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Mobility demands more storage

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The evolution of mobile devices means that employees are able to work anywhere they want. However, this has led to the need for suitable storage solutions, additional capacity and adequate backup and protection, writes ANAMIKA BUDREE.

The evolution and proliferation of a vast array of mobile devices has resulted in the ‘mobile warrior’ becoming the stalwart of many businesses. From large multinationals with branch offices in multiple regions, to local entrepreneurs with their own business who visit their clients personally, the ability to work on the go has dramatically changed the business world. Thanks to compact and efficient devices like laptop, smartphones and tablets, these ‘mobile warriors’ are empowered to work from any location, at any time. In addition, always-on connectivity has created a new brand of consumer who is always online at the touch of a button, with access to a world of information at their fingertips. The mobility megatrend, while it offers numerous benefits, has highlighted the need for suitable storage solutions, both for additional capacity and for adequate data backup and protection.

One of the biggest challenges with compact mobile devices is that they feature limited on board storage capacity. In a world where digital content creation is exploding, this can be problematic. In addition, the connected digital realm also leads to other content-related requirements. Working across multiple devices means users want to be able to access the same information and documentation from each device with consolidated and synchronised content. Consumers too wish to be able to access and share all of their content with ease, no matter where they are. Furthermore, mobile devices are highly susceptible to theft and accidental damage, which makes effective backup and data protection critical.

One of the simplest storage solutions for some of these challenges is direct-attached storage (DAS), also known as the external hard drive. This is often the most basic and affordable option to help expand storage capacity as well as provide a solution for data backup. DAS solutions are available as desktop hard drives which require an external power source, as well as portable solutions that are more compact and are powered through a USB port on a computer. Many solutions also offer automatic backup software to take away the chore of doing this manually, which adds an element of convenience.

In a connected world, however, simply expanding capacity or providing a basic backup solution is no longer enough. Many users need to centralise their storage to enable their files to be shared and accessed remotely. While consumers have turned to the public cloud to provide a solution. Personal cloud solutions offer the ideal alternative. These solutions consist of an external hard drive that also includes the ability to create your own cloud. Compared to a DAS drive, you do not need to carry it around with you, and they can be accessed by multiple devices including laptops, smartphones and tablets.  Users therefore benefit from having all of their content easily sorted by folder in a central location that is completely in their control and allows them to access and share this content anywhere.

Network-attached storage (NAS) solutions are another option ideal for small to medium enterprises (SME) and even consumers with high storage capacity requirements. These solutions, which were previously only available to large enterprises, have begun to emerge in the smaller business and consumer market at an affordable price. The enclosures contain a number of hard drive bays, typically between one and four for the SMB market, which can be populated with purpose-built hard drives of capacities up to 6 TB each. This offers up to 24 TB of centralised storage capacity. In addition, NAS solutions can be configured in a variety of formats including RAID, which offers additional data protection and redundancy. NAS also enables a level of sharing and access through file server functionality.

The growing need for a variety of storage solutions presents a significant opportunity for resellers to think out of the box. For example, any business that needs notebooks and servers could benefit from NAS in order to provide not only storage server functionality but also the ability to centralise and consolidate content storage, provide additional data redundancy and offer an element of data sharing. Prosumers like photographers or other users with large storage requirements and the need for data redundancy would also benefit from NAS solutions. Laptops users may benefit from portable DAS solutions to provide additional storage capacity on the move. For both consumer and business customers, personal cloud solutions enable content consolidation, sharing and access across multiple devices, including smartphones and tablets.

In addition, resellers can cross sell solutions such as backup software. They are also in an ideal position to help to educate the market on the requirement for consolidated storage, additional storage capacity and the need for backup and data protection. This in turn will help them to become a trusted partner and advisor and a provider of complete solutions for business and consumer needs.

Note: External hard drives serve as an element of an overall backup strategy. It is recommended that users keep two or more copies of their most important files backed up or stored on separate devices or online services. Features, apps, and services are subject to change and may not be available depending on where you live, your service provider, device, or software version. Network connectivity, and a data service contract may be required to use certain features. A service contract may be required; fees and other restrictions may apply.

* Anamika Budree is a Sales Manager in Western Digital’s South Africa office. Any views or opinions presented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the company.

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Online retail gets real

After decades of experience in selling online, retailers still seek out the secret of reaching the digital consumer, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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It’s been 23 years since the first pizza and the first bunch of flowers was sold online. One would think, after all this time, that retailers would know exactly what works, and exactly how the digital consumer thinks.

Yet, in shopping-mad South Africa, only 4% of adults regularly shop online. One could blame high data costs, low levels of tech-savviness, or lack of trust. However, that doesn’t explain why a population where more than a quarter of people have a debit or credit card and almost 40% of people use the Internet is staying away.

The new Online Retail in South Africa 2019 study, conducted by World Wide Worx with the support of Visa and Platinum Seed, reveals that growth is in fact healthy, but is still coming off a low base. This year, the total sale of retail products online is expected to pass the R14-billion mark, making up 1.4% of total retail.

This figure represents 25% growth over 2017, and comes after the same rate of growth was seen in 2017. At this rate, it is clear that online retail is going mainstream, driven by aggressive marketing, and new shopping channels like mobile shopping. 

But it is equally clear that not all retailers are getting it right. According to the study, the unwillingness of business to reinvest revenue in developing their online presence is one of the main barriers to long-term success. Only one in five companies surveyed invested more than 20% of their online turnover back into their online store. Over half invested less than 10% back.

On the surface, the industry looks healthy, as a surprisingly high 71% of online retailers surveyed say they are profitable. But this brings to mind the early days of Amazon.com, in 1996, when founder Jeff Bezos was asked when it would become profitable.

He declared that it would not be profitable for at least another five years. And if it did, he said, it would be in big trouble. He meant that it was so important for long-term sustainability that Amazon reinvest all its revenues in customer systems, that it could not afford to look for short-term profits.

According to the South African study, the single most critical factor in the success of online retail activities is customer service. A vast majority, 98% of respondents, regarded it as important. This positions customer service as the very heart of online retail. For Amazon, investment back into systems that would streamline customer service became the key to the world’s digital wallets.

In South Africa online still make up a small proportion of overall retail, but for the first time we see the promise of a broader range of businesses in terms of category, size, turnover and employee numbers. This is a sign that our local market is beginning to mature. 

Clothing and apparel is the fastest growing sector, but is also the sector with the highest turnover of businesses. It illustrates the dangers of a low barrier to entry: the survival rate of online stores in this sector is probably directly opposite to the ease of setting up an online apparel store.

A fast-growing category that was fairly low on the agenda in the past, alcohol, tobacco and vaping, has benefited from the increased online supply of vapes, juices and accessories. It also suggests that smoking bans, and the change in the legal status of marijuana during the survey, may have boosted demand. 

In the coming weeks, we can expect online retail to fall under the spotlight as never before. Black Friday, a shopping tradition imported “wholesale” from the United States, is expected to become the biggest online shopping day of the year in South Africa, as it is in the USA.

Initially, it was just a gimmick in South Africa, attempting to cash in on what was a purely American tradition of insane sales on the Friday after Thanksgiving Day, which occurs on the third Thursday of November every year. It is followed by Cyber Monday, making the entire weekend one of major promotions and great bargains.

It has grown every year in South Africa since its first introduction about six years ago, and last year it broke into the mainstream, with numerous high profile retailers embracing it, and many consumers experiencing it for the first time. 

It is now positioned as the prime bargain day of the year for consumers, and many wait in anticipation for it, as they do in the USA. Along with Cyber Monday, it provides an excuse for retailers to go all out in their marketing, and for consumers to storm the display shelves or web pages. South African shoppers, clearly, are easily enticed by bargains.

Word of mouth around Black Friday has also grown massively in the past two years, driven by both media and shoppers who have found ridiculous bargains. As news spreads that the most ridiculous of the bargains are to be had online, even those who were reticent of digital shopping will be tempted to convert.

The Online Retail in SA 2019 report has shown over the years that, as people become more experienced in using the Internet, their propensity to shop online increases. This is part of the World Wide Worx model known as the Digital Participation Curve. The key missing factor in the Curve is that most retailers do not know how to convert that propensity into actual online shopping behaviour. Black Friday will be one of the keys to conversion.

Carry on reading to find out about the online retailers of the year.

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Reliable satellite Internet?

MzansiSat, a satellite-Internet business, aims to beam Internet connections to places in South Africa which don’t have access to cabled and mobile network infrastructure, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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Stellenbosch-based MzansiSat promises to provide cheap wholesale Internet to Internet Service Providers for as little as R25 per Gigabyte. Providers who offer more expensive Internet services could benefit greatly from partnering with MzansiSat, says the company. 

“Using MzansiSat, we hope that we can carry over cost-savings benefits to the consumer,” says Victor Stephanopoli, MzansiSat chief operating officer.

The company, which has been spun off from StellSat, has been looking to increase its investor portfolio while it waits for spectrum approval. The additional investment will allow MzansiSat’s satellite to operate in more regions across Africa.

The MzansiSat satellite is being built by Thales Alenia Space, a French company which is also acting as technical partner to MzansiSat. In addition to building the satellite, Thales Alenia Space will also be assisting MzansiSat in coordinating the launch. The company intends to launch the satellite into the 56°E orbital slot in a geostationary orbit, which enables communication almost anywhere in Africa. The launch is expected to happen in 2022. 

The satellite will have 76 transponders, 48 of which will be Ku-band and 28 C-band. Ku-band is all about high-speed performance, while C-band deals with weather-resistance. The design intention is for customers of MzansiSat to choose between very cheap, reliable data and very fast, power-efficient data. 

C-band is an older technology, which makes bandwidth cheaper and almost never affected by rain but requires bigger dishes and slower bandwidth compared to Ku-band connections. On the other hand, Ku-band is faster, experiences less microwave interference, and requires less power to run – but is less reliable with bad weather conditions.

MzansiSat’s potential military applications are significant, due to the nature of the military being mobile and possibly in remote areas without connectivity.  Connectivity everywhere would be potentially be life-saving.

Consumers in remote areas will benefit, even though satellite is higher in latency than fibre and LTE connections. While this level of latency is high (a fifth of a second in theory), satellite connections are still adequate for browsing the Internet and watching online content. 

The Internet of Things (IoT) may see the benefits of satellite Internet before consumers do. The applications of IoT in agriculture are vast, from hydration sensors to soil nutrient testers, and can be realised with an Internet connection which is available in a remote area.

Stephanopoli says that e-learning in remote areas can also benefit from MzansiSat’s presence, as many school resources are becoming readily available online. 

“Through our network, the learning experience can be beamed into classrooms across the country to substitute or complement local resources within the South African schooling system.”

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