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IBM quiet about flagship database Db2, despite nice upgrades • The Register

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It’s the time of year when one might wonder what happened to that avuncular family figure whose existence was so reliably dull they passed into history almost forgotten – a little like Db2, IBM’s flagship relational database that has faded from users’ collective memory.

Big Blue’s system of choice for its mainframes and big Unix/Linux boxes is still very much alive and kicking and has even delivered a smattering of news in recent weeks, with a high profile attendee at the early December International Db2 Users Group European Conference telling us that select users were told of the new “Db2u”, a set of containers for Db2 aimed at users exploring or working with the database in the cloud.

Conference speaker, Db2 DBA, and commentator Ember Crooks had posted earlier this year that “db2u sounds amazing to me” and that “db2u, conceptually, is a nearly cloud-native way of doing a relational database management system.” But she also pointed out that “the problem I run into is that db2u is only available on RedHat OpenShift.”

Now, according to Crooks, IBM seems to be porting Db2u to container services Amazon EKS and Azure AKS.

Enthusing about the apparent move last week, Crooks wrote: “There is no printed statement yet that I can refer to, nor is there a more solid date … but when I talked to the platform team at work, we’re looking for workloads to try on Amazon EKS, so the moment it becomes available, I’m ready to do a POC on it and hope that in 2022, I can get my production databases running on it!”

The Register has asked IBM for confirmation of these plans.

Db2 was modelled on the ideas of IBM researcher Edgar Frank “Ted” Codd, who first described the theory of relational databases in 1970. The first products became available on IBM mainframes in 1983 and on later on Unix, Linux, and Windows. The product has been styled as “DB/2”, then “DB2” before settling on the current “Db2” in 2017.

While there has been a flurry of innovation and startups in the database market in recent years, Db2 remains ranked the seventh-most-popular database by DB-Engines, which uses a combination of downloads, sales, and citations to rank databases.

It is well behind leader Oracle in its score, but well above, say, Snowflake, which, despite being 17th, has seen an investment frenzy that at once valued the company at $120bn, more than the whole of IBM which includes hardware, mainframes, cloud, and a substantial services operation.

It is frustrating to users, then, that in an era with a seemingly insatiable interest in databases and related data engineering products – Databricks’ nominal value of $28bn is just one more example – IBM seems to lack the appetite to promote its own flagship product.

Sebastian Zok, Db2 user and IDUG EMEA conference chair, welcomed the idea of IBM supporting alternative container platforms. “It’s a good thing because any restriction you have on a system lowers the number of people who want to use it. Now with the possibility of using two containers within native Kubernetes without OpenShift … you open the field for a lot of companies that just thought ‘well yeah, we’re using containers, but we’re not using OpenShift.’ I think they’ll do great with that because they’re expanding their possible customers.”

But Zok said the user community was concerned over the lack of attention IBM is paying Db2 in public.

“IBM isn’t doing the best job of marketing Db2, in general, both on Linux-Unix-Windows and System Z. If you’re asking some tech people that are not so deeply into databases, which databases they know the first thing they say is Oracle, Microsoft SQL Server as well. But people only know Db2 if they have it in their shop already, or if they’re involved in the mainframe. It’s a concern. IBM do better marketing with Db2, just to show the world its capabilities. It’s no worse than Oracle or MS SQL Server. I wouldn’t say it’s way better but it’s a competitor and a really good one.”

Given the status of some Db2 users, it seems a surprising approach from IBM. The technology is relied on by a string of the world’s largest banks and retailers including JP Morgan Chase, HSBC, Bank of America, and Tesco.

However, the community was still encouraged by the technical investments IBM is making in its core database, and requests for technical upgrades were well attended by IBM engineers.

“I don’t think IBM wants to let Db2 die. It’s not like Cobol or anything like that. IBM is near to its customers but only those that have already invested in Db2. We would like to see them try to do a better job [outside that group],” Zok said.

Zok added that the Community License for Db2 on Linux-Unix-Windows, which offered a full-featured database albeit with limited resources, appears promising. It could be an alternative to PostgreSQL, the open-source relational database, for small, start-up projects, he said. “Postgres is good because the community is very responsive. But on the other hand, having a company like IBM behind the product, you know there are the people that develop that stuff and could find problems if you have any.”

IBM is not the only vendor with an interest in Db2 – third parties such as BMC aim to help Db2 users manage, optimise, and safeguard the platform on the mainframe.

April Hickel, VP of Intelligent Z optimization and transformation at BMC, said: “BMC sees continued growth and use of Db2 in customers in line with the positive growth trend of the mainframe.”

In BMC’s latest mainframe survey, 68 per cent of respondents expect MIPS to grow – the highest outlook in the 15-year history of our annual report. “BMC continues to invest in Db2 with quarterly releases of our Db2 solutions with a focus on delivering automation with CI/CD pipeline integrations, using AI/ML to proactively detect issues, automate root cause isolation, and optimise database performance,” Hickel said.

The Register has been encouraging IBM to talk to us about its plans for Db2 for more than a year now with little success.

Noel Yuhanna, Forrester veep and principal analyst, said interest in Db2 from the wider tech community is also dropping off. “We don’t get as many inquiries on Db2 these days compared to five or seven years ago. However, we find many loyal IBM customers like Db2’s scale, reliability, security, performance, and tools to support various workloads.”

IBM seems to have suffered in shifting Db2 to the cloud, he said. But Big Blue has innovated with in-database machine learning, supporting distributed queries through data virtualization, and support for hybrid-cloud environments. “The future of DB2 will depend on whether IBM can attract non-IBM customers, continue to deliver advanced automation and intelligence, and expand on more modern use cases,” Yuhanna said.

While IBM is investing in the platform, its track record in promoting its flagship database outside the core customer base continues to worry users.

IBM: The Register is here if you want to talk. ®

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Exclusive or not, this is one Clubhouse I was happy to leave | John Naughton

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In March 2020, a new app suddenly arrived on the block. It was called Clubhouse and described as a “social audio” app that enabled its users to have real-time conversations in virtual “rooms” that could accommodate groups large and small. For a time in that disrupted, locked-down spring, Clubhouse was what Michael Lewis used to call the “New New Thing”. “The moment we saw it,” burbled Andrew Chen of the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, “we were deeply excited. We believe Clubhouse will be a meaningful addition to the world, one that increases empathy and provides new ways for people to talk to each other (at a time when we need it more than ever).”

The app could not have come at a better time for social media, he continued. “It reinvents the category in all the right ways, from the content consumption experience to the way people engage each other, while giving power to its creators.” His firm put $12m of its (investors’) money behind Chen’s fantasies and followed up a year later with an investment that put a valuation of $1bn on Clubhouse, which would have made it one of the “unicorns” so prized by the Silicon Valley crowd.

This endorsement by an ostensibly serious venture capital firm undoubtedly helped to boost the hype about Clubhouse, but the main drivers – snobbery and elitism – had little to do with funding. In the beginning, for example, the app was only available for the iPhone (the BMW of the smartphone market) and membership was by invitation only. If you were lucky enough to be invited, then you could pass on an invitation to one friend. A generous colleague of mine extended hers to me and I went about signing up, until I discovered that the app unconditionally demanded access to all the contacts on my phone, whereupon I deleted it, as did my embarrassed colleague some time later.

Other invitees were more accommodating, though, and for a time Clubhouse grew like crazy. It had 600,000 registered users by December 2020 and 8.1m downloads by February 2021. In April 2021, Twitter approached it with a view to acquiring it for $4bn, but nothing came of that. And sometime after that the air began to leak out of the Clubhouse balloon. After months in which much of the chatter was about (and on) the platform, we somehow moved to a point where nobody talks about it any more. Yet Clubhouse still exists, has 10 million users and has raised more than $10m from investors. But now, in a move that smacks of desperation, it’s allowing its US users to share a link to a “live” room that enables non-members to listen in (but not to talk). And the web is alive with pieces trying to explain Clubhouse’s decline.

So what happened? A conjunction of lots of different things, probably. The most important was that vaccination programmes led to an easing of the Covid lockdowns. People who were no longer having to work from home were out and about again, talking to friends and colleagues in person. But other factors were at work too. For example, the decision to open the app to Android users in May 2021 somewhat dented the iPhone “exclusivity” that drove growth in 2020.

And, as always happens when user-generated content balloons online, abusive and unpleasant conversations proliferated. Many of the virtual rooms turned out not to be about discourse but celebrity-puffing or scamming.

As one critic put it: “So many rooms that advertise themselves as hosting big celebrities and names in the worlds of business and entertainment … turn out to be scammers … impersonating celebrities or giving a vague Ted Talk about entrepreneurship from random people who have never … set foot in the industry. Other rooms are often cover-ups for scam businesses.

“A big issue on the app were rooms that claimed to invite people with startup ideas to share with their peers and exchange advice and strategies. The rooms’ hosts would then buy the domain names these startups were looking for and sell them back to them at much higher prices to make a profit.” Clubhouse rooms became, wrote another critic, “like a late-night talkshow where celebrities come together and speak about their family, achievements, passions and plans”.

So how should we view the Clubhouse story? In the long view of history, the app might look like a shooting star, an object of brief wonder that briefly mesmerised a world afflicted with tech-induced attention-deficit disorder. A more prosaic, but possible more realistic, view is that it was just a tech solution looking for a social problem to “solve”. In other words, a typical product of Silicon Valley.

What I’ve been reading

On message
I Didn’t Want It to Be True, But the Medium Really Is the Message is an interesting New York Times op-ed by Ezra Klein.

Ministry of the environment
The late, great James Lovelock outlined the Gaia theory in the article I Speak for the Earth, which is republished on the Resurgence website.

Desperately seeking Susan
Seriously Susan is a terrifically inventive review by Melinda Harvey of Benjamin Moser’s biography of Susan Sontag on the Sydney Review of Books website.

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AI laser probe for prostate cancer enters clinical trials • The Register

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AI software capable of mapping tumor tissue more accurately to help surgeons treat and shrink prostate cancer using a laser-powered needle will soon be tested in real patients during clinical trials.

The National Cancer Institute estimated that approximately 12.6 percent of men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point in their life. The risk for developing the disease rises over time for men over the age of 50. It’s one of the most curable forms of cancer, considering most cases are caught in the early stages due to regular screening tests.

Treatment for prostate cancer varies depending on the severity of the disease. Patients can undergo hormone therapy, chemotherapy, or surgery to remove tissue. Avenda Health, a medical startup founded in 2017, is developing a new type of treatment that is less invasive. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted an investigational device exemption (IDE) to the company’s invention this week, meaning it can now be used in a clinical study. 

Patients will need to have an MRI scan and a targeted fusion biopsy performed first. The data is processed by Avenda’s AI algorithms in its iQuest software to map where the cancerous cells are located within the prostate. Next, the computer vision-aided model will simulate where best to insert FocalPoint, a probe armed with a laser, to help surgeons treat the patient’s tumor. The heat from the laser gently heats the cancerous cells and kills them with goal of shrinking and removing the whole tumor.

focal_point_iquest_avenda

MRI images where cancer is mapped using iQuest software before and after treatment. Image Credit: Avenda Health

“Historically, prostate cancer treatments of surgery or radiation impacts critical structures like the urethra and nerves which control sexual and urinary function,” Avenda’s CEO and co-founder Shyam Natarajan told The Register. “Our focal laser ablation system, FocalPoint, which is powered by our AI-driven cancer margin software, iQuest, specifically targets tumor tissue and avoids healthy tissue. This means patients no longer lose control over these functions that are so common with traditional treatments, so quality of life is significantly improved.”

The treatment is only effective for men diagnosed with intermediate risk of prostate cancer, a classification that describes tumors being confined within the prostate only. Patients are considered high risk in cases where the cancer has spread beyond the prostate. 

“This is one of the benefits of the iQuest software. Not only can it map the cancer, but it also provides decision support for the physician as they determine the best course of treatment for an individual patient. Not every patient is going to be eligible for focal therapy, and it is important for the physician to distinguish between good focal therapy candidates and not.  iQuest provides useful insights for that decision making process,”  Natarajan said.

Avenda received FDA clearance for its FocalPoint device in 2020. The IDE approval brings the company one step closer to bringing their product to market after clinical trial testing, Brittany Berry-Pusey, co-founder and COO of Avenda, said in a statement. 

“This clinical trial will play a key role in advancing our breakthrough technology to improve prostate cancer care. With no new FDA approvals for the treatment of localized prostate cancer in more than four decades, we look forward to working alongside our clinical sites to collect the data necessary to bring iQuest and FocalPoint to market and into the patient care environment.”

Natarajan told us the company was aiming to begin clinical trials in 2023. ®

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US offers $10m reward for info on five Conti ransomware members

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Rewards for Justice shared a photo of someone it claims to be an associate of the ransomware gang and is offering a reward to identify him and four others.

The US Department of State is offering a $10m reward for any information on five malicious cyber actors who are believed to be high-ranking members of the Conti ransomware gang.

The US has been offering rewards for information on this ransomware gang since May, including a $5m reward for any intel that leads to the arrest of anyone conspiring or attempting to participate in a Conti attack.

Yesterday (11 August), the department’s Rewards for Justice programme shared an alleged photo of an associate of the ransomware gang. The department said on Twitter that it is “trying to put a name to the face” and believes the individual is the hacker known as “Target”.

Illustration showing an image of a man with four figures next to it. A reward offer for information on the Conti ransomware gang.

A request for information by the Rewards for Justice programme. Image: US Department of State/Rewards for Justice

Conti, also known as Wizard Spider, has been linked to a group believed to be based near St Petersburg, Russia. The US has labelled it a “Russian government-linked ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) group”.

The group’s malware is believed to be responsible for more than 1,000 ransomware operations targeting critical infrastructure around the world, from law enforcement agencies to emergency medical services and dispatch centres.

In May 2021, the Conti group was behind the HSE ransomware incident that saw more than 80pc of the IT infrastructure of healthcare services across Ireland impacted. It was said to be the most serious cyberattack ever to hit the State’s critical infrastructure.

The US Department of State previously said the Conti ransomware variant is the “costliest strain of ransomware” ever documented. The FBI estimates that, as of January 2022, there had been more than 1,000 victims of attacks associated with Conti ransomware, with victim payouts exceeding $150m.

When Russia began its invasion of Ukraine earlier this year, the Conti group declared its allegiance to the Russian government. Shortly after, a Ukrainian researcher took the cybersecurity world by storm after publishing more than 60,000 internal messages of the ransomware gang.

Raj Samani, chief scientist at cybersecurity firm Rapid7, said the latest reward offer is just “the tip of the iceberg as enforcement agencies make “considerable strides” through public-private collaboration to hold cybercriminals to account.

“Announcing a reward and revealing the details of Conti members sends a message to would-be criminals that cybercrime is anything but risk-free,” said Samani.

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