Tag Archives: FRANCISCO

End-user security requires a shift in corporate culture

SAN FRANCISCO — An internal culture change can help organizations put end-user security on the front burner.

If an organization only addresses security once a problem arises, it’s already too late. But it’s common for companies, especially startups, to overlook security because it can get in the way of productivity. That’s why it’s important for IT departments to create a company culture where employees and decision-makers take security seriously when it comes to end-user data and devices.

“Security was definitely an afterthought,” said Keane Grivich, IT infrastructure manager at Shorenstein Realty Services in San Francisco, at last week’s BoxWorks conference. “Then we saw some of the high-profile [breaches] and our senior management fully got on board with making sure that our names didn’t appear in the newspaper.”

How to create a security-centric culture

Improving end-user security starts with extensive training on topics such as what data is safe to share and what a malicious website looks like. That forces users to take responsibility for their actions and understand the risks of certain behaviors.

Plus, if security is a priority, the IT security team will feel like a part of the company, not just an inconvenience standing in users’ way.

“Companies get the security teams they deserve,” said Cory Scott, chief information security officer at LinkedIn. “Are you the security troll in the back room or are you actually part of the business decisions and respected as a business-aligned person?”

Finger-pointing is a complete impediment to learning.
Brian Roddyengineering executive, Cisco

When IT security professionals feel that the company values them, they are more likely to stick around as well. With the shortage of qualified security pros, retaining talent is key.

Keeping users involved in the security process helps, too. Instead of locking down a user’s PC when a user accesses a suspicious file, for example, IT can send him a message checking if he performed a certain action. If the user says he accessed the file, then IT knows someone is not impersonating the user. If he did not, then IT knows there is an intruder and it must act.

To keep end-user security top of mind, it’s important to make things such as changing passwords easy for users. IT can make security easier for developers as well by setting up security frameworks that they can apply to applications they’re building.

It’s also advisable to take a blameless approach when possible.

“Finger-pointing is a complete impediment to learning,” said Brian Roddy, an engineering executive who oversees the cloud security business at Cisco, in a session. “The faster we can be learning, the better we can respond and the more competitive we can be.”

Don’t make it easy for attackers

Once the end-user security culture is in place, IT should take steps to shore up the simple things.

Unpatched software is one of the easiest ways for attackers to enter a company’s network, said Colin Black, COO at CrowdStrike, a cybersecurity technology company based in Sunnyvale, Calif.

IT can also make it harder for hackers by adding extra security layers such as two-factor authentication. 

Box Skills, machine learning technology pique IT interest

SAN FRANCISCO — Box shops will be able to help users gain more intelligent insight into their content with new machine learning technology in the content management tool.

Box Skills, introduced here at the company’s annual BoxWorks conference, makes it easier to search for visual and audio content and view information about it. Box Feed uses machine learning to curate content for specific users. Plus, new features in Box Relay aim to improve employee workflows. These capabilities caught the interest of attendees at the show.

“It was kind of nice to see Box incorporating [AI] to start relaying things to certain people at the right time in the right place,” said Ryan Foltz, business systems engineer at Barnhardt Manufacturing Company in Charlotte, N.C.

How Box Skills works

Box Skills is a framework that serves as a layer of abstraction between the content organizations upload to Box and the machine learning. It focuses on three areas: Image Intelligence, Audio Intelligence and Video Intelligence.

With the Image Intelligence component, based on Google Cloud Platform technology, Box automatically tags aspects of an image such as the subject, colors and logos, as well as uploads any text from it. Users can click the tags to access other images with similar contents.

The whole workflow looks really nice.
Will Sheppardtechnical support specialist, The Enthusiast Network

Video Intelligence uses Microsoft Cognitive Services to provide facial recognition to identify people in a video. It also can show users where repeated phrases come up, and extracts a transcript of the video that users can apply as closed captioning. Audio Intelligence functions similarly, without the visual aspect, and is based on IBM Watson technology.

Using the new Box Skills Kit for developers, organizations can also customize what information within a file the machine learning technology tracks. The tool can track tone of voice in a phone conversation, for example, or pull out specific words a company is interested in and show within the Box content when those words were said. Developers can also customize information in documents such as invoices or contracts, and have Box extract information such as dates, signatures, payment amounts and vendor names. That not only extracts the data, but allows users to fill that information in automatically moving forward.

Image Intelligence is currently in beta, and Video Intelligence and Audio Intelligence will come to beta in 2018, Box said.

Box Feed puts relevant information in front of users

Box Feed, powered by Box Graph machine learning technology, was also previewed at the conference and will be available next year. This feature can help users find the content most relevant to them. It shows users active content — files they have been working on or are mentioned in — as well as other relevant content, which appears in a feed based on who is working on the file and what the content is. If a user generally collaborates with another user who is working on a document, for example, it will likely show up in the relevant section. It also shows trending files, or ones that many users throughout the organization are accessing. 

As interesting as these new features are, some companies might need some time to apply them. Barnhardt Manufacturing Company, for instance, is an old organization, but its leaders are getting more and more interested in business data intelligence, said Pete Chantry, application systems manager at the company.

 “We’ve got to allow a little bit of time for them to get accustomed to the basic [enterprise content management] features of Box,” Chantry said.

Updates to Box Relay

Box Relay for workflow automation, announced last year and generally available next month, will get some enhancements as well.

First, the add-on will allow workflows to launch automatically, so if a user uploads a resume of a prospective employee for example, the workflow associated with that kind of document will start automatically. Box also plans to release APIs so IT can integrate Relay with existing third-party applications and automated processes. In addition, users will be able to e-sign documents directly in Box. Finally, a new dashboard will let users manage multiple workflows at the same time by showing every active workflow and what step it is on.   

“I like the way that all ties together,” said Will Sheppard, technical support specialist at The Enthusiast Network based in Los Angeles. “The whole workflow looks really nice.”

Other new features in Box Relay include the ability to invite other users to edit a document and assign them tasks with due dates within the document. There is also a new annotation tool that allows users to write a comment on a specific aspect of a document and tag other users to look at that exact area.

In addition, users no longer have to download previous versions of a document; they can preview them with a single click. Plus, when a user accesses a document, Box will highlight any changes that other users have made since the last time he was in it, and show which user made the edits. Finally, users can thread comments and mark them as resolved.   

Like Box Skills, Relay presents some enticing features for IT, but those at Barnhardt Manufacturing Company are unsure of how to apply Relay immediately.

“I don’t know how often we’d use it, but if we had it, it’d certainly be a nice feature for us,” Foltz said.

Oracle cloud security beefed up amid unprotected data worries

SAN FRANCISCO — Last week saw an expansion of data handling and machine learning capabilities for Oracle cloud security and management product lines.

The rollout came along with some warnings about the dangers of unprotected data, and a few brickbats for upstart rival Splunk, which has made headway in the field of security information and event management (SIEM).

Oracle’s updates appear amid a whirl of headlines on a massive data breach at Equifax, the large credit and collections agency that this year put millions of Americans’ private data at risk. Some viewers suggest the breach was the work of state-sponsored hackers.

Among those viewers is Oracle founder and CTO Larry Ellison, who chose Oracle’s OpenWorld 2017 event to roll out updates to its Oracle Management Cloud and Oracle Security Monitoring and Analytics Cloud Service. State-sponsored hackers up the ante in cybersecurity, he said.

“Companies have to defend themselves against nation-states. And, some of these guys are very good at what they do,” Ellison warned. “This is really a very bad situation.”

Looking for bad patterns

Oracle database security has been a strong selling point for the company over many years, although its overall security came in for continual criticism after a 2008 purchase of Sun Microsystems that included Java and the J2EE framework.

Larry Ellison, founder and CTO, OracleLarry Ellison

Now, Oracle cloud security is gaining special focus. Oracle cloud security efforts were buttressed in 2016 with acquisitions, including DNS services provider Dyn and cloud access broker provider Palerra. For its new releases, acquired services are further strengthened by data management and machine learning advances forged within Oracle. 

As described by Ellison and others, the essence of the updates to Oracle Management Cloud and Oracle Security Monitoring and Analytics Cloud Service rely on a well-curated, unified data store for massive amounts of log and other activity data.

Add to that a heaping helping of machine learning algorithms that look for good and bad patterns of activity. Finally, runbook-style automation will be employed to fix more and more security flaws without human intervention.

Splunk-y rival attracts wrath of Larry

Oracle OpenWorld sometimes serves as a stage for leader Ellison’s zest for heated competition. Last year, with cloud database technology being showcased, he berated Amazon Web Services. This year, with Oracle’s enhanced data, cloud and security management software on the docket, Ellison’s targets expanded to include Splunk, a San Francisco-based software company that has made a mark in log analysis in addition to SIEM.

Ellison challenged Splunk for lack of an entity model for unified data handling, difficult-to-use machine learning and lack of remediation capabilities. In his view, not surprisingly, the Oracle offering is better.

“It is not simply an analytical system, like Splunk. It is a security monitoring and management system designed to detect and remediate the problem,” he told the OpenWorld gathering.

Splunk — again, not surprisingly — responded. In a blog post entitled “Splunk Fires Back at Ludicrous Larry,” CEO Doug Merritt contended that there are drawbacks to single, unified repositories for threat and contextual data. Merritt dismissed Ellison’s assertion that Splunk is purely an analytical system, without remediation capabilities, citing hooks, for example, to ServiceNow operations automation. And, while Splunk does provide an SDK for data scientists, its capabilities are within reach of “anyone in IT, security or the business, no data science degree required,” he said.

“It was flattering that Oracle finally woke up to the power of machine data and the importance of security,” Merritt wrote. The blog post concludes with a photo of a capsized Oracle America’s Cup series catamaran.

Threats to Oracle cloud security

Oracle will find some favor with its security monitoring and analytics cloud services because they’re logical add-ons for its growing number of cloud-based offerings, according to Eric Parizo, a senior analyst at GlobalData Technology. The new services also have the potential to be a disruptive force among security offerings, Parizo said, if the company provides a cloud-based alternative that’s truly easier to use.

“Oracle sees Splunk succeeding with a security-centric approach that mirrors a lot of what Oracle does in the data management realm, so Oracle believes it is recapturing an opportunity it should have pursued earlier,” he said.

Still, Parizo continued, “it’s impossible to ignore Oracle’s poor track record on cybersecurity.” Over many years, Oracle has “released products rife with security flaws, and ignored those flaws for months or in some cases years after they’ve been widely known,” he said. “The company has a lot of work to do to prove its cybersecurity solutions are effective, and that its approach toward security has evolved enough to justify an investment.”

Meanwhile, Oracle may have found an out for at least some portion of its bad security press. The company recently ceded great portions of its Java software assets to the open source community, putting future revisions largely in the hands of the Eclipse Foundation.

The move could mean that Java flaws, many of which Oracle inherited along with its purchase of Java originator Sun, will become the responsibility of a wider group of software developers.

Java 18.3 marks the future of Java at JavaOne 2017

SAN FRANCISCO — While Oracle has committed to a faster cadence for releasing Java technology every six months, the company also is making sure to maintain a pipeline of new technology that’s ready to go in each release.

The next major release of Java, known as Java 18.3, is scheduled for March 2018 and will feature some of the innovations coming out of projects Oracle is currently working on that will affect the future of Java.

During his keynote at the JavaOne 2017 conference, Mark Reinhold, chief architect of the Java platform group at Oracle, identified four projects the company is working on that will bear fruit for Java 18.3 and subsequent releases.

Four projects will affect the future of Java

Reinhold identified Project Valhalla, Project Panama, Project Amber and Project Loom as key initiatives from which Java developers can expect to gain innovation in the not-too-distant future.

According to Reinhold, Project Panama is about foreign function interface data-layout control. It seeks to improve the connection between Java and native data and native code. The project focuses on interconnecting the Java Virtual Machine (JVM) and native code — a key concept for the future of Java. A description of the project on Oracle’s website said it is about enriching the connections between the JVM and well-defined but “foreign” or non-Java APIs, including many interfaces commonly used by C programmers.

The goal of Project Valhalla is to explore advanced Java Virtual Machine and language features, such as value types and generic specialization.

Meanwhile, Project Amber is about right-sizing language ceremony, he said. It’s about delivering smaller, productivity-oriented Java language features, such as local-variable type inference, enhanced enums, Lambda leftovers and more.

And Project Loom is aimed at bringing continuations and new features known as fibers to the Java platform to simplify concurrency for developers. Reinhold said Project Loom has not yet been proposed, but is currently in discussion as an effort to affect the future of Java for concurrent programming.

Solid case made for mature integration

According to Charlotte Dunlap, an analyst with GlobalData, “Many of Oracle’s announcements were actually preannouncements. However, Oracle made a solid case for how its mature integration, SOA and API management technologies will enable the next wave of Oracle’s DevOps technologies.”

Regarding Project Amber, Brian Goetz, a Java language architect in the Java platform group at Oracle, said Java has a reputation for being “a bit boilerplate-intensive,” and it takes a little too much code to do a lot of common tasks.

“So, Project Amber is a collection of smaller features that are aimed at reducing the overhead or ceremony of things that we do every day — streamlining everyday coding, but also making code more readable and more reliable,” he said.

These are features that can be delivered over time and are a good fit for the programming models that are popular in the cloud, such as functions as a service, or reactive event-based systems, like message-based systems or actors, Goetz said.

Amber adds variable type inference

Project Amber is a collection of smaller features that are aimed at reducing the overhead or ceremony of things that we do every day — streamlining everyday coding, but also making code more readable and more reliable.
Brian GoetzJava language architect at Oracle

Meanwhile, a subproject of Amber is called local variable type inference, which Goetz said is a feature that has been available in a number of other programming languages. And although Java has had type inference for many years, it’s being expanded.

“Type inference is basically just the compiler figuring out the type of something without you having to write it down,” Goetz said. “It can make code more readable by getting unnecessary information out of the way. And this next iteration is extending that to the way we declare local variables.”

This feature has been committed to Java Development Kit 18.3 and will be in the next production release of Java in March.

However, a much bigger feature in Project Amber, known as pattern matching, has been historically associated with functional programming languages, Goetz said.

More recently, it has been adopted by object-oriented programming languages, like C# and Scala. “We think it’s a really good fit for Java,” Goetz noted. “It has the ability to simplify the kind of code where you have to do multiway conditional operations.”

Project Loom to ease app maintenance

Finally, as described in Oracle software engineer Ron Pressler’s call for discussion about the initiative, Project Loom is an effort to provide an alternative implementation of threads, managed by schedulers written in Java, that preserve the same programming model of ordinary Java threads, but offer drastically improved performance and a smaller footprint.

According to the Project Loom proposal, “Project Loom’s mission is to make it easier to write, debug, profile and maintain concurrent applications meeting today’s requirements. Threads, provided by Java from its first day, are a natural and convenient concurrency construct (putting aside the separate question of communication among threads) which is being supplanted by less convenient abstractions because their current implementation as OS kernel threads is insufficient for meeting modern demands, and wasteful in computing resources that are particularly valuable in the cloud. Project Loom will introduce fibers as lightweight, efficient threads managed by the Java Virtual Machine, that let developers use the same simple abstraction but with better performance and lower footprint.”

Oracle cloud ERP migration pays off for Caesars

SAN FRANCISCO — Ask Michael Mann, director of finance and accounts at Caesars Entertainment, about the distinction between traditional on-premises ERP and the cloud-based ERP systems that are becoming all the rage. He’ll tell you how it’s like the contrast between buying a house that’s move-in-ready and having to relocate a bathroom and remodel the kitchen before moving in.

Mann should know: He’s just overseen the first phase of a move to the Oracle cloud ERP suite, a complex undertaking for a company that operates 47 casinos and 34,000 hotel rooms at properties in five countries. The fact that Caesars didn’t have to do extensive customizations or rebuild its own processes was a prime attraction.

“We’re moving into the house, and we’re going to pick out the drapes and the carpet,” Mann said during a well-attended session at the Oracle OpenWorld 2017 conference. “They built the right house.”

Oracle cloud ERP enabled close partnership

Caesars’ motivations for finding a new house, to borrow Mann’s vernacular, were driven in large part by the fact that the company was relying on 30-year-old legacy green-screen technology to run its accounting and HR systems. Caesars’ leadership wanted to simplify and shrink that footprint in the process.

But moving to the cloud is about more than picking a vendor, Mann told OpenWorld attendees. It’s one thing to buy a product to run a business; it’s quite another to hand over your company’s data and many of its IT responsibilities. In doing so, the relationship becomes much more than a customer-vendor dynamic, as Caesars discovered.

“If you think about it, you’re really replacing your IT department and system with Oracle,” Mann said. “They’re not really a vendor — they’re a partner. It was so collaborative, and we worked so well together.”

The collaboration was critical because of the project’s inherent complexity. Numerous back-office systems had to be integrated into the Oracle cloud ERP environment. The new system had to replace a largely dispersed data-entry model that was challenged by issues of consistency and accuracy, and Oracle’s approach to data relationship management allowed more consistent, centralized data entry. Perhaps most importantly, Caesars wanted the system to serve up real-time reporting based on its improved transaction-processing capabilities.

We’re really going down this integrated ERP system path to make things work better, faster, cheaper and smarter.
Michael Manndirector of finance and accounts at Caesars Entertainment

After a one-year deployment that Mann said could have been completed in nine months if Caesars had made a few different decisions, such as investing in a dedicated person to lead testing — an oversight that caused some delays — the company saw the system’s potential immediately. Mann said during August — the first month the system was live — 1,100 users had accessed Caesars’ Oracle cloud ERP, processing 2.5 million journal lines, 440,000 accounts payable lines and 28,000 payments without a glitch.

While the company hasn’t yet computed any hard benefits it’s realized from the Oracle cloud ERP system, Mann said he expects significant gains in efficiency across the board — from sales and service processes to hospitality and loyalty programs to the payment of invoices.

“We’re really going down this integrated ERP system path to make things work better, faster, cheaper and smarter,” he said.

Extensive change management, project organization were essential

It helps to go about implementation in a level-headed fashion, and according to Bill Behen, a principal at Chicago-based Oracle partner Grant Thornton, which served as the system integrator on the project, Caesars had all the right strategic pieces in place. That included a desire to take an incremental, phased approach to rolling out the various pieces of the software — which is officially called Oracle ERP Cloud — and buy-in from senior leadership.

“I’m sure everyone has heard that over and over again, that you need support from the top,” Behen told the OpenWorld audience. In the case of Caesars, “it wasn’t just talk. They had senior people very involved in the project.”

Behen advised Caesars to adopt the Oracle Unified Method for SaaS applications, which helped to ensure core team members were trained on the methodology, project roles and responsibilities were clearly defined and there were sufficient dedicated internal resources. 

Doing so helped Caesars overcome numerous challenges, such as limited internal expertise with cloud applications, aversion to risk, a distributed user base that was reliant upon antiquated legacy technology, and high numbers of integrations and transactions.

Caesars also worked with Grant Thornton to set up a change network, which essentially functioned as a way to provide local change management and support to a highly distributed user base.

Even successful transitions to the cloud are filled with valuable lessons, and Caesars’ experience was no different. Mann said the things he realized during the implementation included the following:

  • the need to dedicate full-time resources for project roles;
  • the danger of underestimating the importance of validating data conversions;
  • the importance of engaging both internal and external audit teams to ensure expectations are met; and
  • the importance of engaging the network team to make sure the network is optimized to support cloud apps.

Ultimately, Mann had two recommendations for Oracle OpenWorld 2017 attendees: Make sure to discuss any network maintenance that might be planned during the implementation to reduce potential conflict, and don’t be tempted to work with offshore outsourcers, which can result in delays as long as a day or two just to get responses to basic questions via email.

That said, however a company goes about its move from a legacy ERP system to SaaS ERP, there’s one happy outcome that no mistake during deployment can prevent.

“You’re not going to find yourself 30 years from now working on a green screen,” Mann said.

Azure Functions, Project Fn shine at JavaOne 2017

SAN FRANCISCO Not to be outdone, while Oracle is hosting its annual Java developer festival, Microsoft released a Java-based preview of its serverless computing offering, Azure Functions.

According to TechTarget’s definition, serverless computing does not eliminate servers, but instead seeks to emphasize the idea that computing resource considerations can be moved into the background during the design process. The term is often associated with the NoOps movement and the concept may also be referred to as function as a service (FaaS) or runtime as a service (RaaS).

Serverless computing provides a great model for accelerating app development, but developers want to do it using the programming languages and development tools of their choice, Microsoft said. And ever since the company first released Azure Functions, support for Java has been a top request.

Oracle Project Fn

Developers using Oracle Cloud Platform, their laptop, or any cloud, can now build and run applications by just writing code without provisioning, scaling or managing any servers — this is all taken care of transparently by the cloud.
Bob Quillinvice president of developer relations, Oracle

Oracle also introduced and open sourced its own serverless computing offering — known as Project Fn — at JavaOne 2017. With Fn, developers using Oracle Cloud Platform can build and run applications by just writing code, without provisioning, scaling or managing servers, allowing them to focus on delivering value and new services, the company said. Fn runs across multiple clouds, further reducing risk of vendor lock-in, Oracle noted.

“Oracle deserves kudos for its recent Java efforts,” said Charles King, principal analyst with Pund-IT, who also commended Microsoft for its Azure Functions Java support. “Microsoft’s new Azure Functions Java support and Oracle’s recent JavaOne/OpenWorld announcements reflect the continuing innovations around Java and the vitality of the Java community.”

Support for different programming languages

Likewise, with the ability to run Azure Functions runtime on cross-platform .NET Core, Microsoft has built its runtime to allow support for different programming languages. Java is the first new language being introduced. The new Java runtime will share all the differentiated features provided by Azure Functions, such as the wide range of triggering options and data bindings, serverless execution model with autoscale, as well as pay-per-execution pricing, Microsoft said.

And Java developers do not need to use any new tools to develop using Azure Functions. Microsoft has released a new plug-in for the Maven build automation tool so developers can create, build and deploy Azure Functions from their existing Maven-enabled projects. The new Azure Functions Core Tools enable developers to run and debug their Java Functions code locally on any platform.

In addition, Microsoft said popular IDEs and editors such as Eclipse, IntelliJ and Visual Studio Code can be used to develop and debug Azure Functions locally.

Meanwhile, with fnproject.io, “Developers using Oracle Cloud Platform, their laptop, or any cloud, can now build and run applications by just writing code without provisioning, scaling or managing any servers — this is all taken care of transparently by the cloud,” said Bob Quillin, vice president of developer relations at Oracle, in a blog post.

Three parts to Fn

According to Quillin, Fn consists of three components: the Fn Platform; Fn Java FDK (Function Development Kit), which brings a first-class function development experience to Java developers, including a comprehensive JUnit test harness; and Fn Flow, for orchestrating functions directly in code. Fn Flow enables function orchestration for higher-level workflows for sequencing, chaining, fanin/fanout, but directly and natively in the developer’s code versus relying on a console.

The Oracle offering will have initial support for Java with additional language bindings coming soon, Quillin said. Project Fn will provide polyglot language support, including Java, Go, Ruby, Python, PHP, Rust, .NET Core, and Node.js with AWS Lambda compatibility. AWS Lambda is Amazon Web Services’ serverless computing offering.

Oracle AI apps now present throughout enterprise cloud suite

SAN FRANCISCO — Oracle has vastly expanded its roster of Adaptive Intelligent Applications, adding the narrowly focused, special-purpose machine learning tools to major modules in its cloud ERP suite — from financials and HR to manufacturing, the supply chain, e-commerce and sales.

The new Oracle AI apps are the latest entry in a race among ERP vendors to show leadership in artificial intelligence, a once-ridiculed technology that has become the hottest trend in IT. Over the past year, Oracle’s closest rivals in enterprise software — including IBM with its Watson cognitive computing platform, Infor with Coleman and SAP with Leonardo — have all announced software similar to the Oracle AI. Cloud CRM heavyweight Salesforce has Einstein.

The new Oracle AI apps were unveiled at the vendor’s OpenWorld conference, which is held here annually. In a podcast from the conference, TechTarget editors discuss the potential impact of the Oracle AI apps.

“I think it is curious that Oracle has refrained from naming its artificial intelligence,” said Brian McKenna, business applications editor of London-based ComputerWeekly. “It’s an interesting way into how they are thinking about artificial intelligence and machine learning. The litany of [Oracle AI business functions] — it’s all very pragmatic, it’s all about automation, and you can see the virtue in that.”

Self-repairing databases

Larry Ellison, CTO, OracleLarry Ellison

McKenna added that the Oracle AI apps’ emphasis on practicality and automation aligns with the vendor’s other recent technology reveal: an “autonomous” database that, according to CTO Larry Ellison, uses machine learning to repair itself. “That’s been presented as ‘autonomization’ … If you think about it, there is a big difference between automating processes and computers thinking like human beings.”

Jack Vaughan, senior news editor of SearchOracle, recalled similar terminology being used by IBM in 1999. “‘Autonomic’ computing was the watchword,” Vaughan said. “It just didn’t catch on with the general public. There’s been automation: [It’s] what computing has been about since Day One.  In terms of the database administrator, great portions of their job have been automated over time. They don’t have to set up memory as they once did, and they wouldn’t expect to.”

Furthermore, the advent of cloud computing has removed the need for human intervention in the scaling of large server farms, for example.

The Adaptive Intelligent Apps help to automate or optimize specific business processes that are often challenging and time-consuming for humans, such as spotting the root cause of production errors in a factory, or identifying the best payment discounts to offer suppliers. Some apps are available now, while others are expected in 2018, according to Oracle.

Advanced machine learning, database automation touted at OpenWorld

SAN FRANCISCO — Oracle founder and CTO Larry Ellison this week detailed the company’s autonomous Oracle Database 18c for the cloud, which Ellison said will rely on advanced machine learning techniques to greatly reduce database administration tasks, such as tuning and patching. 

At the heart of this Oracle cloud database is extensive use of machine learning, which Ellison called “the first branch of artificial intelligence that really works.”

This application of machine learning, which employs neural networks and other modeling algorithms to sift large amounts of log data and detects recurring patterns of database activity, is also part of a cybersecurity product for automatically patching databases that Ellison pledged to discuss further at the event.

For Oracle Database 18c, machine learning allows it to “patch itself while running, all without any downtime whatsoever,” according to Ellison, who spoke at Oracle OpenWorld 2017. He also said operations improvements allow his company to offer an Oracle Database 18c SLA that guarantees 99.995% reliability and availability, while reducing planned and unplanned downtime to less than 30 minutes per year.

Automation of database administration

While, the system, which Ellison dubbed as “self-driving” and “the world’s first autonomous database,” may be unique by some measures, it is also part of a long-standing trend that is well under way.

Automation of database cluster deployment on cloud has become increasingly common, and wider automation can be anticipated, according to Tony Baer, an analyst at Ovum.

“You can see how cloud databases are doing automation — with database sharding as a major example,” Baer said. Meanwhile, query performance and other database activities are also being affected by advanced machine learning technology, he said.

Baer noted that “Oracle has all kinds of database activity logs. That is big data that acts as a corpus for machine learning that can figure out what is a normal pattern, and highlight queries that are going to cause trouble.”

Advanced machine learning adds another element to the mix, but the latest Oracle moves are best viewed as part of an evolution in process automation, according to Vinod Bhutani, database services manager at DBAMart Database Services in Broomfield, Colo.

“There is a whole lot of automation for the database already. For example, there are such tools as Oracle SQL Tuning Advisor and Segment Advisor,” Bhutani said in an interview at Oracle OpenWorld.

“In my view, the database is 60% to 70% automated already,” he said, adding that the amount of automation employed is often based on the database administrators’ comfort levels with such automation’s effectiveness.

Bhutani said he would be looking for additional details, particularly on Oracle’s cybersecurity offerings, to see how much further Oracle takes database automation.

Whither the DBA?

In his Oracle OpenWorld keynote, Ellison admitted the move to greater automation for the Oracle cloud database could be seen as a threat to DBA job security. But he was basically sanguine on the prospects.

“Yes, you are automating the ways of database professionals, but they already have more work than they can possibly ever get to,” he said.

Greater database automation will free up DBAs from routine patching and repetitive tuning, he said, enabling them to focus more on schema design, analytics — including advanced machine learning styles of analytics — and securing data.

Noel Yuhanna, an analyst at Forrester, on hand at Oracle OpenWorld, agreed. “The DBA job is being changed toward more data-driven initiatives, with more emphasis on security and governance — and architecting the future of the data,” he said.

“The DBA will focus more on business value, as opposed to technology,” he said.

Meanwhile, analyst Baer also pointed to an increasingly important role for the DBA. “There is definitely a future for the DBA. There is just no question about it,” he said. “You can’t automate everything.”

Hearing Redshift steps

Ellison said the Oracle Database 18c, running on Exadata infrastructure on the Oracle Cloud or Cloud at Customer , will become generally available in December for data warehousing only, with a transactional version appearing in June of 2018.

This “data warehouse-first approach” emphasizes Oracle’s intention to compete more fully with Amazon, its cloud and its Redshift cloud data warehouse. At Oracle OpenWorld, Ellison repeatedly cited Redshift as a competitor, claiming superior uptime and better relative pricing for Oracle.

“We guarantee our bill will be less than half of what Amazon Redshift will be,” he said. “We will write that in your contract.”

The company further moved to sweeten its cloud pricing deal recently, introducing a “bring your own license” policy for existing customers moving databases, middleware and more to the Oracle cloud platform.

With the “18c” designation, Oracle takes on a model-year style naming format for its database, not unlike that of Microsoft SQL Server. Aligning database naming with calendar years is in some part a bow to the growing use of yearly, subscription-based pricing models for databases on the cloud. 

Oracle HCM Cloud AI, UX, analytics unveiled at Open World 2017

SAN FRANCISCO — Against the backdrop of the Oracle Open World 2017 conference, the software giant unveiled upgrades to its Oracle HCM Cloud system, adding artificial intelligence, analytics and user experience capabilities.

The announcement came as Oracle extended its concerted push into the cloud by further automating with new algorithms the Oracle HCM Cloud software-as-a-service suites.

The moves around artificial intelligence (AI) dovetail with a general progression in HR technology toward tools that make core HCM and specialized HR software, such as recruiting, more intuitive and more capable of applying advanced analytics to HR data storehouses.

The AI and user experience functionalities are part of a new release of Oracle HCM Cloud: Oracle Cloud Applications Release 13. Also included are new recruiting, workforce health and safety management and governance, risk and compliance modules.

“The latest additions to Oracle HCM Cloud incorporate simple but powerful features that enable organizations to leverage the latest innovations to anticipate and plan for the future,” Chris Leone, senior vice president, Oracle Applications Development, said in a release. “By combining innovations in artificial intelligence and user experience with major enhancements to core HR modules, we are able to help HR leaders drive digital transformation and positive business outcomes.”

HR tech analyst Holger Mueller, of Constellation Research, said the Oracle news was “more than Oracle has released in years.”

Mueller noted that Oracle added native recruiting to further integrate its HCM suite and that the company is trying to make its talent management technology work better.

“And AI is always key these days, though it’s less than I’d like to see yet,” Mueller said.

Noting additions such as for volunteering, Mueller said, “It’s good to see innovation across the portfolio.”

He also said it will be interesting to see how users of Oracle’s Taleo talent management system will react to the company’s new moves in that area.

Keeping up with innovations

Meanwhile, HR tech analyst Brian Sommer said that with the Oracle HCM Cloud play, Oracle appears to be trying to keep pace with innovations around AI and chatbots in HR recruiting software.

Now they’ve added this chatbot capability … for job candidates trying to navigate all the available positions. It’s kind of nice, but it just maintains competitive parity.
Brian Sommerfounder, TechVentive Inc.

Sommer also noted that Oracle has previously included AI components in career development and learning modules.

“So, now they’ve added this chatbot capability … for job candidates trying to navigate all the available positions,” said Sommer, founder of the tech consulting firm TechVentive Inc. “It’s kind of nice, but it just maintains competitive parity.”

Sommer said the new Oracle HCM Cloud algorithmic capabilities for HR hiring managers to help screen candidates could be a significant move, but it was unclear if Oracle had corrected for existing biases in employment data sets.

“I hope they’re going to open up the black box around the algorithms to make it incredibly transparent and make it tailorable for customers to adjust as the algorithms and the recruiting operation get more savvy,” he said.

As for the UX capabilities, Sommer said all major HR tech vendors need to revamp and upgrade user interfaces and usability to stay competitive, and Oracle appears to have met those aims with this release of Oracle HCM Cloud.

HCM part of broader outlook

As Oracle unveiled the Oracle HCM Cloud updates, Mark Hurd, the company’s CEO, said in a keynote that Oracle is responding to a rapidly changing global economy with technology accelerating and countries’ gross domestic products stagnant, but consumer spending and expectations high.

The Oracle HCM Cloud announcement came during the height of the run-up to the HR Technology conference, the biggest U.S. HR tech show, which starts Oct. 10 in Las Vegas.

Two major native HR tech vendors in the HT tech space, Ceridian and Workday, are holding their annual user conferences in the same time frame. These Oracle competitors and others traditionally also release what they consider significant product upgrades or sometimes new products at the events.

The Workday Rising 2017 conference is Oct. 9-12, overlapping with the HR Technology show. Ceridian’s Insights customer forum is Oct. 2-6.

Smaller but still influential HR tech vendors such as SmashFly and Entelo are also competing vigorously in the recruiting arena against Oracle and other HCM suite vendors, Sommer said. Some of Oracle’s moves are more of a reaction to them than to the bigger vendors, he added.

Oracle said the new release of Oracle HCM Cloud also includes new applications for:

  • recruiting, with stronger sourcing and wider recruiting capabilities;
  • workforce health and safety, management; and
  • governance, risk and compliance.

The company also said additions to existing modules include:

  • software to help employees who want to volunteer;
  • knowledge management tools to improve the Oracle HR Help Desk Cloud; and
  • a continuous employee feedback function.

How enterprises can take advantage of social media mapping

SAN FRANCISCO — Most companies grasp the value of evangelizing products and services on social media channels. Being able to tap into the emotion and sentiment customers display on social media isn’t as easy as it looks, however — but it is the golden ticket for marketers and advertisers.

Part of the challenge, especially for large organizations, is monitoring multiple Twitter handles and Facebook pages, with a bevy of social media channels and thousands of posts on top of that. Harvesting and analyzing all this sentiment — a practice called social media mapping — can be complicated.

“Social analytics tend to be a little bit of a black box,” said Alex Stein, director of marketing and social media analytics at Marriott International Inc., based in Bethesda, Md. “Thinking about Marriott, between our three loyalty brands and thousands of hotels, we’re quickly amassing more than 12,000 social media accounts to measure.”

Maura Tuohy Di Muro, head of global social strategy at Mozilla Corp., based in Mountain View, Calif., explained, “Social media is a behavior, not a channel. It allows us to get into the psyche, into why people share and what they share.”

Both Tuohy Di Muro and Stein were speaking at this week’s Digital Strategy Innovation Summit. In separate sessions, both speakers underlined the importance of social media and social media mapping.

Companies are investing, too. Salesforce recently released new image recognition technology that can be used to understand sentiment in images posted on Twitter. Companies have long sought ways to gauge consumer sentiment, and social media is becoming one of the main outlets for customers to express why they bought what they did.

“We can use social media channels to understand a lot about our consumers beyond just advertising or marketing,” Tuohy Di Muro said. “All of these networks have given us a new outlet for something that has already existed in our personalities.”

Where to look and what to look for on social media

It’s about what you want to measure in social media and what you want to learn about your customers.
Alex Steindirector of marketing and social media analytics at Marriott

Stein outlined three channels to look at when engaging in social media mapping: channels you own, such as your audience and content; social influencers and trending conversations; and what he called “social commerce,” including referral traffic.

“It’s about what you want to measure in social media and what you want to learn about your customers,” Stein said. “Couple this with how brands are trying to interact with customers … it’s more about one-on-one personal marketing.”

But companies implementing social media mapping need to be aware that different departments may be monitoring different aspects of social media.

“One complicating factor could be the organization itself,” Stein said. “Social teams, PR, digital and marketing — they need to speak to each other, or at least get these data sources in the same place to get that 360[-degree] view of the customer.”

Tools to help with social media mapping

To better understand what customers were saying, Stein said he uses social media mapping to track awareness, consideration, conversion and loyalty aggregated across the various sites where mentions occur.

“We wanted to understand how customers were interacting with our brand, rather than where they were interacting,” Stein said.

To help measure awareness, Stein said he looks for reach and conversation trends using tools like NetBase, Brandwatch or IBM Watson. To track consideration, he said he looks for engagement and mentions using software like Sprinklr, Crimson Hexagon and Simply Measured. For conversion, Stein said he tracks social bookings with tools from Adobe and Google; and for loyalty, he said he looks at brand advocacy on social media with tools from Salesforce, Traackr and InfoTrellis.

“When it comes to social media and brand interactions, it’s not a matter of if [it matters], it’s when,” Stein said. “It impacts every part of the consumer decision journey.”