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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.

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AppDate: uKheshe bring banking to the masses

In his apps roundup, SEAN BACHER highlights uKheshe, FNB’s banking app with its will feature, Split Payments, Momentum Safety Alert and Fleetonomy.

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uKheshe micro transaction platform

Financial inclusion took another step forward as local start-up, uKheshe, South Africa’s cheapest and most convenient QR cash card and micro transaction platform, won the 2019 Global Fintech Hackcelerator @ Southern Africa competition. 

“The issue of financial inclusion is a global one and the more we can do to uplift the unbanked and under banked, the healthier their respective economies will become,” says Clayton Hayward, co-founder, uKheshe.

While 1.2 billion people have opened a financial account since 2011, there is still an estimated 1.7 billion adults worldwide (or 31% of adults) who don’t have a basic transaction account.  Globally, two-thirds of adults without an account cite a lack of money as a key reason, which implies that financial services aren’t yet affordable or designed to fit low-income users.

To find out more about uKheshe click here

FNB’s banking app with will feature

First National Bank now lets its customers draw up their own wills via the FNB Online Banking platform at no cost. To date, the bank has seen a significant increase in the number of clients who drafted their own wills online, with over 52 000 clients already accessing the functionality.

Approximately 80% of South Africans don’t have a valid will in place; and many people believe that it’s a need only when they get older, or later in life. 

“Whilst the digital process is simple and easy to use, the solution also helps with a dedicated client support centre should clients need further assistance or advice regarding the drafting of their wills,” says Johan Strydom, Growth Head, FNB Wealth and Investments. “The solution aims to simplify the process and allows customers to easily draft a will online anytime and at any place, at no cost. In addition, FNB will keep your original will in safe custody at no extra cost.”

Platform: Android and iOS

Expect to pay: A free download

Stockists: Available the FNB app which can be be downloaded here.

Split Payments

PayFast has launched Split Payments, a South African-first that instantly splits a portion of an online payment with a third party. The service is designed to facilitate fast, safe payments for platform-based businesses, including online marketplaces.

For those who run a marketplace that brings together multiple sellers or merchants looking for new sales channels, Split Payments addresses payment headaches with a simple API integration.

Consumers are used to engaging with large global transactional platforms such as AirBnB, Uber, and Amazon. The benefits and extended reach of these types of platforms are catching on locally, and organisations like estate agency groups and even community marketplaces are setting up digital trading platforms.

The app allows businesses to instantly split out commission, membership or listing fees, when a payment is made via one of its supported payment methods.

For each online payment received  the business can determine what the split is, either a fixed amount, a percentage, or a combination of both. Custom recurring payment integration, such as subscriptions payments, can also be split automatically.

Platform: iOS and Android

Expect to pay: A free download

Stockists: Download Split Payments here

Read more about Momentum’s new Safety Alert app and Fleetonomy.

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Why 4G is still a thing

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Even with the 5G era already upon us, investment in 4G/LTE networks is still vitally important for operators in sub-Saharan Africa and must remain a core focus of network construction for the immediate future. This is according to David Chen, Vice-President, Huawei Southern Africa. 

“Currently, the mobile broadband penetration rate in Africa is only 47%, while 4G penetration rate is merely 10%,” Chen said.

“Insufficient coverage causes LTE users to fall back to the 2G or 3G networks, resulting in significant decline in user experience. It also leads to congestion on the 2G and 3G networks and makes it difficult to release spectrum used by 2G and 3G.”

Chen said that LTE and 5G complement each other and are evolving in parallel. In the next few years, 5G will mainly be used in more industrial communications.

LTE will remain the primary choice for global mobile communications through 2025. It will form the basic layer of national networks, especially when it comes to the mobile broadband access.

“It will take a long time for 5G to provide nationwide continuous coverage. Before that, enhanced LTE networks can guarantee optimal user experience for 5G users, including services such as VR, AR, and cloud gaming,” said Chen.

He said that it is important for operators to invest in 4G to secure future growth, as it is estimated that there will be an additional 80 million LTE users in sub-Saharan Africa by 2025.

Driven by this growth, LTE traffic in sub-Saharan Africa will increase by a factor of 8.8. By 2025, about 80% of all data traffic in the region will be over an LTE network.

LTE will also be the main source of future revenue for operators.

“According to GSMA Intelligence, 2G and 3G users in sub-Saharan Africa will gradually migrate to 4G,” said Chen. “By 2025, the proportion of 2G users will drop from 46% to 12%.”

Part of the reason for the migration to 4G is because the ecosystem is mature.

“The price of feature phones supporting VoLTE in the sub-Saharan Africa market has been as low as $25,” Chen said.

Since 5G equipment is already available, there is an opportunity for operators to build out their 4G networks while ensuring that they can evolve to 5G in future.

Chen offered the following tips to operators to ensure they are ready for 5G:

  • All future equipment installations should be 5G ready, allowing easy upgrades to 5G through software updates.
  • Software should support multi-standard spectrum sharing to improve spectrum efficiency, and to allow the smooth migration of 2G and 3G users.
  • Networks must support 4G and 5G coordination, in terms of spectrum, operation and maintenance. This will ensure that users have a consistent experience as we enter the 5G era.
  • The value of existing ICT infrastructure, such as base station sites, must be maximised to avoid overlapping services and wasted resources. This would mean boosting the capacity and coverage of every station for optimum efficiency.
  • Carriers should explore the business case for all possible 5G innovations when building 4G networks, and not just embrace 5G for its own sake. This will mean building business models around IoT, video, live broadcast, augmented reality, and virtual reality.
  • It is important that operators build partnerships with providers that can support the ongoing spectrum evolution with fast site upgrades and large-capacity solutions. The idea is to maximise the value of 4G networks, and smoothly evolve to 5G without unnecessary infrastructure investment.

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