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War on storage waste begins in Las Vegas

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It’s one of the great ironies of technology that, as computer storage becomes cheaper, companies spend more on it. That’s about to change, ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK writes from Las Vegas.

Everything is bigger in Las Vegas, so there is a double irony in the news that the world’s leading computer storage company, EMC Corporation, chose its annual conference in this ostentatious city to declare war on what we may call storage ostentation.

At the opening of the EMC World conference yesterday, the company unveiled EMC Enterprise Copy Data Management (eCDM), which it describes as “new software that enables organisations to regain control of the spiraling costs of storing and managing multiple copies of the same data”.

That may sound technical, but it relates to a wasteful habit practised by almost anyone who ever saves a file on a computer. Because the cost of storage has plummeted in recent years, and no one thinks twice about saving space when saving files, the total cost of storage in organisations keeps going up.

EMC uses the term “snaps” to describe these lightweight and apparently zero-cost multiple copies of the same data. And it warns that the implications may not be felt in storage capacity in data centres, but will have a major impact on needless complexity and inefficiency. And that, in turn, carries a massive cost.

“Just as the ‘cc’ function in email can make it too easy to create data sprawl in the email inbox, unmonitored snaps can cause the same problem in the data center,” the company explained in a statement yesterday.

It quoted estimates by global analyst firm IDC that, by 2018, global businesses will waste $51-billion storing data on the wrong tier of storage, or storing data they no longer need. Because employees have to keep creating copies for anything from data protection to analytics, 82% of businesses now have at least 10 copies of any single instance of data.

As a direct response to the problem, eCDM was launched yesterday to streamline enterprises’ processes for monitoring, managing and analyzing such data.

“To modernise business processes, customers need a complete vision of all the data across the organization – no gaps, no silos, no misinformation,” said Beth Phalen, senior vice president of data protection and availability solutions in the Core Technologies division of EMC, yesterday.

“eCDM links together a complete picture of the copy data across a business from primary to protection storage, ensuring customers have the right copies of the right data in the right place. eCDM is the first product to bridge the gap between data protection and data management, addressing the pressing challenge of ensuring the right levels of protection while also addressing copy data sprawl; helping organisations dramatically reduce cost while increasing confidence that their data is protected consistently and completely.”

Then solution still allows “self-service” copy creation, but now brings governance to this generally overlooked corner of a company’s information management.

One of EMC’s clients presenting at the conference, First National Technology Solutions, which implements and manages large systems for major corporations, is one of the early users of the tool.

“We can now provide our customers with more insight into their data, empowering them to make informed decisions about what they’re storing and for how long,” says the company’s chief technology officer James O’Neil. “We expect this to help our customers to avoid data sprawl as well as monitoring protection compliance.”

And, of course, to control costs, and thus provide more competitive pricing.

The new software is one of a wide range of new products EMC is launching in Las Vegas, as it sets about reinventing not only storage, but also data centres that collectively host the cloud.

“The IT industry is in a state of massive transformation, resulting in both disruption and great opportunity,” said David Goulden, CEO of EMC’s Information Infrastructure division. “Every business leader, across every industry, is facing the dilemma of how to support and grow traditional IT infrastructure while modernising the data center in order to support the development of new applications and advance their digital agendas. Some are doing all of this simultaneously. The products and services announced today will help advance the customer’s journey to build a modern data center in order to thrive as a digital business.”

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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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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