HCI, waking up the storage market – the new must have for enterprise and SMEs

What’s got us talking?

Amicus ITS has secured a major new contract for Hyper-Converged Infrastructure and will be providing professional services to deploy and implement the solution for the customer.

What is Hyper-Converged-Infrastructure (HCI)?

In our fast changing technology world, hyper-convergence is the latest new buzzword and a topic that is exciting many here in Amicus ITS.

Hyper-convergence grew out of the concept of converged infrastructure. Under the converged infrastructure approach, a vendor provides a pre-configured bundle of hardware and software in a single package from different hardware vendors.  Hyper-converged systems are modular systems designed to scale out by adding additional modules.  The magic is that HCI requires only a single vendor’s server platform and a ‘single pane of glass’ management console.

Enabling integrated technologies to be managed as a single system through a common toolset is a big step forward and to assure flexibility, HCI systems can be expanded through the addition of nodes to the base unit. Hyper-converged infrastructure streamlines the deployment, management and scaling of datacentre resources by combining x86-based server chassis and storage resources with intelligent software in a turnkey software-defined solution. Separate servers, storage networks and storage arrays can be replaced with a single hyper-converged solution to create an agile datacentre that easily scales with our customers’ business.

Why is Amicus ITS so excited by HCI?

We are constantly looking to keep ahead of the technology curve and stay one-step ahead of the MSP competition.  By taking solutions to our customers that add true value to their business, this gives us real opportunity to demonstrate forward thinking and benefits all round.  Amicus ITS has the confidence of combining the right technologies with our most important assets, our people and our proven processes – to build comprehensive and compelling solutions, fit for tomorrow.  Wrapped with Amicus ITS’ quietly assured Managed Services capabilities, it creates a powerful combination of positive results for both sides.

Whether a customer wants an HCI solution delivered that they manage, or an HCI solution that Amicus ITS as an MSP looks after – what this shows is that to be a fit MSP in today’s market, you cannot go on just selling traditional three-tier architectures with their associated multiple different technologies, higher costs and greater complexity.  This swallows up greater day-to-day management resource, as well as the people and skills to support and maintain a wide variety of servers, storage, networking and software management technologies.  At scale, this can be challenging as it increases the chance of incompatibilities and administration overheads.

HCI appeals because it radically simplifies infrastructure for the customer and enables smooth management processes to wrap around it.   So, it’s time to slim down and de-mystify the technology and show what is really good out there for our customers – and here, utilising what was designed for Google and Facebook always available engineering, as a technical model for both enterprises or SMEs.   Being forward thinking and flexible in our consultative approach – where the solution benefits both the customer and MSP, it’s a win-win for both.

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Defence and protect’ marketing gets displayed in new smartphone technologies

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With the news of the Yahoo cyber attack on 23rd September 2016, it is worth taking a look back at new technology developments and launches in 2016, which put privacy and security at the forefront of their marketing spiel.

Solarin smartphone at a sky high price

In May 2016 Sirin Labs launched a new military-grade encrypted smartphone, the ‘Solarin’ (retailing at an eye watering £11,400 per device). It offers encrypted calls with a 256-bit AES algorithm. However the screen is 2K not 4K and runs on Android Lollipop, not Marshmallow and its Qualcomm processor is 2015’s model.

Whilst clearly targeting wealthy professionals for whom privacy and security is a driver to purchase, this ‘hostage’ price will be way beyond the pocket of most. However, businesses and consumers shouldn’t be alarmed, as putting up to date cyber security antivirus and anti-malware software on smartphone devices goes a long way to protecting the user, at less than a tenth of the price on top end devices.

You won’t find me – Snowden’s iPhone introspection machine

Meanwhile, a smartphone sleeve methodology (currently only for the iPhone 6), that tells its owner when their phone is being hacked, is being designed by US whistleblower Edward Snowden in conjunction with hardware hacker Andrew ‘Bunnie’ Huang, was revealed at a closed MIT Media Lab launch in July. The iPhone was selected as it is generally regarded as being hard to hack.

Whilst Snowden’s motivations to thwart digital surveillance may be politically motivated in seeking to protect activists from location detection by law enforcement agencies, the dual edge of their pitch highlights the trend for cyber criminals to seek to seek to install malware on smartphone devices, whilst the user is on the move (all unbeknownst to the user). The case aims to track whether or not the phones’ radios are transmitting, as trusting the phone is in airplane mode or sticking it in a ‘Faraday bag’ to block radio signals has proven insufficient. With the prevalence of clever malware which can make a smartphone appear to be off, it is daunting to users to know how well protected they and their data are from harm. Again, it’s a mixture of best practice vigilance, cyber security software and good information security management.

Bank of England seeks to challenge Bitcoin with its own RSCoin

The Bank of England (BoE) is seeking to take on Bitcoin, the non-regulated peer-to-peer digital currency in use for the last few years (and popular with the underworld in laundering proceeds of crime and a route for ransomware payments to cyber criminals).  Bitcoin, which has made an estimated $5bn (£3.5bn) of Bitcoin transactions operates a “distributed ledger” similar to how central banks operate.  Bitcoin’s limitation however lies in the restriction of its code to 21m Bitcoins and that it can only handle sever transactions per second.

The new digital crypto currency, RSCoin, crafted by a team at University College London for BoE, seeks to create a State controlled digital ledger held by those trusted to be in charge of the nation’s currency but without the limitations of Bitcoin or the add-on charges and middlemen elsewhere in the industry.  Potentially and most controversially, RSCoin has the potential to offer a system whereby ordinary people could hold accounts directly with the Bank of England, thus competing directly with commercial banks.  Ben Broadbent, the BoE’s deputy governor believes that an RSCoin currency would greatly widen the balance sheet of the central bank and allow it to keep better control of the money supply and be better able to respond to crises.

Led by Dr George Danezis, UCL presented their findings at the Network and Distributed System Security Symposium (NDSS) in San Diego recently and suggested that a national pilot could be up and running within 18 months.  “Whoever reacts too slowly to these developments is going to take it on the chin.  They will lose their businesses”

Central banks originally viewed Bitcoin as a rogue currency and a threat to monetary order.  However with heavyweight financial organisations carving big profits from their payment systems Visa, Master and PayPal) and commercial banks and financial institutions making money from the complex manipulation of the money markets (through stocks and shares, foreign exchange dealings, derivatives and hedge funds etc.), this proposal has the potential to cut out gross fat and privileges of the competition.  It could simplify the trading of money and one would hope, offer greater transparency and accountability, much lacking for many years in banking. 

It would be highly disruptive if adopted and create a wholly new era in finance.  One would have to trust that the State’s banker would keep the interests of the nation it serves at the forefront of its modus operandi – and that corporate greed did not play a part.  That, has yet to be seen and proven to an unsurprisingly distrustful public.
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3D printing gets smarter in healthcare

Since we last reported an amazing 3D printing story in January 2015, the technology continues to demonstrate its extraordinary enabling powers in the operating theatre for the NHS, with another life transformed as reported this week.

Surgeons were able to use 3D printers to replicate body parts in a kidney transplant from father to daughter at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust in London recently.  With the contrast in size of the organs, 3D printers were used to make models of the daughter’s abdomen and father’s kidney from CT and MRI scans. This enabled the surgeons to accurately plan and rehearse the complex operation.

Hard printouts created the girl’s pelvis, whilst her liver was made softer in a liquid plastic model to enable the doctors to practice pushing it out of the way to make way for the new kidney. Happily, the little girl can now run around and eat normally and enjoy a very different outcome and normal childhood, whilst her parents have the simple joy of planning for her nursery integration in the Autumn.

Unlike in medical robotics where there have been more than two million operations since 2000 the robotics arena still carries challenges in winning over patient confidence.  Here however, the winning smiles of father and daughter amply reflect the achievement of partnership between the human hand and advanced printing technology that shows there is plenty more in store in the future of 3D printing.

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Review of 2015 and 2016 Predictions

From Amicus ITS’s new cyber security specialist, associate Mark Heather.

2015
This year saw all sizes of business see an increase in attacks, but the nature of attack has changed.  Traditionally network and DoS attacks as well as malicious software (malvertising) were the main causes of a breach and continue to be disruptive to business.

However, at the same time there was an increase in networks being penetrated as breaches are becoming more targeted – and small businesses should not presume that they will escape and should ensure that they understand their information assets and networks to enable them to manage risk accordingly.

2016
Next year will see targeted attacks increase.  It is not a case of if, but when will we be breached and what do we do about it?

More will be made of “Cyber Intelligence,” (information about you and your organisation).  Companies will need to understand what is being said about them, what information can be gathered about the organisation and to turn this into meaningful contextualised intelligence.

This will be a major requirement of compliance regulations over the coming years. The lack of people able to interpret this information will lead to Cyber Intelligence platforms becoming automated and drive the need for Security-as-a-Service. This service will also be driven by the internet of things as more devices become internet connected.

Whilst the tenor of this might sound doomsday in tone and that currently there are too few skilled people truly trained in cyber security, organisations can ensure that they are well protected, by aligning themselves with data security experts who understand the Managed Service environment and can be your trusted advisor and partner.  Talk now to have a positive preventative discussion, rather than a remediation discussion after the event.

The future of touch is sound

If you still remain impressed by Tom Cruise in 2002’s Minority Report, much of this may be down to marvelling at the advanced concept technology on display, with remote touch commands controlling data or actions. But how far in the future was this technology in real terms?

Well, multi touch interfaces went into Microsoft’s Xbox Kinect in 2010, Samsung started using infra-red gesture sensors in its Galaxy S4 smartphones in 2013 and Apple and Huawei are currently building more responses into the cold glass of a mobile device screen. Added to this, Nintendo’s Wii or Leap Motion’s sensor device allow users to control computers with their hand gestures by firing pulses of inaudible sound to a spot in mid-air.

The next generation of interfaces, according to Jaguar Landrover’s Human Machine Interface Technical Specialist, Lee Skrypchuk, whilst still perhaps some 5-7 years off, is anticipated to come in the form of air-based controls that drivers would either ‘feel’ or ‘tweak’.  Developed by UK start-up Ultrahaptics (haptics being the Greek for ‘touch’), the aim is that the driver focuses on driving the car without being distracted by dashboard controls.  So instead of fumbling to turn something on/off, ultrasound waves form controls which “find you in the middle of the air and let you operate them” says Ultrahaptics CTO and co-founder Tom Carter.  So with a swoosh you might turn on your favourite radio station or with a sweep, you could raise the temperature on a chilly morning (gestures being conjecture).

Japanese start-up, Pixie Dust Technologies wants to match mid-air haptics with tiny lasers to create visible holograms.  This would allow users to interact with large sets of data for example, manipulating them in a 3-D aerial interface in homage to 2008’s Ironman with Robert Downey-Jnr.  One of the main restrictions to date has been the proximity requirement between the two contact points.  However Keisuke Hasegawa, an inventor at the University of Tokyo, working with the godfather of mid-air haptics, Hiroyuki Shinoda, is looking to create a signal between the two contacts to enable far greater distances for successful operation.  Ultimately, the technology remains too expensive at present to be more than a fantasy, but the notion of gesture based mid-air interfaces is gaining traction in the smartphone and appliance manafacturing market. This is because, according to Norwegian start up Elliptic Labs, it requires no special chip and removes the need for a phone’s optical sensor. Their CEO, Laila Danielsen believes the next generation of products will also include touchless gestures in the kitchen and car.

For this writer, there remains a heady sequence of accidental consequences from say, the involuntary wafting of smoke away from a burned pork chop after opening the oven door, or the genuinely well intentioned gesture to beckon on the elderly man crossing the road!   Perhaps we have all seen too many films, or maybe, we are still in wonder about what technology delivers every day – and which suddenly becomes the very thing we cannot do without.

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Next-gen debugging: Having fun squashing bugs!

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As software systems become ever more complex in both their feature set and their scale, the task of debugging them (the process of going through your code and eliminating bugs) multiplies also and costs a lot of money. 

Traditional methods of debugging usually involve software testers to run the in-progress software in every scenario possible and detailing every time a bug pops up. These lists will go back to the development teams and as they work their way through these, slightly newer versions of the software get trialled by the testing teams.  Sometimes fixing one bug will cause another to spring to life – and so this cycle can go on for a long time. Even with these processes, most software released has up to 5 bugs per 1,000 lines of code, with the paying users become the unsuspecting beta testers as their feedback is sent back to the programmers automatically by the application itself.

US Defence Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) funded a crowdsourcing project to tackle the issue of bug-riddled software recently.

One of the concepts to come out of this project came from SRI International, a non-profit research institute based in California.  Their idea is to make squashing bugs fun by creating a video game, played by gamers but to help identify if a particular software application is bug free or not.

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The game, ‘Binary Fission’ is a puzzle game where players set filters to separate different coloured objects.  These objects represent genuine code not visible to the player and the filtering system represents the different computing tasks. The more people playing the game, the more data is collected, helping find bugs with the related code referenced.

In principle the idea of adding gamification (the process of applying video game-like qualities to other tasks) to debugging code has much merit. A lot of people spend considerable amounts of time playing similar puzzle games on the internet and If it was possible to apply this approach without directly intruding on the players’ entertainment then it’s a win-win for all involved.

It is still very early days but if a standard framework for this type of de-bug game could be applied to all types of applications in software development then we could see ad-riddled internet games replaced with ad-free versions, sponsored by the development houses, with playtime equalling debugging time on their code. 

Microsoft are also in a unique position.  If such a de-bugging software platform does take off, we may see MS Office being de-bugged behind the scenes, not just by preview members, but also the MS Xbox gaming community playing Microsoft published games to help identify the bugs.