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May 24, 2019
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cloud computing

Microsoft makes a push for service mesh interoperability

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Services meshes. They are the hot new thing in the cloud native computing world. At Kubecon, the bi-annual festival of all things cloud native, Microsoft today announced that it is teaming up with a number of companies in this space to create a generic service mesh interface. This will make it easier for developers to adopt the concept without locking them into a specific technology.

In a world where the number of network endpoints continues to increase as developers launch new micro-services, containers and other systems at a rapid clip, they are making the network smarter again by handling encryption, traffic management and other functions so that the actual applications don’t have to worry about that. With a number of competing service mesh technologies, though, including the likes of Istio and Linkerd, developers currently have to chose which one of these to support.

“I’m really thrilled to see that we were able to pull together a pretty broad consortium of folks from across the industry to help us drive some interoperability in the service mesh space,” Gabe Monroy, Microsoft’s lead product manager for containers and the former CTO of Deis, told me. “This is obviously hot technology — and for good reasons. The cloud-native ecosystem is driving the need for smarter networks and smarter pipes and service mesh technology provides answers.”

The partners here include Buoyant, HashiCorp, Solo.io, Red Hat, AspenMesh, Weaveworks, Docker, Rancher, Pivotal, Kinvolk and VMWare. That’s a pretty broad coalition, though it notably doesn’t include cloud heavyweights like Google, the company behind Istio, and AWS.

“In a rapidly evolving ecosystem, having a set of common standards is critical to preserving the best possible end-user experience,” said Idit Levine, founder and CEO of Solo.io. “This was the vision behind SuperGloo – to create an abstraction layer for consistency across different meshes, which led us to the release of Service Mesh Hub last week. We are excited to see service mesh adoption evolve into an industry level initiative with the SMI specification.”

For the time being, the interoperability features focus on traffic policy, telemetry and traffic management. Monroy argues that these are the most pressing problems right now. He also stressed that this common interface still allows the different service mesh tools to innovate and that developers can always work directly with their APIs when needed. He also stressed that the Service Mesh Interface (SMI), as this new specification is called, does not provide any of its own implementations of these features. It only defines a common set of APIs.

Currently, the most well-known service mesh is probably Istio, which Google, IBM and Lyft launched about two years ago. SMI may just bring a bit more competition to this market since it will allow developers to bet on the overall idea of a service mesh instead of a specific implementation.

In addition to SMI, Microsoft also today announced a couple of other updates around its cloud-native and Kubernetes services. It announced the first alpha of the Helm 3 package manager, for example, as well as the 1.0 release of its Kubernetes extension for Visual Studio Code and the general availability of its AKS virtual nodes, using the open source Virtual Kubelet project.

 

Tencent replaces hit mobile game PUBG with a Chinese government-friendly alternative

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China’s new rules on video games, introduced last month, are having an effect on the country’s gamers. Today, Tencent replaced hugely popular battle royale shooter game PUBG with a more government-friendly alternative that seems primed to pull in significant revenue.

The company introduced ‘Game for Peace’ in a Weibo post at the same time as PUBG — which stands for Player Unknown Battlegrounds — was delisted from China. The title had been in wide testing but without revenue, and now it seems Tencent gave up on securing a license to monetize the title.

In its place, Game for Peace is very much the type of game that will pass the demands of China’s game censorship body. Last month, the country’s State Administration of Press and Publication released a series of demands for new titles, including bans on corpses and blood, references of imperial history and gambling. The new Tencent title bears a striking resemblance to PUBG but there are no dead bodies, while it plays up to a nationalist theme with a focus on China’s air force — or, per the Weibo message, “the blue sky warriors that guard our country’s airspace” — and their battle against terrorists.

Game for Peace was developed by Krafton, the Korea-based publisher formerly known as BlueHole which made PUBG. Beyond visual similarities, Reuters reported that the games are twinned since some player found that their progress and achievements on PUBG had transferred over to the new game.

Tencent representatives declined to comment on the new game or the end of PUBG’s ‘beta testing’ period in China when contacted by TechCrunch. But a company rep apparently told Reuters that “they are very different genres of games.”

Tencent’s new ‘Game for Peace’ title is almost exactly the same as its popular PUBG game, which it is replacing [Image via Weibo]

Fortnite may have grabbed the attention for its explosive growth — we previously reported that the game helped publisher Epic Games bank a profit of $3 billion last year — but PUBG has more quietly become a fixture among mobile gamers, particularly in Asia.

At the end of last year, Krafton told The Verge that it was past 200 million registered gamers, with 30 million players each day. According to app analytics company Sensor Tower, PUBG grossed more than $65 million from mobile players in March thanks to 83 percent growth which saw it even beat Fortnite. There is also a desktop version.

PUBG made more money than Fortnite on mobile in March 2019, according to data from Sensor Tower

That is really the point of Tencent’s switcheroo: to make money.

The company suffered at the hands of China’s gaming license freeze last year, and a regulatory-compliant title like Game for Peace has a good shot at getting the green light for monetization — through the sale of virtual items and seasonal memberships.

Indeed, analysts at China Renaissance believe the new title could rake in as much as $1.5 billion in annual revenue, according to the Reuters report. That’s a lot to get excited about and resuscitating gaming will be an important part of Tencent’s strategy this year — which has already seen it restructure its business to focus emerging units like cloud computing, and pledge to use its technology to “do good.”

Mirantis makes configuring on-premises clouds easier

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Mirantis, the company you may still remember as one of the biggest players in the early days of OpenStack, launched an interesting new hosted SaSS service today that makes it easier for enterprises to build and deploy their on-premises clouds. The new Mirantis Model Designer, which is available for free, lets operators easily customize their clouds — starting with OpenStack clouds next month and Kubernetes clusters in the coming months — and build the configurations to deploy them.

Typically, doing so typically involves writing lots of YAML files by hand, something that’s error-prone and few developers love. Yet that’s exactly what’s at the core of the infrastructure-as-code model. Model Designer, on the other hand, takes what Mirantis learned from its highly popular Fuel installer for OpenStack and takes it a step further. The Model Designer, which Mirantis co-founder and CMO Boris Renski demoed for me ahead of today’s announcement, presents users with a GUI interface that walks them through the configuration steps. What’s smart here is that every step has a difficulty level (modeled after Doom’s levels ranging from “I’m too young to die” to “ultraviolence” — though it’s missing Dooms ‘nightmare’ setting), which you can choose based on how much you want to customize the setting.

Model Designer is an opinionated tool, but it does give users quite a bit of freedom, too. Once the configuration step is done, Mirantis actually takes the settings and runs them through its Jenkins automation server to validate the configuration. As Renski pointed out, that step can’t take into account all of the idiosyncrasies of every platform, but it can ensure that the files are correct. After this, the tools provides the user with the configuration files and actually deploying the OpenStack cloud is then simply a matter of taking the files, together with the core binaries that Mirantis makes available for download, to the on-premises cloud and executing a command-line script. Ideally, that’s all there is to the process. At this point, Mirantis’ DriveTrain tools take over and provision the cloud. For upgrades, users simply have to repeat the process.

Mirantis’ monetization strategy is to offer support, which range from basic support to fully managing a customer’s cloud. Model Designer is yet another way for the company to make more users aware of itself and then offer them support as they start using more of the company’s tools.

With Kata Containers and Zuul, OpenStack graduates its first infrastructure projects

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Over the course of the last year and a half, the OpenStack Foundation made the switch from purely focusing on the core OpenStack project to opening itself up to other infrastructure-related projects as well. The first two of these projects, Kata Containers and the Zuul project gating system, have now exited their pilot phase and have become the first top-level Open Infrastructure Projects at the OpenStack Foundation.

The Foundation made the announcement at its first Open Infrastructure Summit (previously known as the OpenStack Summit) in Denver today after the organization’s board voted to graduate them ahead of this week’s conference. “It’s an awesome milestone for the projects themselves,” OpenStack Foundation executive direction Jonathan Bryce told me. “It’s a validation of the fact that in the last 18 months, they have created sustainable and productive communities.”

It’s also a milestone for the OpenStack Foundation itself, though, which is still in the process of reinventing itself in many ways. It can now point at two successful projects that are under its stewardship, which will surely help it as it goes out an tries to attract others who are looking to bring their open-source projects under the aegis of a foundation.

In addition to graduating these first two projects, Airship — a collection of open-source tools for provisioning private clouds that is currently a pilot project — hit version 1.0 today. “Airship originated within AT&T,” Bryce said. “They built it from their need to bring a bunch of open-source tools together to deliver on their use case. And that’s why, from the beginning, it’s been really well aligned with what we would love to see more of in the open source world and why we’ve been super excited to be able to support their efforts there.”

With Airship, developers use YAML documents to describe what the final environment should like like and the result of that is a production-ready Kubernetes cluster that was deployed by OpenStack’s Helm tool – though without any other dependencies on OpenStack.

AT&T’s assistant vice president, Network Cloud Software Engineering, Ryan van
Wyk, told me that a lot of enterprises want to use certain open-source components, but that the interplay between them is often difficult and that while it’s relatively easy to manage the lifecycle of a single tool, it’s hard to do so when you bring in multiple open-source tools, all with their own lifecycles. “What we found over the last five years working in this space is that you can go and get all the different open-source solutions that you need,” he said. “But then the operator has to invest a lot of engineering time and build extensions and wrappers and perhaps some orchestration to manage the lifecycle of the various pieces of software required to deliver the infrastructure.”

It’s worth noting that nothing about Airship is specific to the telco world, though it’s no secret that OpenStack is quite popular in the telco world and unsurprisingly, the Foundation is using this week’s event to highlight the OpenStack project’s role in the upcoming 5G rollouts of various carriers.

In addition, the event will also showcase OpenStack’s bare metal capabilities, an area the project has also focused on in recent releases. Indeed, the Foundation today announced that its bare metal tools now manage over a million cores of compute. To codify these efforts, the Foundation also today launched the OpenStack Ironic Bare Metal program, which brings together some of the project’s biggest users like Verizon Media (home of TechCrunch, though we don’t run on the Verizon cloud), 99Cloud, China Mobile, China Telecom, China Unicom, Mirantis, OVH, Red Hat, SUSE, Vexxhost and ZTE.

A new era for enterprise IT

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Amidst the newly minted scooter unicorns, ebbs and flows of bitcoin investments, and wagers on the price of Uber’s IPO, another trend has shaken up the tech industry: the explosion of enterprise software successes.

Bessemer notes that today there are 55 private companies valued at $1 billion or more compared to zero a decade ago. Proving this isn’t just private market hype, enterprise cloud companies have well-exceeded $500 billion in market cap and are on a path to hit $1 trillion in the next few years. Whether it’s the masterfully executed IPOs of Zoom and PagerDuty, and the imminent Slack IPO, or the mega funding rounds of companies like Asana, and Airtable, Front, and many others, the insatiable demand for enterprise cloud deals shows that the new era of IT is no longer a zero sum game.

Back when we started Box in 2005, we saw a disruption on the horizon that would change enterprise software as we knew it.Led by the same trends that were impacting the consumer internet — growth of mobile, faster web-browsers, more users connected online — combined with the advent of the cloud, enterprises in every industry are forced to transform in the digital age. But we could barely have imagined the scale of change to come.

A Tipping Point for Best-of-Breed IT

Today’s enterprise software market doesn’t look like the enterprise software of the past. For one, the market is much larger. Deploying software in the on-prem world required a team of highly trained professionals and a hefty budget. By lowering costs and and removing adoption hurdles, the cloud expanded the market from millions to billions of people globally and in turn, businesses are using more apps than ever before. In fact, Okta found in their latest Business @ Work Report that large enterprises are deploying 129 apps on average. It’s therefore no surprise that software spend is expected to reach more than $420 billion in 2019 as the shift to the cloud marches on.

With a market of that magnitude, enterprise IT no longer can be controlled by just a handful of vendors, as we saw in the 90’s. And what what were once solved problems in a prior era of IT are now unsolved relative to rapidly changing user and buyer expectations in the cloud, leaving the door open for new disruptors to emerge and solve this problem better, faster, and with more focused visions.

Previously pesky problems like alerting ops teams to technical issues have turned into an entire platform for real-time operations, leading to PagerDuty’s $3 billion valuation in the process.

Everyone thought video conferencing was a tired market but Zoom proved that with extreme focus and simple user-experience its team could build a company worth over $15 billion. Atlassian has generated $25 billion in value by building a portfolio of modern development and IT tools that power a digital enterprise.

Slack has shown that real-time communication and workflow automation can be reinvented yet again. And making this approach work seamlessly are services like Okta, which is valued at $10 billion today.

In all of these cases, “best-of-breed” platforms are growing rapidly in their respective markets, with near limitless size and potential. And as processes for every every team, department, business, and industry can now be digitized, and we’ll continue to see this play out in every category of technology.

If the move from mainframe and mini-computers to PC saw a 10X increase in applications and software, the move from PC to cloud and mobile will see an order of magnitude more.

From IT stacks to cloud ecosystems

We’ve reached a new era of enterprise software and companies are coming around to this model in droves.
What seemed unfathomable merely a decade ago is now becoming commonplace as Fortune 500 companies are mixing and matching best-in-class technologies — from upstarts to cloud mainstays like Salesforce, Workday, and ServiceNow — to power their business. But there’s still work to do.

To ensure customers get all the benefits of a best-of-breed cloud ecosystem, these tools must work together without requiring the customer to stitch systems together manually. Without interoperability and integration, enterprises will be left with siloed data, fragmented workflows and security gaps in the cloud. In a legacy world, the idea of deep integration between software stacks was great on paper, but near impossible in practice. As Larry Ellison described in Softwar, customers were left footing the bill for putting together independent technology themselves. But the rules have changed with today’s generation of API-native companies with open cultures and a deep focus on putting the customer first.

Notably, even the largest players — IBM, Microsoft, Google, Cisco, and others — have recognized this tectonic shift, a harbinger of what’s to come in the industry. Satya Nadella, in taking over Microsoft, recognized the power of partnerships in a world where IT spend would be growing exponentially, telling Wired:

…instead of viewing things as zero sum, let’s view things as, ‘Hey, what is it that we’re trying to get done? What is it that they’re trying to get done? Places where we can co-operate, let’s co-operate.’ And where we’re competing, we compete.

As Peter Sole, former head of the Research Board, points out, in this digital world we can no longer think about a few vendors owning layers in a stack but instead as an ecosystem of multiple services working together to deliver value to the entire network. The incumbents that successfully thrive in the digital age will be those that despite their scale, work and operate like the nimbler, customer-obsessed, more open disruptors.  And those that don’t will face a reckoning from customers that now have choice to go a different direction for the first time.

Gone are the days of monolithic IT stacks and zero sum thinking; this is the new normal. Welcome to a new era of enterprise IT.

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