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Blockchain-based storage service takes on Amazon AWS, unveils pricing

A cloud storage service first announced in 2015 that uses the decentralized, peer-to-peer architecture of blockchain to store encrypted data on the computers of users around the globe has unveiled its pricing model and production launch date.

Storj Labs, which operates a beta storage service for developers, businesses and consumers, initially launched the Tardigrade Decentralized Cloud Storage Service in August. Today, it announced its Beta 2 release and pricing, taking aim at Amazon’s AWS S3 cloud service with what it says is a more cost-effective and resilient approach.

The Tardigrade storage service claims 99.97% availability, and said its prices are less than half the starting prices of legacy cloud storage providers. For example, Amazon S3 list prices are currently $23 per terabyte for static storage per month. Amazon S3 also claims uptimes that range from 95% to 99%.

“Across the three main providers, those prices average at $22 per terabyte for static storage and $99 per terabyte for bandwidth,” Storj Labs said in a blog post. “Furthermore, the prices quoted by legacy providers often don’t include features like encryption and multi-zone redundancy, which come standard with Tardigrade at no additional cost.”

Storj’s Tardigrade storage service beta currently has 400 active users.

Users who rent out space on their hard drives earn “Storjcoin X” (SJCX), a form of currency that can be used to purchase capacity on Storj’s “Driveshare” service. (The users earn SJCXs by selling excess space with DriveShare, or use it to purchase space on the Storj Metadisk network via the company’s file sharing app.)

Storj is by no means alone. P2P compute services have grown over the past several years to include a half dozen options.

The Tardigrade service charges $10 per terabyte per month, or 1 cent per gigabyte, for static storage. (Storing 1 terabyte for 30 days, two terabytes of data for 15 days or three terabytes for 10 days would each be the equivalent of 1 terabyte month). The service charges $45 per terabyte, or 45 cents per gigabyte, of download bandwidth consumed. (Storj does not charge for upload bandwidth.)

Storj Labs Tardigrade cloud storage service Storj Labs

“If you choose to take data out, then we charge below our costs to get that data out,” said John Gleeson, Storj’s vice president of Operations. “Unlike others, we don’t want to charge if you want to take your data out.”

Atlanta-based Storj Labs is using blockchain to manage a storage aggregator that rewards those who rent out unused storage on their computers with cryptocurrency or with free storage and network capacity.

The storage service uses what it calls “gates” or performance metrics to track its service level agreements. Those metrics include the total number of vetted storage nodes (currently about 3,000); the number of active Tardigrade users (about 400) and node churn, or the number of nodes that opt out and in of the P2P architecture over time (about 1.5% per month).

The Tardigrade Cloud Service now operates with between 4.3 and 7 petabytes of storage capacity. At production launch in January, it plans to have 6PB available for developers and users.

The Tardigrade Cloud Service breaks up a file into 30 pieces that are stored across 80 drives from a pool of 3,000 distributed throughout any of 183 different countries or territories, Storj Labs’ CEO Ben Golub said.

“This is blockchain at its best, frankly — peer-to-peer networks where underutilized servers are traded,” Avivah Litan, a Gartner vice president of research, said in an earlier interview. “It’s more or less Uber for computers on a blockchain, so by default the design eliminates the Uber-like central authority and operator and replaces it with smart contracts in a system where no one entity is in control.”

The storage service works by first encrypting a file and then breaking that file up and spreading it across 80 or more user drives for redundancy. If one portion of a global network is slow or not maintaining the standard for downloads/uploads, the service automatically chooses different paths with higher bandwidth.

“This is where the power of being decentralized really matters. When we’re trying to serve you a file you stored, we need to get 30 pieces to you, but we can get those 30 pieces from any of 80 or more drives that have those pieces on them,” Golub said. “If one of them is busy or some of them are on a slow network, it doesn’t matter because we’re able to take advantage of the fact that we’re decentralized and can maintain really high availability and really high durability and performance.”

For example, if more than a few thousand users want to view a file stored on the Tardigrade Cloud Service, it can be divided up into 200, 300 or more pieces using dynamic caching and dispersed in a wider global pattern; in the end, only 30 pieces are needed to reassemble the file for use.

blockchain storage Storj Storj Labs/Google Maps

A map showing where Storj farmers and their nodes are located around the world.

“So, if what you want is to store with us this powerful video we can increase the dispersion [for more efficient access],” Golub said. “Initially, we make our best guess as to where to store files so they’re sufficiently dispersed on nodes across different networks. Then we can apply algorithms on top of that based on usage patterns.”

Developers can join a waitlist to try out the platform and use Tardigrade’s Amazon S3 gateway to start using it with existing S3 compatible applications. The site has a native library with several popular bindings, including Go, Python, Swift, Android, .Net and Node.js. for those who want to take advantage of advanced features such as Macaroons.

Users can also upload files through Storj’s IPFS gateway. Non-developers can still benefit by signing up on Storj’s website and receiving an athorization token to run a storage node. The node remains in a probationary status for the first 30 days as the company measures performance for uptime and response time. Over the first nine months, Storj also holds back a portion of a node operator’s earnings until they’ve been fully vetted to become a permanent part of the network.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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Atlassian expands Jira Service Desk to non-IT biz teams

Atlassian has expanded the focus of its Jira Service Desk to target a wider range of business teams, such as HR, legal and facilities workers. 

Jira Service Desk, launched six years ago to help IT teams track and resolve service requests quickly, has since been integrated with the Australian software company’s portfolio of apps, such as Confluence, as well as third-party apps like Slack. It is the fastest growing product in Atlassian’s portfolio. 

Although billed as a collaborative IT service management (ITSM) tool, many Jira Service Desk customers have, in practice, adapted the application to deliver a variety of services to end users in the enterprise, Atlassian said.  With that in mind, the company today introduced new templates and workflows in Jira Service Desk to encourage its use outside of IT. 

Templates make it easier to configure the application to better meet the demands from HR, facilities and legal teams. The “out-of-the-box” functionality allows HR or operations managers to create and maintain their own service desks with minimal involvement from IT, Atlassian said.

“HR and facilities teams can now leverage Jira Service Desk to more easily manage tasks like employee on-boarding and fielding maintenance requests, and legal teams can shift from manually chasing down signatures to working collaboratively with an automated digital workflow,” the company said in a blog post.

The announcement comes as a range of vendors in the market, including ServiceNow and others, have also moved to expand their products with modules that support non-IT use, driving a trend around enterprise service management (ESM). So it makes sense for Atlassian to expand its app capabilities, said Charles Betz, a principal analyst at Forrester and co-author of “The Forrester Wave: Enterprise Service Management, Q4 2019,” which evaluates vendors in the ESM market. 

“At Forrester, we are very supportive of the extension of the service desk into broader non-IT-centric workloads, because every corporate function has a service aspect,” said Betz. “People need services from their HR department, they need services from facilities.”

Betz added that demand for non-IT use is growing quickly. A Forrester survey of 45 ESM customers showed that 78% were already using the tools for non-IT purposes. “And of that 78%, up to half of their transactional workload was non-IT workload,” he added.

Atlassian recently unveiled free and premium tiers of Jira Service Desk, with users able to pay more for higher for 99.99% uptime SLA, unlimited storage and additional support. 

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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Microsoft (finally) delivers service pack-like Windows 10 1909

Microsoft on Tuesday released Windows 10 1909, a feature update that has little in the way of new features.

Also dubbed “Windows 10 November 2019 Update” – the 1909 moniker noted its year and month, even though the release was actually 1911 – the upgrade was immediately available to those who sought it.

(On an unmanaged PC, select Settings > Update & Security > Windows Update, choose Check for updates and then pick Download and install now.)

On consumer PCs running Windows 10 Home and Windows 10 Pro systems not overseen by IT, 1909 will be installed only when the user chooses “Download and install now.” However, as the current edition nears its support expiration, Microsoft will take charge and start an upgrade. Computerworld has forecast that Microsoft won’t begin force-feeding 1909 to users until late January, when it begins upgrading machines running Windows 10 1809. (On Windows 10 Home and Pro, 1809 drops off support May 12, 2020.) Most Windows 10 Home PCs running 1803 were compulsorily upgraded by Microsoft to 1903 in the four months prior to the former’s retirement using this mechanism.

Commercial customers on Tuesday were also told to kickstart their testing of 1909. “IT administrators should begin targeted deployments to validate that the apps, devices and infrastructure used by their organizations work as expected with the new release and features,” wrote John Cable, director of program management, in a Nov. 12 post to a company blog.

Service packs come to Windows 10

For those keeping score, Windows 10 1909 is notable for what it is not: It is not a feature upgrade as Microsoft has defined the term for Windows 10. Instead, 1909 will be little more than a rerun of May’s 1903, including all the fixes Microsoft has made to that version since its debut, and a very small number of new features. (How small? Check out the list here.)

The November update’s composition and content (or lack of it) impacted how it will be delivered, something Microsoft spent time Tuesday describing here and here.

“Devices running Windows 10, version 1903 can take advantage of a new way of servicing that leverages the same servicing technology used to deliver monthly quality updates to get the new features and capabilities available in version 1909,” wrote John Wilcox, Alec Oot and Will Patton, all part of the Windows Servicing & Delivery team, in a blog post yesterday.

(On the other hand, devices running Windows 10 1803 and earlier process 1909 the now-standard way.)

Because 1909 is a retread of 1903 – albeit with a handful of new, minor features – the code for the latest cumulative refresh of the latter and the code for the former is identical. (In fact, Microsoft embedded the 1909 features inside the October cumulative update for 1903, the one released Oct. 8.) All it takes to shift from 1903 to 1909 is to install what Microsoft calls an “enablement package,” a small download that switches on the new features.

(The enablement package – described in more detail in this support document – is bundled with Windows 1909 when users refresh from a version other than 1903.)

Even at its release, questions remained about 1909. Several that Computerworld posed in September, for instance, still have no answers, including whether the 1909 model is a one-off or will become the standard for all fall “upgrades.”

Along with the release of Windows 10 1909, Nov. 12 also marked the end of support for Windows 10 1803, the refresh also known as “April 2018 Update,” for Windows 10 Home and Windows 10 Pro. Windows 10 Enterprise 1803 and Windows 10 Education 1803, however, will be supported until Nov. 10, 2020. (When Microsoft extended Enterprise’s and Education’s support to 30 months for each fall upgrade, the Redmond, Wash. developer also gave the four previous upgrades, including 1803, 30 months to “provide additional flexibility for customers who need more time.”)

Yes, it’s confusing. It’s Microsoft.

Windows 10 1909’s support retirement was set by Microsoft at May 11, 2021 for Windows 10 Home and Windows 10 Pro, and at May 10, 2022 for Windows 10 Enterprise and Windows 10 Education.

More information about Windows 10 1909 for enterprises can be found here.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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Get 70% off NordVPN Virtual Private Network Service + 3 months free – Deal Alert

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Note: When you purchase something after clicking links in our articles, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate link policy for more details.

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BritBox Streaming Service Launches in UK

BritBox has launched in the UK. BritBox is a streaming service which (as the name suggests) is focused on British television. This helps to differentiate it from the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, which mostly stream American TV shows.

In March 2017, BritBox launched in the US

You Can Now Stream British TV Using BritBox

You Can Now Stream British TV Using BritBox

Thanks to BritBox, expats and Anglophiles alike can now stream British TV to their hearts’ content.
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. This meant that expats and Anglophiles alike could streaming British TV shows to their hearts’ content. However, while viewers in the US have been enjoying BritBox for some time, it’s only now arriving in the UK.

Everything You Need to Know About BritBox

BritBox is now available in the UK. It’s priced at £5.99/month ($8/month). This buys you HD video playback and multi-screen viewing. BritBox offers viewers a chance to watch both old and new shows, but classic British TV makes up the bulk of the BritBox catalog.

BritBox was created by the BBC and ITV, both of which are providing programming for the streaming service. However, thanks to partnership deals with other broadcasters, BritBox will also provide content from Channel 4, Channel 5, and Comedy Central UK.

BritBox claims to have “the biggest collection of British box-sets available in one place.” The service features thousands of hours of programming, including “all 627 available episodes of Classic Doctor Who, originally broadcast between 1963 and 1989.”

Other shows available at launch include Downton Abbey, Gavin & Stacey, Wolf Hall, Love Island, Broadchurch, Only Fools and Horses, Extras, Miss Marple, and Poirot. BritBox is also producing its own shows, starting with a drama called Lambs Of God.

BritBox Is Perfect for Fans of British TV

This is a solid option for Brits keen to watch classic British TV. Sure, some of the shows are already available on other streaming services, but if you generally enjoy watching British shows more than shows produced elsewhere, BritBox has you covered.

While UK residents now have a streaming service entirely focused on homegrown content, Americans already have two such services competing for their money. Thankfully, we’ve previously pitted Britbox versus Acorn TV

BritBox vs. Acorn TV: Which Is Better for Streaming British TV?

BritBox vs. Acorn TV: Which Is Better for Streaming British TV?

Between BritBox and Acorn TV, you can stream the best British TV content. But which one should you subscribe to? Which is better?
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to help our readers know which is best.

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What’s the Best Streaming Service Deal?

Philo vs. Sling TV… which is the best streaming service? As more and more players enter the market, it’s becoming increasingly hard to determine an answer.

For many people, the decision is driven by cost. Philo and Sling are two of the leading budget streaming services available, but which offers the best deal?

In this article we pit Philo vs. Sling TV. We’ll tell you about both services, compare their streaming plans, discuss additional features, and pick a winner.

Philo vs. Sling: Background

Although Philo has been around since 2009 (then called Tivli), it only began offering a streaming service in late 2017. At the time of writing, it has amassed 50,000 subscribers and a string of high-profile investors, including Mark Cuban, HBO, and Facebook co-founder Andrew McCollum. Today, it is jointly owned by A&E, AMC, Discovery, and Viacom.

Sling is a newer company (it was founded in 2015) but has offered streaming services since its inception. It is owned by Dish Network. Unlike Philo, Sling TV benefits from extensive brand recognition and a much larger userbase. At the time of writing it has 2.5 million subscribers.

Philo vs. Sling: Cost

sling price and channels

Philo offers a single package to its users. It costs $20/month and includes 58 television channels. If you’re a new subscriber, you can benefit from a seven-day free trial. And when you do sign up, you will not be tied down to a lengthy contract; you can cancel and restart your plan at any time and as frequently as you wish.

Sling TV has two packages: Sling Blue and Sling Orange. They each cost $25/month. Sling Orange offers 32 channels; Sling Blue includes 47 channels. If you want access to the full set of content, you need to sign up for the $40/month combined package. Like Philo, you can take advantage of a seven-day free trial before you commit, and you’re free to cancel your plan at any time.

Philo vs. Sling: Channel Availability

philo channels and price

Aside from price, another key aspect of establishing which is the best streaming service is the availability of channels.

Firstly, let’s look at Sling TV Orange vs. Blue. There is some channel overlap between them. Both packages include TNT, AMC, CNN, Comedy Central, History Channel, A&E, The Travel Channel, Cartoon Network, Newsy, BBC America, Comet, Food Network, HGTV, and TLC.

The differences appear when you look at the premium channels. Channels that are exclusive to Sling Orange include Disney Channel, ESPN, ESPN 2, ESPN 3, Freeform, and Motor Trend. Sling Blue has more exclusives, including Discovery Channel, E!, FOX, FOX Sports, FS1, FS2, National Geographic, NBC, NBC Sports, NFL Network, Nick Jr., and Paramount Network. Sling Blue also offers local channels from FOX and NBC in some markets.

These variances cause issues for sports lovers and families with kids. ESPN is on Orange, while FOX Sports is on Blue. Disney is on Orange, while Nickelodeon is on Blue.

Philo has no such discrepancies. It only offers a single plan to its users. Some of the most noteworthy channels on the service include A&E, AMC, Animal Planet, BBC America, BBC World News, Comedy Central, Discovery, DIY Network, HGTV, History Channel, MTV, Nick Jr., Nickelodeon, VH1, and TLC.

Readers with a keen eye for detail will have noticed some glaring omissions. Significantly, Philo does not carry any sports channels and does not offer any domestic news channels. Philo also does not offer any local channels. For many users, that makes the service entirely unsuitable.

Philo vs. Sling: Add-Ons

sling add ons list

Philo’s channel lineup is fixed; the company does not provide any add-ons or additional packages.

In contrast, Sling offers a few add-ons for users with niche interests. For example, several Spanish-language add-ons are available. For $5/month/region, you can watch channels from Mexico, Spain, South America, Central America, or the Caribbean.

There are also additional packages for comedy, premium channels, sports, kids, news, lifestyle, Hollywood, outdoor living, and international channels. Again, each additional package is $5/month.

Philo vs. Sling: Country Restrictions

Both Philo and Sling are only available to people living within the United States. If you want to access the plans from other territories, you need to use a high-quality paid VPN.

If you don’t have a VPN plan, MakeUseOf recommends signing up with either ExpressVPN or CyberGhost.

Philo vs. Sling: App Availability

philo apps list

Philo has apps available for Roku, Android, Android TV, Apple TV, iOS, and Fire TV. Sling supports those six platforms, but also has apps for AirTV, LG webOS, and Xbox. And unlike Philo, Sling TV is also Chromecast-enabled.

Both services have browser-based web apps.

Philo vs. Sling: Other Features

If you still can’t decide which is the best streaming service for your needs, perhaps some of the services’ additional features might help to crystallize your thoughts.

For example, Sling has some differences between its packages regarding the number of simultaneous streams. Sling Orange only allows you to watch one stream at a time, whereas Sling Blue increases the number to three. And if you subscribe to Orange + Blue, you can watch on four screens simultaneously. Philo offers three simultaneous streams for all of its subscribers.

Philo also includes the ability to record shows and watch them for up to 30 days after they aired. There is no restriction on the number of shows you can record.

If you want to record shows on Sling TV, you will need to subscribe to the Cloud DVR add-on for $5/month. All your recordings will be available forever; you do not need to watch them within a 30-day period. Furthermore, your recordings will still be available if you leave as a customer and then return at some point in the future.

NB: Check out our article looking at the best streaming services with family plans

The 9 Best Streaming Services That Offer Shared Family Plans

The 9 Best Streaming Services That Offer Shared Family Plans

Family plans for streaming services come with many benefits, the best being that it ends up being much cheaper than having separate individual plans.
Read More

for more information.

Philo vs. Sling: Which Is the Best Streaming Service?

So, Philo vs. Sling TV Orange vs. Blue—which is the best streaming service for you? It’s a difficult question to answer. If money is no object, then the Sling Orange + Blue package with the entire suite of add-ons is the best solution. However, if you’re an occasional TV watcher with no interest in sports content, we’d recommend going for Philo as the budget option.

To learn more, be sure to read our article listing the best TV streaming services

The Best Streaming TV Services (Free and Paid)

The Best Streaming TV Services (Free and Paid)

Here are the best free streaming TV apps and the best paid streaming TV apps for all your entertainment needs.
Read More

available right now.

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Microsoft preps service pack-esque Windows 10 1909 for release

Microsoft now says the year’s second Windows 10 feature upgrade would be released shortly and has given it the guileless name of “Windows 10 November 2019 Update.”

“We believe that Build 18363.418 is the final build,” Brandon LeBlanc, a senior program manager on the Windows Insider team, wrote in a Friday post to a company blog.

Build 18363.418 was released on Oct. 8.

Also known as 1909 in Microsoft’s four-digit yymm notation, this upgrade is notable for what it is not: It is not a feature upgrade as Microsoft has defined the term in the past. Instead, 1909 will be little more than a rerun of the spring’s 1903, including all the fixes Microsoft has made to that version since its May debut, and a very small number of new features. (How small? Check out the list here.)

Pundits quickly drew comparisons to the “service packs” of Microsoft’s past, when it would collect months or even years’ worth of fixes for a version of Windows into a package that would quickly bring systems up to date. Others, including Computerworld have noted that the sparseness of 1909 means Microsoft is turning its twice-annual cadence into a major (spring) and minor (fall) tempo.

In July, Computerworld deciphered the Microsoft announcements that outlined how 1909 would be vastly different from the feature upgrades of the past. Among the most important changes: devices running 1903 will upgrade to 1909 using the same servicing mechanisms as do the monthly security updates.

Questions yet abound about 1909, even though Microsoft is close to launching the refresh. Four of the five still-open queries Computerworld posed last month, for example, have yet to be answered. (The one that has been answered – will Microsoft continue to alert commercial customers when a version has been adequately tested – was addressed here.)

Although LeBlanc said, “We are now getting the Windows 10 November 2019 Update (19H2) ready for release,” implying that 1909 would be launched shortly, Microsoft also stuck “November” in its name. When Microsoft has used a month in the name of a Windows 10 feature upgrade, it has used the month of release (as with 1803 and 1903, each released late in the month noted in their names) or a month prior to release (as with 1809). It has never delivered a feature upgrade earlier than the month in its name.

That pattern would argue that Microsoft will wait several or more weeks – until Nov. 1 or later – to start distributing 1909.

When Microsoft introduced the minor release it planned for the fall of 2019, it said it was “a September-targeted release of Windows.” At the time, Computerworld believed Microsoft would easily meet that schedule because of the few new features or changes 1909 would contain. It is unclear why Microsoft was unable to make its own target for the launch given the paucity of new features.

Users who want to begin testing of 1909 can do so by joining the Windows Insider program and choosing the “Release Preview” distribution ring. LeBlanc included instructions for doing so in this blog post.

1909 release preview ring Microsoft

Users who want to start testing Windows 10 1909 need to register with the Windows Insider program and then choose ‘Release Preview’ before requesting an update.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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Is xCloud – the Xbox game streaming service – a glimpse at the future of the desktop?

 [Disclosure: The companies mentioned are clients of the author.]

We are in the early stages of moving local processing to the cloud and transitioning from the modern PC to something far closer to a terminal. This week, for example, HP launched their new Chromebox Chromebooks and added them to their DaaS (Device as a Service) plan. Chrome-based products initially anticipated a cloud future at a time when Microsoft didn’t seem that interested in the cloud.

Man, have things changed: the Windows Virtual Desktop is now the lead contender for this eventual migration.

Thin client solutions have been around for a while, but – outside of tightly targeted groups with low-performance needs – it’s been a niche market, largely due to latency and wireless performance. With 5G and WiFi 6, according to Qualcomm, both become nonissues. But the market needs something that’s a solid proof point, and that appears to be the xCloud gaming service.

What gaming brings to the table

While latency is annoying in desktop apps, in competitive eSports, it’s a deal-breaker. You can’t be competitive with a twitch game if you have too much latency. Latency is even more problematic for MMOs (Massive Multi-Player Online games), limiting the size of groups and badly damaging the overall experience.

For cloud gaming to work, gaming latency not only needs to start low, it also needs to remain low regardless of network and system loading. And the loading is significant because current-generation gaming requires massive levels of performance, increasingly realistic levels of realism and increasingly powerful AIs for NPCs (non-playing characters) that will push the limits of both the network and the servers providing the service. It’s also forcing Microsoft to rethink the design of those servers to optimize for these heavy loads.

To assure the xCloud effort, Microsoft will have to work to reduce latency but also to ensure it remains low regardless of system loading. And because games can ramp users massively as players get home from work or school, the ability to scale up near-instantly when people come to work is also covered.

On that last, the loading times are almost exactly opposite. In general, desktop loading would occur during work and school hours while game loading will occur after work or school hours…allowing the flexible use of the same hardware. This usage model should help reduce the cost, and therefore the price, for both groups (which is generally the same group, just doing different things).

So, the result of the xCloud effort is that it will drive needed performance and latency improvements that will benefit the Windows Virtual Desktop effort and reduce the cost of both by providing a path to full utilization of the hardware.

It will also open up technology that will provide better rendering, better voice communication and tighter AI coupling, which are all part of online gaming and could broaden the feature set for desktop users as well, as Microsoft moves to make use of that otherwise-unused gaming capability in their desktop effort.

Our cloud-based gaming – and desktop – future

The anticipated move to the cloud for the desktop has and will have many hills and valleys. With the move to cloud-based gaming, however, Microsoft will be able to not only blaze a trail to desktop performance but create a level of headroom that could revolutionize what we do on our business desktop.

With the kind of performance available such capabilities as telepresence, dedicated user AI support, new ways to collaborate and a whole host of new features we currently aren’t even thinking about become possible over the next few years. I expect we’ll see changes that will be in-line with what we experienced when we moved away from terminals, as we effectively move back to terminals again.

The only thing we can be sure of this that this will change things. A lot. I think we’ll be surprised about how much.

This article is published as part of the IDG Contributor Network. Want to Join?

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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IBM launches blockchain-based supply chain service with AI, IoT integration

IBM this week launched a new supply chain service based on its blockchain platform and open-source software from recently-acquired Red Hat that allows developers and third-party apps to integrate legacy corporate data systems onto a distributed ledger.

Through the use of open APIs, the new Sterling Supply Chain Suite allows distributors, manufacturers and retailers to integrate their own data and networks – as well as those of their suppliers – onto a Hyperledger-based blockchain to track and trace products and parts. Among the data that can be integrated are IoT sensor systems for real-time shipment position location.

“This is the first move from IBM in what we anticipate to be a significant investment in the reinvention of supply chains by global organizations in the coming decades,” an IBM spokesperson said via email.

Through APIs, the IBM Sterling Supply Chain Suite ties to legacy infrastructure such as Warehouse Management Systems (WMS), ERP systems, Order Management Systems  and commerce applications.

IBM blockchain supply chain sterling IBM

The IBM Sterling Supply Chain Suites stack of applications enabled by blockchain and AI.

Because the new suite falls under the “Sterling” Order Management (SOM) brand name, which IBM acquired from AT&T in 2010, it already has an existing user base of more than 7,000 customers who have an additional 500,000 trading partners, according to Inhi Cho Su, general manager of IBM’s Watson Customer Engagement business unit.

“The complex, global nature of our omni-channel operations presents a significant supply chain challenge that could be turned into a business opportunity if the right technology is applied,” said Juan Andres Pro Dios, CIO of El Corte Ingles, Europe’s largest department store conglomerate. “The IBM Sterling Supply Chain Suite provides open development capabilities that let us quickly tailor solutions to meet our unique business needs. This allows us to embrace operational complexity while optimizing … performance and improving omni-channel customer experiences.”

IBM integrated Watson’s AI capability to offer applications – among them, Order Optimizer and Supply Chain Insights – that can produce real-time alerts and recommendations through its Supply Chain Business Assistant (SCBA). SCBA, for example, can generate faster response times to anomalies like supply chain disruptions.

Simon Ellis, a research director for IDC, said IBM may not be alone in promoting a multi-tenant cloud network for supply chains, but it has advanced A.I. and blockchain as components of that service more than other vendors.

The new service, Ellis said, is a solid foray into the supply chain market.

“I think companies can leverage this with some other supply chain apps they already have so they don’t need to rip and replace stuff,” Ellis said. “The value of any blockchain will be square of the number of users it has, so how you make those connections [is] important, and this certainly moves it forward.”

Current IBM Sterling SOM clients include companies in distribution, industrial manufacturing, retail and financial services: Adidas, AmerisourceBergen, Fossil, Greenworks, Home Depot, Lenovo, Li & Fung, Misumi, Parker Hannifin, Scotiabank, and Whirlpool Corporation.

Outdoor sports retailer REI, for example, is using the Watson Order Optimizer for its supply chain to factor in the various goals it has throughout the year, such as product margin, shipping speed and fulfillment costs, and matches that to its inventory in its three distribution centers and 155 stores.

“For us, the one thing we discovered was in existing supply chain networks…the majority of the industry was on point-to-point interactions through EDI systems and paper,” Su said. “Clients want to digitize…and understand the state of where their goods and services might be across multiple parties…so we added a blockchain shared ledger capability on top of our existing network.

“So any customers and their partners in their broader ecosystem have visibility into transactions and interactions they have,” Su continued. “Those transactions could be around invoicing, shipping, delivery – and then the combination of that shared ledger allows you to have a trusted understanding of who those partners are.”

Once a customer is logged into the Sterling Supply Chain Suite service it has its own dashboard allowing it to search the status of a purchase order or product inventory. Users can also quickly onboard trading partners by choosing an “add new partner” icon and then filling out fields that include company name, contact communication protocol (email, for example), and what transactions and data sets they’re allowed to view.

“Then you click ‘OK’ and the other party gets a notice that they click on and they’re onboarded,” Su said. “It’s pretty fast.”

IBM had already launched supply chain network pilots for food, general cargo shipping and even the diamond trade to track products through its cloud-based Hyperledger blockchain platform. The new supply chain network will enable greater integration with existing enterprise ERP and database systems, Su said.

IBM, for example, has already created an SAP connection to the Sterling Supply Chain service.

“We also created an open framework for applications and ISVs to be able to connect into and expand,” Su said. “It’s live and in production.”

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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