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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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IoT at starting gate

South Africa is already past the Internet of Things (IoT) hype cycle and well into the mainstream, writes MARK WALKER, associate vice president of Sub-Saharan Africa at International Data Corporation (IDC).

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Projects and pilots are already becoming a commercial reality, tying neatly into the 2017 IDC prediction that 2018 would be the year when the local market took IoT mainstream. Over the next 12-18 months, it is anticipated that IoT implementations will continue to rise in both scope and popularity. Already 23% are in full deployment with 39% in the pilot phase. The value of IoT has been systematically proven and yet its reputation remains tenuous – more than 5% of companies are reluctant to put their money where the trend is – thanks to the shifting sands of IoT perception and success rate.

There are several reasons behind why IoT implementations are failing. The biggest is that organisations don’t know where to start. They know that IoT is something they can harness today and that it can be used to shift outdated modalities and operations. They are aware of the benefits and the case studies. What they don’t know is how to apply this knowledge to their own journey so their IoT story isn’t one of overbearing complexity and rising costs.

Another stumbling block is perception. Yes, there is the futuristic potential with the talking fridge and intelligent desk, but this is not where the real value lies. Organisations are overlooking the challenges that can be solved by realistic IoT, the banal and the boring solutions that leverage systems to deliver on business priorities. IoT’s potential sits within its ability to get the best out of assets and production efficiencies, solving problems in automation, security, and environment.

In addition to this, there is a lack of clarity around return on investment, uncertainty around the benefits, a lack of executive leadership, and concerns around security and the complexities of regulation.  Because IoT is an emerging technology there remains a limited awareness of the true extent of its value proposition and yet 66% of organisations are confident that this value exists.

This percentage poses both a problem and opportunity. On one hand, it showcases the local shift in thinking towards IoT as a technology worth investing into. On the other hand, many companies are seeing the competition invest and leaping blindly in the wrong direction. Stop. IoT is not the same for every business.

It is essential that every company makes its own case for IoT based on its needs and outcomes. Does agriculture have the same challenges as mining? Does one mining company have the same challenges as another? The answer is no. Organisations that want their IoT investment to succeed must reject the idea that they can pick up where another has left off. IoT must be relevant to the business outcome that it needs to achieve. While some use cases may apply to most industries based on specific circumstances, there are different realities and priorities that will demand a different approach and starting point.

Ask – what is the business problem right now and how can technology be leveraged to resolve it?

In the agriculture space, there is a need to improve crop yields and livestock management, improve farm productivity and implement environmental monitoring. In the construction and mining industry, safety and emergency response are a priority alongside workforce and production management. Education shifts the lens towards improving delivery and quality of education, access to advanced learning methods and reducing the costs of learning.  Smart cities want to improve traffic and efficiently deliver public services and healthcare is focusing on wellness, reducing hospital admissions and the security of assets and inventory management.

The technology and solutions selected must speak to these specific challenges.

If there are no insights used to create an IoT solution, it’s the equivalent of having the fastest Ferrari on Rivonia Road in peak traffic. It makes a fantastic noise, but it isn’t going to move any faster than the broken-down sedan in the next lane. Everyone will be impressed with the Ferrari, but the amount of power and the size of the investment mean nothing. It’s in the wrong place.

What differentiates the IoT successes is how a company leverages data to deliver meaningful value-added predictions and actions for personalised efficiencies, convenience, and improved industry processes. To move forward the organisation needs to focus on the business outcomes and not just the technology. They need to localise and adapt by applying context to the problem that’s being solved and explore innovation through partnerships and experimentation.

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ERP underpins food tracking

The food traceability market is expected to reach almost $20 billion by 2022 as increased consumer awareness, strict governance requirements, and advances in technology are resulting in growing standardisation of the segment, says STUART SCANLON, managing director of epic ERP

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Just like any data-driven environment, one of the biggest enablers of this is integrated enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions.

As the name suggests, traceability is the ability to track something through all stages of production, processing, and distribution. When it comes to the food industry, traceability must also enable stakeholders to identify the source of all food inputs that can include anything from raw materials, additives, ingredients, and packaging.

Considering the wealth of data that all these facets generate, it is hardly surprising that systems and processes need to be put in place to manage, analyse, and provide actionable insights. With traceability enabling corrective measures to be taken (think product recalls), having an efficient system is often the difference between life or death when it comes to public health risks.

Expansive solutions

Sceptics argue that traceability simply requires an extensive data warehouse to be done correctly, the reality is quite different. Yes, there are standard data records to be managed, but the real value lies in how all these components are tied together.

ERP provides the digital glue to enable this. With each stakeholder audience requiring different aspects of traceability (and compliance), it is essential for the producer, distributor, and every other organisation in the supply chain, to manage this effectively in a standardised manner.

With so many different companies involved in the food cycle, many using their own, proprietary systems, just consider the complexity of trying to manage traceability. Organisations must not only contend with local challenges, but global ones as well as the import and export of food are big business drivers.

So, even though traceability is vital to keep track of everything in this complex cycle, it is also imperative to monitor the ingredients and factories where items are produced. Having expansive solutions that must track the entire process from ‘cradle to grave’ is an imperative. Not only is this vital from a safety perspective, but from cost and reputational management aspects as well. Just think of the recent listeriosis issue in South Africa and the impact it has had on all parties in that supply chain.

Efficiency improvements

Thanks to the increasing digital transformation efforts by companies in the food industry, traceability becomes a more effective process. It is no longer a case of using on-premise solutions that can be compromised but having hosted ones that provide more effective fail-safes.

In a market segment that requires strict compliance and regulatory requirements to be met, cloud-based solutions can provide everyone in the supply chain with a more secure (and tamper-resistant) solution than many of the legacy approaches of old.

This is not to say ERP requires the one or the other. Instead, there needs to be a transition provided between the two scenarios that empowers those in the food supply chain to maximise the insights (and benefits) derived from traceability.

Now, more than ever, traceability is a business priority. Having the correct foundation through effective ERP is essential if a business can manage its growth and meet legislative requirements into the future.

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