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Still not in Cloud? You may be left behind

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A few years ago, cloud computing was touted as the next big thing. Today, however cloud computing is not an option but a necessity for businesses wanting to stay ahead of the curve, writes AJ HARTENBERG of T-Systems.

Just a few short years ago, we in the technology industry were touting cloud computing as the latest and greatest competitive advantage for progressive companies. Fast-forward to today, and it now seems like cloud migration is more of a hygiene factor than a competitive differentiator.

Simply put, if you’re not already moving your IT estate into private, hybrid or public clouds, you’re going to fall behind in the coming years.

Markets are digitising, they’re globalising, and they’re coalescing into each other, or splintering apart in interesting new ways. And these market shifts are changing the rules of the game for everybody.

Netflix started life as a DVD rental company, then became a video streaming service, and is now spending $5billion a year on creating original movies and TV series. Nintendo’s modern-era began with console games, before launching a new realm of motion-sensor technology with the inventive Nintendo Wii. In its most recent ‘pivot’, the immersive augmented reality game Pokemon Go, it hauled in $200 million in just its first month.

There’s a litany of reasons for these firms’ successes – from culture, to leadership, to strategy. But from a technology perspective, boundary-pushing companies like Netflix and Nintendo all share one common principle – flexible, scalable cloud architectures that enable the rapid expansion of services, to millions of users.

These two firms have truly leveraged the power of cloud computing. But, in fact, in every industry you’ll find examples of digital cavaliers, quickly gobbling market share from slower-paced incumbents who’ve been entrenched for decades.

Failing fast, failing forward

Cloud-based digital tools and assets allow organisations to create new routes to market, insert themselves into new value chains, and address entirely new customer segments and geographies. They help the organisation to better understand changing market dynamics, influences and trends – and to respond with speed and decisiveness.

The cloud also enables faster, lower-risk experimentation with new strategies, products or services. If a prototype proves successful, then it can be scaled up to achieve commercial value. And, if it’s unsuccessful, then it can be quickly shut down and the team can move on to explore other ideas – it’s a principle we refer to as ‘failing fast, and failing forward’.

With the real-time data streams that cloud computing makes possible, businesses can fine-tune every aspect of their operations – making minor tweaks where the data points to improvement opportunities. Perhaps the data leads you to make changes to the production schedule, to change supplier relationships, or to change the tone of the marketing campaign, for instance.

We talk about a cloud-centred business being a blend of both art and science. This is the true beauty of the cloud: it unleashes the creativity of the creative types, to dream and to design. At the same time is provides a platform for the more left-brained team members to form methodologies, gain control, and ultimately make ideas commercially-viable.

In fact, the science of big data might reveal opportunities, for creatives to find an innovative solution to capture that market opportunity

Now, imagine an analogue business trying to compete, without all of these cloud benefits?

Taking the plunge

Despite all of the cloud’s compelling advantages, migrating part or one’s entire IT estate to the cloud often entails incredible complexity, uncertainty and cost. These concerns tend to cause inertia in decision-making, particularly in larger, more entrenched businesses, or those in protected and slower-moving industries.

Some traditional businesses are so consumed with the day-to-day grind of simply ‘keeping the lights on’ that they hardly have time to think about future-proofing their enterprise technology. And others still are remaining relatively successful – for the time being – without having made any serious attempt at digital transformation.

But the question is, for how much longer will this last?

For large organisations, cloud migrations are certainly complex and scary. But there are ways to manage the risks and costs, and become more certain of success. It generally starts with a comprehensive evaluation of your IT environment, and a very sharp understanding of your own business, your market, your customers, and your competitors.

Find a trusted technology partner, one that’s helped other firms through the process of cloud migration, and is willing to shoulder much of the risk and provide guarantees in terms of both costs and business returns. Once you’ve selected the right strategy and the right partner, commit to the transition and pour all your energy into making your cloud migration a resounding success.

As we see with the likes of Netflix and Nintendo, cloud-based organisations have one crucial advantage over their more traditional peers – the ability to continually reinvent themselves, serve new customer demands, and respond to ever-shifting market landscapes.

The time is now. Take any longer, and you may never catch up.

* AJ Hartenberg, Portfolio Manager: Data Centre Services for T-Systems, South Africa

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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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