Microsoft To Ramp Up R&D, Hiring

Microsoft says it plans to spend nearly US$7 billion on research and development in the current fiscal year and will add as many as 5,000 jobs, including at least 3,000 in the United States, as it pushes toward what it sees as a bright future for software despite the tech downturn.

“We believe that we’re just at the beginning of what we can do with software,” chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates said during a day-long analysts’ meeting.

“If we take any of the different audiences — we address the IT audience, the developer audience, the knowledge worker audience, the way business processes are done, the way people deal with information at home — in every one of those cases, we’ve really just scratched the surface in terms of the scenarios that software can enable.”

New and Improved

While making it clear that it would seek to remain the gold standard for traditional computing platforms, Microsoft also used the conference to highlight its focus on new devices, from Internet-enabled watches to advanced mobile phone software and Tablet PC platforms that can draw information from several sources.

Earlier in the week, the software giant announced that two of the biggest cable companies in the United States plan to test-drive its set-top box software.

“Microsoft is doubling back to what made it the dominant company in operating systems,” Forrester Research analyst Rob Enderle told the E-Commerce Times. “If it makes the best products, it will be the company that people choose.”

Show and Tell

Gates used his time at the meeting to demonstrate some of the improved functionality coming to the Tablet, such as the ability to share personal calendars with family members or friends via Microsoft’s MSN online service.

Other news at the conference came from Eric Rudder, who oversees the company’s server and developer tools business. He said Microsoft is poised to ship a Small Business Server version of Windows Server 2003 by year’s end.

Money and Jobs

Microsoft also said it will increase its R&D budget by 8 percent, boosting spending to $6.8 billion. Of the new employees, between 3,000 and 3,500 will be added in the United States, an announcement likely to help soothe the fears of unions in Microsoft’s hometown of Redmond, Washington, that the software giant was looking to ship significant numbers of jobs overseas.

The enhanced R&D effort might come as welcome news to Microsoft’s users, who have been barraged in recent weeks with information about newly discovered flaws in a range of the company’s products. The most recent revelation involved a “critical” flaw in the DirectX graphics interface in almost all Windows installations.

Judging Billy

Meanwhile, across the country, the judge who approved Microsoft’s still-controversial settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice said the company is making progress in complying with the order, citing moves to revamp licensing agreements between Microsoft and third-party software firms. Microsoft has revamped its licensing deals to reduce up-front payments and royalty rates.

U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly said Microsoft has “been responsive” and is making progress, but she also said she will continue to “watch closely.”

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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW

Nasuni Founder Andres Rodriguez: Object Storage Offers More Cloud Benefits, Lower Cost

Object storage in the cloud is one of the significant options for organizations looking for a more efficient solution to their growing digital and cloud transformation needs. Its search capabilities and unlimited scaling make object storage ideal for unstructured data.

Nasuni, a cloud storage company headquartered in Boston, focuses on taking advantage of cloud properties — unlimited capacity, scalability, global access, and resiliency — to create a cloud-native enterprise file system.

Spearheading a built-from-the-ground-up goal, Nasuni CTO and Founder Andres Rodriguez, launched his company’s technology to replace traditional network-attached storage (NAS) and file server silos. His approach consolidates all of an enterprise’s global files. It does this in expandable cloud object storage that can be centrally managed via a web browser.

“Customers can deploy virtual appliances at their offices, and they will cache the most recent version of the working set of files locally to provide excellent performance. Changes are uploaded regularly to immutable, gold copies in the cloud, and then synchronized globally,” Rodriguez told TechNewsWorld.

These appliances do not have to be in a data center or office. More than 80 percent of his customers deploy them as virtual machines. The technology eliminates the need for complex legacy file backup and disaster recovery infrastructure.

“Data protection is built into our file system. It happens automatically. Additionally, our file system is built on extremely efficient snapshots, so if and when IT needs to restore data, it only takes a few minutes, even for very large data sets,” he explained.

Building Upon Previous Roots

Rodriguez had worked as CTO at a large media outlet where he oversaw massive digitalization of the company’s archives. Seeing the promise of object storage, in 2003 he founded Archivas, which built the first enterprise-class cloud storage system based on his object storage methods.

Andres Rodriguez, Founder & CTO, Nasuni
Nasuni Founder & CTO Andres Rodriguez

He saw firsthand the storage problems that companies faced as they digitized massive content archives. He founded to solve those problems by taking advantage of object storage, which was still nascent technology at that time.

“Object storage is an extremely efficient, fast medium for storing fixed data that does not change much. So, it is ideal for storing media,” Rodriguez said.

Archivas enabled customers to build large arrays, creating a sort of early private cloud. Ultimately, of course, when the public cloud emerged, much of its storage infrastructure was built on object storage.

“So, in a very real way, Archivas was a cloud storage pioneer,” he noted.

Hitachi Data Systems later bought Archivas. Rodriguez then founded Nasuni. The company’s expanded technology makes it easy to collaborate on files across continents thanks to its high-speed file synchronization and global file locking capabilities.

“All this additional functionality comes at half the total cost of traditional file storage,” Rodriguez said.

Object Storage 101

Object storage is a newer concept compared to block storage. Block storage, traditionally used on storage devices such as hard drives over a network, stores data in fixed-size chunks called blocks. A single block only stores a portion of the data. The remaining data chunks attach to other blocks.

The application makes requests to find the correct address of all the blocks on the storage device. No metadata is associated with blocks, and the requested address is the only identifying part of a block.

This structure provides fast performance when the application and storage are local. But this process can cause increased latency the further apart they are.

Object storage, on the other hand, bundles customizable metadata tags and a unique identifier to form objects. These objects, in turn, are stored with no limit to how many objects are stored for that file. This makes object storage much easier to scale out.

Success Story

Nasuni on March 24 announced a $60 million equity investment by new investor Sixth Street Growth. This is the fourth round of financing for Nasuni over the last five years, during which it has raised a total of $148 million.

I spoke further with Rodriquez about his journey to found Nasuni and the company’s offerings.

TechNewsWorld: How did you get from Archivas to founding Nasuni?

Andres Rodriguez: After Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) acquired Archivas in 2007, I spent a year there overseeing the integration. It was clear the cloud was the future of IT infrastructure. I already did extensive work with object storage at Archivas, and the cloud was in many ways Archivas on an exponentially grander scale.

We saw a tremendous opportunity to leverage snapshotting technology and the scale of object storage to build a cloud-native file system. We built in all the advantages of the cloud, but with the performance of a local NAS.

How does Nasuni handle digitalization in business storage?

Rodriguez: We enable it! We accelerate digital and cloud transformations by managing one of the more difficult pieces of the puzzle. Files are by far the largest and fastest-growing segment of a company’s data, and the last piece to shift to the cloud.

We store files, make them easily accessible across the globe, enable cross-continent collaboration, and provide automatic data protection. Also, because all that file data is already stored in the cloud, it is easy to connect that data to cloud services like AI, machine learning, and advanced analytics tools. This makes the file data even more valuable.

How are the services Archivas provided different from what Nasuni offers?

Rodriguez: Archivas was a large piece of storage equipment designed to store massive amounts of media. Nasuni, on the other hand, is a cloud-native subscription service that provides a global enterprise file system that helps companies shrink their physical infrastructure footprint.

Both store data and are built on object storage. But they are aimed at very different use cases.

What obstacles does digitalization present to enterprises?

Rodriguez: Cloud is an enormous element of digitalization. The vast majority of enterprise IT infrastructure will eventually move to the cloud. One of the biggest obstacles to cloud migration is understanding the difference between cloud-native and cloud-washed systems.

Many vendors have simply taken storage products that were designed for on-premises deployments and retooled them for the cloud. The end result is often the worst of both worlds. They force companies to shift to the cloud while relying on technology that was engineered for a physical data center.

How does Nasumi’s cloud storage solution work?

Rodriguez: Our cloud-native file system, UniFS, stores the gold copy of each file in the cloud of the customers’ choice. We have partnerships with AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud. Customers could also deploy Nasuni to work with a private cloud as the back end.

The working set of file data is stored on local virtual appliances or virtual appliances deployed in a nearby cloud to provide strong performance. Changes to data are uploaded to the gold copy in the cloud as highly efficient storage snapshots. It is then easy to roll back to any copy at any point in time.

Customers can take a snapshot of the entire file system as often as every few minutes. Snapshots are stored in object storage as read-only data, so the data is protected against ransomware attacks. And customers can roll back to any previous version of an individual file or the entire file share at any time. It only takes minutes to do so, which provides near-instant recovery capability.

Where do you see this technology headed in the short term?

Rodriguez: Nasuni is positioned to become the standard file system for the global enterprise. Nasuni continues to add additional capabilities to our file system. For instance, last year, we made it very simple to connect data to cloud services such as AI and advanced analytics tools.

We also introduced Global File Acceleration, which automatically propagates new file data across appliances for faster collaboration. Global users sharing files gain the very fastest access to new data that they need most. So much more in the works, too, as we have made tremendous investments in engineering and technology development. 

Jack M. Germain

Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open-source technologies. He is an esteemed reviewer of Linux distros and other open-source software. In addition, Jack extensively covers business technology and privacy issues, as well as developments in e-commerce and consumer electronics. Email Jack.

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OSS News: Enterprise Linux, Microsoft Replacements, Fuzzy Linux Solutions

Open-source innovations and the Linux operating system continue to set complacency aside.

The Linux Foundation is ever-expanding its influence as it brings more developer projects under its banner, leaving no room for proprietary software to rule the computing world.

LF is the world’s leading home for collaboration on open-source software, open standards, open data, and open hardware. Learn about the importance of NextArch and OpenBytes, two of LF’s newest creations.

Red Hat Linux pushed forward in recent weeks with two updates to further innovate enterprise computing. What difference can numbers make? Check out the significance of Red Hat’s recent release of RHEL version 8.5 versus the also just-released RHEL 9 Beta.

Also check out in this column why new fuzzing developments are good for your cybersecurity. Tired of going online to access the Microsoft Office suite on your Linux computer? Learn about two new alternative office suites you can run with full compatibility from your Linux hard drive.

LibreOffice Update Closes Out the Series

The Document Foundation on Nov. 4 announced the release and general availability of LibreOffice 7.1.7 as the last point release in the LibreOffice 7.1 office suite series.

The LibreOffice 7.1 office suite was released in February. It is supported until the end of November, after which the LibreOffice 7.1 series reaches the end of life. No new maintenance updates will be published.

LibreOffice 7.1.7 is a minor update to address 27 bugs across the office suite’s various core components. You can see details about them in the RC1 and RC2 changelogs.

This renders your installation vulnerable and outdated. No new maintenance releases for the 7.1 series will be issued. It is being replaced with LibreOffice 7.2, which is supported until June 12th, 2022. You can download it here. Or you can wait for it to be available in the various Linux distribution repositories.

LibreOffice 7.2 brings many new features and improvements, as well as better support for proprietary formats created with the MS Office suite. The latest point release is LibreOffice 7.2.2, but version 7.2.3 is expected to arrive by the end of the month.

New SoftMaker FreeOffice 2021 Now Available

If you are not a fan of the LibreOffice suite for Linux, SoftMaker’s FreeOffice suite for Linux may be more to your liking. FreeOffice is a free full-fledged alternative to Microsoft Office. Its latest completely revised version became available last month.

FreeOffice is seamlessly compatible with Microsoft Office with support for modern and classic Microsoft formats. It comes with support for the SVG graphic format, new functions, and improved import and export functions. An added benefit for Linux users who also run Windows or macOS computers, FreeOffice 2021 now also offers the option to use a license simultaneously with Windows and macOS.

The suite includes the word processing software TextMaker, the spreadsheet software PlanMaker, and the presentation software called Presentations. All three programs contain numerous innovations and improvements that make work even more efficient than previous releases. FreeOffice 2021 can be used with either modern ribbons or classic menus and toolbars.

The FreeOffice suite is the free offshoot of the commercial package SoftMaker Office. FreeOffice 2021 can be downloaded free of charge at freeoffice.com.

Linux Foundation Tackles Diverse Computing Environments

The Linux Foundation announced earlier this month at its Membership Summit the creation of the NextArch Foundation. The new Foundation is a neutral home for open-source developers and contributors to build a next-generation architecture that can support compatibility between an increasing array of microservices.

Cloud-native computing, artificial intelligence (AI), the internet of things (IoT), edge computing, and much more have led businesses down a path of massive opportunity and transformation. But a lack of intelligent, centralized architecture prevents enterprises and developers from fully realizing their promise.

The NextArch Foundation will address that glaring gap. Developers today face seemingly impossible decisions among different technical infrastructures and the proper tool for a variety of problems, said Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation.

“Every tool brings learning costs and complexities that developers do not have the time to navigate. Yet there is the expectation that they keep up with accelerated development and innovation,” he explained. “NextArch Foundation will improve ease of use and reduce the cost for developers to drive the evolution of next-generation technology architectures.

NextArch will leverage infrastructure through architecture and design to automate development, operations, and project processes to increase the autonomy of development teams. Enterprises will gain easy-to-use and cost-effective tools to solve the problems of productization and commercialization in their digital transformation journey.

“This is an important effort with a big mission, and it can only be done in the open-source community. We are happy to support this community and help build open governance practices that benefit developers throughout its ecosystem,” said Mike Dolan, senior vice president and general manager of projects at Linux Foundation.

Project OpenBytes Makes Open Data More Accessible

The Linux Foundation earlier this month announced the new OpenBytes project, spearheaded by Graviti, to make open data more available and accessible through the creation of data standards and formats.

Scores of AI projects have been held up for a long time by a general lack of high-quality data from real use cases, according to Edward Cui, Graviti’s founder. His company wants to change that situation.

“Acquiring higher quality data is paramount if AI development is to progress. To accomplish that, an open data community built on collaboration and innovation is urgently needed. Graviti believes it is our social responsibility to play our part,” he said.

A standard format of data published, shared, and exchanged on its open platform, will help data contributors and consumers easily find the relevant data they need and make collaboration easier, Cui explained.

Large tech companies already realize the potential of open data. But no well-established open data community with neutral and transparent governance across various organizations in a collaborative effort exists, according to LF.

“The future of software is being eaten by open source, as well as data-sharing. OpenByte’s announcement is a great signal for all developers on the accessibility of datasets. We are very excited to see standardized datasets available to a broader community, which will massively benefit AI engineers,” said Bing He, co-founder and COO at Jina AI.

Better Cyber Fuzzing for Software Devs

Continuous fuzzing over the years has become an essential part of the software development lifecycle. By feeding unexpected or random data into a program, fuzzing catches bugs that would otherwise slip through the most thorough manual checks and provides coverage that would take staggering human effort to replicate.

The U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) recently issued new guidelines for software verification in response to the White House Executive Order on Improving the Nation’s Cybersecurity. That action specifies fuzzing among the minimum standard requirements for code verification.

Google on Nov. 11 announced the release of ClusterFuzzLite, an open-source continuous fuzzing solution that runs as part of continuous integration (CI)/continuous deployment (CD) workflows to find vulnerabilities faster than ever before.

With just a few lines of code, GitHub users can integrate ClusterFuzzLite into their workflow and fuzz pull requests to catch bugs before they are committed, enhancing the overall security of the software supply chain.

Since its release in 2016, over 500 critical open-source projects have been integrated into Google’s OSS-Fuzz program, resulting in over 6,500 vulnerabilities and 21,000 functional bugs being fixed. ClusterFuzzLite goes hand-in-hand with OSS-Fuzz, by catching regression bugs much earlier in the development process, according to Google.

Fuzzing is an extremely effective way to catch bugs that would otherwise be overlooked. The slow process is not always integrated into development processes, according to Jonathan Metzman, software engineer on the Google Open Source Security Team. ClusterFuzzLite offers a continuous solution that is an integrated part of the CI/CD workflows, making finding bugs much easier and faster.

“ClusterFuzzLite complements ClusterFuzz by being easy to set up and work with both open source and closed source projects. For example, a GitHub user can use ClusterFuzzLite on GitHub actions with just one simple configuration file,” he told LinuxInsider.

“It also fuzzes pull requests and commits, allowing it to catch bugs before they land. ClusterFuzz does not offer this feature, and therefore ClusterFuzzLite is complementary for users who are already using ClusterFuzz,” he said.

RHEL 8.5 Releases Addresses Deployment Complexity

Red Hat on Nov. 10 announced the general availability of Red Hat Enterprise Linux 8.5. REHL is an enterprise Linux platform. It offers a common open operating system that extends across clouds, traditional data center operations, and out to the edge.

Version 8.5 provides new capabilities to meet evolving and complex IT needs, from enhanced cloud-native container innovations to extending Linux skills with system roles, on whatever footprint our customers require.

RHEL 8.5 is designed to offer a refined platform for the hybrid world. It addresses the needs of traditional data centers as well as complex multi-cloud and edge computing deployments to enhance digital transformation.

Red Hat Enterprise Linux 8.5 is now generally available via the Red Hat Customer Portal.

RHEL 8.5 is designed to offer solutions as a backbone to public cloud providers, multiple hardware architectures, virtualized environments, and edge computing models, according to Red Hat. This can be a solution to organizations that find using public cloud exclusively may not be economically feasible for long-term scale.

Wait, REHL Has a New Beta

If you do not have mission-critical work and want more cutting edge, you can skip the latest stable release of RHEL 8.5 in favor of the REHL 9 Beta released on Nov. 3 instead.

Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) 9 Beta is now available with new features and many more improvements. The newest beta release is based on upstream kernel version 5.14 and provides a preview of the next major update of RHEL. Like version 8.5, this release is designed for demanding hybrid multi-cloud deployments that range from physical, on-premises, public cloud to edge.

Unlike previous major releases of RHEL, the version 9 Beta release has fewer changes that require admins and IT Ops to figure out. Go here for the full picture.

Jack M. Germain

Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open-source technologies. He is an esteemed reviewer of Linux distros and other open-source software. In addition, Jack extensively covers business technology and privacy issues, as well as developments in e-commerce and consumer electronics. Email Jack.

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