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How big storage will change business in 2017

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In this day and age, a company’s data is its business. MARK BREGMAN, SVP and CTO at NetApp gives six predictions on what businesses and users can expect from the ever-evolving data space in the coming year.

The explosion of data in today’s digital economy has resulted in a fundamental shift from using data to run the business to recognising that data is the business. In an era where data is king, superior data management and storage in the hybrid cloud become paramount. NetApp gives six predictions on what businesses and users can expect from this ever-evolving space in the coming year.

  • Data is the new currency

These days, poor access to data can impact heavily on a company’s success. With data so valuable to success, it has become the new currency of the digital age and has the potential to reshape every facet of the enterprise, from business models to technology and user expectations. We’ve seen this in the emergence of game-changing digital businesses like Uber and Airbnb, which are built around the control of a network of resources.

To make things even more interesting, we continue to see new types of data that enterprises didn’t previously think about collecting. For example, whereas we used to store and share only critical transactional data, we now store mass amounts of ancillary data surrounding transactions for deep analysis. This can include click stream data and even data about weather and other external factors, which can significantly enhance market insight for businesses.

  • New IT models are taking hold

The focus on data requires a universe of services that can integrate and work together to solve critical problems of all types and simplify delivery. This will require the support of platforms and an ecosystem of providers and developers that enables them. In this context, the platform model carries intrinsic value in its ability to integrate and simplify the delivery of services. A good example of this is Amazon Web Services, which continues to evolve into a richer and richer set of services all the time. Platforms create a virtuous cycle, as does a good flea market: people go there to buy because that’s where people are selling; sellers go there to sell because that’s where the buyers are.

As access to critical skills is becoming more challenging, broad-based platforms allow a more fluid flow of talent as expectations from both employees and employers shift. People with specialised skills are attracted to projects they find interesting and the ubiquity of common platforms and tools makes it easier to engage their interests.

  • The cloud as catalyst and accelerator

More and more organisations have been deploying cloud technologies to support their data requirements. Customers who are focused on optimising performance while reducing costs are finding that usage-based consumption models meet all their needs. The ready availability of cloud-based services provides easy access to the infrastructure needed to support innovation because it has dramatically lowered barriers to entry: with a credit card and an AWS account, new projects can be set up in a day and operate on a pay-as-you-go basis.

An example of this is CloudSync, which was built by six engineers in six months with no capex infrastructure. New usage-based consumption models, based on Platform as a Service combined with new scale, compliance and data protection offerings, are making cloud infrastructure more essential for businesses of all sizes.

  • New technologies are becoming the standard 

All of these business drivers will ultimately lead to the dominance of new technologies, particularly in the form of new application paradigms, which will reduce friction in business change and movement of talent. We’ve seen this emerge in the form of today’s DevOps movement, where compositional programming based on micro services and mashups, open source have taken hold. Currently, these are considered niche solutions, but as the value of data becomes more critical to business and the pace of innovation becomes an even more crucial competitive weapon, they will quickly move into the mainstream. Historic parallels include the emergence of Ethernet as a networking standard and Linux as a standard operating system.

  • A wider, dynamic range of storage and data management technologies evolves

As IT architectures evolve to accommodate new cloud infrastructure and new applications, a wider, dynamic range of storage technologies will also emerge. We’ve witnessed how flash storage has quickly gained in popularity offering incredible efficiency and performance. Likewise, hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) is one of the new IT architectures that addresses the critical demand for simplicity and reduces the need for administrative resources to manage storage. While the first wave of HCI solutions have done that well, they have not addressed additional requirements for flexibility and scalability. Building web-scale infrastructure will call for the flexibility to adapt the ratio of compute to storage according to the need, enable the upgrade of compute and storage separately, and scale easily and cost effectively.

Expect the next wave of HCI solutions to leverage what we’ve learned from converged infrastructure to deliver web-scale converged infrastructure that meets these requirements. We also see the build out of higher bandwidth networks to manage the movement of large volumes of data. On the horizon, storage technologies such as archive class storage and massive persistent memory are next in line for adoption. The rapid development of easy and accessible data management services will allow for easier deployment of these emerging technologies.

  • Consumeriation of IT persists

Perhaps most profound is the change in user expectations of iPhone-like simplicity and self-management and the integration of applications and services. These expectations are affecting development across all technologies in storage and data management. User experiences with mobile app simplicity in a wide variety of forms has raised expectations for the usability and simplicity of data management software. From a business standpoint, companies are demanding this simplicity because it will enable them to use less expensive resources to manage their data while giving them greater access and use of their data as a critical business asset.

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Gadget goes to Hollywood

Gadget visited the Netflix studios last week. In the first of a series, ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK talks to CEO Reed Hastings.

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Netflix CEO Reed Hastings is no stranger to Africa. He has travelled throughout South Africa, taught maths in Swaziland for two years with the Peace Corps, and visits close family in Maputo. As a result, he is keenly aware of the South African entertainment and connectivity landscape.

In an exclusive interview at the Netflix studios in Hollywood, Los Angeles, last week, he revealed that Netflix had no intentions of challenging MultiChoice’s dominance of live sports broadcasting on the continent.

“Other firms will do sport and news; we are trying to focus on movies and TV shows,” he said. “There are a lot of areas that are video that we are not doing: sports, news, video gaming, user-generated content. We don’t have live sport.

Reed Hastings at the Netflix studios in Hollywood last week. Pic: ADAM ROSE

“We’re not replacing MultiChoice at all. Their subscriber growth is steady in South Africa. They serve a need that’s independent of the Internet, via low-price satellite. There is no intention of capturing that audience. If they’re growing, it’s because they serve a need.”

While Reed ruled out any collaboration with MultiChoice on its satellite delivery platform, despite its collaboration with another pay-TV service, Sky TV in the United Kingdom, he did not close the door. He stressed that Netflix saw itself as an Internet-based service, and would pursue the opportunities offered by evolving broadband in Africa.

“If you look in other markets like the USA, how Comcast carries us on set-top boxes with their other services, it could happen with MultiChoice, the same as with all the pay-TV providers.

“We’re really focused on being a service over the Internet and not over satellite. Our service doesn’t work on satellite. Where we work with Sky is on Internet-connected devices. We’re happy to work on Internet-connected devices. We tend to work on smart TVs, but need broadband Internet for that.

“Broadband is getting faster in Nigeria, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa – we can see the positive trendlines – so it’s more likely we will work with broadband Internet companies.”

Hastings is a firm believer in the idea that one content provider’s success does not depend on pushing another down.

“HBO has grown at the same time as we have, so can see our success doesn’t determine their success. What matters is amazing content with which the world falls in love.”

Click here to read on about Hastings’ views on international expansion, and how the streaming service selects content for its platform.

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Take these 5 steps to digital

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By MARK WALKER, Associate Vice President for Sub-Saharan Africa at IDC Middle East, Africa and Turkey.

Digital transformation isn’t a buzz word because it sounds nice and looks good on the business CV. It is fundamental to long-term business success. IDC anticipates that 75% of enterprises will be on the path to digital transformation by 2027. 

However, digital transformation is not a process that ticks a box and moves to the next item on the agenda – it is defined by the organisation’s shift towards a digitally empowered infrastructure and employee. It is an evolution across system, infrastructure, process, individual and leadership and should follow clear pathways to ensure sustainable success.

The nature of the enterprise has changed completely with the influence of digital, cloud and the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), and success is reliant on strategic change.

There is a lot more ownership and transparency throughout the organisation and there is a responsibility that comes with that – employees want access to information, there has to be speed in knowledge, transactions and engagement. To ensure that the organisation evolves alongside digital and demand, it has to follow five very clear pathways to long-term, achievable success.

The first of these is to evaluate where the enterprise sits right now in terms of its digital journey. This will differ by organisation size and industry, as well as its reliance on technology. A smaller organisation that only needs a basic accounting function or the internet for email will have far different considerations to a small organisation that requires high-end technology to manage hedge funds or drive cloud solutions. The same comparisons apply to the enterprise-level organisation. The mining sector will have a completely different sub-set of technology requirements and infrastructure limitations to the retail or finance sectors.

Ultimately, every organisation, regardless of size or industry, is reliant on technology to grow or deliver customer service, but their digital transformation requirements are different. To ensure that investment into artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, knowledge engines, automation and connectivity are accurately placed within the business and know exactly where the business is going.

The second step is to examine what the business wants to achieve. Again, the goals of the organisation over the long and short term will be entirely sector dependent, but it is essential that it examine what the competitive environment looks like and what influences customer expectations. This understanding will allow for the business to hone its digital requirements accordingly.

The third step is to match expectations to reality. You need to see how you can move your digital transformation strategy forward and what areas require prioritisation, what funding models will support your digital aspirations, and how this tie into what the market wants. Ultimately, every step of the process has to be prioritised to ensure it maps back to where you are and the strategic steps that will take you to where you want to go.

The fourth step is to look at the operational side of the process. This is as critical as any other aspect of the transformation strategy as it maps budget to skills to infrastructure in such a way as to ensure that any project delivers return on investment. Budget and funding are always top of mind when it comes to digital transformation – these are understandably key issues for the business. How will it benefit from the investment? How will it influence the customer experience? What impact will this have on the ongoing bottom line? These questions tie neatly into the fifth step in the process – the feedback loop.

This is often the forgotten step, but it is the most important. The feedback loop is critical to ensuring that the digital transformation process is achieving the right results, that the right metrics are in place, and that the needle is moving in the right direction. It is within this feedback loop that the organisation can consistently refine the process to ensure that it moves to each successive step with the right metrics in place.

There is also one final element that every organisation should have in place throughout its digital evolution. An element that many overlook – engagement. There must be a real desire to change, from the top of the organisation right down to the bottom, and an understanding of what it means to undertake this change and why it is essential. This is why this will be a key discussion at the 2019 IDC South Africa CIO Summit taking place in April this year. With this in place, the five steps to digital transformation will make sense and deliver the right results.

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