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MS donates $1bn in cloud

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Microsoft’s recently formed Philanthropies will donate $1 billion in the form of Microsoft Cloud Services to NPOs and university researchers over the next three years.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has announced a new three-part initiative “to ensure that Microsoft’s cloud computing resources serve the public good”. As part of this initiative the recently formed Microsoft Philanthropies will donate $1 billion of Microsoft Cloud Services, measured at fair market value, to serve non-profits and university researchers over the next three years.

Microsoft’s three-part commitment focuses on ensuring the cloud can serve the public good in the broadest sense by providing additional cloud resources to non-profits, increasing access for university researchers and helping solve last-mile Internet access challenges.

“Microsoft is empowering mission-driven organisations around the planet with a donation of cloud computing services — the most transformative technologies of our generation,” said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, who on Wednesday will speak at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “Now more than 70,000 organisations will have access to technology that will help them solve our greatest societal challenges and ultimately improve the human condition and drive new growth equally.”

Cloud computing has emerged as a vital resource for unlocking the secrets held by data in ways that create new insights and lead to breakthroughs not just for science and technology, but for the full range of economic and social challenges and the delivery of better human services. It can also improve communications and problem-solving and help organisations work in a more productive and more efficient manner.

In September 2015, 193 heads of state and other world leaders unanimously adopted 17 sustainable development goals to achieve by 2030. This ambitious agenda — which includes ending poverty, ending hunger, and ensuring affordable, reliable and sustainable energy for all — will only be achievable with the benefit of significant inventions and technology innovations. The scale and computational power enabled by cloud computing will be essential to unlocking solutions to this list of some of the world’s seemingly unsolvable problems.

“We’re committed to helping non-profit groups and universities use cloud computing to address fundamental human challenges,” said Microsoft President Brad Smith. “One of our ambitions for Microsoft Philanthropies is to partner with these groups and ensure that cloud computing reaches more people and serves the broadest array of societal needs.”

Specific elements of the new initiative include these:

Serving the broad needs of the non-profit community. A new global donation program will make Microsoft Cloud Services, including Microsoft Azure, Power BI, CRM Online and the Enterprise Mobility Suite, more available to non-profit organizations through Microsoft Philanthropies. The program builds upon an already successful program that provides similar access to Office 365 for non-profits. The non-profit program for Microsoft Cloud Services will begin rolling out this spring, and Microsoft Philanthropies aims to serve 70,000 non-profits in the next three years with these Microsoft Cloud Services.

Expanding access to cloud resources for faculty research in universities. Microsoft Research and Microsoft Philanthropies will expand by 50 percent the Microsoft Azure for Research program that grants free Azure storage and computing resources to help faculty accelerate their research on cutting-edge challenges. Today this program provides free cloud computing resources for over 600 research projects on six continents.

Reaching new communities with last-mile connectivity and cloud services. Microsoft Philanthropies and Microsoft Business Development will combine donated access to Microsoft Cloud services with investments in new, low-cost last-mile Internet access technologies and community training. By combining cloud services with connectivity and training, and focusing on new public-private partnerships, Microsoft Philanthropies intends to support 20 of these projects in at least 15 countries around the world by the middle of 2017.

Providing non-profits with better access to Microsoft Cloud Services, including the powerful Microsoft Azure platform, builds upon Microsoft’s long-time commitment to making cutting-edge technology available at no or low cost to organisations working on solving some of society’s toughest problems.

In recent years, as organisations have increased their reliance on cloud computing, Microsoft has worked in partnership with a broad range of organisations focused on big challenges. The initiatives show the potential impact that increased access to the transformational power of cloud computing can have:

Microsoft Research is working with the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP) Biodiversity Research Program through the use of 700 wireless sensors, cloud technology and automated data-stream processing to understand how cloud forests work and study the impact of climate changes on the communities supported by those forests.

Through a partnership with the University of Texas at Austin called Project Catapult, Microsoft makes advanced cloud computing technology available to researchers that have demonstrated the ability to deliver lower power and cost, higher-quality results, or a combination of both.

In Botswana, Microsoft is partnering with the Botswana Innovation Hub, Vista Life Sciences, the United States Agency for International Development and Global Broadband Solutions to assist Botswana, the University of Pennsylvania and the Ministry of Health in leveraging cloud-based health records management and Internet access enabled by use of TV white spaces to remotely deliver specialized medicine, including cervical cancer screenings to women at rural healthcare clinics.

“Access to technology is critical to the operations and services of NetHope and its 44 humanitarian non-profit member organizations,” said NetHope CEO Lauren Woodman. “The power of cloud computing will create exponential value for all we do to serve the millions of people in our communities around the world.”

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Money talks and electronic gaming evolves

Computer gaming has evolved dramatically in the last two years, as it follows the money, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK in the second of a two-part series.

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The clue that gaming has become big business in South Africa was delivered by a non-gaming brand. When Comic Con, an American popular culture convention that has become a mecca for comics enthusiasts, was hosted in South Arica for the first time last month, it used gaming as the major drawcard. More than 45 000 people attended.

The event and its attendance was expected to be a major dampener for the annual rAge gaming expo, which took place just weeks later. Instead, rAge saw only a marginal fall in visitor numbers. No less than 34 000 people descended on the Ticketpro Dome for the chaos of cosplay, LAN gaming, virtual reality, board gaming and new video games. 

It proved not only that there was room for more than one major gaming event, but also that a massive market exists for the sector in South Africa. And with a large market, one also found numerous gaming niches that either emerged afresh or will keep going over the years. One of these, LAN (for Local Area Network) gaming, which sees hordes of players camping out at the venue for three days to play each other on elaborate computer rigs, was back as strong as ever at rAge.

MWeb provided an 8Gbps line to the expo, to connect all these gamers, and recorded 120TB in downloads and 15Tb in uploads – a total that would have used up the entire country’s bandwidth a few years ago.

“LANs are supposed to be a thing of the past, yet we buck the trend each year,” says Michael James, senior project manager and owner of rAge. “It is more of a spectacle than a simple LAN, so I can understand.”

New phenomena, often associated with the flavour of the moment, also emerge every year.

“Fortnite is a good example this year of how we evolve,” says James. “It’s a crazy huge phenomenon and nobody was servicing the demand from a tournament point of view. So rAge and Xbox created a casual LAN tournament that anyone could enter and win a prize. I think the top 10 people got something each round.”

Read on to see how esports is starting to make an impact in gaming.

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Blockchain unpacked

Blockchain is generally associated with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but these are just the tip of the iceberg, says ESET Southern Africa.

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This technology was originally conceived in 1991, when Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta described their first work on a chain of cryptographically secured blocks, but only gained notoriety in 2008, when it became popular with the arrival of Bitcoin. It is currently gaining demand in other commercial applications and its annual growth is expected to reach 51% by 2022 in numerous markets, such as those of financial institutions and the Internet of Things (IoT), according to MarketWatch.

What is blockchain?

A blockchain is a unique, consensual record that is distributed over multiple network nodes. In the case of cryptocurrencies, think of it as the accounting ledger where each transaction is recorded.

A blockchain transaction is complex and can be difficult to understand if you delve into the inner details of how it works, but the basic idea is simple to follow.

Each block stores:

–           A number of valid records or transactions.
–           Information referring to that block.
–           A link to the previous block and next block through the hash of each block—a unique code that can be thought of as the block’s fingerprint.

Accordingly, each block has a specific and immovable place within the chain, since each block contains information from the hash of the previous block. The entire chain is stored in each network node that makes up the blockchain, so an exact copy of the chain is stored in all network participants.

As new records are created, they are first verified and validated by the network nodes and then added to a new block that is linked to the chain.

How is blockchain so secure?

Being a distributed technology in which each network node stores an exact copy of the chain, the availability of the information is guaranteed at all times. So if an attacker wanted to cause a denial-of-service attack, they would have to annul all network nodes since it only takes one node to be operative for the information to be available.

Besides that, since each record is consensual, and all nodes contain the same information, it is almost impossible to alter it, ensuring its integrity. If an attacker wanted to modify the information in a blockchain, they would have to modify the entire chain in at least 51% of the nodes.

In blockchain, data is distributed across all network nodes. With no central node, all participate equally, storing, and validating all information. It is a very powerful tool for transmitting and storing information in a reliable way; a decentralised model in which the information belongs to us, since we do not need a company to provide the service.

What else can blockchain be used for?

Essentially, blockchain can be used to store any type of information that must be kept intact and remain available in a secure, decentralised and cheaper way than through intermediaries. Moreover, since the information stored is encrypted, its confidentiality can be guaranteed, as only those who have the encryption key can access it.

Use of blockchain in healthcare

Health records could be consolidated and stored in blockchain, for instance. This would mean that the medical history of each patient would be safe and, at the same time, available to each doctor authorised, regardless of the health centre where the patient was treated. Even the pharmaceutical industry could use this technology to verify medicines and prevent counterfeiting.

Use of blockchain for documents

Blockchain would also be very useful for managing digital assets and documentation. Up to now, the problem with digital is that everything is easy to copy, but Blockchain allows you to record purchases, deeds, documents, or any other type of online asset without them being falsified.

Other blockchain uses

This technology could also revolutionise the Internet of Things  (IoT) market where the challenge lies in the millions of devices connected to the internet that must be managed by the supplier companies. In a few years’ time, the centralised model won’t be able to support so many devices, not to mention the fact that many of these are not secure enough. With blockchain, devices can communicate through the network directly, safely, and reliably with no need for intermediaries.

Blockchain allows you to verify, validate, track, and store all types of information, from digital certificates, democratic voting systems, logistics and messaging services, to intelligent contracts and, of course, money and financial transactions.

Without doubt, blockchain has turned the immutable and decentralized layer the internet has always dreamed about into a reality. This technology takes reliance out of the equation and replaces it with mathematical fact.

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