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Microsoft opens two data centres in South Africa

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Data centres in Johannesburg and Cape Town mark the beginning of the software giant’s direct data presence across the continent.

Johannesburg, South Africa – Microsoft has announced it will deliver the complete, intelligent Microsoft Cloud for the first time from datacentres located in Africa. This new investment is a major milestone in the company’s mission to empower people and organisations, and a recognition of the enormous opportunity for digital transformation in Africa.

Expanding on existing investments, Microsoft will deliver cloud services, including Microsoft Azure, Office 365, and Dynamics 365, from datacentres located in Johannesburg and Cape Town, with initial availability anticipated in 2018. The new cloud regions will offer enterprise-grade reliability and performance combined with data residency to help enable the tremendous opportunity for economic growth, and increase access to cloud and internet services for organisations and people across the African continent.

“We’re excited by the growing demand for cloud services in Africa and their ability to be a catalyst for new economic opportunities,” said Scott Guthrie, executive vice president, Cloud and Enterprise Group, Microsoft. “With cloud services ranging from intelligent collaboration to predictive analytics, the Microsoft Cloud delivered from Africa will enable developers to build new and innovative apps, customers to transform their businesses, and governments to better serve the needs of their citizens.”

Currently many companies in Africa rely on cloud services delivered from outside of the continent. Microsoft’s new investment will provide highly available, scalable, and secure cloud services across Africa with the option of data residency in South Africa. With the introduction of these new cloud regions, Microsoft has now announced 40 regions around the world – more than any major cloud provider.  The combination of Microsoft’s global cloud infrastructure with the new regions in Africa will connect businesses with opportunity across the globe, help accelerate new investments, and improve access to cloud and internet services for people and organisations.

“We greatly value Microsoft’s commitment to invest in cloud services delivered from Africa. Standard Bank already relies on cloud technology to provide our customers with a seamless experience,” says Brenda Niehaus, group CIO at Standard Bank. “To achieve success as a business, we need to keep pace with market developments as well as customer needs, and Office 365 empowers us to make a culture shift towards becoming a more dynamic organisation, whilst Azure enables us to deliver our apps and services to our customers in Africa. We’re looking forward to achieving even more with the cloud services available here on the continent.”

Investing in African Innovation

Microsoft says this announcement expands on ongoing investments in Africa, where organisations are using currently available cloud and mobile services as a platform for innovation in health care, agriculture, education, and entrepreneurship.

Microsoft has been working to support local start-ups and NGOs, promising to unleash innovation that has the potential to solve some of the biggest problems facing humanity, such as the scarcity of water and food, and economic and environmental sustainability. One start-up, M-KOPA Solar, provides affordable pay-as-you-go solar energy to over 500,000 homes using mobile and cloud technology. AGIN has built an app connecting 140,000 smallholder farmers to key services, enabling them to share data and facilitating $1.3 million per month in finance, insurance and other services.

Across Africa, Microsoft has brought 728 000 small and mid-size enterprises (SMEs) online to help them transform and modernise their businesses, and over 500 000 are now utilising Microsoft cloud services, with 17 000 using the 4Afrika hub to promote and grow their businesses. The Microsoft Cloud is also helping Africans build job skills, with 775 000 trained on subjects ranging from digital literacy to software development. We anticipate the Microsoft Cloud from Africa will fuel extensive new opportunities for our 17000 regional partners and customers alike.

“This development broadens the options available to us in our modernisation journey of Government ICT infrastructure and services,” says Dr. Setumo Mohapi, CEO at SITA. “It allows us to take advantage of new opportunities to develop innovative government solutions at manageable costs, as well as drive overall improvements in operations management, while improving transparency and accountability.”

Jon Tullett, senior research manager, IDC MEA, says: “By establishing hyperscale cloud datacentre capacity in South Africa, Microsoft is directly addressing customers’ concerns, and demonstrating commitment to the delivery of cloud services within the country and the region as a whole. The presence of local facilities will be greatly encouraging to South African customers, particularly those in regulated industries such as financial services and the public sector where data sovereignty concerns are paramount. This is a strongly positive development for the cloud industry in Africa, and particularly Microsoft’s ecosystem of partners, ISVs and customers.”

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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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