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How the cloud gives you superpowers

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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Cisco gives pre-owned tech a Refresh

In a market of constant upgrades, Cisco Refresh aims to keep quality product away from landfills, writes BRYAN TURNER.

When one gets a new smartphone upgrade, the old device may be used as a backup or can be used by someone else. In business environments, equipment upgrades may not be conducive to keeping old equipment around, which may send older, working equipment to landfills.

This is where Cisco’s Refresh initiative comes in. At Cisco Connect in Sun City this week, Ehrika Gladden, VP and general manager of Cisco Refresh, lifted the lid on a little-known aspect of the company’s strategy. 

“Refresh is Cisco’s global pre-owned equipment business unit,” said Gladden. “It is certified to meet the quality and engineering standards of Cisco. It is licensed for software and it’s also inclusive of a services warranty.

“Our responsibility in 80 countries around the world is tied to both the recovery of assets and the ability to leverage those assets at a lower price point. This ensures our sustainability and proper usage of the Earth’s resources while providing access to small and medium businesses. The products are typically in the range of 20-40% cheaper. The products represent the entire portfolio for Cisco in some part, the majority of that product set is 2+ years in terms of generation.”

Cisco’s Circular Economy initiative ensures a sustainable loop through businesses willing to pay a premium for the latest, cutting-edge solutions, while Cisco markets older, working equipment for resale to those who don’t require the latest solutions. This ensures far less new components need to be used in a product range.

“We are leveraging the model of remanufacturing, refurbishing, recycling, and reusing,” said Gladden. “Depending on the product set, there is a certain set of product yield that we expect. They vary from product to product, but we do have a percentage that doesn’t make it through.

“Those are always reused, meaning we will look at those products and decide to use them completely differently, leveraging the components, remanufacturing back into the overall build process. If that can’t be done, we will go into a recycle process where we melt those products down to reuse them.”

Repairing and refurbishing older products isn’t just that. Cisco is creating repair centres that are owned by third-parties to uplift local ownership.

“The repair centres, as a global manufacturer, is Cisco’s entree into local ownership,” said Gladden. “I want to be precise about what I mean by local ownership. It’s critical for us to have a localised presence, but doing that through ownership. When you look at inclusive economies, those that are participative, to be sustainable – not in the product set, but generationally.

“The ability as a global manufacturer through a local ownership model  isto create a repair centre where a product can be returned, screened, tested, and repaired, leveraging the talent that the Networking Academy is creating.”

Cisco is working closely with local governments to understand where it operates and how to leverage the skills in the market.

Gladden said: “We are also super excited about the National Development Plan and African Union statements which with we align: eradication of poverty, job creation, ownership, healthcare, education, it all fits in the model. So we were very excited to have the opportunity to come to Africa first to announce this. Over the next twelve months, we want to establish our first repair centres, and in the next 3 to 5 years, build that vision into a reality.”

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Why Data Privacy has become a Pipe Dream

If you’re active on WhatsApp, Facebook or any other social platform, you’re not as safe as you thought, writes
AARON THORNTON, MD of Dial a Nerd

As you begin to read this, let’s perform a quick experiment! How many active conversations are you engaged in – right now – on WhatsApp? When was the last time you shared a picture or video on Instagram? Is Facebook currently open and active on one of your devices? And how many internet- connected devices are you using at this moment? Chances are, you have multiple devices running multiple applications most of the time. So what’s the problem, you ask? Since when did checking in with a high school buddy in Australia via Facebook become a dangerous act?  

In reply, we say, read on if you can stomach it!  

Nation-State Hacking & You  

It might seem like a laughably long shot to say that you are a key player in the increasingly sinister and sophisticated world of nation-state hacking. Well, you are. Given that individuals, businesses and governments are now constantly connected, round the clock, consumers and businesses have become fair game in cyber espionage. And as we create and share more and more data, both the value and accessibility of that data increases. According to a report by McAfee, IP theft now accounts for more than 25% of the estimated $600 billion cost of cybercrime to the world economy.    

With data having become the ‘new gold’, nation states are naturally pouring investment and key resources into building advanced cyber warfare tools. Indeed, entire divisions of armed forces as well as the upper echelons of corporate leadership are devising ways to harness data to gain economic, political and social power. At the highest level, tools and platforms are being developed with the specific aim of perpetrating cyber espionage and data theft. No surprise then, that the consumer and business environments are rife with increasingly advanced malware, ransomware and many other malicious hacking tools and methods.  

Still not convinced? Yes, we can smell the scepticism from here! So let’s take a moment to see how this has already played out, beneath our noses.  

Remember the Facebook–Cambridge Analytica data scandal of early 2018? For many, this was a watershed moment in the emerging war for consumer data – and the ensuing tensions between privacy, power and profit. Need a refresh? Well, in 2018, Facebook exposed data on up to 87 million Facebook users to a researcher who worked at Cambridge Analytica, which worked for the Trump campaign. In essence, the data was harvested without user consent and used for political purposes.  

Another chilling but less direct example can be found in Russia’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections. According to Politico, Russia launched a massive social media campaign to ‘sow discord’ leading up to the elections. The website reported that as early as 2014, an infamous Russian “troll farm” known as the Internet Research Agency – a company linked to Russian president Putin – developed a strategy using fraudulent bank accounts and other fake identity documents to “spread distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general.” 

When referring to the Russian hacks and their impact on election results, one U.S. Representative sagely noted: “They didn’t just steal data; they weaponized it.” 

Ignorance is not bliss 

Okay, so data is being ‘weaponized’, and ordinary people and businesses are being caught in the crosshairs of cyber warfare. A little bit frightening, but the good news is that savvy individuals like you can take steps to protect personal data and actively combat the creeping influence of juggernauts such as Facebook and Google.  

To begin with, awareness is key. As you engage with various platforms and applications at work and at home, take time to understand how your data is being used and what the terms of use are. Is your data being accessed and sold to advertisers? Have you consented to this? In addition to scrutinizing your consent, also pay close attention to how much data you share online – and the nature of the details you are divulging. Always keep in mind that hackers are employing smart social engineering tactics and using the details of your private life (birthdays, holidays, pet’s names, etc) to trick you into opening infected emails and clicking on malware. Whenever you are online, you are a target – and vigilance at all times is critical. Beyond that, it goes without saying that you must commit to following basic security protocols with your devices. So always keep software up to date and keep your data backed up so that you can reboot or wipe a device if needed.   

Now that we’ve left you sufficiently spooked, you can get back to those demanding WhatsApp/Facebook/Instagram notifications (same company, by the way)…albeit, we hope, with a slightly altered [cyber] worldview!  

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