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Ultra Fast Computing for Everyone?

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A new era of enhanced cloud computing is rendering many devices obsolete, writes COLIN THORNTON, MD of Turrito

For those who haven’t noticed, internet connectivity is getting faster. Just how fast and robust the connection is always depends on where you live and work – but worldwide, internet speeds are accelerating. According to a 2018 report by Ookla, an internet analytics company, the world’s average mobile download speed of 22.82 Mbps increased 15.2% in 2018, while mobile upload speed increased 11.6% to reach 9.19 Mbps. Additionally, the world’s average download speed on fixed broadband was 46.12 Mbps, 26.4% faster than in 2017 – while upload speed increased 26.5% to 22.44 Mbps. 

For both businesses and consumers, faster internet speeds are propelling a global shift towards enhanced cloud computing and a diminishing reliance on ‘traditional’ hardware. Indeed, as connectivity gets faster, the less intelligent and complex hardware and devices need to be. We can already see this happening in the online gaming world, with Google’s new cloud gaming platform Stadia. The platform, dubbed  an early beta of the future of gaming, will stream games from the cloud to the Chrome browser, Chromecast and Pixel devices. Stadia’s processing power will sit entirely in the cloud (i.e. a data centre) as opposed to in the gaming hardware itself.

This is nothing short of revolutionary because in the past, gamers have needed very expensive machines with top-end graphics cards, lots of RAM and powerful CPU’s to have the kind of experience that Stadia will offer. The same applies to graphic designers, video editors, architects and more. So as sophisticated cloud computing becomes more entrenched, the need for complex hardware across use cases will decrease. On the other hand, ultra-fast internet connectivity will become essential.  

Rethinking the hardware equation

There can be no doubt that the growing reliance on cloud computing will change the face of the traditional IT hardware industry. Already, businesses have to begin to think differently about their hardware procurement and internet connectivity solutions. This cloud-driven transformation can enable huge increases in productivity, while also decreasing costs – provided that businesses plan ahead intelligently.

So what needs to change?

To begin with, many businesses still choose their connectivity solutions based on the advertised speed (e.g. 100Mbs). However, as reliance on the connectivity speed increases, this will no longer be good enough.

Businesses should be asking their internet providers (ISPs) how contended the line is, i.e. How many other users share it? Another key consideration is latency: How long does it take to send and receive data from a specific place?

When having these discussions with their ISPs, businesses must have a clear understanding of their most critical applications and where they sit in the overall IT equation. For example, if an architectural firm intends on using Amazon Web Services to host and process their CAD software, then they’ll need to choose connectivity which has the lowest latency to Amazon.

Investing in a cloud-based future

Although this fundamental shift in computing will not immediately be tangible in the South African context, it will probably start becoming more relevant in early 2020. As a result, businesses must take the cloud revolution into account when considering any expensive hardware purchases and long-term connectivity contracts.

Arguably, businesses should look more carefully at cheaper and less powerful machines/devices. And with the threat of rolling blackouts (load shedding) always ominously present, choosing microcomputing devices and less power hungry hardware is a smart move.

From a cost perspective, IT support costs will likely decrease because managing the hardware on-site will become simpler. That said, the cost of having ultra-fast internet (which is managed properly) should be factored in.

Powerful computing for everyone 

Looking ahead, the era of enhanced cloud computing and sophisticated streaming capabilities will transform the way we work and learn. In the past, hardware costs limited accessibility. Soon, that will no longer be the case. Within video editing and production companies, for example, there is often just one very powerful machine in the office for rendering video. Now, everyone can potentially have this computing power at his or her fingertips. The same can happen with architects who render high-res 3D images of their building designs. And the impact on education could be enormous, as suddenly a school can offer these types of practical applications to students (without having to purchase hundreds of expensive and power hungry desktop computers).

As with any major technology shift, however, organisations have to buy into the long-term vision in order to truly reap the benefits.

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SA’s Internet goes down again

South Africa is about to experience a small repeat of the lower speeds and loss of Internet connectivity suffered in January, thanks to a new undersea cable break, writes BRYAN TURNER

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Internet service provider Afrihost has notified customers that there are major outages across all South African Internet Service Providers (ISPs), as a result of a break in the WACS undersea cable between Portugal and England 

The cause of the cable break along the cable is unclear. it marks the second major breakage event along the West African Internet sea cables this year, and comes at the worst possible time: as South Africans grow heavily dependent on their Internet connections during the COVID-19 lockdown. 

As a result of the break, the use of international websites and services, which include VPNs (virtual private networks), may result in latency – decreased speeds and response times.  

WACS runs from Yzerfontein in the Western Cape, up the West Coast of Africa, and terminates in the United Kingdom. It makes a stop in Portugal before it reaches the UK, and the breakage is reportedly somewhere between these two countries. 

The cable is owned in portions by several companies, and the portion where the breakage has occurred belongs to Tata Communications. 

The alternate routes are:  

  • SAT3, which runs from Melkbosstrand also in the Western Cape, up the West Coast and terminates in Portugal and Spain. This cable runs nearly parallel to WACS and has less Internet capacity than WACS. 
  • ACE (Africa Coast to Europe), which also runs up the West Coast.  
  • The SEACOM cable runs from South Africa, up the East Coast of Africa, terminating in both London and Dubai.  
  • The EASSy cable also runs from South Africa, up the East Coast, terminating in Sudan, from where it connects to other cables. 

The routes most ISPs in South Africa use are WACS and SAT3, due to cost reasons. 

The impact will not be as severe as in January, though. All international traffic is being redirected via alternative cable routes. This may be a viable method for connecting users to the Internet but might not be suitable for latency-sensitive applications like International video conferencing. 

Read more about the first Internet connectivity breakage which happened on the same cable, earlier this year. 

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SA cellphones to be tracked to fight coronavirus

Several countries are tracking cellphones to understand who may have been exposed to coronavirus-infected people. South Africa is about to follow suit, writes BRYAN TURNER

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From Israel to South Korea, governments and cell networks have been implementing measures to trace the cellphones of coronavirus-infected citizens, and who they’ve been around. The mechanisms countries have used have varied.  

In Iran, citizens were encouraged to download an app that claimed to diagnose COVID-19 with a series of yes or no questions. The app also tracked real-time location with a very high level of accuracy, provided by the GPS sensor. 

In Germany, all cellphones on Deutsche Telekom are being tracked through cell tower connections, providing a much coarser location, but a less invasive method of tracking. The data is being handled by the Robert Koch Institute, the German version of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

In Taiwan, those quarantined at home are tracked via an “electronic fence”, which determines if users leave their homes.  

In South Africa, preparations have started to track cellphones based on cell tower connections. The choice of this method is understandable, as many South Africans may either feel an app is too intrusive to have installed, or may not have the data to install the app. This method also allows more cellphones, including basic feature phones, to be tracked. 

This means that users can be tracked on a fairly anonymised basis, because these locations can be accurate to about 2 square kilometers. Clearly, this method of tracking is not meant to monitor individual movements, but rather gain a sense of who’s been around which general area.  

This data could be used to find lockdown violators, if one considers that a phone connecting in Hillbrow for the first 11 days of lockdown, and then connecting in Morningside for the next 5, likely indicates a person has moved for an extended period of time. 

The distance between Hillbrow and Morningside is 17km. One would pass through several zones covered by different towers.

Communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams said that South African network providers have agreed to provide government with location data to help fight COVID-19. 

Details on how the data will be used, and what it will used to determine, are still unclear. 

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