing cloud infrastructure revenue skyrocketing with no signs of slowing down as more workloads move to the cloud.

In their latest earnings reports, those who break out such things, the successful ones, reported growth in their cloud business. It’s important to note that these companies define cloud revenue in different ways, but you can see the trend is definitely up:

  • AWS reported revenue of $6.7 billion in revenue for the quarter, up from $4.58 billion the previous year.
  • Microsoft Intelligent Cloud, which incorporates things like Azure and server products and enterprise services, was at $8.6 billion, up from $6.9 billion.
  • IBM Technology Services and Cloud Platforms, which includes infrastructure services, technical support services and integration software reported revenue of $8.6 billion, up from $8.5 billion the previous year.
  • Others like Oracle and Google didn’t break out their cloud revenue.

Show me the money

All of this is to say, there is a lot of money on the table here and companies are moving more workloads at an increasingly rapid pace.  You might also have noticed that IBM’s growth is flat compared to the others. Yesterday in a call with analysts and press, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty projected that revenue for the hybrid cloud (however you define that) could reach $1 trillion by 2020. Whether that number is exaggerated or not, there is clearly a significant amount of business here, and IBM might see it as a way out of its revenue problems, especially if they can leverage consulting/services along with it.

There is probably so much business that there is room for more than one winner, but if you asked before Sunday if IBM had a shot in this mix against its formidable competitors, especially those born in the cloud like AWS and Google, most probably wouldn’t have given them much chance.

When Red Hat eventually joins forces with IBM, it at least gives their sales teams a compelling argument, one that could get them into the conversation — and that is probably why they were willing to spend so much money to get it. It puts them back in the game, and after years of struggling, that is something. And in the process, it has stirred up the hybrid cloud market in a way we didn’t see coming last week before this deal.

Oct
28
2018
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Forget Watson, the Red Hat acquisition may be the thing that saves IBM

With its latest $34 billion acquisition of Red Hat, IBM may have found something more elementary than “Watson” to save its flagging business.

Though the acquisition of Red Hat  is by no means a guaranteed victory for the Armonk, N.Y.-based computing company that has had more downs than ups over the five years, it seems to be a better bet for “Big Blue” than an artificial intelligence program that was always more hype than reality.

Indeed, commentators are already noting that this may be a case where IBM finally hangs up the Watson hat and returns to the enterprise software and services business that has always been its core competency (albeit one that has been weighted far more heavily on consulting services — to the detriment of the company’s business).

Watson, the business division focused on artificial intelligence whose public claims were always more marketing than actually market-driven, has not performed as well as IBM had hoped and investors were losing their patience.

Critics — including analysts at the investment bank Jefferies (as early as one year ago) — were skeptical of Watson’s ability to deliver IBM from its business woes.

As we wrote at the time:

Jefferies pulls from an audit of a partnership between IBM Watson and MD Anderson as a case study for IBM’s broader problems scaling Watson. MD Anderson cut its ties with IBM after wasting $60 million on a Watson project that was ultimately deemed, “not ready for human investigational or clinical use.”

The MD Anderson nightmare doesn’t stand on its own. I regularly hear from startup founders in the AI space that their own financial services and biotech clients have had similar experiences working with IBM.

The narrative isn’t the product of any single malfunction, but rather the result of overhyped marketing, deficiencies in operating with deep learning and GPUs and intensive data preparation demands.

That’s not the only trouble IBM has had with Watson’s healthcare results. Earlier this year, the online medical journal Stat reported that Watson was giving clinicians recommendations for cancer treatments that were “unsafe and incorrect” — based on the training data it had received from the company’s own engineers and doctors at Sloan-Kettering who were working with the technology.

All of these woes were reflected in the company’s latest earnings call where it reported falling revenues primarily from the Cognitive Solutions business, which includes Watson’s artificial intelligence and supercomputing services. Though IBM chief financial officer pointed to “mid-to-high” single digit growth from Watson’s health business in the quarter, transaction processing software business fell by 8% and the company’s suite of hosted software services is basically an afterthought for business gravitating to Microsoft, Alphabet, and Amazon for cloud services.

To be sure, Watson is only one of the segments that IBM had been hoping to tap for its future growth; and while it was a huge investment area for the company, the company always had its eyes partly fixed on the cloud computing environment as it looked for areas of growth.

It’s this area of cloud computing where IBM hopes that Red Hat can help it gain ground.

“The acquisition of Red Hat is a game-changer. It changes everything about the cloud market,” said Ginni Rometty, IBM Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer, in a statement announcing the acquisition. “IBM will become the world’s number-one hybrid cloud provider, offering companies the only open cloud solution that will unlock the full value of the cloud for their businesses.”

The acquisition also puts an incredible amount of marketing power behind Red Hat’s various open source services business — giving all of those IBM project managers and consultants new projects to pitch and maybe juicing open source software adoption a bit more aggressively in the enterprise.

As Red Hat chief executive Jim Whitehurst told TheStreet in September, “The big secular driver of Linux is that big data workloads run on Linux. AI workloads run on Linux. DevOps and those platforms, almost exclusively Linux,” he said. “So much of the net new workloads that are being built have an affinity for Linux.”

Oct
26
2018
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Microsoft has no problem taking the $10B JEDI cloud contract if it wins

The Pentagon’s $10 billion JEDI cloud contract bidding process has drawn a lot of attention. Earlier this month, Google withdrew, claiming ethical considerations. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos responded in an interview at Wired25 that he thinks that it’s a mistake for big tech companies to turn their back on the U.S. military. Microsoft president Brad Smith agrees.

In a blog post today, he made clear that Microsoft intends to be a bidder in government/military contracts, even if some Microsoft employees have a problem with it. While acknowledging the ethical considerations of today’s most advanced technologies like artificial intelligence, and the ways they could be abused, he explicitly stated that Microsoft will continue to work with the government and the military.

“First, we believe in the strong defense of the United States and we want the people who defend it to have access to the nation’s best technology, including from Microsoft,” Smith wrote in the blog post.

To that end, the company wants to win that JEDI cloud contract, something it has acknowledged from the start, even while criticizing the winner-take-all nature of the deal. In the blog post, Smith cited the JEDI contract as an example of the company’s desire to work closely with the U.S. government.

“Recently Microsoft bid on an important defense project. It’s the DOD’s Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure cloud project – or “JEDI” – which will re-engineer the Defense Department’s end-to-end IT infrastructure, from the Pentagon to field-level support of the country’s servicemen and women. The contract has not been awarded but it’s an example of the kind of work we are committed to doing,” he wrote.

He went on, much like Bezos, to wrap his company’s philosophy in patriotic rhetoric, rather than about winning lucrative contracts. “We want the people of this country and especially the people who serve this country to know that we at Microsoft have their backs. They will have access to the best technology that we create,” Smith wrote.

Microsoft president Brad Smith. Photo: Riccardo Savi/Getty Images

Throughout the piece, Smith continued to walk a fine line between patriotic duty to support the U.S. military, while carefully conceding that there will be different opinions in a large and diverse company population (some of whom aren’t U.S. citizens). Ultimately, he believes that it’s critical that tech companies be included in the conversation when the government uses advanced technologies.

“But we can’t expect these new developments to be addressed wisely if the people in the tech sector who know the most about technology withdraw from the conversation,” Smith wrote.

Like Bezos, he made it clear that the company leadership is going to continue to pursue contracts like JEDI, whether it’s out of a sense of duty or economic practicality or a little of both — whether employees agree or not.

Oct
26
2018
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Microsoft closes its $7.5B purchase of code-sharing platform GitHub

After getting EU approval a week ago, today Microsoft’s acquisition of GitHub, the Git-based code sharing and collaboration service with 31 million developers, has officially closed. The Redmond, WA-based software behemoth first said it would acquire GitHub for $7.5 billion in stock in June of this year, and after the acquisition closed it would continue to run it as an independent platform and business.

The acquisition is yet another sign of how Microsoft has been doubling down on courting developers and presenting itself as a neutral partner to help them with their projects.

That is because, despite its own very profitable proprietary software business, Microsoft also has a number of other businesses — for example, Azure, which competes with AWS and Google Cloud — that rely heavily on it being unbiased towards one platform or another. And GitHub, Microsoft hopes, will be another signal to the community of that position.

In that regard, it will be an interesting credibility test for the companies.

As previously announced, Nat Friedman, who had been the CEO of Xamarin (another developer-focused startup acquired by Microsoft, in 2016), will be CEO of the company, while GitHub founder and former CEO Chris Wanstrath will become a Microsoft technical fellow to work on strategic software initiatives. (Wanstrath had come back to his CEO role after his co-founder Tom Preston-Werner resigned following a harassment investigation in 2014.)

Friedman, in a short note, said that he will be taking over on Monday, and he also repeated what Microsoft said at the time of the deal: GitHub will be run as an independent platform and business.

This is a key point because there has been a lot of developer backlash over the deal, with many asking if GitHub would become partial or focused more around Microsoft-based projects  or products.

“We will always support developers in their choice of any language, license, tool, platform, or cloud,” he writes, noting that there will be more tools to come. “We will continue to build tasteful, snappy, polished tools that developers love,” he added.

One of those, he noted, will be further development and investment in Paper Cuts, a project it launched in August that it hopes will help address some of the gripes that its developer-users might have with how GitHub works that the company itself hadn’t been planning to address in bigger product upgrades. The idea here is that GitHub can either help find workarounds, or this will become a feedback forum of its own to help figure out what it should be upgrading next on the site.

Of course, the need to remain neutral is not just to keep hold of its 31 million developers (up by 3 million since the deal was first announced), but to keep them from jumping to GitHub competitors, which include GitLab and Bitbucket.

Oct
09
2018
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Microsoft shows off government cloud services with JEDI due date imminent

Just a day after Google decided to drop out of the Pentagon’s massive $10 billion, 10-year JEDI cloud contract bidding, Microsoft announced increased support services for government clients. In a long blog post, the company laid out its government focused cloud services.

While today’s announcement is not directly related to JEDI per se, the timing is interesting just three days ahead of the October 12th deadline for submitting RFPs. Today’s announcement is about showing just how comprehensive the company’s government-specific cloud services are.

In a blog post, Microsoft corporate vice president for Azure, Julia White made it clear the company was focusing hard on the government business. “In the past six months we have added over 40 services and features to Azure Government, as well as publishing a new roadmap for the Azure Government regions providing ongoing transparency into our upcoming releases,” she wrote.

“Moving forward, we are simplifying our approach to regulatory compliance for federal agencies, so that our government customers can gain access to innovation more rapidly. In addition, we are adding new options for buying and onboarding cloud services to make it easier to move to the cloud. Finally, we are bringing an array of new hybrid and edge capabilities to government to ensure that government customers have full access to the technology of the intelligent edge and intelligent cloud era,” White added.

While much of the post was around the value proposition of Azure in general such as security, identity, artificial intelligence and edge data processing services, there were a slew of items aimed specifically at the government clients.

For starters, the company is increasing its FedRAMP compliance, a series of regulations designed to ensure vendors deliver cloud services securely to federal government customers. Specifically Microsoft is moving from FedRAMP moderate to high ratings on 50 services.

“By taking the broadest regulatory compliance approach in the industry, we’re making commercial innovation more accessible and easier for government to adopt,” White wrote.

In addition, Microsoft announced it’s expanding Azure Secret Regions, a solution designed specifically for dealing with highly classified information in the cloud. This one appears to take direct aim at JEDI. “We are making major progress in delivering this cloud designed to meet the regulatory and compliance requirements of the Department of Defense and the Intelligence Community. Today, we are announcing these newest regions will be available by the end of the first quarter of 2019. In addition, to meet the growing demand and requirements of the U.S. Government, we are confirming our intent to deliver Azure Government services to meet the highest classification requirements, with capabilities for handling Top Secret U.S. classified data,” White wrote.

The company’s announcements, which included many other pieces that have been previously announced, is clearly designed to show off its government chops at a time where a major government contract is up for grabs. The company announced Azure Stack for Government in August, another piece mentioned in this blog post.

Oct
04
2018
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GitHub gets a new and improved Jira Software Cloud integration

Atlassian’s Jira has become a standard for managing large software projects in many companies. Many of those same companies also use GitHub as their source code repository and, unsurprisingly, there has long been an official way to integrate the two. That old way, however, was often slow, limited in its capabilities and unable to cope with the large code bases that many enterprises now manage on GitHub .

Almost as if to prove that GitHub remains committed to an open ecosystem, even after the Microsoft acquisition, the company today announced a new and improved integration between the two products.

“Working with Atlassian on the Jira integration was really important for us,” GitHub’s director of ecosystem engineering Kyle Daigle told me ahead of the announcement. “Because we want to make sure that our developer customers are getting the best experience of our open platform that they can have, regardless of what tools they use.”

So a couple of months ago, the team decided to build its own Jira integration from the ground up, and it’s committed to maintaining and improving it over time. As Daigle noted, the improvements here include better performance and a better user experience.

The new integration now also makes it easier to view all the pull requests, commits and branches from GitHub that are associated with a Jira issue, search for issues based on information from GitHub and see the status of the development work right in Jira, too. And because changes in GitHub trigger an update to Jira, too, that data should remain up to date at all times.

The old Jira integration over the so-called Jira DVCS connector will be deprecated and GitHub will start prompting existing users to do the upgrade over the next few weeks. The new integration is now a GitHub app, so that also comes with all of the security features the platform has to offer.

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