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Re-purpose IT for innovation

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Businesses that move towards hyperconverged solutions are most likely to close the skills gap, release big data and drive innovation, according to a new research report by VCE, the converged platforms division of EMC.

Hyperconverged solutions represent the significant shift from companies laboriously buying and building servers to purchasing deployment-ready end-to-end systems that include all the aspects of a datacentre-ready server: connectivity, security, management, storage and virtualisation.

The move to converged infrastructure will help traditional IT departments to be re-purposed into business-savvy units that drive customer satisfaction, says Barry Cashman, EMEA VP for VCE.

VCE surveyed more than 2,700 business and IT professionals in Europe, the Middle East and Africa and came up with an extensive report detailing the current IT landscape. The report is entitled “Endangered IT: IT needs to reclaim technology or lose its voice forever.”

Cashman says the research clearly revealed what IT teams are worried about; what they are prioritising this year and where the opportunities are. It generally paints a picture of organisations where IT departments and the rest of the business are often not on the same page on a range of issues.

“The message of the report is simple: In a rapidly shifting IT landscape, businesses that manage to build cohesive digital systems that pull together all departments into rendering a single, customer-focused service, stand to benefit greatly. That is, if they stop building infrastructure as they always have, and instead invest in buying hyperconverged solutions that will ease their transition.”

Cashman says the fact that most businesses are increasingly focused on their ability to manage and extract value from the data generated in the process of selling products, rather than the products themselves, is a good thing.

“For example, 80% of those surveyed feel that implementing a more advanced and agile IT infrastructure would reduce risk and complexity and provide a solid platform for future growth.  Nearly half are already training IT professionals in skills, including converged infrastructure, cloud computing and business skills.”

Cashman adds that IT needs to learn the language of business just as the rest of the business needs to learn the language of technology.

VCE suggests – and 80% of respondents agree – a scaleable, flexible, converged infrastructure would reduce risk by providing a solid foundation for business growth and innovation. “Of course, to maintain full control over the transition, CIOs need to stop spending so much time building and managing different infrastructure components.

“It’s no longer enough to just keep the lights on. Instead, they need to transform IT into an efficient, business-focused engine that can scale rapidly in response to changing business needs. This demands a modern datacentre, one that revolves around robust, software-defined, converged infrastructure. Convergence can power more agile development and increased speed to market, addressing directly some of the top IT challenges identified.”

To remain competitive in the future, the business needs to focus on developing and releasing new, value-added products and services. This means that IT needs to be free to focus on meeting business goals, and a converged infrastructure is what will enable it to do so.

The growing need for new tech

However, according to the report 68% of CIOs currently see IT in the traditional sense as a barrier to innovation. Almost two-thirds of CIOs felt that the IT team was losing its grip on the technology that is held and used across the business. The more technology is embedded, the more traditional IT becomes marginalised, a phenomenon the report calls ‘invisible IT’, not shadow IT. Cashman says power is shifting away from IT, in that ideas are being implemented there, rather than germinating there.

“They fear that this could lead to IT inhibiting, rather than enabling innovation if they do not have the right infrastructure or tools. This lack of preparation for current technological shifts could result in their businesses losing all relevance within the next three years, as their likely future competitors will be agile organisations that do not even exist yet. After all, it’s not surprising to feel out of your depth when you’re working against invisible competitors.”

In addition, many CIOs and business leaders voiced concern that they felt ill-prepared for the technological shifts taking place in the economy. Many are worried that business growth may expose their IT teams as under-prepared (68%) and may put excessive pressure on existing IT operations, damaging customer satisfaction and brand reputation (69%).

They agreed that a new infrastructure and a fresh skills set in their IT departments are needed to meet long-term needs, as technology becomes embedded across the business. But most felt they were not progressing sufficiently. This could be because all these divisions often don’t speak to each other, says Cashman.

“Even when they do, they talk in a completely different set of languages. The storage individual doesn’t understand the network perspective, and the network person doesn’t understand the server person’s problem. The languages they use are embedded in the technologies they have ownership of. CIOs are isolated both from their C-suite colleagues and from their own IT teams, sometimes lacking faith in the ability of IT professionals and infrastructure to meet emerging business needs.”

As challenging as it might be, businesses have to evolve their traditional IT infrastructure and culture to meet the challenges of big data, operational complexity and real-time business.

“Business leaders can help the IT function adapt, professionally and culturally, to the concept of IT infrastructure as an advanced, on-demand utility it can use rather than manage; something to buy rather than build. IT also needs to adapt to becoming a multi-disciplinary function, able to quickly respond to the challenges of releasing value from big data,” says Cashman.

“The time that a converged solution will save, will release IT professionals to share their expertise across the business; listening, understanding and enabling. This is the key to reclaiming IT relevance.” Cashman says IT tends to have a “build it yourself” mentality whereas business leaders “are more comfortable acquiring the building blocks for IT.”

Businesses need “cloud people”

Cashman says converged infrastructure would facilitate the re-positioning of staff in IT departments. “Before, you had a server team, a network team and a storage team. Ultimately, actually, instead of three people you need one cloud architect who is trained across all three. So there’s two jobs released.

“There are two ways of looking at this. You lay the two jobs off, or you retrain say the server administrator as the cloud administrator across the whole piece and the other two people you repurpose above the infrastructure line, up to the application line, to interact with the businesses, understand what they want and then move forward with the businesses. You need cloud people rather than siloed experts. At VCE we are increasingly asking our people to sit across various roles. For example, storage guys broadening around converged infrastructure and also software. We recognise the economics of retraining and we think our customers will too.”

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Epic Games brings a
Nite-mare to Android

Epic Games’ decision to not publish games through Google Play inadvertently opens a market to Android virus makers, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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Epic Games, the creator of Fortnite, decided to take the high road by skipping Google Play’s app distribution market and placing a third-party installer for its games on its website. While this is technically fine, it is not recommended for the average user, because allowing third-party installers on one’s smartphone opens up the possibility of non-signed and malicious software to be run on the smartphone. 

In June, malware researchers at ESET warned Android gamers that malicious fake versions of the Fortnite app had been created to steal personal information or damage smartphones. A malware researcher demonstrated how the fake applications works in the Tweet below.

While the decision to bypass Google Play was a bold move on Epic Games’ part, it has been a long time coming for app developers to move their premium apps off Google’s Play Store. The two major app distributors, Google Play and Apple’s App Store, take a 30% cut of every purchase made through their app distribution platforms. 

The App Store is currently the only way to get apps on a non-modified iOS device, which is why Epic Games had no choice for Fortnite to be in the App Store. On the other hand, Android phones can install packages downloaded through the browser, which makes the Play Store almost unnecessary for the gaming company. 

The most interesting part of this development is that Google is not the “bad guy” and Epic Games is no saviour to other game developers. Epic Games is a company with a multi-billion dollar valuation and has resources like large-scale servers to distribute and update its games, a big marketing budget to ensure everyone knows how to get its games, and server security to protect against malware. 

Resources of this scale allow the game company to turn a cold shoulder to Google’s Play Store distribution and focus on its own, in-house solution. 

That said, installing packages without the Google Play Store must be done carefully, and it is essential to do homework on where a package is downloaded. Moreover, when a package is installed outside of the Google Play Store, a security switch to block the installation of third party apps must be turned off. This switch should be turned back on immediately after the third party package is installed. 

This complex amount of steps makes it less worthwhile to install third party apps, in favour of rather waiting for them to reach the Play Store.

From a consumer perspective, ESET recommends not installing packages outside of the Google Play Store and to ignore advertisements to download the game from other sources.

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How to take on IoT

The Internet of Things (IoT) is coming, whether you like it or not and organisations today will look to platforms and services that help them manage and analyse the streams of data coming from connected devices, says RONALD RAVEL, Director B2B South Africa, Toshiba South Africa.

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Today, we are witnessing an explosion in IoT deployments and solutions and are moving towards a world where almost everything you can imagine will be connected. While this opens the door to many possibilities it also comes with its own challenges such as privacy and security.

The Internet has become an integral part of everyday life; it has been a free for all on a daily basis. IoT is a difficult concept for many people to wrap their minds around. Essentially, nearly every business will be affected.

Managing vast quantities of data across increasingly mobile workforces can be tremendously beneficial if done well, but equally can be cumbersome and ineffective if not managed properly. This is why technologies such as mobile edge computing are becoming increasingly popular, helping to increase the prevalence of secure mobile working and data management in the age of IoT.

Unlocking IoT

The evolution of IoT, despite rapid and ongoing technological innovation, is still very much in its fledgling stages. Its potential, though, is demonstrated by the fact that by 2020, Bain anticipates a significant shift in uptake, with roughly 80 per cent of adoptions at that point to have progressed to the stage of either ‘proof of concept’ or extensive implementation. This means that technological innovation in IoT for the enterprise is progressing at a similarly fast rate with many of these solutions being developed with utilities, engineering, manufacturing and logistics companies in mind.

Processing at the edge

For IoT to be adopted at the rate predicted, technology which does not overwhelm current or even legacy systems must be implemented. Mobile edge computing solves this. Such solutions offer processing power at the edge of the network, helping firms with a high proportion of mobile workers to reduce operational strain and latency by processing the most critical data at the edge and close to its originating source. Relevant data can then be sent to the cloud for observation and analysis, thereby reducing the waves of ‘data garbage’ which has to be processed by cloud services.

A logistics manager can feasibly monitor and analyse the efficiency of warehouse operations, for example, with important data calculations carried out in real-time, on location, and key data findings then sent to the cloud for centrally-located data scientists to analyse.

The work of wearables

The potential of IoT means it not only has the scope to change the way people work, but also where they work. While widespread mobile working is a relatively new trend in industries such as banking and professional services, for CIOs in sectors where working on the move is inherent – such as logistics and field maintenance – mobility is high on the agenda.

Wearables – and specifically smart glasses – have started to gain traction within the business world. With mobile edge computing solutions acting as the gateway, smart glasses such as Toshiba’s assisted reality AR 100 viewer solution have been designed to benefit frontline and field-based workers in industries such as utilities, manufacturing and logistics. In the renewable energy sector, for example, a wind turbine engineer conducting repairs may use assisted reality smart glasses to call up the schematics of the turbine to enable a hands-free view of service procedures. This means that when a fault becomes a barrier to repair, the engineer is able to use collaboration software to call for assistance from a remote expert and have additional information sent through, thereby saving time and money by eradicating the need for extra personnel to be sent to the site.

The time is ripe for organisations to look to exploit the age of IoT to improve the productivity and safety of their workers, as well as the end service delivered to customers. In fact, Toshiba’s recent ‘Maximising Mobility’ report found that 49 per cent of organisations believe their sector can benefit from the hands-free functionality of smart glasses, while 47 per cent expect them to deliver improved mobile working and 41 per cent foresee better collaboration and information sharing. Embracing IoT technologies such as mobile edge computing and wearable solutions will be an essential step for many organisations within these verticals as they look to stay on top of 21st century working challenges.

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