All posts by Cloud Pro

Tips for more productive meetings


Cloud Pro

10 Oct, 2019

It’s no secret that the workplace is evolving, with advancing technology and our changing expectations enabling new ways of working that were simply impossible before the advent of Wi-Fi, file sharing and online collaboration. As meetings form such a large part of many people’s jobs, it was inevitable that the way we organise and participate in them would transform, too.

Indeed, these shifting paradigms – particularly agile working – have placed new demands on meetings, as colleagues who no longer occupy the same building rely on them more and more as a way of catching up and sharing important updates. This means that, more than ever, it is vital to get the best out of our meetings, which – let’s face it – are vulnerable to disorganisation, and can easily be a waste of time rather than a productive exercise.

Let’s take a look at the best practices and tools that will ensure your meetings live up to their potential.

Planning and organisation

One key element of executing a productive meeting is the same as it ever was: organisation. Knowing why you’re having the meeting, what you need to cover and what the outcomes are will leave you in very good stead.

You undoubtedly know the basics, but just because they’re simple doesn’t mean they aren’t vital. Before you even begin the meeting, make sure you’ve set and shared an agenda to define your objectives and keep the meeting on track. Assign someone to take minutes as a record of what was discussed and what ideas and plans were generated. The minutes will also help inform action points which can be given out at the end of the meeting so that the relevant people can follow-up on anything discussed. Sticking to the allotted time will help keep people focused. These simple processes remain as important and effective as ever, and are the best place to start to boost productivity.

Your guest list should also be scrutinised. We’ve all attended meetings where we’ve found ourselves staring into space and wondering why we were invited at all. Limiting your invitations to people who have something relevant to input will avoid wasting your colleagues’ time as well as creating smaller and more focused meetings (Google, for instance, suggests avoiding any meetings of more than 10 people). Consider which colleagues will be better served by being updated on the meeting’s outcomes rather than attending.

On a related note, assure your colleagues that, if they genuinely believe that they have nothing to contribute, they can decline their invitation without penalty. That will make sure that everyone in the room is engaged and ready to contribute, rather than sitting in silence and wishing they were getting on with something else.

Environment

The advent of Wi-Fi and agile working practices has meant that meetings can technically be held anywhere – but that doesn’t mean they always should. Although it’s very useful to be able to call in from a cafe or park bench if you have to, optimised meeting spaces are still the best place to communicate with your team.

The setup of you conference room can have a major effect on productivity by creating a space free from distractions and – as conference calling and remote working become more prevalent – one in which you can communicate clearly with colleagues who are unable to attend in person. Consider soundproofing rooms in which ambient noise from air conditioning, passing traffic or noisy colleagues can be heard filtering in from outside. Bad acoustics can render audio communication incomprehensible, so take steps to limit reverberation with carpets, panelling and soft furnishings.

A quality audio-visual system is naturally vital for conference calls. It is worth employing the assistance of an AV expert in setting up microphones and speakers in the best way to minimise feedback and ensure that communication is as clear as possible. Think about the positioning of cameras and screens so that everyone can easily see each other. Weak and unreliable lines of communication can rapidly eat into your time and overshadow the matters that the meeting was called to discuss.

Meeting management tools can be used to perform data analysis that can also help you refine your meeting room usage and conference spaces, and plan better strategies in the future.

Technology

Advances in technology have enabled many of the changes to how we communicate and conduct meetings, and the proper use of the tools available can greatly boost productivity.

Selecting the right collaborative platform, such as the Intel Unite® solution, can help significantly streamline processes, keeping internal and remote team members on the same page, as well as serving as a tool to crunch the aforementioned meeting data. Intel Unite is an open platform that supports plugins for popular collaboration tools such as Skype for Business, Zoom and Cisco Webex, as well as in-room controls, whiteboarding and other systems, so that you can select and seamlessly combine the best tools for the job under one roof. The classic Intel Unite® solution requires a hub computer based on an Intel® Core™ vPro® processor in every meeting space, an on-premises PIN server and the Intel Unite app on users’ devices – there is also the new Intel Unite® Cloud Service that offers the option for you to access a cloud-hosted PIN service instead of requiring an on-premises server.

It’s vital to ensure that your employees are properly equipped with the most up-to-date hardware and software so that they can take full advantage of these systems and log into remote meetings with minimum fuss. High-spec cameras, microphones and speakers will allow them to see, hear and be heard, while new laptops with fresh batteries will prevent them from losing power and getting cut off halfway through your meeting.

With technology continuing to evolve at a rate of knots, it pays to keep abreast of the newest developments. Artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things are widely expected to further streamline meeting processes and offer new insights that will increase productivity in ways we are only beginning to understand. IoT promises increased connectivity to everything from projectors to climate control to make meeting management easier than ever. AI is projected to develop virtual assistants that can help with admin like managing calendars and scheduling meetings, as well as source relevant data to answer questions as they are raised and generate new ideas. By keeping up to speed on the latest cutting-edge tech developments, you’ll always be in a position to make informed decisions when it comes to adopting the best tools for the job.

Discover how the Intel Unite platform can help your business here

How tech is creating the meeting space of the future


Cloud Pro

11 Oct, 2019

The world of work is changing. Businesses are becoming increasingly decentralised, with flexible and agile working practices on the rise and developments in technology revolutionising our jobs. Inevitably, this has had a huge impact on one key office ritual: the meeting.

So how do you make sure a modern-day meeting runs smoothly and efficiently? From technical difficulties to fears over security, there are plenty of collaboration challenges brought about by the evolution of the workplace. Ensuring your tech is helping, not hindering, discussions is essential to making the most of your time. And with technology now being specifically designed to make meetings more efficient and effective, you’re missing out by sticking to outdated, clunky systems.

The rise of agile working

One of the biggest business shifts in the last few years is the move towards more agile ways of working. Motivating employees with flexible working options has been proven to boost productivity while encouraging remote working has tangible financial benefits, from lower travel costs to reduced overheads.

Inevitably, the traditional meeting setup has moved with the times too. It’s no good allowing staff the flexibility to work from home if they have to physically come into the office for meetings. And busy employees are far more likely to be engaged and productive in a session if they don’t feel like their time is being wasted with mandatory office hours and pointless presenteeism.

It’s not just a case of adapting meeting arrangements to meet employee expectations, there are real business benefits too. Gone are the days where everyone has to be sitting in the same room to have a productive discussion. In fact, sometimes the most productive meetings bring together employees virtually from all over the world – some of whom may never have met in person. Once restricted to who you could physically get together, technology is making it far easier to get the right people together in one virtual space.

Getting the most out of the room

Bringing everyone together – remote and onsite – is a great step, but lack of productivity is a universal meeting gripe. When employees are taking an hour out of their busy days to meet, that time needs to be used efficiently to produce meaningful results. Basic tech tools have enabled more flexible meeting models, but for many businesses, the existing tech is more of a hindrance than an asset.

Slow, complicated equipment can take time to set up, different cables may be required to connect each attendee’s portable device and some devices may not be supported at all. Content sharing can also prove a challenge – when everyone’s using a different screen, time is easily wasted making sure everyone has access and is looking at the right part of the presentation or document. Plus there’s the chance that this flow of information inside and outside the office may not be secure – and with cybercrime on the rise and hefty fines for data breaches, this is a big worry for any business.

This is where businesses can benefit from making the most of the latest tech solutions. Designed specifically with collaboration in mind, tools like the Intel Unite® solution resolve common issues by using an open platform to bring applications, document sharing and presentations into one hub in each meeting room. From this hub, there are multiple means of joining the meeting and the option for up to four presenters to switch between their screens seamlessly.

The system is designed to work with the OS and applications organisations already have, supporting plugins for tools like Skype for Business and IoT equipment such as smart in-room control systems. It is also built to work seamlessly across all common devices, so there’s no need to invest in new uniform hardware. All you need are an Intel® Core™ vPro® processor, managed PIN service, and the app on whichever devices you choose to use.

To tackle the issue of security, the Intel Unite solution is encrypted with an SSL connection between the hub and client, ensuring content is only shared with approved participants. The Intel Unite hub is PIN protected and security codes are regularly refreshed.

With the mechanics of connecting easily and safely with your remote workers ironed out, you can turn your focus to the built-in features designed for enhanced collaboration, whether the meeting involves external participants or not. The system is touch-enabled so users can make the most of the latest touchscreen technologies and there is also an annotation feature, allowing the presenter to use their screen like a whiteboard. Unlike a whiteboard, this will be visible to anyone accessing the shared screen, allowing presenters to draw participants’ attention to precise areas of documents or add shared notes as they speak.

For businesses needing extra flexibility, Intel also offers the Intel Unite® Cloud Service. With this, you get all of the features of the original service, but with no need to manage an on-premise PIN server – everything is managed through an admin portal. As with the on-premise option, you’ll need an Intel Core vPro processor and the app on each device.

AI and the meeting room of the future

So where can this go next? Artificial Intelligence is evolving from an intriguing future technology into an office reality. While you’re not going to find a robot running your meeting any time soon, AI assistance technologies are on the rise in the workplace. In meetings, they can take out the monotonous admin tasks and free up time to focus on creative, meaningful discussion.

One ever-advancing AI technology is the voice assistant. Many of us are already kitted out with AI voice assistants in our personal lives, and the principle is largely the same when transferred to a meeting room environment. With voice control, you can run the meeting without the distraction of having to manually scroll through or share content on screen.

With the increasing sophistication of these applications, handy tools are becoming vital ‘co-workers’. AI technology is already able to perform basic admin tasks and offer voice control, and it is well on the way to being able to take minutes, distil action points, check schedules to set up follow up meetings and pull up data and information as participants speak.

With the right technology, you can not only solve your meeting headaches but get so much more out of your discussions. Plus, if you invest in the right flexible solutions, you’ll be poised to make the most of new cutting-edge technology as it’s released.

Discover how the Intel Unite platform can help your business here

The tech driving better business collaboration


Cloud Pro

10 Oct, 2019

We live in an increasingly interconnected world, and the main driving force behind this is digital technology. Most of the top ten companies by market capitalisation focus on the digital space, and it’s now nearly impossible to do business without taking your corporation through some form of digital transformation. The advantages available are manifold, and how you can now work with colleagues and other companies remotely is one of the benefits that can be the most valuable of all.

There’s no denying that collaborating face-to-face still has significant value. But it can also have a major cost in both travel expense and time. The more you can do remotely, the less you need to meet up with collaborators to develop new projects and keep existing ones on track. However, effective digital collaboration tools can also enable business practices that weren’t economically viable before, such as working closely with colleagues in foreign countries. It’s also now possible to collaborate with those closer at hand where the logistics of needing to meet physically made this inefficient, and this can have a considerable benefit for productivity.

For effective collaboration, you need a powerful, flexible system that all your employees can rely on to deliver the features they demand. The Intel Unite® solution is the perfect basis for a cohesive but expandable and inclusive provision – it’s a wireless in-meeting room collaboration solution designed to improve meeting efficiency by enabling fast meeting start-ups.

The Intel Unite solution includes three components – at the centre is a hub computer based on an Intel® Core™ vPro® processor in every meeting room, a separate PIN server and the Intel Unite® app on the client devices. Now with the Intel Unite® Cloud Service the customers have the option of having the PIN server on-premises or hosted in the Cloud. This still relies on a local Intel Core vPro processor-based hub, but PIN services are provided via the cloud, meaning that your IT department doesn’t need to spend time and resources managing this function. Your company also won’t need to spend so much on infrastructure and administration.

Whether using an internal PIN server or the Cloud Service, Intel Unite is an open platform that supports plugins for popular collaboration tools including Skype for Business, Zoom and Cisco Webex video-conferencing solutions. There are plugins for in-room controls from Logitech and whiteboarding from Bluescape, FlatFrog and Nureva. Intel also offers its own plugins for functions such as analytics of room usage and service status, which can be used to keep track of how your employees are using Intel Unite to collaborate. There’s even an SDK so that companies can develop their own third-party plugins to further extend functionality.

Of course, an open and expandable platform also potentially creates greater security risk. But the Intel vPro platform based hub computer has security built in at the hardware level. All content shared on the platform is encrypted via 256-bit SSL, with access codes that refresh regularly for added security and the capability to lock a session for sensitive meetings.

The open extensibility and reliable security come together through a user experience that is seamless and transparent. It’s easy for users to join a conference and share content, whilst presenters can be switched over with a click. Each connected display can support up to four displays, facilitating document collaboration and comparison. Many legacy meeting platforms waste participant time whilst they try to get joining, sharing and switching presenter to work properly. Intel Unite takes all the stress out of these often-frustrating aspects of virtual collaboration.

Whether using your own in-house PIN server or the Cloud Service, the same Intel Unite app gives your local, remote and guest users their interface to the system. The touch-enabled interface makes starting and joining meetings a cinch on any device. There are clients for Windows, macOS, Linux, Chrome, iOS, and Android, with the latter two available via their respective app stores.

There is a range of options for the hub at the centre of an Intel Unite setup. Small form factors such as the Intel NUC 7 offer a cost-effective entry point. The ViewSonic ViewBoard and Prowise provide integrated Intel Unite support through display, whilst all-in-one PCs (like the Dell OptiPlex 7460) and small form factor systems from Dell, HP, Fujitsu and ASUS are certified for Intel Unite.

Intel Unite lets you turn your meeting and conference rooms into interactive collaboration spaces. The end result can have a significant impact on your business profitability. According to research by Forrester Consulting commissioned by Intel, investing in Intel Unite provided a 470% return on investment overall for the companies assessed, and they paid back the initial capital outlay in less than six months. In fact, this is a clear case of IT services becoming a revenue generator rather than a pure cost. Forrester calculated a net present value from the investment of $612,000 across the companies surveyed, compared to existing legacy solutions.

These returns came from a variety of sources. The lion’s share was the result of Intel Unite’s ease of use. The quick connection and rapid switching between presenters reduced meeting downtime by up to 15%. But meetings were also 5% more productive, saving 2.25 minutes on average per meeting. This may not sound like a lot, but if your employees have multiple meetings a day, it adds up. The final saving was from the use of a generic IT platform, which didn’t require the installation of any extra cabling or adapters.

Forrester also cites less quantifiable benefits. These include how telemetry data can be used to optimise workspace usage. If you know when and how your employees are using your collaboration spaces, you can reduce or increase them as required. The flexibility of Intel Unite can also be used creatively for additional functions when not in use for collaboration, such as displaying company metrics on a conference room whiteboard. The easily deployed security that meets existing requirements also makes for simple integration into a company’s architecture.

Online collaboration in all its forms has been one of the key features of internet connectivity. But businesses can benefit the most if they deploy the right technology – technology that makes the process easy, reliable, flexible and secure. Intel Unite provides all these features and more, allowing your company to collaborate more effectively, improving employee productivity.

Discover how the Intel Unite platform can help your business here

Trust in public cloud providers’ security is increasing


Cloud Pro

8 Oct, 2019

End user apprehension towards moving to the cloud is dissipating, according to an IDG Connect survey. Of those polled, half felt more confident in migrating workloads off-premise, a trend that can be attested to stronger security measures on both the vendor’s side and the end user’s side.

Since its inception, cloud computing has forged paths towards efficiency and enhanced customer experiences, enabling the digital transformation necessary to ensure businesses remain competitive. Storing data and applications in the cloud though, brought to the surface a host of security issues that have dissuaded many IT decision makers from transitioning.

Cloud providers do offer security layers that end users can take advantage of to shore up vulnerabilities, yet despite this, a lack of understanding and expertise within IT departments has led to many organisations struggling to deploy the security measures, which are often  complex and require specific knowledge. The result is vulnerable data and applications. Paired with severe breaches hitting the headlines regularly throughout 2018 and 2019, it is no surprise that many companies were hesitant to store their applications and data off-premise.

In response to end users’ fears, vendors are implementing stricter security controls which can restrict access to data centres, ensuring only those who need to access are granted access. This eliminates internal vulnerabilities by preventing the wrong employees stumbling upon information that wasn’t meant for their eyes.


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Microsoft is taking a leap further: Integrating its Azure compute infrastructure with customised hardware components with embedded protection against unauthorised access, also reducing complexity by providing a one-pane solution. Additional security layers are provided by partner-companies feeding into the original vendor’s cloud offering. In the Microsoft example, Red Hat, the open source software specialist, is protecting workloads at the virtualisation and application application levels.

Vendors are also taking it upon themselves to test their security features regularly. Penetration testing has developed out of the ethical hacking concept, allowing vendors to realise vulnerabilities in their software before the chinks can be targeted by malicious hackers.

IDG’s survey reveals that these measures are feeding back to customers. In addition to the 50% reporting confidence in transitioning to the cloud, 58% indicated that they trust public cloud providers’ data security platforms and protocols rather than their own IT departments, while 54% implied they weren’t worried about losing control over application and infrastructure provisioning and management as a result of cloud migration projects.

For vendors, existing customers are happy and retained, and new customers are attracted. And with security remaining a top priority for software companies, cloud computing may continue it’s surge in popularity for years to come.

Which cloud services are right for your organisation?


Cloud Pro

7 Oct, 2019

It’s safe to say that the cloud is one of the most important innovations in modern IT, with a huge number of organisations moving to take advantage of benefits such as flexibility, cost savings and ease of deployment. Fittingly enough, however, ‘the cloud’ is a broad and somewhat woolly term that encompasses myriad technologies, all of which serve slightly different purposes.

For organisations looking at cloud adoption, it’s important to know exactly what ‘cloud’ means to you. Migrating to the cloud without a firm understanding of your objectives can lead to over-investment in services which may not be necessary for achieving them – which can, in turn, result in the costly repatriation of workloads later down the line.

When is a cloud not a cloud?

First things first – when most people talk about the cloud, they’re generally talking about the three major public cloud platforms – Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform and Microsoft Azure. These specialise in platform as a service (PaaS) and infrastructure as a service (IaaS) offerings, and are most commonly used for building and running applications. They essentially allow companies to command a virtual data centre, where the company is responsible for building and maintaining the software elements, and the provider takes care of the physical hardware they run on.

This is incredibly useful for any company that develops software (whether for internal or external use), but that’s not all they do. Public cloud platforms can also be used to host instances of business apps such as CRM systems, websites, mail servers and databases. These platforms are incredibly versatile, but the downside is that they generally require a relatively high level of configuration and management, with a complex set of skills needed to do so.

“It’s not as easy as people make it out to be. If you go to Amazon’s website, they tell you that you can be consuming cloud services immediately, just with a credit card,” says Lee Wynne, CDW’s public cloud architecture practice lead, “and you can’t. You just put your credit card details in and away you go, and that’s great if you’re a sole trader and you just want to do a couple of little things. If you’re a big organisation and you’re security conscious, then there’s quite a lot of design work required just around the account structure before you get anywhere near infrastructure. Then on top of that, you have good platform architecture – what regions are you going to use, what availability zones, what’s going to have access to the internet, what isn’t, subnets, all those types of things.”

File-sharing platforms, on the other hand, are much more user-friendly. These services – typified by the likes of Box, Dropbox and Google Drive – used to be known as ‘cloud storage’ services, but their growing feature-set has rendered that definition somewhat unhelpful. Although they still act as a cloud-based central repository for business files and folders, most providers now offer features beyond basic storage, typically geared towards enabling greater efficiency and collaboration within the business.

Common features of file-sharing platforms include the ability to leave comments on files, integrations with other SaaS tools (which we’ll talk more about later) and thorough version histories and audit logs, as well as in-depth permission settings to ensure that no-one has access to anything they shouldn’t. File-sharing is an essential tool for any organisation; not only does it help protect files from accidental loss in the event of a hardware failure, it also allows staff to access them from any location or device, improving mobility and enabling flexible or remote working.

It’s important to note that while file-sharing services can be used to back up documents and provide similar functionality to that of a backup service, the two are not interchangeable. Unlike storage platforms, backup providers focus on keeping a complete archive of all of your data, rather than just files and documents. This includes things like databases, server configurations and emails, to ensure that if anything disastrous (such as a ransomware infection or a flood) happens to your IT systems, you can quickly and easily restore them to their state before the incident.

There are many different backup options available depending on your needs; some specialise in server or VM-level backups, some focus on endpoint devices and others cover the full range of tasks. Dedicated backup services tend to concentrate on what’s known in the industry as ‘cold storage’ – meaning data that isn’t intended to be accessed on a regular basis. For this reason, many use snapshots to restore affected systems to a specific point in time. Backup platforms are an excellent disaster recovery tool to ensure you can get operational again as quickly as possible should the worst happen, but they’re also helpful for meeting regulatory and compliance requirements.

Collaboration station

Gone are the days when organisations were forced to rely on lengthy email chains to share knowledge and files with each other. Now, cloud-based collaboration platforms and communication services help employees to stay in touch. Instant messaging apps are among the most popular examples of this, with Slack and Microsoft Teams being leaders in the field. Combining the functionalities of a message board, a chat app and a digital workspace, collaboration apps support direct messages, private group chats, public channels and company-wide forums, allowing communication across many levels.

These services often include telephony tools like basic audio and video calling, but they also integrate directly with popular third-party conferencing tools like Zoom and BlueJeans for those that need more features. File-sharing, communication and collaboration tools are also frequently cross-compatible, allowing employees to, for example, share relevant files without leaving a video call.

Outside of the tools and services highlighted above, there are various types of standalone SaaS software to suit businesses specific needs; virtually every breed of business application has a cloud-based equivalent, whether it’s a CRM system, accounting package or database management tool. Organisations can cherry-pick which applications they need to build their ideal software stack, and many feature cross-compatibilities and integrations with other services to enable different workflows.

Some cloud services will suit every organisation. There are few organisations, for example, that wouldn’t benefit from the increased mobility and flexibility offered by a good file-sharing service. However, the combination of different cloud services is where businesses can unlock real value. We’ve already covered the way file-sharing, collaboration and unified comms services can work well together – a particularly effective mix for creative-driven organisations like marketing or design firms – but there are configurations to suit every organisation.

Any organisation that has a substantial software development practice, for example, would be well-served by adopting a cloud platform such as Microsoft Azure and combining it with comprehensive VM backup and code-sharing tools – allowing them to develop and deploy applications rapidly and at scale without the risk of sudden loss of work.

“Things like core productivity tools complement themselves well with some business analytics in terms of data sharing,” Wynne says. “So PowerBI, for example, on Microsoft Office 365. All those things are very complementary in terms of providing people key data within the business so they can make good decisions.”

Finding the right blend of cloud services – as well as the best way to combine them for maximum efficiency and cost savings – can be a real challenge for organisations looking to start exploring the world of cloud. By partnering with CDW, organisations can get a helping hand with this complex and often daunting process, giving them access to a trusted advisor with the expertise to accelerate their journey to the cloud.

To find out more about CDW visit www.cdw.com

Smart cities: building the metropolis of the future


Cloud Pro

8 Aug, 2019

Cities of the world are buckling. The UN estimates 55% of the planet’s 7 billion people live in urban areas and it’s believed a million people join this list on a daily basis. Infrastructure is feeling the strain, there’s unrest, congestion is polluting our lungs and crime is prevalent. What’s more, if this rise continues as expected, cities will be home to some 6.1 billion people by 2050. Something has to give.

The answer lies in making cities work smarter. Of course, the promise of smart cities isn’t new; it’s a concept that’s been celebrated on screen for decades and has seemingly been on the periphery for years, yet today we’re finally on the verge of achieving this truly connected utopia. Companies across the globe are using technology and analytics to make city life a breeze; preventing traffic jams, solving crimes, boosting tourism and more.

Speed and safety

In the UK, the economy as a whole lost £8 billion due to staff being stuck in traffic jams last year, or 178 hours per driver, according to research by Inrix. As cities become saturated, authorities and industry are turning to big data and tech to ease this load. In London, for instance, Transport for London’s (TfL) Open Data project provides more than 80 data feeds through a free API. These feeds share details about air quality, tube times and delays, the number of passengers flowing through the network as well as data on live traffic disruptions. Some 600 third-party apps are now being powered by these feeds, used by 42% of Londoners, and it’s reported to be putting £130 million a year back into the capital’s economy. On a wider scale, it’s estimated that by using open data effectively, 629 million hours of waiting time could be saved on the EU’s roads and energy consumption could be reduced by 16%.

“Open data is changing our everyday lives and how organisations like TfL work,” said Jeni Tennison, CEO at the Open Data Institute. “Data is becoming as important as other types of infrastructure, such as roads and electricity, which means building strong data infrastructure is vital to economic growth and wellbeing.”

Beyond roads, tracking pedestrians is key in keeping a city moving. In Glasgow and London, mobile phone data can be used to track passenger numbers on public transport, while sensors in lampposts can track footfall. The Netherlands has even begun trialling smart traffic lights that give the elderly extra crossing time or change automatically when they detect an approaching cyclist.

In China and Singapore, authorities are taking things a step further. Through the use of IoT devices and sensors, alongside advanced 4G data networks and AI, not only are they monitoring and improving traffic flow, they use the data to track road violations and even predict crime. Singapore, for instance, uses data from RFID-equipped travel cards, CCTV and anonymised phone data to identify problems before congestion can take hold. Its AI can spot patterns and run algorithms that highlight issues some 10 or 20 steps down the line.

Elsewhere, the Chinese province of Zhejiang is using 1,000 sensors to capture more than a terabyte of data every month. Stored on Intel servers running on Intel Xeon processor E5 series and holding an incredible 198TB, this data is easy to access and analyse by large numbers of users who can search for a licence plate on the network in less than a second, from 2.4 billion records. In particular, products such as those developed as part of Intel’s Vision Accelerator Design use deep neural networks to analyse such video footage quickly and accurately.

It’s not just traffic violations being caught using next-level technology and analytics. CCTV video link-ups, license plate scanning, smart mapping and even real-time facial recognition are also helping save lives, cut down on vandalism and prevent robberies. The London Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) recently partnered with Greater London Authority’s Strategic Crime Analysis team to launch SafeStats. By feeding more than 20 million crime and safety records from the police, ambulance, fire brigade and transport authorities into advanced AI software, emergency services can detect patterns and identify crime hotspots. This AI can even offer solutions and guide authorities on policy. For example, when cross referenced with records from 25 hospitals, it can be used to create heat maps that help steer local policing strategies and funding.

The connected city

Once crime is being tackled, and transport delays are managed, cities become more attractive to tourists; another area in which big data, AI and analytics are playing a significant role. In Manchester, the Beacons for Science app lets tourists use virtual and augmented reality to unlock experiences at landmarks across the city. In London, Mastercard has been hired to produce a series of smart city initiatives including the Visit London Official City Guide app. This app taps into real-time data feeds to help tourists navigate the city, using geolocation to flag nearby places of interest and transport routes.

Elsewhere, the West of England Combined Authority was recently awarded £5 million in funding to trial a 5G network at tourist destinations in Bristol and Bath. This network complements the Bristol Is Open smart city scheme designed as a city-wide private network testbed, powered by an Intel® Xeon® equipped Blue Crystal II supercomputer, on which companies and organisations can test smart city solutions.

“The vision behind Bristol is Open was to see how we could make the city smarter and quicker than any other,” explained Julie Snell, Managing Director of Bristol is Open. “We can offer a test network that’s run on gigabit fibre. It’s got everything from Wi-Fi to 2G, 3G, 4G, massive MIMO (multiple-in multiple-out), LTE and even some 5G. We also have 1,500 Wi-Fi meshed network lamp posts, allowing us to bounce signals around the city without us needing constant fibre connections.”

This network, consisting of hundreds of Internet of Things connections, can help people in areas of poor connectivity get online easily, and cheaply. Data from this network can be fed into a 4K, 180-degree ‘data dome’ and used to track Met Office weather patterns in the region, monitor mobile usage, and record air pollution levels as part of a feasibility study by the University of Bristol. This could see the city become the first to let people identify their individual exposure to pollution, and it’s a similar setup to that used by the Sensing London project which used Intel Galileo-based end-to-end Internet of Things infrastructure to measure local air quality and human activity. Beyond the sensors, Intel and Bosch recently teamed up to develop the Air Quality Micro Climate Monitoring System (MCMS) which takes the data from such sensors and uses software to measure air quality, providing councils with meaningful insight.

Looking to the future, the global rollout of 5G is expected to accelerate not only the adoption of smart city technology but its capabilities. It will exponentially increase the number of sensors, the strength of the connections and the speed at which data can be sent and analysed. Combine this with the ongoing advances in data collection and analysis, and the expansion of the IoT, and it looks like we’re at a critical juncture in the pursuit of a truly connected utopia.

Discover more amazing stories powered by big data and Intel technology

How technology is revolutionising the healthcare industry


Cloud Pro

12 Aug, 2019

>A technology revolution is transforming the healthcare industry, changing everything from how patients are diagnosed and treated to our battle against some of the world’s most serious diseases. It’s a revolution fuelled by new sources of healthcare data and powered by big data analytics – and it’s being pushed even further by new developments in AI. Between growing populations, ageing populations, drug-resistant microbes and pressures on staff and budgets, healthcare faces some enormous challenges. Yet with data, analytics and AI – supported by new cloud, storage and processor technologies – the industry is moving in the right direction to meet them. This revolution will change and save patients’ lives.

Its foundation is the growth of healthcare data. On the one hand, initiatives like the SAIL (Secure Anonymised Information Linkage) Databank are collecting, pooling and anonymising data, ready for research through analytics. Operating in Wales, SAIL has collected over 10 billion person-based data records over a period of 20 years, using it in projects finding links between social deprivation and high mortality rates following a hip fracture, or uncovering relationships between congenital anomaly registries and maternal medication use during pregnancy. Similarly, projects at the Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust are finding operational uses for their own large datasets, using them to monitor time lags between referral and treatment or ensure staffing levels meet demand during peak periods.

On the other hand, clinicians are finding ingenious ways to make use of the wealth of data collected by fitness trackers, smart watches and healthcare apps on smartphones – not to mention information being freely and publicly shared over social media. While privacy concerns won’t melt away overnight, researchers hope that, given assurances, the public will back the wider sharing of health information, particularly if it can help us fight diseases or make more informed choices about our diets, our sleep and our exercise regimes. With anonymisation and other appropriate safeguards in place, plus the legalities dealt with, there are endless applications.

From precision to prevention

Many of these harness the power of big data analytics, using these massive datasets to spot patterns or even predict outcomes based on certain factors or criteria. One large study combines genetic information with data from other studies and canSAR, the world’s largest database for cancer drug discovery, to identify pathological mutations and match them to potential drugs. Such studies are finding that, by picking out new genes involved in the development of, say, prostate cancer, they raise the chances of creating bespoke drugs to battle specific mutations. Similar studies hope to isolate the impact of diet and exercise on diabetes, so that sufferers get more motivation to make potentially transformative lifestyle changes.

Clinicians and data scientists refer to this approach as ‘precision medicine’ using analytics to find out what fuels specific variants of a disease in specific individuals, then identifying the right individual treatment path to manage or cure it. Nor is this the only way analytics is transforming healthcare. Researchers fighting antibiotic resistant superbugs hope that analytics could find answers there in the long term, and that, in the shorter term, mathematical modelling could help estimate the global impact of antibiotic resistance and make a powerful case for increased funding.

Meanwhile, new healthcare apps, like Sentimento Ltd’s My Kin, are working to help prevent illness. They do so by bringing in information from smartphones and wearable devices, including physical and social activity, sleep and environmental factors, and then using analytics to pinpoint behavioural changes that could help reduce health risks and prevent the users from developing serious conditions later.

Putting AI into practice

These approaches are only being improved by developments in AI and machine learning, as clinicians and researchers use new techniques to spot patterns faster or get a more accurate diagnosis in less time. At both MIT and the University of Pisa, smart algorithms are enabling MRI image scan comparisons that used to take up to two hours to be done in one thousandth of that time, or to cut down the time patients spend in discomfort during vital MRI screenings. Similar work is being done by Intel and the AI company, MaxQ, to analyse CT scans of stroke and head trauma patients to reduce error rates, or by Intel and the med-tech company, Novartis, to analyse thousands of images of cells during drug research and identify promising drug candidates. By augmenting manual analysis, the technology can reduce screening times from 11 hours to 31 minutes.

It’s even hoped that by combining data analytics and AI, the kind of cancer drug treatment research mentioned earlier could go on to not just target the right treatment but prevent the disease from establishing a foothold. Machine learning and deep learning techniques could spot molecular drivers or mutations early and suggest appropriate action.

These developments make heavy demands on today’s technology; whether you’re working on large datasets in memory or pulling data from disparate sources in the cloud, storage speed and processing power count. Here fast flash storage arrays and persistent memory, like Intel® Optane™ DC persistent memory, is delivering the kind of high-performance, high-capacity storage these applications need – and making it more affordable and accessible.

Much the same is happening on the processing front, where Intel has teamed up with Philips to show that Intel Xeon Scalable processors can perform deep learning inference on X-rays and CT scans without the specialist accelerator hardware usually required. Using AI in medical imaging has been challenging up to now, because the imaging data is high-resolution and multi-dimensional, and because any down-sampling to speed up the process can lead to misdiagnosis. New deep learning instructions in Intel’s 2nd Gen Xeon Scalable processors enable the CPU to handle these complex, hybrid workloads. Through this research, Intel and Philips are bringing the use of AI in medical imaging down to a lower cost.

In doing so, Intel is helping supercharge the new technology in healthcare revolution, providing the industry with the compute and storage performance it needs to transform raw data into personalised treatment plans and great patient outcomes. What’s more, it’s doing so in forms that will only grow more affordable and accessible with time. Combine that with the explosion in healthcare data and there’s potential here for something truly special. Technology might not kill the world’s superbugs or defeat cancer straight away, but it could forge major breakthroughs in these and many more of the world’s biggest healthcare challenges.

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How big data can give you a competitive edge in sports


Cloud Pro

30 Jul, 2019

When the athletes dramatised in the 1981 Oscar-winning film Chariots of Fire were competing nearly a century ago, a stopwatch was one of the few devices producing data to measure their sporting achievement. But these days sport is all about measurement and analysing the data it produces. Whether it’s tracking your location, heart rate, oxygen saturation, or nutrition, huge amounts of information are being collected from athletes, including amateurs. But professionals in particular are finding that data collection and analysis could be what gives them the edge in competition.

Sports sensors sit where two of the biggest trends in contemporary computing meet: big data and the Internet of Things. The latter is a significant driver of the former. On the one hand, you need the connected devices that can track the relevant parameters to assess the factors behind sporting excellence and measure improvements. On the other hand, you need powerful data analytics to take the information produced, make sense of it, find trends, and help inform how athletes can do better.

Sales of running watches alone are growing five per cent every year, according to MarketWatch. These have now gone well beyond pedometer wristbands like the original Fitbit, and can include a GPS, heart rate monitor, and even a pulse oximeter to measure blood oxygen levels. They can also link wirelessly to cadence sensors in running shoes and on bikes, monitor your sleep patterns, and then automatically transfer the data collected to the internet. Some sports watches can use an accelerometer to detect which stroke you are using when swimming and when you push off at the beginning of a length, so the number of lengths you swim can be counted automatically.

Even consumer-grade systems can tell you useful things about your exercise ability that can guide how you train, such as VO2 Max, which measures the maximum amount of oxygen a person can utilise during intense exercise. This provides an assessment of cardiovascular fitness and can help you track your progress getting fit as you implement a distance-running programme. However, whilst the amateur trend for tracking exercise is driving device ubiquity and the sheer volume of data, professionals have access to systems that can provide much greater levels of detail, and with it a real edge in performance.

Data gets results in the beautiful game

For example, data is being used to improve football performance by analysing opposing team strategy and finding ways to combat it. Scottish football team Hearts used information from the InStat database to predict that a high-pressing game using players who could keep the pressure on for many kilometres of running would help them beat Celtic – and it worked. They are not alone, as more than 1,500 clubs and national teams use InStat, giving the company information on more than 400,000 players.

But clubs also build up data on their own players using sophisticated devices from companies such as Catapult Sports that can collect up to 1,000 data points per second. Similarly, the STATsports Apex can calculate more than 50 metrics at once, such as max speed, heart rate, step balance, high metabolic distance and dynamic stress load. This goes beyond the pure numbers but adds interpretation about how this is affecting an individual athlete. The data is collected in the cloud for historical comparative use. Teams now use this information to help decide which players to purchase to achieve their objectives for the season, employing services like InStat and Opta to provide the details they need.

InStat collects data for football, ice hockey, and basketball, whilst Opta includes these plus cricket, rugby union, baseball, golf, motorsport, tennis and handball amongst others. Although team games have many variables that can make player statistics only part of the picture, sports that focus on individual performance such as athletics can rely heavily on data to provide clear insights on how to aid improvement. This goes well beyond GPS tracking of outdoor events. Wearable devices with accelerometers, magnetometers and gyroscopes can track hundreds of data points to describe an athlete’s physical motion.

Stryd’s running shoe attachment can capture cadence (steps or cycles per minute) and ground contact. This can be used to analyse running style, which can be compared to previous sessions and other athletes. This information can spot nascent talent or help an athlete hone their style so they can emulate what makes the most successful sportspeople win. It can also detect warning factors like asymmetric movements that might cause a future injury or imply an impending one. EliteHRV’s sensors can provide high levels of detail on heart rate variability to see the physical effects of different levels of performance, so that athletes can recover adequately from their sessions and not over-train.

The secrets of the perfect golf swing

Another individual sport that is gaining considerable benefit from wearable sensors and data analytics is golf. Any sport using a bat, racquet or club can gain benefit from analysing a player’s swing, but in golf, the swing and body posture are particularly constrained, without also having to take into account additional factors like cross-court movement or ball spin, although atmospheric conditions will have an effect. Systems collecting golf performance data include Opta and ShotLink. The latter has results data dating back to 1983 and tracks 93 events a year.

GolfTEC, in contrast, is more focused on how an individual achieves their performance. The company has developed a SwingTRU Motion Study database of 13,000 pro and amateur golfers that includes information on 48 different body motions per swing. The analysis found six key areas that indicate an excellent player. These factors were discovered by correlating swing data with performance. Similarly, TrackMan uses cameras to analyse a player’s swing to aid training.

Rather than just analysing the past, predicting the future is where the application of big data analytics to sport will prove particularly valuable. As with every area of big data analytics, this will be dramatically affected by the application of AI and machine learning. Any massive store of unstructured data can potentially benefit from AI technology, which can help structure the data and find patterns in it proactively. First you feed in performance data, physical metrics during the activities, nutrition, sleep, atmospherics, plus anything else available. Then AI-empowered analytics will look for patterns that could provide strategies that make a difference, particularly when the margins for winning can be so small.

The systems we’ve discussed here are just the beginning. Data-driven sports are still only in their infancy, with much more to come in the next few years to help athletes find a competitive edge. Sport is just one area where big data and analytics are having a major influence, too. Healthcare, smart cities, and our understanding of the natural world are all seeing dramatic contributions.

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The nature of technology


Cloud Pro

29 Jul, 2019

Changes to the planet are happening at an alarming rate, and it’s no secret that we’re partly to blame. But one way in which we are making positive changes to the Earth is through developing technology that can help us protect our planet. And how best to do this? By understanding exactly what is happening now, so we can help predict and influence future events.

The size and complexity of the ecosystem is one of the biggest challenges when monitoring the planet. While plenty of data has been collected over the years, until recently, it has been almost impossible to get the insights needed to truly understand what’s going on.

This is where cutting edge technologies come in. From large scale global mapping to tracking individual species, big data analysis and deep learning are now being used to analyse the Earth and its life.

Macro scale – mapping and modelling the Earth

Forests and oceans cover the majority of the planet. Their health is crucial to the stability of the ecosystem, but monitoring them is no easy feat. Enter digital maps and models. By using big data analytics to create high-resolution maps of the planet, many of which are updated in real time, scientists can literally get the bigger picture.

Global Forest Watch is a UN sponsored web application that uses live satellite images to assess the health of all forests globally. It has provided the tools and data to support projects such as the Amazon Conservation Association, which works to protect biodiversity in the Amazon, and Forest Atlas, which helps manage forest resources in Liberia.

Rezatec, an analytics company, has developed similar forest intelligence and the data analysis techniques and machine learning algorithms to produce crucial insights. In 2017, Rezatec partnered with the Forestry Corporation New South Wales to add value to its existing data by using multiple datasets to create more detailed and useful maps. This gave forest management the tools to spot pests and diseases and environmental changes early.

Similar projects are underway to understand our oceans. Ocean Data Viewer is another resource supported by the UN that collects and curates a wealth of data on coastal and ocean biodiversity from a variety of trusted scientific research facilities. Multiple global data sets and maps can then be viewed and downloaded for research and analysis.

71% of our planet is water, but we have better maps of Mars than we have of the ocean floor. Now, thanks to data gathered from ships, buoys, and satellites, oceanographers have plenty of information at their disposal. From analysing sediment samples with AI to employing cutting-edge laser techniques, they can now map out features on the seabed such as rivers and underwater volcanoes and detect changes as and when they happen. Advanced analytics, powered by Intel, are helping to make these developments faster and more efficient.

Micro scale – monitoring individual animal species

Decline in an individual species is often an early indicator that something is wrong, as many animals are essential to the Earth’s balance. By analysing animal behaviour, scientists can give governments, business leaders and the global community the tools they need to encourage species to thrive.

From counting whales from space to tagging elephants with AI trackers, there are plenty of new and exciting technological developments giving scientists more insight into our wildlife than ever before. However it’s the smaller, more elusive creatures that can be the trickiest to understand. Luckily, technologies are now being developed to provide solutions for these species.

Take bees, for example. Through the pollination of crops, they perform an essential role in the global economy. However, their numbers are in worrying decline. In 2016, Intel teamed up with Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization on a groundbreaking bee-tracking project. Tiny RFID ‘backpacks’ were attached to 10,000 Tasmanian bees to monitor their every move. Meanwhile, their hives were fitted with an Intel Edison board to collect data on internal conditions and honey production. From the data gathered, scientists deduced that the use of pesticides, climate change and the loss of wildflower habitats were all contributing factors to the species’ decline.

Bats are another crucial, but elusive species. They are a great indicator of biodiversity, the loss of which has been likened to “burning the library of life”. As bats only thrive when insect species are in abundance, understanding their behaviour and numbers can help scientists assess the health of the local environment.

In an Intel and UCL project, automatic smart ‘Echo Box’ detectors were fitted around the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London. These boxes picked up ultrasonic bat calls, allowing scientists to acoustically track bats in the area. The Intel edge processor in each box then processed and converted the sound files into visual representations of the calls and deep learning algorithms analysed and logged each pattern. On some nights, over 20,000 calls were detected, indicating a reassuringly high level of bat activity.

All of these projects highlight the amazing capabilities and flexibilities of today’s technology. From big data analysis to deep learning, the same groundbreaking tools used to empower businesses globally are being applied to make a real difference to the health of the planet.

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10 key takeaways from Ingram Micro’s UK Cloud Summit


Cloud Pro

21 Jun, 2019

With research from PwC suggesting that movement in digital transformation stems from a collaboration of power perspectives, the channel knows all too well the challenges of sustaining the digital dialogue. Ensuring that people are at the forefront of their mission, the channel seeks to continue its disruption as the core focus of human experience propels it further into discovery.

And this is exactly what made the UK Cloud Summit the ever more spectacular; people coming together to enable the human experience that channel brings. This mindset can be used to encourage our partners to think in the same way and drive business forward.

To be able to host two days of celebration featuring unique keynotes, insightful breakout tracks and invaluable networking opportunities, is a testament to the great relationships we have with all stakeholders of the channel and our partners.

The cloud-coveted reigns were passed over to our brilliant speakers who delivered excellent conducive presentations over the two days, covering contemporary concepts on cyber security, hybrid cloud, collaborative tools and novel ways to enhance your ROI.

So, what are the ten key takeaways from UK Cloud Summit?

1 – Cloud for competitive advantage

Scott Murphy, Director of Cloud, Ingram Micro UK&I, expresses that cloud isn’t the enabler of revolutionary tech, but plays a deeper role of epitomising the crux of transformation; a true implement of competitive advantage.

Whilst an enabler creates a catalyst for change, it’s a means to an end. To truly harbour the digital transformation age, you need a means in itself. Cloud technology is the foundation of a new way of working, collaborating and driving new advanced solutions, from which can only develop from our partners.

Our role is to unleash and sustain this unprecedented potential.

2 – Education is key to better security

What creates a better future for our cloud solutions? Having access to the right tools so that we can better protect ourselves.

As told by our guest speaker, Alexis Conran (best known for BBC Three’s The Real Hustle), we’re the most vulnerable to cyber threats because of our involvement in the industry. As advocates of technology and cyber security, we can often fall short.

It’s important to still carry due diligence into our decisions to navigate the landscape that we’ve often set up ourselves, because as Alexis expressed, nothing is 100% secure.

3 – Service providers need to be service integrators

According to Leigh Schvartz, head of cloud and MSP offerings at Fujitsu, seats provisioned and managed by a service provider are set to double in the next five years.

Opening new potential in enhancing strategic management, this manifests a new way of supporting partners. People now want more of a service integrator, a service provider who can work side-by-side to uncover more business opportunity and scale more.

4 – Partnering to offer a wider range of services

Not every provider can service all the needs of their customer. While large companies such as Fujitsu can scale up to orchestrate the major cloud platforms, smaller service provider partners don’t have the resources or the people to be specialised enough to go through all of them – which is why partnerships are emerging in ecosystems.

“So you might have an infrastructure specialist partner, and a co-locator and an application consultancy on Azure, all team up, work together to build something that they could all take to market,” says one speaker at the event.

5 – Providers need to vary their pricing models

Many companies have adopted subscription pricing models, but this may not suit some providers, or indeed some customers. For mid-sized service providers, for example, the heavy investment needed cannot accommodate the as-a-service package.

Paying for what you use is becoming increasingly popular, but it’s also becoming apparent that businesses prefer a fixed term contract behind this to mitigate risk.

6 – Private hosted cloud is becoming more popular

From a cloud perspective, private environments hosted by the service provider are going to be very popular.

“As people prepare to move things to the public cloud, if that is the direction of travel, actually offsetting it to a private hosted service provider, in the first instance, makes sense,” said one speaker.

7 – Cyber protection has evolved from data protection

The talk around the protection of information and cyber security within enterprises shouldn’t be limited to just hardware. It’s now evolved beyond that, according to Ronin McCurtin, vice president of Northern Europe for Acronis.

He says this now includes privacy, authenticity and security, particularly as the amount of data being processed has exploded in recent years creating greater demand for multiple storage repositories.

“Suddenly, our data went from being on our laptop to being everywhere,” he says. “We need to provide a solution so we know that our data can be actually protected when it’s out there.”

One example of a threat to enterprises is ransomware. “A lot of companies are going to be attacked by ransomware and we need to make sure that they’re protected from those kinds of situations going forward.”

8 – Authenticity will take centre stage

Making sure that emails, messages, etc are authentic will be much more important and easier to do.

McCurtin says that end users will need technology working together to make sure that messages sent to each were genuinely from the sender. Notarising such communications using blockchain technology could help in quarantining such messages.

9 – Embracing a multi-cloud strategy

Rob Price, UK Partner Organisations CTO at Cisco, presented Cisco’s view on how enterprises are embracing a multi-cloud strategy.

Many organisations have come to the cloud via shadow IT and used it in a siloed way. IT managers now need to administrate the many clouds that the organisation uses. Cisco’s advice here is that businesses think about the many options available to them, create implementation plans and proof of value and achievable milestones.

10 – The channel needs to start small in cloud

Executive vice president of Ingram Micro Cloud Global, Nimesh Davé, told delegates at the summit that partners need to “start off small” when moving to the cloud and find a niche where they know they can do well.

This, he says, means building up a practice around small applications stacks and be better than anyone else at it.

The cloud is opening the doors for the channel and service providers who put the human experience at the heart of their activities. Digital transformation works best when businesses and partners work together for the greater good – when they work in tandem, they can be unstoppable.