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Arm in the cloud a trend now with Google Cloud’s embrace • The Register

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Comment It’s been a rocky year for Arm. First, the British chip designer lost a financial boost with its sale to Nvidia killed by regulator scrutiny. Then Arm laid off staff as it made plans for an initial public offering, and now market conditions aren’t looking great for that IPO.

The good news for Arm is that the cloud world has been increasingly warming up to the alternative instruction set architecture. The most recent sign: Google Cloud’s introduction on Wednesday of its first Arm-based cloud instance, which the cloud service provider said will “deliver exceptional single-threaded performance at a compelling price.”

Meant for “scale-out, cloud-native workloads,” Google Cloud’s Tau T2A virtual machines are powered by Ampere Computing’s Arm-based Altra CPUs. This means the Arm-compatible VMs, available now for preview in the US and Europe, are meant to provide a strong performance-cost ratio for things like web servers, containerized microservices, media transcoding, and large-scale Java applications.

Google Cloud seems pretty stoked about what Arm can bring to the cloud world, given that it plans to let customers and partners try the T2A VMs for free under a trial period to “help jumpstart development.” Even when T2A becomes generally available later this year, Google Cloud said it will “continue to offer a generous trial program that offers up to 8 vCPUs and 32 GB of RAM at no cost.”

The T2A instance is part of Google Cloud’s Tau VM family that debuted last year with instances running on AMD’s third-gen Epyc Milan CPUs. The Arm-based instance type supports up to 48 virtual CPUs per VM and 4GB of memory per vCPU, and the networking bandwidth can go up to 32 Gbps. It also comes with a “wide range of network-attached storage options.”

There are, however, some limitations for T2A, which also exist for the AMD-based T2D instance: no support for extended memory, sole tenancy, nested virtualization, nor custom VM shapes.

While Google Cloud didn’t provide any performance comparisons to x86-based instances, Ampere leapt up and said a T2A instance with 32 of its vCPUs was up to 31 percent faster than Google’s N2 instance using Intel’s Ice Lake silicon with the same number of vCPUs. This was based on an estimated score for the standard SPEC CPU 2017 Integer Rate benchmark.

Using the cloud provider’s VM pricing guide, Ampere said a T2A instance provides up to 65 percent better price-performance than the Intel-based N2 instance for on-demand pricing.

What about the software support?

As the cloud world has been largely rooted in x86 chips for most of the time, it’s right to wonder how Ampere’s Arm-based Altra CPUs can handle a wide range of software.

To that end, Ampere is doing its best to give people confidence that its processors are up to various cloud tasks. In a Wednesday blog post, the company noted how “the Arm-based server ecosystem has rapidly matured over the last few years with open-source cloud native software stacks extensively tested and deployed on Ampere Altra-based servers.”


TrendForce: AWS to give Arm a leg up to 22% of datacenter servers by 2025


“For example, Ampere runs over 135 popular applications across 5 different cloud native infrastructures to ensure that our customers have confidence in the Ampere software environment across the marketplace,” wrote Jeff Wittich, Ampere’s chief product officer.

The startup’s server chips also supports several versions of Linux, including Ubuntu, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, and CentOS Stream.

Wittich pointed out that Ampere has a section on its website with a large list of applications, programming languages, and other kinds of software that have been tested on its Arm CPU cores.

Google Cloud did manage to get testimonials from a few independent software developers who said porting their code to T2A has been easy.

“We were pleasantly surprised with the ease of portability to Arm instance from day one. The maturity of the T2A platform gives us the confidence to start using these VMs in production,” said Khawaja Shams, CEO of Momento, a startup providing serverless caching services.

T2A also got the nod of approval from the world of academia, with Harvard University Research Associate Christoph Gorgulla saying the “improved price-performance” of the instance helped his team “screen more compounds and therefore discover more promising drug candidates.”

Several major cloud providers now on the Arm bandwagon

With the latest introduction of Arm-based cloud instances, the British chip designer’s ISA is now supported by six of the world’s largest cloud service providers: Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud, Alibaba Cloud, Tencent Cloud, and Oracle Cloud. Other cloud providers are getting behind Arm too, such as JD Cloud, UCloud, and Equinix Metal.

All of this means it’s very safe to say that cloud providers adopting Arm is definitely a trend now.  

This is a development that would have been unthinkable to some people a decade ago, as GitHub engineer Jaana Dogan put it on Twitter.

Getting Arm chips into server-grade environments, running operating systems such a Linux, has taken a large amount of cooperation between software and hardware worlds primarily to agree on and stick to a standard base of features and expectations in these computers. This has made building and running software on Arm systems, particularly server boxes, relatively boring: it should just work like x86 just works, and it seems to do so.

AWS also helped paved the way for Arm’s rise in the cloud with its decision to design an Arm-based server CPU in house using the talent it gained from Amazon’s 2015 acquisition of chip designer Annapurna Labs. The cloud giant is now on the third generation of its Graviton chip, which is available in Elastic Compute Cloud instances now and for which it continues to make big price-performance claims against x86 chips.  

That said, when considering all the other major cloud providers introducing Arm-based instances, plus some of the smaller ones, there’s one common element linking them: Ampere Computing.

Founded by former Intel executive Renee James, the Silicon Valley-based startup recently said growing support for its Altra processors by a variety of businesses and cloud providers shows that the chips are better suited for cloud applications than Intel’s or AMD’s.

Like Arm, Ampere is also planning an IPO at some point, assuming that market conditions eventually get better. If you’re curious about some of the ways Ampere’s chip designs are a good fit for cloud applications, we suggest you read our recent interview with Ampere exec Jeff Wittich.

While the cloud world’s growing embrace of Arm is a welcome sign for anyone tired of Intel’s dominance over the space, the question now is how long Arm and silicon partners like Ampere and AWS can keep this momentum going. After all, Intel and AMD both have plans to introduce specialized cloud chips in the near future, and who knows, maybe RISC-V can shake things up even further. ®

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Meditation app Calm sacks one-fifth of staff | Meditation

Voice Of EU



The US-based meditation app Calm has laid off 20% of its workforce, becoming the latest US tech startup to announce job cuts.

The firm’s boss, David Ko, said the company, which has now axed about 90 people from its 400-person staff, was “not immune” to the economic climate. “In building out our strategic and financial plan, we revisited the investment thesis behind every project and it became clear that we need to make changes,” he said in a memo to staff.

“I can assure you that this was not an easy decision, but it is especially difficult for a company like ours whose mission is focused on workplace mental health and wellness.”

The Calm app, founded in 2012, offers guided meditation and bedtime stories for people of all ages. It received a surge of downloads triggered by the 2020 Covid lockdowns. By the end of that year, the software company said the app had been downloaded more than 100 million times globally and had amassed over 4 million paying subscribers.

Investors valued the firm, which said it had been profitable since 2016, at $2bn.

In the memo, Ko went on: “We did not come to this decision lightly, but are confident that these changes will help us prioritize the future, focus on growth and become a more efficient organization.”

More than 500 startups have laid off staff this year, according to, a website that tracks such announcements.

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Let there be ambient light sensing, without data theft • The Register

Voice Of EU



Six years after web security and privacy concerns surfaced about ambient light sensors in mobile phones and notebooks, browser boffins have finally implemented defenses.

The W3C, everyone’s favorite web standards body, began formulating an Ambient Light Events API specification back in 2012 to define how web browsers should handle data and events from ambient light sensors (ALS). Section 4 of the draft spec, “Security and privacy considerations,” was blank. It was a more carefree time.

Come 2015, the spec evolved to include acknowledgement of the possibility that ALS might allow data correlation and device fingerprinting, to the detriment of people’s privacy. And it suggested that browser makers might consider event rate limiting as a potential mitigation.

By 2016, it became clear that allowing web code to interact with device light sensors entailed privacy and security risks beyond fingerprinting. Dr Lukasz Olejnik, an independent privacy researcher and consultant, explored the possibilities in a 2016 blog post.

Olejnik cited a number of ways in which ambient light sensor readings might be abused, including data leakage, profiling, behavioral analysis, and various forms of cross-device communication.

He described a few proof-of-concept attacks, devised with the help of security researcher Artur Janc, in a 2017 post and delved into more detail in a 2020 paper [PDF].

“The attack we devised was a side-channel leak, conceptually very simple, taking advantage of the optical properties of human skin and its reflective properties,” Olejnik explained in his paper.

“Skin reflectance only accounts for the 4-7 percent emitted light but modern display screens emit light with significant luminance. We exploited these facts of nature to craft an attack that reasoned about the website content via information encoded in the light level and conveyed via the user skin, back to the browsing context tracking the light sensor readings.”

It was this technique that enabled the proof-of-concept attacks like stealing web history through inferences made from CSS changes and stealing cross origin resources, such as images or the contents of iframes.

Snail-like speed

Browser vendors responded in various ways. In May 2018, with the release of Firefox 60, Mozilla moved access to the W3C proximity and ambient light APIs behind flags, and applied further limitations in subsequent Firefox releases.

Apple simply declined to implement the API in WebKit, along with a number of other capabilities. Both Apple and Mozilla currently oppose a proposal for a generic sensor API.

Google took what Olejnik described his paper as a “more nuanced” approach, limiting the precision of sensor data.

But those working on the W3C specification and on the browsers implementing the spec recognized that such privacy protections should be formalized, to increase the likelihood the API will be widely adopted and used.

So they voted to make the imprecision of ALS data normative (standard for browsers) and to require the camera access permission as part of the ALS spec.

Those changes finally landed in the ALS spec this week. As a result, Google and perhaps other browser makers may choose to make the ALS API available by default rather than hiding it behind a flag or ignoring it entirely. ®

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4 supports that can help employees outside of work

Voice Of EU



Everyone has different situations to deal with outside of the workplace. But that doesn’t mean the workplace can’t be a source of support.

Employers and governments alike are often striving to make workplaces better for everyone, whether it’s workplace wellbeing programmes or gender pay gap reporting.

However, life is about more than just the hours that are spent in work, and how an employer supports those other life challenges can be a major help.

Family-friendly benefits

Several companies have been launching new benefits and policies that help families and those trying to have children.

Job site Indeed announced a new ‘family forming’ benefit package earlier this year, which is designed to provide employees with family planning and fertility-related assistance.

The programme includes access to virtual care and a network of providers who can guide employees through their family-forming journey.

Vodafone Ireland introduced a new fertility and pregnancy policy in February 2022 that includes extended leave for pregnancy loss, fertility treatment and surrogacy.

And as of the beginning of 2022, Pinterest employees around the world started receiving a host of new parental benefits, including a minimum of 20 weeks’ parental leave, monetary assistance of up to $10,000 or local equivalent for adoptive parents, and four weeks of paid leave to employees who experience a loss through miscarriage at any point in a pregnancy.

Helping those experiencing domestic abuse

There are also ways to support employees going through a difficult time. Bank of Ireland introduced a domestic abuse leave policy earlier this year, which provides a range of supports to colleagues who may be experiencing domestic abuse.

Under the policy, the bank will provide both financial and non-financial support to colleagues, such as paid leave and flexibility with the work environment or schedule.

In emergency situations where an employee needs to immediately leave an abusive partner, the bank will help through paid emergency hotel accommodation or a salary advance.

In partnership with Women’s Aid, the company is also rolling out training to colleagues to help recognise the symptoms of abuse and provide guidance on how to take appropriate action.

Commenting on the policy, Women’s Aid CEO Sarah Benson said employers who implement policies and procedures for employees subjected to domestic abuse can help reduce the risk of survivors giving up work and increase “feelings of solidarity and support at a time when they may feel completely isolated and alone”.

A menopause policy

In 2021, Vodafone created a policy to support workers after a survey it commissioned revealed that nearly two-thirds of women who experienced menopause symptoms said it impacted them at work. A third of those who had symptoms also said they hid this at work. Half of those surveyed felt there is a stigma around talking about menopause, which is something Vodafone is seeking to combat through education for all staff.

Speaking to last year, Vodafone Ireland CEO Anne O’Leary said the company would roll out a training and awareness programme to all employees globally, including a toolkit to improve their understanding of menopause and provide guidance on how to support employees, colleagues and family members.

In Ireland, Vodafone employees are able to avail of leave for sickness and medical treatment, flexible working hours and additional care through the company’s employee assistance programme when going through the menopause.

Support hub for migrants

There are also initiatives to help people get their foot on the employment ladder.

Earlier this year, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, TD launched a new service with education and employment supports for refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants.

The Pathways to Progress platform is part of the Open Doors Initiative supporting marginalised groups to access further education, employment and entrepreneurship in Ireland.

As part of the initiative, member company Siro offered a paid 12-week internship programme for six people who are refugees. The internships include job preparation, interview skills and access to the company’s online learning portals.

Open Doors Initiative CEO Jeanne McDonagh said the chance to land a meaningful job or establish a new business is key to people’s integration into Ireland, no matter what route they took to get here.

“Some are refugees, some are living in direct provision, some will have their status newly regularised, and others will come directly for work,” she said. “Our new service aims to support all migrants in finding a decent job as they prepare to enter the Irish workforce, and to support employers as they seek to build an inclusive culture in their workplaces.”

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