Tag Archives: focus

SwiftStack 7 storage upgrade targets AI, machine learning use cases

SwiftStack turned its focus to artificial intelligence, machine learning and big data analytics with a major update to its object- and file-based storage and data management software.

The San Francisco software vendor’s roots lie in the storage, backup and archive of massive amounts of unstructured data on commodity servers running a commercially supported version of OpenStack Swift. But SwiftStack has steadily expanded its reach over the last eight years, and its 7.0 update takes aim at the new scale-out storage and data management architecture the company claims is necessary for AI, machine learning and analytics workloads.

SwiftStack said it worked with customers to design clusters that scale linearly to handle multiple petabytes of data and support throughput of more than 100 GB per second. That allows it to handle workloads such as autonomous vehicle applications that feed data into GPU-based servers.

Marc Staimer, president of Dragon Slayer Consulting, said throughput of 100 GB per second is “really fast” for any type of storage and “incredible” for an object-based system. He said the fastest NVMe system tests at 120 GB per second, but it can scale only to about a petabyte.

“It’s not big enough, and NVMe flash is extremely costly. That doesn’t fit the AI [or machine learning] market,” Staimer said.

This is the second object storage product launched this week with speed not normally associated with object storage. NetApp unveiled an all-flash StorageGrid array Tuesday at its Insight user conference.

Staimer said SwiftStack’s high-throughput “parallel object system” would put the company into competition with parallel file system vendors such as DataDirect Networks, IBM Spectrum Scale and Panasas, but at a much lower cost.

New ProxyFS Edge

SwiftStack 7 plans introduce a new ProxyFS Edge containerized software component next year to give remote applications a local file system mount for data, rather than having to connect through a network file serving protocol such as NFS or SMB. SwiftStack spent about 18 months creating a new API and software stack to extend its ProxyFS to the edge.

Founder and chief product officer Joe Arnold said SwiftStack wanted to utilize the scale-out nature of its storage back end and enable a high number of concurrent connections to go in and out of the system to send data. ProxyFS Edge will allow each cluster node to be relatively stateless and cache data at the edge to minimize latency and improve performance.

SwiftStack 7 will also add 1space File Connector software in November to enable customers that build applications using the S3 or OpenStack Swift object API to access data in their existing file systems. The new File Connector is an extension to the 1space technology that SwiftStack introduced in 2018 to ease data access, migration and searches across public and private clouds. Customers will be able to apply 1space policies to file data to move and protect it.

Arnold said the 1space File Connector could be especially helpful for media companies and customers building software-as-a-service applications that are transitioning from NAS systems to object-based storage.

“Most sources of data produce files today and the ability to store files in object storage, with its greater scalability and cost value, makes the [product] more valuable,” said Randy Kerns, a senior strategist and analyst at Evaluator Group.

Kerns added that SwiftStack’s focus on the developing AI area is a good move. “They have been associated with OpenStack, and that is not perceived to be a positive and colors its use in larger enterprise markets,” he said.

AI architecture

A new SwiftStack AI architecture white paper offers guidance to customers building out systems that use popular AI, machine learning and deep learning frameworks, GPU servers, 100 Gigabit Ethernet networking, and SwiftStack storage software.

“They’ve had a fair amount of success partnering with Nvidia on a lot of the machine learning projects, and their software has always been pretty good at performance — almost like a best-kept secret — especially at scale, with parallel I/O,” said George Crump, president and founder of Storage Switzerland. “The ability to ratchet performance up another level and get the 100 GBs of bandwidth at scale fits perfectly into the machine learning model where you’ve got a lot of nodes and you’re trying to drive a lot of data to the GPUs.”

SwiftStack noted distinct differences between the architectural approaches that customers take with archive use cases versus newer AI or machine learning workloads. An archive customer might use 4U or 5U servers, each equipped with 60 to 90 drives, and 10 Gigabit Ethernet networking. By contrast, one machine learning client clustered a larger number of lower horsepower 1U servers, each with fewer drives and a 100 Gigabit Ethernet network interface card, for high bandwidth, he said.

An optional new SwiftStack Professional Remote Operations (PRO) paid service is now available to help customers monitor and manage SwiftStack production clusters. SwiftStack PRO combines software and professional services.

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How to keep VM sprawl in check

During the deployment of virtual environments, the focus is on the design and setup. Rarely are the environments revisited to check if improvements are possible.

Virtualization brought many benefits to data center operations, such as reliability and flexibility. One drawback is it can lead to VM sprawl and the generation of more VMs that contend for a finite amount of resources. VMs are not free; storage and compute have a real capital cost. This cost gets amplified if you look to move these resources into the cloud. It’s up to the administrator to examine the infrastructure resources and make sure these VMs have just what they need because the costs never go away and typically never go down.

Use Excel to dig into resource usage

One of the fundamental tools you need for this isn’t Hyper-V or some virtualization product — it’s Excel. Dashboards are nice, but there are times you need the raw data for more in-depth analysis. Nothing can provide that like Excel.

Most monitoring tools export data to CSV format. You can import this file into Excel for analysis. Shared storage is expensive, so I always like to see a report on drive space. It’s interesting to see what servers consume the most drive space, and where. If you split your servers into a C: for the OS and D: for the data, shouldn’t most of the C: drives use the same amount of space? Outside of your application install, why should the C: drives vary in space? Are admins leaving giant ISOs in the download folder or recycle bin? Or are multiple admins logging on with roaming profiles?

Whatever the reason, runaway C: drives can chew up your primary storage quickly. If it is something simple such as ISO files that should have been removed, keep in mind that this affects your backups as well. You can just buy additional storage in a pinch and, because often many us in IT are on autopilot mode, it’s easy to not give drive space issues a second thought.

Overallocation is not as easy to correct

VM sprawl is one thing but when was the last time you looked at what resources you allocated to those VMs to see what they are actually using? The allocation process is still a little bit of a guess until things get up and running fully. Underallocation is often noticed promptly and corrected quickly, and everything moves forward.

A review process could reveal places that could use an adjustment to drain resources from overallocated VMs to avoid trouble in the future.

Do you ever check for overallocation? Do you ever go back and remove extra CPU cores or RAM? In my experience, no one ever does. If everything runs well, there’s little incentive to make changes.

Some in IT like to gamble and assume everything will run properly most of the time, but it’s less stressful to prepare for some of these unlikely events. Is it possible that a host or two will fail, or that a network issue strikes your data center? You have to be prepared for failure and at a scale that is more than what you might think. We all know things will rarely fail in a way that is favorable to you. A review process could reveal places that could use an adjustment to drain resources from overallocated VMs to avoid trouble in the future.

Look closer at all aspects of VM sprawl to trim costs

Besides the resource aspect what about the licensing cost? With more and more products now allocating by core, overallocation of resources has an instant impact on the application cost to start but it gets worse. It’s the annual maintenance costs that pick at your budget and drain your resources for no gain if you cannot tighten your resource allocation.

One other maintenance item that gets overlooked is reboots. When a majority of Windows Server deployments moved from hardware to virtualization, the runtime typically increased. This increase in stability brought with it an inadvertent problem. Too often, busy IT shops without structured patching and reboot cycles only performed these tasks when a server went offline, which — for better or worse — created a maintenance window.

With virtualization, the servers tend to run for longer stretches and show more unique issues. Memory leaks that might have gone unnoticed before — because they were reset during a reboot — can affect servers in unpredictable ways. Virtualization admins need to be on alert to recognize behaviors that might be out of the norm. If you right-size your VMs, you should have enough resources for them to run normally and still handle the occasional spikes in demand. If you see your VMs requiring more resources than normal, this could point to resource leaks that need to be reset.

Often, the process to get systems online is rushed, leads to VM sprawl and overlooks any attempts at optimization. This can be anything from overallocations to simple cleanup. If this isn’t done, you lose out on ways to make the environment more efficient, losing both performance and capacity. While this all makes sense, it’s important to follow through and actually do it.

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Oracle Cloud Infrastructure updates hone in on security

SAN FRANCISCO — Oracle hopes a focus on advanced security can help its market-lagging IaaS gain ground against the likes of AWS, Microsoft and Google.

A new feature called Maximum Security Zones lets customers denote enclaves within their Oracle Cloud Infrastructure (OCI) environments that have all security measures turned on by default. Resources within the zones are limited to configurations that are known to be secure. The system will also prevent alterations to configurations and provide continuous monitoring and defenses against anomalies, Oracle said on the opening day of its OpenWorld conference.

Through Maximum Security Zones, customers “will be better protected from the consequences of misconfigurations than they are in other cloud environments today,” Oracle said in an obvious allusion to recent data breaches, such as the Capital One-AWS hack, which have been blamed on misconfigured systems that gave intruders a way in.

“Ultimately, our goal is to deliver to you a fully autonomous cloud,” said Oracle executive chairman and CTO Larry Ellison, during a keynote. 

“If you spend the night drinking and get into your Ford F-150 and crash it, that’s not Ford’s problem,” he said. “If you get into an autonomous Tesla, it should get you home safely.”

Oracle wants to differentiate itself and OCI from AWS, which consistently promotes a shared responsibility model for security between itself and customers. “We’re trying to leapfrog that construct,” said Vinay Kumar, vice president of product management for Oracle Cloud Infrastructure.

“The cloud has always been about, you have to bring your own expertise and architecture to get this right,” said Leo Leung, senior director of products and strategy at OCI. “Think about this as a best-practice deployment automatically. … We’re going to turn all the security on and let the customer decide what is ultimately right for them.”

Security is too important to rely solely on human effort.
Holger MuellerVice president and principal analyst, Constellation Research.

Oracle’s Autonomous Database, which is expected to be a big focal point at this year’s OpenWorld, will benefit from a new service called Oracle Data Safe. This provides a set of controls for securing the database beyond built-in features such as always-on encryption and will be included as part of the cost of Oracle Database Cloud services, according to a statement.

Finally, Oracle announced Cloud Guard, which it says can spot threats and misconfigurations and “hunt down and kill” them automatically. It wasn’t immediately clear whether Cloud Guard is a homegrown Oracle product or made by a third-party vendor. Security vendor Check Point offers an IaaS security product called CloudGuard for use with OCI.

Starting in 2017, Oracle began to talk up new autonomous management and security features for its database, and the OpenWorld announcements repeat that mantra, said Holger Mueller, an analyst at Constellation Research in Cupertino, Calif. “Security is too important to rely solely on human effort,” he said.

OCI expansions target disaster recovery, compliance

Oracle also said it will broadly expand OCI’s global cloud footprint, with the launch of 20 new regions by the end of next year. The rollout will bring Oracle’s region count to 36, spread across North America, Europe, South America, the Middle East, Asia-Pacific, India and Australia.

This expansion will add multiple regions in certain geographies, allowing for localized disaster recovery scenarios as well as improved regulatory compliance around data location. Oracle plans to add multi-region support in every country it offers OCI and claimed this approach is superior to the practice of including multiple availability zones in a single region.

Oracle’s recently announced cloud interoperability partnership with Microsoft is also getting a boost. The interconnect that ties together OCI and Azure, now available in Virginia and London, will also be offered in the Western U.S., Asia and Europe over the next nine months, according to a statement. In most cases, Oracle is leasing data center space from providers such as Equinix, according to Kumar.

Holger MuellerHolger Mueller

SaaS vendors are another key customer target for Oracle with OCI. To that end, it announced new integrated third-party billing capabilities for the OCI software marketplace released earlier this year. Oracle also cited SaaS providers who are taking advantage of Oracle Cloud Infrastructure for their own underlying infrastructure, including McAfee and Cisco.

There’s something of value for enterprise customers in OCI attracting more independent software vendors, an area where Oracle also lags against the likes of AWS, Microsoft and Google, according to Mueller.

“In contrast to enterprises, they bring a lot of workloads, often to be transferred from on-premises or even other clouds to their preferred vendor,” he said. “For the IaaS vendor, that means a lot of scale, in a market that lives by economies of scale: More workloads means lower prices.”

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The nine roles you need on your data science research team

It’s easy to focus too much on building a data science research team loaded with Ph.D.s to do machine learning at the expense of developing other data science skills needed to compete in today’s data-driven, digital economy. While high-end, specialty data science skills for machine learning are important, they can also get in the way of a more pragmatic and useful adoption of data science. That’s the view of Cassie Kozyrkov, chief decision scientist at Google and a proponent of the democratization of data-based organizational decision-making.

To start, CIOs need to expand their thinking about the types of roles involved in implementing data science programs, Kozyrkov said at the recent Rev Data Science Leaders Summit in San Francisco.

For example, it’s important to think about data science research as a specialty role developed to provide intelligence for important business decisions. “If an answer involves one or more important decisions, then you need to bring in the data scientists,” said Kozyrkov, who designed Google’s analytics program and trained more than 15,000 Google employees in statistics, decision-making and machine learning.

But other tasks related to data analytics, like making informational charts, testing out various algorithms and making better decisions, are best handled by other data science team members with entirely different skill sets.

Data science roles: The nine must-haves

There are a variety of data science research roles for an organization to consider and certain characteristics best suited for each. Most enterprises already have correctly filled several of these data science positions, but most will also have people with the wrong skills or motivations in certain data science roles. This mismatch can slow things down or demotivate others throughout the enterprise, so it’s important for CIOs to carefully consider who staffs these roles to get the most from their data science research.

Here is Kozyrkov’s rundown of the essential data science roles and the part each plays in helping organizations make more intelligent business decisions.

Data engineers are people who have the skills and ability to get data required for analysis at scale.

Basic analysts could be anyone in the organization with a willingness to explore data and plot relationships using various tools. Kozyrkov suggested it may be hard for data scientists to cede some responsibility for basic analysis to others. But, in the long run, the value of data scientists will grow, as more people throughout the company are already doing basic analytics.

Expert analysts, on the other hand, should be able to search through data sets quickly. You don’t want to put a software engineer or very methodical person in this role, because they are too slow.

“The expert software engineer will do something beautiful, but won’t look at much of your data sets,” Kozyrkov said. You want someone who is sloppy and will run around your data. Caution is warranted in buffering expert analysts from software developers inclined to complain about sloppy — yet quickly produced — code.

Statisticians are the spoilsports who will explain how your latest theory does not hold up for 20 different reasons. These people can kill motivation and excitement. But they are also important for coming to conclusions safely for important decisions.

A machine learning engineer is not a researcher who builds algorithms. Instead, these AI-focused computer programmers excel at moving a lot of data sets through a variety of software packages to decide if the output looks promising. The best person for this job is not a perfectionist who would slow things down by looking for the best algorithm.

A good machine learning engineer, in Kozyrkov’s view, is someone who doesn’t know what they are doing and will try out everything quickly. “The perfectionist needs to have the perfection encouraged out of them,” she said.

Too many businesses are trying to staff the team with a bunch of Ph.D. researchers. These folks want to do research, not solve a business problem.
Cassie Kozyrkovchief decision scientist at Google

A data scientist is an expert who is well-trained in statistics and also good at machine learning. They tend to be expensive, so Kozyrkov recommended using them strategically.

A data science manager is a data scientist who wakes up one day and decides he or she wants to do something different to benefit the bottom line. These folks can connect the decision-making side of business with the data science of big data. “If you find one of these, grab them and never let them go,” Kozyrkov said.

A qualitative expert is a social scientist who can assess decision-making. This person is good at helping decision-makers set up a problem in a way that can be solved with data science. They tend to have better business management training than some of the other roles.

A data science researcher has the skills to craft customized data science and machine learning algorithms. Data science researchers should not be an early hire. “Too many businesses are trying to staff the team with a bunch of Ph.D. researchers. These folks want to do research, not solve a business problem,” Kozyrkov said. “This is a hire you only need in a few cases.”

Prioritize data science research projects

For CIOs looking to build their data science research team, develop a strategy for prioritizing and assigning data science projects. (See the aforementioned advice on hiring data science researchers.)

Decisions about what to prioritize should involve front-line business managers, who can decide what data science projects are worth pursuing.

In the long run, some of the most valuable skills lie in learning how to bridge the gap between business decision-makers and other roles. Doing this in a pragmatic way requires training in statistics, neuroscience, psychology, economic management, social sciences and machine learning, Kozyrkov said. 

Microsoft Inspire 2018: Industry focus, co-selling among top trends

Microsoft aims to double down its focus on specific industries, a year-old initiative that company executives said is already bearing fruit in customer response and new business.

The continued emphasis on such vertical markets as financial services, manufacturing, retail, healthcare and government ranks among the top developments at Microsoft Inspire 2018, the company’s annual partner conference that runs through July 19 in Las Vegas. Microsoft’s industry focus was a key theme at Inspire in 2017, when the company said it would reorganize around industry lines to better understand its customers’ businesses. That shift affected a range of areas at Microsoft, from engineering to sales.

But the industry  approach  has already helped land such customers as Starbucks, Unilever, Dun & Bradstreet, and Komatsu, noted Judson Althoff, executive vice president of worldwide commercial business at Microsoft. He said partners are a crucial element of its industry campaign.

“Partners are the beginning and the end, the first and the last mile of our industry strategy,” Althoff said, speaking at Microsoft Inspire 2018. “[Partners] bring forward the differentiation we need to make our customers’ digital transformations come to life.

While last year’s focus was on launching a new go-to-market strategy and structure, Microsoft is now looking to execute on that industry-oriented foundation. Althoff said the industry approach would remain a consistent part of the company’s strategy moving into Microsoft’s 2019 fiscal year, which began July 1.

Chart summarizing Microsoft's strategic initiatives
At Microsoft Inspire 2018, the company continued to emphasize digital transformation as a pivotal opportunity, while restating its focus on vertical industries.

Industry partnering

Microsoft is tapping partners for their industry experience and knowledge — important qualities to have on hand as the Redmond company shifts from selling licenses to delivering digital transformation, which the company has identified as a $4.5 trillion opportunity.

But Microsoft is also looking to partners to develop solutions that build upon core offerings such as the Microsoft Azure platform, Microsoft Office and Dynamics 365. Althoff said Microsoft’s commercial marketplace has five times as many solutions available today than a year ago, noting partners are “building code” and “investing in IP.”

I really love the fact that we can build onto Microsoft core product.
Richard Marrisonnational leader of technology advisory, KPMG Australia

A Microsoft partner venture in the financial services vertical provides one case in point. KPMG Australia, Microsoft and the Commonwealth Bank of Australia are collaborating on a software platform called Wiise, which is slated to launch in August 2018. The system, which targets small and medium-sized businesses, integrates online banking functionality into a business management platform. Wiise also integrates with other offerings such as Office 365.

Richard Marrison, national leader of technology advisory at KPMG Australia, cited the ability to develop solutions on Microsoft infrastructure.

“I … really love the fact that we can build onto Microsoft core product,” he said during a panel discussion at Microsoft Inspire 2018. “There are very few technologies where you can actually do that in a structured and systemic way.”

In the healthcare vertical, ClearData, a healthcare cloud security and compliance company based in Austin, Texas, this week unveiled an offering for Microsoft Azure. The company said the product lets healthcare organizations using Azure maintain compliance with laws relating to protected health information.

Matt Ferrari, CTO at ClearData, said the company views industry verticalization inside of Microsoft as a driver for customer adoption of the Microsoft Azure platform.

“Microsoft has spent significant time building up their capabilities on the security, compliance and privacy side of Azure, and this has helped lead to healthcare organizations feeling more comfortable with moving their data to Azure-based services,” he explained.

Ferrari said ClearData is seeing significant demand in the healthcare vertical for the Microsoft Azure platform.

“Healthcare providers and payers are often familiar with Microsoft services — whether it be Office 365, SQL or other services — and often have a level of ease when adopting Azure-based services,” he said.

In addition to familiarity, other factors driving Azure demand include an overall increase in cloud adoption in the healthcare space and a Capex-to-Opex shift as healthcare organizations look to move away from traditional data center and IT infrastructure expansion, Ferrari said.

Co-selling offerings

Another important theme at Microsoft Inspire 2018 is the co-sell concept, in which partners sell their offerings in conjunction with the Microsoft salesforce.

“The biggest theme that we have coming from this conference is the term ‘co-sell,'” said Dana Berg, COO at SADA Systems Inc., a business and technology consulting firm in Los Angeles. “It is not necessarily new, but it’s being more emphasized this year.”

Microsoft’s One Commercial Partner (OCP) applications catalog is an important co-sell component. Once Microsoft approves partner applications for inclusion in the catalog, Microsoft’s sales people are incented to start selling those solutions, Berg noted.

The rationale: Partner offerings help boost the consumption of Microsoft’s cloud platforms and also provide solutions that fill the gaps where those platforms don’t address industry-specific needs.

Berg said SADA Systems has packaged a number of offerings the company has developed for customers over the years and has worked with Microsoft to get those applications approved and featured in the OCP catalog.

Vertical developments at Microsoft Inspire 2018

Microsoft executives, meanwhile, discussed specific partner opportunities within vertical markets at Inspire.

Rita Tenan, senior director of government industry EMEA at Microsoft, listed a set of fiscal year 2019 priority solutions for the public sector. At the national level, those solutions include systems supporting digital tax, social programs and labor, digital justice, and transportation. Local and regional government priorities include coordinated first response, urban mobility, smart building and citizen services solution. And in the defense and intelligence sector, the priority solutions include command and control, border security, cybersecurity training, and wargaming andsimulation.

In Microsoft’s manufacturing and resources segment, the company is placing “big bets” on smart energy, industrial IoT and precision agriculture, according to Çağlayan Arkan, general manager of manufacturing at Microsoft.

“All of this will require partner capacity to deliver,” he said.

New Elastifile CEO intensifies startup’s cloud focus

New Elastifile CEO Erwan Menard said he plans to intensify the startup’s focus on scale-out, enterprise-grade file storage for the public cloud, as he tries to fuel the company’s growth phase.

The stronger public cloud emphasis will mean changes to the product strategy that Elastifile initially laid out when emerging from stealth in April 2017. For instance, Elastifile designed its distributed file system to run on flash storage. But, Menard said, Elastifile’s software will be available with spinning HDDs and SSDs in public clouds, although on-premises deployments will continue to require flash.

Prior to joining Elastifile, Menard was president and COO at object storage vendor Scality. He previously held the same positions at DataDirect Networks, a storage vendor that caters to high-performance computing. Menard also served as vice president and general manager of Hewlett-Packard’s communications and media solutions business unit and in various leadership roles at Alcatel-Lucent.

The newly appointed Elastifile CEO recently replaced founder Amir Aharoni, who remains with the startup as chairman. Aharoni was unable to relocate from Israel to the United States, “where we want the growth to be led from,” Menard said as part of this Q&A. Elastifile’s sales and marketing office is located in Santa Clara, Calif., and its research and development arm is in Herzliya, Israel.

What are your primary areas of focus for the next year and beyond?

Erwan Menard: We were born upon the idea that file storage is here to stay, because a number of workloads in enterprises rely on it, and that file storage should be addressed in a software-defined manner designed for flash. That was the initial DNA of the company, from a product point of view.

Elastifile CEO Erwan MenardErwan Menard

Now, if we look at the market, we’re observing a growing demand for enterprise-class file storage in the cloud. If you look at the data that’s going into public clouds, there’s either very cold data for archival or disaster recovery purposes, or there’s hot data in very small quantities for workloads that are compute-centric. But there is a huge piece missing, which is all the data residing on NAS in the data center. Why aren’t those data and associated workloads in the cloud yet? Because there’s no decent enterprise-grade file storage service in public clouds.

At Elastifile, we spent four years developing a modern-age, software-defined file system for flash. And we’re taking that intellectual property and focusing on adding a strong, enterprise-grade file system to Amazon and Google and Azure. It’s two clicks on Google Launcher, which is their marketplace. We automatically provision a scale-out file system. We definitely aim at doing the same thing on the other clouds if customers choose Azure and Amazon. This is going to happen in the next few months.

Elastifile has a flash requirement with on-premises deployments. Is flash a requirement in the public cloud?

Menard: We designed for flash, because silicon is taking over infrastructure. But you can effectively run it on classic disk. In Google terminology, you can run on so-called PDs, [or] persistent disks, which are groups of SSDs at Google Cloud. Or, you can run it on standard PDs, [or] standard persistent disks, which are effectively classic HDDs. We run on both.

The good thing about designing for flash is that we’re able to provide significantly better performance than other solutions out there in the cloud. For example, we are able to provide much better performance than Amazon Elastic File [System] storage. I want to think that’s because we designed for the flash era.

Does the ability to run on HDDs extend to on-premises Elastifile deployments?

Menard: No. The on-prem deployment option is to run on bare-metal SSDs.

What significant features are in the Elastifile 2.7 release?

Menard: We are updating the [Google] Launcher experience. That experience is going to be significantly simpler in the way you install. The people who are touching our products in the data center are typically storage admins. In the cloud, sometimes it’s an application developer who happens to need storage, or someone who is even less technical. And the first impression people have with the product is extremely important in their decision to adopt it or not.

Also part of the package is what we call CloudConnect. It’s a tool that allows you to migrate your data from any NAS in your data center to any cloud. When people are absolutely convinced about the benefits of running stuff in the cloud, they often struggle with moving the data to the cloud. Most of the tools on the market tend to go from one certain type of NAS to one certain type of cloud destination. We’ve done a tool to go from any to any, and that tool is part of the subscription to our product.

Can users buy CloudConnect as a separate product?

Menard: No. Our goal isn’t to become a data-mover company. Our goal is to facilitate adoption of the cloud. The Elastifile software is available as a subscription. And, as part of that, you get CloudConnect.

Can we expect more partnerships, such as Elastifile’s OEM deal with Dell EMC signed last year? Do customers want to pick their own hardware and take a do-it-yourself approach, or do they prefer to buy your storage software bundled with hardware?

Menard: I think people want to buy software only, because that unlocks the value chain and allows them to commoditize the hardware and separate software and hardware from a procurement point of view. I think there’s a market for software only in the data center — do it yourself — that is for sophisticated organizations who decided to continue developing their data center for whatever strategic or regulatory reasons.

That being said, I think the overall trend is effectively slightly different. At the whole market level, the trend is to go to the cloud. The data center is less and less an area where you want to experiment with complicated things. If anything, you want to consume very simple offerings.

So, I think those two trends coexist — sometimes in the same enterprise account. Frankly, our focus is on the cloud, because this is the next frontier. We’re much more involved in conversations around lifting and shifting stuff to the cloud.

Do people want to move everything to the cloud, or do you think the hybrid model will win out?

Menard: I’m not comfortable with the word ‘hybrid,’ because I’m not sure people are clear on what it means. If hybrid means I have a full stack — application, infrastructure — that’s delivering a certain business outcome in the data center, and I want to replicate that in the cloud, that scenario does exist.

We have a customer in common with Google, called eSilicon. They are doing chipset design. They’ve augmented the capacity of their data center on a per-project basis. They don’t size for the peak. They size for a lower load. And they run the peak activities in the cloud. They did it with us because they didn’t need to modify their application at all when running it in the cloud. That’s a bursting scenario. I run peak activities in the cloud and continue running baseline activities in the data center.

Another scenario we see happening is people who are lifting and shifting an entire workload to the cloud. And that creates a period of time where both workloads are in the data center and in the cloud — the target being to run everything in the cloud. If we want to call that hybrid, then hybrid does exist.

Do you think you may have customers that run your software only in the cloud?

Menard: Absolutely. Four years ago, when we were all focusing on the software-defined data center, we were all undersizing the speed at which workloads could move to the cloud.

Is that why you plan to focus less on OEM partnerships and more on getting your software to work better with more clouds?

Menard: Absolutely.

Are customers moving their applications to the public cloud? Or, are they just moving their data and leaving the applications running on premises?

Menard: I think the only case where it makes sense to move the data without the application is when you’re looking at archiving or disaster recovery. The object stores of public clouds do a great job at that. When you talk about hot data, having an application running in the data center and tapping into a data pool in the cloud may look great on a slide, but I don’t think it makes economic sense.

Which vendors do you go up against in competitive scenarios?

Menard: In the cloud right now, the de facto standard — but it’s a fairly low one — is Amazon EFS [Elastic File System]. Another option is, of course, the status quo: using the same vendor you’ve been using for decades in the data center and trying to make that work in the cloud. We’ve seen announcements by the likes of NetApp in that regard. While it’s probably a good defensive play, it’s very hard with products designed many years ago for the data center to truly take advantage of the cloud. It’s going to come with a level of complexity and cost that’s probably not viable in the long run.

Updates to Adobe Document Cloud bring integrated PDF services to Office 365 – Microsoft 365 Blog

Last September, we expanded our strategic partnership with Adobe to focus on integrations between Adobe Sign and Office 365 products such as Microsoft Teams, SharePoint, Outlook, and more.

We’ve seen our customers make great use of the combination. For example, the State of Hawaii saved a significant amount of employee time while also improving document status versus paper-based processes—providing a double win over previous paper-based processes.

Building on this success, today the Adobe Document Cloud team announced new capabilities that deepen the integration with Office 365 and can save you and your team time. PDF services integrations provide new fidelity when working with PDF documents as part of Office 365. Once integrated by your administrator, PDF services provide rich previews of PDF documents right within OneDrive and your SharePoint sites.

A screenshot displays a non-disclosure agreement in the Adobe Document Cloud.

In addition to many reporting, sharing, and collaboration scenarios, PDF files are frequently used to create final or archived versions of content spanning across many different files. With PDF services and the newly introduced Combine Files by Adobe functionality, you can select several files and pull into one PDF with just a couple of clicks within SharePoint document libraries.

A screenshot displays a launch team group in SharePoint.

PDF services are now available in the ribbon for online versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint—making the creation of high-quality, full fidelity PDFs from these applications even easier.

PDF servicesalong with capabilities as part of Adobe Sign and upcoming Adobe Reader enhancements—are all part of Adobe Document Cloud. All share a commitment to productive integrations across Office 365—and we hope to see your team benefit from these integrations as well.

If you are an administrator, with Adobe Document Cloud, get started integrating with Office 365 with this guide. Adobe Document Cloud and Office 365 provide great complementary functionalities, and you can learn more about this and Adobe Sign integrations with Office 365. We look forward to seeing continued productivity improvements across the millions of joint customers that Adobe Document Cloud and Microsoft Office 365 share.

HBO Now

The most successful on-demand video streaming services focus on building libraries of quality content. To appeal to wide audiences, these catalogs should include both past classics and compelling original programming. HBO Now, HBO’s on-demand streaming service, features premium on-air originals and an extensive on-demand collection of well-regarded shows and movies. Additionally, HBO Now performs well in our testing and offers an ad-free experience. That said, HBO Now is pricier than its competitors and does not offer HDR or 4K content, nor does it let you download shows for offline viewing. Much like HBO for regular cable, HBO Now works best as an add-on to another service. When it comes to standalone options, we recommend Editors’ Choice Netflix for its larger content library, and Editors’ Choices Hulu and Sling TV, for their live TV components.

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What to Watch
Most people won’t have any trouble finding something to watch on HBO Now. For example, subscribers can watch HBO originals such as Game of Thrones, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Silicon Valley, and Westworld. You can also choose to take a deep dive into other beloved series such as Deadwood, Girls, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Sopranos, Sex and the City, Six Feet Under, and The Wire.

Those shows alone might be enough to convince many people to subscribe. That said, many of HBO’s flagship shows are also available on other platforms. In fact, Deadwood, Oz, Six Feet Under, The Sopranos, and The Wire are all available in their entirety on Amazon Video. HBO does not stream any animated series, let alone anime, which may be an important consideration for some. Both Netflix and Hulu offer options in those genres.
Other categories of content available on HBO Now include Comedy, Sports, Documentaries, Collections, and Late Night. Most of these categories feature scattered lists of productions that subscribers are free to peruse, but these are not the main appeal of the service. If sports are your primary interest, take a look at either fuboTV (a sports, news, and entertainment streaming behemoth) or ESPN+ (ESPN’s newest streaming service, which focuses on a selection of live sports and on-demand in-house shows).

HBO also has a collection of recent mainstream movies as well as popular films of years past across a wide range of genres, including action, comedy, drama, family, horror/sci-fi, Latino, romance, and suspense. During my testing, HBO Now highlighted Atomic Blonde, Dunkirk, the complete Harry Potter collection, The Hitman’s Bodyguard, The Lego Ninjago Movie, Logan, War for the Planet of the Apes, and Wonder Woman, for example. In total, scrolling through the alphabetical list of titles revealed a little over 550 movies, which is impressive. I like that these collections include multiple entries in a film series. For example, HBO Now’s collection included three Die Hard movies, three Back to the Future films, and four entries in the Fast and Furious franchise.
Nowadays, HBO Now is most similar to Netflix in that both primarily focus on high-quality originals. It also has parallels with CBS All Access, given that both have extensive back catalogs of high-quality content. Keep in mind that there’s no live component to HBO Now, such as you find with YouTube TV or Philo. As I mentioned, some shows stream simultaneously with the on-air release, including Westworld and Game of Thrones, but this is not the same as the live TV offerings of services like SlingTV or Hulu with Live TV.
Pricing and Platform
HBO Now is pricier than its competitors, at $14.99 per month. Netflix and Hulu both start at $7.99 per month. CBS All Access’ base plan only costs $5.99. Keep in mind that, for Hulu and CBS, those plans include ads in at least some part of the experience, and HBO Now does not. HBO Now is closer in price to Philo ($16 a month) and SlingTV ($20 per month), but both of those include a live TV component.
HBO Now supports an impressive number of platforms. In addition to the web, HBO Now is available on Android, iOS, and Fire OS devices. You can also use the service on the PS4, PS3, Xbox One, and Xbox 360. For smart TV users, HBO works on Amazon Fire TV and Fire TV Stick, Android TV, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, Roku, and compatible Samsung TVs. There’s even an app for Google’s Daydream platform. Keep in mind that HBO Now is a US-only (and some US territories) streaming service, so international audiences will need to turn to other solutions, such as getting the regular HBO channel through a local cable provider. You might be able to spoof your location with a virtual private network, or VPN,, but I recommend testing your network setup with HBO Now’s trial before you pay anything, since many video streaming services don’t play nicely with VPNs.

You can sign up for a 30-day free trial of HBO Now, but this option requires a payment method. Oddly, the website directed me to sign up for the trial from my Android device. HBO does not give a hard limit on how many devices can stream simultaneously, but if you exceed a reasonable number of devices, HBO Now might kick everyone off the service for around 30 minutes and then require everyone to sign back in again. In the past, I have experienced some issues when signing on to multiple platforms with the same account, but I did not encounter any such issues in my testing for this review.
What About HBO Go?
To clarify a frequent point of confusion, HBO Now is HBO’s on-demand streaming service and HBO Go is an extension of its cable offering. To use HBO Go, you need to have an existing cable subscription that includes HBO. Both services offer the same content.
Web Interface
HBO Now’s interface on the desktop is clean and elegant with a black backdrop, white text, large thumbnails, and simple menus. Many of the elements are translucent as well, which reminds me a bit of Windows 10’s Fluent visual design. Performance is also quick; I did not experience any lag when searching for shows or navigating through the various sections. Across the top, you can jump directly to Shows, Movies, or More (Comedy, Sports, Documentaries, Collections, Late Night). You can also search for shows directly via the included search interface.
On the right-hand side of the screen, you can access your account settings or your Watchlist. Settings break down into a couple of different categories, including the basic account info, billing, and notification settings, but it also builds in a parental control panel. Here, you can set the maximum rating allowed for both Movies and TV shows and lock down these preferences with a four-digit PIN. I prefer the way Netflix and Hulu allow you to set up separate account profiles for each user, since it would be a pain to unlock and change this setting for every potential user. For example, if you want to watch Westworld, but do not want your child experiencing Delos Inc.’s particular brand of existential violence, there’s no way to set those preferences per viewer with HBO Now.

The default page highlights featured content in a large top-level slider, and a selection of Quick Hits (video snippets related to shows) appears directly below. Horizontal sliders offer another entry point for content categories otherwise accessible via the menu. This page looks a lot like Netflix’s home page, but I do appreciate that HBO Now’s content sliders are directly related to the menus. All of the individual content categories look similar. You can play content directly from any screen or simply add it to your Watchlist. Clicking on a show brings up a brief description, a section for any related video content (such as sneak peaks or interviews), and general information on the cast and crew. HBO Now does not, however, provide any aggregate rating information from Metacritic or Rotten Tomatoes, nor does it feature any sort of recommendation engine.
The playback interface is simple and effective with the option to enable subtitles. One drawback to the web version of this player is that it requires you to enable Flash, which is disabled by default on most standard browsers, including Chrome, Edge, Firefox, and Safari due to Flash’s frequently targeted security vulnerabilities. Both Netflix and Amazon Video use the HTML5 standard instead. I would also like HBO to implement something similar to Amazon Video’s X-Ray feature, which identifies all actors and actresses in a particular scene, tells you about any music playing, and offers fun facts like continuity errors.
Other Features and Performance
HBO Now does not currently support 4K or HDR content, nor does it allow you to download on-demand episodes for offline viewing. Both Netflix and Amazon Prime Video offer all of these capabilities. Hulu is reportedly adding ad-supported offline viewing to its service, but that feature is not yet live. Neither 4K nor HDR technologies are new at this point, so it’s disappointing that HBO’s ongoing flagship programming does not support these standards. The vast landscapes of Westworld and the industrialized interiors of the Delos Inc. headquarters would look incredible with greater dynamic ranges and sharper textures.
One other difference involves HBO Now’s premier releases (such as Westworld and Game of Thrones), which, as I mentioned, are available for streaming at the same time as on cable. One drawback to this approach (for the consumer) is that you can’t watch entire seasons at a time unless you wait until the season ends. When Netflix or Amazon Prime Video release a season, the whole thing goes live at once.

On the one hand, it’s nice to not feel the pressure to binge an entire season to avoid spoilers, but the downside is that you need to keep subscribing to HBO Now for the entirety of its release schedule. CBS All Access employs a similar strategy with the way it handles the release of Star Trek: Discovery. I don’t foresee either network switching to the content dump strategy any time soon, given their reliance on conventional cable releases. That doesn’t make it any better for the consumers, though.
I tested HBO Now on my PC connected to my home network (200+ Mbps download speeds via Ethernet). During my tests, I streamed episodes of Westworld’s latest season and Six Feet Under, as well as The Fate of the Furious without any lag or performance dips. The one exception to HBO’s lack of ads I saw in my testing was a brief (and skippable) HBO trailer for some of its other programming at the beginning of the stream. For example, the service showed me promos for its new adaptation of Fahrenheit 451.
HBO Now on Mobile
I tested HBO Now on a Nexus 5X running Android 8.1 and didn’t have any issues signing in to the app. The interface maintains the same visual design as its desktop counterpart. Its simple black-and-white visual scheme and large thumbnails look great, but I wish you could resize the thumbnails to fit more content on the page. Hulu’s app has the same problem; the interface is modern and aesthetically pleasing, but it can be a pain to navigate and discover new shows and movies to watch.

I also downloaded HBO Now on an iPhone 8 running iOS 11. The iOS app is visually and functionally identical to its Android counterpart. Despite the prevalence of poor reviews on the App Store, I had no issue signing in or streaming from the app.
The main app page breaks down into two tabs: Featured (the app displays featured show, movies, and collections) and Quick Hits (video featurettes). You can expand the content categories and access settings from the menu in the upper-left corner. I like that almost all of the options from the web are accessible from the mobile app, but am disappointed that I could not manage my subscription from my phone.
I tested the HBO Now app while connected to PCMag’s Wi-Fi network (50 Mbps download). Given that HBO shows tend to be quite long, make sure to connect to Wi-Fi to avoid outrageous cellular data costs. I launched an episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and had no trouble playing back the episode or scrubbing to a new point in the show. In testing, the picture looks sharp and audio sounds crisp.
Pure HBO
HBO Now’s main advantage is its excellent original content, including currently airing shows, (such as Westworld and Game of Thrones) and classics (such as The Wire and Six Feet Under). Furthermore, HBO Now has excellent apps, does not run any ads, and supports a wide range of platforms. However, HBO’s on-demand service lacks the 4K, HDR, and offline viewability you get with Netflix and Amazon Video. HBO Now also costs more than similar services, some of which offer entire HBO series on demand. If watching HBO shows (and especially watching them as they are released) is important to you, you will enjoy HBO Now, but note that HBO Now works best in conjunction with another service. For full-featured alternatives to cable, we recommend Editors’ Choice Netflix for its expansive content library and Editors’ Choices Hulu and SlingTV for live TV consumption.