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Tablets and cloud can transform education in SA

Local schools are struggling with the high costs of textbooks, a shortage of teachers in key subjects, and difficulties in funding IT infrastructure. However, technology continues to offer some compelling answers to these challenges, writes ERNST WITTMANN, Regional Manager for Southern Africa at Alcatel.

South African schools and universities are struggling with the high costs of textbooks and other educational materials, a shortage of teachers in key subjects like maths and science, and difficulties in funding IT infrastructure. However, technology continues to offer some compelling answers to these challenges.

A combination of falling data connectivity prices, more widespread fibre and 3G/4G/LTE networks, and affordable, reliable tablet computers means that schools and tertiary institutions can start tapping into the cloud for learning materials. Here are a few reasons education is likely to head for the cloud in the years to come.

1. No more IT support headaches

One of the biggest reasons technology has stumbled in South African schools is a lack of IT skills at schools to install software, manage servers and maintain networks. But with the cloud, students will just need a device with a modern web browser and a decent Internet connection to access the latest learning materials from the cloud.

2. A world of resources available online

Textbooks are expensive and so are many traditional software packages aimed at schools, teachers and students. The cloud changes the economics by offering resources for a low monthly subscription fee or even for free.

This includes school management and administration systems, tools for teachers, productivity software (like Dropbox and Gmail) and learning software (like interactive maths or language software for schoolchildren).

From maths to physics, English to biology, schoolchildren have a wide range of content at their fingertips through mobile apps or online services.

3. Less upfront IT investment

Teachers and principals know that schoolchildren will need to be computer-literate to succeed in the information economy. But the costs of installing a computer lab with a network and server infrastructure are prohibitive; what’s more, expensive IT infrastructure is a target for thieves.

With the cloud, the school simply needs to be in an area with good mobile broadband coverage or to install fibre and Wi-Fi access points.

Students can access cloud applications from a tablet computer that could cost just a couple of thousand rands, greatly reducing the upfront cost of creating a high-tech learning environment.

4. Schoolwork on demand

One of the biggest benefits of the cloud is that it enables the world to become the classroom. Students and learners can access content wherever they are, including textbooks, coursework, tests, videos and other materials their teachers put online. Whether they are sick at home or at school, schoolchildren are still able to access the learning resources they need.

The cloud can also encourage independent learning, allowing students to learn at their own pace. Advanced students can challenge themselves with more difficult work; meanwhile, a child that is struggling with a maths problem can revise and revisit the materials in his or her own time.

5. Better classroom collaboration

Of course, technology isn’t just about working independently. It can also facilitate collaboration, even helping schoolchildren and students prepare for how people work together in today’s business world.  For example, learners can work together on essays in Google Apps or reach out to friends on Slack for help with an algebra problem. They can even collaborate with children and teachers on the other side of the world.

Taking the cloud to the classroom

Tablets, as flexible and functional media consumption and creation devices, are arguably the most natural way to give learners access to the cloud’s learning resources. They’re cost-effective (especially entry-level Android-based models), offer decent battery life, and are easy to support from an IT perspective.

In addition, tablets are lighter and more portable than notebooks, yet offer larger screens than smartphones. Another benefit is that tablets offer schoolchildren a range of learning tools in one place. They can record the classroom session for later review, use calculators and other tools, and do so much more on one interface.

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Veeam passes $1bn, prepares for cloud’s ‘Act II’

Leader in cloud-data management reveals how it will harness the next growth phase of the data revolution, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

Veeam Software, the quiet leader in backup solutions for cloud data management,has announced that it has passed $1-billion in revenues, and is preparing for the next phase of sustained growth in the sector.

Now, it is unveiling what it calls Act II, following five years of rapid growth through modernisation of the data centre. At the VeeamON 2019conferencein Miami this week, company co-founder Ratmir Timashev declared that the opportunities in this new era, focused on managing data for the hybrid cloud, would drive the next phase of growth.

“Veeam created the VMware backup market and has dominated it as the leader for the last decade,” said Timashev, who is also executive vice president for sales and marketing at the organisation. “This was Veeam’s Act I and I am delighted that we have surpassed the $1 billion mark; in 2013 I predicted we’d achieve this in less than six years. 

“However, the market is now changing. Backup is still critical, but customers are now building hybrid clouds with AWS, Azure, IBM and Google, and they need more than just backup. To succeed in this changing environment, Veeam has had to adapt. Veeam, with its 60,000-plus channel and service provider partners and the broadest ecosystem of technology partners, including Cisco, HPE, NetApp, Nutanix and Pure Storage, is best positioned to dominate the new cloud data management in our Act II.”

In South Africa, Veeam expects similar growth. Speaking at the Cisco Connect conference in Sun City this week, country manager Kate Mollett told Gadget’s BRYAN TURNER that the company was doing exceptionally well in this market.

“In financial year 2018, we saw double-digit growth, which was really very encouraging if you consider the state of the economy, and not so much customer sentiment, but customers have been more cautious with how they spend their money. We’ve seen a fluctuation in the currency, so we see customers pausing with big decisions and hoping for a recovery in the Rand-Dollar. But despite all of the negatives, we have double digit growth which is really good. We continue to grow our team and hire.

“From a Veeam perspective, last year we were responsible for Veeam Africa South, which consisted of South Africa, SADC countries, and the Indian Ocean Islands. We’ve now been given the responsibility for the whole of Africa. This is really fantastic because we are now able to drive a single strategy for Africa from South Africa.”

Veeam has been the leading provider of backup, recovery and replication solutions for more than a decade, and is growing rapidly at a time when other players in the backup market are struggling to innovate on demand.

“Backup is not sexy and they made a pretty successful company out of something that others seem to be screwing up,” said Roy Illsley, Distinguished Analyst at Ovum, speaking in Miami after the VeeamOn conference. “Others have not invested much in new products and they don’t solve key challenges that most organisations want solved. Theyre resting on their laurels and are stuck in the physical world of backup instead of embracing the cloud.”

Illsley readily buys into the Veeam tagline. “It just works”. 

“They are very good at marketing but are also a good engineering comany that does produce the goods. Their big strength, that it just works, is a reliable feature they have built into their product portfolio.”

Veeam said in statement from the event that, while it had initially focused on server virtualisation for VMware environments, in recent years it had expanded this core offering. It was now delivering integration with multiple hypervisors, physical servers and endpoints, along with public and software-as-a-service workloads, while partnering with leading cloud, storage, server, hyperconverged (HCI) and application vendors.

This week, it  announced a new “with Veeam”program, which brings in enterprise storage and hyperconverged (HCI) vendors to provide customers with comprehensive secondary storage solutions that combine Veeam software with industry-leading infrastructure systems. Companies like ExaGrid and Nutanix have already announced partnerships.

Timashev said: “From day one, we have focused on partnerships to deliver customer value. Working with our storage and cloud partners, we are delivering choice, flexibility and value to customers of all sizes.”

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‘Energy scavenging’ funded

As the drive towards a 5G future gathers momentum, the University of Surrey’s research into technology that could power countless internet enabled devices – including those needed for autonomous cars – has won over £1M from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and industry partners.

Surrey’s Advanced Technology Institute (ATI) has been working on triboelectric nanogenerators (TENG), an energy harvesting technology capable of ‘scavenging’ energy from movements such as human motion, machine vibration, wind and vehicle movements to power small electronic components. 

TENG energy harvesting is based on a combination of electrostatic charging and electrostatic induction, providing high output, peak efficiency and low-cost solutions for small scale electronic devices. It’s thought such devices will be vital for the smart sensors needed to enable driverless cars to work safely, wearable electronics, health sensors in ‘smart hospitals’ and robotics in ‘smart factories.’ 

The ATI will be partnered on this development project with the Georgia Institute of Technology, QinetiQ, MAS Holdings, National Physical Laboratory, Soochow University and Jaguar Land Rover. 

Professor Ravi Silva, Director of the ATI and the principal investigator of the TENG project, said: “TENG technology is ideal to power the next generation of electronic devices due to its small footprint and capacity to integrate into systems we use every day. Here at the ATI, we are constantly looking to develop such advanced technologies leading towards our quest to realise worldwide “free energy”.

“TENGs are an ideal candidate to power the autonomous electronic systems for Internet of Things applications and wearable electronic devices. We believe this research grant will allow us to further the design of optimized energy harvesters.”

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