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Meeting the challenge of branch office IT

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50 per cent of corporate data is stored in branch offices, creating an insecure and complex network of distributed servers and storage. WIMPIE VAN RENSBURG explains how Riverbed’s Zero Branch IT support helps companies consolidate their data.

The lifeblood of many companies today depends on branch offices. Whether these are remote sites, retail outlets or manufacturing plants, they must be agile and able to quickly respond to the business’s ever-changing needs. But too often, branch offices operate as independent data centres which are difficult to support and protect. Consequently, services outages and data loss are a common occurrence, leading to productivity issues including missed sales opportunities, customer churn, assembly-line stoppage and ultimately, lost revenues.

How can businesses efficiently address their branch office needs? The solution is to take a completely new approach to branch office IT which will improve system performance and resiliency, ensure reliable data backups, and greatly reduce operating expenses, particularly as more companies adopt a hybrid enterprise IT infrastructure that combines on-premises and cloud or SaaS-based applications and services. By implementing a “Zero Branch IT” model, businesses will no longer install new equipment and assign additional on-site support at each location. Instead, they will centralise data without compromising performance, while enabling instant provisioning of new applications and services at remove locations and branches, as well as making instant recovery of applications and services a reality.

The challenges of outdated branch IT

A recent Riverbed report found that that 50 per cent of corporate data is stored in branch offices and that branch offices represent 50 per cent of an average company’s total IT budget. This creates an insecure and complex network of distributed servers and storage deployed solely to meet local performance and reliability needs.

In other words, half of today’s IT organisations are using outdated methods of operation, forcing branches to subsist on decentralised, ad hoc, and rigid legacy infrastructures. In addition to being costly and complex to manage, outdated infrastructures limit IT’s ability to proactively respond to businesses’ ever-changing needs, prevent security breaches, and recover from unplanned outages.

How Zero Branch IT supports wider business goals

Though CIOs are expected to play a central role in driving business objectives, few organisations take into account the IT challenges involved in rolling out new services across all branch locations, such as WAN constrictions, security concerns, and minimal staff. Disorganised, legacy branch infrastructures are costly to both the business and to the IT department, making even the smallest propositions a worrisome task- and making it harder for the CIO to support the business.

As an alternative, CIOs can implement a Zero Branch IT model which will address the needs of the IT department as well as those of the organisation as a whole. To better understand this new model, IT can imagine the branch as a smartphone – a simple device, fully equipped with applications and high-speed access to data over the cellular network or the Internet. When buying a smartphone, mobile providers just provide the device itself, not a rucksack full of application servers, storage, and backup infrastructure users must also carry and maintain.

Branch offices and other remote sites can operate in a similar way. Taking a new approach to branch IT enables the CIO to manage everything inside a secure, central data centre and deliver performance out to the branches. The result will be an almost non-existent IT infrastructure footprint with no remote servers, storage racks or backup and recovery systems.

The benefits of optimising the network

Gartner describes the average WAN optimisation system as a deployment of appliances at the central data centre and in each branch office, though an additional option is to deploy appliances as virtual machines or as a cloud resident service. For mobile or remote users, WAN optimisation can be deployed as a soft client that runs on individual user devices.

As wide area networks (WANs) are notoriously unreliable and do not offer protection against the creation of localised pockets of systems and information stores, Zero Branch IT requires tools that enable the convergence of IT systems and applications with WAN optimisation technologies. This will offer local LAN performance, bringing data back to the data centre, while maintaining application performance at all branch offices.

The most recent Gartner Magic Quadrant for WAN Optimisation conveys that WAN optimisation technologies can provide a range of features that improve application performance running across the entire WAN, and reduce the overall cost of the WAN. Gartner describes the typical WAN optimisation setup as a deployment of appliances at the central data centre and in each branch office. Another option is to deploy the appliances as virtual machines or as a cloud resident service. For mobile or remote users, WAN optimisation can be deployed as a soft client that runs on individual user devices.

Businesses can cut their branch IT costs by eliminating the need to purchase, maintain and protect servers, storage and backup systems in branch offices. Additionally, by using a centralised infrastructure managed via a single console or dashboard, IT can achieve greater visibility and control over the network, so as to quickly and easily redeploy, upgrade, move, or migrate systems, applications and services to accommodate the opening of new branch offices.

Using new technologies, IT can store and protect sensitive data in a centralised, strictly controlled location, with stringent backup and replication policies. Using specialised applications, businesses can easily access that information in an agile way. They can therefore deploy new services, applications, or entirely new branch sites while ensuring maximum productivity of branch staff.

New tools also enable real-time continuous data capture and analysis so that companies can view network delays, providing speed, insight and control no matter where data is stored. As a result, businesses will experience far fewer instances of system outages, slow application performance and downtime, making it easier for employees to work anyplace, anytime, using an ever-increasing selection of work-issued and personal computing devices, including laptops, smartphones and tablets.

By taking a new approach to branch IT, businesses can bring disparate systems and applications to the data centre manned by the full-time IT team, driving tangible economic benefits, including efficiencies of scale, improved employee productivity and the ability for all remote offices to share expensive backend solutions. A Zero Branch IT approach enables today’s organisations to leverage IT strategies such as branch converged infrastructure, storage delivery, virtualisation and WAN optimisation to address the unique needs of branch offices, all while delivering better business performance overall.

* Wimpie van Rensburg, Country Manager of Sub Saharan Africa at Riverbed Technology.

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Prepare your cam to capture the Blood Moon

On 27 July 2018, South Africans can witness a total lunar eclipse, as the earth’s shadow completely covers the moon.

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Also known as a blood or red moon, a total lunar eclipse is the most dramatic of all lunar eclipses and presents an exciting photographic opportunity for any aspiring photographer or would-be astronomers.

“A lunar eclipse is a rare cosmic sight. For centuries these events have inspired wonder, interest and sometimes fear amongst observers. Of course, if you are lucky to be around when one occurs, you would want to capture it all on camera,” says Dana Eitzen, Corporate and Marketing Communications Executive at Canon South Africa.

Canon ambassador and acclaimed landscape photographer David Noton has provided his top tips to keep in mind when photographing this occasion.   In South Africa, the eclipse will be visible from about 19h14 on Friday, 27 July until 01h28 on the Saturday morning. The lunar eclipse will see the light from the sun blocked by the earth as it passes in front of the moon. The moon will turn red because of an effect known as Rayleigh Scattering, where bands of green and violet light become filtered through the atmosphere.

A partial eclipse will begin at 20h24 when the moon will start to turn red. The total eclipse begins at about 21h30 when the moon is completely red. The eclipse reaches its maximum at 22h21 when the moon is closest to the centre of the shadow.

David Noton advises:

  1. Download the right apps to be in-the-know

The sun’s position in the sky at any given time of day varies massively with latitude and season. That is not the case with the moon as its passage through the heavens is governed by its complex elliptical orbit of the earth. That orbit results in monthly, rather than seasonal variations, as the moon moves through its lunar cycle. The result is big differences in the timing of its appearance and its trajectory through the sky. Luckily, we no longer need to rely on weight tables to consult the behaviour of the moon, we can simply download an app on to our phone. The Photographer’s Ephemeris is useful for giving moonrise and moonset times, bearings and phases; while the Photopills app gives comprehensive information on the position of the moon in our sky.  Armed with these two apps, I’m planning to shoot the Blood Moon rising in Dorset, England. I’m aiming to capture the moon within the first fifteen minutes of moonrise so I can catch it low in the sky and juxtapose it against an object on the horizon line for scale – this could be as simple as a tree on a hill.

 

  1. Invest in a lens with optimal zoom  

On the 27th July, one of the key challenges we’ll face is shooting the moon large in the frame so we can see every crater on the asteroid pockmarked surface. It’s a task normally reserved for astronomers with super powerful telescopes, but if you’ve got a long telephoto lens on a full frame DSLR with around 600 mm of focal length, it can be done, depending on the composition. I will be using the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with an EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Ext. 1.4 x lens.

  1. Use a tripod to capture the intimate details

As you frame up your shot, one thing will become immediately apparent; lunar tracking is incredibly challenging as the moon moves through the sky surprisingly quickly. As you’ll be using a long lens for this shoot, it’s important to invest in a sturdy tripod to help capture the best possible image. Although it will be tempting to take the shot by hand, it’s important to remember that your subject is over 384,000km away from you and even with a high shutter speed, the slightest of movements will become exaggerated.

  1. Integrate the moon into your landscape

Whilst images of the moon large in the frame can be beautifully detailed, they are essentially astronomical in their appeal. Personally, I’m far more drawn to using the lunar allure as an element in my landscapes, or using the moonlight as a light source. The latter is difficult, as the amount of light the moon reflects is tiny, whilst the lunar surface is so bright by comparison. Up to now, night photography meant long, long exposures but with cameras such as the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II and the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV now capable of astonishing low light performance, a whole new nocturnal world of opportunities has been opened to photographers.

  1. Master the shutter speed for your subject 

The most evocative and genuine use of the moon in landscape portraits results from situations when the light on the moon balances with the twilight in the surrounding sky. Such images have a subtle appeal, mood and believability.  By definition, any scene incorporating a medium or wide-angle view is going to render the moon as a tiny pin prick of light, but its presence will still be felt. Our eyes naturally gravitate to it, however insignificant it may seem. Of course, the issue of shutter speed is always there; too slow an exposure and all we’ll see is an unsightly lunar streak, even with a wide-angle lens.

 

On a clear night, mastering the shutter speed of your camera is integral to capturing the moon – exposing at 1/250 sec @ f8 ISO 100 (depending on focal length) is what you’ll need to stop the motion from blurring and if you are to get the technique right, with the high quality of cameras such as the Canon EOS 5DS R, you might even be able to see the twelve cameras that were left up there by NASA in the 60’s!

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How Africa can embrace AI

Currently, no African country is among the top 10 countries expected to benefit most from AI and automation. But, the continent has the potential to catch up with the rest of world if we act fast, says ZOAIB HOOSEN, Microsoft Managing Director.

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To play catch up, we must take advantage of our best and most powerful resource – our human capital. According to a report by the World Economic Forum (WEF), more than 60 percent of the population in sub-Saharan Africa is under the age of 25.

These are the people who are poised to create a future where humans and AI can work together for the good of society. In fact, the most recent WEF Global Shapers survey found that almost 80 percent of youth believe technology like AI is creating jobs rather than destroying them.

Staying ahead of the trends to stay employed

AI developments are expected to impact existing jobs, as AI can replicate certain activities at greater speed and scale. In some areas, AI could learn faster than humans, if not yet as deeply.

According to Gartner, while AI will improve the productivity of many jobs and create millions more new positions, it could impact many others. The simpler and less creative the job, the earlier, a bot for example, could replace it.

It’s important to stay ahead of the trends and find opportunities to expand our knowledge and skills while learning how to work more closely and symbiotically with technology.

Another global study by Accenture, found that the adoption of AI will create several new job categories requiring important and yet surprising skills. These include trainers, who are tasked with teaching AI systems how to perform; explainers, who bridge the gap between technologist and business leader; and sustainers, who ensure that AI systems are operating as designed.

It’s clear that successfully integrating human intelligence with AI, so they co-exist in a two-way learning relationship, will become more critical than ever.

Combining STEM with the arts

Young people have a leg up on those already in the working world because they can easily develop the necessary skills for these new roles. It’s therefore essential that our education system constantly evolves to equip youth with the right skills and way of thinking to be successful in jobs that may not even exist yet.

As the division of tasks between man and machine changes, we must re-evaluate the type of knowledge and skills imparted to future generations.

For example, technical skills will be required to design and implement AI systems, but interpersonal skills, creativity and emotional intelligence will also become crucial in giving humans an advantage over machines.

“At one level, AI will require that even more people specialise in digital skills and data science. But skilling-up for an AI-powered world involves more than science, technology, engineering and math. As computers behave more like humans, the social sciences and humanities will become even more important. Languages, art, history, economics, ethics, philosophy, psychology and human development courses can teach critical, philosophical and ethics-based skills that will be instrumental in the development and management of AI solutions.” This is according to Microsoft president, Brad Smith, and EVP of AI and research, Harry Shum, who recently authored the book “The Future Computed”, which primarily deals with AI and its role in society.

Interestingly, institutions like Stanford University are already implementing this forward-thinking approach. The university offers a programme called CS+X, which integrates its computer science degree with humanities degrees, resulting in a Bachelor of Arts and Science qualification.

Revisiting laws and regulation

For this type of evolution to happen, the onus is on policy makers to revisit current laws and even bring in new regulations. Policy makers need to identify the groups most at risk of losing their jobs and create strategies to reintegrate them into the economy.

Simultaneously, though AI could be hugely beneficial in areas such as curbing poor access to healthcare and improving diagnoses for example, physicians may avoid using this technology for fear of malpractice. To avoid this, we need regulation that closes the gap between the pace of technological change and that of regulatory response. It will also become essential to develop a code of ethics for this new ecosystem.

Preparing for the future

With the recent convergence of a transformative set of technologies, economies are entering a period in which AI has the potential overcome physical limitations and open up new sources of value and growth.

To avoid missing out on this opportunity, policy makers and business leaders must prepare for, and work toward, a future with AI. We must do so not with the idea that AI is simply another productivity enhancer. Rather, we must see AI as the tool that can transform our thinking about how growth is created.

It comes down to a choice of our people and economies being part of the technological disruption, or being left behind.

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