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MWC: VMware moves to edge computing

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VMware has unveiled an Internet of Things (IoT) strategy to deliver new edge computing solutions for specific use cases, such as Asset Management and Smart Surveillance at this year’s Mobile World Congress.

At Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this week, VMware unveiled an Internet of Things (IoT) strategy to deliver new edge computing solutions for specific use cases, such as Asset Management and Smart Surveillance. These edge solutions will feature VMware vSAN hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) software, VMware vSphere and VMware Pulse IoT Center, and will be developed in collaboration with industry-leading partners.

VMware sees unique requirements and environments at the edge and will address them through use case specific solutions spanning:

  • Industrial remote IoT use cases such as oil well optimisation, utility grids, and smart city use cases where the things reside in ruggedised, disparate, outdoor and often times, remote locations with inconsistent network and power;
  • Factory and plants in support of closed networks, ruggedised indoor environments; and,
  • Branches and in-stores in support of unique space and power requirements and coordinated across many stores.

IoT introduces a new wrinkle in today’s centralised data center/cloud model. A new class of cost-effective edge infrastructure is required to process data inputs from millions or even billions of IoT endpoints that are separated from the core data center or the public cloud by bandwidth. This new infrastructure must be simple to manage as there are no IT specialists at the edge; cost-effective as the volume of edge installations is large; and, scalable to allow edge installations to grow over time.

“By 2022, as a result of digital business projects, 75% of enterprise-generated data will be created and processed outside the traditional, centralised data center or cloud, which is an increase from less than today’s 10%,” according to Gartner. (1) Local analytics offer faster response times, reduced storage costs, and an optimum use of bandwidth while also supporting data privacy and compliance requirements.

VMware to Deliver HCI Solutions for the Edge

HCI and VMware Pulse IoT Center are ideally suited to process and secure sensor data that bridges the physical and digital worlds. VMware is working on providing more efficient and more secure IoT infrastructure that is easy to manage, scale, and update so customers can accelerate IoT initiatives and realise ROI faster. Based on the leading hyper-converged solution, these edge solutions will feature real-time analytics in support of IoT initiatives where customers will have the choice of licensing third-party business analytics starter kits, in partnership with industry leaders, to help with content analytics and drive business decisions.

VMware offers a full ecosystem of server hardware for Edge infrastructure or gateway solutions depending on use case needs, environment, and desired rugged ability. These new solutions include VMware Pulse IoT Center for management, monitoring, and security of all edge systems/gateways and connected devices such as sensors and the appropriate management and security solution to support compute and storage infrastructure and applications across the edge.

VMware to Collaborate with Axis Communications and Dell EMC for Smart Surveillance Solution

VMware and Axis Communications are collaborating on an IoT solution for the surveillance industry. The solution will feature Axis Communications’ state of the art surveillance capabilities including IP cameras as well as 4G/LTE routers which can be deployed to protect properties, stores, and employees. With VMware Pulse IoT Center, customers will have a way to manage, monitor, and secure their Axis Communications cameras and routers. Initially, the solution will be available on a choice of Dell EMC servers and include the option of Dell Edge Gateways. Additionally, VMware is working with financial services organisations to develop the modern bank of the future using surveillance to optimise security and the customer experience.

VMware, Dell Technologies and Wipro Limited Team Up on IoT Solution for Manufacturers and Asset Management Services 

VMware and Wipro Limited, a leading global information technology, consulting and business process services company, are working together to offer manufacturers a complete edge to cloud IoT solution. The benefits of improved efficiency and productivity of machinery and other assets across the shop floor have the potential to contribute significant returns to manufacturers. Featuring Wipro’s IoT offerings, including its Looking Glass asset management platform and services capability, the solution will integrate multiple IoT platforms which are either hosted on-premises or in the cloud. By connecting their IoT environment to their data centers, customers will benefit from deeper analytics and machine learning. Wipro will also be one of the first system integrators to provide installation and management services for VMware’s IoT Edge solutions.

Manufacturers can use Wipro’s IoT Platform and analytics capabilities for real-time data processing and for predictive failure analytics for devices and equipment on the manufacturing floor. VMware Pulse IoT Center helps manage, monitor, and secure assets and data in facilities as well as the edge infrastructure. By combining Wipro’s complete IoT Platform and analytics capabilities with VMware’s Pulse IoT Center, customers have access to a complete and seamless solution.

VMware Supports Edge Computing Research

VMware, in conjunction with the National Science Foundation (NSF), has announced a new solicitation on Edge Computing Data Infrastructure for research that advances the state of the art in end-to-end networked systems architecture that includes edge infrastructures. VMware will fund two awards valued at a total of $6 million for U.S. university faculty members. Additional information is available here.

Supporting Quotes

“Building an edge computing solution today is a time-intensive exercise most enterprises can’t afford. Today, VMware unveils hyper-converged edge computing solutions that are cost-effective and will enable customers to build and scale secure, use case-specific IoT solutions that work for them from the edge all the way to the cloud, relying on proven, tested software they already use and trust. Together with ecosystem partners Axis, Wipro Limited and Dell EMC, we’re excited to deliver the first of many tailored solutions to meet the unique IoT needs of our enterprise customers,” said Ray O’Farrell, executive vice president & chief technology officer, VMware.

“With the convergence of IT and security top of mind for the industry, we’re excited to collaborate with VMware on an IoT solution for the surveillance industry,” said Scott Dunn, senior director, Business Development Solutions & Services, Axis Communications, Inc. “This collaboration will give us an outstanding opportunity to deliver a better experience for our mutual customers by providing a leading edge IoT platform and management solution.”

“Our partnership with VMware and Dell Technologies complements our end-to-end IoT solutions and enables us to realise business outcomes for our customers,” said Jayraj Nair, vice president and global head of IoT, Wipro Limited. “Asset management, smart manufacturing, logistics and supply chain solutions enabled by IoT technologies are ushering in new levels of operational efficiency for our global clients.”

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Online retail gets real

After decades of experience in selling online, retailers still seek out the secret of reaching the digital consumer, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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It’s been 23 years since the first pizza and the first bunch of flowers was sold online. One would think, after all this time, that retailers would know exactly what works, and exactly how the digital consumer thinks.

Yet, in shopping-mad South Africa, only 4% of adults regularly shop online. One could blame high data costs, low levels of tech-savviness, or lack of trust. However, that doesn’t explain why a population where more than a quarter of people have a debit or credit card and almost 40% of people use the Internet is staying away.

The new Online Retail in South Africa 2019 study, conducted by World Wide Worx with the support of Visa and Platinum Seed, reveals that growth is in fact healthy, but is still coming off a low base. This year, the total sale of retail products online is expected to pass the R14-billion mark, making up 1.4% of total retail.

This figure represents 25% growth over 2017, and comes after the same rate of growth was seen in 2017. At this rate, it is clear that online retail is going mainstream, driven by aggressive marketing, and new shopping channels like mobile shopping. 

But it is equally clear that not all retailers are getting it right. According to the study, the unwillingness of business to reinvest revenue in developing their online presence is one of the main barriers to long-term success. Only one in five companies surveyed invested more than 20% of their online turnover back into their online store. Over half invested less than 10% back.

On the surface, the industry looks healthy, as a surprisingly high 71% of online retailers surveyed say they are profitable. But this brings to mind the early days of Amazon.com, in 1996, when founder Jeff Bezos was asked when it would become profitable.

He declared that it would not be profitable for at least another five years. And if it did, he said, it would be in big trouble. He meant that it was so important for long-term sustainability that Amazon reinvest all its revenues in customer systems, that it could not afford to look for short-term profits.

According to the South African study, the single most critical factor in the success of online retail activities is customer service. A vast majority, 98% of respondents, regarded it as important. This positions customer service as the very heart of online retail. For Amazon, investment back into systems that would streamline customer service became the key to the world’s digital wallets.

In South Africa online still make up a small proportion of overall retail, but for the first time we see the promise of a broader range of businesses in terms of category, size, turnover and employee numbers. This is a sign that our local market is beginning to mature. 

Clothing and apparel is the fastest growing sector, but is also the sector with the highest turnover of businesses. It illustrates the dangers of a low barrier to entry: the survival rate of online stores in this sector is probably directly opposite to the ease of setting up an online apparel store.

A fast-growing category that was fairly low on the agenda in the past, alcohol, tobacco and vaping, has benefited from the increased online supply of vapes, juices and accessories. It also suggests that smoking bans, and the change in the legal status of marijuana during the survey, may have boosted demand. 

In the coming weeks, we can expect online retail to fall under the spotlight as never before. Black Friday, a shopping tradition imported “wholesale” from the United States, is expected to become the biggest online shopping day of the year in South Africa, as it is in the USA.

Initially, it was just a gimmick in South Africa, attempting to cash in on what was a purely American tradition of insane sales on the Friday after Thanksgiving Day, which occurs on the third Thursday of November every year. It is followed by Cyber Monday, making the entire weekend one of major promotions and great bargains.

It has grown every year in South Africa since its first introduction about six years ago, and last year it broke into the mainstream, with numerous high profile retailers embracing it, and many consumers experiencing it for the first time. 

It is now positioned as the prime bargain day of the year for consumers, and many wait in anticipation for it, as they do in the USA. Along with Cyber Monday, it provides an excuse for retailers to go all out in their marketing, and for consumers to storm the display shelves or web pages. South African shoppers, clearly, are easily enticed by bargains.

Word of mouth around Black Friday has also grown massively in the past two years, driven by both media and shoppers who have found ridiculous bargains. As news spreads that the most ridiculous of the bargains are to be had online, even those who were reticent of digital shopping will be tempted to convert.

The Online Retail in SA 2019 report has shown over the years that, as people become more experienced in using the Internet, their propensity to shop online increases. This is part of the World Wide Worx model known as the Digital Participation Curve. The key missing factor in the Curve is that most retailers do not know how to convert that propensity into actual online shopping behaviour. Black Friday will be one of the keys to conversion.

Carry on reading to find out about the online retailers of the year.

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Reliable satellite Internet?

MzansiSat, a satellite-Internet business, aims to beam Internet connections to places in South Africa which don’t have access to cabled and mobile network infrastructure, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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Stellenbosch-based MzansiSat promises to provide cheap wholesale Internet to Internet Service Providers for as little as R25 per Gigabyte. Providers who offer more expensive Internet services could benefit greatly from partnering with MzansiSat, says the company. 

“Using MzansiSat, we hope that we can carry over cost-savings benefits to the consumer,” says Victor Stephanopoli, MzansiSat chief operating officer.

The company, which has been spun off from StellSat, has been looking to increase its investor portfolio while it waits for spectrum approval. The additional investment will allow MzansiSat’s satellite to operate in more regions across Africa.

The MzansiSat satellite is being built by Thales Alenia Space, a French company which is also acting as technical partner to MzansiSat. In addition to building the satellite, Thales Alenia Space will also be assisting MzansiSat in coordinating the launch. The company intends to launch the satellite into the 56°E orbital slot in a geostationary orbit, which enables communication almost anywhere in Africa. The launch is expected to happen in 2022. 

The satellite will have 76 transponders, 48 of which will be Ku-band and 28 C-band. Ku-band is all about high-speed performance, while C-band deals with weather-resistance. The design intention is for customers of MzansiSat to choose between very cheap, reliable data and very fast, power-efficient data. 

C-band is an older technology, which makes bandwidth cheaper and almost never affected by rain but requires bigger dishes and slower bandwidth compared to Ku-band connections. On the other hand, Ku-band is faster, experiences less microwave interference, and requires less power to run – but is less reliable with bad weather conditions.

MzansiSat’s potential military applications are significant, due to the nature of the military being mobile and possibly in remote areas without connectivity.  Connectivity everywhere would be potentially be life-saving.

Consumers in remote areas will benefit, even though satellite is higher in latency than fibre and LTE connections. While this level of latency is high (a fifth of a second in theory), satellite connections are still adequate for browsing the Internet and watching online content. 

The Internet of Things (IoT) may see the benefits of satellite Internet before consumers do. The applications of IoT in agriculture are vast, from hydration sensors to soil nutrient testers, and can be realised with an Internet connection which is available in a remote area.

Stephanopoli says that e-learning in remote areas can also benefit from MzansiSat’s presence, as many school resources are becoming readily available online. 

“Through our network, the learning experience can be beamed into classrooms across the country to substitute or complement local resources within the South African schooling system.”

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