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Skype calls up Business

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Organisations can now save communications costs thanks to the recently launched Skype for Business. The application is integrated into Office 365 and is designed to modernise voice, video and the overall virtual meeting experience.

Productivity today is centred on conversations—sometimes a quick instant message or call, and sometimes a meeting planned in advance that incorporates voice, video and content sharing.

With many different avenues of communication, people need tools that allow them flexibility in how they connect. For years, consumers have embraced new ways of communicating, but corporate telephony including PBX systems and audio and video conferencing systems, has lagged behind.

Now organisations can replace their legacy meeting and phone systems with new services built on the familiar Skype for Business experience, all integrated within Office 365—the world’s most-used collaboration and productivity platform. Several new Skype for Business communications services are designed to modernise voice, video, and meeting experiences, while saving companies substantial costs in their communication infrastructure.

“Skype for Business is an end-to-end solution that provides seamless communication across multiple platforms and devices, allowing organisations to unify all communications with their business applications and processes, and to streamline how people connect and communicate by leveraging the investments made by enterprises in a single identity and directory service,” says Chantal De Menezes, Skype for Business Product Marketing Manager at Microsoft South Africa.

Simplify infrastructure, lower costs and empower people

Microsoft is the only company that has built this combination of capabilities—a cloud business phone system including dial tone, and a complete meetings solution including audio, video, content sharing and messaging service—as a core part of a complete productivity and collaboration suite, available across mobile platforms and at a global scale.

Today, over half of our business customers are currently paying for multiple conferencing solutions, and many are still using legacy PBX phone systems. Now they can simplify their infrastructure with one cloud platform for meetings and voice, ultimately reducing the cost, complexity and effort of maintaining legacy phone and conferencing systems.

But it’s about more than saving money. People spend nearly a third of their time at work in meetings, yet only 18 percent of information workers actively use conferencing tools that enable rich experiences like video and content sharing. When you consider that nonverbal signals account for nearly 90 percent of the messages we receive during interpersonal communication, it’s clear that moving to modern communication tools can have a dramatic impact on productivity and collaboration.

A case for Skype for Business

German food company Dr. Oetker was utilising a plethora of communication and collaboration tools and wanted to standardise these by using Skype for Business Server 2015.

“We really like Skype for Business because of its full integration with the Skype consumer product and the ability to search for contacts in that product,” says Kathrin Worner, IT Specialist, Infrastructure and Shop Floor Solutions at Dr. Oetker. “Our employees and outside partners immediately knew how to use it, and this was not the case with other tools that required a big investment in user change management.”

“Skype for Business is interoperable with existing communications infrastructure such as PBX phones and the most commonly used video conferencing systems. As a part of Office 365, Skype for Business makes it easy to connect, call, and collaborate in the context of the real work. People can connect and focus on the things they’re doing together — sharing an app, co-creating, or presenting content instead of wasting time navigating disparate tools,” De Menezes added.

By utilising Skype for Business, Dr Oetker employees could develop products, interview job candidates, and provide tech support more efficiently and often without time-consuming travel.

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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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