News roundup: Dell-VMware spin-off, SAP unveils financial services unit, Alibaba faces record fine, semiconductor industry growth, and more

A round-up of this week's technology news, including Dell's spin-off of VMware, SAP's new financial services unit, a record fine faced by Alibaba, healthy growth in the semiconductor industry, and more.

IDGConnect_Dell_Newsroundup_shutterstock_1450975718_CREDIT_ II.studio_1200x800 / Shutterstock

Dell to spin off VMware

Dell is set to spin off cloud computing and virtualisation firm VMware, creating two separate public firms in the process.

On Wednesday, Dell announced it'll allocate a cash dividend of between $11.5 and $12 billion to VMware shareholders. But since Dell owns an 81% stake in VMWare, it'll receive around $9 billion of cash through the spin-off.

According to Dell, the spin-off will see both companies "strengthen their mutually beneficial strategic relationship and "continue to co-engineer solutions for customers through a commercial agreement".

While the transaction should conclude by the fourth quarter of 2021, Dell explained that it'll be "subject to certain conditions". These include "receipt of a favorable IRS private letter ruling" and "an opinion that the transaction will qualify as generally tax-free for Dell Technologies shareholders for U.S. federal income tax purposes".

Dell gained majority control over VMware after acquiring its parent company, EMC, in 2016 as part of a $67 billion deal. However, Dell has accumulated significant debts over the past few years and plans to pay these down with the VMware spin-off profits.

Michael Dell, chairman and chief executive officer of Dell Technologies, said: "By spinning off VMware, we expect to drive additional growth opportunities for Dell Technologies as well as VMware, and unlock significant value for stakeholders.

"Both companies will remain important partners, providing Dell Technologies with a differentiated advantage in how we bring solutions to customers. At the same time, Dell Technologies will continue to modernize its core infrastructure and PC businesses and embrace new opportunities through an open ecosystem to grow in hybrid and private cloud, edge and telecom."

SAP unveils financial services unit

Software giant SAP has teamed up with German investment firm Dediq to launch a new financial services business unit, as reported by ZDNet.

The SAP-branded unit, backed by $600 million of funding from Dediq, will be run by a separate management team and develop services in areas such as commercial lending, transactional baking, and retail.

While SAP hasn't revealed much information about its new unit at this point, it'll focus on developing IT and cloud solutions for organisations and companies operating in the financial services industry.

The joint venture between SAP and Dediq is subject to antitrust consent. As such, SAP hasn't announced the unit's official name or the team that'll be managing it.

Luka Mucic, chief financial officer of SAP, told journalists: "We are convinced that we can become better by becoming more targeted.

"We want to build up a stronger portfolio that covers FSI-specific needs, and we want to build an encompassing portfolio of FSI solutions that are integrated with a strong back bone, including S/4HANA and reside on our business technology platform."

Alibaba slapped with massive fine

Chinese e-commerce firm Alibaba has been fined a record $2.8 billion after an investigation by an antitrust regulator in China, according to a report by the BBC.

The firm confirmed on Monday that it had agreed to pay a record-breaking fine, which follows an investigation by Chinese authorities that found it's been abusing its market dominance for several years.

One of the biggest issues in the Chinese antitrust investigation of Alibaba was that it allegedly prevented sellers from offering their products and promotions on other e-commerce platforms.

After being issued the massive fine, Alibaba intends to take steps to reduce barriers to entry and costs incurred by businesses that use e-commerce platforms.

In an investor call, Alibaba Group executive vice chairman Joe Tsai said: "We're happy to get the matter behind us, but the tendency is that regulators will be keen to look at some of the areas where you might have unfair competition."

Semiconductor industry enjoys huge growth

Over the last few months, there have been countless reports about a global shortage of semiconductor chips. But new research from analyst firm Gartner shows that the semiconductor industry is enjoying healthy growth, despite apparent challenges.

Revenues in the global semiconductor industry reached $466.2 billion last year, having grown by 10.4% from 2019. Meanwhile, Intel was the world's biggest semiconductor vendor in terms of revenue during 2020.

Gartner claims that Intel's revenue in the competitive semiconductor market increased by 7.4%, reaching $72.8 billion in 2020 thanks to the success of its core client and server CPU business units. Samsung Electronics, SK Hynix, Micron Technology and Qualcomm make up the rest of the top five biggest semiconductor firms of 2020.

Andrew Norwood, research vice president at Gartner, said: "Memory, GPUs and 5G chipsets led semiconductor growth, driven by hyperscale, PC, ultramobile and 5G handset end-market demand, while automotive and industrial electronics suffered due to lower spending or a pause in spending owing to COVID-19."

Security roundup

  • Most educational organisations (60%) have been affected by phishing attacks, according to new research from cybersecurity firm Netwrix. Other common cyber attacks impacting the education sector include account compromises (33%) and ransomware (27%). Worryingly, nearly half of educational organisations (49%) didn't realise they had been affected by an infection until several days after.
  • The vast majority of codebases (84%) contain one or more security vulnerabilities, according to new research from US software firm Synopsys. It also found that there are 158 flaws in each codebase on average, while 60% of these vulnerabilities are high-risk. Furthermore, marketing technologies, CRM platforms, and social media sites contain the most open-source vulnerabilities (95%).
  • An important update to the contact tracing mobile app used throughout England and Wales was stalled after US tech giants Apple and Google blocked it, as reported by the BBC. The updated app would have allowed users to scan barcodes and check in when arriving at hospitality venues. But as both Apple and Google came to the decision not to harvest location information via contacting tracing apps on their devices, they deemed that this update broke terms and conditions. As a result, Apple and Google have blocked the release of the update on their respective app stores. When coronavirus restrictions were further eased in England and Wales at the start of the week, many people were only able to access the old version of the English and Welsh contact tracing app.
  • Many organisations using Fortinet VPNs have failed to implement a security patch released in 2019, according to an alert by the UK's National Cyber Security Centre. It warned that advanced persistent threat groups and cyber criminals are still exploiting the CVE-2018-13379 vulnerability, despite a security update being released two years ago.
  • The FBI has completed a court-approved operation tasked with copying and removing nefarious web shells affecting hundreds of Microsoft Exchange servers, as reported by TechRadar. "Today's court-authorized removal of the malicious web shells demonstrates the Department's commitment to disrupt hacking activity using all of our legal tools, not just prosecutions," commented Assistant Attorney General John C. Demers for the Justice Department's National Security Division. "
  • Malware masquerading as video conferencing platforms has grown by over 1000% in the past year, according to new research from AtlasVPN. Last year, there were 4.11 million instances of malware purporting to be video calling apps such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Slack, Webex, HighFive, Lifesize,, Flock, and GoToMeeting. Meanwhile, cybersecurity researchers logged 2.2 million of these threats at the start of 2021.

M&A roundup

US tech giant Microsoft this week unveiled plans to acquire computer software firm Nuance Communications for $19.7 billion, which will be its biggest acquisition since it bought professional social networking platform LinkedIn for $26 billion in 2016. Nuance Communications is best known for working with Apple to help build the Siri voice assistant. Microsoft intends to leverage Nuance's artificial intelligence-driven software in the healthcare sector.

Satya Nadella, chief executive of Microsoft, said: "Nuance provides the AI layer at the healthcare point of delivery. AI is technology's most important priority, and healthcare is its most urgent application. Together, with our partner ecosystem, we will put advanced AI solutions into the hands of professionals everywhere to drive better decision-making and create more meaningful connections, as we accelerate growth of Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare and Nuance."

Cybersecurity firm Darktrace has announced that it's planning a London Stock Exchange listing, according to a report by the BBC. The move could enable it to raise as much as £3 billion. Poppy Gustafsson, chief executive of the Cambridge-headquartered company, said an IPO in London was a "logical choice".

The QT Company, an international software firm, has acquired German quality assurance specialists Froglogic GmbH. QT said the acquisition will allow it to expand its product portfolio with test automation tools. Juha Varelius, president and CEO of Qt Group Plc, said: "We continuously see that companies are pushing to get new products and services out to customers aiming for a stronger go-to-market execution. Creating an efficient design and development cycle, underpinned with automated testing, is critical to enabling this for our customers."

Mobile network operators Virgin Media and O2 have been given the go-ahead by UK regulators to form a £31 billion merger, as reported by the BBC. After investigating the multi-billion-pound merger, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) decided that it would "unlikely to lead to any substantial lessening of competition".

IBM has confirmed it's acquiring Italy-based process mining software firm MyInvenio. It said the acquisition will allow companies to automate business processes such as sales, accounting, procurement and production. While IBM hasn't revealed the financial details of the deal, it's set to conclude by "the end of this quarter". In a statement, IBM Automation general manager Dinesh Nirmal said: "With IBM's planned acquisition of myInvenio, we are continuing to invest in building the industry's most comprehensive suite of AI-powered automation capabilities for business automation so that our customers can help employees re-claim their time to focus on more strategic work.

Apple special event announced

Cupertino-based tech giant Apple has announced that it'll be holding its next special event on April 20. The "Spring Loaded" event will kick off at 6pm (GMT) and see Apple announce a range of new products, which might include a redesigned iMac, a refreshed iPad Pro, AirTags, a new Apple TV, third-generation AirPods, and more. Before Apple confirmed the "Spring Loaded" event, Siri actually leaked its day and time earlier in the week.

Microsoft unveils Surface Laptop 4

On Tuesday, Microsoft took the wraps off its latest touchscreen laptop. The Surface Laptop 4 succeeds the Surface Laptop 3, which launched back in October 2019.

Despite sporting a similar design to its predecessor, the Surface Laptop 4 comes with more powerful 11th Gen Intel Core and AMD Ryzen processors.

What's more, the Surface Laptop 4 is available in two screen sizes: 13.5 or 15 inches. Both models sport 3:2 PixelSense touchscreen displays, high-definition webcams, Dolby Atmos Omnisonic speakers, longer battery life, USB-A and USB-C ports, and many other features.

If you like the sound of the Surface Laptop 4, you can preorder it for $999.99 in the US, Canada, and Japan. Microsoft said there'll be "additional market availability in the coming weeks".