Softbank has recently secured funding for their fabled vision fund. This week my guest John Silverwood joins me in discussing what a company with a 300-year-plan and billions to invest will do next.
Photo: Vitaly Taranov
There is another ransomware threat that has been unleashed upon unsuspecting corporations. “Petya” is even more focused on locking down corporate infrastructure than predecessor “WannaCry”.
IBM is recovering nicely from their WhatsApp loss a few weeks back. They are finally scoring some blockchain wins on Wall Street, they are working on an AI super computer with the Air Force, and they landed (pun intended) a cloud contract with American Airlines.
The EU is hitting Google with a $2.7B fine over anti-trust concerns at the same time the company announced they aren’t scanning your email for personalized ad targeting anymore. Google also announced they are removing medical records from search results because… that was a thing apparently?
SoftBank Group Corp.’s $100 billion Vision Fund is scouting for possible investments in quantum computing, an experimental science being researched by companies such as Google and IBM to succeed current computer processor technology. Shu Nyatta, who helps invest money for the fund, said the group wanted to find and back the company whose quantum computing hardware or software that runs atop it would become the “de facto industry standard.” “We are happy to invest enough to create that standard around which the whole industry can coalesce,” Nyatta said, speaking during a panel discussion at a conference on quantum computing in Munich Thursday.
One arrangement that has been considered is for Charter and Comcast to invest in improving Sprint’s network in exchange for favorable terms to offer wireless service using the carrier’s network, the people said. Such a deal could involve the companies taking an equity stake in Sprint, some of the people said. The cable companies already have such a network-resale agreement with Verizon Communications Inc., but the Sprint deal could provide much better terms.
Apple has acquired SensoMotoric Instruments (SMI), an eye-tracking firm, MacRumors reports.
The German company, which was founded in 1991, has done significant work in eye-tracking research with proprietary eyeglass hardware while also working on consumer-focused applications like eye-tracking for virtual reality. Last year, the company announced it had created an eye-tracking development kit for the HTC Vive VR headset.
Microsoft said the acquisition fits with its commitment to provide customers with the tools they need to govern their cloud adoption and realize the strategic benefits of a global, intelligent cloud system.
In April Calcalist, an Israeli business web site, said Microsoft and Cloudyn were discussing an acquisition for between $50 million and $70 million.
IBM and the USAF announced on Friday that the machine will run on an array of 64 TrueNorth Neurosynaptic chips. The TrueNorth chips are wired together like, and operate in a similar fashion to, the synapses within a biological brain. Each core is part of a distributed network and operate in parallel with one another on an event-driven basis. That is, these chips don’t require a clock, as conventional CPUs do, to function.
The cloud can be configured to use GPU accelerators for machine learning algorithms. GPU is a form of accelerated computing that allows graphic processors to supplement traditional processors on complex calculations – such as those involved in machine learning and algorithm training. GPUs break the previous barriers that limited parallel processing of AI applications.
By sequencing and analyzing the DNA and RNA (genetic code) of food microbiomes, researchers plan to create new tools that can help monitor raw milk to detect anomalies that represent food safety hazards and possible fraud.
While many food producers already have rigorous processes in place to ensure food safety hazards are managed appropriately, this pioneering application of genomics will be designed to enable a deeper understanding and characterization of microorganisms on a much larger scale than has previously been possible.
Much of the conversation about machine learning taking jobs focuses on the future, but Microsoft boasted its cloud service has already managed to claim one human’s position. The Custom Decision Service, which the company introduced at its Build conference last month, took over at one of Microsoft’s customers, according to Jennifer Chayes, a distinguished scientist at the company’s research arm.
“One of the startups, they were really pressed for funds, got rid of their one data scientist because this worked so much better than their data scientist,” she said during an on stage interview at a Bloomberg event in San Francisco today.
“We’re different than Amazon. Amazon offers infrastructure, and they started in infrastructure. We’re a differentiated intellectual property company. We make applications. We make platforms, databases, Java, business intelligence, analytics, machine-to-machine capability embedded in those applications,” he said.
“I would guess a quarter of the world’s infrastructure has a piece of Oracle IP running on top,” said Hurd.
The airline industry has struggled to modernize its infrastructure, and as a result has suffered a number of recent computer failures. By moving to the cloud, AA hopes to avoid similar problems while also improving the customer experience, business processes and communications.
Once the airline is migrated off its legacy infrastructure, it can rely on IBM as its services provider to ensure applications stay running. With more bandwidth, and dedicated infrastructure staff, AA will hopefully not have to deal with large-scale and damaging outages.
“A key near-term debate among investors is whether the anticipated release of a new mainframe can help IBM achieve a back-end-loaded second half.”
Mainframes are just 3% of total revenue, and 2% of profit, he notes, annually, but the whole “platform” of a mainframe, including storage, software, support contracts, and services that go with it, were nearly a quarter of IBM’s revenue last year, and 40% of profits.
If mainframe sales “decline steadily” in coming years,” it could hurt profit: “if mainframe is ~40% of company profits, and mainframe hardware falls in half over the next 15 years (about a 4% decline per year), this would negatively impacting IBM’s installed base of mainframes by about 25%, and impact mainframe profits by potentially 30%.”
Like WannaCry, the Petya ransomware demands a $300 bitcoin payment to retrieve encrypted files and hard drives. As of Wednesday morning Eastern time, the account had received around $10,000. But in a move that has caused some controversy, German email company Posteo blocked the email address the Petya hackers were using to confirm ransom payments. While some cybersecurity experts have praised the approach, others note that users whose files are held hostage have now lost their sole point of contact.
WannaCry was largely undone by the discovery of a “kill switch” that could shut it down. No such kill switch has been found so far with Petya, and experts are still working to find a way to stop it.
IBM has been selected to build a new blockchain-based international trading system for a consortium of global banks, a major win for the tech giant in the race to sell blockchain to Wall Street.
The contract is a significant win for IBM as it means the tech company’s blockchain platform — dubbed Hyperledger Fabric — will be used to build the system. That likely means lucrative servicing contracts for IBM and may make banking execs more likely to commission more Hyperledger-based products and services once they’re familiar with the system.
The companies will cooperate to co-sell Box with Azure and will work to integrate Azure’s AI and machine learning tech with Box’s content management platform.
Box’s document storage service competes with some Microsoft Office 365 products and uses Amazon Web Services, Azure’s competitor, as a backup.
Wait… doesn’t IBM have a strategic partnership with Box to do the same exact thing? Box must be doing something right to have all these companies doing their sales work for them.
Other (aka the Google section)
Antitrust experts and tech executives say that question arises in areas where tech giants have introduced major innovations—like Google’s search engine—that become gateways to the internet. EU regulators worry that tech firms, by inserting themselves into such a key role of funneling and directing consumer traffic, could take unfair advantage.
Yelp, Oracle and News Corp have signed a letter supporting EU action against Google
Seven U.S. companies and industry groups have signed a letter in support of the European Union fining Google more than $1 billion for allegedly favoring its own shopping service over others in search results.
Of course Oracle signed the letter…
The leaking of private medical records can be extremely damaging to the victims, both financially and emotionally, with future prospects affected and private lives of the vulnerable exposed. Given that Google’s indexing system will capture anything that’s publicly accessible on the internet, leaks such as those created by an Indian pathology lab which uploaded more than 43,000 patient records in December, including names and HIV blood test results, can be particularly damaging.
Google won’t stop showing ads in Gmail, though, and it’s worth noting that given how much the company already knows about all of its users, it just might not need these additional signals from Gmail. And maybe they even turned out to be relatively useless or even detrimental for ad performance.
On one hand, Tsunakawa lambasted the Western Digital at the shareholders meeting, saying it had been interfering in the sale. But the head of Toshiba’s chip unit also said the Japanese company was prepared to make concessions and hoped to resolve the dispute as soon as possible.
Toshiba argues that Western Digital’s bid for the memory unit presents anti-trust issues and is too low in price.
Western Digital has said it offer meets the 2 trillion yen ($18 billion) minimum demanded by Toshiba – a figure that appears to match the amount offered by the preferred bidder.
Photo: Stephanie McCabe
Flush with cash, SoftBank is starting to execute on their 300 year plan. Softbank took Boston Dynamics off of Google’s hands… if you are going to have a multi-century strategy, it makes sense to buy a robotics company.
Dell’s financials are down $1.5b as they pay off the massive debt incurred to buy EMC. Slack is taking in $500M of funding as AWS and Microsoft contemplate buying the company. Verizon has finally closed their acquisition of Yahoo, Marissa Mayer is officially gone.
SoftBank Group Corp. said it would buy Boston Dynamics from Alphabet Inc. The company builds robots that can perform feats such as pirouetting and climbing stairs, highlighting the Japanese company’s long-term investment horizon.
Price and other terms weren’t disclosed.
The deal comes more than a year after the Google parent dissolved its robotics group and started seeking buyers for Boston Dynamics, the unit at the centerpiece of the program. People close to Alphabet have said the company decided to sell Boston Dynamics when it resisted developing a commercial product within the next several years.
The deal also includes Schaft, a Japanese robotics maker that achieved fame by winning a challenge held by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in 2013 for robots to perform rescue tasks.
PokitDok, an API platform to free, secure, and unify data has acquired the pharmacy and software assets of Oration PBC. The acquisition enables PokitDok to complete support for delivery of essential commercial pharmacy benefit data, via its APIs, so organizations, providers and consumers have tools to make better healthcare and treatment decisions. Financial terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.
As cars get smarter, we’re going to have to deal with all of the information our daily drives create in a way we’ve never had to bother with before. Thankfully, IBM is offering to be the middleman that represents our vehicles in the confusing new world of automotive cloud telematics. The company has signed a deal with BMW that will see the BMW CarData platform connect to IBM’s Bluemix cloud. The idea is that IBM will host and analyze your information and then pass it to third parties — with your consent — when required.
“The IBM Cloud experience is currently disjointed,” Gartner writes, noting that the company hasn’t updated its SoftLayer infrastructure since its purchase two years ago.
It also wasn’t too surprising that sales of servers designed by cloud giants and supplied by ODMs grew strongly following a Q4 lull, as the likes of Amazon and Facebook continued spending heavily on capex. IDC estimated sales of such servers, which it refers to as ODM Direct, grew 41.8% to $1.2 billion (10.4% of industry revenue). It added one unnamed cloud firm single-handedly accounted for over 10% of the 2.21 million servers shipped during the quarter.
What was, surprising, though is that both firms reported Dell, the world’s second-biggest server vendor, saw meaningful sales growth in spite of the headwinds faced by peers. IDC estimated Dell’s server sales grew 4.7% to $2.37 billion, leading its market share to rise to 20.1% from 18.3% a year ago. By contrast, the firm had estimated Dell’s server sales were roughly flat in Q4. Gartner gave Dell a 19% Q1 share, up from 17.3%.
For its first quarter ending 5 May 2017, the Texas-based giant posted an operating loss of $1.5bn on revenues of $17.8bn. Dell is a private company, but still divulges its numbers, partly because it now owns VMware courtesy of its recent merger with EMC.
Dell’s Client Solutions Group saw revenue rise six per cent year on year to $9.1bn and operating income hit $374m.
Microsoft recently surpassed Oracle—for the first time ever—as the world’s best on-premise Operational Database System as ranked by Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for both execution and vision, according to Microsoft EVP Scott Guthrie, speaking at an investor conference late last year. So if Microsoft can match or surpass Oracle’s database quality and performance on-premise with SQL 2016, that’s a huge reassurance for customers looking to expand as well into the cloud.
Swisher also reports that the massive fundraising round from Slack, which currently has about $1 billion in revenue, has attracted interest in a potential acquisition from Amazon, Google, Salesforce, and Microsoft, though no formal offers have been made. Bloomberg originally reported Amazon’s interest in a Slack acquisition, with a potential bid of $9 billion or more.
“I don’t much believe in artificial intelligence,” says Harriet Green, who is one of the executives helping to run IBM’s AI platform. “I believe in augmented intelligence. With Watson, we can augment capabilities that clients already have.”
“We have reached a tipping point with IoT innovation,” Green said.
“IBM Watson IoT has more than 6,000 clients and partners around the world, many who are eager to “co-innovate,” she added. IBM is investing $3 billion to prepare Watson for IoT.
This past February, Green helped IBM open its $200 million global headquarters in Munich, Germany. The center houses the Watson Internet of Things business. It is designed to drive collaboration and innovation with dozens of clients and partners in what IBM executives call “first-ever cognitive collaboratories.”
Earlier this week, at a staff meeting in San Francisco, Uber executives revealed to the company’s 12,000 employees that 20 of their colleagues had been fired and that 57 are still being probed over harassment, discrimination and inappropriate behavior, following a string of accusations that Uber had created a toxic workplace and allowed complaints to go unaddressed for years.
Yesterday, Uber fired senior executive Eric Alexander after it was leaked to Recode that Alexander had obtained the medical records of an Uber passenger in India who was raped in 2014 by her driver.
Recode also reported that Alexander had shared the woman’s file with Kalanick and his senior vice president, Emil Michael, and that the three men suspected the woman of working with Uber’s regional competitor in India, Ola, to hamper its chances of success there.
The companies officially closed the $4.5 billion agreement Tuesday, following Yahoo shareholder approval last week. Yahoo properties including Sports and Finance will become part of a new Verizon unit called Oath, which is home to brands like AOL, TechCrunch and the Huffington Post. Oath will be overseen by former AOL Chief Executive Officer Tim Armstrong, while Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, 42, is stepping down.
Verizon Launches New Ad and Content Unit as Yahoo Deal Closes
Distribution will also be a factor: Soon, some of Oath’s content brands will be automatically available on the “decktop” of Verizon subscribers’ phones through its AppFlash app, for example. Verizon’s go90 mobile video app, will also become more integrated with Oath’s content properties. And entirely new mobile content brands are set to launch before the end of the year, created by Oath’s internal Factory unit.
Photo: Alex Knight
The keystone topics that drive this blog (AI and cloud) were quiet this week, while concepts like security and software claimed more space.
WannaCry was a dominant topic early in the week highlighting the need for IT security focus throughout the entire organization.
IBM has been making headlines not for cloud or AI, but for their remote work policies (again) and product line retirements.
AWS is getting good press for showing the value of experience in a culture that “doesn’t trust anyone over 30”.
Codenvy is the company built on top of the open source project, Eclipse Che, which fits with Red Hat’s overall strategy to build commercial tools on top of open source projects. It offers a cloud-based integrated development environment (IDEs) for individual developers, teams or enterprises. IDEs are essentially workspaces for coding, building and testing apps.
The company did not reveal the purchase price.
Hexadite has to date raised $10.5 million in funding, according to Crunchbase, with investors including HP Ventures, YL Ventures, TenEleven Ventures and Moshe Lichtman of Israel Venture Partners. Notably, Lichtman is a ten-year veteran of Microsoft, which could point to one connection between the startup and its alleged acquirer. Its last round, of $8 million, was raised last year.
If accurate, the Hexadite acquisition would be one of a series of security acquisitions that Microsoft has made in Israel. Past deals include Aorato, Adallom and Secure Islands.
When Softbank announced the first close of its Vision Fund this weekend — securing an initial commitment of $93 billion, from investors including Apple, Qualcomm and Foxconn — it also quietly disclosed it had taken a stake in Nvidia.
Bloomberg is today reporting the size of that stake is $4 billion, for 4.9 per cent of the company, which it says would make Softbank the fourth largest investor in the chipmaker.
On Wednesday, he announced the launch of the bipartisan Congressional Artificial Intelligence Caucus, which will look to inform lawmakers on the current state of AI and then push for policy that could boost economic activity around AI and help citizens whose jobs are being replaced by automation.
Regarding potential job loss:
Despite some fears about the effects of automation and AI on the workforce, Delaney is optimistic. “Data clearly demonstrates that innovation creates more jobs than it takes away,” Delaney told CNBC. The trouble is that people don’t understand the nature of the jobs that will be created, he said. The caucus will focus on these issues, as well as education, immigration reform and funding basic research.
Delaney is familiar with the idea of universal basic income, where the government would pay all citizens a basic stipend to let them buy necessities. Some Silicon Valley leaders have discussed this as a way to help workers whose jobs will increasingly be replaced by automation.
It is now clear that Salesforce sees AWS as a strategic ally as it battles all of those rivals. Salesforce had formerly been quite chummy with Microsoft, but that relationship soured fast when Microsoft outbid Salesforce in its $26.2 billion bid to buy LinkedIn. While Microsoft had always competed somewhat with Salesforce in sales software known as customer relationship management or CRM, the competition has heated up since that development. Speaking with Jim Cramer on CNBC Thursday, Benioff made sure to say that 21st Century Fox is moving 20,000 employees from Microsoft Office to Quip, business software that Salesforce acquired two years ago.
According to data released today by Kaspersky Lab, roughly 98 percent of the computers affected by the ransomware were running some version of Windows 7, with less than one in a thousand running Windows XP. 2008 R2 Server clients were also hit hard, making up just over 1 percent of infections.
For WannaCry Victims, a Possible Way Out (not really)
By Friday, a second French computer-security researcher, Benjamin Delpy, built a tool called Wannakiwi that does the heavy lifting of unscrambling the encrypted files. Europol, the European Union’s police agency, said Friday its cybercrime center had tested the tool and succeeded in recovering data in some circumstances.
Because the Wannakiwi tool works by grabbing data from the computer’s memory, it only will work for a small number of fortunate users.
Despite all the money we’ve spent—Gartner estimates $81.6 billion on cybersecurity in 2016—things are, on the whole, getting worse, says Chris Bronk, associate director of the Center for Information Security Research and Education at the University of Houston. “Some individual companies are doing better,” adds Dr. Bronk. “But as an entire society, we’re not doing better yet.”
The article provides several suggestions on how to deal with security issues, especially for smaller companies:
Retrain IT staff on security—or replace them. In today’s world of ever-multiplying threats and dependence on connected assets, all IT staff must now be cybersecurity staff first. “The good news is that you don’t need that dedicated person to run your email server anymore—they can run security,” says Dr. Bronk.
All of this raises the question of whether Microsoft, which declined to comment for this story, should have done more to fix the faulty software in the first place. The company’s after-the-fact approach to safety differs from other industries, such as car companies, where manufacturers have faced massive liability for failing to warn people about faulty ignition switches and other defective products.
There’s also the fact Windows is a closed software platform. This means any defects in its source code are hard to detect because the internal workings that make it run—the source code—are all but invisible to those outside the company. This is why some people like Eban Moglen, a noted computer law professor at Columbia University, considers platforms like Windows to be intrinsically dangerous.
IBM’s product is called “Emptoris”, from a company of the same name, and was reported to have come with a US$600m price tag when Big Blue acquired it in 2011. Big Blue bought Emptoris to advance the “Smarter Commerce” play it ran a few years ago, in pursuit of what it described as “a $20 billion market opportunity in software alone.”
Never knew the investment IBM made on Emptoris…
As technology, Hadoop is broadly used across the computing infrastructure of web service providers. Big Data is proliferating as well in commercial uses. As it is increasingly adopted in Enterprise computing, its attractiveness as a business will become increasingly clear. Hadoop is far less costly than present comparable Enterprise technologies such as Data Warehousing. Surely it offers strong growth. Yet for some specific reasons, Hadoop is relatively less profitable than other types of software, mainly because so much of the technology is Open Source and freely available. There is no fee in its licensing, as we noted above. No fee revenue, less profit
James Gosling plans to join Amazon Web Services (AWS) as a “distinguished engineer,” according to a Facebook post penned by Gosling on Monday. Gosling did not say what he’ll do at AWS. But in addition to programming, Gosling is also familiar with the process of deploying IoT systems, according to Venture Beat.
Companies like AWS and Google are increasingly dependent on programmers to help them make technologies more useful to the general public by creating applications. Both companies have been known to give away cloud credits and other gifts to developers willing to help them. Bringing Gosling on board helps show programmers that AWS is programmer-friendly and could help the company attract more of them.
For the first time in four years, Lenovo—a company that gained acclaim a decade ago for turning around storied U.S. personal-computer maker IBM — slipped from the top spot this year to No. 2 in the personal-computer market, behind rival Hewlett-Packard. Lenovo has also fallen to No. 8 in the number of smartphones shipped globally, from No. 3 when it acquired another U.S. brand, Motorola, in late 2014.
Lenovo’s Hong Kong-listed stock has fallen nearly 60% since the Motorola acquisition.
“Imagine you’re a government employee and you take a trip. In the U.S., as soon as it’s approved and before you’ve even taken it, the government needs to set aside the money and record the liability for that approved spend, and then they need that approval to flow into all the impacted cost centers,” he said. “How you encumber, how you take that spend and how you put it as a liability, it starts to look like a core ERP use case.”
Koch sees a billion-dollar opportunity for SAP and its integration partners in the 90,000 U.S. government entities that are potential users of ByDesign.
This analysis is like saying that because someone built a bridge, they also created the entire city on far side of it. It’s absurd, and in fact the argument was already tried and found wanting in a federal court just three weeks ago. Anyone with a modicum of technical knowledge will find this explanation of how the internet and web work truly wrongheaded and entirely incorrect. It’s hard to think of this as anything other than a willful misrepresentation of the facts.
Although some level of wrangling is common in such deals, the back-and-forth from the Saudi negotiators, mostly PIF lawyers, made SoftBank executives begin to wonder if the Saudis were stalling. On at least one occasion, SoftBank executives sought assurance from PIF that the fund wouldn’t be scuttled. PIF negotiators assured their Japanese counterparts that MbS was 100% committed to its success.
SoftBank, which has 80 people in Silicon Valley and London looking for and processing deals, already has lined up a dozen deals of a billion dollars or more for the fund to invest in, with plans to work on “blockbuster” transactions of tens of billions of dollars in the future, said a person who helped set up the fund.
Photo: Flash Bros