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Now for a Cloud alternative

The Synology DiskStation 218 Play is an affordable alternative to Cloud storage, writes SEAN BACHER.

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Businesses large and small around the globe are migrating their data to the Cloud – and for good reason. They don’t have to worry about backing up information locally, they can access their data from anywhere in the world, and they don’t have to pay administrators, nor pay for expensive storage hardware.

However good this sounds, it does come with one drawback in South Africa, and that is the cost of data used to upload files to the Cloud – especially for a one person show or very small business. This is compounded when you think of photographers or video makers that deal with extremely large files on a daily basis.

Enter the Synology DiskStation 218 Play.

The Synology DiskStation 218 Play is a reasonably priced network attached solution (NAS) especially designed for small businesses, which have little to no IT administrative experience. All the user needs to do is purchase the Synology unit and two standard SATA hard drives – the size of the hard drives being completely dependent on the user’s needs and budget.

The hard drives are plugged into the DiskStation and the DiskStation is connected to a router through a LAN cable. Once done, a local search for Synology through an Internet browser connects the computer to the NAS’s online configuration wizard. Disk partitions and user accounts and passwords are the first things to be set up, after which the installation wizard asks what the role of the Synology will be. One can assign it as an e-mail server, web server, streaming video server, or just a place to backup data on a daily basis. Depending on the role chosen, a specific set of tools and applications are loaded.

The Synology DiskStation then goes about formatting the hard drives and installing its own Linux-based operating system, called DiskStation Manager.

A novel approach

The DiskStation Manager is a novel approach to network-attached storage devices, as many others rely on a variant of Windows or a native Linux installation, where many of the functions will not be used and in some cases are very difficult to set up without some sort of training.

Once the setup wizard is complete, the drive can be mapped to a local network so users can access it based on the previously set profiles and permissions. For instance, some users may only be allowed to access content on the drives whereas others can edit and delete files.

The DiskStation Manager layout is very clean, with hard drive, system and resource monitors displaying on the right of the screen. On the left, users have access to the control panel and a Package Centre, where additional Synology-specific applications, ranging from an antivirus to a WordPress hosting platform, can be downloaded. Users will also find a File Station option, which performs the same function as the My Computer option on Windows.

The top of the screen displays a task bar with a Start option to access installed applications.

Although the basic setup of the Synology is simple, it allows technical users to access the nitty-gritty of how the device works. For instance, advanced users can decide on when the drives should sleep, or when the DiskStation goes into hibernation. They can also set e-mail notifications should the NAS shut down unexpectedly or when one of the hard drives is about to fail.

More than just a secondary storage device

In addition to the simple set up and ease of use, the Synology offers hard drive redundancy in the form of RAID (Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks). This means that, when the DiskStation has two drives plugged into it, the data is replicated across both drives. Should one of the drives become faulty, all the data stored on that drive would have already been replicated onto the good drive, giving you enough time to get a second hard drive to keep the duplication of data going.

On the downside though, this means you only get the storage space of one of the drives. For instance, plugging in two 3TB hard drives means you only get 3TBs of storage and not 6TB. To make matters worse, there is no way to change this, as it is hardcoded into the system.

Another negative is that the DiskStation 218 Play has to be connected to a router via a LAN cable. It does offer the option of Wi-Fi connection, but an additional Wi-Fi adapter needs to be plugged into the NAS in order to connect wirelessly.

In conclusion

Its relatively inexpensive cost, the ability to install the DiskStation 218 Play without any technical knowledge, and being able to set it to act as just about any type of server you need makes it a great companion for the SME. The additional specifically designed applications work in its favour. The RAID functionality, which is usually only found on more expensive devices, is a huge plus.

The main thing missing is built-in wireless connectivity, as I suspect many users will want to connect the Synology and hide it in the corner of their office, only visiting it when a hard drive fails.

The Synology DiskStation retails for around R3 300, excluding the hard drives.

Cars

Cape Town not so calm – if you’re a driver

Cape Town drivers lose on average 162 hours a year to traffic jams, so will need some tech and a few tips to stay calm

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Cape Town drivers lose, on average, 162 hours a year stuck in traffic jams, and the city is ranked 95th out of around 200 cities, across 38 countries surveyed globally, in terms of congestion issues.

That’s according to the latest INRIX 2018 Global Traffic Scorecard, which is an annual analysis of mobility and congestion trends. The study provides a data-rich evaluation of information collected during peak (slowest) travel times, and inter peak (fastest point between morning and afternoon commutes) travel times. Together they provide a holistic account of congestion throughout the day, delivering in-depth insights for vehicle drivers and policy-makers to make better decisions regarding urban travel and traffic health.

Of the further five South African cities surveyed:

  • Pretoria drivers lose, on average, 143 hours a year stuck in traffic jams, ranking as the 64thmost congested city
  • Johannesburg drivers lose an average of 119 hours annually, ranking 61st
  • Durban drivers lose 72 hours, ranking 141st
  • Port Elizabeth drivers lose 71 hours, ranking 75th
  • And Bloemfontein drivers lose 62 hours, ranking 165th

If these hours sound horrific, spare a thought for the poor drivers in Colombia’s capital city of Bogotá who lose, on average, a whopping 272 hours a year stuck in traffic jams!

On average, drivers’ commutes increase by roughly 30% during peak versus inter-peak hours. And the reality is that congestion issues aren’t going away anytime soon. Not here in SA, or anywhere else in the world. So what can we, as drivers, do to make the situation easier to cope with on our daily commute?

Change of mindset

Stressing about the unavoidable, the inevitable, and all the things that are out of our control – like congestion caused by accidents, faulty street lights, or bad weather – is a waste of energy. We should try finding ways of using that time in our cars more productively, to create a less tense, more positive experience. Learning to change our perspective about this challenging time, and associating it with something enjoyable, can drastically alter our reaction to and engagement with it. Rather than expending all our energy on futile anger and frustration, we can channel our focus on things that relax or energise us instead.

Just one more chapter

Being stuck in traffic usually aggravates us because it feels like a huge waste of valuable time. But like a wise man once said, time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time. Listening to a podcast or audiobook can not only be entertaining, but also educational, which is a brilliant use of your time. Ifyou think of your car as a ‘learning lab’, a mobile university of sorts, and your time spent inside as away to exercise your brain and grow intellectually, you may even find yourself wishing for bad traffic so you have an excuse to carry on listening to your podcast or audiobook.

Tame your inner Hulk

Pulling up a playlist of your favourite, feel-good songs can do wonders to combat stress levels. Downbeat music has been proven to have a mellowing effect on drivers. Making a quick switch to downbeat music shows measurable physiological improvements, with drivers calming down much sooner, and making fewer driving mistakes. So the next time you feel your inner Hulk emerging, crank up the volume on your favourite tunes.

The power of ‘caromatherapy’

There are numerous studies on aromas and their impact on human emotion, behaviour, and performance. Researchers have found that peppermint can enhance mental and athletic performance and cognitive functioning, while cinnamon may improve tasks related to attentional processes and visual-motor response speed. A study from Kyoto University in Japan revealed that participants reported significantly lower hostility and depression scores, and felt more relaxed after awalk through a pine forest. It makes sense then, to incorporate some ‘caromatherapy’ into our lives. There are plenty of off-the-shelf car diffusers available, or you could add a few drops of essential oil to DIY felt air fresheners. Citrus scents like orange or lemon can provide a boost of energy, while rosemary can relieve stress and anxiety. Take care not to hang anything that might obstruct your field of vision though, and always make sure to test out essential oils at home first, in case a scent makes you dizzy or overly relaxed, which could affect driving focus.

Contemplate your navel

The mind is a powerful thing, and simply willing yourself to relax might be the most effective method of all. While we don’t recommend meditating while driving due to safety reasons, breathing exercises can help you stay focused and feeling calm. One useful practice is the one-to-one technique – breathing in and out for the same count with the same intensity. Deep, measured breaths facilitate full oxygen exchange, helping to slow down the rate of your heartbeat and stabilise blood pressure, as opposed to shallow breathing, which doesn’t send enough air to the lowest part of your lungs, causing you to feel anxious and short of breath. Just always keep your eyes on the road, and take care to ensure you’re not so busy counting breaths that your concentration is compromised.

Not all those who wander are lost

Some of our best ideas come in those moments where we’re alone with our own thoughts, able to really reflect on the ideas we have without having something immediate that needs our attention. Allow your mind to wander, and do a little brainstorming. Alternatively, use the time to simply day dream. Remember, downtime is not dead time. It is both necessary, and important for your mental health. Use this time as an opportunity to take care of yourself.

In-built vehicle tech

“As we spend more and more time commuting, cars are being designed to accommodate longer periods behind the wheel,” says Kuda Takura, smart mobility specialist at Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa. “Ford uses human-centric design to deliver vehicles that are inviting, accommodating, and intuitive. For example, our SYNCT infotainment system offers nifty, hands-free functions, like allowing drivers to listen to their texts, change music or climate settings, and make phone calls easily with voice control. Our range of driver-assist technologies, like Adaptive Cruise Control, Pre-Collision Assist with Pedestrian Detection and Semi-Auto Active Park Assist, are also designed to take some of the stress off city driving. If our lifestyle means that we might be spending more time in our cars than we do on holiday, then we should make sure we make the most of that time.”

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Vodacom exits Africa biz services

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Vodacom Group has sold Vodacom Business Africa’s operations in Nigeria, Zambia and Cote d’Ivoire to Andile Ngcaba’s Synergy Communications. The two entities are in the process of concluding the acquisitions, which are subject to the approval of the regulatory authorities within these markets.

Vodacom says the transaction supports the Group’s enterprise strategy in Africa, which has been refocused to grow and strengthen its core business. It will no longer directly service global enterprise customers in these three markets but will rather continue to operate as a pan African telecommunications networks provider through local relationships, like the one with Synergy Communications. 

This acquisition represents a significant milestone in Synergy Communication’s quest to be a leading provider of cloud and digitally based services in key markets across sub-Saharan Africa and provides key additional assets in its build out of a regional footprint. Synergy Communications currently has operations in Botswana, Malawi and Mozambique.

Andile Ngcaba, Chairman of Synergy Communications said: “This is an exciting landmark transaction for Synergy Communications, providing us with additional momentum in the delivery of our strategy as a pan-African enterprise digital Services Provider. Synergy Communications will partner with major global cloud providers and deliver platform-based services to both multi-nationals and local enterprises.”

Shameel Joosub, CEO of Vodacom Group, said: “Vodacom has a clear vision for strengthening our position as a leading pan-African business and will work with local service providers like Synergy Communications to grow in these markets. Crucially, Vodacom is not exiting any of the territories related to this transaction and remains focused on continuing to deliver exceptional service to our global and multinational clients in these markets through long-term commercial agreements. 

“To support the sustainable growth of pan African digital economies and building connected societies, Vodacom will, via local service providers, continue to service clients in each market. We seek to leverage the collective strengths of Vodacom and Synergy Communications to meet the changing requirements of clients across each of these markets.”

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