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Hybrid WAN boosts agility

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85% of IT leaders feel that they have a timeframe of just two years to adopt new technologies, or risk falling behind. However many can stay agile should they adopt a hybrid WAN, writes TAJ ELKHAYAT, Regional Vice President, Middle East and Africa at Riverbed Technology.

In the past, most applications were housed on-premises and the WAN was a well-defined and predictable environment. This is no longer the case, as nowadays, the WAN is continually changing and both the applications and architecture that it supports are becoming increasingly challenging to maintain. With more and more applications transitioning to the cloud – public, private or SaaS – the cloud has become an essential element of enterprise architecture as many organisations embark on a digital transformation strategy. Today, 85% of IT leaders feel that they have a timeframe of just two years to adopt new technologies, or risk falling behind.

Consequently, IT now has to manage an increasing number of on-premises and cloud-based applications. The growing number of apps combined with the escalating demand for video and rich-media means that the public Internet is now often used along with MPLS to address enterprises’ rapidly increasing needs for bandwidth. This certainly has cost benefits. However, it can impact IT’s ability to have visibility or understanding of application performance. Changes to the WAN have a negative impact on app performance and businesses must find new approaches to tackle this and optimize app performance and reliability.

As a result, the WAN is evolving toward a hybrid mix that combines the performance of on-premises hardware with the agility and elasticity of cloud based network functions. As enterprises are becoming hybrid, the shape of the network itself is seeing significant changes. The underlying networks are getting more diverse in terms of performance and security.

Controlling the edge of the network

Business now takes place at the edge of the network perimeter – at the branch, at home, from remote locations or on the road. Availability and speed are the biggest priority and keeping business applications running in remote and branch office locations can address this. However, it’s important to note that in the new hybrid WAN, direct Internet access can actually put businesses’ sensitive data at risk from cyber-attacks. Whilst the cloud offers agility and cost-efficiency, the performance is often less than ideal for the end-user and is more difficult for IT to control and optimise. Enterprises can tackle this by looking for solutions which allow them to unify IT management from one central location, such as the data centre or the cloud, all the way to the edge. Regardless of where applications are hosted, IT must be able to ensure optimal performance and secure availability.

Agility and application performance are key WAN requirements

In today’s increasingly digital world, application performance is at the heart of business productivity. Applications can help facilitate business functions, ranging from manufacturing, to processing sales. They also help us communicate and collaborate. However, as we rely on applications more and more, this means that the end-user has high expectations around performance levels.

IT must be able to make these applications available to users and respond to business needs as quickly as possible. Whether this requires setting up a new branch office or making a new SaaS application available to employees, agility is key. IT must be able to deploy sites, rollout applications and handle change management, all whilst ensuring that application performance runs seamlessly.

Tackling application complexity with operational development

Applications are now becoming richer and more complex as the majority become encrypted. Delivered from the data centre, the cloud and the edge, users are accessing them from everywhere. The edge is fast becoming the centre of communication for enterprise and IT must now consider solutions that automate application delivery over the WAN and facilitate intelligence, performance and security requirements as well as abstracting communication resources. This requires automated systems and orchestration which can support these abstractions and align IT with the wider business needs.

Maximise productivity by optimize application performance

Poor application performance can have significant negative impact on a business, affecting not only employee productivity, but also customer satisfaction. Today’s hybrid WAN has introduced new challenges. As bandwidth is now more cost-effective and readily available, the rapid adoption of SaaS and cloud applications means that it can be difficult for IT to keep up with who is using what apps. This in turn leads to poor visibility of end-user experience and an inability to manage infrastructure and application performance.

Encryption can hide application traffic and further obscure the distinction between applications. This means that IT now requires visibility beyond encryption to understand the specific applications accessed by various users. Once this is achieved, they can prioritise and direct application traffic. This can reduce the number of transactions across the WAN for faster application performance and less burden on communication lines.

Harnessing unification and simplification

In order to meet the changing agility requirements of the enterprise, IT will need solutions which will simplify operations across their hybrid network from the data centre or cloud to the LAN or across the hybrid WAN to users across multiple locations. Therefore, to uphold future agility requirements, it will become critical for enterprises to have the ability to abstract and virtualise communication resources between users and data, no matter where they are.

Whilst software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) solutions are being developed to satisfy these requirements, holistic solutions will unify control across networks, the cloud and mobile workers. SD-WAN, when coupled with WAN optimisation, will significantly improve performance and infrastructure efficiencies.

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Smart home arrives in SA

The smart home is no longer a distant vision confined to advanced economies, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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The smart home is a wonderful vision for controlling every aspect of one’s living environment via remote control, apps and sensors. But, because it is both complex and expensive, there has been little appetite for it in South Africa.

The two main routes for smart home installation are both fraught with peril – financial and technical.

The first is to call on a specialist installation company. Surprisingly, there are many in South Africa. Google “smart home” +”South Africa”, and thousands of results appear. The problem is that, because the industry is so new, few have built up solid track records and reputations. Costs vary wildly, few standards exist, and the cost of after-sales service will turn out to be more important than the upfront price.

The second route is to assemble the components of a smart home, and attempt self-installation. For the non-technical, this is often a non-starter. Not only does one need a fairly good knowledge of Wi-Fi configuration, but also a broad understanding of the Internet of Things (IoT) – the ability for devices to sense their environment, connect to each other, and share information.

The good news, though, is that it is getting easier and more cost effective all the time.

My first efforts in this direction started a few years ago with finding smart plugs on Amazon.com. These are power adaptors that turn regular sockets into “smart sockets” by adding Wi-Fi and an on-off switch, among other. A smart lightbulb was sourced from Gearbest in China. At the time, these were the cheapest and most basic elements for a starter smart home environment.

Via a smartphone app, the light could be switched on from the other side of the world. It sounds trivial and silly, but on such basic functions the future is slowly built.

Fast forward a year or two, and these components are available from hundreds of outlets, they have plummeted in cost, and the range of options is bewildering. That, of course, makes the quest even more bewildering. Who can be trusted for quality, fulfilment and after-sales support? Which products will be obsolete in the next year or two as technology advances even more rapidly?

These are some of the challenges that a leading South African technology distributor, Syntech, decided to address in adding smart home products to its portfolio. It selected LifeSmart, a global brand with proven expertise in both IoT and smart home products.

Equally significantly, LifeSmart combines IoT with artificial intelligence and machine learning, meaning that the devices “learn” the best ways of connecting, sharing and integrating new elements. Because they all fall under the same brand, they are designed to integrate with the LifeSmart app, which is available for Android and iOS phones, as well as Android TV.

Click here to read about how LifeSmart makes installing smart home devices easier.

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Matrics must prepare for AI

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students writing a test

By Vian Chinner, CEO and founder of Xineoh.

Many in the matric class of 2018 are currently weighing up their options for the future. With the country’s high unemployment rate casting a shadow on their opportunities, these future jobseekers have been encouraged to look into which skills are required by the market, tailoring their occupational training to align with demand and thereby improving their chances of finding a job, writes Vian Chinner – a South African innovator, data scientist and CEO of the machine learning company specialising in consumer behaviour prediction, Xineoh.

With rapid innovation and development in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), all careers – including high-demand professions like engineers, teachers and electricians – will look significantly different in the years to come.

Notably, the third wave of internet connectivity, whereby our physical world begins to merge with that of the internet, is upon us. This is evident in how widespread AI is being implemented across industries as well as in our homes with the use of automation solutions and bots like Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana. So much data is collected from the physical world every day and AI makes sense of it all.

Not only do new industries related to technology like AI open new career paths, such as those specialising in data science, but it will also modify those which already exist. 

So, what should matriculants be considering when deciding what route to take?

For highly academic individuals, who are exceptionally strong in mathematics, data science is definitely the way to go. There is, and will continue to be, massive demand internationally as well as locally, with Element-AI noting that there are only between 0 and 100 data scientists in South Africa, with the true number being closer to 0.

In terms of getting a foot in the door to become a successful data scientist, practical experience, working with an AI-focused business, is essential. Students should consider getting an internship while they are studying or going straight into an internship, learning on the job and taking specialist online courses from institutions like Stanford University and MIT as they go.

This career path is, however, limited to the highly academic and mathematically gifted, but the technology is inevitably going to overlap with all other professions and so, those who are looking to begin their careers should take note of which skills will be in demand in future, versus which will be made redundant by AI.

In the next few years, technicians who are able to install and maintain new technology will be highly sought after. On the other hand, many entry level jobs will likely be taken care of by AI – from the slicing and dicing currently done by assistant chefs, to the laying of bricks by labourers in the building sector.

As a rule, students should be looking at the skills required for the job one step up from an entry level position and working towards developing these. Those training to be journalists, for instance, should work towards the skill level of an editor and a bookkeeping trainee, the role of financial consultant.

This also means that new workforce entrants should be prepared to walk into a more demanding role, with more responsibility, than perhaps previously anticipated and that the country’s education and training system should adapt to the shift in required skills.

The matric classes of 2018 have completed their schooling in the information age and we should be equipping them, and future generations, for the future market – AI is central to this.

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