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Microsoft pushes ahead adapting Azure for 5G telecoms • The Register

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Analysis Microsoft has given more info on its efforts to draw telcos to its Azure cloud platform, building on intellectual property and skills gained from last year’s partnership with AT&T, under which the telco opted to move its core 5G network operations to Azure.

Microsoft announced Azure for Operators in 2020, saying it was adding capabilities to its cloud to support carrier-grade network operations such as low-latency connectivity and network slicing. The idea was that telcos would be able to take advantage of the elastic capabilities of the cloud and reduce the need to invest so much capital expenditure in new infrastructure for their 5G rollouts, in much the same way that enterprise customers have adopted the technology.

This clearly appealed to AT&T, because in June last year it announced it was not only moving its 5G mobile network to Azure, but also providing Microsoft access to its IP and technical expertise. This included handing over the Network Cloud platform it had developed to operate its 5G services to the Windows giant, along with any of the engineering team willing to transfer to Redmond.

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On the surface, this was quite a volte-face from AT&T, which was one of the big-name adopters of OpenStack just a few years ago, back when the Open Infrastructure Foundation was pushing the open-source platform as the ideal solution for telcos to build out their next-generation mobile networks. Just last year, AT&T donated its specifications for an open networking design for a router chassis – dubbed the Distributed Disaggregated Chassis (DDC) – to the Open Compute Project.

But rather than a rejection of open source, the move to Azure by AT&T may simply be a reflection of the telco’s financial position: AT&T was saddled with nearly $190bn in debt last year and is making every effort to reduce this. It had already offloaded some of its data center operations, and presumably calculated that moving its 5G network operations to a public cloud would make more sense than having to build and maintain more of its own infrastructure. It didn’t help that OpenStack failed to live up to the hype.

Also, it’s worth nothing that modern software-defined network services are commonly delivered as Linux-based virtual network functions (VNFs) or Cloud-Native Network Functions (CNFs), which can be deployed in a public cloud.

Meanwhile, the Network Cloud technology originally developed by AT&T is set to be made available to other carriers in future, thanks to the partnership with Microsoft. Redmond says it is evolving Azure for Operators to cover hybrid infrastructure and support scalable carrier-grade network services, but also aiming to use machine-learning techniques to operate self-optimizing networks that should be capable of provisioning extra resources as well as defending themselves against threats.

In an update this week, Microsoft vice president for 5G strategy Shawn Hakl said that the firm’s efforts are aimed at getting network workloads to function on a carrier-grade cloud, which he describes as a hybrid cloud, spanning both public and dedicated on-premises cloud infrastructure.

“Telecommunication services are highly distributed and will likely become more so over time,” Hakl said. “As a result, the value of creating a carrier-grade hybrid cloud model lives in its ability to meet customers where they are – at the edge of the cloud, the edge of the network, or the edge of the enterprise.”

You can’t go back – or can you?

But has AT&T backed itself into a corner through this partnership with Microsoft? It would almost certainly be difficult and costly for the telco to revert to running its 5G network operations entirely using its own infrastructure, especially as it has effectively given up control over its own internally developed network cloud technology. However, as Microsoft points out, AT&T retains the ability to select and manage the network applications that it operates on Azure, delivered as VNFs or CNFs, to deliver mobile network services to AT&T customers.

In return, Microsoft claims that the partnership puts AT&T in a position to deliver new services faster and more flexibly using Azure, which already has a global footprint. This could give it a competitive advantage against rival telcos rolling out 5G infrastructure, but how long it would retain that advantage when Microsoft intends to offer Azure for Operators to all-comers remains to be seen.

Perhaps the take-home from all this is that even mighty telecoms firms are doing the sums of own-it-yourself versus running services in the public cloud, just as enterprises are. And just like enterprises, some are deciding they simply cannot compete against the economy of scale enjoyed by the hyperscalers.

According to Paolo Pescatore, founder and telecoms analyst at PP Foresight, this move is inevitable as telecoms operators are increasingly finding their margins being squeezed.

“Ultimately, all roads lead to working more closely with the hyperscalers which represents a double edged sword for telcos. The role of tech giants in this ever changing landscape continues to proliferate and it is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future,” he says.

Telecoms operators will need to tread carefully when choosing which partners to work closely with, he warned. ®

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VMware fixes buggy vSphere release – and Log4J, too • The Register

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VMware has restored availability of vSphere 7 Update, a release that it withdrew in late 2021 after driver dramas derailed deployments.

Paul Turner, Virtzilla’s veep for vSphere product management, told The Register that the source of the problem was Intel driver updates that arrived out of sync with VMware’s pre-release testing program. When users adopted the new drivers – one of which had been renamed – vSphere produced errors that meant virtual server fleet managers could not sustain high availability operations.

Turner said around 30,000 customers had adopted the release, of which around eight per cent encountered the issue. That collection of around 2,400 impacted users was enough for VMware to pull the release before the other 270,000 vSphere users hit trouble. That level of potential problems, Turner admitted, was considered a sufficient threshold to justify a do-over and the embarrassment of a pulled release.

VMware has since reviewed its testing program and procedures in the hope it will avoid a repeat of this error. Doing so, and repairing the release, meant a busier-than-usual holiday period for VMware developers. Turner said those who put in the extra hours will be compensated with extra time off in the future.

VMware also used the time needed to get the release ready to ensure that vSphere 7 U3 thoroughly addresses the Log4j bug. It took the opportunity to update to the latest version of the tool – which is free of the critical bug that allowed almost any code to execute without authorisation.

But VMware decided not to add anything new to vSphere while it addressed Log4j and sorted out the driver drama. Users will have to wait a few more months for another dose of VMware’s usual concoction of security updates and feature tweaks.

There’s more interesting stuff on the way, too. VMware has promised a full vSphere-as-a-Service offering is in the works, and the Project Capitola software-defined memory tech that will pool RAM across hosts. The company has also dropped hints that its plan to run its ESX hypervisor on SmartNICs is nearing release.

VMware has detailed the new/old release here and made downloads available here

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Facebook given EU go-ahead to pursue controversial Kustomer acquisition

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The EU’s antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager said she was satisfied for the company now known as Meta to pursue its Kustomer acquisition after it struck a deal for rivals.

Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook, has secured antitrust approval from the EU to pursue its acquisition of US customer services software start-up Kustomer.

The social media giant’s decision to acquire the start-up attracted EU scrutiny last April, months before its rebrand. Then known as Facebook, the company planned to integrate Kustomer’s products, including a chatbot, into its service.

Now, Meta has assured the European Commission that it will provide rivals free access to its messaging channels for 10 years.

The EU was satisfied that this addressed competition concerns which previously arose from the company’s decision to acquire Kustomer.

“Our decision today will ensure that innovative rivals and new entrants in the customer relationship management software market can effectively compete,” EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager said in a statement.

Last December, Vestager’s Digital Markets Act was passed by EU lawmakers as part of the body’s plans to tighten the monopoly large multinationals hold in Europe’s digital space.

Facebook had initially announced its acquisition plan in November 2020. In February 2021, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties wrote to the European Commission outlining its concerns over data that Kustomer had gathered and what might happen to that data under Facebook’s watch. The Commission also received a referral request from Austria flagging concerns over the Kustomer deal.

Other Meta acquisitions have also attracted the scrutiny of competition regulators. Last November, the UK ordered Meta to sell Giphy after its acquisition of the GIF making company was found to have breached competition rules. In the US, it is facing an antitrust suit that could force the company to sell WhatsApp and Instagram.

The EU’s decision to allow Meta to pursue the acquisition of Kustomer comes following a recent vote in the European Parliament in favour of the Digital Services Act, a companion of the Digital Markets Act. The act represents the EU’s attempt to shift the balance of power away from Big Tech in favour of ordinary people.

The long-debated act was hailed by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen as a “gold standard”.

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Now that I’ve finally played The Last of Us, who wants to talk about that ending? | Games

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‘OK, Dad, this is an incredible essay on the effects of grief and grey morality in a postapocalyptic society,” says the eldest child, AKA the millennial. “It’s got proper female characters, progressive takes on sexuality and tonnes of rain.”

“They’ve made a video game of The Handmaid’s Tale?”

“No, Dad. It’s The Last of Us. Don’t worry. It’s still a zombie shooter. And both games have the best ending ever.”

Now she has my interest. Video game endings fascinate me, because my generation started out with arcade games that didn’t have them. Pac-Man kept eating dots and chasing ghosts and the Space Invaders kept coming, wave after incessant wave. The first arcade game that had an actual ending was Dragon’s Lair and nobody actually saw that because it was so hard to complete.

I have a tough start with The Last of Us because I hate games where you search for stuff in every room of a house. I spend my normal life doing that with car keys and headphones. I want games where you walk into a room and all the objects get sucked into a magic pocket. But that isn’t realistic, I hear you cry. Well, neither is only being able to carry three shivs in a world where, despite the zombie apocalypse, cargo pants clearly still exist.

The Last of Us.
Jaw-dropping … The Last of Us. Photograph: Sony

I also hate any form of crafting, because that was what my generation had to do for “fun” as kids before we had video games. Whether it’s smoke bombs from sugar and explosives or a set of Action Man drawers from matchboxes, it’s all boring to me.

“Keep going,” I tell myself. “The millennial says it’s got the best ending ever.”

Throughout the first chapter of Joel and Ellie’s jaunt across a post-infected US I keep trying to guess what this great ending will be. Maybe Ellie isn’t immune to infection after all? Maybe Joel is her real father? Maybe they’re both unwitting participants in some reality TV show, I’m Infected Get Me Out of Here?

As you will all know by now – and if you’ve yet to play The Last of Us then please stop reading – the ending has Joel murder a perfectly innocent and well-intentioned doctor who wants to cut Ellie open to find a cure that will save humanity. But Joel has no truck with utilitarian philosophy, because Ellie has now become a replacement for the daughter he lost. So, he disregards mankind’s future and, by stopping the operation, effectively murders the entire human race (alongside a whole hospital’s worth of doctors).

“Why does he do that?” I asked the millennial, in one of many fantastic discussions we had about the game.

“Because he’s a white male,” came the answer, because it’s 2022 and she’s in her 20s. And maybe she’s right. Either way it is a jaw-dropping, supremely brave ending and the terrific Left Behind side-story also brought the feels.

The Last of Us Part 2
Grey morality … Ellie in The Last of Us Part 2. Photograph: Naughty Dog

So, when it came to The Last of Us Part 2, I was beyond excited. Fifty million hours later I was beyond disappointed.

Don’t get me wrong, the millennial nailed it when she said it was a great exploration of the effects of grief and grey morality. But after spending the whole game switching between two strong female characters (literally, have you seen Abby’s arms?) and contrasting factional creeds, you have the final confrontation. They fight. And … they both live. And go their separate ways. The only real damage is Ellie losing a couple of fingers, and the game portrays the worst consequence of this as not being able to play guitar any more. Seriously? That’s the biggest drawback to being fingerless in a zombie apocalypse? The first game ended with Joel murdering an entire civilisation, the second ends with Ellie murdering one song on a guitar. It’s a scene you might have found in The Secret of Monkey Island. It’s hilarious.

The Last of Us Part 2 leaves us with exactly the same non-ending as those original arcade games. Ellie and Abby will go on killing to keep their respective postapocalyptic factions going, both driven by the grief of murdered loved ones. They are both trapped, endlessly chasing ghosts. Sounds familiar…

The millennial says this shows there are no winners when it comes to revenge. I say they want both protagonists alive for The Last of Us 3. It’s a cynical cop out. But then, The Last of Us Part 2 is a game that features the most cynical scene ever, where apropos of nothing, after genuinely bravura portrayals of women, transgender and gay characters, alpha female Abby suddenly gets rogered from behind by some guy. It happens out of nowhere. The game spends umpteen hours portraying progressive sexuality, and then it’s like some marketing man decided they needed to toss the incels a piece of red meat to stop them hate-bombing all over 4chan (which didn’t work). It is easily the most gratuitous bit of nudity I have ever seen in games, and I have played The Witcher 3. The rogerer in question even has a girlfriend. Who is pregnant. Way to shit on a sister, Abby.

“It’s basically Pac-Man with gratuitous boobs,” I say to my eldest, who sighs and pours herself a large cup of coffee. This will be another long discussion.

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