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Amazon expands in SA

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Amazon has announced it is expanding its presence in South Africa by adding a new office in Johannesburg for Amazon Web Services South Africa.

The new office joins the established Amazon Development Center Cape Town, which has been in operation since 2004 and develops technology for several Amazon businesses, including Amazon Web Services (AWS). As part of this expansion, Amazon also announced that it plans to hire more than 250 people in the next 12 months to fill highly-skilled technical roles that will be based in both locations.

The new Johannesburg office has been launched to support the growing customer base of AWS. The office is now open and operational and is supporting organisations of all sizes, from start-ups to the country’s oldest and most established enterprises and public sector organisations, as they make the transition to the AWS cloud. The new office will have account managers, solutions architects, partner managers and various other functions for South African customers to directly engage with AWS. South African customers looking to learn more about working with AWS should visit aws.amazon.com/south-africa.

This news comes as Amazon celebrates over ten years in South Africa. Amazon first established a presence in the country by opening a development center in December 2004 to help build the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) service. Many of the more than 250 new roles in South Africa will be based here and will work on Amazon EC2 as well as the engineering of other new services as well as pioneering networking technologies and next generation cloud software.

“Amazon has been an active contributor to the South African technology community for over a decade,” said Steve Midgley, Head of EMEA, Amazon Web Services. “Over this time we have seen some key technologies of the AWS cloud emerge from the country so it is no surprise we are also seeing strong growth amongst African organisations moving to the cloud. Choosing to locate an AWS office in South Africa speaks to the rapidly growing customer base, the broad set of talent here and the investment we are making to support cloud adoption around the world. By expanding our presence in South Africa, and through hiring highly skilled staff, we intend to further accelerate the growth of our cloud customers in Africa and around the globe.”

South African organisations were amongst the earliest adopters of cloud services when AWS launched in 2006. Customers based in South Africa are using AWS to run everything from development and test environments to big data analytics, from mobile, web and social applications to enterprise business applications, public sector and mission critical workloads. AWS now counts some of Africa’s fastest growing businesses as customers including, Entersekt, PayGate and Travelstart as well as established enterprises such as Adcorp and Medscheme.

One African enterprise business that is working with AWS to develop new revenue streams for their organisation is telecoms giant MTN. “AWS expanding their presence in South Africa is great news for the entire African business community,” said Mteto Nyati, CEO of MTN Group. “At MTN, our purpose is to enable and inspire growth on the African continent. By working with a global technology leader such as AWS, MTN is better placed to enable customers to grow their businesses. The relationship with AWS is an important part of our plans to address the needs of enterprise customers in emerging markets, particularly Africa.”

Another large company that is welcoming AWS expansion in Africa is Standard Bank. As one of the largest banks in Africa, Standard Bank understands the power cloud computing has to help the South African economy. “Amazon’s growing presence in the country and the region is something that we at Standard Bank are especially pleased to see,” said Mike Murphy, Executive Head: Group Technology Build, Standard Bank. “The opportunities that AWS’ portfolio of services present to a company like ours, and the local business community, are substantial. When leveraged wisely these cloud technologies give South African companies of all sizes the opportunity to speed up innovation and expand their businesses to compete globally”.

An example of a South African company that is using AWS to grow their business globally is Travelstart. Travelstart is Africa’s largest travel booking website offering flights, hotel bookings, car rental, vacation packages and a range of insurance services. The company operates in more than 15 countries across Africa and the Middle East. “Hearing there is now an AWS office in South Africa is great news for us,” said Anders Bäck, CTO from Travelstart. “Thanks to the pay-as-you-go nature of AWS we have been able to grow our Middle Eastern websites in leaps and bounds while reducing operating costs. By using AWS we have reduced down time by 25% and were able to take on a multi-continent expansion in an agile manner. Without the scalability of AWS, and the support of their team, we would not have been able to achieve this and with an office it should help us even further.”

This news comes as Amazon continues its investment in, and expansion, across Europe, the Middle East and Africa. In 2014 Amazon created over 6,000 new jobs in the region. The new, highly skilled roles being announced today will be based in Cape Town and Johannesburg and include: Software Development Engineers; Network Development Engineers; Support Engineers; Technical Account Managers; Systems Engineers; Solutions Architects and many more. People looking to apply for a role in South Africa, or any of Amazon’s businesses around the world, can apply online at www.amazon.jobs.

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AppDate: Prepare for space

In this week’s AppDate, SEAN BACHER highlights Space Nation Navigator, Hitman Sniper, Snake Mask, Memrise, WhatsApp Web, and Carrot Weather.

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Space Nation Navigator

Space Nation Navigator is a bit of a strange app. It is part game, part exercise and part educational. On the game side, users have to navigate the Mars Rover, put the International Space Station back into orbit or move their Martians to safety before a sand storm hits Mars. When it comes to exercise, Space Nation Navigator provides users with a range of exercises and Yoga videos to prepare them for space travel and working in an anti-gravity environment. The education aspect teaches users about the planets, and star constellations, and then offers quizzes on what has been taught.

Platform: Android and iOS

Cost: A free download.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

 

Memrise

Memrise takes a new approach to help people learn new languages. Instead of providing a user with random phrases and words to memorise, the app connects you with a person already fluent in the language you want to learn. In turn, the person you are speaking to wants to learn the language in which you are fluent. Once your profile is filled out and languages selected, it connects you with people around the world who are interested in your language, and then allows you to chat with them in real-time. Memrise also lets one learn new languages through games, chatbots and grammarbots that help with spelling, tenses and pronunciations.

Platform: Android and iOS

Cost: A free download.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

 

Hitman Sniper

Hitman Sniper is loosely based on the Agent 47 movie released a few years ago. The game offers players the ability to hone their shooting skills through a range of training courses and, once they think they are ready, they can start taking out the bad guys. Things start off easy enough, but they get more and more difficult as one progresses through the 150 missions on offer. One will also have to upgrade various gun components, like scopes, magazine capacities and silencers, to make the missions a little easier. Hitman Sniper lets users buy 16 to tackle each of the missions – either with real money or via the points accumulated by completing missions. Money and points can also be used to upgrade firearms.

Platform: Android and iOS

Cost: R7 – with a range of in-app purchases.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

 

Snake Mask

The iconic Snake game that was preinstalled on most older Nokia phones has had a complete make-over. It now uses Facebook’s AR technology, meaning that you have to navigate the snake around obstacles in your home or office, all the while collecting coins and stars that change the snake’s speed and length. Unfortunately, Snake Mask is only available on Nokia’s new range of smartphones. However, it should not take long before it slithers onto other devices.

 

Platform: New Nokia smartphones running Android.

Cost: Free to use through the Facebook app installed on the device.

Stockists: Available through the Facebook app.

 

WhatsApp Web

Although this is by no means a new app, it is an extremely useful one, and one that not many people know about. Tapping out WhatsApps on your phone is easy enough, but thanks to WhatsApp Web it can be even easier. Open the WhatApp Web page under WhatsApp and you will see a QR code. Scan this code through WhatsApp on your mobile and you will be shown a replica of what you would normally see on your phone. You can then type and reply to messages using your computer instead of having to stop everything and unlock your phone every time a message comes through. WhatsApp Web is great if you share your computer with other people as it automatically disconnects when the browser is closed. However WhatsApp also offers an app that when installed will stay connected to your phone unless you manually remove it.

 

Platform: Any up-to-date Internet browser

Cost: Free to use and install

Stockists: Visit www.WhatsApp.com

 

Carrot Weather

There are thousands of weather apps on the Internet these days and all of them do the same thing – inform you of the weather in your area. However, Carrot Weather has taken what is just another app and turned it into something fun. By fun, I mean sarcastic, rude and completely politically incorrect. A user starts off by selecting religious and political views. It then asks about personality, ranging from friendly to homicidal to overkill – which includes profanity. So, for instance, instead of waking up to to the standard partly cloudy forecast, Carrot Weather will display something like: “It’s only partly sunny, the sun is a total effing failure.” It also has a range of insults that it throws at you whenever you open the app – some of them downright insulting, so it is definitely not for those who are easily offended. The app’s user interface is very simple, displaying a week’s daily forecast and hourly forecasts for the day selected.

Platform: Android and iOS

Cost: Free to download but with adverts. The premium, advert free version costs R12 per month.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

* Sean Bacher is editor of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @SeanBacher

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SA Start-up reinvents PABX

For any South African business, the idea of setting up or changing a telephonic switchboard system is the stuff of nightmares. Dealing with expensive hardware and hearing things like QSIG and VOIP is not what you’d call exciting.But now there is an app.

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Enter BuzzBox (www.buzzboxcloud.co.za), a web-based telephone switchboard that is aimed at small and medium sized businesses wanting to take the hassle and cost out of the company switchboard. Whether you are a small one-man operation or a larger organisation with staff working remotely, BuzzBox is the best switchboard solution.

What sets BuzzBox apart from anything else on the market is its easy-to-use dashboard. It puts you in control of everything from picking your phone number to setting up voice prompts and managing your business-hours schedule.

BuzzBox was developed when the startup behind it, Jini-Guru, needed such a service for its own use across multiple continents. “When we started Jini-Guru we could not find a seamless online process that would allow us to set up a full web-based switchboard, so we decided to build one for ourselves,” says Mike Smits, Director at Jini-Guru.

He says a lot of startups today are tech savvy and know how to use apps and the services that go with it. “It’s the uberisation of services and its driving demand for instant service activation.”

BuzzBox works as an app on both iOS and Android but users wanting a desk phone option can choose from a variety of devices on offer or use their existing VOIP phones.

Setting up a BuzzBox account takes 5 minutes. During registration your FICA documents are uploaded [ID and proof or residence] and you get to pick your phone number before the account is created. Companies that want to keep an existing number can do so too.

The real magic happens when you log on to the BuzzBox Dashboard. The main screen displays a summary of statistics for your account while the left-hand menu provides you quick access to various configuration settings and reports.

Setting up new extensions or external numbers is done with a few clicks and you can even set up various departments which is a great way to route a call to various people in a department, like sales or support.

The intuitive user interface also makes it easy to set up hold-music and voice prompts. You can add voice prompts by recording them straight to your phone, just make sure you use a clear voice with quiet surroundings for the best customer experience.

One of the main features of BuzzBox is its call recording feature that allows an organisation to record calls for legislative purposes, such as a lawyer, or for customer service purposes such as support. Recordings are stored securely online, and you have the ability to download recordings for playback. Companies can opt-in for this service and it’s free to use. Recordings are stored online and are fully encrypted so only you can listen to, or download them. Storage costs R1 for every 1000 minutes of stored recordings.

Other features include call forwarding and scheduling. The latter allows you to set office hours for your organisation which will divert calls to an after-hours messaging service. You also have the option to enable routing to an employee who is on call after hours.

BuzzBox also has a reseller program for companies wanting to offer this as a switchboard solution to their existing customers.

The costs for this service is R89 p/m for the first phone number which includes your first extension for free. Thereafter you’ll pay R89p/m per extension. Calls between extensions are free but you pay per second for all outgoing phone calls. More info on pricing can be found here: https://buzzboxcloud.co.za/pricing/

BuzzBox is offering a Launch promotion where they are offering the first line and extension free for 12 months. Only pay for calls. Use promo code “feoifyaa” during sign-up to apply your discount.

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