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Web gets decentralised

SIMON MCCULLOUGH, Major Channel Account Manager, F5 Networks, examines why there’s a growing appetite for decentralised networks and greater personal data empowerment.

While the internet isn’t technically centralised, it is monolithic and monopolised in practice.

A handful of companies currently control most of the world’s personal data and, in most cases, we are ostensibly fine with this situation… or are we?

Driven largely by data privacy concerns, there is a growing chorus of entrepreneurs, experts, activists, and consumers starting to call for major changes.

Everywhere you look, trust in the Internet’s string-pulling behemoths is taking a hit due to a constant storm of hacks, technical mishaps, and operational intractability. People are getting disillusioned and consequently, an aspirational exodus toward more protected, transparent, and decentralised web options is gathering pace.

In many ways, decentralisation is already trundling into the mainstream, largely thanks to the fervour surrounding Bitcoin and a clutch of its lesser known cryptocurrencies. This is just the beginning too. We can confidently anticipate eye-catching and frenetic progress in the coming years as blockchain, the technology underpinning Bitcoin, continues to evolve.

New tech on the block

Blockchain is a global database functioning as an incorruptible digital ledger of economic transactions. It can be programmed to record not just financial transactions, but virtually anything of value. Intriguing use-cases are popping up all over, from food supply chain traceability to micropayments for media content. Many of the emerging concepts propose a dramatic shift in traditional approaches to transactions and businesses processes. It will simplify the Internet of Things (IoT), prompt a decentralised app design boom and, crucially, reinforce identity management capabilities.

Tech boffins, investors, and top-level decision-makers of every ilk are duly and intently monitoring the situation.

The father of the Internet, Tim Berners-Lee, is one such observer and a firm believer that change is both necessary and on its way. Ultimately, he wants his creation to go back to what he originally intended – a decentralised platform with unfettered user freedom and watertight personal data controls. To help turn the tide, he recently founded SOLID, an open source project aiming to decentralise web applications, foster true data ownership, and improve privacy.

There’s also a hive of entrepreneurial activity starting to evince blockchain’s commercial viability. TraDove is shooting for a B2B blockchain payment network for international transactions, recently raising $53 million and fuelling corporate demand for cryptocurrencies for sales and marketing – a $76 billion market. In Japan, the ambitious PATRON has big expansion plans for its decentralised influencer-marketing platform set to eliminate inefficiencies in branded content and social media. Then there’s Celcius Network, a trailblazing borrowing and lending platform committed to introducing the next 100 million people to cryptocurrencies. There are many others and it is easy to see why excitement is building.

Curb your enthusiasm?

Beyond the headlines, however, there are still plenty of obstacles on the road to decentralised nirvana.

Firstly, mass adoption requires mass buy-in. It can be a slow process to get behind something new, particularly if it stems from a field prone to technical opacity. Having said that, consumers are tech-savvy and data conscious than ever before. Incidents like Cambridge Analytica illegally mining Facebook data for 2016 US presidential election advertising are already prompting many to explode the status quo.

Another potential impediment to user enthusiasm is speed, which is an enduring and well-known issue for decentralised apps. Without high-powered servers to keep latency at bay, there is always a looming buffer dread. Switching to a slower network is undoubtedly a tough sell but decentralisation acolytes believe the problem will be resolved soon. As the sentiment goes, lag is temporary. Disruption is permanent.

Even more complicated is the regulatory minefield ahead. Establishing data jurisdictions? Defining responsibilities for deleting and changing information on the blockchain? These are all lingering grey areas. Current legislative frameworks will buckle under the adaptive strain without consistent and focused industry input and governmental vision. Clearly, widespread change is needed to untangle mounting and unavoidable complexities.

In the long-term, it is important to note that a thriving blockchain-driven B2B marketplace or platform will require all stakeholders to develop and deliver applications and services that integrate in a safe, scalable, and reliable manner. In addition, it will necessitate the technical wherewithal to coordinate massive data flows and business processes, as well establish sustainable infrastructures for applications and a distributed network of connected things. Automation and orchestration tools and frameworks – most often associated with DevOps and open application programming interface (APIs) ecosystems – will be in high demand.

As ever, security remains a major concern. It isn’t the blockchain that’s getting hacked – it’s the things that surround it: payment systems, databases, and user credentials. Today’s cryptocurrency exchanges may be tomorrow’s banks, and you can bet somebody will try to rob them. Industry-wide, we must get better at boosting developers’ abilities to self-service provision and automate the network. We also need to ensure that security services are intimately integrated into the software development cycle.

The road ahead

Soaring demand for data security and transparency, combined with emerging business models built on blockchain technology, will only continue to cast all things decentralised in a positive light. Meanwhile, existing technical hitches will diminish over time due to inevitably improved processing technologies and the step changes required to comprehensively leverage the IoT. All businesses operating in the tech and data arena need to know the score, and carefully consider which investments can both meet, and pre-empt, shifting customer demands.

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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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