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IoT demands innovation

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2016 looks to be the year that the Internet of Things hits the market big time. But, says NEIL SHOLAY, Head of Oracle Digital for EMEA, in order for it to live up to its promise, it is essential that developers can can create innovative applications.

2016 looks set to be the year that the Internet of Things (IoT) hits the big time. We’ve already seen a range of new IoT services come to market. Take Samsung’s smart fridge, which launched at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas; this connected cooler allows people to check in on the contents of their fridge via their smartphones, and even helps them to plan healthier eating regimes for their families. Connected cars were also a big theme at CES, with the likes of Bosch launching new sensors and devices to help enable automated driving. As anyone following Google knows, soon we’ll see completely driverless cars on the road, which use the IoT to help them navigate and avoid collisions.

IoT matters to consumers and it matters – or at least it should matter – to businesses. IoT can help brands build stronger customer relationships so mere products are elevated to compelling experiences. As pointed out in this article, the genius thing about Samsung’s smart fridge, for example, is not so much the fridge itself, but that it interacts with Samsung’s phone – building a wider brand awareness and relationship with the customer. In the digital age, IoT is absolutely essential to delivering expecptional customer experiences. This is a critical time for IoT, one where the technology is poised to take a central role in our home and work lives.

As such, it’s important to keep in mind the key factor in its success: application innovation. IoT isn’t just about adding ‘intelligence’ and sensors to devices; it’s about creating innovative applications that make use of this technology to deliver value. Businesses must therefore be able to experiment with IoT applications in a low-cost, low risk environment. After all, you can have all the embedded sensors in the world, but they’re useless without value-add applications that integrate IoT data with all relevant enterprise systems.

There’s only one way of addressing this need and that’s through the cloud; specifically: Cloud Platforms. A Cloud Platform enables application developers to rapidly build and test IoT applications in the cloud. This approach greatly lowers the cost and time associated with developing such applications, as developers can use the pre-configured development tools delivered through the platform. Costs are further lowered, as developers need only use the database, storage and compute resources sufficient to their requirements; whereas in the past, developers would need to build a unique development environment for each and every application – a time consuming and costly process.

The result of all this, is that developers are free to experiment; they can try out IoT applications within the cloud to see if they generate real value – whether that is through improving business efficiency or creating a new service for customers. If the applications prove successful, then the Cloud Platform allows them to immediately scale it up by increasing the resources dedicated to the application, or, if more appropriate, by moving the application to the businesses’ on-premises systems.

Cloud Platforms therefore enable businesses to be more agile with their application development, and this will prove crucial in helping them develop truly innovative IoT applications that deliver a competitive edge. One of the reasons that Cloud Platforms are so successful in this regard is that it enables complete data integration across the business. Through Cloud Platforms, businesses can take all their new IoT data, as well as any other relevant data from existing sources (CRM, Sales and Marketing systems for example, or even unstructured data from social media platforms) bring it together and make it available to the enterprise applications that need it. In this respect it’s the glue that binds enterprise data together, and helps turn mere IoT sensor data into something that can be used by an application to add value.

For example, energy providers are increasingly installing smart meters into people’s homes to monitor how they use energy. Now this data on its own is fairly useless, but when combined with other sources of data from within the enterprise it enables a variety of value-add services: customer smartphone apps for example, that can use the data to show them how to save energy; energy suppliers meanwhile can aggregate the data with that of other customers to show them where their network pinch points are; the utility can use the data to launch new tariff plans to help them manage demand on the network; the list could go on…

As we move into the new IoT-enabled world it is clear that businesses need to innovate and integrate to succeed. If you would like to find out more on how Cloud Platforms can help your business meet these goals, you can download our PaaS guide.

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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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