Network Big Iron f5 Acquires Software Network Vendor NGINX

I woke up last Tuesday (March 12, 2019) to find an interesting announcement in my inbox. NGINX, the software networking company, well known for its NGINX web server/load balancer, was being acquired by f5. f5 is best known for its network appliances which implement network security, load balancing, etc. in data centers.

The deal was described as creating a way to “bridge NetOps to DevOps.” That’s a good way to characterize the value of this acquisition. Networking has begun to evolve, or perhaps devolve, from the data center into the container cluster. Network services that used to be the domain of centralized network devices, especially appliances, may be found in small footprint software that runs in containers, often in a Kubernetes pod. It’s not that centralized network resources don’t have a place – you wouldn’t be able to manage the infrastructure that container clusters run on without them. Instead, both network appliances and containerized network resources, such as a service mesh, will be present in microservices architectures. By combining both types of network capabilities, f5 will be able to sell a spectrum of network appliances and software tailored toward different types of architectures. This includes the emerging microservices architectures that are quickly becoming mainstream. With NGINX, f5 will be well positioned to meet the network needs of today and of the future.

The one odd thing about this acquisition is that f5 already has an in-house project, Aspen Mesh, to commercialize very similar software. Aspen Mesh sells an Istio/Envoy distribution that extends the base features of the open source software. There is considerable overlap between Aspen Mesh and NGINX, at least in terms of capabilities. Both provide software to enable a service mesh and provide services to virtual networks. ” Sure, NGINX has market share (and brain share) but $670M is a lot of money when you already have something in hand.

NGINX and f5 say that they see the products as complementary and will allow f5 to build a continuum of offerings for different needs and scale. In this regard, I would agree with them. Aspen Mesh and NGINX are addressing the same problems but in different ways. By combining NGINX with the Aspen Mesh, f5 can cover more of the market.

Given the vendor support of Istio/Envoy in the market, it’s hard to imagine f5 just dropping Aspen Mesh. At present, f5 plans to operate NGINX separately but that doesn’t mean they won’t combine NGINX with Aspen Mesh in the future. Some form of coexistence is necessary for f5 to leverage all the investments in both brands.

The open source governance question may be a problem. There is nervousness within the NGINX community about its future. NGINX is based on its own open source project, one not controlled by any other vendors. The worry is that the NGINX community run into the same issues that the Java and MySQL communities did after they were acquired by Oracle which included changes to licensing and issues over what constituted the open source software versus the enterprise, hence proprietary software. f5 will have to reassure the NGINX community or risk a fork of the project or, worse, the community jumping ship to other projects. For Oracle, that led to MariaDB and a new rival to MySQL.

NGINX will give f5 both opportunity and technology to address emerging architectures that their current product lines will not. Aspen Mesh will still need time to grow before it can grab the brain share and revenue that NGINX already has. For a mainstream networking company like f5, this acquisition gets them into the game more quickly, generates revenue immediately, and does so in a manner that is closer to their norm. This makes a lot of sense.

Now that the first acquisition has happened, the big question will be “who are the next sellers and the next buyers?” I would predict that we will see more deals like this one. We will have to wait and see.

Todd Maddox Reveals How Collaborative Video-Based Practice Effectively Trains People Skills: A Brain Science Analysis

Amalgam Insights Brain Science Research Fellow Todd Maddox has released new research on the Rehearsal website focused on the role of collaborative video-based practice and its role in teaching people skills (also known as soft skills). Continue reading “Todd Maddox Reveals How Collaborative Video-Based Practice Effectively Trains People Skills: A Brain Science Analysis”

At IBM Think, Watson Expands “Anywhere”

At IBM Think in February, IBM made several announcements around the expansion of Watson’s availability and capabilities, framing these announcements as the launch of “Watson Anywhere.” This piece is intended to provide guidance to data analysts, data scientists, and analytic professionals seeking to implement machine learning and artificial intelligence capabilities and evaluating the capabilities of IBM Watson’s AI and machine learning services for their data.

Announcements

IBM declared that Watson is now available “anywhere” – both on-prem and in any cloud configuration, whether private, public, singular, multi-cloud, or a hybrid cloud environment. Data that needs to remain in place for privacy and security reasons can now have Watson microservices act on it where it resides. The obstacle of cloud vendor lock-in can be avoided by simply bringing the code to the data instead of vice versa. This ubiquity is made possible via a connector from IBM Cloud Private for Data that makes these services available via Kubernetes containers. New Watson services that will be available via this connector include Watson Assistant, IBM’s virtual assistant, and Watson OpenScale, an AI operation and automation platform.

Watson OpenScale is an environment for managing AI applications that puts IBM’s Trust and Transparency principles into practice around machine learning models. It builds trust in these models by providing explanations of how said models come to the conclusions that they do, permitting visibility into what’s seen as a “black box” by making their processes auditable and traceable. OpenScale also claims the ability to automatically identify and mitigate bias in models, suggesting new data for model retraining. Finally, OpenScale also provides monitoring capabilities of AI in production, validating ongoing model accuracy and health from a central management console.

Watson Assistant lets organizations build conversational bot interfaces into applications and devices. When interacting with end users, it can perform searches of relevant documentation, ask the user for further clarification, or redirect the user to a person for sufficiently complex queries. Its availability as part of Watson Anywhere permits organizations to implement and run virtual assistants in clouds outside of the IBM Cloud.

These new services join other Watson services currently available via the IBM Cloud Private for Data connector including Watson Studio and Watson Machine Learning, IBM’s programs for creating and deploying machine learning models. Additional Watson services being made available for Watson Anywhere later this year include Watson Knowledge Studio and Watson Natural Language Understanding.

In addition, IBM also announced IBM Business Automation with Watson, a future AI capability that will permit businesses to further automate existing work processes by analyzing patterns in workflows for commonly repeated tasks. Currently, this capability is available via limited early access; general availability is anticipated later in 2019.

Recommendations

Organizations seeking to analyze data “in place” have a new option with Watson services now accessible outside of the IBM Cloud. Data that must remain where it is for security and privacy reasons can now have Watson analytics processes brought to it via a secure container, whether that data resides on-prem or in any cloud, not just the IBM cloud. This opens the possibility of using Watson to enterprises in regulated industries like finance, government, and healthcare, as well as in departments where governance and auditability are core requirements, such as legal and HR.

With the IBM Cloud Private for Data connector enabling Watson Anywhere, companies now have a net-new reason to consider IBM products and services in their data workflow. While Amazon and Azure dominate the cloud market, Watson’s AI and machine learning tools are generally easier to use out of the box. For companies who have made significant commitments to other cloud providers, Watson Anywhere represents an opportunity to bring more user-friendly data services to their data residing in non-IBM clouds.

Companies concerned about the “explainability” of machine learning models, particularly in regulated industries or for governance purposes, should consider using Watson OpenScale to monitor models in production. Because OpenScale can provide visibility into how models behave and make decisions, concerns about “black box models” can be mitigated with the ability to automatically audit a model, trace a given iteration, and explain how the model determined its outcomes. This transparency boosts the ability for line of business and executive users to understand what the model is doing from a business perspective, and justify subsequent actions based on that model’s output. For a company to depend on data-driven models, those models need to prove themselves trustworthy partners to those driving the business, and explainability bridges the gap between the model math and the business initiatives.

Finally, companies planning for long-term model usage need to consider how they plan to support model monitoring and maintenance. Longevity is a concern for machine learning models in production. Model drift reflects changes that your company needs to be aware of. How do companies ensure that model performance and accuracy is maintained over the long haul? What parameters determine when a model requires retraining, or to be taken out of production? Consistent monitoring and maintenance of operationalized models is key to their ongoing dependability.

Why Extended Reality (xR) is Poised to Disrupt Corporate Learning and Development – Part II: The Brain Science

Note: If you missed Part I of this blog series, catch up and read Part I: The Problem. This is part of a four-blog series exploring the psychology and brain science behind the potential for extended reality tools to disrupt corporate Learning & Development.

Four Dissociable Learning Systems in the Brain

The human brain is comprised of at least four distinct learning systems. A schematic of the learning systems is provided in the figure below.

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Five Vital Sourcing and Vendor Management Recommendations for Complex Technology Categories

As part of Amalgam Insights’ coverage of the Technology Expense Management market, we provide the following guidance to sourcing, procurement, and operations professionals seeking to better understand how to manage technology expenses.

In immature or monopoly markets where one dominant vendor provides technology services, vendor management challenges are limited. Although buyers can potentially purchase services outside of the corporate umbrella, enterprises can typically work both with the vendor and with corporate compliance efforts to consolidate spend. However, vendor management becomes increasingly challenging in a world where multiple vendors provide similar but not equivalent technology services. To effectively optimize services across multiple vendors, organizations must be able to manage all relevant spend in a single location.

In Telecom Expense Management, this practice has been a standard for over a decade as companies manage AT&T, Vodafone, Verizon, and many other telecom carriers with a single solution. For Software-as-a-Service, a number of solutions are starting to emerge that solve this challenge. And with Infrastructure-as-a-Service, this challenge is only starting to emerge in earnest as Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform rise up as credible competitors to Amazon Web Services.

To effectively manage sourcing and vendor management in complex technology categories, Amalgam suggests starting with the following contractual steps:

Align vendor and internal Service Level Agreements. There is no reason that any vendor should provide a lower level of service than the IT department has committed to the enterprise and other commercial partners.

Define bulk and tiered discounts for all major subcategories of spend within a vendor contract. Vendors are typically willing to discount for any usage category where a business buys in bulk, but there is no reason for them to simply hand over discounts without being asked. This step sounds simple, but typically requires a basic understanding of service and usage categories to identify relevant categories.

Avoid “optional” fees. For instance, on telecom bills, there are a number of carrier fees that are included in the taxes, surcharges, and fees part of the bill. These charges are negotiable and will vary from vendor to vendor. Ensure that the enterprise is negotiating all fees that are carrier-based, rather than assuming that these fees are all mandatory government taxes or surcharges which can’t be avoided.

Renegotiate contracts as necessary, not just based on your “scheduled” contract dates. There is no need to constantly renegotiate contracts just for the sake of getting every last dime, but companies should seek to renegotiate if significantly increasing the size of their purchase or significantly changing the shape of their technology portfolio. For instance, an Amazon contract may not be well-suited for a significant usage increase of a service due to business demand.

Embed contract agreements and terms into service order invoice processing and service management areas. It is not uncommon to see elegant contract negotiations go to waste because the terms are not enforced during operational, financial, or service management. Structure the business relationship to support the contract, then place relevant contract terms within other processes and management solutions so that these terms are readily available to all stakeholders, not just the procurement team.

Effective vendor and contract management is an important starting point to support each subsequent element of the technology lifecycle to enforce effective management at scale. In future blogs, we will cover best practices for inventory, invoice, service order, and lifecycle management across telecom, mobility, network, SaaS, and IaaS spend.

Why Extended Reality (xR) is Poised to Disrupt Corporate Learning and Development – Part I: The Problem

(Note: This is the first of a four-party series on the Learning Science of xR in Corporate Learning.) Executive Summary Key Stakeholders: Chief Learning Officers, Chief Human Resource Officers, Chief People Officer, Chief Talent Officer, Learning & Development Directors and Managers, Corporate Trainers, Content and Learning Product Managers, Hiring Directors, Hiring Managers, Human Resource Directors,…

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Data Science and Machine Learning News Roundup, February 2019

On a monthly basis, I will be rounding up key news associated with the Data Science Platforms space for Amalgam Insights. Companies covered will include: Alteryx, Amazon, Anaconda, Cambridge Semantics, Cloudera, Databricks, Dataiku, DataRobot, Datawatch, Domino, Elastic, Google, H2O.ai, IBM, Immuta, Informatica, KNIME, MathWorks, Microsoft, Oracle, Paxata, RapidMiner, SAP, SAS, Tableau, Talend, Teradata, TIBCO, Trifacta, TROVE.

Four Key Announcements from H2O World in San Francisco

At H2O World in San Francisco, H2O.ai made several important announcements. Partnerships with Alteryx, Kx, and Intel will extend Driverless AI’s accessibility, capabilities, and speed, while improvements to Driverless AI, H2O, Sparkling Water, and AutoML focused on expanding support for more algorithms and heavier workloads. Amalgam Insights covered H2O.ai’s H2O World announcements.

IBM Watson Now Available Anywhere

At IBM Think in San Francisco, IBM announced the expansion of Watson’s availability “anywhere” – on-prem, and in any cloud configuration, whether private or public, singular or multi-cloud. Data no longer has to be hosted on the IBM Cloud to use Watson on it – instead, a connector from IBM Cloud Private for Data permits organizations to bring various Watson services to data that cannot be moved for privacy and security reasons. Update: Amalgam Insights now has a more in-depth evaluation of IBM Watson Anywhere.

Databricks’ $250 Million Funding Supports Explosive Growth and Global Demand for Unified Analytics; Brings Valuation to $2.75 Billion

Databricks has raised $250M in a Series E funding round, bringing its total funding to just shy of $500M. The funding round raises Databricks’ valuation to $2.75B in advance of a possible IPO. Microsoft joins this funding round, reflecting continuing commitment to the Azure Databricks collaboration between the two companies. This continued increase in valuation and financial commitment demonstrates that funders are satisfied with Databricks’ vision and execution.

Big Changes in the Cloud Data Migration Market: Attunity and Alooma Get Acquired

Mid-February (Feb. 17 – 23) was a hot week for data and cloud migration companies with two big acquisitions. Google announced on Tuesday, Feb. 19 the acquisition of Alooma to assist with cloud data migration issues. This acquisition aligns well with the 2018 acquisition of Velostrata to support cloud workload migration. This acquisition reflects Google’s continued…

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Tom Petrocelli Clarifies How Cloud Foundry and Kubernetes Provide Different Paths to Microservices

DevOps Research Fellow Tom Petrocelli has just published a new report describing the roles that Cloud Foundry Application Runtime and Kubernetes play in supporting microservices. This report explores when each solution is appropriate and provides a set of vendors that provide resources and solutions to support the development of these open source projects.

Organizations and Vendors mentioned include: Cloud Foundry Foundation, Cloud Native Computing Foundation, Pivotal, IBM, Suse, Atos, Red Hat, Canonical, Rancher, Mesosphere, Heptio, Google, Amazon, Oracle, and Microsoft

To download this report, which has been made available at no cost until the end of February, go to https://amalgaminsights.com/product/analyst-insight-cloud-foundry-and-kubernetes-different-paths-to-microservices

Todd Maddox Publishes Brain Science Analysis of Augmented Reality for Product Lifecycle Management

Today, Todd Maddox published the report “Why Augmented Reality is Effective in Product Lifecycle Management: A Brain Science Analysis.” This report provides best practices for implementing augmented reality across product development, supply chain management, equipment operation, troubleshooting, and field service.

Recommendations are based on Maddox’ research, which has been cited over 10,000 by his academic peers.

This report is available at no cost through the end of February based on the generosity of our clients. To download this report at no cost for the rest of February, please go to https://amalgaminsights.com/product/analyst-insight-why-augmented-reality-is-effective-in-product-lifecycle-management.