How the cloud changed remote working

My Post (13).pngWhy the cloud is more vital than ever 

Changing tides
COVID-19 has undoubtedly changed the way that we all live. It has forced people to reinvent how they learn, work and stay connected, shaping new digital habits that will continue into the future.

The ongoing pandemic highlighted how indispensable cloud technology has become. Not only has it facilitated online shopping, home learning and a whole host of entertainment services, but it has enabled businesses to operate remotely during this period of disruption.

Remote working
Even a few years ago, working from home with the level of ease that we have now would have seemed impossible. The development of cloud technology has changed the way that everyone works, allowing users to access business services from any location.

For many businesses, the transition to remote working was a seamless process, but for others, it was a logistical nightmare. Some organisations were limited by old technology and slow connectivity, and many lacked the expertise to set employees up to work remotely.

Productivity levels
By using cloud computing services, many businesses have been able to maintain normal levels of productivity, collaboration and communication with employees dispersed in multiple locations. Not only has there been an increase in use of project management, video conferencing and file sharing tools, but also demand for secure cloud platforms, VPNs and remote desktop services.

Day to day productivity and business processes could have been brought to a halt without digital technology, and companies that are thriving are certainly those that embraced technology to drive their business forward.

Work from any location
Cloud technology enables employees to work from any location, as long as they have stable and secure internet access. With remote desktops or virtual desktop infrastructure, users can access their desktops as if they were working in the office.

Many companies will continue to offer remote working options for employees after seeing an increase in productivity and job satisfaction. In fact, 74% of businesses plan to permanently shift to more remote work post COVID-19, according to Gartner’s recent survey.

If the pandemic had happened even a decade ago, most businesses would not have had the tools, technology or resources to operate away from the office, and would have probably shut down.

Expanding with demand
With cloud services, businesses can scale up and down computing requirements and resources with ease. Cloud solutions are much easier to scale than traditional data centres and servers, so a business could temporarily scale back or increase resources to accommodate staff members or changes in traffic. Instant activation of services and speedy adjustments can also support growth and provide much needed agility.

As cloud solutions are cost-effective and significantly reduce outgoings on hardware, software and infrastructure, IT budgets are reduced. Remote working options may also be used as a cost-saving initiative due to the economic downturn, rather than having physical office space.

Using cloud technology for remote working situations improves security for many businesses, as they are no longer responsible for maintaining the underlying infrastructure. Cloud providers offer a range of security services including firewalls, data encryption, security patching and cyber security measures in place to protect customers.

Businesses also need to ensure that security measures are put in place for users that work remotely, such as cyber security training and policies, regular antivirus scans, access controls and use of VPNs.

Cloud services allow employees to communicate and share ideas whilst working remotely. Many cloud-based SaaS products allow users to work on group projects and track progress, which decreases the amount of time taken to complete a project and any unnecessary communication.

Project management and collaboration tools keep colleagues up-to-date with recent updates and changes, and several employees can work on the same centrally stored document at any given time. Edits and comments can be made for clients and colleagues to view and collaborate on, which draws teams closer together. – Read more

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5 myths of Disaster Recovery

My Post (14).pngCommon misconceptions about Disaster Recovery


Being prepared
The importance of disaster recovery (DR) cannot be overemphasised in today’s climate, but there are still many misconceptions about DR and whether every business needs a solution in place.

Too many businesses fail because they are not prepared for an IT disaster, even when a simple DR solution could have saved them. Reportedly only 6% of companies that suffer data loss survive, which is why it is so critical for every business to understand the value of disaster recovery.

So, what are some common myths about DR?

#1 ‘The chance of a disaster striking my business is low’
Every business is at risk, whether large or small. Some sectors such as finance and eCommerce could be targeted due to the value of the data being held, but small businesses who are less likely to focus budget on protecting their infrastructure are equally at risk.

Disasters can happen anywhere, at any time, whether a natural disaster, human error or hacking attack. Human error is even considered to be a primary factor for most data breaches and data loss in UK businesses, and the size and impact of DDoS attacks has been steadily rising in recent years. Even if businesses are not situated in areas of risk from natural disaster, global warming has affected weather cycles in the UK – consider flash flooding and storms that can cause power outages.

All businesses need to consider the value of their data and be prepared with a proactive DR solution in place.

#2 ‘Our business would be fine if disaster struck’
This is a very dangerous myth about DR. A disaster could affect access to applications, hardware, data, servers, networking equipment, power and connectivity. DDoS attacks and data breaches in particular cause widespread damage and could also affect customer data as well as the business’s own.

Unless there is a DR plan in place to resume operations in a short amount of time, then a disaster could create prolonged downtime for staff and customers and damage to the company. Extensive planning ahead of time, to consider all eventualities, is essential.

Companies should look at where the biggest vulnerabilities lie and run a Business Impact Analysis to determine the damage a disaster would cause.

#3 ‘We already have an airtight Disaster Recovery Plan’
No DR plan is ‘airtight’. The plan could be very comprehensive and cover all bases but disasters, by nature, are unpredictable. Businesses need to prepare for the unexpected with their DR solution.

Preparing a DR plan is the first step on the path toward complete disaster security. Run regular tests and reviews to ensure the effectiveness of the plan and to analyse any areas that fall through the cracks. It is far better to find and fix any problems in advance of the DR plan needing to be rolled out.

Clearly communicating a high-level DR plan to employees is vital to ensure that all team members know what would happen should a disaster occur. Also having a reporting and escalation procedure in place for any suspected DDoS attacks or data breaches is an important process to have.

#4 ‘We Backup Our Data…We Should Be Safe’
This is another common misconception – there’s an important distinction to make between backups and disaster recovery. Backups are the process of making an extra copy (or multiple) of data either on or off-site to protect it. DR, however, is a solution that ensures businesses can quickly reestablish access to applications, data, and IT resources after a disaster. – Read more

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Google’s machine-learning improves video calls

My Post (15).pngAI fills in the blanks when audio data gets lost

Increased usage
With a vast amount of people around the world now relying on video calls for face-to-face interaction with their work colleagues or to fill the social void, video-calling platforms such as Zoom, Google Hangouts and Microsoft Teams have taken centre stage.

Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have also had to adapt to the extra demand for broadband services to accommodate this increase in usage. At peak times internet speeds may be slower for some users, meaning that video-calling could be disrupted and users may see noticeable delays in calls.

Google Duo
Google has rolled out a new technology to improve audio quality in calls when the service can’t maintain a steady connection. It features useful auto-complete technology for speech that can cover up any glitches in video calls with Artificial Intelligence (AI) generated ‘speech’.

Duo, one of Google’s video calling services, is a cross-platform app which allows up to 12 participants to communicate over video call. Although the app doesn’t offer the same capacity as rival apps, it is end-to-end encrypted and the AI runs on the device rather than in the cloud.

Packets of data
When users are making an online call, their voice is separated into tiny pieces that are then transmitted across the internet in data blocks known as packets. The packets often arrive to the receiver in a disorganised sequence and the software has to reorder them, and sometimes they don’t arrive at all, which then creates glitches and gaps in conversations.

The aim of the technology is to mimic an individual speaker’s manner of talking so that it can smooth over the cracks with snippets of generated speech.

The team at Google built the speech generator on a neural network developed by DeepMind, which generates realistic speech from text. The network, named WaveNetEQ, was trained on a large data set of 100 recorded human voices speaking in 48 different languages. The AI was trained until the speech generator could auto-complete short sections of speech, based on common patterns in the way that people talk.

During a video call, WaveNetEQ learns the characteristics of the speaker’s voice and generates audio snippets that match the style and content of what the speaker is saying. If a packet containing the original speech sounds was lost, the AI-generated voice would be inserted in its place.

Currently the AI can only generate syllables rather than whole words or phrases, but in the short samples that Google shared online, it showed how realistic the speech generator could be. – Read more

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