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When a machine can be anything you want

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A simple concept that could transform computing lies at the heart of the complex “new” tech discipline known as virtualisation, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

Imagine that any smartphone you use can be turned into that of any brand you want. It may sound absurd in a world of deadly rivalry between Apple, Samsung and the like. But then imagine that any auomatic teller machine can instantly adopt the brand of your bank the moment you slip in your ATM card. Suddenly, that doesn’t sound so absurd. In fact, the possibility is closer than we may think.

It is made possible by a relatively new and complex information technology discipline called virtualsation, which allows for “virtual machines” to be created in data centres, on central computers called servers. A server can house any number of these virtual machines, which are tied to specific user identities. Log in with the appropriate details, and your personalised machine appears, with very specific applications and content specific to your role in an organisation.

The concept goes hand in hand with cloud computing, which allows applications, content and processes to be accessed from anywhere, on any device, at any time.

These concepts lay behind the creation of WMware, one of the world’s largest providers of cloud computing systems and until recently a subsidiary of storage leaders EMC. When computer giants Dell announced last year they would buy EMC for a record $67-billion, VMware was described as one of the jewels in the acquisition, and remained a separately listed company, with the new Dell Technologies as controlling shareholder.

It’s not hard to see why: the company keeps pushing the boundaries of what is possible in both cloud computing and virtualisation. At its recent VMworld conference in Barcelona, it unveiled new releases of most of its solutions that help companies streamline their IT operations. In combination, these solutions make up VMware’s Cross-Cloud Architecture, which enables companies to run, manage, connect, and secure their applications across any device or cloud service – now including market leaders Amazon and Microsoft – as if they are in their own customised environment.

Because virtual machines are dictated by software rather than hardware, and consumers and corporations alike are seeing their high-tech worlds defined by that software, it becomes easier to envisage smartphones, ATMs or any other hardware adapted to the purpose or preference of the moment. It makes sense, but it also requires a new mindset.

“We are now the psychologists of information, because we have to transform the way people think about techbology,” said Ian Jansen Van Rensburg, VMware Southern Africa’s senior manager for systems engineering, speaking at Vmworld. Ironically, however, South African techies are harder to convince than their counterparts in the rest of Africa.

“In South Africa, if you tell a storage guy his business is going to be a software business, and he’s just invested heavily in storage hardware, he’s probably not going down that route. Yet, everything is becoming software-defined, and people need to wrap their heads around this.”

The real irony is that, in the rest of Africa, far less has been invested in hardware, and the leap to software-defined data centres is far easier from a mindset point of view. Even more ironically, employees who once depended entirely on the IT department for assistance and resources are now bypassing IT administrators so that they can get what they need, when they need it.

For example, marketers who want to share large files online for an urgent project are no longer waiting for the techies sitting in the IT department to approve the budget or set up the appropriate “architecture” for file-sharing. Instead, they log on to the Dropbox online storage service, whip out their personal credit cards and pay for extra capacity. The cost is then charged to routine project expenses.

It may not make a big difference when it is a Dropbox here and a Google app there, but it adds up when such habits graduate to serious business applications. The combination costs so much, yet is not going through the IT budget, that the company has a distorted picture of what is being spent where.

VMware previously called this kind of spending “Shadow IT”, meaning it lurks unseen in the shadows of the IT budget. VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger, in his keynote address at the conference, used a new term, “self-starting IT”, referring to the ability of any tech-savvy staff members to become their own IT providers.

VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger

VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger

But help is at hand, says Matthew Kibby, VMware regional director for sub-Saharan Africa.

Matthew Kibby, VMware regional director for sub-Saharan Africa.

Matthew Kibby, VMware regional director for sub-Saharan Africa.

“Users were frustrated because the IT department couldn’t deliver an application to them fast enough. Eventually they got fed up and went to Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure and quickly got it off the cloud. VMware’s vision is is to give that control back to IT and say, you are now in control of your IT infrastructure, whether it’s being rolled out on a company laptop or a personal smartphone.

“We not only need to give them back that control, but do it along with the look and feel of being able to access any device from any application anywhere in the world. That’s exactly what the Cross-Cloud Architecture will achieve. We want to make the IT department or Chief Information Officer the new hero of the company again.”

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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Now for a fake Face App

Kaspersky Lab has found a malware version of the app that allows users to view their older or younger selves

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Kaspersky has identified a fake application that is designed to trick users into thinking it is a certified version of FaceApp but goes on to infect victims’ devices with an adware module called MobiDash.

Once the application is downloaded from unofficial sources and installed, it simulates a failure and is subsequently removed. After that, a malicious module in the application rests discreetly on the user’s device, displaying adverts.

According to Kaspersky data, around 500 unique users have encountered the problem in two days this week, with the first detections appearing on July 7t. There were almost 800 different module modifications identified.

“The people behind MobiDash often hide their adware module under the guise of popular applications and services,” says Igor Golovin, security researcher at Kaspersky. “This means that the activities of the fake version of FaceApp could intensify, especially if we are talking about hundreds of targets in just a few days. We urge users not to download applications from unofficial sources and to install security solutions on their devices to avoid any damage.”

Kaspersky products detect and block the threat as not-a-virus:HEUR:AdWare.AndroidOS.Mobidash.

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Augmented reality reveals Hidden Side of Lego haunts

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South Africa’s first two Lego Certified Stores have celebrated the arrival of Lego Hidden Side, an augmented reality-enhanced play theme where kids must turn a haunted world back to normal, one ghost (and one brick) at a time.

Seamlessly integrating augmented reality (AR) with physical construction to reveal a hidden world of interactive play, Lego Hidden Side includes a series of eight ‘haunted’ buildings in the imaginary town of Newbury, each loaded (or is that haunted?) with awesome functionality and secret surprises accessed via a mobile app.

The sets come alive in an unfolding ghostly adventure once the bespoke AR app is activated, bringing the models to life and revealing a hidden world of mysteries and challenges to solve.

“The Lego Group has always been invested in tactile play, but massive leaps in AR technology have meant that the company could create an exciting experience that moves fluidly between physical and digital worlds,” says Robert Greenstein, co-founder of the Great Yellow Brick Company, license holders of South Africa’s Lego Certified Stores.

“These sets offer new ways to enhance Lego play with new action and master elements, in a new type of creative exploration where the physical world influences the AR layer, rather than the other way around,” he says.

Lego Hidden Side building sets deliver everything kids (of all ages) love and expect from a Lego building experience – the challenge of the build, a detailed model with functionality, and mini-figure characters set in a story-driven universe. Each model can be built as it appears by day – a school, house, bus, or graveyard, for example – and has transformative functionality to become the haunted version of itself.

Gameplay prompts kids to hold their phone up to the physical Lego models and interact with various elements, or “points of possession,” which release virtual ghosts that kids must then capture in the AR game to stop the haunting. Numerous scenarios create dynamic gameplay that requires kids to keep one hand in each world to progress the play.

The Lego Hidden Side app will be a free download from the App Store and Google Play, and the sets will be available at the Lego Certified Stores in Sandton City and Menlyn Park, or online at www.greatyellowbrick.co.za on 1 August 2019.

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