Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Microsoft Looking at DNA Data Storage

How would you feel about donating some of your DNA to eventually be utilised as a personal storage space for all your digital data? The idea may seem a bit far-fetched, but Microsoft recently revealed that they are working on a system that, in theory, could make exactly what has just been described pretty routine at some point in the near future.

Microsoft has revealed a research project aimed at using strands of DNA for large-scale data storage. According to a report published by MIT Technology Review, the US-based software company expects to have a workable DNA data storage system in place by the end of this decade.

The system involves using individual strands of nucleic acids to store data as nucleic acid sequences in much the same way a magnetic strip stores data as sequences of positive and negative charges. The benefit of the DNA model is primarily one of capacity. As an example, a Harvard geneticist investigating the possibility of DNA data storage a number of years ago converted and stored his book on the subject using 55,000 DNA strands.

According to reports, a single gram of DNA is capable of holding 215 PB of data. For the record, a petabyte is 1 million GB. That is a tremendous volume of the data stored on something incredibly small. At the rate data is exploding these days, we are going to need something that impressive just to keep up with it all.

Overcoming Current Limits:

Using nucleic acids to store digital data is very promising in that proof of concept has already been established. But like any new technology, it is too cost prohibitive to be mainstream at the current time. There are some inherent limits to DNA data storage that must be overcome before you and I will be donating our own DNA to the cause.

Right now, the biggest challenge seems to be speed. Sending data to the storage system has been as slow as 400 bytes per second. In order to come up with a workable solution that could be embraced by the retail market, researchers have to get to at least to 100 MB per second. And as every year ticks by, that number will increase alongside other technologies.

The other big challenge is the price of materials. Researchers currently invest roughly £620,000 in the materials needed to build a DNA data storage and retrieval system. That cost is way too much to make for a feasible mass market product. The price will have to be reduced to several hundred dollars, at the most, if the idea is to ever be marketable.

Human DNA has been storing critical data since the dawn of man. How ironic it would be if we could take something as fundamental to our existence as DNA and use it to store and retrieve digital information that is becoming equally critical to our everyday lives. Microsoft hopes to make it happen within the next few years.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

ICO to Look at Data Analytics in Politics

Big data is everywhere. If you do anything online, whether with a mobile phone or laptop computer, there are entities out there in the digital universe collecting data about you and analysing it for marketing purposes. There are also political entities making use of that data, according to the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO).  The ICO has therefore announced the start of a formal investigation with the intent to learn just how data analytics are used for political purposes.

An informal investigation was originally announced by the ICO earlier this year. According to Commissioner Elizabeth Denham, her office believes that what they have learned since March warrants a formal investigation now. Denham acknowledges that data analytics have a significant impact on individual privacy and, as such, people have a right to know how data is being used to influence votes.

"Having considered the evidence we have already gathered, I have decided to open a formal investigation into the use of data analytics for political purposes," Denham wrote in an official release. "This will involve deepening our current activity to explore practices deployed during the UK's EU Referendum campaign but potentially also in other campaigns."

The commissioner has indicated that her investigation will be ongoing even in the midst of campaigning for the snap General Election coming up. She also maintains that her decision to launch a formal investigation has nothing to do with that election or it possible outcome.

What It All Means

Without coming out and saying so directly, the Government has taken the position that politics has become more orientated toward marketing in the digital age. Indeed, that is the entire point of big data anyway. Analysts gather as much data on individuals as they possibly can and then find ways to decipher and apply that data in order to be more effective in their outreach.

While big data is alive and well in all sorts of fields, it has only been perfected – at least as much as is possible right now – within the marketing environment. Therefore, it stands to reason that the ICO will be looking at data analytics from that standpoint. They want to know if politicians are marketing their messages to voters based on what they learn from data analytics.

Finding out they do would not be much of a surprise. Politics has always been about messaging. What may be a surprise is the extent to which data analytics is being used. If it is determined that individuals or political campaigns are misusing data in order to target their messaging, there could be some significant consequences in the future.

At any rate, Denham also took the occasion of her official release to remind all political parties that their current activities in relation to the upcoming election must adhere to all applicable laws. The ICO offers updated guidance on political campaigning that parties can avail themselves of. As an individual, you are also welcome to download that guidance from the ICO website.  Simply follow the below link to the original source of this blog.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Fire Takes Out Aussie Data Centre and Disrupts Business

A data centre fire in southern Australia disrupted numerous businesses last week, including account access among customers of UniSuper, a superannuation provider with more than AUS $56 billion in assets. Fortunately, no customer information was lost as a result of the failure and the data centre was back online a day later.

The affected data centre remains undisclosed at this time, but news reports did identify it as a facility somewhere in the Port Melbourne area. Port Melbourne is a suburb of Melbourne in the state of Victoria. News reports also indicate that the data centre is in the same general vicinity as two companies in which UniSuper is heavily invested.

No Information on Cause:

At of the time of this writing, the cause of the fire remains unknown and it could be some time before that information is released. All that is known at this point is that the data centre caught fire and, in the aftermath, UniSuper and several other businesses suffered partial shut-downs. The fact that the centre resumed operation the following day indicates the fire was not as severe as it could have been.

Data centres the world over are equipped with fire suppression systems in order to minimise the damage fire and smoke could cause. These are chemical or water systems that can extinguish fires without damaging computer hardware. It is assumed such a system is that which saved the Australian data centre.

Unfortunately, fire suppression systems themselves do not always work. A number of years ago, a Romanian data centre operated by ING suffered extensive damage from a fire suppression system test. The system made such a loud boom that the sound waves actually damaged hardware!

Fire Is Always a Risk:

Those of us within the data centre community are fully aware that fire is always a risk. The general public, on the other hand, may not realise just how much of a problem fire can be. For starters, think about the tremendous amount of heat that data centres produce on a daily basis.

Data centres have to be kept cool because excess heat can damage sensitive network hardware. But, more importantly, allowing excess heat to build up could spark a catastrophic fire. The larger a data centre is, the greater the potential for fire if cooling solutions are not designed and implemented properly.

We have seen notable data centre fires all over the world in the past. In 2016, Ford experienced a fire at its US corporate headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan. A government data centre in Ottawa (Canada) also went down in 2016 after hardware suffered severe damage due to inexplicable smoke. And, of course, who can forget the 2015 fire in Azerbaijan that decimated the country's internet service.

Thankfully the data centre fire in Australia was not serious enough to cause widespread damage and knock out services for an extended period. Hopefully, facility owners will identify what caused the fire and take corrective action to prevent it from occurring in the future.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Barclays Announces New Cyber Crime Initiative

With cyber crime seemingly increasing on a daily basis, one UK high street bank has decided to fight back. Barclays has launched a new nationwide initiative designed to educate consumers, businesses and authorities in how cyber crimes are carried out and what can be done to prevent them. The initiative includes £10 million for an extensive advertising campaign throughout the UK.

According to Barclays, cyber crime in the form of digital fraud is at an all-time high. In fact, digital fraud now makes up at least half of the total crime reported in the UK. Barclays suspects the numbers could be even higher when one considers how often cyber crimes go unreported. The kinds of crimes that Barclays is referring to include things like scams and digital identity theft.

Surprisingly, older people are not the most vulnerable to cyber crimes involving digital fraud. According to Barclays, that distinction belongs to young people between the ages of 25 and 34. Even more surprising is that highly educated young people in the Greater London area are the most vulnerable group in the UK.

What Barclays Will Do:

It's clear that Barclays alone cannot make a dent in cyber crime and digital fraud. Real change will be the result of banks, businesses, authorities, and the public all working together. With that said, Barclays is committed to doing its part by way of their new Digital Safety initiative.

The first part of the initiative calls for giving Barclays customers more control over how their debit cards are used. Customers will be able to set their own daily withdrawal limits and turn remote purchasing capabilities on and off by way of the Barclays app. On the education front, Barclays has a lot planned.

They now offer an online quiz designed to help people understand their own level of risk. The quiz is followed by helpful tips designed to make individuals more secure based on their answers. Barclays is hoping to help as many as 3 million consumers with the quiz.

As previously mentioned, Barclays will invest £10 million in an advertising campaign that will involve billboards, printed adverts, TV, and online efforts. The ad campaign will target the most vulnerable demographics with essential information they need to understand and the precautions they should be taking.

An updated website will include 'fraud awareness takeovers' in order to promote fraud prevention. Barclays believes that it is more important to make people secure than to sell new products, so these new takeovers will replace many of the existing elements that currently market new products to consumers.

Lastly, Barclays will begin offering educational seminars and support clinics for both businesses and retail consumers. The company hopes to reach as many as one million small and medium-sized businesses with targeted educational opportunities designed to help them reduce their fraud risks.

It is clear that Barclays is serious about addressing cyber crime and digital fraud. Kudos to them for stepping up and committing themselves so extensively.


Wednesday, 3 May 2017

New Apple Data Centre Will Help Heat Homes

It is no secret that Apple is looking to be the dominant technology company where green energy is concerned. Their new corporate headquarters in Cupertino, California (USA) is already slated to run on 100% renewable energy and Apple has made great strides in using more environmentally friendly packaging. Now they have their eyes on a brand-new data centre being built in the Jutland region of Denmark, a data centre that will utilise green energy and recycle its excess heat to help keep local homes warm.

The data centre is being partly powered by recycling agricultural waste from local farms. Apple has partnered with Aarhus University to develop a system that converts the waste into methane gas by way of a biochemical 'digester'. The methane gas can then be harnessed and used to power the facility. What the digester leaves behind becomes fertiliser for local farms.

Apple also says that the data centre will put no stress on the local power grid. Instead, it will be powered by 100% renewable energy. As such, Apple is giving back to the community in multiple ways. It is a great partnership that will benefit local residents, businesses, farmers, the University, and even Apple itself.

A Company-Wide Goal:

We should not be surprised by what Apple is doing in Denmark. After all, the company has stated numerous times that they fully intend to eventually operate all their data centres on 100% renewable energy. All their existing data centres already use renewable power to one extent or another and Apple claims as many as 96% of them are already exclusively renewable.

The renewable energy goals are not what is so surprising about the Denmark project. Rather, it is remarkable that Apple will harness the excess heat their data centre produces and return it to the community as municipal heat for homes. Apple could just as easily have turned around and used that heat as another source of power on their own premises. Instead, the local community will benefit from it.

Apple is not alone in harnessing data centre heat for other purposes. There are others who use excess data centre heat to keep their own offices warm and still others who use it to generate the hot water their facilities need. And when you stop to think about it, heat recycling strategies make perfect sense.

Data centres are not only insatiable users of power; they also produce a tremendous amount of heat. There really is no viable reason to allow that heat to escape when it can be reclaimed for so many purposes. The fact that it has taken technology companies so long to get to this point is the only thing that really surprises us about heat recycling.

Apple's new Denmark data centre will be a model of renewable energy and recycling when it finally opens. Apple might be hard-pressed to call themselves the world leader in green technology at this moment in time, but they are certainly among the industry's major players.