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Zendesk Relater primes customers for remote call center work

Zendesk, the cloud platform vendor that made its name with its Support Suite customer service platform for SMBs, is moving into CRM. But during the coronavirus crisis, the company quickly moved its own operations to at-home virtual work as it supports its 150,000 users, many of which are launching remote call centers amid spikes in customer service interactions.

“Even companies that are already flexible and using Zendesk are experiencing dramatic increases in their volumes, because a lot of people are trying to work remote right now,” said Colleen Berube, Zendesk CIO. “We have a piece of our business where we are having to help companies scale up their abilities to handle this shift in working.”

Even though the vendor did support some remote work before the coronavirus work-from-home orders hit, immediately rolling out work-from-home for Zendesk’s entire organization wasn’t straightforward, because of laptop market shortages. Like many companies, it required a culture shift to move an entire operation to telecommuting that included new policies allowing workers to expense some purchases for home-office workstations.

“We don’t have any intention of recreating the entire workplace at home, but we wanted to give them enough so they could be productive,” Berube said.

Zendesk CEO Mikkel Svane
Zendesk CEO Mikkel Svane delivers the Zendesk Relater user conference keynote from his home Tuesday.

Among Zendesk’s prominent midmarket customers so far are travel and hospitality support desks “dealing with unprecedented volumes of cancellations and refunds,” as well as companies assisting remote workforces shipping hardware to their employees, said Zendesk founder and CEO Mikkel Svane at the Zendesk Relater virtual user conference Tuesday.

“Using channels like chat have helped these customers keep up with this volume,” Svane said.

Zendesk has seen interest and network use in general grow among customers who need to bring remote call centers online during shelter-in-place orders from local and state governments. Easing the transition for users and their customers, Berube said, are self-service chatbots that Zendesk has developed over the last few years. She added that she’s seen Zendesk’s own AnswerBot keep tickets manageable on its internal help desk, which services remote employees as well as partners.

During Relater, Zendesk President of Products Adrian McDermott said that Zendesk AI-powered bots have saved users 600,000 agent hours by enabling customer self-service, adding that Zendesk customers using AI for customer support increased more than 90% over the last year. He said the company is betting big on self-service becoming the grand majority of customer service.

[Self-service is] not just going to a knowledge base and reading the knowledge base … but it’s about the user being at the center of the conversation and controlling the conversation.
Adrian McDermottPresident of products, Zendesk

“Self-service is going to be everywhere,” McDermott said. “It’s not just going to a knowledge base and reading the knowledge base … but it’s about the user being at the center of the conversation and controlling the conversation.”

While some larger cloud customer experience software vendors such as Oracle, Salesforce and Google canceled even the virtual conferences that were planned in lieu of live user events, Zendesk assembled a set of pre-recorded presentations from executives at home and other speakers scheduled for its canceled Miami Relate conference and put on a virtual user conference renamed “Zendesk Relater.”

Earlier this month, Zendesk released upgrades to its Sunshine CRM and Support Suite platforms. At Relater, the company announced a partnership with Tata Consultancy Services to implement Zendesk CRM at large enterprises.

Zendesk has the reputation of being a customer service product tuned for B2C companies, specializing in quick interactions. Its CRM system also has potential to serve that market, said Kate Leggett, Forrester Research analyst. Whether that will translate to enterprises and gain traction in the B2B market remains to be seen.

“It’s very different from the complex products that Microsoft and Salesforce have for that long-running sales interaction, with many people on the seller side and many people on the buyer side,” Leggett said.

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Commvault storage story expands with Hedvig for primary data

Of all the changes data protection vendor Commvault made in the last year, perhaps the most striking was its acquisition of primary storage software startup Hedvig.

The $225 million deal in October 2019 — eight months into Sanjay Mirchandani’s tenure as CEO — marked Commvault’s first major acquisition. It also brought the backup specialist into primary storage as it tries to adapt to meet demand for analytics on data everywhere.

Hedvig gives Commvault a distributed storage platform that spans traditional and cloud-hosted workloads. The Hedvig software runs primary storage on commodity hardware and is already been integrated in the Commvault storage software stack, including the new Commvault Metallic SaaS-based backup.

Don Foster, a vice president of storage solutions at Commvault, said data centers want to centralize all their data, from creation to retention, without adding third-party endpoints.

“We envision Hedvig as a way to ensure that your storage and backup will work in a symbiotic fashion,” Foster said.

Hedvig provides unified storage that allows Commvault to tackle new cloud-application use cases. The storage software run on clustered commodity nodes as distributed architecture for cloud and scale-out file and object storage across multiple hypervisors.

Commvault plans to use Hedvig to converge storage and data management and enhance Commvault HyperScale purpose-built backup appliances. Revenue from Commvault HyperScale appliances was up 10% year over year last quarter, and the vendor said six of its top 10 customers have deployed HyperScale appliances.

Commvault has expanded Hedvig into more primary workloads with the addition of support for the Container Storage Interface and erasure coding. In the near term, Hedvig will also remain available for purchase as primary storage and existing Hedvig customers with in-force contracts will be supported. The larger plan is to integrate Hedvig as a feature in the Commvault Complete suite of backup and data management tools, Foster said.

Integrating technology and integrating culture

Mirchandani replaced retired CEO Bob Hammer, who led Commvault for 20 years. The change at the top also brought about a raft of executive changes and the launch of the Metallic SaaS offering under a brand outside of Commvault. But the Hedvig deal was most significant in moving the Commvault storage strategy from data protection to data management — a shift backup vendors have talked about for years.

Because Hedvig didn’t have a large installed base, the key for Commvault was gaining access to Hedvig’s engineering IP, said Steven Hill, a senior analyst of applied infrastructure and storage technologies at 451 Research, part of S&P Global Market Intelligence.

Hedvig gives Commvault a software-defined storage platform that combines block, file and object storage services, along with cloud-level automation and support for containers.
Steven HillSenior analyst of applied infrastructure and storage technologies, 451 Research

“Growing adoption of hybrid cloud infrastructure and scale-out secondary storage has changed the business model for backup vendors. Hedvig gives Commvault a software-defined storage platform that combines block, file and object storage services, along with cloud-level automation and support for containers. It checks a lot of boxes for the next generation of storage buyers,” Hill said.

“The future of hybrid secondary storage lies in the management of data based on the business value of its content, and makes the need for broader, cloud-optimized information management a major factor in future storage buying decisions,” Hill added. He said Cohesity and Rubrik “discovered this [idea] a while ago” and other backup vendors now are keying in on secondary storage to support AI and analytics.

A research note by IDC said the Hedvig deal signals “orthogonal and expansionary thinking” by Commvault that paves a path to primary storage and multi-cloud data management. Commvault is a top five backup vendor in revenue; its revenue has declined year over year for each of the last four quarters. Commvault reported $176.3 million in revenue last quarter, down 4.3% from the same period a year ago.

IDC researchers note the difference between traditional Commvault storage and the Hedvig product. Namely, that Commvault is a 20-year-old public company in an entrenched market, while Hedvig launched in 2018. The companies share only a few mutual business partners and resellers.

“Market motion matters here, as each company is selling into different buyer bases.  … Melding a unified company and finding synergies between different buying centers may be more difficult than the technical integration,” IDC analysts wrote in a report on the Commvault-Hedvig acquisition.

‘Belts and suspenders’ approach

Pittsburg State University (PSU) in Kansas has deployed Hedvig primary storage and Commvault backup for several years. Tim Pearson, the university’s assistant director of IT infrastructure and security, said he was not surprised to hear about the Hedvig deal.

“I knew Hedvig was looking for a way to grow the company,” Pearson said, adding that he spoke with Commvault representatives in the run-up to the transaction.

PSU runs Hedvig storage software on Hewlett Packard Enterprise ProLiant servers as frontline storage for its VMware farm and protects data with Commvault backup. Pearson said the “belts and suspenders” approach designed by Hedvig engineers enables Commvault to bridge production storage and secondary use cases.

“What I hope to gain out of this is a unified pane of glass to manage not only my traditional Commvault backups, but also point-in-time recovery by scheduling Hedvig storage-level snapshots,” Pearson said.

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For Sale – Dell E7450 14″ Ultrabook Laptop (Intel i5-5300 8GB 512GB SSD)

I’m not the original owner. I’ve had for about 13 months. According to Dell website it was made in March 2016.
The i7 one mentioned above has less RAM, no SSD and is in much worse condition (cracked case in corner).
I think my price is fair given the condition and I even accepted an offer of £225 from vrackdc above but they withdrew.

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AI in e-commerce helps product sales

Over the last few years, e-commerce companies have made buying and selling items online easier by using AI. EBay, one of the largest e-commerce companies in the world, uses computer vision, natural language processing, machine learning and deep learning to help users.

EBay has invested heavily in developing and deploying AI capabilities. While it doesn’t necessarily do anything unique — competitors including Wayfair and Amazon have developed similar AI in e-commerce tools — what it does appears to benefit sellers and buyers on its platform, which differs markedly from its biggest competitors in being auction-driven and oriented primarily toward sellers.

EBay provides several tools for images, including a search by image function and photo cleanup.

Image recognition

Using the mobile eBay application, buyers and sellers can take a photo of an object, which, using computer vision and deep learning, eBay matches with similar images on its platform. The feature has been available since 2017, and has since been improved as more images have been uploaded for the machine learning algorithms to train on.  

Comparable features are available on a number of other platforms, including Google and Amazon. These platforms also have object recognition, enabling users to take a photo of something and see comparable items.

By also considering product descriptions as well, the search function optimizes accuracy. Sellers are able to get automatic pricing recommendations, although that wasn’t always so.

EBay screenshot
EBay uses AI to automatically identify images and to do image cleanup

“Historically we did a really bad job with [pricing models],” said Scot Hamilton, vice president of engineering.

EBay has a lot of unique inventory, Hamilton explained, making it difficult to find true peers to benchmark against for some objects.

Looking at characterizes such as the images, price range, descriptors and titles of the listed object, and by comparing it to similar objects, among other things, eBay attempts to automatically determine a relative price for an object.

The suggested price is generally slightly lower than the market average to keep inventory moving, Hamilton said. Casual and hobby sellers adopt the suggested price point around 80% of the time, he said.

AI in e-commerce

The platform also boasts an image cleanup capability for sellers. The feature, still in beta, takes an image and tries to automatically separate the featured object from visual clutter in the background.  

“Search engines these days require, in many cases, a white, clean background on photos,” said Harry Temkin, vice president of seller experience.

Sellers, he continued, “often take pictures in very interesting places,” like on the stairs, in a kitchen or in a garage.

The beta feature crops the featured item automatically from the photo. Now, manual input is still required in many cases, with users having to swipe around the edges of an object. However, the feature is getting sharper, Temkin said.

It is software that is continuously learning.
Harry TemkinVice president of seller experience, eBay

“It is software that is continuously learning,” he said. The more photos that go through it, the better it will work.

Besides its image features, eBay provides home-grown automatic translation, enabling buyers and sellers in different countries to see listings in their own languages.

The translation happens behind the scenes, Hamilton said, with users not necessarily realizing it’s even happening.

According to Hamilton, eBay’s model is 5% or 6% more accurate than off-the-shelf products.

“Being a global platform … not everyone speaks English,” Temkin said. “Being able to use machine translation to convert an English listing into a German listing or a Spanish listing or a French listing is useful.”

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Google Cloud retail strategy provides search, hosting, AI for stores

NEW YORK — Google made a pitch to chain-store brands this week, taking on Microsoft Azure and AWS with a bundle of fresh Google Cloud retail hosting and services, backing it up with blue-chip customers.

In sessions at NRF 2020 Vision: Retail’s Big Show, Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian and Carrie Tharp, retail and consumer vice president, wooed retailers with promises of AI, uptime and search expertise — including voice and video, in addition to traditional text content — as well as store employee collaboration tools.

Home improvement chain Lowe’s said it will embark on a multiyear plan to rebuild its customer experience, both in-store and online, with Google Cloud at its center. Lowe’s plans to spend $500 million per year through 2021 on the project.

Kohl’s, Ulta Beauty’s business drivers

“Customers expect retailers to be as good with their tech as they are with their physical stores,” said Paul Gaffney, CTO of Kohl’s. The 1,060-store chain launched a major overhaul of its digital customer experience and IT infrastructure in 2018 with Google Cloud retail services, and plans to migrate 70% of its apps into Google Anthos.

Retailers need cloud services that create value for their brands among its customers, Gaffney said, but uptime and scalability is also a major consideration during peak selling times.

“The big rush of business used to be Black Friday, last year was the Cyber Five [Thanksgiving until the following Monday], and now seems like the months of November and December,” Gaffney said in a session with Kurian. “Folks who have been doing this a long time know that we all used to provision a lot of gear that lay idle other than during that period.”

Ulta Beauty, which operates 1,124 stores, chose the Google Cloud Platform for its Ulta Rewards loyalty program hosting and customer data handling, said Michelle Pacynski, vice president of digital innovation at Ulta. The program has 33.9 million members and drives 95% of Ulta’s sales, she added.

Ulta chose Google in part for its data, analytics and personalization platform, Pacynski said. But data ownership also weighed heavily in the decision.

“We looked at the usual subjects, who you would think we would look at,” Pacynski said. “Ultimately for us, we wanted to own our data, we wanted to have power over our data. We evaluated everybody and looked at how we could remain more autonomous with our data.”

Google Cloud retail taking on Azure, AWS

Google’s charge into the retail space started last year with the introduction of retail-specific services to manage customer loyalty, store operations, inventory and product lifecycle management. At NRF 2020, Google added search, AI and hosting services to that stack. It’s part of Google’s bigger push into verticals, Tharp said.

Really, where we see the future of cloud capabilities is in industry-specific solutions.
Carrie TharpRetail and consumer vice president, Google Cloud

“[Google] Cloud started as an infrastructure-as-a-service play,” Tharp said. “Really, where we see the future of cloud capabilities is in industry-specific solutions — having a deep understanding of the industry and building products specific to that. We’re constructing our entire organization around these industry-specific solutions.”

Tharp and some industry experts at NRF said that some retailers harbor resentment toward Amazon as a competitor and are looking for cloud partners other than AWS for future projects. But that is changing, as stores realize that offering Amazon-like speed of delivery and customer service in general is a more important business priority than beating Amazon.

Still, there’s enough anti-Amazon sentiment among retailers that Google has an opportunity to expand its foothold, said Sheryl Kingstone, 451 Research analyst.

“We’re seeing Google Cloud Platform pop up as one of the strategic vendors retailers are looking for in their digital transformations,” Kingstone said. “Azure is up there, and AWS is the 800-pound gorilla. But in the retail space, there’s that opportunity of stealing away someone who is very concerned about being on AWS.”

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Why it’s time to rethink the DevOps vs. ITIL debate

Historically, ITIL and DevOps have made poor bedfellows. DevOps is about speed and enablement, while ITIL, at least traditionally, is a far more proscriptive framework that places considerable delays into a DevOps workflow.

This isn’t to say that DevOps is perfect; many organizations have found — to their cost — that an open DevOps approach has led to major issues, such as relatively uncontrolled code making its way from development to production.

However, DevOps has matured — as has the ITIL IT service management framework. And while the two technologies are not yet a perfect match, it’s time to stop thinking in terms of DevOps vs. ITIL, and instead consider DevOps and ITIL.

Where DevOps and ITIL intersect

DevOps shops must have the right checks and balances in place. They must codify processes that enable audits; feed errors back to developers for a fix; and create a feedback loop from end users to development and operations teams.

The latest version of the ITIL framework — ITIL 4 — is value-focused, which provides a solid foundation for these processes. And as DevOps continues to evolve, ITIL practices could help IT teams create idempotent environments.

Idempotency is the means by which an entity — such as an end user, developer, IT operations professional, or even an AI or machine learning engine — defines the desired outcome of any given change. Underlying tools then use scripts to create and provision packages into an operational environment that will achieve that desired outcome. This approach requires continuous monitoring and feedback loops to ensure that the outcome is not only achieved, but is maintained as the platform changes as well.

ITIL 4 embraces these concepts. The framework’s service value chain promotes an interconnected set of activities that deal with service creation, delivery and continuous improvement. It’s complementary to the continuous development and continuous delivery practices in DevOps. Yet, there is a key difference between DevOps vs. ITIL here: The former emphasizes the under-the-hood, technical ways to perform these tasks, through the use of development tools and hard processes, while the latter focuses more on ensuring tasks occur in a controlled and auditable manner.

ITIL’s service value system overlies its service value chain. This broad system embodies how an organization works from opportunity or end-user demand to value delivery.

ITIL service value system

DevOps vs. ITIL for the business

At the time of publication, ITIL’s service value system far outstrips the current state of DevOps — specifically, the state of BizDevOps. In this DevOps model, business drivers shape how developers work, with the goal of meeting the needs of users who directly affect the organization’s bottom line. There has been some progress around BizDevOps, but not enough to make it a reality across enterprise IT shops. ITIL’s service value system could provide a layer on top of existing DevOps environments to enable this much-needed capability.

The majority of open source DevOps tools address the down-and-dirty technology needs of developers and operations staff, although some commercial systems also try to target the business. But these systems, to date, have been met with limited success, in part because IT departments, not the business, largely procure DevOps tools. In addition, IT teams still suffer from the perception of being somewhat removed from the rest of the organization, and so are loath to roll out and support the business front end of such tools.

ITIL, on the other hand, is nominally a business process tool — particularly under ITIL 4. It is incumbent on Axelos, the organization behind the ITIL framework, to make an effort to push ITIL to the business, as a means to provide the necessary controls over the end-to-end value chain across an organization.

It will be interesting to see if tool vendors and open source developers start to focus less on comparisons of DevOps vs. ITIL, and instead view the latter as a non-competitive framework that creates a standardized platform on which they can work. If DevOps teams and vendors can fold ITIL concepts and practices into their environments, everyone could win.

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HPE brings InfoSight AI to SimpliVity HCI

Hewlett Packard Enterprise has made its InfoSight predictive analytics resource management capabilities available on its HPE SimpliVity hyper-converged infrastructure platform.

InfoSight provides capacity utilization reports and forecasts, and sends alerts of possible problems before users run out of capacity. HPE acquired InfoSight when it bought Nimble Storage in March 2017, two months after it acquired early hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) startup SimpliVity. HPE ported Nimble’s InfoSight to its flagship 3 PAR arrays and it is used in its new Primera storage, as well as the ProLiant servers that SimpliVity runs on.

HPE is also connecting SimpliVity to its StoreOnce backup appliances, allowing customers to move data from SimpliVity nodes to the StoreOnce deduplication back boxes.

HPE disclosed plans to bring InfoSight to SimpliVity in June, and it is now generally available as part of the SimpliVity service agreement. StoreOnce integration with SimpliVity HCI is planned for the first half of 2020.

SimpliVity HCI trails Dell, Nutanix, Cisco

HPE has lagged its major server rivals in HCI sales, particularly Dell. IDC listed SimpliVity as fourth in branded HCI revenue in the second quarter with $83 million, only 2.3% of the market. No. 1 Dell ($533 million) and No. 2 Nutanix ($259 million) combined for nearly half of the total market share, with Cisco third at $114 million and 6.2 % share according to IDC.

HPE’s commitment to SimpliVity has also been questioned by its hedging on HCI products. HPE makes Nutanix technology available as part of its GreenLake as-a-service program, and Nutanix sells its software bundled on HPE ProLiant hardware. HPE customers can also use its servers with VMware vSAN HCI software. And HPE this year launched Nimble Storage dHCI, a disaggregated platform that is not true HCI but competes with HCI products while allowing a greater degree of independent scaling of compute and storage resources. Nimble dHCI is also generally available this week.

HCI ‘comes down to data’

Pittsburgh-based trucking company Pitt Ohio has been a SimpliVity customer since before HPE acquired the HCI pioneer. Systems engineer Justin Brooks said he was familiar with InfoSight as a previous Nimble Storage customer, so he signed up for the beta program on SimpliVity. Brooks said he has used InfoSight since June, and finds it significantly aids him in managing capacity on his 19 HCI nodes used for primary storage and disaster recovery. 

“Most of it comes down to data – how much you’re replicating, and how much data is on there versus what the hypervisor supports,” Brooks said. “The InfoSight intelligence and prediction capabilities are great for SimpliVity, because on any hyper-convergence platform it’s all about scalability. You need to know when to scale out or move things around, so you can plan accordingly. Hyper-converged is not dirt cheap either, especially when it’s all-flash. It’s important to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth out of the resources.”

Brooks said he previously employed “guesstimates and fuzzy math” to predict SimpliVity HCI growth, but InfoSight does those predictions for him now. InfoSight data growth patterns over the past 30-, 60- and 90-day periods.

“You’re always worried how big your data sets are growing, especially on the SQL Server side,” he said. “You don’t get as high efficiency with dedupe and compression on SQL data as with file data. With SimpliVity you have to dig into the CLI and get deep in there, or see what was sent over from the production side or the DR side. InfoSight shows you that data more granularly.”

Brooks said he was concerned about HPE’s plans for SimpliVity when it made the acquisition in 2017, but he’s happy with its commitment. Pitt Ohio took advantage of an HPE buyback program to convert its SimpliVity OmniCubes that used Dell hardware into ProLiant-based SimpliVity nodes. Pitt Ohio had nine SimpliVity nodes before the HPE acquisition, and is up to 19 now. Brooks estimates 98% of his applications run on SimpliVity HCI. The trucking company is a VMware shop and first got into SimpliVity HCI for virtual desktop infrastructure. It has since switched from Cisco UCS servers and a variety of storage, including Dell EMC VMAX and Data Domain and Nimble arrays.

“We had a Frankenblock infrastructure,” Brooks said. “When we needed to refresh hardware, our options were to forklift everything in the data center or get on the hyper-converged route.”

Pitt Ohio now has one SimpliVity cluster for Microsoft SQL Server, another cluster for all other production workloads and a third for QA.

Brooks said he uses SimpliVity for data protection, but is considering adding a Cohesity backup appliance. That is so he can move file data to cheaper storage, and HPE sells Cohesity software on HPE Apollo servers. “We want to get some files off of SimpliVity because I’d rather not use all that flash disk for files,” Brooks said.

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Oracle andVMware forge new IaaS cloud partnership

SAN FRANCISCO — VMware’s virtualization stack will be made available on Oracle’s IaaS, in a partnership that underscores changing currents in the public cloud market and represents a sharp strategic shift for Oracle.

Under the pact, enterprises will be able to deploy certified VMware software on Oracle Cloud Infrastructure (OCI), the company’s second-generation IaaS. Oracle is now a member of the VMware Cloud Provider Program and will sell VMware’s Cloud Foundation stack for software-defined data centers, the companies said on the opening day of Oracle’s OpenWorld conference.

Oracle plans to give customers full root access to physical servers on OCI, and they can use VMware’s vCenter product to manage on-premises and OCI-based environments through a single tool.

“The VMware you’re running on-premises, you can lift and shift it to the Oracle Cloud,” executive chairman and CTO Larry Ellison said during a keynote. “You really control version management operations, upgrade time of the VMware stack, making it easy for you to migrate — if that’s what you want to do — into the cloud with virtually no change.”

The companies have also reached a mutual agreement around support, which Oracle characterized with the following statement: “[C]ustomers will have access to Oracle technical support for Oracle products running on VMware environments. … Oracle has agreed to support joint customers with active support contracts running supported versions of Oracle products in Oracle supported computing environments.”

It’s worth noting the careful language of that statement, given Oracle and VMware’s history. While Oracle has become more open to supporting its products on VMware environments, it has yet to certify any for VMware.

Moreover, many customers have found Oracle’s licensing policy for deploying its products on VMware devilishly complex. In fact, a cottage industry has emerged around advisory services meant to help customers keep compliant with Oracle and VMware.

Nothing has changed with regard to Oracle’s existing processor license policy, said Vinay Kumar, vice president of product management for OCI. But the VMware software to be made available on OCI will be through bundled, Oracle-sold SKUs that encompass software and physical infrastructure. Initially, one SKU based on X7 bare-metal instances will be available, according to Kumar.

Oracle and VMware have been working on the partnership for the past nine months, he added. The first SKU is expected to be available within the next six months. Kumar declined to provide details on pricing.

Oracle, VMware relations warm in cloudier days

“It seems like there is a thaw between Oracle and VMware,” said Gary Chen, an analyst at IDC. The companies have a huge overlap in terms of customers who use their software in tandem, and want more deployment options, he added. “Oracle customers are stuck on Oracle,” he said. “They have to make Oracle work in the cloud.”

Gary Chen, Analyst, IDCGary Chen

Meanwhile, VMware has already struck cloud-related partnerships with AWS, IBM, Microsoft and Google, leaving Oracle little choice but to follow. Oracle has also largely ceded the general-purpose IaaS market to those competitors, and has positioned OCI for more specialized tasks as well as core enterprise application workloads, which often run on VMware today.

Massive amounts of on-premises enterprise workloads run on VMware, but as companies look to port them to the cloud, they want to do it in the fastest, easiest way possible, said Holger Mueller, an analyst at Constellation Research in Cupertino, Calif.

The biggest cost of lift-and-shift deployments to the cloud involves revalidation and testing in the new environment, Mueller added.

It seems like there is a thaw between Oracle and VMware.
Gary ChenAnalyst, IDC

But at this point, many enterprises have automated test scripts in place, or even feel comfortable not retesting VMware workloads, according to Mueller. “So the leap of faith involved with deploying a VMware VM on a server in the corporate data center or in a public cloud IaaS is the same,” he said.

In the near term, most customers of the new VMware-OCI service will move Oracle database workloads over, but it will be Oracle’s job to convince them OCI is a good fit for other VMware workloads, Mueller added.

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Oracle cloud ambitions follow decades of transition

Oracle’s roots as an on-premises software company have made for a complicated and at times contradictory relationship with cloud computing over the last decade, and some say the company can’t afford to lose any more ground.

After all, in 2008, the software giant’s outspoken founder Larry Ellison mocked the very notion of the phrase, saying cloud amounted to a rebranding of existing technologies. Two years later, Ellison launched Exalogic, an application server appliance he dubbed “one big, honkin’ cloud.”

Oracle cloud beginnings and missteps

Prominent examples abound of Oracle’s efforts to lead the way in the Internet era, such as Ellison’s network computer offering from the mid- to late 1990s. It failed at the time, but foreshadowed the rise of products such as Chromebooks — stripped-down thin client computing devices that rely heavily on connections to the web.

More recently, Oracle — like IBM, Cisco and HPE — found itself outgunned in the cloud computing platform race by AWS and Microsoft. Oracle offers IaaS to customers, but has positioned it for more specialized tasks.

Last year, Ellison’s longtime head of product development, Thomas Kurian, decamped and turned up as CEO of Google Cloud. Published reports have it that Kurian left in part because Ellison was too reluctant to embrace partnerships with other cloud providers. That changed in June, when Oracle and Microsoft created a cloud interoperability pact.

Oracle struck a partnership deal with Microsoft to improve its footing in the cloud computing market.
Microsoft and Oracle struck a win-win deal to boost each company’s cloud clout.

Ellison has named no replacement for Kurian, and in fact has taken over the job at age 75. While Oracle seems to have settled on a long-term strategy for IaaS, and has had great success selling SaaS applications, Oracle’s challenge centers on PaaS — most specifically Oracle 19c, the latest version of its flagship database product.

The task at hand is to keep Oracle’s customer base wherever they want to be, whether on premises or on Oracle cloud, and to be competitive on price, as IT pros have more database options than ever before — particularly in open source.

Overall, Ellison’s tone and message to the OpenWorld conference attendees later this month will be critical.

“His last act had better be figuring the cloud out,” said John Rymer, an analyst at Forrester Research. “Cloud is that kind of moment for Oracle. If they don’t get this right, they don’t get to continue to play, and they become legacy.”

If they don’t get [cloud] right, they don’t get to continue to play, and they become legacy.
John RymerAnalyst, Forrester

Ellison, as always, is sure to use the company’s annual conference to sling arrows at competitors in an effort to boost Oracle in the cloud. The conference agenda shows that Oracle Cloud Infrastructure (OCI), Oracle’s next-generation IaaS, will play a prominent role through sessions, customer presentations and in a keynote showcasing new features.

But the star should be the Oracle database, with more than 200 OpenWorld sessions associated with it. Expect Ellison to have plenty to say about it on his own.

 In part two of this story, we look back at events of the past 20 years that brought Oracle to its present position in the cloud computing market.

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Analyst, author talks enterprise AI expectations

For years, promoters have made AI technologies sound like the all-encompassing technology answer for enterprises, a ready-to-use piece of software that could solve all of an organization’s data and workflow problems with minimal effort.

While AI can certainly automate parts of a workflow and save employees and organizations time and money, it rarely requires no work or no integration to set up, something organizations are still struggling to understand.

In this Q&A ahead of the publication of his new book, Alan Pelz-Sharpe, founder of market advisory and research firm Deep Analysis, describes enterprises’ AI expectations and helps distinguish between realistic AI goals and expectations and the AI hype.

An AI project is different from a traditional IT project, Pelz-Sharpe said, and organizations should treat it as such.

“One of the reasons so many projects fail is people do not know that,” he said.

In this Q&A, Pelz-Sharpe, who is also a part-time voice and film actor, talks about AI expectations, deploying AI, and the realities of the technology.

Have you found that business users and enterprises have an accurate description of AI?

Alan Pelz-Sharpe: No. It’s a straightforward no. I’ll give you real world examples.

Alan Pelz-Sharpe, AI ExpectationsAlan Pelz-Sharpe

A very large, very well-known financial services company brought in the biggest vendor. They spent six and a half million dollars. Four months later, they fired the vendor, because they had nothing to show for it. They talked to me and it was heartbreaking, because I wanted to say to them, ‘Why? Why did you ever engage with them?’

It wasn’t because they were bad people engaged in this, but because they had very specific sets of circumstances and really, really specific requirements. I said to them, ‘You’re never going to buy this off the shelf, it doesn’t exist. You’re going to have to develop this yourself.’ Now, that’s what they’re doing, and they’re spending a lot less money and having a lot more success.

AI is being so overhyped; your heart goes out to buyers, because they don’t know who to believe. In some cases, they could save a fortune, go to some small startup [that] could, frankly, give them the product and get the job done. They don’t know that.

Are these cases of enterprises’ having the wrong AI expectations and not knowing what they want, or they are cases of a vendor misleading a buyer?

It’s absolutely both. Vendors have overhyped and oversold. Then the perception is I buy this tool, I plug it in, and it does its magic. It just isn’t like that ever. It’s never like that. That’s nonsense. So, the vendors are definitely guilty of that, but when haven’t they been?

From the buyer’s perspective, I think there are two things really. One, they don’t know. They don’t understand, they haven’t been told that they have to run this project very differently from an IT project. It’s not a traditional IT project in which you scope it out, decide what you’re going to use, test it and then it goes live. AI isn’t like that. It’s a lifetime investment. You’re never going to completely leave it alone, you’re always going to be involved with it.

Technically, there’s a perception that bigger and more powerful is better. Well, is it? If you’re trying to automatically classify statements versus purchases versus invoices, the usual back office paper stuff, why do you need the most powerful product? Why not, instead, just buy something simple, something that’s designed to do exactly that?

Often, buyers get themselves into deep waters. They buy a big Mack Truck to do what a small tricycle could do. That’s actually really common. Most real-world business use cases are surprisingly narrow and targeted.

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

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