In the debate as to whether a business would be better-served using a private or public cloud for data storage, the answer that has emerged is quite simple: All of the above.
The hybrid cloud would more often than not appear to be the best answer, as it combines the security of a private cloud with the speed and flexibility of the public cloud.
The debate, however, figures to rage on, as different companies have different needs. One thing that is indisputable, however, is the value of data: Globally it is worth some $3 trillion, trailing only the oil and banking industries. As a result, data integration technology, worth $6.44 billion in 2016, is expected to nearly double in value to $12.24 billion by 2022.
To date the use of public clouds is more common. Under that scenario, everything — every bit of infrastructure, every bit of hardware and software — is in the hands of a third-party provider. Things are more efficient and easier to use. A company has no worries about maintenance or reliability, and it doesn’t cost much to make use of the public cloud.
But, once again, security is a potential issue, as your business shares network space with others — no small matter, considering hackers stole some $12.8 billion of data in 2016 alone. And that is not the case with the private cloud. Yes, your IT team has to maintain it. But it can also customize it and make it more secure.
In a hybrid situation, however, a company can cherry-pick the best aspects of both technologies. There is the security of the private cloud and the reliability of the public cloud, all rolled into one. It was suggested in one report that it would be best to use the public cloud for such things as web-based email, while more sensitive data, such as financial reports, could be shielded in the private cloud.
Such a configuration also allows a business to break apart the data silos that can plague companies — i.e., the set-up under which different groups within the same walls are able to access certain information, while others cannot. One blog pointed out that that divide can fall under cultural, structural or technological lines, but the result is always the same — massive inefficiency.
Forbes noted that third-party providers have already begun to implement hybrid solutions, as evidenced by Microsoft (with Azure), HPE (with Cloud Tech Partners) or VMware (with Cloud Health Technologies).
To date cloud integration strategies can be divided into seven categories:
- iPaaS (Integration Platform as a Service): Application-programming interface (API) communication simplified, via a console.
- Big Data Integration Platform: Data collected from various sources and fed to external databases, via processors.
- Cloud Migration: Enterprise files transferred to the cloud.
- Ecommerce Data Integration: Ecommerce platforms melded with with external apps and databases.
- Enterprise Service Bus: Joining and monitoring of internal apps.
- Extract, Load and Transfer: The oldest service of the bunch; takes data from various sources, organizes it and delivers it to its final resting place.
- Stream Analytics: Coordinating and monitoring Internet of Things (IoT) endpoints.
No matter the path a business chooses, this would appear to be the wave of the future, the ultimate answer to an ongoing debate.
It appears that the only limits on distributed ledger technology (DLT) are those of the imagination. Its use cases, once limited to cryptocurrency, can run from elections to energy, from food safety to online dating.
That should not, however, lessen the excitement over DLT, the tamper-proof digital ledger which in its guise as blockchain served as bitcoin’s backbone. So if we were to ask about its potential, it would not be inaccurate to say that it is nearly limitless.
More specifically, a distributed ledger is essentially an asset database that can be shared across a network of multiple sites, geographies or institutions. All participants within a network can have their own identical copy of the ledger – a ledger that can be distributed widely in a precisely controlled fashion. Any changes to the ledger are reflected in all copies in seconds; and the assets can be financial, legal, physical or electronic. In summary, DLT provides the framework for organizations to achieve granular transparency and enhanced privacy, while reducing fraud, corruption, error and the cost of paper-intensive processes.
As a result, DLT continues to impact the financial services industry — as shown when Santander (among other banks) merged blockchain with its app — and other uses for DLT in this space can be expected to emerge as well.
Along with that is the trend in some countries toward state-run cryptocurrencies. That has most notably occurred in Venezuela, where a crypto known as the petro raised $735 million when it was released in 2018, according to Nicolas Maduro, president of that cash-strapped nation.
Alas, it did nothing to relieve Venezuela’s financial turmoil, and there are questions going forward about the worth of a state-run crypto. Such nations as China, Russia, Qatar and Iran, seeking to minimize the influence of the American dollar within their borders, are nonetheless considering a move in that direction, as are Singapore and Switzerland.
As mentioned, elections are another arena in which DLT has shown promise. In 2018, West Virginia became the first U.S. state to employ the technology in a primary, using biometrics to verify a voter’s identity and third-party verification to legitimize results. This model could prove to be scalable, as it would presumably eliminate voter fraud — again, the system is tamper-proof — and boost turnout.
Another use of DLT is in supply chains. A United Kingdom pilot program allowed that nation’s Food Standards Agency to access the data of a cattle slaughterhouse, which in turn enabled that body and the business to see the same information at the same time, as opposed to being forced to review various hard copies.
It has been theorized further that DLT could be used in other ways in food safety — that, for example, a piece of fruit could be tagged at an orchard and then scanned by a grocer or customer, enabling either to determine its freshness, whether it had been exposed to pesticides, etc.
And a word or two about one of the far-flung applications of DLT: online dating. As shown with a site called Loly, the tech could eliminate fraudulent profiles and also be used to verify consent.
Again, the only limits on this technology are those of the imagination. The possible applications know very few bounds.
What was little more than a heavy metal ballad over a quarter-century ago is fast becoming a hard-and-fast reality today: Where computing is concerned, we are all livin’ on the edge, or about to do so.
Edge computing is viewed as an efficient, cost-effective, secure means of data processing that has impacted (or will impact) such fields as energy, transportation, entertainment and government. Savvy investors would do well to take note, as the edge computing market, valued at $158.3 million in 2016, is expected to balloon to $3.24 billion by 2025.
The research firm IDC defines edge computing as a “mesh network of micro data centers that process or store critical data locally and push all received data to a central data center or cloud storage repository, in a footprint of less than 100 square feet.” In layman’s terms, that means data is processed at or near the point at which it is ingested, making for lightning-quick speed.
Put another way, processing is performed at the best location for each task, allowing apps and services to perform at optimum efficiency. This is regarded as a natural progression from processing as it was performed first in data centers and more recently in the cloud. Gartner, a research firm, projected in April 2018 that by 2025, 80 percent of traditional data centers will be shut down, compared to 10 percent at that point.
Edge computing’s uses are many. An example offered by Network World Senior Editor Brandon Butler was that of sensors on an oil rig — how they sift through a mound of data, determine what is most critical (like that which might involve safety issues) and process it in real time. It is, Butler wrote, a form of data triage, which sees the most important information processed immediately, the irrelevant cast aside and the amount of traffic to a central site reduced as a result.
The other example Butler offered was that of telecom companies looking to implement 5G technology — how those businesses can buy or rent space in micro-data centers installed in or near cell towers, affording them unfettered network access.
Edge computing has also come into play in ecommerce, where it allows content to be disseminated and customer data to be collected; renewable energy, where smart meters monitor the efficiency of solar panels and wind farms; entertainment, where mobile edge computing (MEC) provides fans at concerts or sporting events real-time video; and traffic management, where sensors identify road snarls and hazards.
The most dramatic application of edge computing might yet prove to be in driverless cars, in that it allows vehicles to host artificial intelligence, which in turn results in a minimal latency between the gathering of data and using it to run the car — crucial for safety and performance.
Edge computing also figures to play an increasing role in government, where according to nextgov.com it bridges the gap between older machines and modern technology.
The caveat about edge computing involves security. There are those who believe it adds a buffer against hackers, since there is less data being circulated. But there are also those who believe the micro-devices might prove to be more vulnerable to attack.
Assuming that doesn’t emerge as a larger-than-expected issue, edge computing is expected only to grow in prominence over time. And before long, perhaps, a great many of us will be livin’ there.
“Press one for more options.”
“I want to talk to a representative.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that. Press one for more options.”
If you desire more human interaction when making phone calls or searching the Internet, the outlook for that is often bleak. Instead, you are prompted to speak with a chatbot, a robotic assistant that functions as the automated voice answering services, popup chats, and more. On the phone, the robot disguised as a recorded human voice prompts you to press numbers along the windy path to answering a question or getting the information you need. While doing an Internet search on a website, sometimes a chat box with a person’s face will pop up and ask you if you’d like to talk. Most often, those faces are not the actual people typing, at least initially. In all cases, the chatbot feature allows for customer service to begin without manual human effort.
What do the robot woman on the phone at the bank and the woman on your smartphone all have in common? Essentially, voice assistants are for personal use while chatbots are for businesses. Voice assistants like Siri, Alexa and Cortana help individuals. Chatbots are designed for the public, leading them down a funnel that hopes to solve problems in an automated way. If necessary, though, chatbots may eventually result in speaking to an actual human.
In 2019, 40% of businesses will be using chatbots. The same study shows that in that group, 46% will use them for voice commands, 26% for team collaboration efforts, 24% help with scheduling, 14% for customer service, and 13% for IT management purposes. In all, 16% of companies are currently using artificial intelligence (AI) for sales and marketing. Those numbers are bound to increase over time.
When executed well, the rewards of using this technology are numerous, particularly for big businesses. Chatbots’ natural language processing (NLP) capabilities make them robust virtual assistants. Their increasing intelligence can also provide companies with data about their customers.
Chatbots are becoming very common, but not all companies are buying into the trend so easily. About 50% of organizations have not started using chatbots or AI because of concerns with privacy, security and costs.
Peter Tsai, a senior technology analyst at Spiceworks, comments on the chatbot trend, “While AI has the potential to drastically alter life as we know it, the technology is still in its infancy. As a result, many companies aren’t thinking about the tools and expertise they’ll need to support artificial intelligence.”
The clear trajectory of chatbots makes preparing for them a must-do for businesses. Obtaining education on the technology’s inner workings, implementing best practices, and beginning implementation at a comfortable pace is advisable.
Despite the trend, the common fear that robots will replace humans is not as urgent a threat as many think. For the most part, businesses are investing in improving employee skills instead of replacing them with machines. Even still, the humans who design customer service could often use a little more humanity. Empathy seems to be the missing element in most situations. Whether chatbots can learn that, only time will tell.
Few will argue that elections in the United States feel more like a circus-like spectacle than a civic obligation for most Americans. Counting controversies with ballots have caused political scandals and media feeding frenzies. Accessing accurate information on candidates and measures often is overwhelming – or underwhelming in some cases. And, of course, extensive wait times at the polls make it challenging for people to take time off work, and often deter them from voting at all.
It is, unfortunately, no surprise that the U.S. ranks 31 out of 35 in voting participation, according to the Pew Foundation. A viable solution to this problem is to institute Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT), which is capable of digitizing the voting process in a seamless, secure and error-proof way. Through the power of DLT, votes could be recorded in multiple places at once, rather than at one central location, ultimately preventing hacking.
How is this possible? Through a blockchain, a secure and time-stamped ledger. The blockchain’s storage of votes in multiple places means that each time a voter casts his or her ballot, it would be counted transparently, without interference, and only once.
How could DLT confirm the identity of each voter? Voting with security measures such as tokens for one vote per person, fingerprinting and facial recognition software would help to ensure that each voter’s identity is secure. In addition to the security advantages of DLT, it would give people the option of voting from any location, rather than having to stand in long lines.
If the idea of DLT-based voting may sound too good to be true, it almost is. Several attempts at it have proven futile due to security issues. Though blockchains are helping, the public does not yet understand the intricacies of the technology enough to trust it. Online voting has yet to be publicly accepted as more reliable, secure and fair ways for people to exercise their civic duties.
Despite the challenges, bright entrepreneurs are forging ahead to make voting in the United States a better experience. In Boston, the startup company Voatz has begun to solve the pitfalls of DLT. By building a blockchain voting platform with over $2 million in venture funding, they are spearheading the process of implementing online voting long-term. Their software allows voters to cast ballots through a mobile device connected to the Internet, with biometric sensors that recognize fingerprints and faces to confirm identities and blockchain technology to track auditing, record keeping and accounting.
Voatz has begun to implement the software at town meetings throughout New England as an experiment, while still allowing for traditional voting practices to be used instead. Other states are starting to catch on to the trend as well. California has dedicated over $134 million to improve voting systems in several counties.
No technological advancement in society comes without a few bumps. For those in favor of DLT in voting, there is much hope for the future. The country of Estonia has already successfully implemented blockchain voting. As a result, NASDAQ approved of the blockchain for proxy votes. Many places across the United States are beginning to catch on, too. New progress in DLT innovation may yet be the answer we are seeking to achieve more voter participation in the country we call home.
When it comes to online security, nothing is foolproof, though Digital Ledger Technology (DLT) like blockchain comes awfully close.
Its potential has been realized by two Australian banks, who have already implemented the technology. So too have several Indian states, as well as U.S. defense contractor Lockheed Martin.
The increasing popularity of DLT has led to increased investment, with the potential for even more on the horizon. CSO cites Transparency Market Research indicating that the DLT market is expected to reach $20 billion by 2024, and Gartner projections that put the value at $176 billion by the following year.
What is DLT? It is a decentralized ledger — i.e., one that requires neither a vendor nor service provider (e.g., a bank) — the use of which was best illustrated by MIT Technology Review using the popular cryptocurrency Bitcoin, which is powered by blockchain
In blockchain (as in all forms of DLT), the ledger is shared to multiple computers, called nodes, giving each node the opportunity to verify every transaction. A certain number of owners of these nodes (or miners, as they are often called) then vie to combine legitimate transactions into “blocks” that can be added to a chain of those that came before.
Each block features a cryptographic fingerprint known as a hash, one line of defense against hackers. The hash is a result of considerable computing time and effort, and leads to a bitcoin reward; hence the notion that the cryptocurrency has a “proof-of-work” feature.
Any changes to the block require that the miner conjure up a new hash, and the other nodes verify its validity, then update their blockchain duplicates. According to the MIT site, this is known as the consensus protocol, another feature making blockchain largely impervious to attacks.
Moreover, the hashes serve as links to each other in the blockchain. Any enterprising hacker would therefore have to change not only a single block’s hash, but those of the others in the chain. And that would require controlling at least 51 percent of the computers in the same ledger.
IBM.com notes that any attack to a blockchain, whether that blockchain be public (i.e., connected to the internet) or private (a business network accessed by permission only), is nonetheless possible — that a blockchain’s infrastructure is a big determining factor in just how secure it is. IBM recommends platforms featuring security protocols that severely limit access to critical information, as well as encryption keys.
The MIT site nonetheless cautions that even the most impregnable security systems can be pieced together in such a way that there are vulnerabilities, and added that experts have found ways to circumvent blockchain’s safeguards — one being the creation of a “selfish miner” that can fool the legitimate ones.
Also noted by the folks at MIT are the possibility of an “eclipse attack,” during which a hacker tricks one node into accepting seemingly legitimate data from another node, and incursions into “hot wallets,” one of the touchpoints between a blockchain and the real world.
It should be pointed out, however, that one limiting factor to blockchain is its speed — or better put, lack of speed. It is slow by design, with its proof of work and digital mining protocol slowing transaction volume to just four transactions per second.
Exciting new, next-generation DLT platforms such as Hashgraph hold the potential to displace blockchain, offering improved benefits that include lower transaction costs, less documentation and bureaucracy, greater mitigation of fraud and errors in transaction processing, improved tracking and an increased ability to understand and utilize data and analytics. Moreover, Hashgraph in particular offers unparalleled speed, having a capacity to securely process up to 500,000 transactions per second – a profound improvement over blockchain.
Powered by its proprietary “gossip about gossip” protocol, Hashgraph is actually not a blockchain, but a simple elegant algorithm, mathematically proven to achieve consensus and is implemented in software. It is also widely viewed as the industry’s most secure, due to its decentralized distributed ledger which allows for “asynchronous” byzantine fault tolerance — the true gold standard for security in distributed systems.
In sum, DLT — be it blockchain, Hashgraph or other emerging advanced DLT platform — is as secure as it gets in the online world, because of its decentralization and fail-safe features.
As a result, the demand for distributed ledger solutions is fast outpacing the supply; thus growing acceptance of cryptocurrencies as legitimate forms of tender is fueling a fevered need for user-friendly payment applications, application development solutions and specialty products and services to better support and secure the burgeoning crypto ecosystem while reducing current risks. All are solid reasons why smart investment dollars are flowing into the space — including several of my own.