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How the cloud gives you superpowers

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In a highlight of Amazon Web Services’ annual conference last week, CEO Andy Jassy described how cloud computing gives its users super powers, reports ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

The annual re:invent conference hosted by Amazon Web Services (AWS) in Las Vegas is notable for the fact that it packs tens of thousands of developers and business partners into a single convention centre. Astonishingly, almost all of the delegates are paying for the privilege of having AWS pitch its products and services to them. If that is a great business model for AWS, then the core message from the event masks an even greater business model.

To put it in perspective, consider these two sentences from the book, Exponential Organizations, by Salim Ismail of the highly respected Singularity University think-tank: “It used to require millions of dollars in servers and software to launch a software company. Thanks to AWS, it now costs just a tiny fraction of that amount.”

The title of the book offers a clue to how cloud services like AWS are transforming businesses and bringing the concept of “disruptive technology” to the centre of new business strategies. At re:invent last week, AWS CEO Andy Jassy used his keynote address to spell out the core role played by cloud services in making global disruption possible.

Stressing that re:invent was not a sales and marketing event, but an educational conference with more than 400 technical sessions, he said that the business made developers – AWS calls them “builders” – feel like super heroes. The reason? It gives them capabilities that allows them to overcome any challenges they try to conquer, and implement any idea they dream up.

“It can feel like you have been given super powers,” he said. With Singularity University saying almost the same thing about AWS, it doesn’t sound entirely  like hype.

Jassy outlined what he called the five superpowers that the company’s millions of active customers use to boost their competitive abilities:

1. Supersonic speed.

“Almost always, the number one reason companies move to the cloud is the agility and speed they get from the cloud. What allows them to move fast is having a plethora of infrastructure services at their fingertips. We have over 70 services, and the pace of innovation means we offer new capabilities daily.

To prove his point, Jassy invited on stage Fabio Veronese, head of infrastucture and technical services at Enel, Italy’s main power utility and a world leader in smart meters for energy and water management. These meters are at the heart of another technology revolution, the Internet of Things (IoT), which is seeing a rapid rise in the number of devices sharing data via the Internet.

“The energy world is changing. There is a decoupling between GDP and electricity demand, where you used to see demand rise with GDP. Last year Germany went up 2% in GDP, but went down in electricity consumption, thanks to improved energy management.

“IoT means we will completely transform the energy management model in the next few years. Our strategy was straightforward: go to the cloud as fast as you can.”

2. X-Ray Vision

“We can now offer the ability to see through the handwaving and bombast,” Jassy told a laughing audience. “In the old days, because it was so hard and so expensive to test and experiment for any period of time, you used to get old guard leaders who would make all kinds of wild claims, and you had no ability to know what was real. You had to make a buying decision before you could figure out if it worked. On the cloud, that ship has sailed.”

A range of new artificial intelligence tools were also announced at re:invent to enhance the so-called X-Ray vision:  a face matching technology called Rekognition, with can conduct a batch analysis of millions of images in real time; a text-to-speech recognition service called Polly, which translates text and outputs it as audio, with 47 different voices in 27 languages; and LEX, which lets computer systems ranging from pizza ordering to appliance controls understand natural language questions and instructions.

3. Immortality

Jassy quickly addressed the sceptical looks when he suggested immortality as a new superpower.

“This generation is the first that can live substantially longer, and that is very pertinent to businesses, as it’s very hard in business to persist for a very long time. Only 12% of  the first Fortune 500 from 1955 is still in the Fortune 500.

“If you want a chance to live forever in business, its clear you have to take advantage of evolving technology trends and changes. You see that with startups who have build incredible businesses, breathing new life onto virtually every industry, from accommodation to shaving. Every single one is able to leverage the flexibility and power and cost of cloud.”

Even traditional businesses like McDonald’s are embracing this new normal. It is presently moving its entire Point-of-Sale system, comprising 200 000 cash registers and 300 000 devices in restaurants across the globe, into the cloud.

4. Flight

“Many of us have the yearning to have the freedom to fly. For builders, the same yearning for freedom exists, to build faster, to use your data better, to unshackle from customer-hostile database providers.”

He pointed out that commercial-grade database providers were not only very expensive, but locked customers in with punitive licensing terms. As a result, builders were moving their databases to open source engines as fast as they could.

AwS has built a platform called Aurora to offer them the same speed and availability as commercial databases, but with cost effectiveness of open source. The most startling comment of the day was that Netflix, the global leader in video-on-demand services, had moved its entire service over to this platform.

5. Shape Shifting

The freedom of cloud choice has long been a sticking point for business users, who sometimes had to select between keeping everything on premise or moving it all into the cloud. The hybrid cloud evolved to address this need.

“You don’t have to choose between on-premise and the cloud,” Jassy insisted. “We want them to be able to operate their on-premise services as seamlessly as possible on AWS. As a result, AWS recently entered a partnership with cloud software leaders VMware to offer  a service called VMware Cloud on AWS, addressing this need.

When VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger joined Jassy on stage to discuss how companies ranging from Amadeus to Zynga were using the service, it was the coming together of two of the biggest names in the business. The ability to achieve that team-up was probably AWS’s biggest superpower of all.

  • 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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