6 March release date ‘leaked’

Samsung is yet to name, let alone announce, its next-generation flagship but that hasn’t stopped it capitalising on the hype by opening pre-orders for pre-orders, giving the most enthusiastic users first dibs.

Tempted US punters can now sign up to a reservations list, which will guarantee the ability to pre-order the device when it’s formally unveiled next month.

The reservations system asks the customer their location, as well as their preferred carrier, and also leaked made public the official launch date, with the site promising delivery on 6 March. No deposit is required to sign up.

The whole notion of pre-orders feels as though it’s from an earlier era of the smartphone market, when people routinely camped outside the Apple Store to get the latest fruit machine.

Despite that, Samsung has used a reservations system across its previous top-tier releases, and this time it might actually be a smart move.

An Apple a day might not keep the doctor away: iGiant’s China stores face closures, deep cleans, staff temperature checks amid virus outbreak

READ MORE

The Galaxy S10 sold remarkably well, with both Samsung and certain US carriers swiftly running out of stock in the months following its release. Having a waiting list will allow the die-hards to guarantee they’ll get their pricey mobe.

This reservations list will potentially serve as a cushion against any inventory issues resulting as a result of the coronavirus, which has led to parts of China being quarantined, and factories suspending operations. Should the company face any logistical disruption, at least it’ll be able to satisfy the first-adopters. ®

Sponsored: Detecting cyber attacks as a small to medium business

Spring Hill NNP-I inference parts to live on, Spring Crest NNP-T is toast

Intel has axed Nervana’s in-development NNP-T AI training chip, code-named Spring Crest, as it goes full-steam ahead with Habana’s technology.

The decision is, no doubt, a blow for the folks at Nervana. The once-promising deep-learning startup was swallowed by Intel for $350m in 2016. Led by its cofounder Naveen Rao, who is currently corporate veep of the Artificial Intelligence Products Group at Intel, the unit has faced numerous setbacks in getting its dream hardware – the NNP-T, and the inference-focused NNP-I aka Spring Hill – out into the field.

Now, after repeated delays and name changes to Nervana’s products, Intel has given up on Spring Crest altogether, and killed it off before it could ship. The processor was demonstrated as recently as early December in Vancouver, Canada, at the NeurIPS machine-learning conference.

Spring Hill, meanwhile, isn’t completely dead, yet. Customers who ordered the neural-network-math accelerator should still get their hands on the silicon, we’re told. It reminds us of the fate of the Xeon Phi family.

Crucially, the move comes after Chipzilla snapped up Habana Labs, an AI hardware startup, last year for $2bn. Habana is known for its training and inference chips: Gaudi and Goya, respectively. Unlike Nervana, though, the Israeli startup has been successful in getting its components to market. In short, Habana won, and Nervana lost.

Here’s Intel’s statement to The Register in full on the matter, which suggests its customers preferred Habana to Nervana:

After acquiring Habana Labs in December and with input from our customers, we are making strategic updates to the data center AI acceleration roadmap. We will leverage our combined AI talent and technology to build leadership AI products.

We will bolster the current and next generation of Habana Goya and Gaudi with Intel’s AI hardware and software innovations. The Habana product line offers the strong, strategic advantage of a unified, highly-programmable architecture for both inference and training. By moving to a single hardware architecture and software stack for data center AI acceleration, our engineering teams can join forces and focus on delivering more innovation, faster to our customers. As part of this update we plan to deliver on current customer commitments for the Intel NNP-I inference accelerator (code-named “Spring Hill”) and cease development of the Intel NNP-T (code-named “Spring Crest”).

This roadmap decision aligns to Intel’s AI Strategy and our commitment to deliver heterogenous AI solutions that fit our customers’ evolving power and performance needs – from the intelligent edge to the data center.

Thus, it appears the training accelerator Spring Crest has been canned in favor of the more beefy Gaudi. The latter chip has 32GB of memory built in, a memory bandwidth of 1TB per second, and guzzles up to 200W of power.

Nervana promised Spring Crest would pack 60MB of on-die memory plus 32GB of HBM2-2000 RAM stacked on top, and a core frequency of 1.1GHz, all on a 680mm2 silicon die. The chip was expected to feature 27 billion 16nm transistors capable of hitting 119 trillion operations per second (TOPS), consuming up to 250W.

Nervana staff have been quietly leaving the team, too, with resumes winging their way to other semiconductor makers, we’re told, a sign that the plug has been, or is about to be, pulled on the project. You can read more about the history Nervana and its chip architecture, from 2016, at our sister site, The Next Platform.

Earlier today, analyst Karl Freund lent more weight to the theory that Nervana’s processors just weren’t good enough, clearing the way for Habana: “Apparently, Intel received feedback from its engineers and from large customers that the second Nervana designs, code-named Spring Hill and Spring Crest, just didn’t pass muster for these high-performance workloads.

“I suspect these customers pointed to Habana as the preferred platform that can compete with Nvidia.” ®

Sponsored: Detecting cyber attacks as a small to medium business

BT, Gamma, Nationwide, Tide, anyone else?

Today was more Friday the 13th than Friday the 31st in the UK, it seems. Not only is it Brexit Day, marking Blighty’s withdrawal from Europe, but a bunch of services and internet connectivity broke.

Here’s a quick summary of what went wrong, according to Register readers writing in. If we’ve missed anything out, please let us know, and we’ll update this article.

British Telecom: Mega-telco BT suffered what looked like a major outage in the afternoon, knocking out telephone lines and internet broadband for several hours, judging from outage monitoring websites. Some business customers were warned they may have to wait until February 5 for a full fix.

One reader told us he clocked off early after losing his secure connection from home to the office: “Looks like BT have significant problems. I lost my VPN connection to work. Ah well, early weekend!”

Nationwide: This British building society – the largest of its kind in the world – left its millions of customers unable to pay rent and bills today amid an all-day IT breakdown. Payments and transfers to and from accounts were held up in a queue, delaying money movements, and the backlog still isn’t cleared.

Readers told us earlier that, after logging into their online accounts, they were greeted with the alert: “All incoming and outgoing payments are in a queue and will be sent ASAP. We know this is frustrating and are working to get things back to normal.”

In a note on its website this evening, the financial org added: “You can make payments to and from your account but please be aware there are delays with these being processed. Our teams are still working through this and we’ll keep you updated as we know more.”

One Reg tipster told us: “It’s pay day and I can’t transfer money or pay bills. No word on when it will be fixed.”

Gamma: This business broadband and voice-comms provider went TITSUP – that’s Total Inability To Send User Packets – across the country at 1500 UTC after suffering a double fiber-cable cut. It is still fixing the broken lines.

“Fibre engineers are now on site and beginning work on the restoration,” the ISP said. “Our network team have been continuing the work on the network re-routing of voice and connectivity services and we expect to restore those services by 10pm tonight. We’re confident the re-routing work will fully restore services, however services remain at risk until the fibre restoration work is completed. We will provide a further update by 11pm.”

Earlier, it acknowledged: “We are currently experiencing a Gamma national network fibre break which is impacting voice and data connectivity services. Customers will be experiencing voice connectivity and call quality issues due to the congestion as a result of the fibre break.”

A Register tipster told us: “We have had no SIP nor VoIP service for 500 users since 3pm on the dot.”

Tide: Online biz-friendly bank Tide.co went down today, preventing people from logging in. The org claimed it was overwhelmed by punters checking in at the end of the month.

“Our team investigated the potential causes and discovered a 30 per cent increase in customer traffic to the Tide app,” CTO Guy Duncan reckoned. “We understand this was likely due to the end of the month demands such as payroll runs and the deadline for submitting tax returns.” ®

Sponsored: Detecting cyber attacks as a small to medium business

With coronavirus-hit Wuhan in lockdown, residents are faced with some basic challenges, such as how to find food.

The severe restrictions on the city’s 11 million residents, designed to prevent the spread of the disease, mean even simple grocery shopping and eating out are no longer straightforward.

Chinese blogging site Weibo is abuzz with people complaining about problems getting food.

One Wuhan resident talked about the difficulties in buying certain vegetables, with prices of other foods “a little expensive”.

Even getting food delivered comes with risks.

“I used to order delivery foods many times a week, but now it’s much less, about four times a week, as we want to avoid direct contact with the delivery guy,” said Xingxing Yin, a student from Wuhan.

But one Chinese meal delivery firm is adapting its technology to solve that challenge.

China’s food courier market has grown rapidly in recent years and Meituan is now the biggest player with 440 million customers and 700,000 daily riders.

It is now using its vast network and its technology to help support Wuhan and the wider province of Hubei during the crisis.

Meituan, which is backed by Chinese internet giant Tencent, has adapted its food delivery app so riders and customers don’t have to meet face-to-face.

The app has been updated to allow users to add a note to the delivery rider asking them to leave the food on their doorstep or at a building’s reception area. Customers can also call or text the rider directly within the app to discuss a location to drop off the food.

Meituan is also handing out 1,000 free meals every day to medical staff in Wuhan and delivering them fresh ingredients to cook with. Contactless lockers are being installed at hospitals around the city so food can be left securely by riders and unlocked by medical staff using a QR code.

During the past three days, Meituan has delivered around 5,000 free meals to medical staff in Wuhan.

More and more companies are asking staff to work from home, including Facebook, WeWork and banking group Morgan Stanley. Such measures are likely to prompt a rise in demand for food delivery apps like Meituan and Alibaba’s Ele.me.

Meituan’s new human contact-free app feature was first launched in Wuhan but is being rolled out nationwide and now covers 184 cities. Meituan says it ”expects the feature to be available across China by end of this week’.

For medical staff, the free food deliveries are a lifeline. They are under huge pressure to treat thousands of people suspected of contracting the deadly virus. A hospital is being built in six days in Wuhan to treat patients.

But staff don’t have time to go and find fresh food in Wuhan, while working long hours to help patients.

Meituan’s business-to-business arm Kuailv Jinhuo, which normally delivers fresh food to restaurants, is now delivering produce to hospital staff.

”Under current conditions we think some medical institutions and CDCs (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) might also have the need to buy the materials and cook for themselves,” said Meituan spokesman Whitney Yan.

The food delivery giant has donated 200m yuan (£22m) to help with food supply for medical staff at Hubei. Meituan’s main rival in the food delivery sector, Alibaba, is donating 1bn yuan to buy medical materials for hospitals in Wuhan and the Hubei province.

Many thousands of people are leaving their tax return until the deadline of the end of Friday.

Some 11.7 million people, primarily those with more than one source of income and the self-employed, are required to complete returns.

By the end of Wednesday, HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) said there were still 2.1 million people left to file.

Fines can be issued immediately for late filing.

Paper returns had an earlier deadline of 31 October, but the vast majority of people fill in the forms electronically for which the deadline is 31 January.

‘No excuse’

The tax authority said that previous, and failed, excuses for missing the deadline in recent years had included someone claiming they were unable to log on because they were up a mountain in Wales, another saying he was too busy working as a DJ in a bowls club, and one claiming their mother-in-law put a curse on them.

Tax specialist Chas Roy-Chowdhury said that the coinciding of the deadline with Brexit would not be a reasonable excuse to fail to submit the return and pay tax on time.

The current system means HMRC could demand a penalty of £100 for late filing during the first three months after the deadline.

After three months, additional penalties of £10 per day can be demanded, up to a maximum of £900, followed by further charges six and 12 months after the deadline.

DNS overseer gets letter demanding documents about controversial registry sale

The California State Attorney General’s Office (CA-OAG) sent a letter last week to DNS overlord ICANN asking for confidential information about the planned sale of the .org registry and a delay of the transaction.

ICANN, which disclosed the letter on Thursday, responded by notifying the Public Internet Registry (PIR), which intends to sell the .org registry to a private equity firm called Ethos Capital, that it has been asked to provide private data about the deal.

The DNS overseer, which bestowed .org oversight on PIR through a legal agreement, wants PIR to greenlight the CA-OAG’s disclosure demand and to wait longer before completing the sale. ICANN notes in its letter to PIR that the CA-OAG’s missive amounts to a subpoena, the implication being that the CA-OAG could file a lawsuit if compliance isn’t voluntary.

Last November, the Internet Society (ISOC), parent of PIR, said that the two organizations had agreed to sell the rights to the .org registry for an undisclosed sum.

The deal has alarmed the internet community because of concerns about the opaqueness of the transaction and the possibility that Ethos Capital could hike prices on its non-profit domain customers or perhaps censor controversial .org websites that criticize corporate entities. PIR, a non-profit formed in Pennsylvania, has informed the Pennsylvania Attorney General that want to become a for-profit entity.

Hey, ICANN, if you need good reasons to halt the .org super-sell-off, here are two: Higher fees, more website downtime

READ MORE

Last weekend, protesters took to the streets in Los Angeles, Calif., where ICANN is based, to present the organization with a 35,000-signature petition opposing the deal. Earlier this month, ICANN received a letter from six US Senators expressing concern about the transaction.

The CA-OAG is asking for all email correspondence between the parties involved in the deal, among other sensitive information, and for additional time to review the arrangement. It wants to understand the effect the sale would have on the non-profit community.

ICANN in turn has asked PIR [PDF] to agree an extension of ICANN’s review process from February 17, 2020 to April 20, 2020.

The Register asked PIR whether it intends to accept ICANN’s request for a delay. A PIR spokesperson responded by acknowledging ICANN’s letter but failed to say whether the organization is okay with the delay.

“We have received the letter and are reviewing it, and will work with ICANN to address the questions,” PIR’s spokesperson said. ®

Sponsored: Detecting cyber attacks as a small to medium business

And it only took, er, four and a half months for people to see sense

Criminal charges have been dropped against two infosec professionals who were arrested during a sanctioned physical penetration test gone wrong.

On Thursday, the Des Moines Register – no relation – reported that a judge in Dallas County, Iowa, formally dismissed the third-degree burglary and possession of burglary tools allegations against Coalfire employees Gary DeMercurio and Justin Wynn.

Back in September, Coalfire had been hired by the judicial branch of the US state of Iowa to put its IT systems and physical security to the test. As such, DeMercurio and Wynn were tasked with sneaking into one of the state’s courthouses – in Dallas County – at night and accessing the building’s PCs to infiltrate its computer network.

During the attempted break-in, an alarm was tripped, county deputies arrived, and the men were detained. After the Coalfire pair – and Iowa officials in a phone call – explained the situation to the plod, Wynn and DeMercurio were about to be let go and sent on their way.

And that’s when things got stupid.

The Dallas County sheriff rolled up, and in a stunning display of state-versus-county pettiness, overruled the Iowa officials who said the test was allowed, and booked the pair on burglary charges despite it being clear there was no criminal activity. The sheriff was furious that a courthouse in his jurisdiction had been broken into by two guys authorized by the Mid West state’s bureaucrats. The charges were later reduced, and the men were released on bond.

The case, understandably, created a stir among security professionals, and led to a re-examination of security testing contracts and procedures.

Now, with the prosecution agreeing to drop the charges, and the legal red tape and bureaucratic posturing finally wrapped up, Coalfire is trying to be diplomatic about a situation it has every right to be furious over.

“We are pleased that all charges are dropped in the Iowa incident,” CEO Tom McAndrew said in a statement.

“With positive lessons learned, a new dialogue now begins with a focus on improving best practices and elevating the alignment between security professionals and law enforcement. We’re grateful to the global security community for their support throughout this experience.” ®

Sponsored: Detecting cyber attacks as a small to medium business

Pharmacies say they have seen a spike in sales of hand sanitisers and more demand for face masks in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

While virologists say hand sanitising can help stop the virus, they say there is not much evidence that face masks help.

Hand washing with soap is still the best cleaning practice, says the NHS.

Nonetheless, some online shops show a shortage of sanitiser and some stores are saying they don’t stock masks.

Boots has seen an increase in sales of its own brand anti-viral hand foam and hand sanitisers, the BBC understands, and while some lines are out of stock, others can still be bought.

Ian Anderson, director of marketing at Nice Pak International, one of the world’s biggest manufacturers of hand wipes, including the Sani Hands brand, said his firm’s sales are up.

“At the moment we are trying to work out how best we can respond to that and in terms of supply chain management making sure we can access sufficient raw materials to keep pace with it – we are identifying how we can keep up with demand,” he told the BBC. The firm has two factories in the UK and one in Germany.

Dorset-based medical supplies firm MediSupplies told customers on its website: “Due to the current high volume of face masks orders, we are unable to offer any face masks at this time.” It advised customers to wash their hands and consider disinfectant wipes, sprays and gloves.

The Tesco and Morrisons websites are showing that some cleansing gels are out of stock.

The supermarkets declined to comment on sales.

“We know that in a hospital setting surgical masks are very effective and that’s because the people using them are trained in their use,” said Jonathan Ball, professor of virology at the University of Nottingham.

The mask must be properly fitted for it to filter all incoming air, he said. Users must also avoid cross contamination when taking it off, not wear them for too long and not meddle with them.

In a hospital, a doctor or nurse treating an infected patient might wear a gown, gloves, goggles and a mask, changing all of these once their time with the patient is over, he said. This isn’t practical outside a hospital.

In the wider world “the consensus is it doesn’t work,” he said.

Instead, detergents, including soap, and disinfectants are “generally effective” against this kind of virus, he said.

Viruses similar to the structure of coronavirus are sensitive to alcohol and detergents, which can help break down their oily, fatty shells.

“Because sanitisers on the whole have alcohol, it does the same thing, breaks apart the virus particle,” although there’s evidence they are only effective when applied to a relatively clean surface, he warns. For muddy hands, soap and water are best.

The NHS says the best way to avoid catching viruses such as flu is to:

  • regularly wash your hands with warm water and soap
  • avoid touching your eyes and nose wherever possible
  • maintain a fit and healthy lifestyle

Walking into a central London Boots this afternoon, the hand sanitiser shelf only had a few bottles left. And customers were making a beeline for them.

People told me they had started to use these sorts of products more regularly, particularly after being on public transport.

One of the world’s biggest manufacturers of antibacterial wet wipes, Nice Pack International, says they are concerned about keeping up with this surge in demand.

This spike in antibacterial product sales is however a rare positive business story in a nightmare scenario.

Many UK businesses will have a link to China, even if it is through a customer or trading partner’s supply chain.

The ongoing quarantines and closures could mean that their ability to obtain or sell products is threatened.

And not knowing how long it will continue makes the situation even more difficult to manage.

According to George Magnus from Oxford University’s China Centre, if it continues beyond mid-February, the hit to China’s economic growth could be as much as 1 or 2 percentage points. And this will have an impact on global growth too.

Fight! Fight! Fight!

The cloudy database world was plunged into drama at the close of this week, as Amazon Web Services locked horns with Microsoft in a spat over benchmarks.

In IT, there are lies, damned lies, and benchmarks. Vendors love quietly and sneakily crafting environments and test software that puts their kit in the best possible light against rivals. Intel, for one, turned these shenanigans into a performance art. It’s why everyone should dump a truck of salt on any manufacturer-supplied results.

Microsoft has been bandying around some impressive statistics for SQL on Azure of late, and one particular emission, at the start of December, caused the Bezos brigade to spit out their collective dummy. “Faster and cheaper: SQL on Azure continues to outshine AWS,” shrieked Redmond’s headline.

Oh, no, it doesn’t, AWS snapped back yesterday, a mere two months later.

Microsoft made all manner of lofty claims, with careful footnotes, to the effect that Azure was “up to 3.4 times faster and up to 87 per cent less expensive than AWS EC2.” Citing data from a Microsoft-sponsored report by blog-turned-analyst-org GigaOm, the Windows giant also alleged its Azure Ultra Disk was able to comfortably spank the capabilities of AWS-provisioned IOPS volumes.

Intel insists Xeon vs Epyc benchmark fight was fair, amends speed test claims anyway

READ MORE

With hands on hips and tightly pursed lips, AWS responded with a Twitteresque “well, actually…” and wheeled out its own benchmarks, using the publicly available TPC-C HammerDB benchmark tool, showing AWS has 1.75x performance advantage over Redmond’s effort and up to a 40 per cent price/performance advantage.

When Microsoft dissed the competition last year, we were worried that a benchmark-off might kick off, and sure enough it is time to load up the popcorn machine.

Amazon complained that striping was used to pump up Azure’s performance, which wasn’t used on AWS. It also whinged that an old-generation AWS instance was used rather than the latest and greatest (and comparable) that Amazon has to offer. A modified TPC-E benchmark – replete with proprietary Microsoft benchmark tooling – was also used, and, finally, the costs were skewed by leaving out licensing and Software Assurance.

Amazon’s top brass, memorably, lobbed its toys skywards last year when Microsoft fiddled with its terms to prohibit cloud deployments in AWS, and others, of software with licenses purchased without Software Assurance and mobility rights. It is therefore of little surprise that it should bite back in this instance.

For its part, Microsoft unloaded the caveat wagon beneath its self-sponsored statistics for those brave souls able to decipher the small print. Memorably, it said: “Actual results and prices may vary based on configuration and region.”

Unsurprisingly, the Windows behemoth had no comment when The Register asked it for its take on the AWS slapdown.

Both Microsoft and Amazon recorded impressive growth in their respective cloud businesses in their most recent financial results but the latter’s commanding lead is suffering erosion as the former continues to gain ground. As such, we fully expect to see more benchmark-based sniping as the gap continues to close and gloves are removed. ®

Speaking of Amazon… The internet titan today claimed it paid more than $1bn in US federal income taxes in 2019, more than $2.4bn in other federal taxes, including payroll taxes and customs duties, and more than $1.6bn in state and local taxes, including payroll taxes, property taxes, state income taxes, and gross receipts taxes, in 2019.

Also, it was served 1,841 subpoenas, 440 search warrants, and 114 other court orders in the final six months of 2019 by investigators seeking user data.

Sponsored: Detecting cyber attacks as a small to medium business

Airbus will pay nearly €1bn (£840m) to settle corruption cases with UK authorities.

The deal follows a lengthy investigation by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) into the aircraft maker’s use of middlemen to secure plane deals.

The settlement is part of a €3.6bn (£3bn) deal that also involves payments to US and French authorities.

The payments are being made under a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) – a type of corporate plea bargain.

The French national prosecutor, the Parquet National Financier, (PNF), will receive about €2.1bn, while Airbus will also pay the US Department of Justice some €500m.

The settlement was announced earlier this week and was approved by courts in the three countries on Friday.

The European planemaker, based in Toulouse in south-west France, employs more than 130,000 people globally, including about 10,000 in the UK.

The SFO, and later its French counterpart, opened investigations into Airbus in 2016 after the firm reported itself and asked regulators to look at documentation about its use of overseas agents.

Export credits

In the run-up to the SFO’s investigation, UK, French and German authorities froze export credit applications by Airbus, but reversed that decision in 2018.

Export credits are used by many governments to support exporters, often by giving their backing to bank loans offered to overseas buyers of UK products.

In the past, they have proved useful in giving cash-strapped airlines the ability to afford new Airbus planes.

The investigations followed concern that Airbus had failed to disclose the use of middlemen in such deals.

These settlements will cost Airbus a lot of money – and cause a fair amount of embarrassment – but the company will at least avoid prosecution. The UK part of the deal gives the Serious Fraud Office a much-needed success as well.

The statement of facts published alongside the deferred prosecution agreement is certainly eyebrow-raising. It describes how, in one case, Airbus paid $50m (£38m) in sponsorship to a sports team owned by airline executives, to help win a contract for 180 aircraft.

In another, the wife of an airline executive was used as a consultant on an aircraft contract, despite her having no experience in aviation. It later misled the UK’s export credit agency about her identity when it was applying for assistance in funding the deal.

The punishment could have been a lot more severe – but Airbus received credit for reporting the wrongdoing to the authorities itself.

Since then, there’s been a management clearout, and a major overhaul of Airbus’ sales operations. A new regime has emerged under CEO Guillaume Faury. He clearly sees the settlements as uncomfortable medicine the company has no choice but to take.

And he wants the bribery allegations themselves filed squarely under “sins of the past”.

The US also requested information from the UK and French investigations, amid suspicions that arms export rules could have been violated.

This is by far the biggest DPA settlement the SFO has made.

It is the seventh DPA agreed between the SFO and a company since they were introduced in 2013. The total value of all seven is about £1.53bn.

In 2017, engineering giant Rolls-Royce paid £497m plus costs to the SFO to settle a corruption case.

The SFO had found conspiracy to corrupt or failure to prevent bribery by Rolls-Royce in China, India and other markets. The firm apologised “unreservedly” for the cases spanning nearly 25 years.