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How cloud transforms all

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Companies of all types are shifting to cloud computing and are therefore being forced to change their way of working. DR WERNER VOGELS, Chief Technology Officer, Amazon.com believes this disruption has lead to new ideas and innovations all the way from start-ups to government organisations.

Organisations from the Public Sector to the Private Sector are undergoing a fundamental shift with the advent of cloud computing.  The shift is disrupting the traditional way of working and the old way of thinking. As the cloud continues to level the playing field for organisations, both large and small, we are seeing fast adoption that has helped to unleash great ideas and innovations from start-ups to enterprises to government organisations.

Transforming industries

Over the last few years we have seen that cloud is becoming a catalyst for changing industries as organisations are able to access vast amounts of compute resources on demand in order to help them innovate. Globally, we are seeing industries like Oil and Gas being transformed as organisations, like Royal Dutch Shell, use the cloud in order to help with oil exploration. The financial services sector is being transformed as institutions like Aviva, the largest insurance company in the UK, use the cloud for calculating insurance premiums and the consumer goods industry is being transformed as organisations like Unilever use the cloud in the research and development of new products.

In the Public Sector this transformation is happening at an equally rapid pace. Researchers are using AWS to speed up science, using the vast compute resources at their fingertips to run more experiments, at a lower cost. Non-Profit Organisations, such as Cancer Research UK, are using the cloud to stop paying for computing power they aren’t using meaning they can focus more of their resources on the important work. We are also seeing cities and governments using AWS to transform the lives of citizens. Through Smart, and Collaborative, City initiatives, such as those we are seeing in Cities as diverse as Chicago in the US, Peterborough in the UK and Paris in France, local governments are innovating with the cloud to enable citizens to enjoy higher standards of living.

This transformation isn’t just happening at the global level, it is also happening at the local level here in South Africa. 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 and PayGate as well as established enterprises such as MiX Telematics and Medscheme.

A great example of a South African company that is transforming the travel sector is Travelstart. Started in 1999, Travelstart has grown to become 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. By using the cloud to rapidly grow their business, and expand to the Middle East, Travelstart is able to take on the world’s largest companies in their field while also increasing their reliability and levels of customer service. Using AWS Travelstart has been able to rapidly grow their Middle Eastern business while reducing downtime by 25%.

Incubating innovation

We are also seeing tremendous rise in entrepreneurial activities in South Africa and across EMEA. Many start-ups are driving hard to innovate and get their product in the hands of customers at break-neck speeds.

For example, with millions of smart phone users worldwide, and multitude of applications, mobile developers and the businesses they serve need scalable infrastructure to develop and host the backend services.  With the cloud, mobile developers are no longer worried about managing infrastructure resources, which is often either not their core competence or they simply don’t want to spend time on it.  They are now able to focus on building sophisticated, scalable products and accelerating their time to market.  In addition, mobile developers are able to leverage the cloud for fast, complex processing of their application services before delivering the presentation layer across multiple form factors and devices to ensure great user experience.

A local Cape Town example of a company that has offloaded the managing of infrastructure to the cloud so they can focus on delivering customers a great experience is music streaming platform, NicheStreem. Using AWS, NicheStreem has launched their business focusing on niche music genres for music lovers catering for tastes as diverse as Afrikaans music and Naija Gospel. Their first app, called Liedjie, caters to Afrikaans music. Since launching in December 2015 the app now has streamed tens of thousands of tracks to thousands of registered users. By offloading their heavy lifting of managing infrastructure to the cloud, the team at NicheStreem can focus more of their resources on delivering music lovers the best choice in niche music, not on running datacenters.

The reason we are seeing success stories, like NicheStreem, in Africa is because cloud computing gives businesses of any size access to storage, compute, database and many other technologies on a pay as you go basis from anywhere in the world. This is democratising the business world by giving small companies access to the same vast amounts of technology that were only in the realms of the world’s largest organisations in the past. Having immediate access to technology infrastructure is also allowing researchers to turn their ideas into businesses quicker, and at a lower cost, than was previously possible. We are seeing this come from South Africa with a great example being Hyrax Biosciences.

Developed at the South Africa National Bioinformatics Institute at the University of the Western Cape, Hyrax Biosciences has developed HIV drug testing technology in the cloud. Starting as a research programme, the company developed an AWS based technology called Exatype which rapidly and accurately tests HIV drug resistance. Traditionally it costs $300 to $500 to do a single resistance test but, with the AWS based system, Exatype can do this at a fraction of the cost.  The reason this is important is currently 10% of patients on antiretroviral treatment, to combat HIV, do not respond to the drugs provided to them because of drug resistance. Exatype solves this problem by showing clinicians which drugs would be most effective for each individual patient to increase response and improve treatment. By using the cloud Hyrax Biosciences was able to take their research from idea to business in a short amount of time and at a fraction of the cost it would incur before.

Whether it is Travelstart, NicheStreem or Hyrax Biosciences, I’m excited with the innovation we see coming from South Africa. I look forward to see the cloud continue its rapid growth in the country and look forward to see more South African start-ups expand their businesses around the world.

Dr Werner Vogels, Chief Technology Officer, Amazon.com will be in South Africa in July and will be delivering the keynote address at the AWS Summit in Cape Town on July 12. To register for the event visit the AWS Summit web page at: http://aws.amazon.com/south-africa/summit-cape-town/

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Samsung S10 in lock-step with its rivals?

Tonight Samsung will kick off the next round in the smartphone wars with the S10 range, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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When Samsung unveils the new S10 smartphone at an event in San Francisco today, it will mark the beginning of the 2019 round of World War S. That stands for smartphone wars, although Samsung would like it to be all about the S.

Ever since the launch of the Samsung Galaxy S4 in 2013, Samsung has held both technology and thought leadership in the handset world. Back then, Apple’s iPhone 5 was the last device from the American manufacturer that could lay claim to being the best smartphone in the world. With the 2013 launch of the iPhone 5s, Apple entered an era of incremental improvement, playing catch-up, and succumbing to market trends driven by its competitors.

Six years later, Samsung is fighting off the same threat. Its Chinese rival, Huawei, suddenly wrested away leadership in the past year, with the P20 Pro and Mate 20 Pro regarded as at last equal to the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus and Galaxy Note 9 – if not superior. Certainly, from a cost perspective, Huawei took the lead with its more competitive prices, and therefore more value for money.

Huawei also succeeded where Apple failed: introducing more economical versions of its flagship phones. The iPhone 5c, SE and XR have all been disappointments in the sales department, mainly because the price difference was not massive enough to attract lower-income users. In contrast, the Lite editions of the Huawei P9, P10 and P20 have been huge successes, especially in South Africa.

Today, for the first time in half a decade, Samsung goes into battle on a field laid out by its competitors. It is expected to launch the Galaxy S10 Plus, S10 and S10 e, with the latter being the Samsung answer to the strategy of the iPhone XR and Huawei P20 Lite.

Does this mean Samsung is now in lock-step with its rivals, focused on matching their strategies rather than running ahead of them?

It may seem that way, but Samsung has a few tricks up its electronic sleeve. For example, it is possible it will use the S10 launch to announce its coming range of foldable phones, expected to be called the Galaxy X, Galaxy F, Galaxy Fold or Galaxy Flex. It previewed the technology at a developer conference in San Francisco last November, and this will be the ideal moment to reclaim technology leadership by going into production with foldables – even if the S10 range itself does not shoot out the lights.

However, the S10 handsets will look very different to their predecessors. First, before switching on the phone, they will be notable by the introduction of what is being called the punch-hole display, which breaks away from the current trend of having a notch at the top of the phone to house front-facing cameras and speakers. Instead, the punch-hole is a single round cut-out that will contain the front camera. It is the key element of Samsung’s “Infinity O” display – the O represents the punchhole – which will be the first truly edge-to-edge display, on the sides and top.

The S10 range will use the new Samsung user interface, One UI, also unveiled at the developer conference. It replaces the previous “skin”, unimaginatively called the Samsung Experience, to introduce a strong new interface brand.

One UI went live on the Note 8 last month, giving us a foretaste, and giving Samsung a chance to iron out the bugs in the field. It is a less cluttered interface, addressing one of the biggest complaints about most manufacturer skins. Only Nokia and Google Pixel handsets offer pure Android in the local market, but One UI is Samsung’s best compromise yet.

It introduces a new interaction area, in the bottom half, reachable with the thumb, with a viewing area at the top, allowing the user to work one-handed on the bottom area while still having apps or related content visible above. One UI also improves gesture navigation – the phone picks up hand movements without being touched – and notification management.

The S10 range will be the first phones to feature the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 chip, at least for the South African and American markets. That makes it 5G compatible, for when this next generation of mobile broadband becomes available in these markets.

They will also be the first phones to feature Wi-Fi 6, the next generation of the Wi-Fi mobile wireless standard. It will perform better in congested areas, and data transfer will be up to 40% faster than the previous generation.

The phones will be the first to use ultrasound for fingerprint detection. If Samsung gets it right, this will make it the fastest in-screen fingerprint sensor on the market, and allows for a little leeway if one pushes the finger down slightly outside the fingerprint reader surface. It does mean, however, that screen protectors will have to be redesigned to avoid blocking the detection.

Not enough firsts? There are a few more.

Most notably, it will be the first phone range to feature 1 Terabyte (TB) storage – that’s a thousand Gigabytes (GB) – at least for the top-of-the-range devices. Samsung last month announced that it would be the first manufacturer to make 1TB built-in onboard flash storage. Today, it will deploy this massive advantage as it once again weaponises its technology in the fight for smartphone domination.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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IoT set to improve authentication

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By Sherry Zameer, Senior Vice President, Internet of Things Solutions for CISMEA region at Gemalto

As it rapidly approaches maturity, the Internet of Things (IoT) is set to continue a transformational trajectory, introducing new efficiencies in multiple fields by allowing measurement and analysis on a scale that has never been possible before. From agriculture to logistics, from retail to hospitality, from traffic to health, from the home to the office, the applications for monitoring ”things” are limited only by the imagination.

And South African (and African) businesses are showing abundant imagination in their practical deployments of IoT solutions in multiple settings, creating a better tomorrow through almost universal measurement and the introduction of new levels of convenience – including how to access locations, devices and services securely.

Any company, whether South African or international, should bear in mind that understanding consumer expectations can be the key to unlocking the full potential of IoT devices and related smart services.

According to Gemalto’s latest Connected Living study, improving the way consumers authenticate themselves to services is one of the most anticipated benefits of IoT, highlighting a desire for a more seamless and secure IoT experience.

Consumers are interested in advanced ways of authenticating themselves through automatic (based on behavioral patterns) or biometric techniques, lessening the need to have to intervene manually, all in the name of a much more streamlined authentication process. Smartphone manufacturers like Apple and Samsung have already placed fingerprint and facial recognition high on the agenda. There is also a widespread positive sentiment towards IoT’s potential for improving the quality of home life through connected, smart appliances.

Personalised services is something else that wins consumers over. In fact, a fluid, personalised and unified experience with continuity of services, together with security and privacy, is critical for the successful implementation of any technology.

And those types of services are today quite possible. With everything being connected – from small gadgets to digital solutions for large enterprises – IoT is no longer just a buzzword. That much is clear in a piece from Vodacom IoT managing executive Deon Liebenberg. Writing for IOL Online, Liebenberg provides insight into the sheer range of applications for IoT: the 20 use cases he cites range from the obvious, like transport and logistics, to the connected home and wearables; he even suggests tagging pets with IoT transmitters, for those who always need to know the whereabouts of the family cat.

Low-cost tags fitted to cats, dogs, lamp posts, shipping containers or other items are just one part of the puzzle, however. There are other two pieces; arguably the most complex part is the availability of communication networks in areas where there aren’t any WiFi networks, or indeed, anything else.

And that’s where the bigger takeaway from Liebenberg’s piece and other IoT trends articles becomes apparent. The communication networks are there, as are those tags: dedicated IoT networks (like LoraWAN, SigFox and narrowband IoT) are all available in South Africa.

So, too, is the third and final essential component. Software which is able to process the data generated by the tag and transmitted over the IoT network and into the internet. In this regard, there’s no shortage of solutions available from cloud providers like AWS and Azure; electronics giant Siemens, too, is in on the action, having recently launched a new cloud-based IoT operating system to develop applications and services for process industries, including oil and gas and water management.

This combination means it is quite possible right now to enable just about any use case. Business owners, who will know best how IoT can add value in their organisation, can now see their ideas becoming reality. Most crucial of all, IoT solutions delivering new levels of efficiency and convenience are not only possible, they are able to be offered with the simple and effective security that will drive consumer acceptance.

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