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Raspberry Pi ripe for business?

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Consumerised hardware that supports open architectures is a growing component of the new software-defined everything concept. An example of this type of hardware is the Raspberry Pi, writes RUAN VENTER, Principal Consultant at Ovations.

The consumerisation of IT and more importantly IT infrastructure is a growing trend in an industry where the application is fast becoming king. In short CIOs need infrastructure that supports open standards, is flexible enough to slot into a growing digital and cloud based architecture, and that won’t break the bank while still delivering on his innovation mandate.

At Ovations we are constantly looking for new ways in which we can meet the needs of the customer, yet can still foster an environment for innovation and development. It is with this that we have started looking at the possible use of the Raspberry Pi computer as a device that answers the call for consumerised hardware that can provide a platform for the rapid deployment of new applications in an enterprise while ensuring it stays affordable and cheap to deploy in any environment.

What is Raspberry Pi?

In short the Raspberry Pi is, according to the manufacturer “a low cost, credit-card sized PC that plugs into a computer monitor or TV, and uses a standard keyboard and mouse”. Initially a device that was designed to encourage the use of technology amongst children, the Raspberry Pi has evolved significantly.

Even though the main supported operating system is Raspbian you can install other operating systems such as Ubuntu MATE, Ubuntu Core, OSMC, RIS OS, Windows 10 IoT and much more.

As the Pi is capable of performing all the tasks a normal desktop computer does, from browsing the Internet, to creating and disseminating business documents, its use can be far more pervasive than just an educational tool.

Think big

The device was designed to be low cost, and keeping costs low is a major driving point for the manufacturer. It’s the perfect entry level device for companies looking to leverage full computing power in a more streamlined and cost affordable way.

As an example, if you were to couple the device with beacon technology you could create an alerts driven environment – that through communicating to each other can set off a series of events. Think about this in a manufacturing or supply chain environment where beacons alert devices of tasks completed and through a daisy chain effect, the devices then start the next set of processes in logistics or production environment. It’s the true concept of automation.

Or let’s take a bank as an example. On arrival your device is picked up on entry into the environment and your query is solved by the time you reach the counter. Another example is home automation, linking your Pi to an intelligent home environment will allow you to define when geysers, heating, air-conditioning, and even lights are turned on or off – here the potential resource savings aspects are endless.

Not thinking big enough? What about snapping security pictures on entry into a building, hooking it into a PLC for the remote management of plants, making use of it as a card swiping or POS mechanism in a retail environment, or using it in mines to track and trace equipment and even people?

Open to the core

The Raspberry Pi presents a unique opportunity for businesses for a simple reason. It is open. And when they say it is open it really is. It’s a developer’s dream to work with and as a result a myriad applications can be built for the system using Python languages or a host of other freely available coding languages.

If we take into account that the next wave of computing – cloud computing – is upon us and this is opening the doors to technology concepts such as the Internet of Things (IoT) as well as fostering the growth of the digital business based on systems that are cloud native, the only limit when using the Raspberry Pi is your imagination – or the skills of your developers.

A business tool

Why should a business start looking at devices such as the Raspberry Pi? It is not just the Pi itself that we need to consider – it’s the entire opportunity it presents. Consumerised hardware that supports open architectures are most certainly a growing component of the new software-defined everything concept that is shaping IT today.

CIOs rely on their IT departments to not just keep the lights on, but also to innovate and position their businesses as competitive in this increasingly digital world. Think about the potential of hooking cost effective devices that you can write to, secure and communicate with, across multiple geographies at a lower cost than the current handhelds or tablets available today.

Suddenly the security risks of BYOD (Bring your own device) fly out the window as you remain in control, but the computing power needed by your users is still provided to them. Bear in mind that they recently sent a Raspberry Pi into space, even built an underwater Drone to take photos using one.

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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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