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Why Microsoft wants to put data centers at the bottom of the ocean

Posted on June 30, 2018 By In Microsoft News With no comments

Earlier this week, Microsoft announced the second phase of Project Natick, a research experiment that aims to understand the benefits and challenges of deploying large-scale data centers under water. In this second phase, the team sank a tank the size of a shipping container with numerous server racks off the coast of the Orkney islands and plans to keep it there for a few years to see if this is a viable way of deploying data centers in the future.

Computers and water famously don’t mix, as anyone who has ever spilled a cup of water over a laptop, so putting server racks under water sure seems like an odd idea. But as Microsoft Research’s Ben Cutler told me, there are good reasons for why the bottom of the ocean may be a good place for setting up servers.

The vast majority of people live within 200 kilometers of the ocean, Cutler noted, and Microsoft’s cloud strategy has long been about putting its data centers close to major population centers. So with large offshore wind farms potentially providing renewable power and the obvious cooling benefits of being under water (and cooling is a major cost factor for data centers), trying an experiment like this makes sense.

“Within Microsoft, we’ve spent an enormous amount of energy and time on cloud — and obviously money,” Cutler explained when I asked him about the genesis of this project. “So we’re always looking for new ways that we can innovate. And this idea sort of gelled originally with one of our employees who worked on a U.S. Navy submarine and knew something about this technology, and that this could maybe be applied to data centers.”

So back in 2013, the team launched phase one and dropped a small pressure vessel with a few servers into the waters of the Pacific Ocean. That experiment worked out pretty well. Even the local sea life seemed to appreciate it. The team found that the vessel didn’t heat up the water close to it by more than a few thousandths of a degree Celsius warmer than a few feet further away from it. The noise, too, was pretty much negligible. “We found that once we were a few meters away from the vessel, we were drowned out by background noise, which is things like snapping shrimp, which is actually the predominant sound of the ocean,” Cutler told me, and stressed that the team’s job is to measure all of this as the ocean is obviously a very sensitive environment. “What we found was that we’re very well received by wildlife and we’re very quickly colonized by crabs and octopus and other things that were in the area.”

For this second phase, the team decided on the location off the coast of Scotland because it’s also home to the European Marine Energy Center, so the infrastructure for powering the vessel from renewable energy from on- and off-shore sources was already in place.

Once the vessel is in the ocean, maintenance is pretty much impossible. The idea here is to accept that things will fail and can’t be replaced. Then, after a few years, the plan is to retrieve the vessel, refurbish it with new machines and deploy it again.

But as part of this experiment, the team also thought about how to best make these servers last as long as possible — and because nobody has to go replace a broken hard drive inside the vessel, the team decided to fill the atmosphere with nitrogen to prevent corrosion, for example. To measure the impact of that experiment, Microsoft also maintains a similar vessel on land so it can compare how well that system fares over time.

Cutler stressed that nothing here is cutting-edge technology. There are no exotic servers here and both underwater cabling and building vessels like this are well understood at this point.

Over time, Cutler envisions a factory that can prefabricate these vessels and ship them to where they are needed. That’s why the vessel is about the size of a shipping container and the team actually had it fabricated in France, loaded it on a truck and shipped it to England to test this logistics chain.

Whether that comes to pass remains to be seen, of course. The team is studying the economics of Natick for the time being, and then it’s up to Microsoft’s Azure team to take this out of the research labs and put it into more widespread production. “Our goal here is to drive this to a point where we understand that the economics make sense and that it has the characteristics that we wanted it to, and then it becomes a tool for that product group to decide whether and where to use it,” said Cutler.


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Europe hates memes: Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales and other critics say EU copyright reform laws will do more harm than good

Posted on June 30, 2018 By In Microsoft News With no comments

wikipedia founder jimmy walesStephane Mahe/Reuters

A committee at the European Parliament will vote Wednesday on reformed rules that will address the growing role of online platforms, like Google and Microsoft.
Early signs hint that the committee will secure approval of the rules, which include a mandatory upload filter to protect copyright on online sites like Instagram.
Critics, such as Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, say the rules might do more harm than good.

Europe’s attempts to force Google, Microsoft and other tech giants to share revenues with publishers and bear liability for internet content have triggered criticism from internet pioneers ahead of a key vote on Wednesday.

Two years after the European Commission presented plans to reform rules to take into account the growing role of online platforms, a key committee at the European Parliament will vote on the issue.See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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A yoga teacher explains the difference between Bikram, Vinyasa, Rocket, and Power yoga — and how to pick the right one for your goals

Posted on June 30, 2018 By In Microsoft News With no comments

Screen Shot 2018 05 02 at 10.06.15Instagram/mageesy

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) continues to grow in popularity, but the high impact workout can often lead to stiffness and tight muscles.
It’s important to factor some restorative exercise into your routine.
Chris Magee, head of yoga at Another Space, talked us through some of the many variations of yoga and how to pick the right practice for you.
Vinyasa, Ashtanga, Hatha, Restorative, Rocket, Power, and Bikram yoga are just a few of the many variations.

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) continues to grow in popularity, but the high impact workout can often lead to stiffness and tight muscles, making it more important than ever to factor some restorative exercise into your routine.

Yoga is very versatile — but there are many different styles of practice that could confuse a beginner. To make it even more complicated, many studios and instructors teach their own signature styles.See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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Where 21 of the richest Americans went to college

Posted on June 29, 2018 By In Microsoft News With no comments

bill gates harvardJannis Tobias Werner/Shutterstock

While some of the richest people in the US have an Ivy League degree under their belt, others didn’t even graduate.

Using Forbes’ annual “World Billionaire” ranking, INSIDER determined which colleges the wealthiest Americans attended.

From siblings that made it big, like Charles and David Koch and the children of Walmart founder Sam Walton, to tech innovators such as Bill Gates and Larry Ellison, here’s where 21 of the richest Americans went to college.

Jeff Bezos: Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey
John Phelan/Wikimedia Commons

Estimated net worth: $112 billion

Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos — the richest person in the world, according to Forbes’ 2018 “World’s Billionaires” list — attended Princeton University. He graduated in 1986 with a degree in electrical engineering and computer science.

“When you are 80 years old, and in a quiet moment of reflection narrating only for yourself the most personal version of your life story, the telling that will be the most compact and meaningful will be a series of choices you have made,” Bezos told Princeton students in 2010 during the university’s Baccalaureate ceremony. 

Bill Gates: Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts
Jannis Tobias Werner/Shutterstock

Estimated net worth: $90 billion

Bill Gates, who co-founded Microsoft with Paul Allen, went to Harvard University — but dropped out in 1975 before graduating. Degree or not, he’s still one of the wealthiest people in the world.

During a Q&A with Harvard students in April, Gates said if he could go back to school, he would choose to study artificial intelligence. 

“Today, I would go into software, which today that means going into artificial intelligence,” he said, as quoted by CNBC. “Computers still can’t read. They cannot take a book of information and, say, pass an AP test on that book. And that’s a solvable problem.”

Warren Buffett: University of Nebraska in Lincoln, Nebraska
Hanyou23/Wikimedia Commons

Estimated net worth: $84 billion

Nicknamed the “Oracle of Omaha,” investor Warren Buffett attended the University of Nebraska — Lincoln as an undergraduate in the 1940s before pursuing a Master of Science in economics at Columbia University’s business school. He transferred to Nebraska from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, where he had matriculated at age 16

Buffett is the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, which owns numerous companies ranging from Geico to Duracell. According to Forbes, he got an early start in investing, buying his first stock when he was just 11 years old. 

 

 

See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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Apple is planning 3 new iPhone models this year (AAPL)

Posted on June 29, 2018 By In Microsoft News With no comments

iPhone 8 iPhone X iPhone 8 PlusJustin Sullivan/Getty Images

Apple is expected to release three new iPhone models in September. 
One of them will use a lower-cost LCD screen part to keep the price down, according to a Friday report in the Wall Street Journal. 
Electronics manufacturers say Apple expects the lower-cost LCD model to be the most popular. 

Apple will release a new iPhone lineup this fall with three new models, according to a Friday report from the Wall Street Journal

Two of the phones will be built around screens using OLED technology, the same type of display that’s currently in the iPhone X. One of the phones will have an LCD screen, which is the type of display that’s currently used on the iPhone 8 and all previous iPhones. See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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Facebook says it “disagrees” with the New York Times’ criticisms of its device-integrated APIs

Posted on June 29, 2018 By In Microsoft News With no comments

Facebook has responded to a New York Times story that raises privacy concerns about the company’s device-integrated APIs, saying that it “disagree[s] with the issues they’ve raised about these APIs.”

Headined “Facebook Gave Device Makers Deep Access to Data on Users and Friends,” the New York Times article criticizes the privacy protections of device-integrated APIs, which were launched by Facebook a decade ago. Before app stores became common, the APIs enabled Facebook to strike data-sharing partnerships with at least 60 device makers, including Apple, Amazon, BlackBerry, Microsoft and Samsung, that allowed them to offer Facebook features, such as messaging, address books and the like button, to their users.

But they may have given access to more data than assumed, says the article. New York Times reporters Gabriel J.X. Dance, Nicholas Confessore and Michael LaForgia write that “the partnerships, whose scope has not been previously reported, raise concerns about the company’s privacy protections,” as well as its compliance with a consent decree it struck with the Federal Trade Commission in 2011. The FTC is currently investigating Facebook’s privacy practices in light of the Cambridge Analytica data misuse scandal.

“Facebook allowed the device companies access to the data of users’ friends without their explicit consent, even after declaring that it would no longer share such information with outsiders,” the New York Times story says. “Some device makers could retrieve personal information even from users’ friends who believed they had barred any sharing, The New York Times found.”

Facebook said in April it would begin winding down access to its device-integrated APIs, but the New York Times says that many of those partnerships are still in effect.

Facebook is already under intense scrutiny by lawmakers and regulators, including the FTC, because of the Cambridge Analytica revelation, which raised serious concerns about the public APIs used by third-party developers and the company’s data-sharing policies.

“In the furor that followed, Facebook’s leaders said that the kind of access exploited by Cambridge in 2014 was cut off by the next year, when Facebook prohibited developers from collecting information from users’ friends,” the New York Times says. “But the company officials did not disclose that Facebook had exempted the makers of cellphones, tablets and other hardware from such restrictions.”

Facebook told the New York Times that data sharing through device-integrated APIs adhered to its privacy policies and the 2011 FTC agreement. The company also told the newspapers that it knew of no cases where a partner had misused data. Facebook acknowledged that some partners did store users’ data, including data from their Facebook friends, on their own servers, but said that those practices abided by strict agreements.

In a post on Facebook’s blog, vice president of product partnerships Ime Archibong reiterates the company’s stance that the device-integrated APIs were controlled tightly.

“Partners could not integrate the user’s Facebook features with their devices without the user’s permission. And our partnership and engineering teams approved the Facebook experiences these companies built,” he continued. “Contrary to claims by the New York Times, friends’ information, like photos, was only accessible on devices when people made a decision to share their information with those friends. We are not aware of any abuse by these companies.”

But the New York Times report claims that Facebook’s partners were able to retrieve user data on relationship status, religion, political leanings and upcoming events, and were also able to get data about their users’ Facebook friends, even if they did not have permission.

“Tests by The Times showed that the partners requested and received data in the same way other third parties did,” it says. “Facebook’s view that the device makers are not outsiders lets the partners go even further, The Times found: They can obtain data about a user’s Facebook friends, even those who have denied Facebook permission to share information with any third parties.”


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Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s has advice for Facebook and Google: Don’t make the mistake we did (FB, GOOG, GOOGL, MSFT)

Posted on June 29, 2018 By In Microsoft News With no comments

steve ballmer microsoftDurand/Getty Images

The backlash against Silicon Valley is growing.
Steve Ballmer, the former CEO of Microsoft, has some advice for the likes of Facebook and Google: Accept you’ve screwed up, and work with regulators to fix it.
He urged them not to take the same combative approach that Microsoft took under his leadership when faced with a antitrust lawsuit.
“Knowing what I know now, I would have resolved the issues,” Ballmer said.

As Silicon Valley battles scandals and increasing regulatory scrutiny, Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has warned Facebook and Google not to make the same mistake Microsoft did.

In an interview with Yahoo Finance editor-in-chief Andy Serwer in Washington D.C., the former executive was asked how he sees the current storm clouds over the tech industry playing out. His answer: Tech companies should try to work quickly with government to find a solution — unlike what Microsoft did under his tenure, as it faced an antitrust suit from the government.See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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FB Messenger auto-translation chips at US/Mexico language wall

Posted on June 29, 2018 By In Microsoft News With no comments

Facebook’s been criticized for tearing America apart, but now it will try to help us forge bonds with our neighbors to the south. Facebook Messenger will now offer optional auto-translation of English to Spanish and vice-versa for all users in the United States and Mexico. It’s a timely launch given the family separation troubles at the nation’s border.

The feature could facilitate cross-border and cross-language friendships, business and discussion that might show people in the two countries that deep down we’re all just human. It could be especially powerful for U.S. companies looking to use Messenger for conversational commerce without having to self-translate everything.

Facebook tells me “we were pleased with the results” following a test using AI to translate the language pair in Messenger for U.S. Facebook Marketplace users in April.

Now when users receive a message that is different from their default language, Messenger’s AI assistant M will ask if they want it translated. All future messages in that thread will be auto-translated unless a user turns it off. Facebook plans to bring the feature to more language pairs and countries soon.

A Facebook spokesperson tells me, “The goal with this launch is really to enable people to communicate with people they wouldn’t have been able to otherwise, in a way that is natural and seamless.”

Starting in 2011, Facebook began offering translation technology for News Feed posts and comments. For years it relied on Microsoft Bing’s translation technology, but Facebook switched to its own stack in mid-2016. By then it was translating 2 billion pieces of text a day for 800 million users.

Conversational translation is a lot tougher than social media posts, though. When we chat with friends, it’s more colloquial and full of slang. We’re also usually typing in more of a hurry and can be less accurate. But if Facebook can reliably figure out what we’re saying, Messenger could become the modern-day Babel Fish. At 2016’s F8, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg threw shade on Donald Trump saying, “instead of building walls, we can build bridges.” Trump still doesn’t have that wall, and now Zuck is building a bridge with technology.


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