Saturday, June 3, 2023

6 VPN Solutions for Network Security

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VPN Solutions For Companies with Remote Employees

There is an increasing need for companies, remote employees and private individuals to keep their corporate or personal data, location, devices, internet activity and streaming private but accessible at geographically remote locations. VPN or Virtual Private Network is one way to do this. Here are 6 VPN solutions for consideration:

  1. Remote access VPN: Useful for home and business users, remote access VPN solutions allow users to access private networks remotely over the Internet.
  2. Site-to-Site VPN Solutions: Also known as router-to-router VPN and often used by corporations. Intranet based VPN solutions connect geographically remote offices in the same company. Extranet based VPN solutions connect offices from different companies.
  3. Client-Based VPN: A VPN client is the software installed on a device to establish a connection between it and the VPN server. This allows a single user to connect to a remote network. Native VPN clients (Windows, macOS, iOS, Android) are pre-installed. Third-party VPN clients may be installed for more features and a better interface.
  4. Network-Based VPN: Network VPNs connect two networks together over an untrusted network such as the Internet. An example is all the offices in a company connecting using IPsec (Internet Protocol Security) tunnels.
  5. Dynamic Multipoint VPN: DMVPN allows the creation of a cloud of connected networks. This complex tehcnology can be used to connect satellite offices with the head office and each other.
  6. MPLS-based L3VPN: Multiprotocol label switching assigns labels to packets of data. Packet forwarding decisions are made on the basis on the label name without having to access the packet itself. L3VPN is a type of VPN node also known as virtual private routed network. MPLS-based solutions are easier to manage than conventional VPNs.

VPN solutions for Your Remote Employees

Most companies use third party VPN clients to connect offices and remote employees in georgraphically distant locations. The precise VPN solution required depends on what kind of access, data, information and activities are you are seeking to protect. If you are new to VPN technology, it is best to seek expert advice.

 

Sources

 

Coronavirus reveals the power of social networks in a crisis

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The declaration of the novel coronavirus as a pandemic was a call to arms for governments to take urgent and immediate action. However, many feel the response from some countries was too little, too late.

Despite this, people took early action to protect themselves, their families and their communities. Some reacted by panic buying and stockpiling goods, revealing how fragile supply chains were (although Brexit previously raised this issue). Communities also mobilised themselves to reach out to vulnerable and isolated people and to help solve their problems, often using social network platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp to create groups centred around a geographical location to coordinate activities.

“Groupsourcing” is a term derived from “outsourcing” that has been used to describe this phenomenon, where groups on social networks are created around user needs by the users themselves, rather than being coordinated centrally. Unlike micro-volunteering platforms, such as NextDoor, Neighbourly or TaskRabbit, where people who require tasks to be completed (either online or in the real world) advertise their task and remuneration, organic collaboration through social network groups has several advantages. Users are already familiar with the communication systems of social networks such as Facebook (for example, through Messenger) and the friend networks they need are already in place.

Also, the group reach can easily be expanded by its members to include skills and knowledge from other users that are not known to the person requesting the task (for example, by tagging people who may be able to help on the post). The groupsourcing approach has shown value in the coordination of community resilience to disruption, as well as citizen science in wildlife monitoring.

Communities with existing groups are better placed to respond to disruptive events such as COVID-19 and many around the UK have been utilised to help and offer services; however, it is not without its challenges. How would a vulnerable person know if the person who was doing their shopping would not just take their money and never come back? Could chemists dispense drugs to volunteers and trust them to deliver the prescription? To address these issues the UK government issued guidelines for volunteers and national efforts were created to facilitate trust in the volunteering service.

Facebook is also promoting new ways to support communities in this way, such as the “community help” feature, originally launched in 2017 and now marketed as part of its crisis response to users who request or offer help. The feature attempts to emulate a micro-volunteering platform’s approach to community support (with a structured “request and respond” protocol); however, Facebook’s community is already using the platform for this purpose in an unstructured way – and this allows those requesting tasks maximum flexibility in their use of the system. The value of any engineered help features may ultimately be more limited in reach.

The community networks that social platforms host go much deeper than the technology. They have enabled a shift in the way we communicate with each other: to be faster; more seamless; and with greater reach than anything that has come before. Platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp enable rapid proliferation of filtered news, advice, task requests and real-world support that a centralised organisation is not capable of on this scale.

This is how local communities have been able to respond so effectively and rapidly when reports of lockdowns, travel restrictions and, ultimately, death tolls were shared during the early stages of the pandemic. Although authorities enabled people to “snitch” on their neighbours to enforce safety measures, it’s the establishment of social norms at a local level during abnormal times that helps people know how to act when advice is conflicting and rapidly changing – although there is a responsibility to ensure mis-information does not endanger lives.

Using Facebook for group coordination is not without its problems and the misuse of user data resulted in many users leaving the platform. But when the dust settles from the COVID-19 crisis there must be a conversation as to the role of social network platforms in modern life, in particular during times of worldwide crisis.

To establish trust in the systems used for communication social network platforms should be open and transparent, especially if it is being used in preference to centralised control of information. Facilitating community resilience through social media platforms with lightweight applications may be part of a broader collective intelligence approach to future disruptive events on a similar scale to COVID-19.

  • Jon Chamberlain is Lecturer in Computer Science, University of Essex. This article originally appeared on TheConversation.

Tracking Covid’s impact on app popularity

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Pandemic-induced social isolation has altered the relationship consumers have with technology.

With the physical world now slowly receding, consumers are suddenly more reliant on apps for communication, shopping, staying healthy, and entertainment.

The graphic here pulls data from a new report by MoEngage and Apptopia, and it plots the winners and losers of the pandemic from the app world in North America.

Embracing the app economy

Consumers are looking for different ways to manage their lives while in lockdown, and in some cases, apps could provide the perfect solution.

In fact, people spent 20% more time using apps in the first quarter of 2020 compared to 2019. During that time, consumers also spent over $23 billion in app stores—the largest spend per quarter recorded to date.

While consumers across the globe lean on apps to support them in times of crisis, what exactly are consumers in North America using?

Climbing to the top

Given the sheer volume of people working remotely, it’s no surprise to see video chat and online conference apps experiencing explosive growth. In North America, these apps witnessed an astronomical 627% increase in downloads, and a 121% increase in daily active users (DAUs).

Video conferencing app Zoom expanded its worldwide user base by 300% in just under a month. Upwards of 500 participants can attend a meeting at any one time, hence why it has become a popular option for virtual conferences, festivals and even religious sermons. As we adapt to life indoors, the Zoom boom shows no signs of slowing, even despite the app’s recent data privacy and security scandal.

Slowing to a standstill

Unfortunately, indoor living is not conducive to globetrotting. As travel and hospitality app downloads in North America decline by 12%, this is the harsh reality that the industry needs to come to terms with for the foreseeable future.

Interestingly, airlines in the U.S. did not see a reduction in app downloads until early March, which may be attributed to the later timing of the COVID-19 shutdowns as in comparison to other countries around the world.

In the short-term rentals space, Airbnb has experienced a drastic decline in bookings, and is adopting new cleaning protocols in an attempt to appease both hosts and guests. The tech company has since lowered its internal evaluation, from $31 billion to $26 billion, which could disrupt the company’s plan to go public in 2020.

Emerging Victorious

Because the largest social media networks already boast a significantly large audience, new downloads is not necessarily a metric that could make or break this cohort. Instead, DAUs are a much better indicator of success, and from what the report suggests, people have become more devoted to these platforms.

For U.S. adults, social media usage jumped from 20% of total mobile app usage in the early part of the year, to 25% in mid-March. In fact, between January and March, daily active users on Instagram and Facebook rose to 127 million and 195 million, respectively.

Measuring the global impact

When we look at the popularity of apps across different parts of the world, some interesting observations appear. First of all, healthcare apps in South East Asia are categorized as emerging—meaning they show promise, but have minimal active users.

Although DAUs of healthcare apps in South East Asia are declining, fascinatingly, there has been a 110% increase in spend on these apps during the outbreak. The report suggests that this could be attributed to the user base becoming more loyal as a result of trust-building advertising campaigns in this space.

Real estate is a sector seeing a simultaneous increase and decrease in users worldwide. In Middle-East Asia for instance, these apps are exploding in popularity, but in other parts of the world they are experiencing a slowdown. This could be due to restrictions in certain parts of the world slowly starting to lift.

An unsung hero

Technology is becoming an increasingly divisive topic. Data security scandals, the spread of false information, and its impact on mental health are just some of the reasons why technology’s role in society regularly comes into question.

However, it has allowed us to remain connected in a time of crisis, and has also been pivotal in facilitating the spread of reliable information during lockdown.

If anything, the pandemic has shown us how vulnerable we are without technology—and how instrumental apps are in keeping us busy, informed, and sane.

  • Katie Jones is a writer and strategist at Visual Capitalist, where this article was originally published. 

Zoom fatigue? How to make video calls less tiring

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Many new phrases have entered our vocabulary as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown. “Zoom fatigue” refers to the mental exhaustion associated with online video conferencing.

We can change how we interact on video calls with adapted social behaviours such as scheduling shorter meetings. But theories from audio and sound research tell us that a lot of what determines how fatigued you become is based on what you are listening to.

The voices transmitted through the internet in real time are unedited and therefore crude to our ears. That is why we can wile away an hour listening to a podcast interview but feel drained after a video meeting – even if we didn’t have to contribute.

The good news is each one of us can contribute to reducing Zoom fatigue. You can change some simple things to improve everyone’s video meeting experience.

Don’t tap

Unnatural, unexpected and annoying sounds invoke a response in our brains and force us to concentrate on them. In a conference call or video meeting, your voice is transformed by the microphone. High pitch frequencies will be amplified, resulting in a squeaky, “Mickey Mouse” effect.

Subtle sounds such as key tapping and swallowing sounds will be captured and amplified through the system. Squeaky chairs, eating crunchy snacks and slurping coffee can sound to the listeners as if you are chewing in their ears.

If you want to limit the negative effect your voice might be having on other callers, the problem is you don’t know what it actually sounds like on their devices. Face to face we can hear ourselves in the same environment as our audience hears us and we adjust accordingly but that’s not possible online.

Step into your listener’s shoes: record a meeting on your own and listen back to understand how others hear you. Something as simple as adjusting the position, distance, or direction of your microphone could make a big difference. Switching from a laptop’s built-in microphone to a headphone microphone can mask a lot of environmental noises such as keyboard clicking or room echo.

Your new social space

While the content and topics of our video conversations may remain the same, we are constrained by the technology. Listening to group chats can be exhausting because we have lost the ways we use “back-channel” sounds to give turn-taking feedback.

This nuanced “meta-communication” involves using verbal and non-verbal sounds, such as “yeah” or “uh-huh”, that show attention, understanding, or agreement, distracts and interrupts the flow in a group conversation. Network delays can confuse things even more when the talker’s speech and the back-channel response arrives out of synch or with long delays and can completely stall the conversation flow.

Network problems can also impact speech clarity. Data loss in the audio feed can cause unnatural sounding voices and missing sounds. Our brain needs to do extra work to fill in the gaps. We use energy concentrating on unnatural voice changes that divert our concentration from understanding the message.

We must acknowledge the technical limits of video chats and adapt by cultivating new conversation etiquettes. Mute your microphones after saying hello and using text chat to interject or raise questions in group conversations. Articulate your own speech clearly (don’t mumble) and turn on closed captions to aid your comprehension. And make sure someone else in the house is not consuming all the bandwidth for Netflix while you are having a video conference.

Arrange your space

Conversations in a household environment bring background noises as well as echoes and reverberation due to room acoustics. Typical background conversations in open-plan offices can easily be filtered out subconsciously by our brain due to its ability to separate sounds by their location or direction.

These spatial cues allow us to focus on a single speaker in a crowded room. This is one reason why side-conversations held in parallel to the main discussion do not work on a video conference. Without the aid of directional information background noises and speech become a lot more intrusive. Rooms at home can produce reverberations that can reduce your ability to understand speech.

To make your home video environment more accommodating, close the door to at least keep pets out, even if it cannot stop kids interrupting. You may not want to convert your living room into a recording studio by putting egg cartons all over the wall but you can make the acoustic environment more “voice friendly” by reducing reverberation and echoes with soft furnishings like blankets or pillows instead of plain walls. The bookcase in the background is not just a pretty prop but also a good acoustic baffle.

Just like social distancing, improving the quality of your video call experience relies on a community effort. As many of us won’t be going back into the office for a long time, we must all work to reduce Zoom fatigue and make calls less of a strain for everyone.

 

  • Andrew Hines is Assistant Professor, University College Dublin. Additional reporting by Pheobe Sun, PhD Candidate in Computer Science, University College Dublin. This article originally appeared on TheConversation.

 

Coronavirus contact tracing poses serious threats to privacy

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We are all wondering how COVID-19 will end. We will not likely return to normal without a broadly distributed vaccine, which is a bracing proposition. It is also becoming increasingly clear that we will have to find a way to trace transmission and maybe even enforce individual quarantines in the interim.

I want to say that I am not an epidemiologist, nor am I a public health official. As a faculty member within the Centre for Digital Humanities at Brock University, my role is to communicate the social and cultural consequences of digital media, including potential privacy and security risks of software used to limit the effects of COVID-19.

In the coming weeks and months, I expect that we will hear a lot about “contact tracing.” Contact tracing involves interviewing patients to collect information on all the people they have had sustained contact with and all the places they have been. It is laborious and error-prone because it is dependent on memory, interviews and detective work.

Digital contact tracing will use people’s mobile devices to track their movements and who they come into contact with.
Because of the scale of contact tracing needed for COVID-19, using cellphones to detect and record proximity appears to be an ideal solution. The Canadian government is exploring contact tracing and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed that “all options are on the table.”

Civil liberties in crisis

Before the Canadian government makes decisions that infringe on civil liberties through widespread digital surveillance, we need to think about the concessions we make during a time of crisis. Crises have long been used as an opportunity by governments and corporations to infringe on civil liberties in the name of public safety.

We need only think of the legislative overreach in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In the United States, the extraordinary powers granted by the Patriot Act were revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden when he disclosed NSA and CIA surveillance. Those disclosures shook the country to the core. In Canada, the omnibus Bill C-36 was passed, which contained the Anti-Terrorism Act.

During the post-9/11 period, Canadians learned a lot about phone tracking. In 2017, the Canadian government introduced Bill C-59, which amended the earlier Anti-terrorism Act and acknowledged past legislative overreach.

Contact tracing using digital technology represents an opportunity to battle COVID-19 and reopen the economy, but its application will create unprecedented surveillance infrastructure beyond anything we have seen before.

There is an app for that

In recent days, the federal government has indicated that the provinces will be responsible for managing their plans to reopen their economies, which will result in a patchwork of contact tracing apps across the country. There are risks that such a network of policies, laws and collection techniques will muddy the data about COVID-19 nationally.

By contrast, many countries have turned to nationally mandated mobile applications to automate contact tracing. South Korea, Singapore, Germany and China have all implemented their own digital tools to assist public health officials and trace the spread of COVID-19.

There are several models that Canadians can think about with regard to contact tracing apps. China dealt with this problem first, and chose some rather extraordinary methods. Citizens were allowed to travel between checkpoints based on an app embedded in online payment systems like Alibaba’s Alipay or Tencent’s WeChat. Without a green QR code, citizens were not allowed to travel and could face detention for violations.

Currently, the Canada COVID-19 app — a partnership between private health-care software company Thrive Health and Health Canada — allows you to volunteer your location data and self-report symptoms. This volunteer approach was led by Singapore’s TraceTogether app, which goes a step further by accessing the Bluetooth radio in smartphones to detect proximity.

The limitations of the TraceTogether app include the difficulty of running an app 24 hours a day, which depletes battery life and results in less reliable data.

The Alberta provincial government has recently released the ABTraceTogether app; it is unclear how effective this system will be in the province.

Because the use of digital contact tracing was meant to correct for the errors of human interviews and memory, the partnership between Google and Apple has drawn a tremendous amount of attention. In this case, our phones would eventually detect proximity and duration using a low level operating system process that would allow for 24/7 tracking.

The security and privacy implications are profound.

Regardless of the optimism of the technology news observers, these systems are too complex and lacking in the transparency necessary for legislators to make adequately informed decisions on their implementation.

There is no reason the general public should trust these corporations to not monetize this system and maintain this surveillance infrastructure after the crisis has passed. While the need for digital contact tracing is clear, Canadians must take steps to protect their personal data.

Non-technical recommendations

It will be important for Canadians to discuss these systems before plans are put in place and laws are passed that may violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, particularly with regard to the security of the person. With any luck, the conversation held by Canadians with their provincial leaders and federal counterparts will include the following:

  • A sunset clause to define when surveillance ends.
  • A chain of custody agreement for data passed between government, industry and researchers, which includes a process to delete data.
  • A plan to protect data sovereignty, which ensures that data are subject to Canadian laws and governance structures.
  • A public use of judicial oversight of government, industry and researchers to ensure the laws we choose as Canadians are followed.
  • A commitment to corporate accountability if our data are misused, stolen or sold.

Digital contact tracing will likely become central to the government’s approach to stifling the resurgence of the virus and reopening the economy.

The complexity of these systems is a risk for the general public who may agree to something that is not well understood. It is critical to inform the public about these risks before governments take extraordinary powers and infringe on our civil liberties.

  • Aaron Mauro is Assistant Professor of Digital Media, Brock University. This article originally appeared on TheConversation.

Is this the future of supply chain automation?

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

As Amazon continues to set the bar for efficiency by integrating an astounding spectrum of automation technology, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that traditional supply chain models are ripe for disruption.

For this reason, companies around the world are now rethinking their warehouse and distribution systems, with automation taking center stage.

The infographic below from Raconteur highlights the state of automation across global supply chains, while also providing an outlook for future investment.

Long time coming

Let’s start by taking a look at what supply chain technologies are priorities for global industry investment in the first place:

Rank Technology % of Companies* Investing in Tech
#1 Warehouse automation 55%
#2 Predictive analytics 47%
#3 Internet of things 41%
#4 Cloud logistics 40%
#5 Artificial intelligence 28%
#6 Blockchain 22%
#7 Autonomous vehicles 16%
#8 Machine-learning 16%
#9 Fulfillment robots 11%
#10 3D printing 10%
#11 Augmented reality 7%
#12 Drones 7%
#13 Crowd-sourced delivery 6%
#14 Virtual reality and digital twins 6%
#15 Delivery robots 4%

*Based on survey of supply chain professionals in retail, manufacturing, and logistics fields

As seen above, warehouse automation has already received more investment (55%) than any other supply chain technology on the list, as companies aim to cut delivery times and improve overall margins.

Interestingly, other areas receiving significant investment—such as predictive analytics, internet of things, or artificial intelligence—are technologies that could integrate well into the optimization of supply chain automation as well.

Smoothing the transition

While fully automated supply chains in most industries may still be a few years away, here is how companies are investing in an automated future today:

Timeline For Acquiring New Automation Tech % of Warehouse Managers Surveyed
Already have 23%
Have, looking to upgrade 8%
Within 12 months 10%
One to three years 21%
Three to five years 8%
Over five years 3%
Not looking 26%

 

According to the above data, over 70% have already integrated automation technology, or are planning to within the next five years. On the flip side, over a quarter of warehouse managers are not currently looking to integrate any new automation tech into their operations at all.

Adoption rates and growth

As supply chain automation gains momentum and industry acceptance, individual processes will have varying adoption rates.

Take order fulfillment, for instance. Here, only 4% of current operations are highly automated according to a recent survey from Peerless Research Group:

Order Fulfillment Operations (Picking and Packaging) Percentage of Respondents
Highly automated 4%
A mix of automated and manual processes 42%
Mostly or all manual 49%
Not applicable 5%

 

It’s worth noting that other individual supply chain components, such as conveyor belts, storage, automated guided vehicles, and shuttle systems, will all have differing trajectories for automation and growth.

Post-COVID supply chains

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that complex supply chains can become fragile under the right circumstances.

As supply chains see increased rates of automation and data collection becomes more integrated into these processes, it’s possible that future risks embedded in these systems could be mitigated.

  • Dorothy Neufeld is a financial writer based in Canada. This article originally appeared on VisualCapitalist.

HPE advances HCI solutions for remote workforce initiatives

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Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) has announced that the enhanced HPE SimpliVity 325 Gen 10 hyperconverged infrastructure solution (HCI) with the new 2nd Gen AMD EPYCTM processor, doubles the virtual desktops supported per server to provide businesses a 50% lower cost per remote worker.

In addition, HPE Nimble Storage dHCI, a disaggregated HCI platform released last year, is now available through HPE GreenLake, enabling virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) and virtual machines as-a-service with a pay as you go model. Advancements to Nimble Storage dHCI also include increased scale and support for expanded HPE ProLiant server models with the new 2nd Gen AMD EPYCTM processor, helping customers use VDI for unpredictable workloads, large scale environments, and performance intensive desktop users.

“Our experience with HPE SimpliVity has been incredible, especially with our large SQL databases, file servers, and virtual desktops that we can rapidly recover in minutes with ease,” said David Wunderley, Director of Emerging Infrastructure & Operations Support at Pitt Ohio. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, we moved the majority of our corporate users to work from home, and doubled our concurrent VDI user count overnight with no performance impact. The new high density HPE SimpliVity 325 with the 1U form factor will help VDI environments like ours make the most of performance and availability in an extremely small footprint.”

“With HPE Nimble Storage dHCI, we can now provide a superior VDI solution for our 380+ VDI users and 400+ sales reps working remotely due to our changing business model and COVID-19,” said Rob Collins, Head of Infrastructure and Service Management at PetSure. “In the past, we were using AWS for our VDI workloads, but the costs were too high for us. With HPE Nimble Storage dHCI, we are able to reduce our operating costs by 50%, improve our performance 2X for our VDI workloads, and achieve 50% faster application provisioning.”

In today’s environment, businesses are being asked to shift their employees to a virtual office environment to curb the spread of COVID-19. This places new, urgent requirements on IT to quickly enable a remote workforce. Meeting the business and employee needs for VDI requires solving the challenges associated with performance, scale, complexity, and data protection. HPE SimpliVity and HPE Nimble Storage dHCI overcome the limitations of traditional infrastructure with intelligent management, easier scalability, cloud data protection, and the performance to support every worker, including knowledge users. During these uncertain times, when capacity is strained and costs need to be controlled, HPE provides businesses with solutions that can help IT optimize their infrastructure to deliver secure, reliable remote access.

Businesses need a reliable, high performing, and highly secure workspace for their remote employees. HPE SimpliVity helps to address this growing remote workforce with an intelligent, software-defined HCI solution that simplifies the time needed to deploy, manage, and scale VDI. For all businesses with remote workers, HPE SimpliVity 325 Gen10 combined with the new 2nd Gen AMD EPYCTM processor delivers double the virtual desktops per server on average than any other HCI vendor1. This drives down the cost for each remote worker by 50% in a small, efficient 1U platform, delivering a small footprint for entry-level and distributed edge HCI use cases.

“The COVID-19 global pandemic is an unprecedented situation that is affecting all businesses, our communities, and our way of life,” said Patrick Osborne, VP and General Manager of HPE SimpliVity. “As an edge-to-cloud platform-as-a-service company, HPE is here to help our clients bring together the right expertise and technology solutions to meet their most immediate challenges and unexpected demands. With these challenges, customers are looking to rapidly unleash mobile productivity and desktop virtualization, and HPE SimpliVity and Nimble Storage dHCI solutions provide performance and flexible payment options for our customers.”

VDI as-a-service with HPE Nimble Storage

HPE Nimble Storage dHCI is architected for VDI users, business-critical applications, and mixed workloads with unpredictable growth. To support remote worker initiatives, HPE is announcing the following:

Support for HPE GreenLake: HPE Nimble Storage dHCI is now available through HPE GreenLake, delivering VDI as-a-service, accelerating time to value, and simplifying IT management. As a cloud consumption experience, businesses pay monthly for what they use, convert capital to operating expense, and scale compute and storage on-demand.

Expanded server support and scale: HPE Nimble Storage dHCI has added support for HPE ProLiant DL325, DL385, DL560, and DL580 servers, and increased the scale of servers supported from 20 to 32. HPE Nimble Storage dHCI enables HPE ProLiant customers to convert their existing server investments into a disaggregated HCI.

One-click software upgrades: HPE Nimble Storage dHCI has simplified lifecycle management with one-click, unified software upgrades for server firmware, hypervisor and storage software, saving IT productivity time and de-risking upgrades. The upgrades can be performed directly in VMware vCenter.
Financial Offers to Manage Cash Flow

In addition to the recently announced newly-configured VDI solutions, today’s HCI offerings for VDI are supported through HPE Financial Services, which can help alleviate some of the strain felt by businesses around the globe as they navigate an uncertain business climate. HPE Financial Services can help release capital from existing infrastructures, defer payments, and provide pre-owned tech to relieve capacity strain. As part of the innovative financing structures to reduce cash outlays during uncertainty, HPE SimpliVity and Nimble dHCI customers can delay payments for up to 180 days to help preserve cash.

Availability

HPE SimpliVity 325 Gen10 with the new AMD EPYCTM processor is now orderable globally direct and though channel partners, with expected shipping in late May 2020.

HPE GreenLake is now available for HPE Nimble Storage dHCI globally. The expanded server support, scale and one–click software upgrade enhancements will be available globally direct and through channel partners in 2H2020.

How is Big Tech helping in the fight against Covid-19?

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In the ongoing global crusade against COVID-19, everyone has a part to play. As the situation intensifies, the private sector has also been rallying to help governments and healthcare organizations cope with the situation, and U.S. tech companies are no exception.

With a combined market capitalization of over $4.7 trillion, the “FAAMG” Five—Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and Alphabet (Google)—wield immense influence on the economy, as well as the potential to impact lives during this challenging time.

The biggest moves by Big Tech

In today’s data visualization, we look at the financial contributions being made by Big Tech giants in response to the pandemic. The main categories that these actions fall into are:

  • Small businesses: Grants and ad credits
  • Media/News: Fact-checking and grants for local news
  • Healthcare: COVID-19 research and frontline support
  • Relief Efforts: Public safety and non-profit donations

What is each company pledging in financial efforts to relieve the strain on those affected most by the ongoing crisis?

Alphabet (Google)

Many people rely on Google to find reliable news and resources during the pandemic. Google’s parent company, Alphabet, has focused its financial support towards small businesses and healthcare researchers, mainly through offering millions of dollars in advertising credits.

Category Amount Details
Small Businesses $340M Google ad credits for small businesses
$200M Investment fund for NGOs and financial institutions to help small businesses
$20M Ad credits for NGOs and financial institutions to help small businesses
$15M Cash grants to non-profits to help small businesses
Media/News $6.5M Funding offered to Google News Initiative to support media outlets and fact-checkers
Healthcare $250M Ad grants for WHO and 100+ global government agencies
$20M Google Cloud credits for researchers and academic institutions
Relief Efforts $5M Donations matched for COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund, co-created by the UN Foundation and the WHO
Total: $856.5M

 

Google has also promised to ramp up the production of 3 million masks for the CDC Foundation. In addition, Google has partnered with Apple to create a secure and private contact-tracing tool to aid public health authorities.

Facebook

Facebook is another massive platform through which information—and misinformation—spreads quickly and easily. Especially in times of crisis, the spread of poorly-vetted information can have a severe impact on our health and well-being.

To try and combat this, the company is allocating funds towards fact-checking, as well as supporting local media outlets.

Category Amount Details
Small Businesses $100M Small Business Grants Program, for up to 30,000 businesses in over 30 countries
Media/News $75M Marketing to help publishers worldwide with declining ad revenues
$25M Facebook Journalism Project towards emergency grant funding for local news
$2M Grants and donations to fact-checking organizations e.g. International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN)
$1M Grants for local news
Healthcare $25M Support for front line healthcare workers
Relief Efforts $10M Donations matched to the CDC Foundation
$10M Donations matched for COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund, co-created by the UN Foundation and the WHO
Total: $248M

 

Facebook and Alphabet will together match up to $15 million in donations to the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund, which has raised over $127 million to date.

Amazon

During this unprecedented era of social distancing and lockdowns, the online retailer has become almost indispensable as ecommerce shoots up. Amazon has several initiatives on the go, including help to Seattle businesses and citizens, where its operations all started.

Category Amount Details
Small Businesses $5.5M Neighborhood Small Business Relief Fund for over 400 Seattle small businesses
$1M COVID-19 Response Fund, providing rapid-response grants to local businesses and vulnerable communities
Healthcare $20M Amazon Web Services (AWS) Diagnostic Development Initiative to speed up COVID-19 research
Relief Efforts $30M £24.5M (US$30M) provided to European non-profit and Red Cross organizations
$25M Amazon Relief Fund, dedicated to support independent delivery service partners and drivers
$10M Amazon Literary Partnership, an emergency initiative for artists and writers
$5M Total donated in devices globally for healthcare workers and education efforts
$1M Donations matched to the non-profit Mary’s Place
$1M Towards emergency response efforts in Washington, D.C.
Total: $72M

 

In addition, Amazon donated 800 laptops to public schools in the Seattle area, and has raised workers’ hourly and overtime pay. In early April, CEO Jeff Bezos also donated $100 million to Feeding America, a non-profit food bank.

Microsoft

Technology is playing an immense role in tracking COVID-19 and the progress we’re making to end it. As a result, Microsoft is directing its financial efforts towards its AI for Health program.

Category Amount Details
Healthcare $20M AI for Health initiative commitment to focus on front-lines of research
China-specific Relief $6.5M ¥46M (US$6.5M) donated in cash and tech support for China’s fight against the virus
Relief Efforts $1M COVID-19 Response Fund, providing rapid-response grants to local businesses and vulnerable communities
Total: $27.5M

 

On top of these, Bill Gates officially stepped off the board of Microsoft in mid-March to focus on philanthropic efforts. The Gates Foundation has poured $100 million into funding for coronavirus research, and plans to pump billions more dollars into research in the coming weeks, to speed up vaccine development and manufacturing.

Apple

Finally, Apple is putting all its donations towards supporting public relief efforts, both in China and other affected parts of the world.

Category Amount Details
Relief Efforts $15M Donations committed to global response efforts
China-specific Relief $7M ¥50M (US$7M) donated to China’s long-term public health recovery efforts
Total: $22M

 

Further, Apple has donated 20 million masks to health workers, and aims to manufacture 1 million face shields per week.

Together, Microsoft and Apple contributed $2 million to the Seattle-based COVID-19 Response Fund, which has racked up $15.7 million in total donations to-date.

How the $1.25B breaks down

Looking at the information another way, how much money is flowing towards the various contribution categories?

Small businesses are the biggest beneficiaries of Big Tech’s economic relief, and understandably so—they are one of the most affected entities in the crisis. Healthcare research is also getting a boost, with funds focused on advancing potential treatments and vaccines in the pipeline, and supporting healthcare workers in the trenches of the pandemic.

Category Company Breakdown Total Amount
Small Business Alphabet: $575M
Facebook: $100M
Amazon: $6.5M
$681.5M
Media/ News Facebook: $103M
Alphabet: $6.5M
$109.5M
Healthcare Alphabet: $270M
Facebook: $25M
Microsoft: $20M
Amazon: $20M
$335M
Relief Efforts Amazon: $72M
Facebook: $20M
Apple: $15M
Alphabet: $5M
Microsoft: $1M
$113M
China-specific Relief Apple: $7M
Microsoft: $6.5M
$13.5M
Total: $1,252.5M

 

As a majority of work and socializing migrates online, Big Tech has the most to benefit from the current situation. Their positive efforts to lend a helping hand may well be a strategy for uplifting their poor reputation in the media—but is it enough?

Some might argue that for these Big Tech companies, $1.25 billion is just a drop in the bucket. In fact, other Silicon Valley players are single-handedly matching these contributions, such as Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey who pledged $1 billion of his own equity towards relief efforts and education.

However, that’s also not to imply that these financial efforts are the only actions taken by the five companies in question. Many of them are building critical educational and data-driven technological solutions to help mitigate the COVID-19 situation as it unfolds.

It also goes without saying that the applications they’ve created are helping us remain connected and supported—making life in lockdown a little bit easier.

  • GhoshAnupa (Iman) Ghosh is a researcher and writer at VisualCapitalist, where this article was originally published. All data as of Apr 12, 2020. 

Could Covid spell the end of international mobility?

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Before the COVID-19 pandemic started in late 2019, the free movement of billions of people – including tourists, business people, digital nomads, refugees and students – across nations was a common part of life.

In 2018, the number of international tourist arrivals rose 6% over the previous year and reached an all-time high of 1.4 billion trips.

About 272 million people are residing outside their birth country. This number is projected to reach 405 million by 2050.

However, as the pandemic rages on, infecting more than 3.6 million people with over 250,000 deaths worldwide, governments have imposed travel bans and closed their borders to control the spread of the virus.

Over 93% of the global population reside in countries where cross-border travel is restricted. Scientists have suggested some restrictions may need to continue until at least 2022.

Shutting down businesses and social gatherings has left nearly zero physical mobility and severely disrupted the global economy. In light of this, one can’t help but wonder: could COVID-19 spell the end of international mobility as we know it?

Rethinking the limits

Business activity is faltering at rates never before seen. The World Economic Outlook projects the global economy will contract by 3%, plummeting around 6.3 percentage points from January 2020. The International Monetary Fund has declared this the worst recession since the Great Depression.

The coronavirus requires us to re-evaluate whether we want to continue living under this “global mobility regime” – where a great deal of economic activity relies heavily on international and regional travel.

The late German modernity theorist Ulrich Beck and British sociologist Anthony Giddens argued that intertwining elements of modernity such as industrialisation, international mobility and globalisation have created a society susceptible to a variety of new risks and unforeseen consequences.

These vulnerabilities – which are “systematic and cause irreversible harms”, in Beck’s words – range from international ecological disaster and terrorism to global health pandemics. The last one is evident in the current crisis.

Extending beyond its origin in Wuhan, China, the coronavirus has spread to cause catastrophic damages across borders, nations, generations and social strata.

The same advances that have helped us travel across borders at speeds and volumes never before imagined are increasing the deadliness and global reach of the virus.

Worldwide disruptions

A human aspect of this crisis can be seen in how lockdowns have stranded working migrants around the world.

In Tunisia, for instance, migrant workers who came in from mostly neighbouring sub-Saharan countries struggled to pay rent and food as jobs become scarce.

Recently, US President Donald Trump announced plans to stop issuing new work visas and green cards indefinitely. These developments have led the World Bank to project a more than 20% decrease in global remittances – the money migrants send to their families back home – from US$554 billion in 2019 to US$445 billion in 2020.

These funds provide an economic lifeline to millions of poor households around the world.

Not only that, the coronavirus might also have fundamentally changed the prevailing model of global production.

One of its basic principles is making use of land, labor and capital as efficiently as possible. This has created a global factory network that manufactures many goods in optimum locations at great prices.

However, as the virus spreads and forces nations to impose economy-crippling lockdowns, this has severely disrupted industries that rely heavily on these global supply chains. This has even impacted essential production needed to fight the virus.

For instance, New York City’s hospitals experienced a shortage of ventilators last month. Italy’s hospitals also had problems getting enough face masks for their health workers.

Beyond the pandemic

The pandemic has undoubtedly affected our model of international mobility. Only by figuring out the right responses and changes will we as a global community become more resilient once it ends.

If we keep today’s global mobility principles as they were – with nations facilitating the free movement of people and goods without a global framework to anticipate disruptive events such as pandemics – we risk repeating or even worsening the spread of deadly future viruses.

Every government, organisation and individual should be a lot more prepared to face the uncertainties of the era beyond the pandemic.

We don’t know how, though. Setting up an “International Travel Organisation” that oversees the rules and more importantly reduces the risks of cross-border mobility – as American scholar Rey Koslowski suggested in 2011 – might be a plausible idea.

The COVID-19 pandemic will not end the free movement of people, goods and finance.

However, it will hopefully change the way global institutions govern cross-border flows of people and trade, driving the world to a “neo-global mobility regime” that’s more resistant to international ecological disaster and global pandemics.

  • Vissia Ita Yulianto is Socio-cultural anthropologist, Center for Southeast Asian Social Studies, Universitas Gadjah Mada, Indonesia. Additional reporting by Jian-bang Deng, Professor of Sociology, Tamkang University, Taiwan; and Hermin Indah Wahyuni, Professor of Communication Science and the Director of the Centre for Southeast Asian Social Studies (CESASS), Universitas Gadjah Mada. This article was originally published on TheConversation.

VR campus visits let students connect during SARS-COV2

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When I first envisioned a phone app to replace the physical college campus tour, it was a way to enable rural students and those who aren’t wealthy to visit campuses without having to travel to get there. As state director of a federally funded initiative that helps young people prepare for college, I realized virtual reality was a way to transport students to colleges throughout the state even if they didn’t have the time or money to do a regular in-person tour.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic has forced colleges and universities to shut down, virtual visits such as those accomplished through the app – known as GEAR UP VR for North Carolina and Get2CollegeMS – have taken on a more important role, and not just for students who lack the means to visit a college in person.

While many individual colleges may have virtual tours, the GEAR UP VR for North Carolina app is – to the best of my knowledge – the first and only app that provides tours of colleges on a system-wide and statewide basis. That is to say, through this app, students can take a virtual reality tour of any of the 16 schools within the University of North Carolina system. Community colleges are also being added.

The app was developed in 2017 as a GEAR UP NC project in collaboration with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Emerging Technologies Lab with funding from the U.S. Department of Education. I’m expanding a similar app called Get2CollegeMS to include all public universities and community colleges in Mississippi. I’m doing this with federal GEAR UP funds meant to increase college access for low-income students and those who are the first in their family to attend college. There are plans to soon add tours for all public universities and community colleges in a similar app – called Get2CollegeMS – in Mississippi.

An app may never replace a friendly face, but it can be an alternative for a campus visit and help students and families choose a college that they believe is best for them, especially at a time like this when there really is no alternative.

I’m expanding the app in Mississippi with federal GEAR UP funds to increase college access for low-income students and those who are the first in their family to attend college.

Thus far, students have indicated that the virtual reality visits are helpful and effective, according to research that I plan to publish in the future. This suggests that these virtual tours could play a bigger role in the future, especially if the COVID-19 pandemic lingers and causes schools to remain closed in the 2020-2021 school year.

Virtual transport

There are many advantages of an app that enables virtual tours. Students and families who take virtual reality campus tours do not have to spend time and money or leave home. Rather, they can tour the campus from the kitchen table or sofa whenever they choose. They can get all of the information presented on a campus tour from the app in the palm of their hand. The app enables the experience of “being there.”

Prospective students on campus tours can become familiar with various aspects of campus life. They can visit dorms, gyms and cafeterias. They can also learn about a major they may wish to study, where to apply for financial aid and the like. Not everyone may wish to experience a college tour this way, but this may prove to be a good option when there are restrictions and not much of a choice.

Field-tested

I tested the GEAR UP VR app well before the coronavirus pandemic.

During fall 2018 and spring 2019, I teamed up with education researcher Judith Meece to test the usability of the app and its potential to motivate students in schools in rural North Carolina to enroll in college.

Most of these students had never visited a college campus. Their parents had not attended college, or if they had attended, they did not finish. For these students, a college decision is especially difficult because of complicated financial aid forms and lack of a social network of people who know the ins and outs of getting into college.

I showed the students how the app works. I showed students the app’s 360 virtual reality tours, majors and degrees and student life information, links to campus enrollment, financial aid and social media connections. I also introduced them to the app’s chatbots, which are basically robot icons that “chat” or respond from a predetermined bank of questions.

A research study of the impact of the chatbot at one university indicated that it was effective for those who are first in their family to attend college. When compared to a control group, 92.5% of students enrolled in college after chatting with the chatbot, versus just 89.1% for those who did not interact with the chatbot. That’s a statistically significant difference.

Campus life

The app gave prospective freshmen a way to explore and compare campuses to ensure the college was a good academic “match” and a good “fit” in terms of environment and location.

While students indicated that they liked all features of the app, they considered the virtual reality campus tours as the high points.

“I would say being able to see the students up close made me feel like I was there,” one student said.

“We were able to see action on campus without going there,” said another student. “The app is better than online pictures.”

Making decisions

During a test of the virtual reality tours in North Carolina, students first selected a campus in the app based on how close to home the college is or how popular the college is among their peer group. Beyond this first look, students could tour any of the other 16 University of North Carolina campuses.

Students said they found it exciting to virtually tour different colleges throughout the state. Future versions of the North Carolina and Mississippi apps will include community colleges.

When it came to the chatbots, students said they were most interested in asking the chatbot about financial aid, a large concern for many of them. The students indicated the chatbot could answer most of their questions and that they appreciated the instant response.

Beyond high school

The app isn’t just for high school students. Many working-age adults find themselves in need of going to or returning to college, but may not have the time or money for campus tours. Adult students may also prefer to tour colleges on their own or with other people who are over 18.

To fully realize the power of technology and reducing the barriers of time, distance and money to travel, colleges and universities might consider creating their own app.

This technology could benefit both students and the college, particularly at a time when students can’t tour campuses because of COVID-19.

Making virtual tours more prevalent

I believe that the app and similar innovations are promising. However, challenges remain. School counselors and college advisers need to be shown how to use the app. And Wi-Fi can be spotty in rural homes and schools, which could make it difficult for groups to download the app. If those challenges can be overcome, I would expect to see virtual reality tours become more common in the not-too-distant future.

  • Carol Cutler White is Assistant Professor of Community College Leadership, Mississippi State University. This article was originally published on TheConversation.