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How cloud transforms all

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Companies of all types are shifting to cloud computing and are therefore being forced to change their way of working. DR WERNER VOGELS, Chief Technology Officer, Amazon.com believes this disruption has lead to new ideas and innovations all the way from start-ups to government organisations.

Organisations from the Public Sector to the Private Sector are undergoing a fundamental shift with the advent of cloud computing.  The shift is disrupting the traditional way of working and the old way of thinking. As the cloud continues to level the playing field for organisations, both large and small, we are seeing fast adoption that has helped to unleash great ideas and innovations from start-ups to enterprises to government organisations.

Transforming industries

Over the last few years we have seen that cloud is becoming a catalyst for changing industries as organisations are able to access vast amounts of compute resources on demand in order to help them innovate. Globally, we are seeing industries like Oil and Gas being transformed as organisations, like Royal Dutch Shell, use the cloud in order to help with oil exploration. The financial services sector is being transformed as institutions like Aviva, the largest insurance company in the UK, use the cloud for calculating insurance premiums and the consumer goods industry is being transformed as organisations like Unilever use the cloud in the research and development of new products.

In the Public Sector this transformation is happening at an equally rapid pace. Researchers are using AWS to speed up science, using the vast compute resources at their fingertips to run more experiments, at a lower cost. Non-Profit Organisations, such as Cancer Research UK, are using the cloud to stop paying for computing power they aren’t using meaning they can focus more of their resources on the important work. We are also seeing cities and governments using AWS to transform the lives of citizens. Through Smart, and Collaborative, City initiatives, such as those we are seeing in Cities as diverse as Chicago in the US, Peterborough in the UK and Paris in France, local governments are innovating with the cloud to enable citizens to enjoy higher standards of living.

This transformation isn’t just happening at the global level, it is also happening at the local level here in South Africa. South African organisations were amongst the earliest adopters of cloud services when AWS launched in 2006. Customers based in South Africa are using AWS to run everything from development and test environments to big data analytics, from mobile, web and social applications to enterprise business applications, public sector and mission critical workloads. AWS now counts some of Africa’s fastest growing businesses as customers including, Entersekt and PayGate as well as established enterprises such as MiX Telematics and Medscheme.

A great example of a South African company that is transforming the travel sector is Travelstart. Started in 1999, Travelstart has grown to become Africa’s largest travel booking website offering flights, hotel bookings, car rental, vacation packages and a range of insurance services. The company operates in more than 15 countries across Africa and the Middle East. By using the cloud to rapidly grow their business, and expand to the Middle East, Travelstart is able to take on the world’s largest companies in their field while also increasing their reliability and levels of customer service. Using AWS Travelstart has been able to rapidly grow their Middle Eastern business while reducing downtime by 25%.

Incubating innovation

We are also seeing tremendous rise in entrepreneurial activities in South Africa and across EMEA. Many start-ups are driving hard to innovate and get their product in the hands of customers at break-neck speeds.

For example, with millions of smart phone users worldwide, and multitude of applications, mobile developers and the businesses they serve need scalable infrastructure to develop and host the backend services.  With the cloud, mobile developers are no longer worried about managing infrastructure resources, which is often either not their core competence or they simply don’t want to spend time on it.  They are now able to focus on building sophisticated, scalable products and accelerating their time to market.  In addition, mobile developers are able to leverage the cloud for fast, complex processing of their application services before delivering the presentation layer across multiple form factors and devices to ensure great user experience.

A local Cape Town example of a company that has offloaded the managing of infrastructure to the cloud so they can focus on delivering customers a great experience is music streaming platform, NicheStreem. Using AWS, NicheStreem has launched their business focusing on niche music genres for music lovers catering for tastes as diverse as Afrikaans music and Naija Gospel. Their first app, called Liedjie, caters to Afrikaans music. Since launching in December 2015 the app now has streamed tens of thousands of tracks to thousands of registered users. By offloading their heavy lifting of managing infrastructure to the cloud, the team at NicheStreem can focus more of their resources on delivering music lovers the best choice in niche music, not on running datacenters.

The reason we are seeing success stories, like NicheStreem, in Africa is because cloud computing gives businesses of any size access to storage, compute, database and many other technologies on a pay as you go basis from anywhere in the world. This is democratising the business world by giving small companies access to the same vast amounts of technology that were only in the realms of the world’s largest organisations in the past. Having immediate access to technology infrastructure is also allowing researchers to turn their ideas into businesses quicker, and at a lower cost, than was previously possible. We are seeing this come from South Africa with a great example being Hyrax Biosciences.

Developed at the South Africa National Bioinformatics Institute at the University of the Western Cape, Hyrax Biosciences has developed HIV drug testing technology in the cloud. Starting as a research programme, the company developed an AWS based technology called Exatype which rapidly and accurately tests HIV drug resistance. Traditionally it costs $300 to $500 to do a single resistance test but, with the AWS based system, Exatype can do this at a fraction of the cost.  The reason this is important is currently 10% of patients on antiretroviral treatment, to combat HIV, do not respond to the drugs provided to them because of drug resistance. Exatype solves this problem by showing clinicians which drugs would be most effective for each individual patient to increase response and improve treatment. By using the cloud Hyrax Biosciences was able to take their research from idea to business in a short amount of time and at a fraction of the cost it would incur before.

Whether it is Travelstart, NicheStreem or Hyrax Biosciences, I’m excited with the innovation we see coming from South Africa. I look forward to see the cloud continue its rapid growth in the country and look forward to see more South African start-ups expand their businesses around the world.

Dr Werner Vogels, Chief Technology Officer, Amazon.com will be in South Africa in July and will be delivering the keynote address at the AWS Summit in Cape Town on July 12. To register for the event visit the AWS Summit web page at: http://aws.amazon.com/south-africa/summit-cape-town/

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Android Go puts reliable smartphones in budget pockets

Nokia, Vodacom and Huawei have all launched entry-level smartphones running the Android Go edition, and all deliver a smooth experience, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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Three new and notable Android Go smartphones have recently hit the market, namely the Nokia 1, the Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 and the Huawei Y3 (2018). These phones run one of the most basic versions of Android while still delivering a fairly smooth user experience.

Historically, consumers purchasing smartphones in the budget bracket would have a hit-and-miss experience with processing speed, smoothness of user interface, and app stability. The Google-supported Android Go edition operating system optimises the user experience by stripping out non-important visual effects to speed up the phone. Thish allows for more memory to be used by apps. 

Google also ensures that all smartphones running Android Go will receive feature and security updates as they are released by Google. This is a major selling point for these smartphones, as users of this smartphone will always be running the latest software, with virtually no manufacturer bloatware.

Vodafone Smart Kicka 4

At the lowest entry-level, the Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 performs well as a communicator for emails and WhatsApp messages. The 4” screen represents a step up for entry-level Android phones, which were previously standardised at 3.5”.

The display is bright and very responsive, while the limited screen real estate leaves the navigation keys off the screen as touch buttons. It uses 3G connectivity, which might seem like an outdated technology, but is good enough to stream SD videos and music. Vodacom has also thrown in some data gifts if the smartphone is activated before the end of September 2018. 

Its camera functionalities might be a slight let down for the aspirant Instagrammer, with a 2MP rear flash camera and a 0.3MP selfie snapper. Speed wise, the keyboard pops up quickly, which is a huge improvement from the Smart Kicka 3. However, this phone will not play well with graphics-intensive games. 

Nokia 1

Next up is the Nokia 1, which adds a much better 5MP camera, improved battery life and a bigger 4.5” screen. It supports LTE, which allows this smartphone to download and upload at the speed of flagships. It also sports the Nokia brand name, which many consumers trust.

Although the front camera is 2MP, the quality is extremely grainy, even with good lighting. This disqualifies this smartphone for the social media selfie snapper, but the 5MP rear camera will work for the landscape and portrait photographer. 

The screen also redeems this smartphone, providing a display which represents colours truly and has great viewing angles. Xpress-on back covers allows the use of interchangeable, multi-coloured back covers, which has proven to be a successful sales point for mid-range smartphones in the past. 

Huawei Y3 (2018)

The most capable of the Android Go edition competitors, the Huawei Y3 (2018) packs an even bigger screen at 5”, as well as an improved 8MP rear camera and HD video recording. The screen is the brightest and most vibrant of the three smartphones, but seems to be calibrated to show colours a little more saturated than they actually are. 

Nevertheless, the camera outperforms the other smartphones with good colour replication and great selfie capabilities via the 2MP front camera – far superior to the Nokia 1 despite the same spec. LTE also comes standard with this smartphone and Vodacom throws in 4G/LTE data goodies until the end of September 2018. The battery, however, is not removable and may only be replaced by a warranty technician.

Comparing the 3

All three smartphones have removable back covers, which provide access to the battery, SIM card and SD card slots. The smartphones have Micro USB ports on the bottom with headphone jacks on the top. The built-in speakers all performed well, with the Y3 (2018) housing an exceptionally loud built-in speaker. 

Although all at different price points, all three phones remain similar in performance and speed. The differentiators are apparent in the components, like camera quality and screen quality. It would be fair to rank the quality of the camera and battery life by respective market prices. The Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 performed well, for its R399 retail price. The Nokia 1, on the other hand, lags quite a bit in features when compared to the Huawei Y3 (2018), bwith oth retailing at R999.

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SA gets digital archive

As the world entered the centenary of Nelson Mandela’s birth on Mandela Day, 18 July 2018, South Africa celebrated the launch of a digital living archive. 

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The southafrica.co.za  site carries content about the country’s collective heritage in South Africa’s eleven official languages.

Designed as a nation building,  educational and brand promotion web based tool, the free-to-view platform features award-winning photographic and written content by leading South African photographers, authors, academics and photojournalists.

The emphasis is on quality, credible, factual content that celebrates a collective heritage in terms of the following: Cultural Heritage; Natural Heritage; Education; History; Agriculture; Industry; Mining; and Travel.

At the same time as reflecting on the nation’s history, southafrica.co.za celebrates South Africa’s natural, cultural and economic assets so that the youth can learn about their nation in their home language.

Southafrica.co.za Founder and CEO Hans Gerrizen conceptualised southafrica.co.za as a means for youth and communities from outlying areas to benefit from the digital age in terms of the web tool’s empowering educational component.

“We can only stand to deepen our collective experience of democracy and become a more forward planning nation if we know facts about our nation’s past and present in everyone’s home language,” he says.

Southafrica.co.za, with sister company Siyabona Africa, is the organiser and sponsor of the Mandela: 100 Moments photographic exhibition that runs until 30 September at Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront-based Nelson Mandela Gateway to Robben Island.  The 3-month exhibition, which runs daily from 08h00 until 15h00, is showcasing one hundred iconic Nelson Mandela images taken by veteran South African photojournalist and self-taught lensman Peter Magubane.

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