Thursday, 28 May 2015

Brainwaves the Next Frontier of Biometric Identifications

While commercial outfits such as Apple and Microsoft are working feverishly on biometric identification involving fingerprints and eye recognition, Spain's Basque Centre on Cognition, Brain and Language is putting its efforts into a system that depends on brainwaves.  That's right; researchers at the institute are working on a system that would enable computer users to activate a machine simply by thinking about it.  Their technology relies on mapping the electrical signals produced by the brain during certain thought processes.

Researchers say that each human being possesses a unique brainwave signature that can be measured through the electrical impulses generated while the brain is active. They say this type of technology has been worked on before, but previous attempts utilised a broad spectrum of electrical signals that made it difficult to separate usable signals from noise.  The new research is focused on just one area of the brain responsible for what is known as 'semantic memory'.

To test their technology, the researchers worked with a group of 45 participants who volunteered to have brain impulses measured.  Electrodes were attached to their heads while the participants were exposed to a list of 75 common acronyms – like a DVD, for example.  Electrical impulses from the brain were measured and mapped during the exercise.  From those measurements, researchers were able to develop a map for each participant, using advanced software, to be used as a biometric ID.  The IDs proved 94% accurate when tested.

Although a 94% accuracy rating is impressive so early on in the research stage, it is not good enough for today's needs.  Nevertheless, as the researchers say, it is a good starting point.  If they can successfully come up with a system with near 100% accuracy, it would have implications for everything from IT services to cloud access to large-scale network security.

Hacker-Proof Technology

Biometric identification is being pursued as a means of beefing up security in a day and age where stealing usernames and passwords is commonplace.  As with everything else though, there are genuine concerns as to whether or not there is truly a hacker-proof identification method we have not yet found.  One need only consider a 2005 case from Malaysia where a man lost his finger to thieves who cut it off so they could steal his car.

The advantage of using brainwaves as a biometric identifier is that a person's brain cannot be stolen physically.  However, if scientists are capable of mapping brain waves to find a unique identifier, it is probably only a matter of time before hackers learn how to intercept those brain waves in order to come up with an accurate simulation.

Security management will continue to evolve as we look for new ways to protect our networks and identities yet it is a process that can never stop.  For every new technology we come up with, those who choose to engage in criminal activity will find ways around it.  It is one of the realities of the computer age.


Thursday, 21 May 2015

Sunderland Company Looking at Large-Scale Solar Manufacturing

A Sunderland technology company is hoping that its new solar technology will result in a significant expansion of its business, eventually leading to large-scale manufacturing.  Big Solar has the backing of the Sunderland City Council, which helped the company move from its old location at West Quay Court into new space at the £6 million council-owned Washington Business Centre.

Big Solar is now finishing the research and development stage of a new photovoltaic (PV) system it has named 'Power Roll'.  If the technology lives up to expectations, it should allow implementers of Power Roll to produce renewable energy at a cost that is highly competitive with fossil fuel energy production.  The technology is based on a PV material that makes it possible to manufacture solar panels that are seven times less expensive and up to 145 times thinner than panels currently on the market.

Cheaper and thinner solar panels would, in theory, reduce the cost of manufacturing while also boosting PV energy production.  Successful manufacturing and deployment of the technology could make PV applications the norm for UK residences rather than the niche product PV currently is.

Big Solar currently employs a staff of three at its new facilities.  The company hopes to expand to five by the end of the year, growing its numbers significantly once manufacturing begins.  No manufacturing timetable has been set yet however Big Solar managing director Neil Spann is confident that manufacturing will eventually get under way.

Limitations of PV

We certainly hope to see Big Solar succeed in its new space.  Making it to the manufacturing stage could pump millions of pounds into the local economy while providing jobs for dozens, if not hundreds.  The products it produces could also encourage a more widespread adoption of photovoltaic energy production throughout the North East.  All that said, there are limitations to PV for commercial purposes.

PV energy production is based on the principle of converting energy from the sun directly into electrical current.  That current can be used by a homeowner to power appliances, lighting and so on however an entire roof of solar panels could still not produce enough power for the typical UK home to disconnect from the grid completely.  The PV process is simply not powerful and robust enough.

This is the primary reason that PV has not caught on for commercial applications.  Think of the many new data centres established in the UK over the last five years.  None of them is relying totally on PV energy generation to power their operations.  Those that are utilising renewable energy are more often taking advantage of wind, water and geothermal.

Perhaps a better option for power-hungry data communications is solar thermal.  The concept of solar thermal is one of using evacuated tubes to harness energy from the sun that is converted to heat rather than electricity.  That heat energy can be used to heat water, provide space heating, or even drive a turbine.  Solar thermal can do for commercial purposes what PV cannot.  That is another blog post for another day…

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Essential Insights for your Data Centre Investment in Asia

SingTel is hosting a webinar aimed specifically for businesses who are looking to extend their presence to Asia – the fastest growing economy in the world

Navigating this complex and diverse region can be a daunting task so Singtel invite you to join them on a free webinar to learn more about this region and its data centre landscape. From the latest developments and regulations, to potential opportunities and pitfalls, gain insight to the business advantages and challenges operating in key Asian countries such as Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Find out also why Singapore or Hong Kong may be the best location to base your regional operations and how to propel your business within Asia with highly-resilient, integrated data centres.

·        Title: Best Practices to Drive Your Data Centre Growth into Asia
·        Date: Thursday, May 21, 2015
·        Time: 10am (British Summer Time)
·        Duration: Presentation 30 minutes  +  Q&A 15 minutes
·        Presenter: Heng Wai Mun, Singtel’s Head of Managed Hosting & Cloud Computing

Webinar Presenter:

Heng Wai Mun is Singtel’s Head of  Managed Hosting & Cloud Computing.  Wai Mun is an internationally-recognised expert on Data Centres in Asia Pacific. He has previously worked for Savvis & Motorola and holds a Masters Degree in Electrical & Electronics Engineering from Stanford University and an MBA from INSEAD.

This webinar is aimed specifically at businesses that are located in the UK & the rest of Europe and may be looking to extend their presence to Asia.  Please click here to register free of charge:

Monday, 11 May 2015

The Three Biggest Cloud Challenges IT Managers and Business Continuity Planners Face

A recent survey by an Australian telco discovered that many UK businesses are using three or more cloud solutions from different providers.  Interestingly, most organisations (75 per cent) actually prefer to use a single provider.  So why don’t they?  It’s because they can’t find a single solution that solves the biggest challenges that IT managers and business continuity planners face: storage growth, security concerns and testing.  If businesses are going to work with one vendor only, the provider needs to fulfil key requirements in each of these areas.

Storage growth:

Storage growth is the top driver for UK data centre capacity growth, but budgets are falling (studies by Forrester Consulting and 451 Research confirm this). To bridge the gap, companies need to implement a cloud solution that meets the following criteria:

•      Scalability to allow for data growth
•      Flexibility to allow for easy data distribution
•      Cost-effectiveness to accommodate SME budgets
•      Ability to meet and/or exceed industry and UK compliance requirements

As data grows, the solution needs to provide the ability to back up both individual files and full system information to the cloud.  To enable redundancy and faster recovery, the client should be able to easily transfer data among all the backup solutions the provider offers.  As for the budget issue, redundant data elimination and compression will maximise storage space and minimise cost.  The best option for fulfilling these needs is a hybrid infrastructure solution that uses an on-site data storage appliance along with cloud-based vaulting. 

Security concerns:

With compliance being a pressing issue for UK businesses, cloud providers need to address security concerns to reassure businesses that their data is protected.  There are several key indicators of a vendor that prioritises security.  To name a few:

•         Compliance with BCI standards
•         Dedication to helping customers build a solution that meets their corporate guidelines
•         Data encryption at rest and in transit
•         Substantial real-life data protection experience
•         Secure data centre utilising multi-factor entry, limited access and CCTV coverage
•         24/7 data centre monitoring
•         Background checks on all company employees

With these controls in place, organisations can gain the benefits cloud provides while maintaining strict security standards.


Many businesses test their cloud solutions infrequently or inadequately.  It’s not hard to see why: when dealing with multiple vendors and cloud deployment models, creating a testing strategy can be almost as complicated as the test itself.  This is problematic, because organisations are seeing more aggressive recovery time objectives (RTOs).  Disaster recovery (DR) RTOs are typically less than 24 hours, and operational RTOs are usually 0-4 hours.  Without testing, businesses take a gamble on their ability to recover.

To ease the testing burden, organisations can work with a vendor that provides support options similar to the ones below:

•  Collaboration with the client to design a strategy that minimises downtime during the test and ensures the client can meet RTOs
•  Assistance from qualified engineers to reduce troubleshooting time
•  Recovery experts who initiate installs and updates and resolve urgent problems
•  Comprehensive reporting, including space hog comparison, growth rate review, trend analysis and future projections
•  Easy access to virtual machines matching the client’s current environment

By utilising the provider’s expertise, organisations can reduce testing complexity and ease the burden on internal staff.

Finding the right fit:

The requirements for finding a cloud provider might seem straightforward enough, but finding a vendor that’s a good fit is challenging.  One might fit the bill in terms of affordability, scalability and security but fall short in terms of support.  Another might provide outstanding scalability, security and testing services, but at a premium that prices out SMEs.

Recognising this dilemma, ITS recently launched two complementary cloud-based solutions:  BlackCloud

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Johannesburg Data Centre Failure Raises Many Questions

The owners of a Johannesburg data centre have a lot more than just equipment damage to repair after an epic failure resulted in some customers being offline for 18 hours or longer.  MTN SA has issued countless apologies for the incident, which began around 6pm local time on Monday, May 3 2015.

Numerous news reports say the company was attempting a load shedding procedure when backup generators failed.  That failure led to a subsequent power spike when energy was restored, causing physical damage to an entire cluster at the company's Gallo Manor data centre.  The race was then on to repair the damaged equipment as quickly as possible.

Unfortunately, MTN did not have all of the spare parts they needed on hand to make repairs.  Some of the parts were not located or delivered until 3am on May 4, so repair efforts did not even get under way until more than nine hours after the outage.  Meanwhile, customers were left in the dark as to what had happened and when their servers would be back online.

In light of the failure and subsequent fallout, the company must now answer a number of questions:

  • Spare Parts – Why were there not enough spare parts on hand at the data centre to immediately affect repairs?  This is non-negotiable for the modern facility.  Infrastructure is not perfect, so the means must always be available to immediately repair it when there is a failure.

  • Resilience – Global networking in the modern era requires networks with built-in resilience and redundancy.  Why was this not already in place at MTN?  Even a basic amount of resilience could have provided uninterrupted service for customers, even as repairs were made.

  • Communications – MTN customers complained that communications from the company were lacking.  For their part, MTN said the outage affected the same portions of the data centre hosting their communications tools.  They were unable to effectively communicate until the first round of repairs had been started.  But why?  Should the company not have alternate means of communication in place?

It appears that the Johannesburg failure is as much about management as it is hardware.  Somewhere along the way, those responsible for maintaining the kind of service customers expect fell down on the job.  We suspect MTN will be looking at ways to improve their service long after the physical repairs to the data centre are complete.

Service Providers

The environment in South Africa may be such that data centre customers do not have many options in terms of service providers.  In the UK, we have no such problem.  Therefore, one of the lessons to be learned here is that of choosing a service provider wisely.

It is no longer acceptable to work with a data centre that does not have proven uptime of 98% to 99%.  It is also not acceptable for service providers to not have immediate repair capabilities.  Choose your provider wisely; the health of your business could depend on it.


Tuesday, 5 May 2015

The Future of the Data Centre Rests with a Car Company!

Last week, Elon Musk, the closest man reality has to Tony Stark, gave his eagerly awaited Keynote on Tesla’s new Power Vision: Powerwall. 
The Keynote itself was a casual approach to selling what is probably the near future standard of power storage but what is still ultimately just battery.  Let’s not take anything away from Tesla though, this is exciting and the Keynote was charming, honest and lacking in the glossy new-tech manipulative approach we are used to as consumers.
The residential version is just shy of £3k and is a 10kW unit that can be scaled to 90kW – a hell of a lot for a semi-detached in Nottingham (home to 2bm)! However the interesting part for us was the industrial version: Powerpack.  This is a 100kW unit which is infinitely scalable but obviously restricted by the number of solar panels, and ultimately the surface area of the earth!
It’s a very interesting concept for data centres as it is rumoured that there has been interest in the USA for a 250MW system. Clearly the naysayers amongst us will be out with their redundancy and reliability fingers a-waving,  but it is undoubtedly a step in the right direction and the positive impact this approach has on the  earth far outweighs the negatives.  In addition it will enable some countries the ability to compete in a marketplace where warm temperatures and connectivity costs have previously been financially limiting factors.
Lithium-ion is the next major advance in data centre technology, will it be limited to UPS batteries or will we be installing Tesla’s Powerpacks as part of a primary power solution?  We’re keen to hear your thoughts on the matter.

Guest blog by Ted Pulfer, Data Centre Design and Build,