Tag: newstrack

AT&T gets out off of its cloud

cloudWhile everyone seems to be rushing to get on the cloud, AT&T is downsizing its data centre operations.

The telco is apparently selling some of its data centres worth about $2 billion as it continues its streak of asset sales.

Apparently, AT&T is keen to get its debt loads down and pay off its credit card bill from last Christmas.  It is all a rumour of course, and the story is based on leaks to The Wall Street Journal 

Part of AT&T’s debt problems came because it had to bid high prices for spectrum.  The company said it had spent close to half of the total bids in the record-setting $44.9 billion spectrum sale that concluded last week.

AT&T bagged 251 licences in the  AWS-3 spectrum auction worth $18.2 billion. The company has also been investing to expand its footprint in Mexico to grow its business, as the US wireless market reaches saturation. It said last month it would buy bankrupt NII Holdings wireless business in Mexico for $1.875 billion.

Help! My Mini needs a patch

350350000patch37As a sign of a 21st century problem, car maker BMW has rolled out a patch for a security flaw that could have allowed hackers to open the doors of some 2.2 million vehicles.

The problem affects BMW, Mini and Rolls Royce models that come equipped with ConnectedDrive – a technology that allows car owners to access internet, navigation and other services via a SIM card installed directly into vehicles.

Security experts were able to create a fake mobile phone base station to intercept network traffic from the car, and use that information to send commands to the car telling it to lower windows or open the doors.

Other boffins working for German automobile association ADAC discovered the security vulnerabilities and the potential for vehicles to be broken into last summer, but kept quiet about them until now to give BMW a chance to produce a fix.

Hackers would only need a few minutes to open a car from outside, without leaving any physical trace of unauthorised entry – which is a lot better than a brick through the window or a bent coat hanger.

ConnectedDrive appBMW issued a statement to the press congratulating itself on its rapid response, how it is “increasing the security of data transmission in its vehicles” in response to what it describes as the “potential security gap” in ConnectedDrive.

The vulnerability revolved around the insecure transmission of data, as the patch rolled out by BMW appears to have enabled HTTPS.  Since HTTPS is the minimal sort of security you would expect from an online transition, you would have thought that BMW’s have thought to install it.

The fact BMW still took half a year to work out a fix and roll it out, indicates that they have not really thought this whole security thing through yet.

Still it is likely that we will see a lot more of these sorts of patches being rolled out for cars. In the old days you could open a mini with a fork.



BT goes on hybrid fibre diet

Fruit-and-fibreBT has surprised everyone by announcing that it is deploying next generation hybrid-fibre across the United Kingdom from 2016/17.

Dubbed G.fast broadband technology, it will provide “most homes” with speeds of ‘up to’ 500Mbps  and there’s also a “premium” option for up to 1000Mbps.

At present most of BT’s national deployment is dominated by its  hybrid Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC) broadband technology, which delivers download speeds of up to 80Mbps by running a fibre optic cable to your local street cabinet and then using VDSL2 over the remaining / existing copper line from the cabinet to your home.

This works for properties that exist up to 400 metres away from their street cabinet, although the service has been known to reach 2,000 metres at a slower speed.

G.fast is similar technology but it requires more radio spectrum and needs to run over much less than 250 metres of copper. As a result the high capacity fibre optic line has to be taken even closer to homes, usually as far as a smaller remote node that can be built on top of a telegraph pole, inside a street cabinet or underground.

This is expensive, although BT should not need to dig up your garden or run a new physical line into homes.

BT conducted a field trial of mock-up G.fast technology earlier this year and on the shortest 19 metre copper line it managed to achieve aggregated speeds of around 1000Mbps or 231Mbps upload and 786Mbps download. By comparison the “long” 66 metre line produced 200Mbps upload and 696Mbps download.

There will be two pilots which will start this summer in Huntingdon and Gosforth with 4,000 homes and businesses participating to see if the technology scales up.

BT will set up G.fast from different points of its network, with the pilots allowing it to assess various rollout options. It is also planning to develop a premium fibre broadband service for those residential and business customers who want even faster broadband, of up to 1Gbps.


Big Data analytics are not up to snuff

3921968993_9bccb97118_zCompanies relying on Big Data analytics might be disappointed to discover that they are not so good at finding a needle in a haystack after all.

Currently the best way to sort large databases of unstructured text is to use a technique called Latent Dirichlet allocation (LDA) which is a modelling technique that identifies text within documents as belonging to a limited number of still-unknown topics.

According to analysis published in the American Physical Society’s journal Physical Review X, LDA had become one of the most common ways to accomplish the computationally difficult problem of classifying specific parts of human language automatically into a context-appropriate category.

According to Luis Amaral, a physicist whose specialty is the mathematical analysis of complex systems and who wrote the paper, LDA is inaccurate.

The team tested LDA-based analysis with repeated analyses of the same set of unstructured data – 23,000 scientific papers and 1.2 million Wikipedia articles written in several different languages.

Not only was LDA inaccurate, its analyses were inconsistent, returning the same results only 80 percent of the time even when using the same data and the same analytic configuration.

Amaral said that accuracy of 90 percent with 80 percent consistency sounds good, but the scores are “actually poor, since they are for an easy case.”

The base of data for which big data is often praised for its ability to manage – the results would be far less accurate and far less reproducible, according to the paper.

The team created an alternative method called TopicMapping, which first breaks words down into bases (treating “stars” and “star” as the same word), then eliminates conjunctions, pronouns and other “stop words” that modify the meaning but not the topic, using a standardized list.

This approach delivered results that were 92 percent accurate and 98 percent reproducible, though, according to the paper, it only moderately improved the likelihood that any given result would be accurate.

The paper’s point was that it was not important to replace LDA with TopicMapping, but to demonstrate that the topic-analysis method that has become one of the most commonly used in big data analysis is far less accurate and far less consistent than previously believed.


Laser inventor dies

r6uhkgtsix9vtvl3pjd4The boffin who laid the foundations for the development of the laser has died. Charles Townes was 99.

Townes who won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1964 is  best known as the “inventor” of the laser but he was also a pioneer in the field of infrared astronomy and was the first to discover water in space.

He first built a maser in the mid-1950s, which used microwave amplification rather than light.

At the time Gordon Gould at ARPA and Ted Maiman at Hughes Labs were working on similar research in the late 1950s. I Maiman who built a practical laser in 1960, but he used the published research of Townes.

Townes shared his 1964 Nobel Prize with Russian scientists N. G. Basov and Aleksandr Prokhorov because they were also working on the laser in the Soviet Union concurrently and independently of Townes.

Later in his life, he became famous for suggesting that one-day science and religion would one day merge, revealing the secrets of creation.

The committed Christian told some Harvard students: “I look at science and religion as quite parallel, much more similar than most people think and that in the long run, they must converge. It’s a fantastically specialized universe, but how in the world did it happen?”

He was honoured in 2005 with the Templeton Prize for contributions to “affirming life’s spiritual dimension.”

Townes never really stopped working and would show up at Berkeley until he became unwell last year.

He did live long enough for his laser to be turned into the sci-fi weapon that it was touted to be in the 1960s, although not long enough to see them strapped to sharks.

Microsoft’s profit falls thanks to strong dollar

dollarSoftware giant Microsoft reported a fall in its quarterly profit as sluggish PC sales dampened demand for Windows software and the company struggled with the impact of the strong US dollar.

Shares of the world’s largest software company, which have surged to 14-year highs in the past few months, fell three percent.

The fall did not seem to faze the cocaine nose jobs of Wall Street who seemed to be expecting it. Not much can really stand up to a high dollar pressure and most thought the numbers were good enough.

Microsoft’s flagship Windows business has been under pressure for three years as PC sales have declined, although the market appears to be stabilising in recent months.

Currency shifts against the strong U.S. dollar also crimped profit in the fiscal second quarter, ended December 31, although Microsoft did not specify by how much. Microsoft gets almost three-quarters of its revenue from overseas, but a significant amount of that is still in US dollars.

Commercial licensing is chiefly sales of Windows and Office to business customers, which is Microsoft’s biggest revenue generator.

Microsoft reported profit of $5.86 billion for the latest quarter, compared with $6.56 billion last year.

Sales rose eight percent to $26.47 billion, largely due to the acquisition of Nokia’s phone handset business last year.

Analysts had expected revenue of $26.3 billion including some restructuring costs.


LG might sue over fire breathing snapdragons

dragonLG is behaving oddly over moves by Qualcomm to fix overheating problems in its Snapdragon 810 chip.

Samsung told Qualcomm it would not use the chip for its Galaxy S6 model because of overheating problems and Qualcomm suggested it would make a few modifications.

However LG, which is also using the chip, appears outraged. Its initial response to Samsung’s statement was that the chip never overheated and there were no problems.  Now it is threatening to take legal action against Qualcomm if it modifies its latest Snapdragon 810 chip.

Its argument is that if Qualcomm modifies the Snapdragon 810, it means that the company admits the chipset has a flaw. Then it could trigger legal disputes, a spokesLG said.

So in other words – LG claims there is nothing wrong with the chip, but if Qualcomm admits there is something wrong with the chip then it will sue.

The question here is then why LG did not detect the Snapdragon’s fire breathing qualities.

It has been suggested that Qualcomm will provide a modified chipset to Samsung, something that Qualcomm and Samsung Electronics declined to confirm.

The Snapdragon 810 is designed as a 20-nanometer flagship mobile processor for top-tier smartphones.

The system on chip (SoC) integrates the fourth-generation long-term evolution advanced model (LTE-A), dubbed category 6, and theoretically supports up to 450 megabits-per-second data download speed.

But Samsung was worried that the chipset had a serious “throttling” problem that forcibly limits the graphic processing performance when it overheats, reports said.

Analysts said that a chipmaker could modify a new chip before mass production and Qualcomm may update it if its major client Samsung is uncomfortable with the overheating problem.

Qualcomm has said it will start mass-producing the Snapdragon 810 in the first half of the year.

For Qualcomm, Samsung Electronics is one of the most important partners, so the company is likely to show some reaction to the overheating issue.




IBM denies gutting its suits

mary-meyer-flip-flops-perry-penguinBig Blue has denied claims that it is about to fire 26 per cent of its workforce.

The dark satanic rumour mill manufactured a hell on earth rumour which tipped up in  Forbes magazine. If the rumour was right, 112,000 employees could be laid off.

IBM admitted that it is cutting jobs, and said as much in its latest earnings report last week, but those reductions will affect “several thousand” employees, a “small fraction” of what Forbes reported.

The technology giant has been steadily reshaping its 400,000-plus staff for several years, laying off workers in some areas and hiring in new growth businesses.

The source of the rumour was pseudonymous Silicon Valley technology gossip columnist Robert Cringely who claimed that Biggish Blue was going to break with that gradual approach and suddenly lay off 26 percent of its global workforce.

IBM did not issue a formal denial of the report, but strongly suggested it was inaccurate.

A spokesperson said that if anyone had checked the information in IBM’s public earnings statements, or had simply asked it, she or he would know that IBM has already announced the company has just taken a $600 million charge for workforce rebalancing. This equates to several thousand people.

Last week, Chief Financial Officer Martin Schroeter told investors on IBM’s fourth-quarter earnings conference call that the company was taking restructuring charges of around $580 million, but he did not specify the number of jobs affected.

But Schroeter said in the same meeting that IBM was not going to replicate the same level of restructuring that we had last year… “It will be a lower amount.”

All this seems to suggest that IBM will fire about 8,000 people this year, in line with recent years.


Apple’s paws in pie stopped Nexus fingerprint sensor

6a00d8341c630a53ef01348199b317970c-600wiA buyout deal by Apple effectively nixed Motorola’s chance to put a fingerprint sensor under the bonnet of its Nexus 6.

Motorola CEO Dennis Woodside said that the dimple at the back of the Nexus 6 was originally intended to play host to a fingerprint sensor. After all it had all the technology – it was a pioneer in bringing fingerprint recognition to its Atrix 4G smartphone.

At the time Motorola used Authentec which was purchased by Apple a year later for a price of $356 million.

Authentec was the best supplier around, “the second best supplier was the only one available to everyone else in the industry, and they weren’t there yet”.

Apple’s buy out effectively meant that the Nexus 6 was left without biometric authentication and the world was given the impression that Apple was the first to put the technology on a mainstream phone.

It looks like Motorola made the right move. The HTC One max had the slow and buggy experience that puts users off trying to use the feature.


Microsoft buys Revolution

Hungarian Revolution-ASoftware king of the world Microsoft announced a deal to buy Revolution Analytics, the top commercial provider of software and services for the open-source R programming language for statistical computing and predictive analytics.

Joseph Sirosh, Microsoft corporate vice president for machine learning,  said the acquisition was to help more companies use the power of R and data science to unlock big data insights with advanced analytics.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. Revolution Analytics is based in California with offices in London and Singapore.

David Smith, Revolution Analytics’ chief community officer, said that he was excited the work done with Revolution R will come to a wider audience through Microsoft.

“Our combined teams will be able to help more users use advanced analytics within Microsoft data platform solutions, both on-premises and in the cloud with Microsoft Azure. And just as importantly, the big-company resources of Microsoft will allow us to invest even more in the R Project and the Revolution R products.”

However Revolution is Open Source and uses the R programming language, which is a  data analysis tool widely used by both academics and corporate data scientists.  Revolution Analytics was best known for offering developer tools for use with the R language, and though Microsoft already works with R it is a huge change in direction to own something like Revolution.

Revolution was founded in 2007 by Yale University computer scientists to create a suite of tools for working with R. The company develops both a free, open source community version of its Revolution R suite of developer tools, as well as paid commercial versions of the software.

Revolution Analytics created tools that extended the open source version of the R language to help it get under the bonnet of big data.

Microsoft will continue to support Revolution’s existing products and customers.


Malaysia Air attacked by hacker lizards

lizardIf it was not bad enough that Malaysia Air keeps losing its aircraft, or they’ve shot down after flying though a war zone, it appears the outfit is now being targeted by hackers.

A group calling itself “Official Cyber Caliphate” hacked on Monday the official website of national carrier Malaysia Airlines (MAS), although the airline said its data servers remained intact and passenger bookings were not affected.

The website, www.malaysiaairlines.com, showed a photograph of a lizard in a top hat, monocle and tuxedo, surrounded by the messages ‘404 – Plane Not Found’ and ‘Hacked by Lizard Squad – Official Cyber Caliphate’. A rap song was also played, showing that the Lizard Squad is familiar with musical as well as hacking atrocities.

However MAS insisted its website was not hacked, but that users were redirected to a hacker website. It said the official site would be back up within 22 hours.

“Malaysia Airlines assures customers and clients that its website was not hacked and this temporary glitch does not affect their bookings and that user data remains secured,” it said.

Malaysia Airlines lost two flights last year. Flight MH370 disappeared last March with 239 passengers and crew on board and Flight MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine on July 17, killing all 298 passengers and crew.


SAP wants its software on the cloud

cloud1SAP, the maker of expensive esoteric business software which no one really understand wants to deliver its product onto the cloud.

This means you can be completely baffled by the product, without having to store it on your local servers.

Luka Mucic told the Euro am Sonntag business weekly that contract cloud work becomes profitable over time and in the long term; they can definitely become more profitable than classic licence sales.

SAP said last week its push to deliver cloud-based products via the internet would “dampen profitability” until at least 2018, even if it attempts to blow dry its profitability with a hair-dryer or makes it stand in the sun for a few hours.

This is because unlike the packaged software SAP has been selling for decades, for which clients pay a immediate licence fee, cloud-based software is generally paid for by subscription over time, but most of the costs for the software provider are upfront.

Mucic said contracts were loss making for the first year of operation.

SAP agreed in September to buy cloud-based travel and expenses software maker Concur for $7.3 billion in cash, its biggest takeover ever, but about what you can expect to pay for a single SAP business consultant.

Mucic said SAP might add another, smaller tranche, perhaps as soon as the first half of this year, but added that otherwise the company had no need for further capital. He did not say why SAP needed the money.

Oracle pushes out huge security update

Sisyphus-Image-01CDatabase outfit Oracle has pushed out a record number of patches in a security update.

Included in the patch are critical fixes for Java SE and the Oracle Sun Systems Products Suite.

All up this means that the update contains nearly 170 new security vulnerability fixes, including 36 for Oracle Fusion Middleware. Twenty-eight of these may be remotely exploitable without authentication and can possibly be exploited over a network without the need for a username and password.

The worst of the bugs are in Java SE, Fujitsu M10-1, M10-4 and M10-4S. In the case of Java SE, a CVSS Base Score of 10.0 was reported for four distinct client-only vulnerabilities.

Writing in the company blog, Oracle said that out of these 19 Java vulnerabilities, 15 affect client-only installations, two affect client and server installations, and two affect JSSE installations.

The blog says that the lower number of Oracle Java SE fixes reflect the results of Oracle’s strategy for addressing security bugs affecting Java clients and improving security development practices in the Java development organization.

While that might be true, the ton of patches in the rest of the software suggests that while Java is being closely watched, other bits are not.

In the case of the Oracle Sun Systems Products Suite, CVE-2013-4784 has a CVSS rating of 10.0 and affects XCP Firmware versions prior to XCP 2232. Overall, there are 29 security fixes for the suite.

The update also includes eight new security fixes for Oracle Database Server, none of which are remotely exploitable without authentication. Oracle MySQL has nine security fixes.

There are also: 10 fixes for Oracle Enterprise Manager Grid Control; 10 for Oracle E-Business Suite; six for the Oracle Supply Chain Products Suite; seven security fixes for Oracle PeopleSoft products; 17 for Oracle Siebel CRM; one for Oracle JD Edwards Products; two for Oracle iLearning; two for Oracle Communications Applications; one for Oracle Retail Applications; one for Oracle Health Sciences Applications and 11 new security fixes for Oracle Virtualisation.

Ebay does deal with Icahn

Faustian_BargainOnline auction outfit Ebay has done a deal with its activist investor Carl Icahn that will give investors a greater say in its PayPal payments unit once it is spun off.

Ebay said it exploring a sale or public offering of its enterprise unit.

The deal clears the way for a future buy  of eBay and PayPal by companies looking to gain a foothold in the e-commerce and online payments markets. Alibaba, Google and Amazon could all be interested.

Meanwhile Ebay is going to cut its workforce by seven percent, or 2,400 jobs, in the current quarter. While the company is making a pile of money, its outlook for the 2015 first quarter and full year fell short of what the cocaine nose jobs of Wall Street expected, so its workers will have to pay the price.

The planned job cuts will be across the board in all parts of the company except the board. Payments and enterprise divisions will be hit, eBay said. Restructuring and separation costs are expected to be between $210 million and $240 million in the first quarter and $350 million to $400 million for the entire year.

Also under the deal with Ichan, Icahn Capital executive Jonathan Christodoro was named to eBay’s board. He will have the ability to transition to PayPal’s board once the spin-off occurs.

Two Wall Street bankers has been added to its board, because you always need a board full of bankers.

PayPal agreed to adopt a number of measures proposed by Icahn, which the billionaire said enhance corporate governance at the fast-growing payments arm. The provisions are intended to give shareholders a larger voice in important decisions, particularly an acquisition bid.

They include a provision that any “poison pill” designed to ward off acquisition attempts be ratified by stockholders or expire after 135 days, and that holders of 20 percent of its shares be allowed to call a special meeting of stakeholders.

EBay plans to split its marketplace division from PayPal in the second half of this year. PayPal will be a standalone publicly traded company, which some analysts say will be worth $40 billion.


Many companies will miss Windows server deadline

my_tombstoneCompanies are doomed to miss the end of the life of Windows Windows Server 2003, warned software experts.

The server operating system will retire in six months and many companies will still have boxes running the OS when Microsoft finally kills it off.

David Mayer, the director of Microsoft Solutions for Insight said that companies had adopted an approach that “it is not broken so they did not need to fix it.  It was the first really mainstream server from Microsoft, a really solid OS, and gave Microsoft a lot of credibility in server software.”

Microsoft will end security updates for Server 2003 on July 14 which should end the product’s support lifecycle. It has been supported years longer than the usual decade.

But there are still millions of machines running Server 2003, with pockets of the software in most data centres and it is a significant effort to upgrade.  While getting rid of a dead XP laptop is not a problem, server replacement is tricky.

A server might contain unsupported software and the company that built them may be out of business or the in-house development team may have been disbanded.   Updating this software might be impossible.

Many of those applications are 32 bit and while Windows Server 2012 R2 offers a compatibility mode to run such applications it does not always work.

Microsoft  is likely to make a killing out of after-retirement support contracts, or “Custom Support,” to its largest customers. Under a Custom Support agreement, Microsoft provides patches only for the security vulnerabilities it has rated “critical,” its highest threat ranking.

This time Redmond is suggesting that its customers facing end of support to shift their servers to the cloud. However, that might be an additional change too far for many companies.