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AI gives birth to next generation of data centres

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By Ian Jansen van Rensburg, VMware EMEA Senior Systems Engineer

The Rise of AI

Artificial intelligence has rapidly become a leading driver of innovation, creating competitive advantages and new business opportunities. The proliferation of data is enabling breakthroughs across disparate industries, from transportation and healthcare to energy and communications. However, one of the most profound AI-mediated transformations will occur within the world of enterprise technology.

Based on our extensive experience within the enterprise tech stack, we see three core factors that have created the perfect storm fueling today’s AI innovation:

1.    Compute (The Need for Speed): From CPUs and GPUs through FPGAs and ASICs, computing resources have made incredible progress in the past few years, allowing us to process data more quickly, more broadly, and more deeply than ever before. In addition, new deployment channels (such as public cloud GPUs/ASICs) allow customers to balance Capex versus Opex in their AI initiatives.

2.    Algorithms (The Modern Day Equation): Algorithms are the theoretical foundation underlying machine learning and AI, from simple neural networks to more complicated recurrent and convolutional architectures. Many of these algorithms trace back decades — yet have only recently led to applied breakthroughs. This is partially due to the advances in Compute, but even more so, because of…

3.    Data (Data Is the New Oil): Machine learning techniques are famously data-inefficient, compared to humans. Many of the headline advances in AI performance, such as AlphaGo, are trained on enormous data sets that no human could see in an entire lifetime. Without sufficient training volume, machine learning techniques fail to reach acceptable performance levels. And as recently as a decade ago, the quantity of enterprise data available for machine learning was a tiny fraction of what is available today, from logs and metrics to traces and configuration events.

The AI Opportunity: Self-Optimizing Data Centers

This explosion of operational data is both a blessing and curse. In the current world of data center and cloud operations, companies are desperately trying to keep up with the flood of raw information, and falling further behind each year. The volume of data has outpaced currently available tools and platforms, placing an increasing burden on human operators – even feature developers – to keep up.

In fact, a recent report by EMA cites that an average of 30-40% of developer time is spent on production deployment, configuration, testing, debugging, and support challenges rather than feature development (Source: EMA blog – 3 Key Lessons from DockerCon 2018: Strategic Analysis of the Container Market Place). This operational ‘tax’ is unacceptable for firms in competitive industries where feature velocity is a key driver.

AI will allow companies to transform this operational burden into a strategic advantage. It will enable firms to move to a global operations model where they can leverage the deep value of their data, resulting in real-time insights that drive business value. AI will fill the void between operational complexity and operational capability. Some common uses where companies can leverage AI to improve their data centers include improved operational efficiencies, real-time cost-performance balancing, security, and even business metric optimization.

Don’t fight the data deluge – embrace it.

The increase in operational complexity won’t be slowing down anytime soon. The gap between human scale and machine scale continues to grow. Organizations that are not able to augment their data center, cloud, and edge computing strategies by adopting AI technologies will risk falling further behind. Conversely, organizations that are able to effectively leverage machine learning will build a significant competitive edge.

We envision a hybrid data center, cloud, and edge that is self-healing and self-optimizing, greatly reducing administrative overload and allowing firms to focus on strategic innovation and customer experience. We also believe that an AI-enabled infrastructure will deliver degrees of self-regulation well beyond today’s policy-based capabilities.

What Next?

Preparing your data center for the modern world is not a trivial task. Start by future-proofing your data center as groundwork for the AI-driven approaches that are coming around the corner. For example, on the control surface, that means adopting infrastructure-as-code (IAC) patterns, as well as intermediating legacy manual processes with APIs where possible. As for the data, consider implementing edge computing, which enables data gathering and analytics to occur near the source of the data. Companies should also invest in software-defined infrastructure as a key enabler of this process. Last, but certainly not least, explore a multi-cloud strategy to offer the most agility and flexibility to your IT infrastructure as you prepare for the high-velocity, machine-learning-driven future.

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Seedstars seeks tech to reverse land degradation in Africa

A new partnership is offering prizes to young entrepreneurs for coming up with innovations that tackle the loss of arable land in Africa.

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The DOEN Foundation has joined forces with Seedstars, an emerging market startup community, to launch the DOEN Land Restoration Prize, which showcases solutions to environmental, social and financial challenges that focus on land restoration activities in Africa. Stichting DOEN is a Dutch fund that supports green, socially-inclusive and creative initiatives that contribute to a better and cleaner world.

While land degradation and deforestation date back millennia, industrialization and a rising population have dramatically accelerated the process. Today we are seeing unprecedented land degradation, and the loss of arable land at 30 to 35 times the historical rate.

Currently, nearly two-thirds of Africa’s land is degraded, which hinders sustainable economic development and resilience to climate change. As a result, Africa has the largest restoration opportunity of any continent: more than 700 million hectares (1.7 billion acres) of degraded forest landscapes that can be restored. The potential benefits include improved food and water security, biodiversity protection, climate change resilience, and economic growth. Recognizing this opportunity, the African Union set an ambitious target to restore 100 million hectares of degraded land by 2030.

Land restoration is an urgent response to the poor management of land. Forest and landscape restoration is the process of reversing the degradation of soils, agricultural areas, forests, and watersheds thereby regaining their ecological functionality. According to the World Resources Institute, for every $1 invested in land restoration it can yield $7-$30 in benefits, and now is the time to prove it.

The winner of the challenge will be awarded 9 months access to the Seedstars Investment Readiness Program, the hybrid program challenging traditional acceleration models by creating a unique mix to improve startup performance and get them ready to secure investment. They will also access a 10K USD grant.

“Our current economic system does not meet the growing need to improve our society ecologically and socially,” says Saskia Werther, Program Manager at the DOEN Foundation. “The problems arising from this can be tackled only if a different economic system is considered. DOEN sees opportunities to contribute to this necessary change. After all, the world is changing rapidly and the outlines of a new economy are becoming increasingly clear. This new economy is circular and regenerative. Landscape restoration is a vital part of this regenerative economy and social entrepreneurs play an important role to establish innovative business models to counter land degradation and deforestation. Through this challenge, DOEN wants to highlight the work of early-stage restoration enterprises and inspire other frontrunners to follow suit.”

Applications are open now and will be accepted until October 15th. Startups can apply here: http://seedsta.rs/doen

To enter the competition, startups should meet the following criteria:

  • Existing startups/young companies with less than 4 years of existence
  • Startups that can adapt their current solution to the land restoration space
  • The startup must have a demonstrable product or service (Minimum Viable Product, MVP)
  • The startup needs to be scalable or have the potential to reach scalability in low resource areas.
  • The startup can show clear environmental impact (either by reducing a negative impact or creating a positive one)
  • The startup can show a clear social impact
  • Technology startups, tech-enabled startups and/or businesses that can show a clear innovation component (e.g. in their business model)

Also, a specific emphasis is laid, but not limited to: Finance the restoration of degraded land for production and/or conservation purposes; big data and technology to reverse land degradation; resource efficiency optimization technologies, ecosystems impacts reduction and lower carbon emissions; water-saving soil technologies; technologies focused on improving livelihoods and communities ; planning, management and education tools for land restoration; agriculture (with a focus on precision conservation) and agroforestry; clean Energy solutions that aid in the combat of land degradation; and responsible ecotourism that aids in the support of land restoration.

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The dark side of apps

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Mobile device security threats are on the rise and it’s not hard to see why. In 2019 the number of worldwide mobile phone users is forecast to reach 4.68 billion of which 2.7 billion are smartphone users. So, if you are looking for a target, it certainly makes sense to go where the numbers are. Think about it, unsecured Wi-Fi connections, network spoofing, phishing attacks, ransomware, spyware and improper session handling – mobile devices make for the perfect easy target. In fact, according to Kaspersky, mobile apps are often the cause of unintentional data leakage.

“Apps pose a real problem for mobile users, who give them sweeping permissions, but don’t always check security,” says Riaan Badenhorst, General Manager for Kaspersky in Africa. “These are typically free apps found in official app stores that perform as advertised, but also send personal – and potentially corporate – data to a remote server, where it is mined by advertisers or even cybercriminals. Data leakage can also happen through hostile enterprise-signed mobile apps. Here, mobile malware uses distribution code native to popular mobile operating systems like iOS and Android to spread valuable data across corporate networks without raising red flags.”

In fact, according to recent reports, 6 Android apps that were downloaded a staggering 90 million times from the Google Play Store were found to have been loaded with the PreAMo malware, while another recent threat saw 50 malware-filled apps on the Google Play Store infect over 30 million Android devices. Surveillance malware was also loaded onto fake versions of Android apps such as Evernote, Google Play and Skype.

Considering that as of 2019, Android users were able to choose between 2.46 million apps, while Apple users have almost 1.96 million app options to select from, and that the average person has 60-90 apps installed on their phone, using around 30 of them each month and launching 9 per day – it’s easy to see how viral apps take several social media channels by storm.

“In this age where users jump onto a bandwagon because it’s fun or trendy, the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) can overshadow basic security habits – like being vigilant on granting app permissions,” says Bethwel Opil, Enterprise Sales Manager at Kaspersky in Africa. “In fact, accordingly to a previous Kaspersky study, the majority (63%) of consumers do not read license agreements and 43% just tick all privacy permissions when they are installing new apps on their phone. And this is exactly where the danger lies – as there is certainly ‘no harm’ in joining online challenges or installing new apps.”

However, it is dangerous when users just grant these apps limitless permissions into their contacts, photos, private messages, and more. “Doing so allows the app makers possible, and even legal, access to what should remain confidential data. When this sensitive data is hacked or misused, a viral app can turn a source into a loophole which hackers can exploit to spread malicious viruses or ransomware,” adds Badenhorst. 

As such, online users should always have their thinking caps on and be more careful when it comes to the internet and their app habits including:

  • Only download apps from trusted sources. Read the reviews and ratings of the apps as well
  • Select apps you wish to install on your devices wisely
  • Read the license agreement carefully
  • Pay attention to the list of permissions your apps are requesting. Only give apps permissions they absolutely insist on, and forgo any programme that asks for more than necessary
  • Avoid simply clicking “next” during an app installation
  • For an additional security layer, be sure to have a security solution installed on your device

“While the app market shows no signs of slowing down, it is changing,” says Opil. “Consumers download the apps they love on their devices which in turn gives them access to content that is relevant and useful. The future of apps will be in real-world attribution, influenced by local content and this type of tailored in-app experience will lead consumers to share their data more willing in a trusted, premium app environment in exchange for more personalised experiences. But until then, proceed with caution.”

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