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A CONVERGED FUTURE

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Updated : April 5, 2015 00:31  am,
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img55Converged infrastructure promises to do away with many challenges of traditional datacenter architecture as it offers scalable integrated solutions

Converged infrastructure promises ease of deployment, central management, and optimization as it brings together storage, servers, networking, and management together. Leading vendors have been rolling out new converged infrastructure systems. Their objective is to offer a new way of integrated IT that radically redefines the way IT infrastructure is built and maintained and is geared to support cloud ready environments.

The value-propositions are quite appealing for both SMB and enterprise customers. It helps meet Technology expectations such as eliminate silos, simplify systems management, adopt efficiencies and effectiveness through virtualization, improve TCO alongside reduced footprints, improve automation as well as make the infrastructure far more agile.

Shams Hasan, Enterprise Product Manager, Middle East at Dell says, “Converged infrastructure is one of the fastest-growing segments of the IT industry.  Integrated infrastructure delivers ease of deployment, reduces capital equipment expenses, facilitates scalability and reduces management complexity.  Converged solutions are being widely adopted by large enterprises where infrastructure sprawl has chewed up budgets and made scalability a challenge, and as a method to speed delivery of IT services. They are also proving to be beneficial to IT-strapped small and mid-sized organizations, which often lack the skills and resources to keep up with increased business demands for IT services.”

According to Kartik Shankar, Senior Sales Manager, StorIT Distribution, as data centres and storage solutions continue to evolve, converged infrastructure is also taking the centre stage in modernization. Organizations that have invested in software-defined technologies for their data centre transformation are seeing value in converged infrastructure solutions.

He adds, “The trend towards converged infrastructure is primarily driven by TCO and performance objectives demands of emerging technology solutions. Sizing key components of the IT system infrastructure gets highly complex and challenging to meet the objective through the traditional way. Currently converged infrastructure is the most matured approach to address these challenges and backbone/infrastructure backbone of web 3.0.”

The traditional datacenters have seen the sprawl of technology silos of storage, networking, compute as separate racks. This is addressed through taking the convergence route to IT deployment.

Suda Srinivasan, Director for Product Marketing at Nutanix says, “Enterprise datacenters have become incredibly complex over the years. Every aspect of the legacy infrastructure lifecycle is a challenge, from buying and deploying to managing, scaling and support. At the heart of the problem is the traditional three-tier infrastructure model, with servers connected over a network to a shared scale-up storage solution. Converged infrastructure, or more specifically hyperconverged infrastructure, addresses this problem of complexity.”

There are two approaches to achieving the integrated systems infrastructure deployment. VCE, part of the EMC Federation champions the hardware-focused, building-block approach which is categorised as converged infrastructure whereas Nutanix, SimpliVity and recently VMware etc offer hyper-converged infrastructure, taking the software defined route. While converged systems are in general separate components that are designed to work well together, hyper-converged systems are modular. Hyperconverged solutions integrate compute and storage resources in a single x86-based server deployed in scale-out clusters.

Hyperconvergence in the ascent

Virtualization has pretty much become a standard for enterprise infrastructure except for a few legacy business critical applications. Converged or hyper-converged infrastructure can help realize greater benefits of virtualization.

Karthik says, “We can find enterprise setups managing both virtual and physical environment in many cases. This is majorly due to the limitations in the traditional infrastructure approach and support/compatibility challenges from the application vendor, etc. This is where converged infrastructure plays a major game changing role by providing custom engineered system components fine-tuned to run even legacy applications. This approach helps to balance and align the right system components to meet the business requirement, with improved performance and ease of infrastructure management.”

Hyperconverged infrastructure uses the webscale approach that is modular and scales up as required. This is well aligned with the needs of virtualization and cloud based infrastructure.

Shams says, “Once deployed, with web scale, the converged compute and local storage platform with distributed software technology can create extremely dynamic data centers that can easily be scaled.  This strategy and capability is crucial for the modern data center.”

According to Jan Ursi, Senior Director, Channel Sales & Marketing for EMEA and India at Nutanix, the traditional datacenter architecture with multiple components that need to be glued together manually is not built for virtualization or cloud. It is too complex, too rigid, scales in too large increments and slows down provisioning of new applications

He adds, “Virtualization is the default vehicle to Cloud, but the underlying IT infrastructure needs to change, learning from the most successful web companies like Google, Amazon, Azure, Facebook, etc. Simplifying the datacenter by virtualizing without a SAN, using a converged webscale virtual computing platform is critical for Virtualization and Cloud projects to live up to their promise.”

Nutanix, the leader in the hyperconverged space deploys more hyperconverged infrastructure than all other players in this space together with a 52% market share, according to IDC. The EMEA region represents around 25% of the global Nutanix footprint.

“Hundreds of datacenters rely on Nutanix to run their critical applications already for many years. The Nutanix projects are a mix of size and verticals, serving SMB enterprises like ADD in Belgium to large organizations like Orange Business Services. The uses vary from running critical tier-1 server workloads like Microsoft SQL, Oracle, SAP, and Microsoft Exchange to others like VDI, Big Data, Branch Office and Disaster Recovery projects,” says Jan Ursi, Sr. Director, Channel Sales & Marketing for EMEA and India at Nutanix.

Nutanix offers a software-defined solution that does not rely on any purpose built hardware. The Nutanix solution runs on a commodity server architecture on top of any industry standard hypervisor (VMware, Microsoft hyper-v or KVM).

However, customers can also choose between a wide portfolio of Nutanix nodes with a different mix of compute and storage resources on board. Next to the native Nutanix NX series appliances, customers can also opt to source the Dell XC series converged webscale appliances powered by the Nutanix software.

Some divergence with the convergence

There are two approaches for converged infrastructure. One where a single vendor owns all the technology, bundles it, tests it and then sells it as a single bundled solution to the customer. The second approach is when different vendors collaborate to bring the latest and best solutions based around a validated reference architecture that describe configurations of server/storage/networking products, which is integrated into one unified solution that is assembled, integrated and tested before selling it to the customer.

The converged infrastructure space is populated by many of the large sized vendors including some new start-ups. The vendors in the fray include EMC, NetApp, Cisco IBM, Hitachi, HP, Dell, Oracle etc. Reference architecture offerings include NetApp’s Flexpod and EMC’s VSPEX. Hitachi offers both pre-fabricated solutions and reference architectures under its Unified Compute Platform (UCP).

The flexpods

Flexpod is a reference architecture that uses technology from NetApp and Cisco Systems. The FlexPod solution portfolio combines NetApp storage systems, Cisco Unified Computing System servers, and Cisco Nexus fabric into a single, flexible architecture.

“The FlexPod, is a combination of networking servers from Cisco, NetApp storage with software from VMware for virtualization. The result is an integrated stack which solves the problems companies had in the past of buying and building their solutions and trying to make them work. The FlexPod is configured to work from the get go and is typically used by customers wishing to build a private cloud and then start to move towards a hybrid public,” says Graham Porter MENA Channel Manager.

The Flexpod converged portfolio has three offerings. Flexpod Datacentre is designed for large environments. FlexPod Express is targeted at small and medium-sized businesses. Finally, there is FlexPod Select, which is targeted at high performance workloads, including Hadoop big data analytics. According to NetApp, FlexPod has seen a sharp uptake in deployments and is an area of growth for the company moving forward.

Fadi Kanafani Regional Director, MENA and Pakistan at NetAPP says, We have 50 validated designs between us and Cisco for this integrated stack which makes it the number one converged cloud-based solution in the market now, a market that now exceeds 3B dollars globally. We have in excess of 4000 customers on the FlexPod which is showing over 80% growth from 2013 to 2014. ”

The VCE way

VCE, one of the key players in converged infrastructure, is a company founded by EMC, VMware and Cisco and now owned largely by EMC. The company has an appliance based approach and offers Vblocks that are prefabricated in their factories according to customer requirements.

Tom O’Reilly, CTO – Middle East & Africa at VCE says, “Vblock is a highly engineered single product. We have determined the best possible way to configure networking, storage, software, compute and virtualization altogether into one product. We manufacture our Vblocks in the factory, where we build not only the physical box, wherein we rack, stack, power and cable everything but we also logically configure the entire v-block for a customer’s datacenter. We also do logical configuration survey (LCS) at the customer site before that to understand the environment as to how they want use the Vblock. So when our v-blocks arrive at the site, they are ready to powered on, connected to the switches, to the networking and all ready to deploy mission critical applications.”

The company provides customers support through the full lifecycle. It provides a one window support for different elements of the vblock.

He adds further, “Each v-block is a single product to us and since we built it, we are best placed to provide the support. We do the support for the entire stack that includes networking, storage, compute, networking, virtualization etc.”

VCE also have a proprietary software called pro vision intelligent operations (Vision IO). This helps customers to manage the Vblocks as a single set of resources rather than have a tool to manage software, storage, networking etc separately. It gives them a view of the entire datacenter. In addition, VCE also has the Release Configuration Matrix (RCM) – essentially a firmware level for the v-block.

Tom says, “When we ship the vblocks from our factory, they are in a known good state; we know that they have been configured correctly and everything has been tested and validated. When a release is come from EMC, Cisco or VMware, customers may want to do updates for security or performance reasons whatever, we on a regular basis release a RCM – so that customer can have an entire firmware level update for the v-block instead of customers teasing and doing each update on their own. We do the testing and validation in our labs before we release the RCM so that spares the customer the hassle. This is true convergence as we approach it.”

The EMC Federation appears poised to take advantage of the growing demand for converged systems, especially in data centres. So the companies that are part of the Federation operate as separate entities while they have integrated product development.

Tom adds, “When we became part of EMC, anything that was part of converging technologies was put under the VCE umbrella. Today there is EMC VSPEX- which is reference architecture, EMC VSPEX blue- which is their hyper converged solution that they just announced and is built upon VMware’s EVO:RAIL,  and then there is the VCE Vblock. These solutions all provide some rapid ways of achieving some standard goals from customers and wrap the customer expectations around the solutions. The go to market strategy remain the same- VSPEX and VSPEX blue remain EMC products – it is just that their Marketing and Engineering will be under the VCE umbrella and report to the VCE Management. They go through the EMC channel. Our go to market stays the same with the VCE channel.”

VCE is now expanding its lineup of integrated infrastructure solutions with the VCE Foundation for Federation Enterprise Hybrid Cloud. This integrates VMware’s NSX network virtualization technology and vRealize management and orchestration software. In addition, the solution includes EMC’s ViPR software-defined storage (SDS) product.

Tom adds, “We are going to offer VCE foundation for enterprise hybrid cloud. Software defined storage, software defined networking and management orchestration tools will be pre-fabricated in a v-block from our factory. That will speed up the customer’s path to deploying enterprise hybrid cloud. That will be offered to the channel.”

The outlook

Adopting either of the key approaches, through convergence or hyperconvergence, the end goals are better alignment of the IT infrastructure in line with need to rapidly provision computing resources but only as required, to reduce footprint and eliminate sprawl, achieve pooling of resources in a seamless way and have the ability to scale. Vendors are betting on significant growth in terms of demand for such integrated systems.

MarketsandMarkets forecasts the converged infrastructure market to grow from $11.53 billion in 2014 to $ 33.89 billion in 2019 at a Compound Annual Growth Rate of 24.1%. MEA is also expected to experience significant growth during the forecast period. For the channel, those who have a strategic client base and have a great understanding of their client’s organization and their business needs, will hold the interest of value add distributor and vendors looking to take these solutions to market.

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Press Start – The Future of Businesses Lies in Gamification

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By Jérémy Denisty, Co-founder, Imagin3 Studio, Co-author Virtual Economy

PowerPoint presentations, extensive email threads, and traditional all-hands meetings have one thing in common —they are all one-dimensional forms of communication. And, not to mention, dull.

Company briefs and strategic meetings are typically transactional for employees, offering information without encouraging ongoing engagement. There’s an unconvincing call to action at the end of the email that lingers more as an afterthought rather than words of encouragement.

Similarly, businesses often struggle to establish meaningful connections with their customers, who are eager to engage but can’t beyond a transactional relationship with their favorite brands.

As a result, some brands are turning their attention to gamification as a successful strategy to establish a two-way interaction that integrates entertaining gaming elements into the mundane model of information and commercial transactions.

Gamification is not only an avenue for customers to engage with brands in a unique and enjoyable manner but also a medium for improving internal communication, engagement, and collaboration within businesses.


How customers can interact better with brands

Gaming is one of the most successful and fastest-growing industries with a report suggesting that young Americans spend 12 hours a week gaming. For example, Roblox boasts 70.2 million active daily users who spend on average two and a half hours per day on the platform, which shows how gaming has evolved from a hobby to a way of living, connecting, and consuming.

Those new generations of customers are getting accustomed to fast-paced, increasingly engaging, and rewarding experiences, which is what they expect from the brands they consume. In our book, The Virtual Economy, we talk about the Magic Triangle and how brands must create value by focusing on building better EXPERIENCES, LOYALTY, and COMMUNITIES. This is exactly what games are about.

Enter gamification for brands.

The biggest impact of gamification for brands lies in the ability to nurture more loyal customers. Loyalty programs have historically rewarded customers transactionally, based on their referrals or a set number of purchases.

A great example of a brand leveraging gamification techniques to grow a loyal fan base is Starbucks.  Starbucks introduced a sophisticated points-based and benefits system through its Starbucks Rewards app, akin to some of the most successful Triple-A games. This digital alternative surpasses traditional loyalty cards, fostering customer loyalty and contributing significantly to the company’s revenue.

As a result of their successful loyalty program shift, Starbucks reported a $2.65 billion revenue increase, with over 25% growth in membership, and 40% of sales at US stores attributed to the membership program.

Starbucks leverages this approach to enhance customer interaction and feedback collection, offering incentives for completing surveys. This gamified strategy not only entertains users but also provides valuable insights to enhance overall business operations.

Going even further, Starbucks introduced Starbucks Odyssey in late 2022. This new layer of the loyalty program offers members the chance to participate in Starbucks “journeys”, such as watching a video on the history of the brand or trying their limited-edition Christmas drink, and rewards participants with “digital stamps”. Those stamps are either redeemable for unique benefits -one of them a trip to Costa Rica to visit a coffee farm, or tradable with other members on a marketplace. More than $200,000 of sales have occurred on the marketplace between members, with Starbucks grabbing a 7.5% royalty fee, making Starbucks Odyssey one of the first “loyalty-to-earn” programs, delivering direct benefits to members, and the brand.

This innovative approach not only enhances user engagement, loyalty, and customer experience but also serves as a creative method of collecting and utilizing data for continual improvement.

However, gamification is not only limited to increasing customer engagement and building more brand loyalty but also to improving internal operations.

Why brands are introducing gamification into their business.

Engagement in the workplace has increasingly become a challenge for brands and companies. A recent Gallup survey showed that “active disengagement” from employees has risen each year since the 2020 Covid pandemic. Only 32% of respondents felt engaged in their work, and 18% felt actively disengaged.

This lack of engagement has significant consequences for companies, whether through a lack of productivity or through increased recruitment and training costs derived from a higher employee turnover rate.

Gamification could be seen as an appropriate solution to solve this problem.

It appeals to our competitive nature and fosters deeper engagement. Gamification integrated into business practices introduces a competitive and fun aspect that motivates professionals to outperform colleagues or their competitors within their industry.

As an example, gamification can be used to create more effective employee training programs. Training programs are loaded with information that usually takes a while to be completely acquainted with. 

Companies can learn from popular Triple-A games such as Call of Duty and develop a leaderboard and badge system that encourages employees to finish modules and learn new skills that will benefit them. In other words, allow them the ability to “level up” their stats, gain XP points, and be rewarded when they complete certain classes and certifications.

Conclusion

Gamification draws heavily from the principles of Prospect Theory, a behavioral economic concept highlighting the motivational power of small incentives in situations with known probabilities of outcomes. Individuals, fundamentally motivated by the prospect of rewards, find their behaviors influenced by gamification elements, offering brands a cost-effective tool to shape consumer engagement and commitment.

Beyond Gen Z, Generation Alpha is the only generation born into the internet and gamified experiences. Growing up playing games such as Roblox and Minecraft that leverage reward systems, Generation Alpha anticipates a similar dynamic in the workplace, emphasizing gamification’s lasting impact and relevance.

With the latest technological advancements, such as VR and AR, gaining popularity in workspaces with a generally young workforce, gamification will continue to shape companies and allow customers to connect with brands at a more relatable level.

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Gaming’s Future is being Redefined by AI in 2024

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By Nauman Moghal, Business Head, GameCentric

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has undeniably claimed its spot as the buzziest of buzzwords, permeating across various industries. Unsurprisingly, the gaming realm is no exception to this AI revolution. This isn’t just a trend; it’s a massive change shaking up the gaming world in 2024. Set aside your preconceptions about gaming – AI is doing more than just making things look cool or telling stories. It’s rewriting how games work. Picture gaming as a dynamic playground where AI takes the reins, not only shaping landscapes, characters, and more but actively engaging with players. This isn’t confined to the screen; it’s a transformative shift that influences how we perceive gaming. 2024 is game-ready for a wave of innovation that will reshape the gaming experience for all audiences!

A Game-Changer for Developers

AI’s ability to spot patterns and analyse the gaming industry landscape introduces a paradigm shift in how developers approach game production. By employing reinforcement learning and pattern recognition, AI becomes a guiding force in understanding player behaviour, innovative gameplay, and adapting to the ever-changing gaming environment. This analytical prowess is not just about understanding the players but also about shaping and evolving the very essence of game creation itself.

Developers now find themselves liberated to focus on the imaginative aspects of game design, leaving the technical intricacies to AI-driven solutions that identify patterns, adjust to surroundings, and accelerate the game development cycle.

Keeping Gamers Intrigued

The dynamic duo of reinforcement learning and pattern recognition isn’t just theoretical; it’s a practical solution to the perpetual challenge of keeping gamers engaged and appropriately challenged. Rapidly assessing player behaviours allows for the adaptation and evolution of character behaviour over time, ensuring that the gaming experience remains a fluid and responsive narrative that captivates players and keeps them on the edge of their seats.

AI’s Impact on Gameplay

The revolution doesn’t stop at game creation; it extends to the very core of gameplay. AI is not just responsible for delivering realistic designs and interactive avatars; it’s the driving force behind tailoring experiences to the unique play style and skill level of each player. Whether adapting difficulty settings, personalising challenges, or creating individualised narratives, AI ensures that every gaming session is a bespoke adventure.

People and Brands Are Beneficiaries of AI’s Gaming Revolution

In this new era of AI-driven gaming, both individuals and brands stand to benefit immensely. Players are no longer passive participants; they are active contributors to the gaming narrative. Through the innovative approach of Gaming-as-a-Service (GaaS), AI becomes the backbone of a personalised gaming experience, assisting players in levelling up and enhancing their journey.

Brands have found a new playground in the virtual realm, leveraging AI not only to enhance in-game experiences but also to craft immersive marketing experiences within games. Within the strategic framework provided by gaming giants, the collaborative nature of AI-driven gaming is fostering a sense of community and engagement, amplifying the overall impact on both the gaming industry and its stakeholders.

As we stand at the cusp of this gaming revolution, propelled by the extraordinary capabilities of AI and the strategic insights of gaming giants, one thing is certain – the future of gaming is not just an evolution; it’s a revolution that transcends boundaries. The adventure has just begun, and the possibilities are as limitless as the virtual worlds AI is helping to create.

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Key Considerations for a Robust Cloud Economic Model

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Cloud Economic Model

By Rick Vanover, Senior Director Product Strategy, Veeam

Amidst the sea of economic uncertainty, one thing is emerging as a non-negotiable for tech companies: a well-defined cloud economic model. With the escalating requirement to optimise costs, controlling cloud expenditure has taken a prime position on the priority lists of CIOs. Even though the first quarter of 2023 alone saw an overwhelming expenditure of more than $63bn on cloud services, recent history would dictate that as much as 30% of this spend is unnecessary. This startling fact puts a spotlight on the need for organisations to have a cloud technology plan that matches their financial expectations. Let’s delve into the three key areas tech companies should focus on.

1 – Understand the “why”

One of the first pieces of advice I give to businesses looking to move to the cloud is arguably even more relevant when assessing or defining a cloud economic model – make sure you understand why you are doing this in the first place. That means thinking beyond just a business outcome or “cloud is a cool technology that everyone is using”. Instead, you need to equate three factors here:

The business factor – From a business perspective, you need to be clear on the objectives you intend (or originally intended) to achieve through migration. Is it for attaining greater scalability or fostering agile development? Are you seeking cost reduction or chasing performance enhancement? Having this clarity will not only guide you in developing a successful cloud strategy but also shape your economic model.

The technical factor – On the technical side, there’ll be a whole host of factors that may not always equate with the business reasons for moving to the cloud. Things like functionality, resiliency, availability & security requirements – even if some of these are part of your original plan, expectation vs reality can be a real factor here.

The economic factor – So finally, we come to the all-important question, how much is this going to cost? If the business reasons and technical requirements aren’t aligned, which is often the case due to the disjointed nature of teams defining them, the economics will fall short of expectations, resulting in the dreaded ‘Billshock’. Therefore, it is vital to devise a tech plan and model that matches expectations.

2 – Consider the data lifecycle

A common pitfall that businesses stumble upon while defining their cloud economic model is ignoring the data lifecycle. You need to think about where data is going to sit, and what it’s going to cost – but this doesn’t (and more importantly, shouldn’t) stay the same over a seven-year data lifecycle.

Your economic model should walk hand-in-hand with the data lifecycle, taking into account its evolution over time. The cost of storing data should diminish as it ages. Fresh data demands more resources, residing on high-performance, transactional types of storage. On the flip side, data approaching the end of its mandatory retention period doesn’t necessitate cutting-edge storage. Cloud providers may allow you to use snapshots indefinitely, but this could prove as costly as production.

The data lifecycle progression can be broadly classified into three phases – performance tier, object storage, and archive storage. As you plan this lifecycle, remember to consider other crucial factors like ransomware resilience and regulatory compliance. If your data resides on higher category storage than necessary, you’re flushing money down the drain.

3 – Discard the security vs economy dichotomy

Security and resilience are often perceived as standing in opposition to economic considerations. This especially holds when businesses are looking to upscale with the cloud, but this doesn’t have to be the case. Remember that the two main driving forces behind the shift to the cloud are enhanced resilience against ransomware and reduced costs – it’s possible to do both. Immutability originated in the cloud, and cloud-powered disaster recovery is now a staple for most businesses, with the Veeam Data Protection Trends Report 2023 revealing that 84% of businesses employ the cloud for their disaster recovery function.

As businesses navigate the choppy economic landscape, creating a cloud economic model rooted in the ‘why’ and balancing business, technical and financial considerations is crucial. A well-defined cloud economic model is not just a “nice idea” anymore – it’s a necessity for survival and growth.

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