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Why data power must shift

Information is one of the most valuable commodities today and in order for businesses to ensure their livelihood, it is vital for them to move from static to dynamic automated and reliable data storage models, says MARK TAYLOR, CEO of Nashua.

Information is one of the most valuable commodities. Every day, 2.5 quintillion bytes of data is created and either has a direct monetary value or can be mined for business intelligence to get a competitive edge. Data is the lifeblood of any organisation. Without the Internet and connectivity, business survival and economic growth is impossible.

The original intent of the Internet was the unrestricted flow of information in an open and shared network owned by the community. Data ownership was intended to reside with its creators in a decentralised model, free from monopolistic or centralised control.

However, large corporations quickly realised the value of tracking, storing, organising and monetising information for use in centralised services. Although not owned by a single entity, large corporations and data giants like Google support some of the most critical components of the Internet, such as search engines, web hosting, cloud computing and email services.

The case for decentralisation

As the reliance on the Internet deepens, so does the sharing of sensitive data and the need for greater privacy, data security and integrity. One proposed solution is a fully decentralised Internet independent of centralised control. This can be achieved with Blockchain technology – a decentralised and distributed ledger system that facilitates and verifies secure peer-to-peer data exchanges.

The biggest issues facing the Internet, such as net neutrality, privacy and security, pertain to issues of structure. Under a centralised model, access and convenience is offered to users at the expense of data ownership and privacy. While many service providers offer to store and safeguard data, security can’t be guaranteed. Servers can fail, networks can be hacked and privacy rights can be violated.

Decentralisation enables data and vital services to be owned by users and powered by a network of independent computers. This creates a setting much more resilient to hacks and failures as encrypted data can only be released and accessed through private keys. Decentralisation also breaks down the centralised barriers to business. With reliable high-speed Internet connectivity from Nashua, any business can access better, faster and cheaper services.

Here’s how decentralised models can revolutionise the Internet and cybersecurity.

Decentralised web

A truly decentralised Internet is possible with Blockchain technology. Ethereum is a platform on which apps can be built and run without fraud, censorship or third-party interference. User information is encrypted and stored on the Blockchain which prevents service providers from hoarding and mining user data.

Decentralised web hosting

With only one target to hit, cybercriminals can quite easily shut down a website hosted on a centralised system. On Blockchain-based platforms, thousands of nodes or computers are employed to each serve a part of the website. This makes targeted attacks much harder and reduces hosting costs. It speeds up user access to websites by bringing cached content closer to site visitors. Self-executing smart contracts can also be used to manage resources and payments while users also have the opportunity to rent out idle network and computing resources.

Decentralised data storage

Blockchain enables users to use applications while retaining ownership of their data. By storing data on a decentralised and distributed network, the data is broken up, encrypted and stored across the Blockchain network. To access information, users need a private key to download the data from several locations at once. This not only speeds up the file access speeds but makes it increasingly difficult for cybercriminals to gain access.

Decentralised search engines

Google controls up to 95% of searches. The engine tracks search activities and has access to personal user information. Decentralised search engines store encrypted user data across a network as opposed to in a central location where it remains vulnerable. They also use open and transparent search ranking factors. This will level the playing field for businesses and content creators.

Decentralised social media

Social media platforms add significant connectivity value but at the cost of user privacy and data ownership. Decentralised social media channels will give back to users the ownership of data and reward users who choose to share information.

The full potential of a distributed economy is still unwritten but innovative solutions by emerging Blockchain innovators have already proven that the sky is the limit.

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Time is running out for Microsoft SQL Server 2008

Companies are urged to update from the dated database management software as it reaches the end of its support, writes BRYAN TURNER.

The 11-year-old Microsoft SQL Server 2008 database management software is reaching the end of its support on 9 July. The applications that use databases running on this software will be at risk of security and stability issues.

On self-managed databases, upgrading to the latest database version comes with a lot of risks. Many IT departments within companies go by the motto: “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it”.

Microsoft made it very clear that it would not be updating SQL Server 2005 after its extended support date and even left it vulnerable to Spectre and Meltdown by not releasing patches for the dated version.

Updating SQL Server versions may seem daunting, but the benefits far outweigh the effort it takes for a migration. In the last major version update, SQL Server 2016 introduced simpler backup functionality, database stretching, and always-encrypted communications with the database, to name just three features.

While backing up the database may be the last thing on the typical database administrator’s mind, it’s become increasingly important to do so. In SQL Server 2008, it’s clunky and causes headaches for many admins. However, in SQL Server 2016, one can easily set up an automated backup to Azure storage and let it run on smart backup intervals. Backing up offsite also reduces the need for disaster recovery for onsite damage.

Database stretching allows admins to push less frequently accessed data to an Azure database, automatically decided by SQL Server 2016. This reduces the admin of manually looking through what must be kept and what must be shipped off or deleted. It also reduces the size of the database, which also increases the performance of the applications that access it. The best part of this functionality is it automatically retrieves the less accessed records from Azure when users request it, without the need for manual intervention.

Always-encrypted communications are becoming more and more relevant to many companies, especially those operating in European regions after the introduction of GDPR. Encryption keys were previously managed by the admin, but now encryption is always handled by the client. Furthermore, the keys to encrypt and decrypt data are stored outside of SQL Server altogether. This means data stored in the database is always encrypted, and no longer for the eyes of a curious database manager. 

The built-in reporting tools have also vastly improved with the addition of new reporting metrics and a modern look. It includes support for Excel reports for keeping documentation and Power BI for automated, drag-and-drop personalised reporting. Best of all, it removes the dreaded Active X controls, which made the reporting in a webpage feel very clumsy and bloated in previous versions.

A lot has changed in the past ten years in the world of SQL Server database management, and it’s not worth running into problems before Microsoft ends support for SQL Server 2005.

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Local apps to feature in Huawei’s App Gallery

Huawei’s mobile app store, the HUAWEI AppGallery, will soon feature a multitude of apps and designs by local developers. The company says this is part of its drive to promote South African digital talent and include more useful apps for Huawei smartphone users. HUAWEI AppGallery and HUAWEI Themes are pre-installed on all the latest Huawei and Honor devices.

“South African consumers are increasingly wanting more apps that are relevant to their unique circumstances, addressing issues they experience regularly – such as load shedding or safety concerns – but also apps that celebrate South Africa’s multitude of cultures and this vibrant country,” says Lu Geng, director of Huawei Consumer Cloud Service Southern Africa Region.

Akhram Mohamed, chief technology officer of Huawei Consumer Business Group South Africa, says: “Huawei is committed to catering to the needs of South African consumers, but we also know that we do not have all the answers. For this reason, we aim to work closely with South African developers so that we can give our users everything that they need and want from their devices. At the same time, we also hope to create an open ecosystem for local developers by offering a simple and secure environment for them to upload content.”

Huawei Mobile Services was launched in South Africa in June last year. Since then, both the HUAWEI AppGallery and HUAWEI Themes – which features tens of thousands of themes, fonts and wallpapers that personalise user’s handset – have become increasingly popular with the local market. Even though it is a relatively new division of Huawei, there has been a great increase in growth; at the end of 2018 Huawei Mobile Services had 500 million users globally, representing a 117% increase on the previous year.

Explaining what differentiates the HUAWEI AppGallery from other app stores, Mosa Matshediso Hlobelo, business developer for Consumer Cloud Service Southern Africa says: “We use the name ‘HUAWEI AppGallery’ because we have a dedicated team that curates all the apps in terms of relevance and ease of use and to ensure that there are no technical issues. Importantly, all apps are also security-checked for malware and privacy leaks before being uploaded on to the HUAWEI AppGallery.”

Huawei recently held a Developers’ Day where Huawei executives met with South African developers to discuss Huawei’s offering. 48 developers registered their apps on the day, and Huawei is currently in discussions with them with the eventual aim of featuring the best apps and designs on HUAWEI AppGallery or HUAWEI Themes. The Consumer Cloud Service Southern Africa Team at Huawei plans on making Developers’ Day a quarterly event and establishing a local providers’ hub, where developers can regularly meet with Huawei for training on updates to programmes and offerings.

“We have a very hands-on approach with our developers, and hope to expand that community so we can become an additional distribution channel for more developers and expose them to both a local and a global audience,” says Geng. “For example, we regularly feature apps and designs from local developers on our Huawei social media pages, and do competitions and promotions. We want to do everything we can to make our Huawei users aware of these local apps and upload them. This will encourage the growth of the developer community in South Africa by giving developers more opportunities to generate revenue from in-app purchases.”

* Developers who would like their apps featured on the HUAWEI App Gallery, or designs featured on HUAWEI Themes, should visit https://developer.huawei.com or email Huawei Mobile Services on sacloud@huawei.com.

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