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Autonomous Cars? Try autonomous computers…

By NIRAL PATEL, Managing Director at Oracle South Africa

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Since the mainstream embrace of the Internet globally, the Digital Age has advanced in leaps and bounds; with the emergence of software as a service (SaaS) and cloud computing as standout moments of development. South African businesses have been pioneering in their uptake of emerging technologies, with Gartner ranking South Africa fourth globally in terms of countries with the fastest-growing IT spend. 2019 spending is predicted to surge to R32 billion, a 11.4% increase from 2018.

With companies growing comfortable with the need for digital transformation and migration of their operations, the next fundamental shift is already on the horizon: autonomous computing.

1. The difference between “traditional” cloud and autonomous cloud – and the biggest benefits

Greater all-round efficiency, from operations to costs. This is the primary driver behind companies’ escalating uptake of cloud, particularly in terms of migrating core business functions such as enterprise resource planning (ERP). Cloud migration is a smart choice, taking advantage of the vast computing power enabled by data centre processing, combined with algorithms, to make better sense of a company’s information.

Autonomous cloud computing takes business value-add to the next revolutionary level by putting the actual task of database management on autopilot. By utilising the latest advances in computing power, AI and machine learning, autonomous information systems self-tune, self-secure and self-repair as needed without the need for manual intervention. This essentially eliminates downtime and reputation damage due to security lapses and error-plagued maintenance processes that still require a human clicking a mouse.

2. Two to three years is how long you have to make the move to autonomous

Of course, with the vast majority of business decision-makers adopting cloud-first strategies – 77% of South African companies are already using cloud services, according to the MyBroadband 2019 Cloud Survey – the question is how to secure advantage when everyone is enjoying the speed and reliability benefits of cloud services?

On a levelled playing field, autonomous systems provide that differentiator, especially as South Africa lags on the Automation Readiness Index, placing 22 out of 25 countries in terms of preparedness for intelligent automation.

The wholesale shift from cloud to autonomous cloud will not happen overnight. However, autonomous has already seen a lot of traction in financial services and the public sector, and there are currently around 5,000 pilots of Oracle Autonomous Database worldwide. This number is predicted to grow as users take advantage of the Oracle Cloud Free Tier.

3. Autonomous fills the skills gap

Autonomous systems have a special significance for Sub-Saharan Africa, a region that has a problem with digital skills development. Despite the ICT intensity of jobs in South Africa increasing by 26% over the last decade according to the World Economic Forum, there is a digital skills shortage in the country, particularly in areas such as data science and security. With such crucial roles hard to fill locally, companies can struggle to harness the full growth potential enabled by new technologies.

As we enter Generation 2 Cloud, autonomous computing is evolving further, helping to bridge the digital skills gap at the same time. At Oracle OpenWorld this year, the first autonomous operating system, Linux Autonomous, was unveiled. Requiring no supervision to run, the system continuously optimises and patches itself based on parameters, images and diagnostic data, once again sidestepping problems caused by human error. It automatically executes management tasks for Linux systems, such as patch and package management, security and compliance reporting, as well as configuration. As a result, Database Administrators are liberated from mundane daily tasks to focus on the more valuable activity of innovating company processes.

4. Autonomous systems mean more security, not less

Traditionally, business resistance to the cloud has centred on the issue of data security, particularly in relation to accessing public cloud platforms.

The reality, though, is that autonomous cloud databases are extremely secure, even without turning to dedicated infrastructure options. Strong data encryption is a default. And, as already noted, such autonomous information systems are self-securing, automatically implementing new security patches without the need for downtime, and alerting IT staff to suspicious external and internal behaviour. Again back to the topic of skills shortages, globally, Cybersecurity Ventures predicts that there will be 3.5 million unfilled cybersecurity positions by 2021. Technology is the only viable way to rectify that shortage, particularly through autonomous information systems.

Autonomous cloud is the only feasible solution for the new business reality of 24/7 requirements. It helps to access value faster through its rapid mining of company data for new insights, in combination with other operational benefits that stem from its stronger data management strategies. Turning to an expert technology partner will start the process.

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Did an earthquake take out SA Internet?

Seabed avalanches caused by an earthquake could have cut several undersea cables, leading to one of South Africa’s biggest Internet outages yet, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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Picture by TooMuchCoffeeMan from pixabay.com

There is still no official explanation for freak breaks 11 days ago in two separate undersea cables that provide international access to South Africa’s Internet users. However, as reported in the Sunday Times yesterday, the most common causes of such breaks are damage by ship anchors and earthquakes at sea.

However, the freak occurrence of two separate cables being cut simultaneously far out at sea, as happened on the morning of 16 January, can only be explained by sea-bed activity.  One of the cables was cut in two places, and it is widely believed that a third major cable was also cut.

The cable damage mostly occurred in or near an area called the Congo Canyon, which starts inland and extends 220km into the sea. It is known for having the world’s strongest “turbidity currents”, underwater sediment avalanches over hundreds of kilometers, which are known to destroy undersea cables.

The most likely culprit is a 5.6 magnitude earthquake that struck the Atlantic Ocean near Ascension Island shortly before the cables were cut on the morning of 16 January. The earthquake occurred just before 8am South African time, and local ISPs reported losing international access from just before 10am. The epicentre of the earthquake was more than a thousand kilometres off the coast of Africa, but disturbances caused by seismic activity at sea become more powerful as they approach the coast. Combined with turbidity currents, this could well have taken out all cables in the area.

The West Africa Cable System (WACS) was cut in two places, and the South Atlantic 3 (SAT3) cable in one location. Industry insiders believe that the Africa Coast to Europe (ACE) cable was also cut, but it has not been publicly confirmed.

South Africa is connected to the global Internet via seven such cables, with a total capacity of 42.3 terabits per second (tbps).  These cables, in turn, connect to additional cables connecting the West and East coasts of Africa, with a single cable running from Angola to Brazil providing another 40 tbps.

However, it emerged in the past week that smaller ISPs in South Africa had bought capacity on only one or two cables. In a freak occurrence, two of the most commonly used cables, the WACS and SAT 3 cables, were cut simultaneously, plunging millions of Internet users into data darkness.

Customers of the major mobile network operators – Vodacom and MTN – were largely unaffected, as these tend to have both part-ownership and access to most of the cables running up both the East and West coasts of Africa.

Visit the next page to read about how ISPs have battled to reroute access, how massive resources are needed to deal with these kinds of outages, and when the ship will reach the breakage points.

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Lenovo express-delivers new range from CES to SA

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Lenovo has unveiled its new range of ThinkBook laptops, barely two weeks after they were showcased at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. 

The company’s newest sub-brand, ThinkBook, is intended to meet the demand for more aesthetically pleasing, yet agile and powerful devices.

The new range is aimed at small and medium enterprises. According to the Small Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA), there are more than 2-million SMEs in South Africa – although there are only 667,433 in the formal sector. This tallies with estimates in recent editions of SME Survey, produced by World Wide Worx, which suggest 650,000 active, formal businesses in South Africa. These SMEs employ about 14% of the South African workforce. 

Lenovo argues that access to affordable, yet efficient, technology is a crucial factor in aiding business success and contributing towards the success of the nation. The company has found, in its own research, that younger people prefer working, creating and communicating online “with stylish devices that make a statement”. This means they require streamlined laptops which can be used to collaborate from any remote location, to enhance productivity.

Lenovo said in a statement on Thursday night: “Backed by customer research, ThinkBook is specially designed for SMEs, who typically purchase consumer laptops for perceived design and price advantages but can no longer rationalise their lack of extended services and warranties – core needs of any business. ThinkBook allows growing firms to keep a competitive edge in attracting today’s young tech-savvy execs with trendy yet cost-effective devices. 

Thibault Dousson, general manager of  Lenovo for Europe, Middle East and Africa, said at the launch event: “With the capacity, SMEs have to grow and upskill the country’s workforce, they are perfectly positioned to bridge the gap between the public sector and large enterprise. Bearing in mind the demands of the digital economy, this sector needs skills and resources in order to compete, and that is where devices such as the ThinkBook come in.”

In South Africa, ThinkBook laptops are now available in 13-, 14- and 15-inch variants. The flagship ThinkBook 14 and ThinkBook 15 devices are powered by Windows 10 Pro and up to 10th Gen Intel Core processing, which Lenovo says combines high performance with intuitive, time-saving features. Options include Intel Optane memory, WiFi 6, and discrete graphics.

The ThinkBook 15 comes at just 18.9mm thin, while the ThinkBook 14 is a mere 17.9mm, both with FHD displays and two Dolby Audio speakers, dual-array, Skype certified microphones and a USB 3.1 (Gen2, Type-C) port.

Lenovo has also introduced the ThinkBook S series, including an elegant 13.3-inch ThinkBook 13s. The sleek and light device is constructed of a metallic finish on an all-aluminium chassis, alongside a narrow bezel display. As with the ThinkBook 14 and 15, the ThinkBook 13s also features advanced Intel processing and an FHD display, Dolby Vision and Harman speakers with Dolby Audio.

Visit the next page to read about the design and features of the new ThinkBook range.

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