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SA behind in SDN

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Software Defined Networks is taking the world by storm as organisations seek greater control over their data centre. However, research has shown that South Africa is behind the adoption curve, writes JOHAN DE VILLIERS, Managing Director, First Technology.

Software Defined Networking (SDN) is taking the rest of the world by storm as organisations seek greater control, performance and management across the data centre and the network; and recognise the benefits SDN can offer in terms of cost savings on capital and operating costs, improved network performance, increased productivity, and improved security.

However, new research shows South Africa is behind the adoption curve. First Technology and Extreme Networks recently polled 200 South African business respondents, including 6 CIOs, 43 C-suite executives, 70 IT managers and 81 IT professionals on their views on SDN and the cloud, which is closely aligned with SDN.

Surprisingly, 30.5% of respondents said they didn’t know what SDN was; 27.38% had no plans to adopt an SDN strategy, and 11.81% did not believe SDN would benefit them.27.83% said their companies were not using SDN and had no plans to do so, 48.11% said their companies were currently embarking on SDN strategies, and 24.06% said their companies were already SDN-enabled.

In a market expected to top $132 billion globally by 2022, South Africa is lagging, even though local survey respondents said their top network priorities right now were performance (35.42%) and security (33.96%) – all areas where advanced new SDN platforms offer solutions. Extreme Networks’ EXOS Linux-based operating system, for example, supports fast and flexible yet consistent provisioning, programmability and heterogeneity across platforms.

The majority of respondents believed their companies were somewhat ready (41.06%) or completely ready (38.16%) ready for Software Defined Networking. However, 20.77% said their companies were not ready for SDN. South African IT professionals who had no SDN strategy reported that complexity (47.26%) and cost (40.93%) stood in the way of adoption.

As SDN maturity is closely linked with cloud adoption, South African respondents were also asked about their companies’ current level of cloud adoption. The largest proportion (37.71%) reported some private cloud use. 16.53% reported some hybrid cloud use, 15.68% said they made some use of public cloud, and only 14.83% reported that their companies made extensive use of the cloud.  15.25% reported that their companies made no use of the cloud at all. Respondents said the main factors hampering their companies’ optimal use of cloud technologies were security concerns (35.12%), control and management concerns (27.09%), cost (26.76%) and limitations caused by existing infrastructure (11.04%).

The SDN and cloud concerns can be easily overcome, however. Advanced new solutions such as Extreme Networks’ SDN deliver open-standards, comprehensive platform that makes it easy for any organisation to deploy SDN solutions, regardless of their size or in-house skills. Organisations can now migrate their existing networks without expensive forklift upgrades. They can accelerate application innovation and reduces risks for the entire network. They address complexity concerns through modular, open and standards-based development environments that integrate with existing infrastructure and avoid architecture lock-in, while also offering edge-to-core management that addresses enterprise concerns around security, control and management.

In the South African survey, respondents believed the top benefits of SDN were centralised security (22.77%), centralised network provisioning (22.28%), lower operating costs (15.35%), holistic enterprise management (12.87%), cloud abstraction (8.17%) and guaranteed content delivery (6.93%). These results are in line with international trends, where SDN’s benefits are well recognised.

A software-defined approach to business and IT accelerates digital transformation and addresses key concerns among South African IT managers and CIOs; and SDN is increasingly recognised as the architectural model most capable of aligning with the 3rd platform for IT. In a hyper-connected world, SDN has never been more important for keeping it all together, and South Africa needs to move faster to overcome its concerns and catch up.

 

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Personal computing devices sales still decline in MEA

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The Middle East and Africa (MEA) personal computing devices (PCD) market, which is made up of desktops, notebooks, workstations, and tablets, suffered a decline of -7.3% year on year in Q2 2017, according to the latest insights from International Data Corporation (IDC).

The global technology research and consulting firm’s Quarterly PCD Tracker for Q2 2017 shows that PCD shipments fell to around 6 million units for the quarter.

“As forecast, the market followed a similar pattern to recent quarters, with the downturn primarily stemming from a decline in shipments of slate tablets and desktops,” says Fouad Charakla, IDC’s senior research manager for client devices in the Middle East, Turkey, and Africa. “This was the result of desktop users increasingly switching to mobile devices such as notebooks or even refurbished notebooks, while users of slate tablets shifted to smartphones. These trends translated into year-on-year declines of -21.9% for desktops and -15.7% for slate tablets in Q2 2017, while shipments of notebooks and detachable tablets increased 11.0% and 63.3%, respectively over the same period.”

“Market sentiment in the region remained low overall, although an aggressive push from some slate tablet vendors meant the market declined much slower than expected,” continues Charakla. “At the same time, heightened competition has also made it harder for certain players to sustain their slate tablet businesses and generate profits, causing them to lose interest in the slate tablet market altogether. Despite this, slate tablets are still the most popular computing device among home users in the region.”

Looking at the region’s key markets, IDC’s research shows that when compared to Q2 2016 overall PCD shipments were down -11.4% in the UAE, -8.9% in Turkey, and -6.7% in the ‘Rest of Middle East’ sub-region (comprising Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Palestine, and Afghanistan). South Africa and Saudi Arabia bucked this trend, recording year-on-year increases of 3.5% and 9.6%, respectively.

A massive education delivery in Pakistan acted as a key driver for notebook shipments in the region overall. Similarly, the education sector was the biggest driver of detachable tablet shipments, triggered by a huge delivery in Kenya, as well as two other deliveries in Pakistan and Turkey, which enabled this category to achieve the fastest growth of all the PCD categories.

“While a component shortage prevented market players from reducing their prices too much, the average price of consumer notebooks experienced a considerable year-on-year decline in Q2 2017,” says Charakla. “This played a key role in driving demand from the consumer segment, and was reflected in the growing popularity of lower-priced notebook models.”

Looking at the PC market’s vendor rankings, each of the top five vendors maintained their respective positions compared to the previous quarter, with the top four all gaining share.

Middle East & Africa PC Market Vendor Shares – Q2 2016 vs. Q2 2017

Brand Q2 2016 Q2 2017
HP Inc. 23.7% 27.6%
Lenovo 19.8% 21.5%
Dell 16.3% 16.7%
ASUS 8.7% 9.4%
Acer Group 5.9% 4.1%
Others 25.7% 20.7%

Although Samsung continued to lead the tablet market, the vendor rankings in the space saw quite a few changes, with Huawei catapulting itself to second place. Lenovo also climbed up a position compared to the previous quarter, causing Apple to drop to fourth place.

Middle East & Africa Tablet Market Vendor Shares – Q2 2016 vs. Q2 2017

Brand Q2 2016 Q2 2017
Samsung 20.5% 18.9%
Huawei 11.2% 15.8%
Lenovo 12.7% 9.8%
Apple 9.1% 8.8%
Alcatel 2.9% 5.0%
Others 43.5% 41.7%

“Looking to the future, the MEA PCD market is expected to decline at a faster rate than previously forecast for 2017 as a whole,” says Charakla. “Technological shifts are playing a pivotal role in deciding the future of this market, with demand for certain products shifting to other PCD products and beyond (i.e., smartphones). Accordingly, shipments of slate tablets are expected to continue declining over the coming years as demand is cannibalized by smartphones. Meanwhile, the ongoing shift to mobile computing will see growth in the desktop market remain close to flat throughout IDC’s forecast period ending 2021. Notebook shipments will experience very slow growth beyond 2018, while detachable tablets will remain the fastest growing PCD category, eating away share from other computing devices.”

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Gazer cyber-spies exposed

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ESET has released new research into the activities of the Turla cyberespionage group, and specifically a previously undocumented backdoor that has been used to spy on consulates and embassies worldwide.

ESET’s research team are the first in the world to document the advanced backdoor malware, which they have named “Gazer”, despite evidence that it has been actively deployed in targeted attacks against governments and diplomats since at least 2016.

Gazer’s success can be explained by the advanced methods it uses to spy on its intended targets, and its ability to remain persistent on infected devices, embedding itself out of sight on victim’s computers in an attempt to steal information for a long period of time.

ESET researchers have discovered that Gazer has managed to infect a number of computers around the world, with the most victims being located in Europe. Curiously, ESET’s examination of a variety of different espionage campaigns which used Gazer has identified that the main target appears to have been Southeastern Europe as well as countries in the former Soviet Union Republic.

The attacks show all the hallmarks of past campaigns launched by the Turla hacking group, namely:

  • Targeted organisations are embassies and ministries;
  • Spearphishing delivers a first-stage backdoor such as Skipper;
  • A second stealthier backdoor (Gazer in this instance, but past examples have included Carbon and Kazuar) is put in place;
  • The second-stage backdoor receives encrypted instructions from the gang via C&C servers, using compromised, kegitimate websites as a proxy.

Another notable similarity between Gazer and past creations of the Turla cyberespionage group become obvious when the malware is analysed. Gazer makes extra efforts to evade detection by changing strings within its code, randomizing markers, and wiping files securely.

In the most recent example of the Gazer backdoor malware found by ESET’s research team, clear evidence was seen that someone had modified most of its strings, and inserted phrases related to video games throughout its code.

Don’t be fooled by the sense of humour that the Turla hacking group are showing here, falling foul of computer criminals is no laughing manner.

All organisations, whether governmental, diplomatic, law enforcement, or in traditional business, need to take today’s sophisticated threats serious and adopt a layered defence to reduce the chances of a security breach.

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