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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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Get your passwords in shape

New Year’s resolutions should extend to getting password protection sorted out, writes Carey van Vlaanderen, CEO at ESET Southern Africa.

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Many of us have entered the new year with a boat load of New Year’s resolutions.  Doing more exercise, fixing unhealthy eating habits and saving more money are all highly respectable goals, but could it be that they don’t go far enough in an era with countless apps and sites that scream for letting them help you reach your personal goals.

Now, you may want to add a few weightier and yet effortless habits on top of those well-worn choices. Here are a handful of tips for ‘exercises’ that will go good for your cyber-fitness.

I won’t pass up on stubborn passwords

Passwords have a bad rap, and deservedly so: they suffer from weaknesses, both in terms of security and convenience, that make them a less-than-ideal method of authentication.  However, much of what the internet offers is independent on your singing up for this or that online service, and the available form of authentication almost universally happens to the username/password combination.

As the keys that open online accounts (not to speak of many devices), passwords are often rightly thought of as the first – alas, often only – line of defence that protects your virtual and real assets from intruders. However, passwords don’t offer much in the way of protection unless, in the first place, they’re strong and unique to each device and account.

But what constitutes a strong password?  A passphrase! Done right, typical passphrases are generally both more secure and more user-friendly than typical passwords. The longer the passphrase and the more words it packs the better, with seven words providing for a solid start. With each extra character (not to mention words), the number of possible combinations rises exponentially, which makes simple brute-force password-cracking attacks far less likely to succeed, if not well-nigh impossible (assuming, of course, that the service in question does not impose limitations on password input length – something that is, sadly, far too common).

Click here to read about making secure passwords by not using dictionary words, using two-factor authentication, and how biometrics are coming to web browsers.

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Code Week prepares 2.3m young Africans for future

By SUNIL GENESS, Director Government Relations & CSR, Global Digital Government, at SAP Africa.

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On January 6th, 2019, news broke of South African President Cyril Ramaphosa’s plans to announce a new approach to education in his second State of the Nation address, including:

  • A universal roll-out of tablets for all pupils in the country’s 23 700 primary and secondary schools
  • Computer coding and robotics classes for the foundation-phase pupils from grade 1-3 and the
  • Digitisation of the entire curriculum, , including textbooks, workbooks and all teacher support material.

With this, the President has shown South Africa’s response to a global challenge: equipping our youth with the skills they’ll need to survive and thrive in the 21st century digital economy.

Africa’s working-age population will increase to 600 million in 2030 from a base of 370 million in 2010.

In South Africa, unemployment stands at 26.7 percent, but is much more pronounced among youths: 52.2 percent of the country’s 15-24-year-olds are looking for work.

As an organisation deeply invested in South Africa and its future, SAP has developed and implemented a range of initiatives aimed at fostering digital skills development among the country’s youth, including:

AFRICA CODE WEEK

Since its launch in 2015, Africa Code Week has introduced more than 4 million African youth to basic coding.

In 2018, more than 2.3 million youth across 37 countries took part in Africa Code Week.

The digital skills development initiative’s focus on building local capacity for sustainable learning resulted in close to 23 000 teachers being trained in the run-up to the October 2018 events.

Vital to the success of Africa Code Week is the close support it receives from a broad spectrum of public and private sector institutions, including UNESCO YouthMobile, Google, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the Cape Town Science Centre, the Camden Education Trust, 28 African governments, over 130 implementing partners and 120 ambassadors across the continent.

SAP’s efforts to drive digital skills development on the African continent forms part of a broader organisational commitment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, specifically Goal 4 (“Ensure quality and inclusive education for all”)

A core component of Africa Code Week is to encourage female participation in STEM-related skills development activities: in 2018, more than 46% of all Africa Code Week participants were female.

According to Africa Code Week Global Coordinator Sunil Geness, female representation in STEM-related fields among African businesses currently stands at 30%, “requiring powerful public-private partnerships to start turning the tide and creating more equitable opportunities for African youth to contribute to the continent’s economic development and success”.

Click here to read more about the Skills for Africa graduate training programme, and about the LEGO League.

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