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How SD-WAN closes performance gap for business

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Riverbed Technology sub-Saharan Africa country manager WIMPIE VAN RENSBURG outlines how SD-WAN technology helps improve the performance of enterprise applications.

As an increasing number of organisations migrate to the cloud, the gap between the needs and expectations of the business and IT’s ability to deliver is growing. With apps, data and users scattered across branch offices and other remote locations, IT is struggling to deliver the application performance businesses need to remain productive. In fact, the Riverbed Global Application Performance Survey 2015 shows that while 98 per cent of executives believe that enterprise application performance is critical to achieving optimal business performance, 89 per cent say poor performance of enterprise applications negatively impacts their productivity on a regular basis.

So what is the cause of this performance gap and how can businesses close it? Chances are IT is wrestling with a complex, inflexible WAN – a wide area computer network, to interconnect their diverse application workloads to their distributed workforce. In fact, the WAN is likely the IT infrastructure’s weakest link, and it’s preventing it from meeting the dynamic demands of the modern enterprise.

Business is speeding up, and IT needs to keep pace. Organisations need SD-WAN (software-defined wide area networking), and here’s why.

Today’s network challenges

Driven by the rapid globalisation of the business world, the WAN is becoming more and more dispersed every day. Remote workers are scattered across the globe — in branch offices, construction sites and coffee shops, to name just a few — and they all demand flawless network performance to stay productive.

What’s more, end users are depending on an ever-expanding catalogue of applications, some of them cloud based. And if the apps don’t work, neither do your end users. Many of them are even adopting independent apps which are not explicitly approved by the organisation — a phenomenon called “shadow IT”– in order to get work done in a timely manner.

As a result, today’s networks are more unruly than ever. Businesses need a new day in networking, and they need it now. But why?

The trouble with traditional MPLS WANs

Old-school WANs are having a hard time meeting the demands of the modern business. A network based on MPLS links can be expensive but also time-consuming. Traditional MPLS networks rely on operation paradigms that were defined more than 15 years ago at a time were the pace of changes was a matter of months not a matter of days.

The trouble with hybrid WANs

Many organisation are today considering reducing the costs of MPLS based networks using more affordable Internet links to create a hybrid WAN. But in many cases, what you save in costs you sacrifice in security and control.

Moreover, a significant rise in encryption and cloud technologies can cut into network visibility, making it next to impossible to know when and where a performance problem is occurring.

All the while, the pressure is mounting on IT, and the business is expecting you to act at the drop of a hat:

  • They need you to deploy a new app that will totally change your traffic profile (and you need to maintain control), today
  • They need you to provision a new branch office on the other side of the world with the right apps and data, and make sure mission-critical apps are performing flawlessly for all users no matter what, today

The list goes on. But unfortunately, the state of your network has you handcuffed. And this is where SD-WAN comes in.

What SD-WAN can do for businesses

To put it simply, SD-WAN allows businesses to control their network from a single, easy-to-use, intuitive command centre. At its core, SD-WAN enables them to make on-the-fly adjustments to network performance and application delivery, in order to meet the businesses ever-changing needs.

By leveraging software-defined networking (SDN) principles, designed to make networks more flexible and agile, SD-WAN enables organisations to direct traffic and deploy network services across a WAN from a centralised location — without any mess or hassle. Instead of the old router-based model, which required IT managers to make intensive CLI-based code changes to routers, SD-WAN allows network services and policies to be assigned to different locations, users, and even apps — all with just a few clicks.

What’s more, an app-centric SD-WAN will automatically identify the applications in the organisation’s network and group them into logical categories based on business criticality, and even apply network-service policies to those categories based on built-in best practices.

These benefits offer IT a broad range of possibilities. Organisations can automatically route voice traffic to their highest-quality network paths. They can quickly segregate employee traffic from that of partners and customers. They can send recreational Internet traffic through the most rigorous firewalls. And more. And IT can do it all simply and centrally, without breaking a sweat.

All in all, SD-WAN makes networks more flexible and agile than ever, which, in turn, allows you to meet business needs efficiently and effectively.

* These issues will be explored at the Riberbed Force for Business event in Joihannesburg on 20 April. 

* For more information, and to register to attend the event, click here.

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Smart home arrives in SA

The smart home is no longer a distant vision confined to advanced economies, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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The smart home is a wonderful vision for controlling every aspect of one’s living environment via remote control, apps and sensors. But, because it is both complex and expensive, there has been little appetite for it in South Africa.

The two main routes for smart home installation are both fraught with peril – financial and technical.

The first is to call on a specialist installation company. Surprisingly, there are many in South Africa. Google “smart home” +”South Africa”, and thousands of results appear. The problem is that, because the industry is so new, few have built up solid track records and reputations. Costs vary wildly, few standards exist, and the cost of after-sales service will turn out to be more important than the upfront price.

The second route is to assemble the components of a smart home, and attempt self-installation. For the non-technical, this is often a non-starter. Not only does one need a fairly good knowledge of Wi-Fi configuration, but also a broad understanding of the Internet of Things (IoT) – the ability for devices to sense their environment, connect to each other, and share information.

The good news, though, is that it is getting easier and more cost effective all the time.

My first efforts in this direction started a few years ago with finding smart plugs on Amazon.com. These are power adaptors that turn regular sockets into “smart sockets” by adding Wi-Fi and an on-off switch, among other. A smart lightbulb was sourced from Gearbest in China. At the time, these were the cheapest and most basic elements for a starter smart home environment.

Via a smartphone app, the light could be switched on from the other side of the world. It sounds trivial and silly, but on such basic functions the future is slowly built.

Fast forward a year or two, and these components are available from hundreds of outlets, they have plummeted in cost, and the range of options is bewildering. That, of course, makes the quest even more bewildering. Who can be trusted for quality, fulfilment and after-sales support? Which products will be obsolete in the next year or two as technology advances even more rapidly?

These are some of the challenges that a leading South African technology distributor, Syntech, decided to address in adding smart home products to its portfolio. It selected LifeSmart, a global brand with proven expertise in both IoT and smart home products.

Equally significantly, LifeSmart combines IoT with artificial intelligence and machine learning, meaning that the devices “learn” the best ways of connecting, sharing and integrating new elements. Because they all fall under the same brand, they are designed to integrate with the LifeSmart app, which is available for Android and iOS phones, as well as Android TV.

Click here to read about how LifeSmart makes installing smart home devices easier.

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Matrics must prepare for AI

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students writing a test

By Vian Chinner, CEO and founder of Xineoh.

Many in the matric class of 2018 are currently weighing up their options for the future. With the country’s high unemployment rate casting a shadow on their opportunities, these future jobseekers have been encouraged to look into which skills are required by the market, tailoring their occupational training to align with demand and thereby improving their chances of finding a job, writes Vian Chinner – a South African innovator, data scientist and CEO of the machine learning company specialising in consumer behaviour prediction, Xineoh.

With rapid innovation and development in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), all careers – including high-demand professions like engineers, teachers and electricians – will look significantly different in the years to come.

Notably, the third wave of internet connectivity, whereby our physical world begins to merge with that of the internet, is upon us. This is evident in how widespread AI is being implemented across industries as well as in our homes with the use of automation solutions and bots like Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana. So much data is collected from the physical world every day and AI makes sense of it all.

Not only do new industries related to technology like AI open new career paths, such as those specialising in data science, but it will also modify those which already exist. 

So, what should matriculants be considering when deciding what route to take?

For highly academic individuals, who are exceptionally strong in mathematics, data science is definitely the way to go. There is, and will continue to be, massive demand internationally as well as locally, with Element-AI noting that there are only between 0 and 100 data scientists in South Africa, with the true number being closer to 0.

In terms of getting a foot in the door to become a successful data scientist, practical experience, working with an AI-focused business, is essential. Students should consider getting an internship while they are studying or going straight into an internship, learning on the job and taking specialist online courses from institutions like Stanford University and MIT as they go.

This career path is, however, limited to the highly academic and mathematically gifted, but the technology is inevitably going to overlap with all other professions and so, those who are looking to begin their careers should take note of which skills will be in demand in future, versus which will be made redundant by AI.

In the next few years, technicians who are able to install and maintain new technology will be highly sought after. On the other hand, many entry level jobs will likely be taken care of by AI – from the slicing and dicing currently done by assistant chefs, to the laying of bricks by labourers in the building sector.

As a rule, students should be looking at the skills required for the job one step up from an entry level position and working towards developing these. Those training to be journalists, for instance, should work towards the skill level of an editor and a bookkeeping trainee, the role of financial consultant.

This also means that new workforce entrants should be prepared to walk into a more demanding role, with more responsibility, than perhaps previously anticipated and that the country’s education and training system should adapt to the shift in required skills.

The matric classes of 2018 have completed their schooling in the information age and we should be equipping them, and future generations, for the future market – AI is central to this.

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