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Towards the virtual desktop in SA

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Client virtualisation is high on the agenda of many enterprises, and righty so, as it brings many benefits with it. But what about South Africa? We have some unique challenges that need to be overcome before we will be on a global par, says ANDRE SCHWAN of T-Systems.

Client virtualisation is high on the agenda of many enterprises. According to a survey by consultants Centracon, nearly half of all 309 organisations polled believe that virtualisation is more efficient and economical than traditional desktop structures.

Furthermore, they are even more interested in virtual desktops’ promise of greater flexibility and lower management and administrative overheads. These systems can be managed or expanded with little effort.

From a the total cost of ownership (TCO) perspective, the Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental, Safety and Energy Technology’s ‚PC vs. Thin Client‚ study says that, in some environments, virtual desktops can even lower the TCO by more than 40 percent compared to a managed desktop.

Another important benefit ‚ and a key one ‚ is virtual desktops’ user-friendly and usability features. Everything is preconfigured ‚ no more tampering with individual laptops or desktops ‚ so it allows for easy access to e-mails, contacts, appointments, installed applications and company data.

When considering the above, where does South Africa stand and are local organisations as eager to move to a virtualised desktop environment?

The main and obvious benefits

In order to contextualise both our local scenario and argue a case for virtual desktops, we need to drill down to some of the most pertinent benefits.

Virtualised desktop environments could offer substantial support cost savings. However, this will depend on where it is deployed. For example, benefits are greater in a branch/distributed type scenario as opposed to a campus environment.

Quite obviously, as support is provided virtually in addition to the ability to make changes from a central location, i.e. the data centre, it can be implemented easily, mitigating unnecessary travel and onsite support expenditure. This is where geographically dispersed scenarios stand more to gain.

A second important benefit is security. The IT department becomes more agile and can make changes immediately without waiting for propagation to occur, thereby safeguarding the organisation’s important information assets. Changes can be implemented in the data centre and deployed to the devices connected to the virtual desktop environment. This approach creates opportunities to increase logical security in terms of data protection and privacy protection which will become an important consideration for companies adhering to King III.

In environments where device theft is high, users often experience the frustration of loss of critical data, which in turn impacts the organisations that they work for with loss of productivity and increased risk through the loss of intellectual property. Virtualised environments can limit these consequences significantly.

Moreover, with the proliferation of mobility and Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), it is important that the IT department protects the company against external threats while also integrating the devices in a safe and controlled manner. ‚Thin’ technologies, including Virtual Desktops and Web-based solutions provide mechanisms that can facilitate the introduction of these devices into the company landscape and workflow while addressing some of the biggest concerns that arise from it.

Virtual desktops also improve infrastructure availability as one desktop or thin client device can simply be swapped out by someone at the office and replaced with a new one. It is really as simple as plugging in a new one and gaining access to your virtual profile. This also means that shared or loaned devices are a viable possibility.

Lastly, it gives way to a standardised environment that can be centrally managed and administered.

The SA Scenario

The above are only few of the important benefits of virtual desktops and demonstrate benefits from support, deployment, reliability and management perspectives.

From an adoption perspective, however, there is definitely a significant difference between the local Southern African scenario and those of our European and US counterparts. Whilst SA companies are starting to consider desktop virtualisation on a high level, there are quite a lot of barriers to entry to consider from a local perspective.

For example, our telecommunication/data network costs remain prohibitively high, particularly when virtual desktops run in distributed environments. That said, there is no reason why companies cannot start in a campus environment and deploy virtual desktops to branch offices in a staged, slightly more conservative approach.

In some cases applications also have to go through re-development in order to be deployed in a virtual environment. This obviously has cost implications ‚ but if companies are already going through an application modernisation exercise, the logical step would be to move over to virtual desktops where these applications are ready to run.

Bespoke applications are difficult to integrate whereas newer applications virtualise with relative ease.

Balancing costs of the infrastructure, application changes and network infrastructure is a delicate process. It is our belief that cost savings will in time be less of a consideration and issues such as security, data privacy and a changing social environment will start to apply increasing pressure on business.

Another barrier is end user maturity. In South Africa users are generally reluctant to have all their applications and data managed, controlled and upgraded by the IT department. Organisational Change Management therefore plays a critical role in order to obtain buy-in from users when moving over to a virtual desktop environment.

It is prudent to ensure that a proper programme is developed and implemented. This should include training for end users, the IT department and outsourced partners that might be involved with infrastructure support. In addition the programme should be integrated with other modernisation programmes running in an environment that ensures ease of realisation and sharing costs.

At T-Systems we are currently running a number of development programs and Proof of Concepts in order to demonstrate the benefits of virtual desktops. Our view is that adoption is imminent, particularly in light of mobility that will result in escalating support costs as more devices are added to the IT infrastructure.

With virtual desktops companies can significantly reduce costs allowing for an agile environment that is easier to manage, support and secure.

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Prepare for deepfake impact

Is the world as we know it ready for the real impact of deepfake? CAREY VAN VLAANDEREN, CEO at ESET SA, digs deeper

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Deepfake technology is rapidly becoming easier and quicker to create and it’s opening a door into a new form of cybercrime. Although it’s still mostly seen as relatively harmful or even humorous, this craze could take a more sinister turn in the future and be at the heart of political scandals, cybercrime, or even unimaginable concepts involving fake videos. And it won’t be just public figures that bear the brunt. 

deepfake is the technique of human-image synthesis based on artificial intelligence to create fake content either from scratch or using existing video designed to replicate the look and sound of a real human. Such videos can look incredibly real and currently many of these videos involve celebrities or public figures saying something outrageous or untrue.

New research shows a huge increase in the creation of deepfake videos, with the number online almost doubling in the last nine months alone. Deepfakes are increasing in quality at a swift rate, too. This video showing Bill Hader morphing effortlessly between Tom Cruise and Seth Rogan is just one example of how authentic these videos are looking, as well as sounding. If you search YouTube for the term ‘deepfake’ it will make you realise we are viewing the tip of the iceberg as to what is to come.

In fact, we have already seen deepfake technology used for fraud, where a deepfaked voice was reportedly used to scam a CEO out of a large sum of cash. It is believed the CEO of an unnamed UK firm thought he was on the phone to his boss and followed the orders to immediately transfer €220,000 (roughly US$244,000) to a Hungarian supplier’s bank account. If it was this easy to influence someone by just asking them to do it over the phone, then surely we will need better security in place to mitigate this threat.

Fooling the naked eye

We have also seen apps making DeepNudes where apps were able to turn any clothed person into a topless photo in seconds. Although, luckily, this particular app has now been taken offline, what if this comes back in another form with a vengeance and is able to create convincingly authentic-looking video?

There is also evidence that the production of these videos is becoming a lucrative business especially in the pornography industry. The BBC says “96% of these videos are of female celebrities having their likenesses swapped into sexually explicit videos – without their knowledge or consent”.

recent Californian bill has taken a leap of faith and made it illegal to create a pornographic deepfake of someone without their consent with a penalty of up to $150,000. But chances are that no legislation will be enough to deter some people from fabricating the videos.

To be sure, an article from The Economist discusses that in order to make a convincing enough deepfake you would need a serious amount of video footage and/or voice recordings in order to make even a short deepfake clip.

Having said that, In the not-too-distant future, it may be entirely possible to take just a few short Instagram stories to create a deepfake that is believed by the majority of their followers online or by anyone else who knows them. We may see some unimaginable videos appearing of people closer to home – the boss, our colleagues, our peers, our family. Additionally, deepfakes may also be used for bullying in schools, the office or even further afield.

Furthermore, cybercriminals will definitely use such technology to spearphish victims. Deepfakes keep getting cheaper to create and become near-impossible to detect with the human eye alone. As a result, alt that fakery could very easily muddy the water between fact and fiction, which in turn could force us to not trust anything – even when presented with what our senses are telling us to believe.

Heading off the very real threat

So, what can be done to prepare us for this threat? First, we need to better educate people that deepfakes exist, how they work and the potential damage they can cause. We will all need to learn to treat even the most realistic videos we see that they could be a total fabrication.

Secondly, technology desperately needs to develop better detection of deepfakes. There is already research going into it, but it’s nowhere near where it should be yet. Although machine learning is at the heart of creating them in the first place, there needs to be something in place that acts as the antidote being able to detect them without relying on human eyes alone.

Finally, social media platforms need to realize there is a huge potential threat with the impact of deepfakes because when you mix a shocking video with social media, the outcome tends to spread very rapidly and potentially could have a detrimental impact on society.

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A career in data science – or your money back

The Explore Data Science Academy is offering high demand skills courses – and guarantees employment for trainees

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The Explore Data Science Academy (EDSA) has announced several new courses in 2020 that it says will radically change the shape of data science education in South Africa. 

Comprising Data Science, Data Engineering, Data Analytics and Machine Learning, each six-month course provides vital digital skills that are in high demand in the market place.  The full time, fully immersive courses each cost R60 000 including VAT. 

The courses are differentiated from any other available by the fact that EDSA has introduced a money back promise if it cannot place the candidate in a job within six months of graduation and at a minimum annual starting salary of R240 000.

“For South Africans with drive and aptitude, this is the perfect opportunity to launch a career in what has been called the sexiest career of the 21stcentury,” says Explore founder Shaun Dippnall.

Dippnall and his team are betting on the explosive demand for data science skills locally and globally.

 “There is a massive supply-demand gap in the area of data science and our universities and colleges are struggling to keep up with the rapid growth and changing nature of specific digital skills being demanded by companies.  

“We are offering specifically a work ready opportunity in a highly skills deficient sector, and one which guarantees employment thereafter.”

The latter is particularly pertinent to young South Africans – a segment which currently faces a 30 percent unemployment rate. 

“If you have skills in either Data Science, Data Engineering, Data Analytics or Machine Learning, you will find work locally, even globally. We’re confident of that,” says Dippnall.

EDSA is part of the larger Explore organisation and has for the past two years offered young people an opportunity to be trained as data scientists and embark on careers in a fast-growing sector of the economy.  

In its first year of operation, EDSA trained 100 learners as data scientists in a fully sponsored, full-time 12-month course.  In year two, this number increased to 400.  

“Because we are connected with hundreds of employers and have an excellent understanding of the skills they need, our current placement rate is over 90 percent of the students we’ve taught,” Dippnall says. “These learners can earn an average of R360 000 annually, hence our offer of your money back if there is no employment at a minimum annual salary of R240k within six months.

“With one of the highest youth unemployment rates in the world – recently announced as a national emergency by the President – it is important that institutions teach skills that are in demand and where learners can earn a healthy living afterwards.”

There are qualifying criteria, however. Candidates need to live in close proximity (within one hour commuting distance), or be prepared to live, in either Johannesburg or Cape Town, and need to be between the ages of 18 and 55. 

“Our application process is very tough. We’ll test for aptitude and attitude using the qualifying framework we’ve built over the years. If you’re smart enough, you’ll be accepted,” says Dippnall.

To find out more, visit  http://www.explore-datascience.net.

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