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The incredibly disappearing gadgets

Remember when you bought software in a box off the shelf? Then came the Internet and it all disappeared into the background. Now gadgets may go the same way, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

Do you remember when software was something consumers and small businesses bought in a box off a shelf in a store? Today, that sounds like a quaint way of packaging something that will live out its useful life on a computing device.

But now, even the device itself may go away. Or, at least, the device as we know it, as a large box on a desk or a mobile device that only just fits into a pocket or handbag.

Anything that relies on a display, on a connection to the Internet, or on data storage, can potentially be reduced to a computer chip with projection capabilities.

The best clue to that came last month at Lenovo Tech World in San Francisco, when CEO Yuanqing Yang, together with actor Ashton Kutcher, unveiled the new Moto Z phone and its family of snap-on add-ons called Moto Mods (reported in this column during June).

One of these Mods was a snap-on projector called the Insta-Share Projector, which projects a screen onto any surface, and picks up finger gestures in order to make the display interactive.

Today, the Insta-Share can project anything from a virtual keyboard for the phone to a 70” wall display, more than big enough to watch movies. In future, it may provide even bigger displays from a smaller device.

Add this to the a new device launched by Sony at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona earlier this year, the Xperia Projector, which projects an interactive display onto any surface, and you start seeing a trend emerge.

And then add to these the comments made by Google CEO Sundar Pichai in his “Founders’ Letter” in April, and you have a revolution in the making: “…the next big step will be for the very concept of the ‘device’ to fade away. Over time, the computer itself—whatever its form factor—will be an intelligent assistant helping you through your day. We will move from mobile first to an AI (Artificial Intelligence) first world.”

The Xperia Projector had already signalled this shift.  Right now, the Projector is an object the size of a small PC tower. But, with the rapid advance of miniaturisation, it’s easy to envisage it shrinking dramatically.

Once you can cram its intelligence into a keyring, pendant or even a ring, for example, it could be the end of the smartphone as we know it. In a restaurant, all you’d need is a serviette on which to project the interface of the “phone”. In a few years’ time, then, it could be a good idea to invest in serviettes, but certainly not in smartphone hardware.

“Today we are dependent on our phones, but as the communication paradigm shifts to new forms of communication, we want to be at the forefront of new ideas,” said Sony CEO Kazuo Hirai at a media briefing in Tokyo. He envisaged a company that would focus on building greater intelligence into devices and services, rather than focusing exclusively on the hardware.

“At Sony we have a lot of different technology and a lot of great products that push the boundaries of communication intelligently,” he said.

On the other side of the world, at the EMC World conference in Las Vegas in May, the flip side of this vision emerged from a keynote address by Dell founder and CEO Michael Dell, in explaining why his company had paid a record $67-billion for storage leaders EMC.

“It all begins with the modern data centre,” he said. “Once, the data centre was used to manage the back office and make it more efficient. Now, it has to support the business as the business becomes more digital. Every company has to become a software company to compete and succeed.”

He outlined an even more vigorous vision than Hirai’s: “The future will be defined by technology that is so powerful, it will be difficult to comprehend. 2001 was the beginning of a new model for computer delivery. Today those marvels seem like relics from a museum. Processing power increases 10 times every five years. Think 15 years from now, to 2031. We’ll have a 1000-fold increase over what we have today.”

This will mean less and less dependence on storage on devices and premises. In the same way software and the Internet became invisible as it evolved, so will storage.

And if all you need is the interface to a computer, rather than the computer itself, even tablets and computers will become invisible.

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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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