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IoT momentum grows in SA

The enterprise remains wary of investment into the Internet of Things (IoT). There are key inhibitors to adoption that affect its efficiency, impact, and availability. This doesn’t mean that IoT isn’t on the cusp of widespread adoption in South Africa, says GEORGE KALEBAILA, Research Director for telecommunications, media and IoT at IDC.

One of the leading inhibitors of IoT adoption is, of course, cybersecurity. Most enterprises list this as their primary concern when considering IoT deployments, and they’re not wrong. The cybersecurity threat landscape continues to evolve at a rapid pace and IoT devices are a popular hacking target. Fish tank temperature gauges, printers, and other seemingly innocuous IoT devices have already seen their vulnerabilities exploited with unpleasant results. Security is a priority.

Added to this is the reality that IoT is an emerging technology – the organisation is still trying to establish how to get business value out of any potential IoT deployment. This is further impacted by weak value propositions from service providers as they are currently not speaking to a specific business or sector needs, vaguely pointing their IoT solutions in the direction of efficiencies and improved decision making. Service providers have yet to demonstrate that IoT will deliver value within their client’s specific environment. Organisations want and need tangible results that align to their business priorities.

Another issue that has impacted IoT, until recently, has been the high cost of connectivity. Particularly relevant within the South African space, connectivity has inhibited uptake and innovation. However, recent investments and deployments of low power wide area networks (LPWANs) have meant that IoT is poised to flourish. These LPWANs are optimised for low-cost IoT applications and are eroding the barriers that have slowed IoT adoption. Vodacom has shown strong leadership in this space, reporting 55,000 new IoT connections per month on its narrowband IoT network (NB-IoT) that are anchored on its LPWAN technologies.

Huawei and Microsoft are also heading the IoT charge in South Africa with their focused investment and solution development. Huawei has established an innovation and experience centre that’s designed to encourage technology development and capacity building in the ICT sector, and Microsoft Azure has been actively involved in the creation of IoT platforms that are open to local developers. The latter is focused on encouraging the development of new IoT applications and solutions within the local market and the company provides consulting and sales support to service providers around go-to-market strategies.

Most of the larger players in the IoT market are focusing on establishing IoT platforms that deliver end-to-end IoT solutions. These span device management, application development, integration and support, data management and analytics, security, go-to-market support, consulting and more. Dell EMC, AMD, and VMware have also created an open-access platform that allows for plug & play connectivity and the development of secure and scalable IoT solutions. There is a marked trend towards enabling development and innovation by providing service providers and vendors with the tools and access they need to enhance and drive the potential of IoT. The big guns are using these platforms and their deep enterprise IT experience to explore ways in which to differentiate themselves in the market. It’s worth noting, that this is the right time and opportunity for these vendors to use their unique vertical understanding and expertise to overcome one of the primary key inhibitors impacting on IoT uptake as a whole – sector relevance.

Ultimately, the IoT sector is starting to gain momentum as vendors, developers and service providers actively focus on the challenges that affect its adoption. IoT success depends on its ability to deliver business value and industry relevance while assuring organisations that it is secure enough to meet compliance mandates and internal protocols. IoT will ultimately flourish, but it still needs work.

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Time is running out for Microsoft SQL Server 2008

Companies are urged to update from the dated database management software as end-of-support looms, writes BRYAN TURNER.

The 11-year-old Microsoft SQL Server 2008 database management software is reaching the end of its support on 9 July. The applications that use databases running on this software will be at risk of security and stability issues.

On self-managed databases, upgrading to the latest database version comes with a lot of risks. Many IT departments within companies go by the motto: “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it”.

Microsoft made it very clear that it would not be updating SQL Server 2005 after its extended support date and even left it vulnerable to Spectre and Meltdown by not releasing patches for the dated version.

Updating SQL Server versions may seem daunting, but the benefits far outweigh the effort it takes for a migration. In the last major version update, SQL Server 2016 introduced simpler backup functionality, database stretching, and always-encrypted communications with the database, to name just three features.

While backing up the database may be the last thing on the typical database administrator’s mind, it’s become increasingly important to do so. In SQL Server 2008, it’s clunky and causes headaches for many admins. However, in SQL Server 2016, one can easily set up an automated backup to Azure storage and let it run on smart backup intervals. Backing up offsite also reduces the need for disaster recovery for onsite damage.

Database stretching allows admins to push less frequently accessed data to an Azure database, automatically decided by SQL Server 2016. This reduces the admin of manually looking through what must be kept and what must be shipped off or deleted. It also reduces the size of the database, which also increases the performance of the applications that access it. The best part of this functionality is it automatically retrieves the less accessed records from Azure when users request it, without the need for manual intervention.

Always-encrypted communications are becoming more and more relevant to many companies, especially those operating in European regions after the introduction of GDPR. Encryption keys were previously managed by the admin, but now encryption is always handled by the client. Furthermore, the keys to encrypt and decrypt data are stored outside of SQL Server altogether. This means data stored in the database is always encrypted, and no longer for the eyes of a curious database manager. 

The built-in reporting tools have also vastly improved with the addition of new reporting metrics and a modern look. It includes support for Excel reports for keeping documentation and Power BI for automated, drag-and-drop personalised reporting. Best of all, it removes the dreaded Active X controls, which made the reporting in a webpage feel very clumsy and bloated in previous versions.

A lot has changed in the past ten years in the world of SQL Server database management, and it’s not worth running into problems before Microsoft ends support for SQL Server 2008.

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Local apps to feature in Huawei’s App Gallery

Huawei’s mobile app store, the HUAWEI AppGallery, will soon feature a multitude of apps and designs by local developers. The company says this is part of its drive to promote South African digital talent and include more useful apps for Huawei smartphone users. HUAWEI AppGallery and HUAWEI Themes are pre-installed on all the latest Huawei and Honor devices.

“South African consumers are increasingly wanting more apps that are relevant to their unique circumstances, addressing issues they experience regularly – such as load shedding or safety concerns – but also apps that celebrate South Africa’s multitude of cultures and this vibrant country,” says Lu Geng, director of Huawei Consumer Cloud Service Southern Africa Region.

Akhram Mohamed, chief technology officer of Huawei Consumer Business Group South Africa, says: “Huawei is committed to catering to the needs of South African consumers, but we also know that we do not have all the answers. For this reason, we aim to work closely with South African developers so that we can give our users everything that they need and want from their devices. At the same time, we also hope to create an open ecosystem for local developers by offering a simple and secure environment for them to upload content.”

Huawei Mobile Services was launched in South Africa in June last year. Since then, both the HUAWEI AppGallery and HUAWEI Themes – which features tens of thousands of themes, fonts and wallpapers that personalise user’s handset – have become increasingly popular with the local market. Even though it is a relatively new division of Huawei, there has been a great increase in growth; at the end of 2018 Huawei Mobile Services had 500 million users globally, representing a 117% increase on the previous year.

Explaining what differentiates the HUAWEI AppGallery from other app stores, Mosa Matshediso Hlobelo, business developer for Consumer Cloud Service Southern Africa says: “We use the name ‘HUAWEI AppGallery’ because we have a dedicated team that curates all the apps in terms of relevance and ease of use and to ensure that there are no technical issues. Importantly, all apps are also security-checked for malware and privacy leaks before being uploaded on to the HUAWEI AppGallery.”

Huawei recently held a Developers’ Day where Huawei executives met with South African developers to discuss Huawei’s offering. 48 developers registered their apps on the day, and Huawei is currently in discussions with them with the eventual aim of featuring the best apps and designs on HUAWEI AppGallery or HUAWEI Themes. The Consumer Cloud Service Southern Africa Team at Huawei plans on making Developers’ Day a quarterly event and establishing a local providers’ hub, where developers can regularly meet with Huawei for training on updates to programmes and offerings.

“We have a very hands-on approach with our developers, and hope to expand that community so we can become an additional distribution channel for more developers and expose them to both a local and a global audience,” says Geng. “For example, we regularly feature apps and designs from local developers on our Huawei social media pages, and do competitions and promotions. We want to do everything we can to make our Huawei users aware of these local apps and upload them. This will encourage the growth of the developer community in South Africa by giving developers more opportunities to generate revenue from in-app purchases.”

* Developers who would like their apps featured on the HUAWEI App Gallery, or designs featured on HUAWEI Themes, should visit https://developer.huawei.com or email Huawei Mobile Services on sacloud@huawei.com.

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