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Enterprise IT news

Logitech webcams in short supply amid coronavirus pandemic

Earlier this week, Jessica Mauerhan found herself in possession of two commodities that have recently grown scarce: a box of antiviral masks and a Logitech webcam.

Mauerhan, a software engineer based in McKinney, Texas, donated the masks to her local midwife’s office so they could continue delivering babies. She gave the webcam to a neighbor so he could begin working from home.

“Both offered to bring me toilet paper as payment,” she tweeted. “What a world we live in now.”

Logitech webcams and other cheap video conferencing devices have largely sold out worldwide as millions work and study from home because of the coronavirus pandemic. In many cases, buyers placing orders today will have to wait one month or longer to receive the equipment. Dell is telling U.S. customers it won’t be able to deliver one popular Logitech model until early July.

Headsets designed for workplace communications are also harder to come by than usual. On Microsoft’s online storefront, several popular Poly and Logitech headsets are currently on back order.

The shortage of these devices is frustrating students as they begin taking classes from home and healthcare providers as they look to set up virtual appointments with patients. Many businesses have been unable to equip their newly remote workforces with the webcams and headsets they need to participate in online meetings fully.

After many staffers began working from home earlier this month, Chapman University accelerated its rollout of Microsoft Teams. Webcams and headsets suddenly became essential tools for its workers. Fortunately, the school ordered a limited number of devices before they began selling out. But obtaining additional equipment has become nearly hopeless.

At first, the school thought it could merely reimburse employees who found the gear themselves. “But the reality is that’s almost impossible,” said Phillip Lyle, Chapman’s assistant vice president of enterprise and research infrastructure.

The shortage is doubtlessly tied to a surge in the usage of cloud-based video conferencing apps. Microsoft said its Teams collaboration app added 12 million daily active users between March 11 and March 18, a 37% increase. Cisco, meanwhile, said last week traffic to its Webex meeting service had tripled in the United States.

The current pandemic has disrupted IT supply chains because many electronic manufacturers are in China, where the epidemic started. China has stopped the spread of the virus, but manufacturers are recovering slowly. IDC recently reported that factories won’t be operating at full capacity until May or June.

Logitech, a leading provider of inexpensive webcams, wouldn’t say whether it was having a hard time getting its manufacturers to fulfill orders. In a statement, the company said it was attempting to increase production as quickly as possible in response to “extremely high demand” for its products.

Some resellers have started jacking up the prices of webcams. On Amazon, one merchant was selling a Logitech C920 high-definition webcam for $339.95 on Wednesday. The vendor’s suggested retail price is $79.99.

“It’s just like hand sanitizer in a lot of ways,” Lyle said.

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Tech giants aim supercomputers, clouds at finding a COVID-19 cure

Hoping to speed research that results in a COVID-19 cure, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy has launched a consortium of high tech, academic and government agencies that will work in concert on a number of projects coordinated by IBM and the Department of Energy.

The technology heart of these projects will be over a dozen or more supercomputers, most notably the IBM Summit system housed in Oak Ridge National Laboratory. IBM had already been working with the Lab’s researchers along with the DOE and the University of Tennessee (UT) to narrow down from 8,000 to 77 the number of compounds that are likely to bind to what is called the main “spike” protein of the coronavirus.

“Those 77 compounds are now being investigated with classical chemistry and biology techniques are being examined by people at Oak Ridge and University of Tennessee,” said Dave Turek, vice president of HPC and cognitive systems at IBM. “This is the power of accelerating discovery through computation.”

But the newly formed COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium (HPC), which includes 14 members, will largely build on the work IBM, Oak Ridge and UT had done. Other tech companies in the group include AWS, Google Cloud and Microsoft.

“What we are bringing together is a very broad public-private partnership to provide COVID-19 researchers from around the world with access to the world’s most powerful high-performance supercomputer resources that can significantly advance the pace of scientific discovery in the fight to stop the virus,” said Paul Dabbar, undersecretary for science at DOE, in a media briefing on Tuesday.

Dabbar added that all researchers are invited to submit COVID-19 research proposals to the consortium via the online portal, which will then be reviewed and matched with computing resources from all the participating public and private partners.

The consortium members working with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the DOE will have access to 16 systems with 330 petaflops, 775,000 CPU cores and 34,000 GPUs. IBM and the national labs will offer their computing resources for free.

Tech companies aim to lower COVID-19 test costs

Earlier this week, AWS unveiled a new diagnostic development unit that will work with 35 business partners to create a less expensive test for the COVID-19 virus. The company said it will pour $20 million for those customers working on diagnostic tools. The intent of the effort, called the AWS Diagnostic Development Initiative, is to strengthen collaboration among customers that will be funded with AWS “in-kind” credits and technical support.

AWS officials added that the program will not support administrative workloads in terms of running everyday IT operations, but added the program is open to all medical researchers and privately held companies that also will have access to AWS research workloads and diagnostic development tools.

“We’re proud to support this critical work and stand ready with the compute power of AWS to help accelerate research and development efforts,” said Teresa Carlson, vice president of worldwide public sector at AWS, in a prepared statement. “Working together, government, business and academic leaders can utilize the power of the cloud to advance the pace of scientific discovery and innovation and help combat the COVID-19 virus.”

AWS has something of an ulterior motive in launching the program as Amazon needs significantly more COVID-19 tests for its workforce and mammoth warehouses to keep the e-commerce part of the business up and running.

The AWS initiative comes on the heels of programs from Google Cloud and Microsoft. Like IBM, Microsoft launched a program that offers free high-performance computing resources to other vendors and organizations working to develop test kits and vaccines for COVID-19. The company’s AI for Health program makes grants available that ensures access to the company’s Azure cloud along with high-performance computers.

Google Cloud has established a 24-hour incident response team that will stay in constant contact with the World Health Organization, and Google’s senior leadership team in order to make vital decisions about its offices spread around the world.

Private-public alliance key to finding a COVID-19 cure

Some analysts and consultants are encouraged by the newly formed consortium, along with the AWS initiative, saying it is a much-needed step in the right direction.

IBM and the government, which have 20 computing data centers … have open access to look for vaccines and other cures through simulation and analysis… maybe technology gives us all a better chance to get through this.
Frank DzubeckPresident, Communications Network Architects

“IBM and the government, which have 20 computing data centers, are now set up to have open access to look for vaccines and other cures through simulation and analysis,” said Frank Dzubeck, president of Communications Network Architects, consultants in Washington, D.C. “And along with the AWS announcement addressing another important issue — inexpensive and quick testing — maybe technology gives us all a better chance to get through this.”

The goal of the IBM-DOE led consortium is to pool the supercomputing capacity under all 14 of the partners in the consortium and offer “extraordinary supercomputing power” to scientists, medical researchers and a number of government agencies, said Dario Gil, director of IBM Research.

“So, now we have to work with the consortium partners to evaluate proposals from researchers around the world for the projects that could have the most immediate impact,” Gil said.

Among the 14 members of the COVID-19 HPC Consortium are academic institutions MIT and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; national laboratories that include the Argonne National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (which houses IBM’s Sierra supercomputer, the second fastest computer in the world), Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories; and NASA and the National Science Foundation, among federal agencies.

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The business benefits of enterprise data governance and MDM

With seemingly overwhelming amounts of data coming from myriad sources, the need for effective enterprise data governance strategies is of paramount importance to many organizations.

Enterprise data governance has many facets and can often intersect with master data management (MDM) efforts. That convergence was on display at Informatica’s MDM 360 and Data Governance virtual summit hosted on March 19.

The enterprise cloud data management vendor, based in Redwood City, Calif., has been particularly active in recent months, hiring a new CEO in January and expanding the company’s product portfolio with updated governance, data catalog and analytics capabilities.

“We all want tomorrow’s data yesterday, to make a decision for today,” Informatica CEO Amit Walia said during the event’s opening keynote.

Informatica’s virtual conference was among the many similar events that tech vendors have held or are planning to substitute for in-person events canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

One notable tech conference producer, O’Reilly Media, sponsor of the Strata Data and AI conferences, among others, said March 24 it is closing its in-person conference business altogether because of the pandemic.

Amit Walia
Informatica CEO Amit Walia

How Hertz is mastering enterprise data governance and management

Meanwhile, with its global car rental operations, Hertz Corporation possesses a lot of data that it needs to collect and govern, for some 100 million customers and a fleet of nearly a million vehicles.

We all want tomorrow’s data yesterday, to make a decision for today.
Amit WaliaCEO, Informatica

Speaking at the virtual event, Richard Leaton, master data leader at Hertz, outlined the challenges his organization faces and the best practices for data governance and data management Hertz has used.

“The overall business objectives of MDM from an IT perspective, was a $1 billion transformation, changing our reservation system, rental system, sales engine and fleet management,” Leaton said. “If it had an electronic component to it, I think we changed it.”

As part of that effort Hertz needed to improve data quality and data governance, so there could be a single source of information for customer and fleet vehicle data.

Leaton noted that when he joined Hertz in 2017, the company had multiple sets of customer and vehicle master data sources and 30 years of mainframe-based proprietary databases. The systems were highly customized, not easy to upgrade and not uniformly governed.

Leaton emphasized that Hertz started with a process to engage all the right constituencies in the business.

“Data is an asset,” he said. “Data can have real hard number committed to it and when you have hard numbers associated with a data program, you’re going to have people who are helping you to make that data program successful.”

The technology should be the easy part of data transformation, Leaton said. The business processes, the buy-in and making sure the right data quality is present become the hard parts.

Enterprise data governance is the key to master data management

The first step for enabling MDM is to start with data governance, according to Leaton.

“If you don’t have your terms defined, you can’t build an MDM suite effectively,” Leaton said. “We were partway along the governance journey and started into MDM the first time and that’s where we ran into trouble.”

Hertz IT managers thought that they had defined enterprise data governance terms, but they came to realize that the terms were not agreed upon across the multiple platform of the business.

Securing executive buy-in for defining data governance across an organization is critical, Leaton said. He also emphasized that financial metrics and business value needs to be associated with the effort. Business leaders need to understand what the business will get out of a data governance effort. It’s not enough just to want to have good data, leaders need to define terms.

The defined terms for data governance can outline how the effort will help ensure regulatory compliance and how it will help to grow the business because all the systems talk to each other and there is better operational efficiency.

Data governance at Invesco

Rich Turnock, global head of enterprise data services at financial services firm Invesco, based in Louisville, Ky., also has a structured process for data governance.

The Invesco enterprise data platform incorporates three core steps for data governance and quality. In the planning phase, much like at Hertz, Turnock said the organization needs to define and document data requests in terms of business outcomes.

In the capture phase of data, enterprise data governance policies for mapping and cataloging data are important. For data delivery, Turnock said data output should be delivered in the agreed upon format and with preferred mechanisms that were defined up front in the planning process.

Using data to improve healthcare at Highmark Health

Using enterprise data governance and MDM best practices isn’t just about improving business outcomes. Those best practices can also improve healthcare.

Also at the Informatica virtual event, Anthony Roscoe, director of enterprise data governance at Highmark Health in Pittsburgh, explained how his organization embraced data governance and MDM. The key challenge for Highmark Health is that the organization had grown via acquisitions and ended up with multiple disparate data systems.

Operational integration of data is also part of Highmark Health’s data journey, making sure that clinical data from health systems can be correlated with health plans. It’s an approach that Roscoe said can help to streamline care decisions between the health insurance and care delivery portions of Highmark Health’s business.

The overriding goal of Highmark Health’s enterprise data platform is to take all the individual parts, find where the organization needs to gather data from so it can be organized, and ultimately govern the data so that appropriate access is in place.

“Mastering the data so that we speak a common language across the entire enterprise is key,” Roscoe said. “Speaking from the same language can deliver accurate data statements and reports and other metrics across the different business units.”

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HashiCorp Nomad vs. Kubernetes matchup intensifies with 0.11

A HashiCorp Nomad beta release this week could help it encroach on Kubernetes’ territory with advanced IT automation for legacy applications and a simpler approach to container orchestration.

Hashicorp first released the open source workload orchestrator in 2015, a year after Kubernetes arrived in the market. But since then, Kubernetes has become the industry-standard container orchestrator, while Nomad Enterprise is HashiCorp’s least-used commercial product in a portfolio that also includes Terraform infrastructure as code, Vault secrets management and Consul service discovery.

These products are also commonly used in Kubernetes environments, and HashiCorp officials typically prefer to frame Nomad as complementary to Kubernetes, rather than a competitor. In the past, HashiCorp’s documentation has pointed out that past versions of Nomad orchestrated only compute resources, scheduling workloads on separately managed underlying resources. This made for a simpler but less complete approach to workload automation, as previous versions of Nomad did not handle networking and storage for application clusters, as Kubernetes does.

However, with version 0.11, released in beta this week, HashiCorp Nomad’s storage features draw closer to those offered by Kubernetes. The new capabilities include support for shared storage volumes through the open source Container Storage Interface (CSI), a set of APIs supported by most major storage vendors. CSI is most commonly used with Kubernetes, but any CSI plugins written to work with Kubernetes will also work with HashiCorp Nomad as of version 0.11.

HashiCorp Nomad version 0.11 also introduces horizontal application autoscaling capabilities, as well as support for task dependencies in cases where application components must be deployed in a certain order on a container cluster.

“[Nomad] can still coexist with Kubernetes, especially for legacy applications when customers prefer to use Kubernetes for containers,” said Amith Nair, VP of product marketing at HashiCorp. “But the [new] features make it a more direct comparison, and we’re starting to see increased usage on the open source side, where some customers are downloading it to replace Kubernetes.”

In the last six months, open source downloads of HashiCorp Nomad have doubled each month to reach 20,000 per month, Nair said. A hosted Nomad cloud service also remains on the company’s long-term roadmap, which would likely compete with the many hosted Kubernetes services available.

HashiCorp Nomad seeks app modernization niche

Most of HashiCorp Nomad’s workload orchestration features can be used to modernize legacy applications that run on VMs. Nomad’s scheduler, when used with Consul service discovery, can optimize how applications on VMs and containers use underlying resources. With version 0.11’s CSI support, HashiCorp Nomad can perform non-disruptive rolling updates of both container-based and VM-based applications.

Such features may put HashiCorp Nomad in closer competition with IT vendors such as VMware, which offers Kubernetes container orchestration alongside VM management. HashiCorp has an uphill battle in that market as well, given VMware’s ubiquity in enterprise shops. But as with Kubernetes, HashiCorp Nomad could capture some attention from IT pros because of its simplicity, analysts said.

Nomad can infiltrate the same market as VMware’s Project Pacific and Tanzu with a low-cost alternative for users that want to manage traditional workloads and cloud-native workloads with one entity.
Roy IllsleyAnalyst, Omdia

“Nomad can infiltrate the same market as VMware’s Project Pacific and Tanzu with a low-cost alternative for users that want to manage traditional workloads and cloud-native workloads with one entity,” said Roy Illsley, analyst at Omdia, a technology market research firm in London. “The challenge is that HashiCorp hasn’t been great at marketing — tech people know it, but tech people don’t necessarily sign the checks.”

With a recent $175 million funding infusion for HashiCorp, however, that could change, and HashiCorp could play a role similar to Linkerd, a service mesh rival to Google and IBM’s Istio that has held its own in the enterprise because many consider it easier to setup and use.

HashiCorp Nomad vs. Kubernetes pros and cons

Two HashiCorp users published blog posts last year detailing their decision to deploy Nomad over Kubernetes. The on-premises IT team at hotel search site Trivago moved its IT monitoring workloads to the public cloud using Nomad in early 2019. Trivago’s IT staff already had experience with HashiCorp’s tool and found Kubernetes more complex than was necessary for its purposes.

“The additional functionality that Kubernetes had to offer was not worth the extra efforts and human resources required to keep it running,” wrote Inga Feick, a DevOps engineer at Trivago, based in Dusseldorf, Germany. “Remote cloud solutions like a managed Kubernetes cluster or [Amazon ECS] are not an option for our I/O-intense jobs either.”

Another freelance developer cited Nomad’s simplicity in a November 2019 post about porting a project to Nomad from Kubernetes.

“Kubernetes is getting all the visibility for good reasons, but it’s probably not suitable for small to medium companies,” wrote Fabrice Aneche, a software engineering consultant based in Quebec. “You don’t need to deploy Google infrastructure when you are not Google.”

Both blog posts noted significant downsides to HashiCorp Nomad vs Kubernetes at the time, however.

“Nomad is one binary, but the truth is Nomad is almost useless without Consul,” Aneche noted in his post. This adds some complexity to HashiCorp Nomad for production use, since users are required to use Consul’s template language to track changes to the Nomad environment. Version 0.11 adds more detailed insights and alerts to a Nomad remote execution UI to make service management easier. Aneche did not respond to requests for comment about the version 0.11 release this week.

Meanwhile, Trivago’s Feick noted the lack of support for autoscaling in January 2019 made HashiCorp Nomad cumbersome to manage at times.

“You need to specify the resource requirements per job,” she wrote. “Give a job too much CPU and memory and Nomad cannot allocate any, or at least not many, other jobs on the same host. Give it not enough memory and you might find it dying… It would be neat if Nomad had a way of calculating those resource needs on its own. One can dream.” Feick didn’t respond to requests for additional comment this week.

HashiCorp Nomad version 0.11 takes the first step toward full autoscaling support with horizontal application autoscaling, or the ability to provide applications with cluster resources dynamically without manual intervention, a company spokesperson said.

Subsequent releases will support horizontal cluster autoscaling that adds resources to the cluster infrastructure as necessary, along with vertical application autoscaling, which will add and remove instances of applications in response to demand. Autoscaling features will work with VM workloads but are primarily intended for use with containers.

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7 supply chain management best practices in a COVID-19 world

The current COVID-19 crisis brings new meaning to the term disruption. Organizations and their supply chain managers need new supply chain management best practices — and fast.

Coronavirus panic buying, national lockdowns, sudden changes in buying priorities and shipping challenges are each having a different impact on supply chains.

Companies are going to have to face the new reality, which is that we cannot make supply chain decisions based purely on economics, said Tom Derry, CEO of the Institute for Supply Management. Enterprises need to factor in a variety of disruptions, including geopolitical events, weather and health problems.

“For times like this, building innovative ways around supply chain production is not only urgent, but necessary,” said Deepak Lalwani, principal of Deepak Lalwani & Associates LLC, a management consultancy.

Experts see a variety of ways that enterprises can help improve their supply chains to keep customers happy in the short run and build resiliency in the long run. To that end, here are seven supply chain management best practices to explore during the ongoing coronavirus disruptions.

1.      Set up supply command centers

Communication and agility have always been critical to successful supply chain management. In a COVID-19 world, they are even more critical and supply chain management best practices must put actionable communication front and center. Setting up a supply command center is one way to do that.

Several organizations have set up command centers to improve communication and manage material needs in real time, said Steve Abbott, subject matter expert at Patina Solutions, a professional services firm. Military, large OEMs and transportation and logistics firms have employed operational command centers — or OCCs — for years.

“The basic premise is to have a central management function with access to all information, and authority to direct resources and allocate materials in response to a dynamic environment,” Abbott said.

Business and supply chain leaders should understand this isn’t a traditional decision-making approach that requires repeated operational reviews and approvals, he said. Instead, the command center can act as a nerve center for helping executives to quickly identify and mitigate operational threats.

Operating in this way requires a balance of better technology for assessing the current situation and executive skills for acting on them.

The first consideration includes giving command center managers access to business key performance indicators and license to act, Abbott said. Other considerations include developing the analytics used to generate various functional KPIs related to the speed to deliver goods and upgrading ERP systems to improve visibility.

2.      Run tabletop simulations

The COVID-19 pandemic and the response to it will continue to disrupt business processes in a variety of ways, including the loss of key people, suppliers and distribution channels. In the near term, every company should find ways to address business continuity needs.

“Run a tabletop business impact assessment for your organization to determine the impact on your company and your plan of action, should someone become affected in your company,” said Sam Dawes, a senior manager at West Monroe Partners, a business and technology consultancy.

Other tabletop exercises might look at how different policies and events occurring in other countries could affect the business if they occur at home.

Now is the time to reevaluate and soften your current demand plan, Dawes said. Although some exceptions exist, there is a general manufacturing and macroeconomic activity slowdown, so less supply will be required to meet demand.

These kinds of changes may also open opportunities to optimize the labor configuration. For example, it could be helpful to run two skeleton shifts in place of one.

“This mitigates the risk of your entire workforce being out of commission should someone become infected,” Dawes said.

3.      Manage supply chain risk proactively

In a COVID-19 world, supply chain leaders need to adjust best practices away from being reactive or bureaucratic.

This means shifting away from a pure cost-and-control mindset to instead consider proactive risk management, said Alberto Oca, a partner in the strategic operations practice of Kearney, a global strategy and management consulting firm. Supply chains need to be redesigned to treat disruptions as the norm, detect early warnings and be able to sense and pivot seamlessly to offset situations like this.

As part of this, the use of digital twins will increase, Oca said. Organizations can use them to create business process simulations that can be updated in real time as circumstances change. For example, this could include finding the best way to shift production to alternate locations, move inventory to different warehouses, increase or decrease safety stocks and be better prepared overall.

4.      Explore supply chain regionalization

Regionalization is the process of moving more aspects of a supply chain closer to where a product is consumed. This can help reduce transit time, cut tariffs and bolster the appeal of products.

There has been a movement toward regionalization for a lot of reasons and COVID-19 will only accelerate this trend, Derry said.

Regionalization can also help boost the visibility and appeal of manufacturers such as Foxconn’s commitment to building its presence in Wisconsin, GM’s joint venture for a battery plant in Ohio, and Haier’s white goods in Kentucky, Abbott said. These moves are being bolstered by investments in AI, robots and IT systems to increase supply chain efficiency.

Regionalization will play out through nearshoring as a key part of U.S. companies’ shifting strategies, Dawes said. Mexico may be a major winner, as it is able to produce high-quality products with labor costs on par with China. Some industries, such as life sciences and health products, will reshore manufacturing as a defensive response, he said.

5.      Create resilient supply webs

Relying on a single supply line puts a company at greater risk of disruption.

Businesses should consider ways to diversify their supply chains in ways the mimic the food webs of nature, said Kathleen Allen, author of Leading from the Roots: Nature-Inspired Leadership Lessons for Today’s World. This starts with reviewing the current supply lines with an eye on diversification.

Now is the time to create a resilient web of supply lines to feed your business.
Kathleen AllenAuthor, Leading from the Roots: Nature-Inspired Leadership Lessons for Today’s World

It’s also important to evaluate the risk of each supply line according to multiple factors such as risk of disruptions, ability to scale each way and the adaptability of suppliers, she said. Organizations can consider new supply lines as they emerge owing to new business models or improvements to technology.

Businesses shouldn’t just take a “get through this crisis” mindset since the virus may just be one example of unexpected disruption that will happen in the future, Allen said.

“Now is the time to create a resilient web of supply lines to feed your business,” she said.

6.      Understand suppliers

Most companies have a pretty good handle on their key suppliers, but things get murkier with suppliers further up the supply chain. The need for greater visibility and stronger supplier relationships has only become more important with the disruptions of the coronavirus pandemic.

“You need to know who your suppliers are,” Derry said.

Now is a good time to do a deeper dive into the businesses that you are counting on. For example, many companies have invested in developing multiple tier 1 suppliers, but a deeper analysis reveals that these all depend on a single nexus supplier further up the supply chain.

“If there is an issue with the nexus supplier, it does not just affect one supply chain, but the whole industry,” Derry said.

Nestle is a classic example of this kind of analysis. A few years ago, the company analyzed the entire supply chain involved in pet food products and found that most of the protein came from fish sources that used slave labor. Nestle reportedly is working to redo its entire supply chain to eliminate these suppliers.

Many companies of all sizes, including large OEMs, are finally getting serious about really executing supplier assessments and performance audits rather than simply going through the motions, Abbott said. In his experience most supplier assessments and supply chain audits have been ineffective. This has been because business leaders sourced tier 2 and tier 3 suppliers without adequate due diligence, and consequently risk management and response plans were lacking as well.

7.      Create innovation labs

As new developments unfold, organizational and supply chain leaders should explore how they can get agile and use technology to strengthen a company’s supply chain.

To this end, organizations should invest in creating innovation labs, Lalwani said. Innovation labs teams can work to come up with new ideas, execute them and iterate until the idea is fully executed or integrated into a business. This gives enterprises the opportunity to identify supply chain trends and apply innovative solutions to complex logistics issues.

For example, DHL has a 28,000-square-foot innovation center in Chicago where companies can learn about the latest supply chain technology and help them on their path toward digitization. The center provides customers and partners technical expertise with a variety of supporting technologies, including robotics, warehouse automation, AI, IoT and analytics.

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Everbridge Critical Event Management tailored for COVID-19

47 million. That’s the number of coronavirus-related messages Everbridge sent on behalf of its users in the past week.

Everbridge Critical Event Management software is on the front lines of coronavirus IT response, aided by a specially targeted line of products and recent acquisitions.

Everbridge CTO Imad Mouline said the usage pattern for his company’s software is typically spiky. The system was built for large fluctuations in usage and can add capacity quickly.

“This is something we’re really, really good at,” Mouline said.

Other incidents have put Everbridge software to the test. For example, during Hurricane Dorian in 2019, Everbridge users sent out 14 million messages in just a few days, Mouline said, and that was in a smaller geographical area.

Everbridge takes on coronavirus with ‘Shield’

To aid employee protection and business continuity during the coronavirus pandemic, Everbridge launched COVID-19 Shield. The software as a service includes targeted pandemic data feeds and rapid deployment templates.

COVID-19 Shield uses the Everbridge Critical Event Management platform to help organizations identify risks, protect the workforce and manage disruptions to operations and supply chain.

Screenshot of Everbridge dashboard
An Everbridge dashboard shows assets that are potentially impacted by COVID-19 in the Washington D.C. area.

Everbridge has three COVID-19 service levels, which build on each other.

The entry-level “Know Your Risks” provides COVID-19 alerts featuring real-time intelligence such as case statistics, travel advisories, closures and supply chain impacts. The next level up, “Protect Your People,” manages critical response plans, automates communications and includes a potential threat feed and coronavirus-specific messaging templates.

“Protect Your Operations and Supply Chains,” which includes the other two offerings’ capabilities, automatically correlates alerts to physical assets, including buildings and people. It also initiates standard operating procedures to resolve issues and generates real-time status reports on remediation and recovery tasks.

COVID-19 Shield provides access to the Everbridge Data Sharing Private Network, where users can share information publicly and privately to facilitate enhanced local intelligence and response coordination.

Everbridge offers a “Rapid Deployment” package for governments, businesses and healthcare organizations that gets the COVID-19 Shield running in less than two days, according to the vendor. 

Mouline said the coronavirus-tailored products can help streamline communication, provide situational awareness and offer a quick form of protection.

Pricing is based on the size of the organization, for example, the number of people or assets in need of protection. Assets may include the number of office locations or supply chain elements.

The Everbridge Critical Event Management platform in total reaches more than 550 million people globally, according to the vendor, which is based in Burlington, Mass. Everbridge claims about 5,000 customers.

Learn best practices for pandemic response

Paul Kirvan, a business resilience and disaster recovery consultant, said it’s important for employees to heed messages from their businesses and government.

Emergency notification software such as Everbridge’s is most appropriate for notifying employees of any new company policies, government notifications, reminders about social distancing and hand washing, and other messages for broad distribution,” Kirvan wrote in an email. “The same can be true for notifying remote domestic offices, overseas offices, regulatory authorities, government agencies and other important stakeholders.”

Information sharing between companies and within industry groups is invaluable, not just for status reports but also to help share insights into effective crisis and continuity strategies, said Jackie Day, a partner at consulting firm Control Risks, on a webinar last week hosted by her company and Everbridge.

Companies should also take advantage of lessons learned from others who have gone through the pandemic crisis, such as Asian organizations, said Matt Hinton, a partner at Control Risks.

While talk of a business impact analysis is often greeted with eye rolls, Hinton said, companies with one are better prepared to deal with tricky scenarios.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach.

“Your actions have to be targeted,” Everbridge’s Mouline said.

Mouline advised organizations to clearly separate informational messaging from emergency messaging, as employees are bombarded with information.

You want to communicate on a regular basis, but you want to avoid over-alerting.
Imad MoulineCTO, Everbridge

“Use the alerting capabilities sparingly,” Mouline said. “You want to communicate on a regular basis, but you want to avoid over-alerting.”

And the crisis will end at some point, Hinton noted. So organizations need to be thinking about recovery and the transition back to the office environment.

“Recovery is often that forgotten son when it comes to crisis management,” Hinton said.

Everbridge acquires three companies

Everbridge has been busy with acquisitions lately, purchasing technology that is helping coronavirus response.

The Everbridge Critical Event Management platform’s new IoT extension module uses intellectual property from technology acquisitions of Connexient and CNL Software. Critical Event Management for IoT increases the number of uses for the Everbridge platform. For example, it improves the ability to coordinate first responders and other healthcare resources based on real-time data on the broader impact of COVID-19.

Specifically, Connexient provides information on indoor positioning and wayfinding, with a focus on healthcare organizations. CNL offers integrations with a variety of other types of devices, including access control systems, building management systems, intrusion detection systems and fire panels, Mouline said. The Critical Event Management platform will send out information on needed next steps, for example sounding an alarm or locking doors.

Everbridge also acquired cell broadcast provider One2many. The resulting unified Public Warning System provides a countrywide population alerting capability. The platform enables countries to share updates on viral hotspots and pandemic best practices; coordinate first responders and healthcare resources; establish two-way communications with at-risk populations; and manage disruptions to transportation, education and other services, according to Everbridge.

The three acquired companies have each become an “Everbridge company.” Everbridge did not release terms of the acquisitions.

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Virtual hiring, avoiding layoffs part of HR’s pandemic response

Grocers, distributors and delivery operators are hiring in large numbers to meet demand. CVS Pharmacy, for instance, said Monday it is hiring 50,000 full-time workers — and in a pandemic-friendly way. It will hire using “virtual job fairs, virtual interviews and virtual job tryouts,” it said.

Unemployment claims are soaring, and there is no doubt that the coronavirus outbreak is having an ugly effect on the job market. But there’s another side to the economic fallout: Firms are trying to avoid layoffs and some hiring continues — nearly all of it with the help of virtual hiring tools. 

In research conducted late last week, 49% of the 800 firms Gartner surveyed have imposed a hiring freeze. But only about 8% of those firms have started a downsizing process, said Brian Kropp, chief of HR research at Gartner.

The mindset of firms right now “is the belief that this is going to be a quarter to maybe two-quarter problem, and not a year to two-year problem,” Kropp said.

“They are avoiding — at all costs — laying off employees,” Kropp said. Firms are trying to do all they can to manage costs around different parts of the business, he said.

For those firms that are hiring, virtual hiring tools are gaining ground. For people seeking jobs at CVS, the firm provides a link to a video interviewing platform from HireVue Inc.

Virtual hiring process

The CVS vetting process includes a “Virtual Job Tryout.” Applicants may get a “situational judgment test” that “presents problem situations.” There are four possible responses; applicants pick their most likely response and least likely response, according to the site.

Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., an outplacement firm in Chicago, has surveyed 200 companies beginning Friday and said 35% have instituted a hiring freeze. It found that 48% of firms are conducting job interviews, and 78% of firms that are hiring are conducting the process virtually.

They are avoiding — at all costs — laying off employees.
Brian KroppChief of HR research, Gartner

“There’s still this optimism among medium to large employers,” said Andrew Challenger, senior vice president at Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

There is a belief that “there’s going to be a snap back in the economy at the end of this crisis,” Challenger said. “Companies went into the crisis on pretty sound financial footing,” he said.

Some firms are furloughing employees and maintaining benefits for them. Doing so will enable employers to return them to work quickly, Challenger said.

Only 14% of firms are still doing in-person interviews, according to Challenger. Virtual interviewing is the preferred method now, he said.

In its survey, 57% of firms are still onboarding, or hiring workers.

“Businesses that rely on foot traffic are being deeply affected,” Challenger said. “But there is a segment of the economy that has adapted to working from home and to conducting business virtually in a way that allows them to stay moving forward.”

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Nutanix Objects 2.0 lays groundwork for hybrid cloud

Nutanix pitched its latest Objects update as scale-out object storage workloads, but experts said the hyper-converged infrastructure specialist is likely preparing for a push into the cloud.

Nutanix Objects 2.0 introduced features aimed at big data workloads. The new multicluster support consolidates Nutanix clusters to a single namespace, allowing for simpler, single-console management. Nutanix Objects 2.0 also added a 240 TB node that is larger than any other Nutanix HCI node, allowing more capacity per cluster. The update also added WORM support and Splunk certification.

Nutanix Objects, which launched in August 2019, provides software-defined object storage and is a stand-alone product from Nutanix HCI. Greg Smith, vice president of product marketing at Nutanix, said typical use cases included unstructured data archiving, big data and analytics. He also noticed an uptick in cloud-native application development in AWS S3 environments. Nutanix HCI software uses an S3 interface.

“We see increasing demand for object storage, particularly for big data,” Smith said.

Supporting cloud-native development is the real endgame of Nutanix Objects 2.0, said Eric Slack, senior analyst at Evaluator Group. The new features and capabilities aren’t to capture customers with traditional object storage use cases, because it’s not cost-effective to put multiple petabytes on HCI. He said no one is waiting for an S3 interface before buying into HCI.

However, that S3 interface is important because, according to Slack, “S3 is what cloud storage talks.”

Slack believes the enhancements to Nutanix Objects will lay the groundwork for Nutanix Clusters, which is currently in beta. Nutanix Clusters allows Nutanix HCI to run in the cloud and communicate with Nutanix HCI running in the data center. This means organizations can develop applications on-site and run them in the cloud, or vice versa.

“I think that’s why they’re doing this — they’re getting ready for Nutanix Clusters,” Slack said. “This really plays into their cloud design, which is a good idea.”

Organizations want that level of flexibility right now because they do not know which workloads are more cost-efficient to run on premises or in the cloud. Having that same, consistent S3 interface is ideal for IT, Slack said, because it means their applications will run wherever it’s cheaper.

Some organizations have been burned during cloud’s initial hype and moved many of their workloads there, only to find their costs have gone up. Slack said that has led to repatriation back into data centers as businesses do the cost analysis.

“Cloud wasn’t everything we thought it was,” Slack said.

Scott Sinclair, senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG), came to a similar conclusion about the importance of Nutanix Objects. HCI is about consolidating and simplifying server, network and storage, and Objects expands Nutanix HCI into covering object storage’s traditional use cases: archive and active archive. However, there are growing use cases centered around developing in S3.

“We’re seeing the development of apps that write to an S3 API that may not be what we classify as traditional archive,” Sinclair said.

Screenshot of Nutanix Objects 2.0
Nutanix’s S3 interface streamlines interaction between on premises and cloud.

Citing ESG’s 2020 Technology Spending Intentions survey, Sinclair said 64% of IT decision-makers said their IT environments are more complex than they were years ago. Coupled with other data pointing to skills shortages in IT, Sinclair said organizations are currently looking for ways to simplify their data centers, resulting in interest in HCI.

That same survey also found 24% of respondents said they needed to go hybrid, with the perception that using the cloud is easier. Sinclair said this will logically lead to an increase in the use of S3 protocols, and why Nutanix Objects is uniquely well-positioned. Right now, IT administrators know they need to be using both on-premises and cloud resources, but they don’t know to what extent they should be using either. That’s why businesses are taking the most flexible approach.

“Knowing that you don’t know is a smart position to take,” Sinclair said.

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Endpoint management in a COVID-19 world

Employees forced to work from home due to the coronavirus pandemic are using a variety of internet-connected devices — including smartphones, tablets, smart speakers, and both corporate-owned and employee-owned computers — to get their jobs done. Yet the use of each additional device poses a threat to a company’s security strategy.

For IT administrators, the management of those devices, including such means as those provided by unified endpoint management products, is now a critical consideration for enterprises in a COVID-19 world. Endpoint management is used to secure devices before they are given access to a company’s network. Unified endpoint management is the concept of controlling multiple types of devices through a single console.

“With much of the global workforce moving to work remotely, endpoint security has never been more critical,” said Christopher Sherman, senior analyst at Forrester Research. “In many cases, enterprises are quickly provisioning new remote resources to their employees, further exposing an already increasing attack surface.”

With these additional devices potentially serving as new attack vectors, he said, opportunities for cybercriminals have grown.

“We’ve already seen opportunistic attackers taking advantage of the pandemic and increasing their campaigns against consumers, as well as employees,” he said. “This is likely to increase as the quarantines continue.”

Accelerating the mobility trend

Mark Bowker, senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG), said the trend toward mobility and remote work has existed since the launch of the iPhone and has already forced IT professionals to secure an “expanded perimeter” around a company’s data.

Mark Bowker, senior analyst, Enterprise Strategy GroupMark Bowker

Citing an ESG survey of full-time employees — including those in sales, marketing, HR, finance, IT, engineering, software development and customer service — Bowker said 74% of respondents did at least some work in a non-office setting at least once a week, while 50% did so every day of the work week.

“Employees expect to be productive from anywhere, and most IT organizations have implemented capabilities to securely deliver applications and data to employees,” he said. “The current challenge is rapidly scaling existing deployment, while maintaining security policies for users that may have a higher risk profile associated with them — and [who are] no longer working on a known network or known device.”

Alex Willis, vice president of global sales engineering at BlackBerry, agreed, noting the predominance of the mobile workforce.

Alex Willis, vice president of global sales engineering, BlackBerryAlex Willis

“Now there’s a lockdown, and at most places, people are having to do their entire job on these devices,” he said. “I think the problem organizations are seeing is the urgency in expanding it beyond the typical road warrior or mobile worker. They’re talking people who have never worked from home before and they’re having to, very quickly, set them up in a home office.”

Jason Dettbarn, founder and CEO of cloud-based Apple device management firm Addigy, said there had been increased demand for device-management products since the early days of the outbreak.

“The clear consensus is that a lot of people didn’t feel they needed device management for Apple,” he said. “They’ve had a BYOD model, maybe, or have allowed [Apple devices] in the office … now, they have this forced need where they really have to make sure they’re managing [these devices].”

Employee devices provide flexibility and risk

Given the widespread nature of the pandemic, many firms are trying to roll out remote work devices at the same time — making provisioning a challenge. This, experts noted, could lead to enterprises allowing employees to use their own devices — a flexible option, but one that imperils data security.

“Most people have really powerful home computers these days, but getting remote access to be productive on a home computer introduces a lot of risk,” Willis said. “If you don’t control the machines, you can’t really control the security posture of that machine.”

Jason Dettbarn, founder and CEO, AddigyJason Dettbarn

The same holds true on the mobile side, Dettbarn said. As Apple depends on China for manufacturing, the company is facing a shortage of devices available to enterprises — meaning those businesses may have to rely on the devices employees have on hand for mobile productivity.

“A lot of [employees] will likely have an Apple device in their home that they can use for BYOD,” he said. “Now, an organization that might be a little more Windows-focused might have to adapt to Apple devices to get people up and running.”

Zero trust for remote work

As companies may be forced to rely on employee devices, they could turn to zero-trust security — in which a user’s actions and devices are continuously evaluated — to allay security worries.

Chris Sherman, senior analyst, Forrester ResearchChris Sherman

“When a company implements a zero-trust strategy extending to all their edge devices, they can afford to be less concerned with the health of the … employee’s home network, since protection is centered around what is most at risk — their corporate apps and company data,” Forrester’s Sherman said.

Willis said zero trust represented a departure from the castle-and-moat approach to security — a model in which everything outside the firewall was untrusted and everything inside was considered safe.

“Now, with zero trust, it doesn’t matter if you’re in the network or not. Everything is considered untrusted,” he said. “Even though the users don’t know it, they’re being authenticated with every step they take: How are they interacting with the application? What network are they on? What endpoint are they [using]?”

If something looks wrong, Willis said, the zero-trust management product will require reauthentication, but the hope is to keep employees from having to jump through hoops to accomplish their usual tasks.

Getting management in place

Like many other companies, both BlackBerry and Addigy are providing limited-time free access to some of their products during the coronavirus crisis. Dettbarn said the nature of the situation drove the decision.

“Everybody is so uncertain about what’s going on, that admins are handcuffed by financial constraints or a spending freeze,” he said. “If [IT administrators] had to go get those financial approvals [to buy new management products], that’s probably not going to happen.”

[Companies] think the end goal is connectivity, but the real end goal needs to be secured connectivity.
Alex WillisVice president of global sales engineering, BlackBerry

Sherman said proper patch and configuration management, as well as a robust endpoint security solution, are the best ways to protect the devices employees use for remote work.

“To this end, we’re seeing many endpoint management-focused products offering combined management and security,” he said.

Willis said organizations that are hoping to put work-from-home plans together quickly would do well to remember the importance of device management.

“[Companies] think the end goal is connectivity, but the real end goal needs to be secured connectivity,” he said.

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Canon breach exposes General Electric employee data

Canon Business Process Services suffered a security incident, according to a data breach disclosure by General Electric, for which Canon processes current and former employees’ documents and beneficiary-related documents.

GE systems were not impacted by the cyberattack, according to the company’s disclosure, but personally identifiable information for current and former employees as well as their beneficiaries was exposed in the Canon breach. The breach, which was first reported by BleepingComputer, took place between Feb. 3 and Feb. 14 of this year, and GE was notified of the breach on the 28th. According to the disclosure, “an unauthorized party gained access to an email account that contained documents of certain GE employees, former employees and beneficiaries entitled to benefits that were maintained on Canon’s systems.”

Said documents included “direct deposit forms, driver’s licenses, passports, birth certificates, marriage certificates, death certificates, medical child support orders, tax withholding forms, beneficiary designation forms and applications for benefits such as retirement, severance and death benefits with related forms and documents.” Personal information stolen “may have included names, addresses, Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers, bank account numbers, passport numbers, dates of birth, and other information contained in the relevant forms.”

GE’s disclosure also said Canon retained “a data security expert” to conduct a forensic investigation. At GE’s request, Canon is offering two years of free identity protection and credit monitoring services.

GE shared the following statement with SearchSecurity regarding the Canon breach.

“We are aware of a data security incident experienced by one of GE’s suppliers, Canon Business Process Services, Inc. We understand certain personal information on Canon’s systems may have been accessed by an unauthorized individual. Protection of personal information is a top priority for GE, and we are taking steps to notify the affected employees and former employees,” the statement read.

Canon did not return SearchSecurity’s request for comment. At press time, Canon has not released a public statement.

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