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Meeting the challenge of branch office IT

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50 per cent of corporate data is stored in branch offices, creating an insecure and complex network of distributed servers and storage. WIMPIE VAN RENSBURG explains how Riverbed’s Zero Branch IT support helps companies consolidate their data.

The lifeblood of many companies today depends on branch offices. Whether these are remote sites, retail outlets or manufacturing plants, they must be agile and able to quickly respond to the business’s ever-changing needs. But too often, branch offices operate as independent data centres which are difficult to support and protect. Consequently, services outages and data loss are a common occurrence, leading to productivity issues including missed sales opportunities, customer churn, assembly-line stoppage and ultimately, lost revenues.

How can businesses efficiently address their branch office needs? The solution is to take a completely new approach to branch office IT which will improve system performance and resiliency, ensure reliable data backups, and greatly reduce operating expenses, particularly as more companies adopt a hybrid enterprise IT infrastructure that combines on-premises and cloud or SaaS-based applications and services. By implementing a “Zero Branch IT” model, businesses will no longer install new equipment and assign additional on-site support at each location. Instead, they will centralise data without compromising performance, while enabling instant provisioning of new applications and services at remove locations and branches, as well as making instant recovery of applications and services a reality.

The challenges of outdated branch IT

A recent Riverbed report found that that 50 per cent of corporate data is stored in branch offices and that branch offices represent 50 per cent of an average company’s total IT budget. This creates an insecure and complex network of distributed servers and storage deployed solely to meet local performance and reliability needs.

In other words, half of today’s IT organisations are using outdated methods of operation, forcing branches to subsist on decentralised, ad hoc, and rigid legacy infrastructures. In addition to being costly and complex to manage, outdated infrastructures limit IT’s ability to proactively respond to businesses’ ever-changing needs, prevent security breaches, and recover from unplanned outages.

How Zero Branch IT supports wider business goals

Though CIOs are expected to play a central role in driving business objectives, few organisations take into account the IT challenges involved in rolling out new services across all branch locations, such as WAN constrictions, security concerns, and minimal staff. Disorganised, legacy branch infrastructures are costly to both the business and to the IT department, making even the smallest propositions a worrisome task- and making it harder for the CIO to support the business.

As an alternative, CIOs can implement a Zero Branch IT model which will address the needs of the IT department as well as those of the organisation as a whole. To better understand this new model, IT can imagine the branch as a smartphone – a simple device, fully equipped with applications and high-speed access to data over the cellular network or the Internet. When buying a smartphone, mobile providers just provide the device itself, not a rucksack full of application servers, storage, and backup infrastructure users must also carry and maintain.

Branch offices and other remote sites can operate in a similar way. Taking a new approach to branch IT enables the CIO to manage everything inside a secure, central data centre and deliver performance out to the branches. The result will be an almost non-existent IT infrastructure footprint with no remote servers, storage racks or backup and recovery systems.

The benefits of optimising the network

Gartner describes the average WAN optimisation system as a deployment of appliances at the central data centre and in each branch office, though an additional option is to deploy appliances as virtual machines or as a cloud resident service. For mobile or remote users, WAN optimisation can be deployed as a soft client that runs on individual user devices.

As wide area networks (WANs) are notoriously unreliable and do not offer protection against the creation of localised pockets of systems and information stores, Zero Branch IT requires tools that enable the convergence of IT systems and applications with WAN optimisation technologies. This will offer local LAN performance, bringing data back to the data centre, while maintaining application performance at all branch offices.

The most recent Gartner Magic Quadrant for WAN Optimisation conveys that WAN optimisation technologies can provide a range of features that improve application performance running across the entire WAN, and reduce the overall cost of the WAN. Gartner describes the typical WAN optimisation setup as a deployment of appliances at the central data centre and in each branch office. Another option is to deploy the appliances as virtual machines or as a cloud resident service. For mobile or remote users, WAN optimisation can be deployed as a soft client that runs on individual user devices.

Businesses can cut their branch IT costs by eliminating the need to purchase, maintain and protect servers, storage and backup systems in branch offices. Additionally, by using a centralised infrastructure managed via a single console or dashboard, IT can achieve greater visibility and control over the network, so as to quickly and easily redeploy, upgrade, move, or migrate systems, applications and services to accommodate the opening of new branch offices.

Using new technologies, IT can store and protect sensitive data in a centralised, strictly controlled location, with stringent backup and replication policies. Using specialised applications, businesses can easily access that information in an agile way. They can therefore deploy new services, applications, or entirely new branch sites while ensuring maximum productivity of branch staff.

New tools also enable real-time continuous data capture and analysis so that companies can view network delays, providing speed, insight and control no matter where data is stored. As a result, businesses will experience far fewer instances of system outages, slow application performance and downtime, making it easier for employees to work anyplace, anytime, using an ever-increasing selection of work-issued and personal computing devices, including laptops, smartphones and tablets.

By taking a new approach to branch IT, businesses can bring disparate systems and applications to the data centre manned by the full-time IT team, driving tangible economic benefits, including efficiencies of scale, improved employee productivity and the ability for all remote offices to share expensive backend solutions. A Zero Branch IT approach enables today’s organisations to leverage IT strategies such as branch converged infrastructure, storage delivery, virtualisation and WAN optimisation to address the unique needs of branch offices, all while delivering better business performance overall.

* Wimpie van Rensburg, Country Manager of Sub Saharan Africa at Riverbed Technology.

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Low-cost wireless sport earphones get a kickstart

Wireless earphone brands are common, but not crowdfunded brands. BRYAN TURNER takes the K Sport Wireless for a run.

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As wireless technology becomes better, Bluetooth earphones have become popular in the consumer market. KuaiFit aspires to make them even more accessible to more people through a cheaper, quality product, by selling the K Sport Wireless Earphones directly from its Kickstarter page

KuaiFit has an app by the same name which offers voice-guided personal training services in almost every type of exercise, from cardio to weight-lifting. A vast range of connectivity to third-party sensors is available, like heart rate sensors and GPS devices, which work well with guided coaching. 

The app starts off with selecting a fitness level: beginner, intermediate and advanced. Thereafter, one has the ability to connect with real personal trainers via a subscription to its paid service. The subscription comes free for 6 months with the earphones, and R30 per month thereafter. 

The box includes a manual, a USB to two USB Type B connectors, different sized soft plastic eartips and the two earphone units. Each earphone is wireless and connects to the other independently of wires. This puts the K Sport Wireless in the realm of the Apple Earpods in terms of connection style. 

The earphones are just over 2cm wide and 2cm high. The set is black with a light blue KuaiFit logo on the earphone’s button. 

The button functions as an on/off switch when long-pressed and a play/pause button when quick-pressed. The dual-button set-up is convenient in everyday use, allowing for playback control depending on which hand is free. Two connectivity modes are available, single earphone mode or dual earphone mode. The dual earphone mode intelligently connects the second earphone and syncs stereo audio a few seconds after powering on. 

In terms of connectivity, the earphones are Bluetooth 4.1 with a massive 10-meter range, provided there are no obstacles between the device and the earphones. While it’s not Bluetooth 5, it still falls into the Bluetooth Low Energy connection category, meaning that the smartphone’s battery won’t be drastically affected by a consistent connection to the earphones. The batteries within the earphones aren’t specifically listed but last anywhere between 3 and 6 hours, depending on the mode. 

Audio quality is surprisingly good for earphones at this price point. The headset style is restricted to in-ear due to its small design and probable usage in movement-intensive activities. As a result, one has to be very careful how one puts these earphones, in because bass has the potential of getting reduced from an incorrect in-ear placement. In-ear earphones are usually notorious for ear discomfort and suction pain after extended usage. These earphones are one of the very few in this price range that are comfortable and don’t cause discomfort. The good quality of the soft plastic ear tip is definitely a factor in the high level of comfort of the in-ear earphone experience.

Overall, the K Sport Wireless earphones are great considering the sound quality and the low price: US$30 on Kickstarter.

Find them on Kickstarter here.

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Taxify enters Google Maps

A recent update to Taxify now uses Google Maps which allows users to identify their drivers, find public transport and search for billing options.

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People planning their travel routes using Google Maps will now see a Taxify icon in the app, in addition to the familiar car, public transport, walking and billing options.

Taxify started operating in South Africa in 2016 and as of October 2018 operates in seven South African cities – Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, Tshwane, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Polokwane.

Once riders have searched for their destination and asked the app for directions, Google Maps shares the proximity of cars on the Taxify platform, as well as an estimated fare for the trip.

If users see that taking the Taxify option is their best bet, they can simply tap on the ‘Open app’ icon, to complete the process of booking the ride. Customers without the app on their device will be prompted to install Taxify first.

This integration makes it possible for users to evaluate which of the private, public or e-hailing modes of transport are most time-efficient and cost-effective.

“This integration with Google Maps makes it so much easier for users to choose the best way to move around their city,” says Gareth Taylor, Taxify’s country manager for South Africa. “They’ll have quick comparisons between estimated arrival times for the different modes of transport, as well as fares they can expect to pay, which will help save both time and money,” he added.

Taxify rides in Google Maps are rolling out globally today and will be available in more than 15 countries, with South Africa being one of the first countries to benefit from this convenient service.

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