Posts from 2017

Amazon Web Services and Azure win higher federal security ratings to deal with national-security data

The public-cloud services offered by both Amazon and Microsoft have received new, higher levels of federal authorization to deal with sensitive data.

Microsoft’s Azure Government got a “provisional authorization” for DoD Impact Level 5 from the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), Microsoft said in a blog post today. The authorization will let Defense Department-affiliated organizations plan, assess, and authorize workloads involving unclassified national-security data.

The federal government has six levels of security for cloud data. Level 5 is second from the highest. Level 6 involves information classified as Secret.

Compliance with impact levels is supervised by DISA, which provides IT and communication support to the top members of the executive branch and to the military.

Microsoft has made a special effort to accommodate Azure to the federal government. It operates two logically and geographically distinct Azure Governmentregions (pairs or groups of data centers) exclusively for use by federal, state, or local governments. It also counts the U.S. Government among its biggest software customers, just last month signing a $927 million contract to provide technical support to DISA.

“Government wants to embrace the cloud, and we’re leading the way with that,” said Jason Zander, Azure’s corporate VP, in an interview. “We believe we have the most complete solution, with Azure, Office 365 and Dynamics 365 specifically designed for government. Office 365 is also certified at Level 5, and Dynamics 365 Level 5 certification is “in progress,” he said.

About 7,000 agencies at the federal, state and local level use one or more of those three government-cloud offerings, Zander said.

For its part, Amazon Web Services’ CloudWatch Logs — a service to monitor, store, and access log files from Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) instances and other sources — has received provisional authority to operate at the FedRAMP High baseline within the AWS specially dedicated GovCloud (U.S.) region. This authority lets government customers use CloudWatch Logs to process the government’s most sensitive unclassified data.

GovCloud (US) holds provisional authorizations at Impact Levels 2 and 4 but not 5.

Full details on federal cloud security can be found here. A shorter explanation is here.

Amazon Web Services is the most popular provider of computing and storage services over the internet. Azure is number two by most measures.

Feds certify Amazon and Microsoft clouds to handle sensitive government data

Amazon Web Services and Microsoft both said today that parts of their respective cloud offerings have won federal certification as being secure, allowing the government to use them for sensitive patient records, financial data, law-enforcement data and other controlled but unclassified information.

The AWS GovCloud (US), an isolated portion of Amazon’s cloud launched in 2011 and designed to host sensitive workloads, got a provisional authority to operate from the federal Joint Authorization Board under the newly created Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) high baseline, AWS said. That baseline is a standardized set of more than 400 security requirements based on controls outlined by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Data is classified as “high” if its compromise would severely affect an organization’s operations, assets or individuals.

azure logo“We’re excited . . . to recognize AWS as having achieved the most rigorous FedRAMP level to date,” said Matthew Goodrich, FedRAMP director, in a prepared statement. Meeting the baseline gives agencies “a simplified path to moving their highly sensitive workloads to AWS,” said Teresa Carlson, vice president of AWS’s worldwide public sector, in the same statement.  More than 2,300 government customers worldwide are already using AWS Cloud, and this certification can extend their uses, she said.

The AWS GovCloud (US) Region offers services including Elastic Cloud Compute, Virtual Private Cloud,  Simple Storage Service, Identity and Access Management and Elastic Block Store, AWS said. In addition to FedRAMP, it adheres to U.S. International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) and Criminal Justice Information Services requirements, as well as Levels 2 and 4 for DoD systems.

Microsoft’s Azure Government won the same FedRAMP provisional authority, which Goodrich in a statement called “a testament to Microsoft’s ability to meet the government’s rigorous security requirements.” The company successfully completeda FedRAMP high pilot in March.

Azure has also won provisional authorization to deal with Level 4 DoD data and with ITAR, Microsoft said. Details on its secure cloud are available here.

SAP to Offer Its Business Apps on Google Cloud

Germany’s SAP is teaming up with Silicon Valley giant Google to allow customers to run SAP’s big business applications on Google’s cloud while offering Google’s suite of web-based desktop apps to users, the company said on Wednesday.

Appearing on stage at Google’s Cloud Next conference in California, Bernd Leukert, SAP’s executive board member in charge of products and innovation, is set to announce the two companies are also working on joint machine learning initiatives to be unveiled at SAP’s own user conference in May.

SAP has moved in recent years to encourage the multinational base of corporate customers using its financial planning and other business applications to switch from traditional packaged software running on clients’ own computers to cloud delivery.

SAP, Europe’s largest technology company, said its flagship HANA database software was now running on the Google Cloud Platform (GCP) in order for customers to uncover real-time insights using big data from their operations on a grand scale.

The pact will allow customers to run SAP’s powerful database from laptops and other memory-constrained computers using streamlined HANA express edition software, while off-loading more complex tasks to Google’s cloud delivery platform. SAP also said it was working over the next two months to make its own cloud platform ready to run on the Google cloud, allowing developers to take advantage of its containerisation features that allow technicians to automate software updates.

SAP also plans to offer Google’s G Suite of business productivity apps including Gmail and Google Calendar to its own base of customers of more than 345,000 companies, which includes nearly 90 percent of the world’s 2,000 biggest firms.

This business collaboration reflects a bid by major internet companies such as Google and Apple to move into business software markets where SAP is a powerhouse in enabling companies to operate on the emerging industrial internet.

Separately, SAP agreed last year with Apple to allow its 2.5 million corporate developers to build SAP apps that run on iPhones and iPad tablets. Toward that end, they plan to launch a software development kit for programmers later this month.

Microsoft’s new Linux option for Azure is Clear in the cloud

Microsoft’s new Linux option for Azure is Clear in the cloud

Microsoft announced today that it has added support for the Intel-backed Clear Linux distribution in instances for its Azure public cloud platform.

Microsoft announced today that it has added support for the Intel-backed Clear Linux distribution in instances for its Azure public cloud platform.

It’s the latest in a lengthy string of Linux distributions to become available on the company’s Azure cloud. Microsoft already supports CentOS, CoreOS, Debian, Oracle Linux, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, SUSE Enterprise Linux, OpenSUSE and Ubuntu in Azure instances.

The new distro is available in three versions from Microsoft – first, in a stripped-down, simple VM designed for maximum customizability, second, in a Docker-based container runtime, and, finally, in a “sample solution image” designed for machine learning applications, to demonstrate some of the possibilities.

Clear Linux is a lightweight Linux distribution designed to be as high-performing as possible for server and cloud use – it’s the brainchild of Intel, which is positioning it as a key building block for containerized applications in particular and the cloud in general. It features a sophisticated workload scheduler, optimizations to the kernel and major Linux components like systemd and stateless operation.

Stateless is a big deal, according to Microsoft open source product manager Jose Miguel Parrella, particularly for teams operating in a DevOps environment.

“By separating the system defaults and distribution best practices from the user configuration, Clear Linux simplifies maintenance and deployment which becomes very important as infrastructure scales,” he said in a statement.

Microsoft’s embrace of Linux as a technology of the future, particularly where the cloud is concerned, has been well-documented. The company, which joined the Linux Foundation in November, says that fully a third of all virtual machines running on Azure are Linux.

 

2017 will be big year for AI thanks to tech giants

Machine learning and other variations of artificial intelligence (AI) are expected to proliferate in the enterprise in 2017. The majority of IT players, including today’s leading technology companies, have invested in the space and plan to increase efforts for the foreseeable future, according to analysts who cover the market.

However, while machine learning has generated tremendous interest throughout the enterprise, a wide gap still exists between research and beneficial use cases in the real world. And only a small number of companies have the resources to actually drive AI innovation and deliver it to the masses, sources say.

During last month’s Code Enterprise conference, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner said AI was one of leading factors in the company’s decision to be acquired by Microsoft. A limited pool of AI experts means relatively few companies can make machine learning work at scale, he said at the time.

AI sets stage for big change in 2017

Box CEO Aaron Levie says machine learning and AI are pillars of his cloud-storage company’s strategy. He predicts AI will have a momentous year in the enterprise in 2017. “We are going to see a dramatic change in how enterprise software is designed and how enterprise software takes advantage of all the data that’s in our platforms to produce way better outcomes for customers,” he says.

Machine learning has already become “table stakes for data preparation and other tools related to managing curation of data,” but the technology will continue to grow and find its way into more applications and services in 2017, according to an Ovum report on tech trends in 2017. The research firm predicts machine learning is still more likely to show up in large-scale services than custom-developed apps, because few organizations outside of the Global 2000 have data scientists with the appropriate skills on their staffs.

Machine learning took the place of big data as the “shiny new thing” in technology, and it will be the “biggest disruptor for big data analytics in 2017,” according to Ovum. Enterprises are also under pressure to make data science a team sport, because the most rigorous models and hypotheses will require outside collaboration to reach greater potential.

Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft all open-source or share their latest research in AI to advance developments in the space. These moves from such notable organizations also meet the collective interests of scientists and researchers who prefer to share their findings with the larger community, instead of limiting access to a select group.

Apple makes secrecy exception for AI

Earlier this month, Apple made a significant exception to its generally-secretive practices and allowed its AI team to publish research papers on the subject for the first time, according to Bloomberg.com. Russ Salakhutdinov, Apple’s director of AI research who also studies the technology at Carnegie Mellon University, reportedly confirmed the change in policy at the Neural Information Processing Systems conference.

Patrick Moorhead, president and principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, says he expects Apple to build out AI features for Siri with more capabilities across iOS and macOS. “If Apple does enhance desktops, I would expect it to support far-field commands like an Echo or Google Home,” he says. However, Moorhead believes a separate AI-fueled device such as Amazon’s Echo is unlikely.

Apple CEO Tim Cook has also played up the strengths and promise of AI as it pertains to the company’s future. During an interview with Nikkei Asian Review in October, he emphasized the relative immaturity of smartphones and predicted that AI will result in an “incredible future” for the iPhone.

Facebook explains foundational concepts of AI

Facebook’s head of AI research, Yann LeCun, this month produced a series of educational videos that outline how AI works, what it can conceivably achieve and how people can get involved. “AI is not magic, but we have already seen how it can make seemingly magical advances in scientific research and contribute to the everyday marvel of identifying objects in photos, recognizing speech, driving a car or translating an online post into dozens of languages,” LeCun wrote in a blog post.

The technology will be the “backbone of many of the most innovative apps and services of tomorrow,” but it remains a mystery for many people who will eventually see AI influence their daily lives, according to LeCun. “Increasingly, human intellectual activities will be performed in conjunction with intelligent machines,” he wrote. “Our intelligence is what makes us human, and AI is an extension of that quality.”

LeCun also predicted that health care services and transportation will be among the first industries that AI transforms.

“The most meaningful thing Facebook can do in AI in 2017 is to make their chatbots useful, as so far they are weak and lack slick utility,” Moorhead says. “Consumers are using them a few times, see they don’t do much well and stop using them.”

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently published a detailed year-end update on his personal challenge to build simple AI to run his home. Zuckerberg spent about 100 hours building “Jarvis” and concluded that even if he spent another 1,000 hours on the project, he still wouldn’t be able to build a system that could learn new skills on its own. Zuckerberg’s experience also reinforced his prediction that AI systems will be more accurate at reading senses than the human nervous system within a decade. “In a way, AI is both closer and farther off than we imagine,” he wrote.

Ultimately, according to LeCun, Facebook has one goal with respect to AI, and that is to understand intelligence and build intelligent machines. “That’s not merely a technology challenge, it’s a scientific question,” he wrote. “What is intelligence and how can we reproduce it in machines? The answers to these questions will help us not just build intelligent machines, but develop keener insight into how the mysterious human mind and brain work.”

Google bakes machine learning into G Suite apps

Google invests in AI for various purposes, perhaps more than any other company today, but it also exemplifies how machine learning can be blended into popular apps, such as Gmail, that billions of people use every day. Google’s self-driving car project, now a separate company called Waymo, may generate more attention for AI, but small features in Google Apps could potentially add up to a bigger impact for more people.

When Google renamed its suite of productivity apps as “G Suite,” it also announced plans to bake more AI and machine learning into the portfolio. The company introduced a new feature in Drive, for example, called “quick access,” that “uses your activity patterns to predictively serve up to you the file that you need,” said Prabhakar Raghavan, vice president of Google Apps, in September. “Explore,” a new feature in Docs, Sheets and Slides, automatically applies formulas to company data based on common queries from users.

Moorhead doesn’t expect Google to add many more features to Google Home in 2017 and says it’s also unlikely that the device will exceed the capabilities of Amazon’s Echo in the coming year. He does, however, expect Google to extend many of its AI-driven features in image search to video search during 2017.

Microsoft shares progress on AI development

Microsoft this month shared some of the latest research and development progress it achieved in AI with a specific focus on conversational computing. The company says it has invested in AI for almost 25 years and is determined to bring new technology to consumers, business and developers in 2017. Microsoft’s newest chatbot Zo, which it launched in the United States on Kik in October, has more than 115,000 users, according to the company.

The Microsoft Bot Framework attracted 67,000 developers to date, and Microsoft says it’s adding new tools to make it easier to create bots with cognitive functions and natural-language processing. Microsoft also announced a new service, called “Calendar.help,” that uses AI to simplify the task of scheduling meetings and introduced the Cortana Devices SDK to make its digital assistant available to hardware manufacturers who want to build smarter capabilities into their devices, according to Microsoft.

“Microsoft surprised everyone in 2016 and I’m expecting more surprises in 2017,” Moorhead says. He predicts the company will release a standalone intelligent agent and a personal computer that will outperform Amazon’s Echo. “I’m also expecting to see many more business-related AI APIs.”

Gauging the impact of AI in the enterprise in 2017

Forrester Research recently surveyed 612 business and technology professionals to determine the scope of AI research in enterprise. While 58 percent of the respondents said their organizations are researching AI, only 12 percent said they use AI systems at work. “This gap reflects growing interest in AI but little actual use at this time,” the firm wrote in a separate report on the potential of AI in the enterprise in 2017.

“We expect enterprise interest in, and use of, AI to increase as software vendors roll out AI platforms and build AI capabilities into applications,” the firm predicted. “Enterprises that plan to invest in AI expect to improve customer experiences, improve products and services, and disrupt their industry with new business models.

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