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Winning over giants like Intel key to growth • The Register

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Interview The CEO of RISC-V’s governing body says she wants to nothing less than “world domination” for the rising open-source processor technology, but to do that, the nonprofit needs buy-in from a variety of organizations, even those steeped in dominant, proprietary architectures, such as x86 giant Intel.

In an interview this week with The Register, RISC-V International CEO Calista Redmond reckons the buy-in, which comes in the form of paid memberships, is needed to support ongoing development of the royalty-free CPU instruction set architecture to better compete with x86 and Arm ISAs.

“We have to have a level of funding in order to operate and manage this special rodeo of ours,” she says.

Redmond, an IBM veteran, pitches involvement in RISC-V International, which gives paying members an extra level of say in the ISA’s future development, as a more even playing field for tech companies than what has been allowed with proprietary ISAs, namely x86 and Arm.

“What everybody gets from this is the vested collective interests of everyone involved to say, ‘My destiny isn’t pinned to any one or five companies. Everyone’s investing together, therefore, my level of risk is much lower’,” she says.

When Intel joined RISC-V International in February, it became a premium member, the top membership tier that gave the semiconductor giant a seat on the nonprofit’s board and the Technical Steering Committee, which determines new features and specifications for the ISA.

For those privileges, Intel and the other 19 premium members each chip in an annual fee of $250,000, according to the nonprofit’s website.

Redmond characterizes the interest of these premier members like this:

Besides Intel, other major companies with premier memberships include Alibaba Cloud, Google, Huawei, Unisoc, Western Digital, and ZTE.

The premier members also range from startups like StarFive, Ventana and Micro Systems, to SiFive, the latter of which is hoping to go public in the next two years with a RISC-V CPU licensing business.

There are many more RISC-V International members at the “strategic” level, which still gives them the ability to weigh in on the future development on the ISA but not at the same level as premier members.

These members, which include Canonical, Nvidia, and Samsung, pay as much as $35,000 for an annual membership. Smaller organizations pay half or less.

But it’s not just companies that are members. RISC-V’s more than 2,400 members also include universities, and government-related entities.

Just last week, India’s government announced that it had become a premier member and revealed a RISC-V roadmap for homegrown processors.

Another significant government-related entity with premium membership is the Chinese Academy of Sciences, which participates through its Institute of Software and Institute of Computing Technology. The academy is on the US Entity List of trade-restricted organizations, which underlines the unique position RISC-V is in with its open-source nature amid international tensions.

But Redmond says that, as with other countries, such as Russia, RISC-V International is “not required to block anybody from engaging and participating,” though the organization will make changes if needed.

“If things go the way of sanctions that are heavier on a country level, we may need to pivot, but at this point we are abiding by things and [are] in very close contact in understanding what are other open source and global organizations doing,” she says.

CEO has nuanced view of what RISC-V’s rise will look like

For member companies that have historically been associated with proprietary ISAs, such as x86 or Arm, Redmond tells us they are looking at RISC-V to diversify their risk. It also gives these companies another ISA to support their increasing heterogenous computing needs.

“It makes business sense to do it,” she says.

In the case of Intel, Redmond thinks the x86 giant’s involvement with RISC-V is helping support the company’s revitalized contract manufacturing business, which has vowed to make custom chips for others using x86, Arm or RISC-V ISAs as part of a larger comeback plan.

While Intel’s move to support RISC-V could seen as a conflict with the semiconductor giant’s traditional x86 business, Redmond admits that she doesn’t think RISC-V poses an existential threat.

“This isn’t inside information, but I’m pretty sure they’re not too worried about their x86 business. I mean, they’ve locked that in. They’ve got so many customers that have some millions into that already. People are not typically ripping out existing investments,” she says.

However, Redmond does see an opportunity for RISC-V to win business in new and emerging workloads, and she thinks over time devices and IT infrastructure will increasingly shift to the open-source ISA.  

“Now one or two generations down the line as you continue to advance and evolve your portfolio, I expect many of those may shift to RISC-V,” she says.

But Redmond has a more nuanced view of what a world filled with more RISC-V designs will look like. She doesn’t necessarily believe x86 and Arm will fall out of fashion. Instead, she suspects tech companies will increasingly see RISC-V, x86 and Arm ISAs as tools within the same toolbox. This will lead to a greater mix of ISAs used in devices and IT infrastructure, which is already starting to play out.

For instance, Intel uses Arm core designs for some products, including its Mount Evans infrastructure processing unit. AMD relies on Arm for hardware-based security within its processors, and its reportedly looking at incorporating RISC-V into future products. While Nvidia is expanding its use of Arm with upcoming server CPUs, it also uses RISC-V within its GPUs, as does Imagination, which backs the architecture.

“You start to look at technology and hardware differently as building blocks rather than a blind allegiance,” says the CEO.

RISC-V can move faster than Arm

It’s important to note that RISC-V, for the most part, is pretty far out from powering mainstream processors in servers and PCs.

Patrick Little, CEO of RISC-V designer SiFive, told us in March he doesn’t expect to see commercial processors using the company’s designs in PCs until late 2025, and server efforts will take longer than that.

It should be noted too that Arm has only just started to become a serious contender in PCs and servers over the past couple years.  

But Redmond says that Google and other so-called hyperscalers are working on RISC-V projects “under the covers” and pointed out that the ISA is also used in microcontrollers in storage devices from companies like Western Digital and Seagate.

She also highlights Alibaba Cloud’s XuanTie RISC-V processors, which have been marketed for networking devices, gateways and edge servers [PDF].

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Intel joins RISC-V governing body, pledges $1bn fund for chip designers

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Another company, Esperanto Technologies, is testing its 1,000-core RISC-V AI chip with Samsung’s IT services arm and other companies, Redmond noted. We also know of another startup, Ventana Micro Systems, that is building RISC-V server chips.

Redmond didn’t cite any examples of PC activities. We do know that SiFive launched a RISC-V development board for desktops in late 2020, for instance, while Microchip offers RISC-V boards, folks are recreating the TRS-80 Model 100 with a RISC-V system-on-chip… it’s safe to say various projects and products are on the go.

She promises we will see more examples of RISC-V implementations of both servers and PCs later this year.

“You’re going to see a laptop this year. You’re going to see more datacenter implementation stories this year,” she says.

The CEO also makes a bolder promise: whereas it took Arm about 20 years to get where it is today, she predicts it will take RISC-V roughly five years to make the same amount of progress. “Where are we in the adoption curve? We’re not halfway yet, but we are getting there very quickly,” she says.

The caveat, she adds, is that the five-year timeline is an “imprecise measurement,” as RISC-V International and its members need to fill out some additional capabilities on the instruction set side as well as software support to cover a broad spectrum of applications.  

But what makes Redmond confident in RISC-V’s ability to gain more traction over the next few years is the growing support the ISA has received from a plurality of organizations.

“The reason that we’re getting there faster is that we have a greater shared pool of investment across the community that is driving that,” she says. ®

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Welsh council extends contract for Oracle EBS 12.1 • The Register

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Swansea City Council has been forced to extend an IT service provider contract to keep its unsupported and unpatched ERP system up and running because its replacement is running two years behind.

A procurement document published last week shows Infosys was awarded £2 million contract (c $2.40 million) extension, until 30 November 2023, to support the Welsh council’s Oracle eBusiness Suite ERP system while it waits for the replacement Oracle Fusion system to be ready. It takes Infosys’s total for supporting the old system to £6.7 million (c $8.1 million).

Council documents reveal the authority runs its finance and HR systems on EBS R12.1, which moved into Oracle Sustaining Support in January 2022 and will therefore no longer receive new fixes, updates, or security patches.

In 2019, the council approved plans to move to Oracle Fusion [PDF] in the expectation that the new system would be live by November 2020.

However, the council had to change the schedule due to time lost to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Council risked failing its Public Service Network accreditation: report

It said using unsupported software “increased the risk of cyber-attacks and potential data theft” while there was also “a risk payroll may not function, staff and pensioners may not be paid.” The report also said the council risked failing its Public Service Network (PSN) accreditation, which meant it could be prevented from sharing data with the health service, police, and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

However, in March 2020, the council invoked a force majeure clause – which alters parties’ contractual obligations – with the support provider Infosys and began discussions to resume the program.

It opted to suspend the program and start back up in February 2021, with the aim to go live in October 2021. The plans said Infosys had agreed to absorb additional costs for this extension.

It said Oracle had agreed to extend support from November 2020 to 2022 so it could get regular updates and patches. “Although this risk still exists, it has been mitigated,” it said.

Given the council has awarded a contract well after the planned go-live of its replacement, it seems those assumptions are under threat. The council has so far failed to respond to The Register‘s request for comment.

Its Fusion project might provide some lessons for the London Borough of Waltham Forest, which plans to have its core solution – a move away from an ageing SAP ERP system – live within a year of the project’s start.

Other councils have learned about the complexity of ERP projects the hard way. In December last year, The Register revealed that West Sussex County Council was facing a two-year delay to a £7.5 million ($9.2 million) Oracle ERP project to replace its 20-year-old SAP system with Fusion. Surrey County Council has also seen its project to move from SAP to Unit4 delayed and incur additional costs. ®

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Sony shifts focus to PC gamers with new Inzone monitors and headsets

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Sony aims to boost the ‘growth of gaming culture’ with two 27-inch monitors and three headsets, designed for both PC and Playstation gamers.

Sony has announced a batch of new monitors and headsets with a focus on PC gamers, as the company looks to reach out to more than its core Playstation audience.

The Inzone range consists of two 27-inch monitors and three headsets, which are all designed to enhance a gamer’s experience. While the main target appears to be PC gamers, the products have features that suit PS5 users.

Sony said its Inzone M9 monitor has 4K resolution and a high contrast with full array local dimming, designed to boost the detail of gaming scenes in deep black and brightness. The monitor also has a 144Hz refresh rate, an IPS display and a 1ms response time. Sony said the monitor will help lead to quicker reactions, which is a clear benefit for competitive PC gamers.

Meanwhile, the M3 monitor will have a 240Hz refresh rate, along with variable refresh rate technology to help gamers “capture movements of rivals in shooter games”.

To go with the monitors, Sony is releasing two wireless headsets, along with the wired Inzone H3 model. The Inzone H9 will have 32 hours of battery life, while the H7 model will have 40 hours.

Speaking on the products, Sony’s head of game business and marketing office Yukihiro Kitajima said there has been a higher interest in gaming with the spread of e-sports tournaments and the advancement of gaming entertainment.

“With Sony’s strong history of high-end audio and visual technology products, we believe this new line will offer even more options for those looking to upgrade their current gaming systems,” Kitajima said.

“We are committed to contributing to the growth of gaming culture by providing PC and PlayStation gamers with a wider range of options to enrich lives through gaming.”

The Inzone headsets range from €300 to €100 and are expected to launch in July, while the M9 monitor is due to launch in the Summer at a cost of €1099. Sony said the pricing and availability of the M3 monitor is expected to be revealed sometime this year.

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Why US women are deleting their period tracking apps | Privacy

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Many American women in recent days have deleted period tracking apps from their cellphones, amid fears the data collected by the apps could be used against them in future criminal cases in states where abortion has become illegal.

The trend already started last month when a draft supreme court opinion that suggested the court was set to overturn Roe v Wade was leaked, and has only intensified since the court on Friday revoked the federal right to abortion.

These concerns are not baseless. As with various other apps, cycle trackers collect, retain and at times share some of their users’ data. In a state where abortion is a crime, prosecutors could request information collected by these apps when building a case against someone. “If they are trying to prosecute a woman for getting an illegal abortion, they can subpoena any app on their device, including period trackers,” said Sara Spector, a Texas-based criminal defense attorney, and ex-prosecutor.

“But every company has their individual storage and privacy policy about how they use and how long they store data,” Spector added.

Cycle trackers are popular for a reason. Nearly a third of American women have been using them, according to a 2019 survey published by the Kaiser Family Foundation. They have helped make women’s lives easier in many ways, from family planning and detecting early signs of health issues to choosing the perfect time for a holiday.

A 2019 study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) found that 79% of health apps available through the Google Play store that were related to medicine, including apps that help manage drugs, adherence, medicines, or prescribing information, regularly shared user data and were “far from transparent”. But many of the big players have made progress over the past years.

A smartphone sits on a light wooden table showing the period tracker app Clue in the Google Play store.
The Berlin-based period tracker app Clue says it does not store sensitive personal data without the user’s explicit permission. Photograph: Piotr Swat/Alamy

Two of the most popular period trackers in the US, Flo and Clue, have more than 55 million users combined. The Berlin-based app Clue said it was “committed to protecting” users’ private health data and that it was operating under strict European GDPR laws. The company’s website says the app collects device data, event and usage data, in addition to a user’s IP address, health and sensitive data it may use for the purpose of improving the app, the services, and preventing abusive use of its service. But Clue does not track users’ precise location, and says it does not store sensitive personal data without a user’s explicit permission. The company also tweeted that it would have a “primary legal duty under European law” not to disclose any private health data and it would “not respond to any disclosure request or attempted subpoena of their users’ health data by US authorities”.

But just because data is being processed by a European company, doesn’t mean that it is entirely immune from US prosecution, said Lucie Audibert, a lawyer at Privacy International, a global NGO that researches, litigates and advocates against abuses of technology and data by governments and corporations.

“The fact that GDPR applies is not that relevant in this case. When it comes to a legitimate legal request from US authorities European companies usually comply. Also, a European company may be hosting data outside the EU, making it subject to different legal frameworks and cross-border agreements,” Audibert added. She also stressed that using a Europe-based app won’t protect women from the courts requesting data from them directly. But it can be a slightly better option than using a US-based one because US companies are more easily compelled to comply with American authorities and courts’ requests. Enforcement is more difficult against European ones.

Flo has come under fire for sharing its users’ data before. The company says on its website it only uses data “for research activities” and that it only uses “de-identified or aggregated data, which cannot be associated” with specific users. But an investigative piece by the Wall Street Journal has found that the app informed Facebook when a user was on their period or if they intended to get pregnant. In 2021, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reached a settlement with Flo. Under the settlement, Flo must undergo an independent review of its privacy policy and obtain user permissions before sharing personal health information. Flo did not admit any wrongdoing.

On Friday, Flo announced that it will soon be launching an “Anonymous mode” that can help keep users’ data safe in any circumstances.

The company did not respond to a request for comment.

A relatively new, astrology-focused period tracker, Stardust, became the most downloaded free app on iOS in the days after the supreme court’s decision. Stardust’s Twitter bio says it is a “privacy first period tracking app”. But as Vice News reported, the company stated in its privacy policy that if authorities ask for user data, it will comply, whether legally required to or not. It said that the data was “anonymized” and “encrypted”.

“We may disclose your anonymized, encrypted information to third parties in order to protect the legal rights, safety and security of the company and the users of our services; enforce our terms of service; prevent fraud; and comply with or respond to law enforcement or a legal process or a request for cooperation by a government or other entity, whether or not legally required,” their privacy policy stated as of Monday.

Following Vice’s request for comment, Stardust changed its privacy policy to omit the phrase about cooperating with law enforcement “whether or not legally required” to “when legally required”.

Stardust did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Planned Parenthood encourages people to use their app Spot On. “People who want to track their periods and birth control always have the option to remain anonymous by using the Spot On app without creating an account,” the organization said in a statement. “This way, period or birth control data is only saved locally to a person’s phone and can be deleted at any time by deleting the app.”

Third-party apps are not the only option when it comes to period trackers. Apple has a built-in cycle tracker in its Health app that offers more privacy than most external apps. With just a few steps, one can turn off the storing of their health data in iCloud, and it also has the option to store the encrypted data on their computer or phone.

Evan Greer, deputy director of the non-profit advocacy group Fight for the Future, said the best way to protect sensitive health data was to only use apps that store data locally rather than in the cloud. “Because any app where a company [that could receive a subpoena] has access to their users’ data could make it vulnerable for a legal request.”

An image of an Apple iPhone screen shows app icons, including the Health app.
Apple’s Health app has a built-in cycle tracker that offers users privacy. Photograph: Richard Sheppard/Alamy

Eva Blum-Dumontet, a tech policy consultant, said, “It is normal that in times of concern, people are looking differently at technology and apps that we trusted.

“I think when there is a discourse around whether women should delete these apps, we have to think about why they use them in the first place,” Blum-Dumontet said. “These trackers help them manage menstrual cycle when they are experiencing pain.”

Blum-Dumontet stressed that instead of asking users to change their behaviors, “it is period trackers that should change their practices”.

“They should never have owned so much data in the first place. If they adopted practices like storing data locally and minimizing the data to what’s strictly necessary we wouldn’t be having this debate now. It’s not too late for them to do the right thing,” she said.

“The companies that have been making a profit out of women’s bodies need to think very carefully about how they will protect their users,” she continued.They haven’t all been the best in the past when it comes to data sharing. The only way they can survive in this market, the only way they can make themselves trustworthy is by improving their privacy policy and giving users more control over their data,” she said. “If any of these apps will be used in court against their users, it will not be good PR for them.”

Melissa, a 27-year-old mother from Texas who is goingby only her first name to not jeopardize her employment, said she deleted the app because she fears that when she travels, her state could use her missed period data against her.

“I will miss using the app so much. I have used it for so many things, like tracking my ovulation or predicting my mood changes. Sometimes I wake up feeling irritable, and I don’t know why until my app tells me that this could be normal at this point of my cycle,” she added. Melissa also says she would have loved to use it for future conceptions, but now she can’t.

Although much of the warnings on Friday were focused on just period trackers these are not the only apps that can be used against users when it comes to criminal prosecution, experts warned.

“Google Maps or a random game on your phone could just as easily be weaponized against someone as a menstrual tracking app,” Greer said. “While we need to educate each other and take precautions, it’s not OK to put the responsibility solely on individuals. Companies and lawmakers need to act immediately to protect people.”

The concerns over period tracking data are part of a broader conversation about the amount of personal information smartphones collect. Women’s rights organizations all over the world are warning users to be more mindful of their digital presence, not just when it comes to period trackers.

Cycle tracking apps can be hugely useful for many women, said Jonathan Lord, UK medical director for MSI Reproductive Choices. “But all data can be used against you.”

According to Lord, this danger will remain until “we treat abortion like all other healthcare – regulated like all other medical procedures, but not criminalized”.



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