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Behind the rise of Office 365

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Is Office 365 the one-stop cloud solution for business? Mimecast’s Senior Sales Engineer, GIULIO MAGNI, looks at its potential shortcomings and how companies can overcome these.|Is Office 365 the one-stop cloud solution for business? Mimecast’s Senior Sales Engineer, GIULIO MAGNI, looks at its potential shortcomings and how companies can overcome these.

Microsoft has said that Office 365 is the future and the numbers agree. More than a million subscribers are signing up each month and four out of five Fortune 500 companies are already using Office 365.

Why the overwhelming success? The reason lies in the rapid rate of cloud adoption, both global and local. Ipsos Mori’s SMB IT Research 2015 found that 57% of South African small to medium businesses are already accessing their work remotely through using a cloud service. And this number is only set to grow. IDC Futurescape predicts that as early as 2017, more than a third of new applications will be cloud-enabled.

The exponential growth numbers paint a picture of a future where Office 365 is standard, and the question that emerges is not so much “should I migrate” as it is “when will I migrate”. There is, however, another question that needs answering before making the leap to Office 365, namely what the practical implications of the move are.

The unspoken promise of Office 365 is that it is the last great data migration that businesses will ever have to make. Unfortunately, it still comes with all the teething problems of any largescale IT implementation. No IT solution is perfect, and identifying the gaps in Office 365 before migrating is critical to a smooth transition.

The hidden shortcomings

Microsoft’s messaging on Office 365 is that it is a one-stop cloud solution for managing important enterprise data such as email. To an extent, this is true, especially for smaller companies. Office 365 is rich in features: 99.9% email availability in its SLA, antivirus and malware protection and email recovery.

However, a closer look at the functionality of these features reveals pain points. Outages happen and even an excellent product like Office 365 is vulnerable. Officially, the amount of downtime is low enough to adhere to its SLA, however there have been recordings of O365 outages. Downtime can include admin access, AD authentication, policy engine, archive access and so on. Adding up the outages across all of the services amounts to an issue that doesn’t just impact the average email user but entire organisations.

The data dilemma

There are other gaps in the Office 365 platform that impact business continuity and data archiving. In Office 365, there is no ‘true’ email archiving, for example. Users can delete emails from the archive unless they are placed on In-Place Hold, something that can affect compliance. While there is a recovery period if this happens, the data is lost forever as soon as the deleted items folder is emptied.

Another notable shortcoming is the lack of mobile access users have to the email archive. End-users are only able to access the archive from a browser or Windows desktop. In addition, Office 365 lacks the ability to archive email on a network drive, further limiting the archive’s mobility. In an always-on world, the inability to search and recover important email data can have serious business consequences.

Two clouds are better than one

None of this makes Office 365 a poor solution. On the contrary, it is an excellent product that will over time add new layers of functionality. But just like the on premises world from which we come it is precisely this strength that opens the space for a third-party services aimed at supporting the Office 365 experience.

The cloud may have changed the way in which we work, but one thing remains true: It is risky relying on a single service provider, particularly when it means that your data is essentially sitting in one giant basket. Mimecast’s approach to this has been to create products that can work seamlessly alongside Office 365 to enhance its email archiving capabilities. We anticipate more companies will offer these kinds of add-on services as Office 365 becomes more universal.

How can businesses decide which of these third-party services is right for their needs? Companies looking to migrate to Office 365 need to closely examine their own requirements and where Office 365 might fall short in addressing these. That will give them guidance that will allow them to seek out products to successfully bridge the gap.

Giulio Magni offers these top tips to optimise your Office 365 experience:

·         Not all Office 365 plans are created equal. Vet the different plans’ offerings and use your Office 365 dashboard to research which purchase service add-ons might need to be added to meet your organisational needs.

·         Most on-premises legacy archive solutions don’t work with Office 365, leaving your users unable to access archived email. Get a compatible archiving solution in place before the migration.

·         Never use the Permanently Delete option in Office 365 without having a robust archiving solution in place. Set up retention policies and tags early on and test these on a few accounts before applying company-wide.

·         Microsoft is continuously improving functionality and fixing bugs through its updates, but these may affect productivity. Enable First Release to let your support staff try updates before worldwide release.

·         Finally – You will hear Microsoft say that you don’t need another service but they cannot be impartial about mitigating themselves. It is your business and your responsibility to keep the email communication flowing and compliant. Remember the principals you adopted when everything was in house – the same methodology still applies today – just in the cloud.

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Money talks and electronic gaming evolves

Computer gaming has evolved dramatically in the last two years, as it follows the money, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK in the second of a two-part series.

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The clue that gaming has become big business in South Africa was delivered by a non-gaming brand. When Comic Con, an American popular culture convention that has become a mecca for comics enthusiasts, was hosted in South Arica for the first time last month, it used gaming as the major drawcard. More than 45 000 people attended.

The event and its attendance was expected to be a major dampener for the annual rAge gaming expo, which took place just weeks later. Instead, rAge saw only a marginal fall in visitor numbers. No less than 34 000 people descended on the Ticketpro Dome for the chaos of cosplay, LAN gaming, virtual reality, board gaming and new video games. 

It proved not only that there was room for more than one major gaming event, but also that a massive market exists for the sector in South Africa. And with a large market, one also found numerous gaming niches that either emerged afresh or will keep going over the years. One of these, LAN (for Local Area Network) gaming, which sees hordes of players camping out at the venue for three days to play each other on elaborate computer rigs, was back as strong as ever at rAge.

MWeb provided an 8Gbps line to the expo, to connect all these gamers, and recorded 120TB in downloads and 15Tb in uploads – a total that would have used up the entire country’s bandwidth a few years ago.

“LANs are supposed to be a thing of the past, yet we buck the trend each year,” says Michael James, senior project manager and owner of rAge. “It is more of a spectacle than a simple LAN, so I can understand.”

New phenomena, often associated with the flavour of the moment, also emerge every year.

“Fortnite is a good example this year of how we evolve,” says James. “It’s a crazy huge phenomenon and nobody was servicing the demand from a tournament point of view. So rAge and Xbox created a casual LAN tournament that anyone could enter and win a prize. I think the top 10 people got something each round.”

Read on to see how esports is starting to make an impact in gaming.

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Blockchain unpacked

Blockchain is generally associated with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but these are just the tip of the iceberg, says ESET Southern Africa.

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This technology was originally conceived in 1991, when Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta described their first work on a chain of cryptographically secured blocks, but only gained notoriety in 2008, when it became popular with the arrival of Bitcoin. It is currently gaining demand in other commercial applications and its annual growth is expected to reach 51% by 2022 in numerous markets, such as those of financial institutions and the Internet of Things (IoT), according to MarketWatch.

What is blockchain?

A blockchain is a unique, consensual record that is distributed over multiple network nodes. In the case of cryptocurrencies, think of it as the accounting ledger where each transaction is recorded.

A blockchain transaction is complex and can be difficult to understand if you delve into the inner details of how it works, but the basic idea is simple to follow.

Each block stores:

–           A number of valid records or transactions.
–           Information referring to that block.
–           A link to the previous block and next block through the hash of each block—a unique code that can be thought of as the block’s fingerprint.

Accordingly, each block has a specific and immovable place within the chain, since each block contains information from the hash of the previous block. The entire chain is stored in each network node that makes up the blockchain, so an exact copy of the chain is stored in all network participants.

As new records are created, they are first verified and validated by the network nodes and then added to a new block that is linked to the chain.

How is blockchain so secure?

Being a distributed technology in which each network node stores an exact copy of the chain, the availability of the information is guaranteed at all times. So if an attacker wanted to cause a denial-of-service attack, they would have to annul all network nodes since it only takes one node to be operative for the information to be available.

Besides that, since each record is consensual, and all nodes contain the same information, it is almost impossible to alter it, ensuring its integrity. If an attacker wanted to modify the information in a blockchain, they would have to modify the entire chain in at least 51% of the nodes.

In blockchain, data is distributed across all network nodes. With no central node, all participate equally, storing, and validating all information. It is a very powerful tool for transmitting and storing information in a reliable way; a decentralised model in which the information belongs to us, since we do not need a company to provide the service.

What else can blockchain be used for?

Essentially, blockchain can be used to store any type of information that must be kept intact and remain available in a secure, decentralised and cheaper way than through intermediaries. Moreover, since the information stored is encrypted, its confidentiality can be guaranteed, as only those who have the encryption key can access it.

Use of blockchain in healthcare

Health records could be consolidated and stored in blockchain, for instance. This would mean that the medical history of each patient would be safe and, at the same time, available to each doctor authorised, regardless of the health centre where the patient was treated. Even the pharmaceutical industry could use this technology to verify medicines and prevent counterfeiting.

Use of blockchain for documents

Blockchain would also be very useful for managing digital assets and documentation. Up to now, the problem with digital is that everything is easy to copy, but Blockchain allows you to record purchases, deeds, documents, or any other type of online asset without them being falsified.

Other blockchain uses

This technology could also revolutionise the Internet of Things  (IoT) market where the challenge lies in the millions of devices connected to the internet that must be managed by the supplier companies. In a few years’ time, the centralised model won’t be able to support so many devices, not to mention the fact that many of these are not secure enough. With blockchain, devices can communicate through the network directly, safely, and reliably with no need for intermediaries.

Blockchain allows you to verify, validate, track, and store all types of information, from digital certificates, democratic voting systems, logistics and messaging services, to intelligent contracts and, of course, money and financial transactions.

Without doubt, blockchain has turned the immutable and decentralized layer the internet has always dreamed about into a reality. This technology takes reliance out of the equation and replaces it with mathematical fact.

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