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Oxford Nanopore float offers London a proper tech future | Technology sector

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Another day, another tech float on the way for London. This one involves proper technology too: cutting-edge DNA sequencing and analytics, as opposed to takeaway food delivered by bicycle. Oxford Nanopore’s likely arrival on the London Stock Exchange later this year is therefore very welcome. The UK market is short on life sciences companies capable of commanding multibillion-pound valuations.

Let’s not pretend, though, that the choice of London is some sort of national triumph. Oxford Nanopore was founded in 2005 as a spin-out from Oxford University. Its manufacturing and research base is near the city. And the company received a useful leg-up last year, courtesy of the UK government, via a contract for Covid testing worth up to £113m, which is not bad for a business whose revenues in 2019 were £52m. It would have been very unsporting to run off to the US to join the biotech brethren on Nasdaq.

The live question is what Oxford Nanopore is worth given that Covid has transformed prospects beyond mere testing. The company’s kit is used in identifying variants and the biggest long-term demand may lie in virus surveillance. An “analyse anything anywhere” philosophy has also taken the firm into territory ranging from cancer research to crop yields.

IP Group formally values its 15% stake at £340m, implying £2.3bn for the whole company, but that may be conservative. Analysts at Jefferies reckon £4bn based on comparisons with listed US rivals. Others go higher. A wide range of estimates is only to be expected at this point: this is a classic case of a “scale-up” story after several rounds of investment.

The reception for Oxford Nanopore may therefore tell us more about London’s real appetite for funding high-growth tech companies than either Deliveroo, which will limp across the line with a bottom-of-the-range price tag on Wednesday, or secondhand car merchant Cazoo, which grumbled about UK investors and took the US route. A healthy life sciences sector is the most interesting tech opportunity for London.

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Saving Liberty Steel is by no means simple

Kwasi Kwarteng has done the easy bit. He, or rather the government, has refused Liberty Steel’s request for a £170m rescue loan. That decision will have taken about two minutes since the structure of the parent company, Sanjeev Gupta’s GFG Alliance, is indeed “opaque”, as the business secretary put it.

But is there an actual plan to save Liberty Steel if the collapse of Greensill Capital, the main lender, proves terminal? At the moment Kwarteng is at the “all options open” stage, which presumably is a hint that some form of temporary public ownership, as with British Steel in 2019, would be contemplated to save thousands of jobs.

There are at least two complicating factors, however. First, Liberty is an amalgam of several businesses. The position could become messy if Gupta succeeds in re-financing some, but not all, of his UK operations.

Second, British Steel was eventually steered into the arms of Jingye – a Chinese firm, as many are in the steel business. This time any deal involving Beijing is surely impossible in a political climate of sanctions. So the pool of potential buyers may be shallow.

A complete list of options, then, would include a more full-throated, or longer-lasting, form of nationalisation. One could make an easy case for attempting a publicly funded reboot. Liberty’s Rotherham plant has two electric arc furnaces, which fit exactly into the government’s industrial decarbonisation drive. And the operation in nearby Stocksbridge makes high-spec steel for the aerospace industry, the added-value end of the market.

Does the government’s scenario-planning include such a medium-term project? It should if it still has a half-claim to having an industrial strategy.

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Amazon Web Services outage hits sites and apps such as IMDb and Tinder | Amazon

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Several Amazon services – including its website, Prime Video and applications that use Amazon Web Services (AWS) – went down for thousands of users on Tuesday.

Amazon said the outage was probably due to problems related to application programming interface (API), which is a set of protocols for building and integrating application software, Reuters reported.

“We are experiencing API and console issues in the US-East-1 Region,” Amazon said in a report on its service health dashboard, adding that it had identified the cause. By late late afternoon the outage appeared to be partially resolved, with the company saying that it was “working towards full recovery”.

“With the network device issues resolved, we are now working towards recovery of any impaired services,” the company said on the dashboard.

Downdetector showed more than 24,000 incidents of people reporting problems with Amazon. It tracks outages by collating status reports from a number of sources, including user-submitted errors on its platform.

The outage was also affecting delivery operations. Amazon’s warehouse operation use AWS and experienced disruptions, spokesperson Richard Rocha told the Washington Post. A Washington state Amazon driver said his facility had been “at a standstill” since Tuesday morning, CNBC reported.

Other services, including Amazon’s Ring security cameras, mobile banking app Chime and robot vacuum cleaner maker iRobot were also facing difficulties, according to their social media pages.

Ring said it was aware of the issue and working to resolve it. “A major Amazon Web Services (AWS) outage is currently impacting our iRobot Home App,” iRobot said on its website.

Other websites and apps affected include the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), language learning provider Duolingo and dating site Tinder, according to Downdetector.

The outage also affected presale tickets for Adele’s upcoming performances in Las Vegas. “Due to an Amazon Web Services (AWS) outage impacting companies globally, all Adele Verified Fan Presales scheduled for today have been moved to tomorrow to ensure a better experience,” Ticketmaster said on Twitter.

In June, websites including the Guardian, Reddit, Amazon, CNN, PayPal, Spotify, Al Jazeera Media Network and the New York Times were hit by a widespread hour-long outage linked to US-based content delivery network provider Fastly Inc, a smaller rival of AWS.

In July, Amazon experienced a disruption in its online stores service, which lasted for nearly two hours and affected more than 38,000 users.

Users have experienced 27 outages over the past 12 months on Amazon, according to the web tool reviewing website ToolTester.

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South Korea sets reliability standards for Big Tech • The Register

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South Korea’s Ministry of Science and ICT has offered Big Tech some advice on how to make their services suitably resilient, and added an obligation to notify users – in Korean – when they fail.

The guidelines apply to Google, Meta (parent company of Facebook), Netflix, Naver, Kakao and Wavve. All have been told to improve their response to faults by beefing up preemptive error detection and verification systems, and create back up storage systems that enable quick content recovery.

The guidelines offer methods Big Tech can use to measure user loads, then plan accordingly to ensure their services remain available. Uptime requirements are not spelled out.

Big techs is already rather good at resilience. Google literally wrote the book on site reliability engineering.

The guidelines refer to legislation colloquially known as the “Netflix law” which requires major service outages be reported to the Ministry.

That law builds on another enacted in 2020 that made online content service providers responsible for the quality of their streaming services. It was put in place after a number of outages, including one where notifications of the problem were made on the offending company’s social media site – but only in English.

The new regulations follow South Korean telcos’ recent attempts to have platforms that guzzle their bandwidth pay for the privilege. Mobile carrier SK Broadband took legal action in October of this year, demanding Netflix pitch in some cash for the amount of bandwidth that streaming shows – such as Squid Game – consume.

In response, Netflix pointed at its own free content delivery network, Open Connect, which helps carriers to reduce traffic. Netflix then accused SK Broadband of trying to double up on profits by collecting fees from consumers and content providers at the same time.

For the record, Naver and Kakao pay carriers, while Apple TV+ and Disney+ have at the very least given lip service to the idea.

Korea isn’t the only place where telcos have noticed Big Tech taking up more than its fair share of bandwidth. The European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association (ETNO) published a letter from ten telco CEOs asking that larger platforms “contribute fairly to network costs”. ®

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Twitter acquires Slack competitor Quill to improve its messaging services

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As part of the acquisition, Quill will be shutting down at the end of the week as its team joins the social media company.

Twitter has acquired the messaging platform Quill, seen as a potential competitor to Slack, in order to improve its messaging tools and services.

Quill announced that it will be shutting down at the end of the week as its team joins the social media company to continue its original goal “to make online communication more thoughtful, and more effective, for everyone”.

The purchase of Quill could be linked to Twitter’s new strategy to reduce its reliance on ad revenue and attract paying subscribers.

Twitter’s general manager for core tech, Nick Caldwell, described Quill as a “fresher, more deliberate way to communicate. We’re bringing their experience and creativity to Twitter as we work to make messaging tools like DMs a more useful and expressive way people can have conversations on the service”.

Users of Quill have until 11 December to export their team message history before the servers are fully shut down at 1pm PST (9pm Irish time). The announcement has instructions for users who wish to import their chat history into Slack and states that all active teams will be issued full refunds.

The team thanked its users and said: “We can’t wait to show you what we’ll be working on next.”

Quill was launched in February with the goal to remove the overwhelming aspects of other messaging services and give users a more deliberate and focused form of online chat.

In an online post, Quill creator Ludwig Pettersson said: “We started Quill to increase the quality of human communication. Excited to keep doing just that, at Twitter.”

The company became a potential competitor for Slack, which was bought by Salesforce at the end of 2020 for $27.7bn. The goal of that acquisition was to combine Salesforce’s CRM platform with Slack’s communications tools to create a unified service tailored to digital-led teams around the world.

Last week, Salesforce announced the promotion of Bret Taylor to vice-chair and co-CEO, just days after he was appointed independent chair of Twitter after CEO Jack Dorsey stepped down.

Don’t miss out on the knowledge you need to succeed. Sign up for the Daily Brief, Silicon Republic’s digest of need-to-know sci-tech news.

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