Environmentally Responsible Blockchain

At its conference in Barcelona, VMware (tech subsidiary of Dell Technologies and CO2 emission-reducing evangelist) has announced that it has introduced a beta version of blockchain-as-a-service.

Part of VMware Tools

According to VMware, the new blockchain-as-a-service product will be integrated into existing VMware tools and will provide permissioned blockchain for enterprise consortiums, which will be more secure than public blockchains.

What Is Blockchain?

Blockchain, the open-source, free technology behind crypto-currencies like Bitcoin, is an incorruptible peer-to-peer network (a kind of ledger) that allows multiple parties to transfer value in a secure and transparent way. Blockchain’s Co-Founder Nic Carey describes blockchain as being like “a big spreadsheet in the cloud that anyone can use, but no one can erase or modify”.

Why Blockchain-as-a-Service?

The BaaS market is likely to take off in a much bigger way because it offers enterprises the chance to deploy distributed ledgers without the cost or risk of deploying it in-house, and without needing to find in-house developers.

VMware has highlighted a need by financial customers to use a version of blockchain in a commercial environment that is secure and can be audited, and the way in which a blockchain service could be a way for organisations to run distributed ledgers efficiently.

VMware believes that the decentralised trust, enterprise-grade scalability, reliability, security and manageability, with the ability to deploy nodes across multiple cloud environments, (including on-premise) and a single management interface with enterprise monitoring and auditing tools will make its blockchain-as-a-service product attractive to businesses.

Why Environmentally Responsible?

VMware’s CEO, Pat Gelsinger, has described the computational complexity of blockchain as being an “environmental crisis”, and the company is keen to point out that the virtualisation and server consolidation that VMware offers has reduced hundreds of tonnes of CO2 emissions.

Not The Only One

VMware is certainly not the only company in the race to get a blockchain-as-a-service product out to businesses. Microsoft was one of the first software vendors to offer BaaS on its Azure cloud platform as far back as 2015, and tech commentators have noted that Microsoft and many of the other big tech companies, including Amazon and Oracle, are now looking to make the most of the growing blockchain as a service (BaaS) market.

Real-World Blockchain Examples

The benefits of blockchain technology are already being in enjoyed by many companies, and some of the ways that it is currently being deployed include:

  • Walmart’s pilots where the time it takes to trace a food item from shop to farm was reduced, through the use of blockchain, from 7 days to just 2.2 seconds.
  • A pilot project between car-maker BMW and start-up Circulor with a view to eliminating battery minerals produced using child labour. In that project, blockchain is being used to help provide a way to prove that artisanal miners are not using child labour in their cobalt mining activities.
  • Using the data on a blockchain ledger to record the temperature of sensitive medicines being transported from manufacturer to hospital in hot climates. The ‘incorruptible’ aspect of the blockchain data gives a clear record of care and responsibility along the whole supply chain.
  • Using an IBM-based blockchain ledger to record data about wine certification, ownership and storage history. This has helped to combat fraud in the industry and has provided provenance and re-assurance to buyers.
  • Shipping Company Maersk using a blockchain-based system for tracking consignments that addresses visibility and efficiency i.e. digitising a formerly paper-based process that involved multiple interactions.
  • Start-up company ‘Electron’ building a blockchain-based system for sharing information between those involved in supplying energy which could speed up and simplify the supplier switching process. It may also be used for smart grid processes, such as local load-balancing of supply and demand.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

VMware is one of many big tech names that now want to make the most of a BaaS market, although VMware’s (currently beta) offering is targeted at enterprises in regulated industries. VMware has plenty of powerful support in this venture in the shape of partnering with Dell Technologies, Deloitte and WWT as well as having the advantage of IBM Cloud for VMware Solutions supporting VMware Blockchain.

Blockchain is growing in popularity as companies are able to see real examples of how it can be used save time and costs, provide fast and secure traceability, visibility and efficiency, and provide a real competitive advantage.

Blurring of Personal and Business Technology Cause For Concern

A report by CCS Insight showing how three-quarters of employees are forced to install work software on their personal mobile devices has highlighted how the increased blurring of personal and business technology is causing concern.

Objections

The report, which took into account the views of 672 employees across the US and Western Europe about digital technology, revealed how, among many other concerns, workers object to the practice of having to download work-based applications onto their personal mobile devices just so that they can carry out their jobs. As well as the understandable objection to feeling forced to blur work and home life by having to install intrusive work software on a personal device, employees also objected to the practice out of fear that their employers could use the software to track them.

Poor Connectivity

Another major annoyance indicated by workers who took part in the survey was poor connectivity in the digital workplace.

WhatsApp Popularity

Despite highlighting poor connectivity at work as a major grumble for workers, it appears that it hasn’t stopped them from using always-on, connected apps. For example, the report revealed that WhatsApp is now the most widely used mobile app in businesses, even beating out Microsoft Office 365. WhatsApp, however, is likely to be something that workers will have on their phone anyway, and its end-to-end encryption means that workers don’t have to fear any kind of tracking by the boss through its use.

Other Concerns

Other employee concerns highlighted by the report include:

  • The fear that their job may be lost to AI. This concern was expressed despite half of the employees surveyed saying that they expect digital assistants such as Google Assistant to help them in their job.
  • Only two-thirds of employees saying that they trust their employers with their privacy.
  • A mistrust of tech giant companies, although Microsoft was shown to be more trusted than most.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The fact that many employees have high spec mobile devices and access to apps that could be used by the company, and the fact that ‘Bring Your Own Device’ (BYOD) schemes are commonplace, doesn’t appear to make employees feel comfortable about having to download work-based apps. Employees may be justified in feeling that they shouldn’t feel pressured into having to employ their personal devices for work tasks, and that employers shouldn’t rely so heavily upon the personal devices of employees instead of providing their own, and that respecting the barrier between work and home life is important. By the same token, employers who allow workers to use their own devices at work may also expect employees to be respectful in terms of how much time they spend dealing with personal matters during work time on their devices.

Workers may be justified in worrying about the impact of AI on their jobs in the future, and connectivity problems are a known source of work stress, particularly in the case of mobile workers.

When it comes to the mistrust of tech giants, this seems reasonable considering the number of high profile reports of data breaches and unauthorised data sharing in recent times (e.g. Facebook and Cambridge Analytica).

Facial Recognition For Buyers Of Alcohol & Cigarettes

A pilot scheme involving NCR, the US self check-out machine maker for Asda, Tesco and other UK supermarkets, and Yoti’s digital identity app will use an integrated camera linked to facial recognition software to help improve, simplify and speed up age approval at self check-outs.

Speed & Frustration Reduction

The system is intended to tackle problems such as frustration and delays caused when customers wait for approval when buying alcohol at self check-outs, challenges faced by supermarket employees who have to determine a shopper’s age and either accept or deny them a sale of alcohol or cigarettes, and to help the supermarket to stay on the right side of the law.

How Will The System Work?

An AI-equipped camera will be integrated in the vicinity of the checkout and the facial recognition software will use AI to help it estimate the age of shoppers when they are buying age-restricted items. The Yoti app does, however, require a customer to register their ID and face with the company beforehand.

What About Privacy and Data Security?

Wherever facial recognition software is used, there are always concerns about how the processing and storage of those images (that count as personal data under GDPR) is managed in terms of privacy and security. Yoti is reported to have said that its system will not retain any visual information about users after they have made a purchase.

Where and When?

There are no confirmed details as yet about exactly which supermarket(s) will be involved in the pilot, although some media reports appear to indicate that Tesco, Morrisons and Asda could be the most likely candidates for piloting the technology at some point later this year.

Face Scanning Used For Adverts

A face-scanning system, made by Lord Alan Sugar’s company Amscreen, is known to have been used already by Tesco at petrol station tills in order to target advertisements at customers depending on their estimated age.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Anything that reduces customer frustration, as well as speeding-up and simplifying the passage through tills, and leveraging staff resources through saving them from having to constantly go to different tills to approve purchases is likely to be good news for the supermarkets. If this system proves to be effective, accurate and successful, it could have many other opportunities for use in other age-restricted services e.g. venue / event entry, and the purchase of certain dangerous / restricted products, and the gambling industry.

While it may make perfect economic and practical sense for companies to use this kind of system, it could be a double-edged sword with some customers. For example, whereas some customers may see the practical and responsible side of the system, others may consider it an unnecessary intrusion with the potential to impact on their privacy and security.

Microsoft Education For Dyslexics

In partnering with charity ‘Made by Dyslexia’, and in signing the Made by Dyslexia pledge, Microsoft has announced that it is the first company to sign a global pledge to help people with dyslexia.

Dyslexia

Dyslexia is a lifelong condition that is not related to intelligence. Those with the condition experience difficulty with reading, spelling, writing and sometimes speaking because their brains have trouble recognising or processing some types of information.

It is estimated that it affects 700 million people worldwide and at least 5% of schoolchildren have dyslexia. In many cases, these schoolchildren are often (mistakenly) labelled as having a learning disability, which is why it is believed that they could make up as much as 85% of special education classes.

The Pledge & Partnership

The ‘Made By Dyslexia’ pledge that Microsoft has signed-up to states that the tech giant will endeavour to recognise dyslexia as a different and valuable way of thinking, understand the importance of identifying each dyslexic and their pattern of strengths and challenges, and give targeted support to dyslexics to enable them to harness their strengths and flourish.

The Pledge says that this can be achieved by “skilling up” staff in schools with regard to spotting, understanding, and how best to support those with dyslexia, using digital screeners to check whether people are dyslexic, and making sure that tests and assignments are adjusted so dyslexics can demonstrate their full knowledge and skills.

Through the pledge, Microsoft is essentially partnering with the global charity ‘Made By Dyslexia’, which describes itself as being led by successful (and famous) dyslexics.

What Will Microsoft Do For Dyslexics?

Microsoft has said that by adhering to the pledge, it hopes to democratise Dyslexia support, and it’s been reported that Microsoft’s contribution will include the creation of free training materials, including short films and reading tools, which are designed to help teachers and parents improve ways of spotting Dyslexia. Microsoft is reported to be working with top researchers and partners in the dyslexic community, with the hope of encouraging those involved in a child’s life to intervene earlier, and thereby improve their future.

Microsoft has announced that it will expand access to (and improve ease of) implementation of a number of tools, including:

  • The Dictation Tool in Learning Tools – to help students to write with their voice.
  • The Immersive Reader tool – to help students with maths problems, to invite all learners into the conversation, and to support students in their native language with real-time translation.
  • A partnership with the University of Washington – to help students sound out words.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

As the ‘Made By Dyslexia’ charity demonstrates, dyslexia needn’t be a barrier to success if the right support and tools are available to help those with the condition. Dyslexia is not linked to intelligence, and it presents many extra challenges to those who have the condition. Understanding this and providing help in the form of adherence to the pledge, means that Microsoft is seen to be taking a high profile lead and demonstrating that it understands that those with Dyslexia are just as valuable in the workplace as those without, and that providing help at a young age can help dyslexic people to reach their potential.

Microsoft, like many other big tech companies, is showing how old problems can be tackled with new methods, hopefully with success.

Tech Tip – Use ‘Near Share’ To Share Files

Windows 10 has a “Near Share” / “Nearby Sharing” feature, similar to Apple’s AirDrop, that allows you to share (by Bluetooth) files, links, photos, and more to nearby Windows PCs that also have the feature enabled. You can enable Nearby Sharing from either Windows 10’s Share dialog, or in Windows 10’s Settings app. Here’s how:

From the Share dialog –

– Click a “Share” button e.g. the “Share” button on Edge’s toolbar, or right-click a file in File Explorer and select the “Share” command.

– In the Share menu, click / tap the “Tap to turn on nearby sharing” option.

From the Settings app –

– Go to Settings > System > Shared Experiences.

– Turn on the “Nearby Sharing” toggle.

Nearby Sharing files are saved to the Downloads folder by default, but this can be changed in the Settings app.

The Support Agent and how you can use it to make your life easier

  • Why the agent?
  • The Status of the agent.
  • Using the agent to get your machine information
  • Using the agent to submit a ticket
  • Change your machine description
  • Using privacy mode

Why the agent

The focus is moving from on-site, over the shoulder IT support to remote and automated assistance for a whole raft of reasons. Faster resolution, lower costs (travel, vehicles, equipment etc) and much more.

To enable this, as well as other functionality we have an “agent” installed on all appropriate machines. This enables us to :

  1. Run reports and audits
  2. Monitor the state of the machine
  3. Send messages to one, several or all machines.
  4. Schedule updates and patches
  5. Tech to user chat
  6. Remote control sessions
  7. Copying files to and from machines
  8. Updating registry entries
  9. Locking down machines
  10. ………and much more (again!)

So…..if the agent isn’t installed and running on your machine then there’s not much we can do to help. You’ll know if it is as there will be an icon in the system tray.

The Status of the agent

The icon in the system tray will change depending upon the status of the agent. Sometimes this can indicate a problem and other times it can show something is in progress.

Here’s a list of the icons and the brief description of the status.

(NOTE : The back-end system we use for the management is called the “AEM platform”)

Name Description
Online Managed Agent that is currently connected to the AEM platform.
Offline The Agent is not connected to the AEM platform.
Privacy Mode The Agent is currently connected to the AEM platform and has Privacy Mode enabled.
OnDemand Mode OnDemand Agent that is currently connected to the AEM platform.
Alert Mode Online The Agent is online and waiting for a job to be run by the end user.
Alert Mode Offline The Agent is offline and waiting for a job to be run by the end user.
Stopped The Agent service has stopped. No logging is performed at this time.
Active Screen Share (Shown with ‘Online’) A screen share session is currently in progress. The tray icon alternates between the Active Screen Share icon and the Online icon for the duration of the remote session.

 

Using the agent to get your machine info

Double clicking the agent icon will open up a window on your desktop which is called the “agent browser”.

As you’re not an Endpoint Management Administrator you can just ignore the login fields on the left.

On the right, you have three tabs.

1)      Summary – this shows you information that we often as you for but which you’d not necessarily know off the top of your head. We refer to machines by their name in the same way you refer to vehicles by VIN or registration. It also lists the operating system, the machine’s serial number, the currently logged on user and so on. Take a look as you can’t damage anything.

2)      Tasks – this is where we will have a list of tasks that you can fire off, either when requested by IT support or that we’ve pre-informed you about. For security reasons very few users have administrative rights on their machines. This just isn’t required unless you are a virus and want to infect a machine or you need to install an update or patch. We want to avoid the former but we hope to populate this with useful tasks you can invoke when you need them rather that raise a support ticket.

3)      Tickets – we like you to raise a ticket by email as the preferred method. However, despite a well designed and fairly simple support ticket procedure (which you can find on the Intranet) getting the basic information from users to allow us to know where to start troubleshooting is like getting blood from a stone. See below for how to submit a ticket from here to make both your and our live easier.Using the agent to submit a ticket

Using the agent browser, you can raise a ticket and it’ll populate it with much of the info we need and ask to explicitly for other relevant information. Furthermore, for tickets raised here you can add notes and close them from the same tab. (Please note, you don’t see the note you’ve added until later so click submit once only)

On the ticket tab clock on the New Ticket button and then just fill in the form that you are presented with. Simples!

 

Change your machine description

If you right click on the agent icon, the menu that pops up allows you to change the machine description. It won’t change the actual machine name, but you can write a short description that you can remember, and we’ll have logged against the machine name. Like having the vehicle with registration AL61 RDT known as “John’s yellow Porsche Carrera” for example.

 

Using Privacy Mode

For some staff such as senior management, HR and personnel there are times when you are working on something confidential and don’t want to be disturbed. You can use the Privacy mode to restrict IT access to your machine while you are doing this.  Privacy mode is avaialble from a right click on the system tray icon.

If you turn on privacy mode to surf dodgy websites then we have a klaxon that sounds at IT support and a screen showing your name.

You can choose to have it on, off or off for a specific period.

Cloud Backup

Cloud-backup

We’ve taken a while to get on board with cloud backup solutions. Due to cost, maturity of the available offerings and the general performance limitations, including that of many Internet connectivity options, we just didn’t think it was reliable or cost effective.

Things change and now we have the following portfolio of cloud based backup options. What suits your environment and the functionality, costs and performance will vary from client to client so please get in touch if you’d like to discuss.

File/Folder Backup

A cloud backup solution to backup any number of devices and charged per month based upon usage. Prices are such that a daily backup of your accounts data spanning several months should costs less than a family mean at MacDonalds.

Office 365

Microsoft provide good data security and safety. Versioning is excellent and most data can be recovered from the past 30-90 days depending upon the service.

However……..we can build on that by providing complete, unlimited backup of  your Office365 user data from the point you start using the service, for a company with up to 25 employees this would have a monthly cost of £60.

Benefits include:

  • 3x/ daily backup for Office 365’s Exchange, OneDrive and SharePoint
  • Perform additional backups as needed at any time.
  • Security controls that include compliance with SOC 2 Type II, HIPAA, and PCI Compliant. Data is secured with 256-bit encryption.
  • Browse and preview backups by user and item. Search for metadata.
  • Restore individual files or groups of files back into a user’s account or export them directly to your machine.
  • Monitor data with domain health status and activity log.
  • Store an unlimited amount of data in the backup Cloud forever.

Business Continuity

Cloud or remote site hosted reverse chain image based backups of servers with instant restore and hosted virtualisation that boots in seconds. Got it? Ok, let’s say if you have a business that would suffer should your server go down for more than a few minutes this could be just what you need. Probably best to get in contact so we can explain, discuss and demo.

Wot! No Internet?

 

No Internet connectivity usually means you can’t carry on doing business. If you find yourself with no Internet, then here are some steps to go through before calling in a support ticket and a little bit of an explanation that could help speed along getting things sorted.

Firstly, you will have (usually one) piece of equipment connecting your network to the Internet which we call a router. It’ll have flashing lights on to indicate the status and what’s connected and/or working.

Do you know where this is? You need to be able to locate it and know how to cycle (turn off and then on) the power.

Some of your Internet connection is likely to be copper wire that’s decades old. So, reliability isn’t guaranteed. Therefore, be prepared to power cycle your router to resolve a variety of possible minor transient issues.

Being able to get on the Internet relies on two main services.

  1. The physical and electrical connection through your lines to the exchange and your ISP.
  2. A login by your router to your accounts at your ISP so enabling access to the Internet provision

 

Most routers will have a set of lights similar to this :

Here’s a brief explanation of what they indicate and what it probably means if they’re not on or maybe flashing red.

 

  • Power – should be pretty obvious. Has someone unplugged it, has a fuse blown or has the cleaner dislocated the mains plug with the vacuum?
  • Ethernet – this indicates the router’s connection to your internal network. If it’s off, then look for loose cables or problems with your network switch.
  • DSL – this shows the physical and electrical connection to the public network. If it’s off, check with your phone company, ISP (Internet Service Provider) and for loose or disconnected cables.
  • Internet – if DSL is on and this one is off it usually means ISP problems, you’ve not paid the bill your ISP are having problems.

 

So, if you lose your Internet connection here’s a sequence of actions to follow.

  • Check it’s affecting everyone, if not then you may have a PC issue
  • Check the router has power and is running – make a note of which lights are on and what colour they are.
  • Power cycle the router and wait 10 minutes before checking for a connection
  • Check with your ISP for problems or billing issues.
  • Call in a support ticket to Lorica (email using your phone/tablet/laptop) only if you can get Internet using 3G/4G or another connection.

Remember – if you’re using Office365 then go and find your favourite coffee shop and use their WiFi to carry on working while your competitors are pulling their hair out and losing business.

Taking A Screenshot

Screenshots are very helpful for troubleshooting or explaining things. Methods 1 and 3 will work with most versions of Windows but 2 just on the more recent.

 

1. The Old method

 

First way is the classic PrtScn key. Press it anywhere and the screenshot of current window is saved in the clipboard. Want to save it in file? It will take some extra clicks. Open paint (or any other image editing app) and hit CTRL+V.

 

2. Keyboard shortcut “Windows key + PrtScn key”

 


This method was introduced in Windows 8. Pressing Windows key with PrtScn will save the screenshot directly in Screenshots folder inside User’s Pictures directory, in .png format. No more opening paint and pasting. A real time saver.

 

3. Shortcut “Alt key + PrtScn key”

 


This shortcut will take the screenshot of the currently active or currently selected window. This way you don’t need to crop up the part (and re-size it).

 

4. The Snipping Tool

 


Snipping Tool was introduced in Windows 7, and available in Widows 10 as well. It has many features such as marking, annotating and sending via email. These features are just fine for occasional screenshots, but for a heavy user, these features aren’t enough. So you can further tweak the tool using the options shown in the screenshot.

 

5. 3rd Party software

 

Till now, we talked about the inbuilt options. But the truth is external apps are much superior in this aspect. They have more features and intuitive UIs. I cannot crown any one app as best as users’ preferences difer greatly. Some options are Skitch, Snagit and Jing. As for their usability, they are all good and entirely depend on personal preference.

Credit : Gadgetry 101