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Bill Bennett

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Cloud computing saves time and money, but they are not the only reasons to use it.

The great thing about the cloud is it means you are no longer tied to a place or a device. Your cloud data is available everywhere and on almost any digital gadget.

Acronis True Image 2021 review – Complete back-up and security

Acronis True Image 2021 promises to keep your data safe for around A$100 a year. It protects PCs and Macs from disasters, accidents, criminal attacks and ransomware.

What is True Image?

True Image started life as a back-up application. The name refers to the way it creates a copy or an image of your computer data on an external hard drive or cloud server.

Two years ago Acronis added security features adding ransomware protection to back-up. The most expensive version of the software included blockchain certification. I’m not convinced that is necessary. Yet there are those who find it useful.

The 2021 version of the software adds more protection. Acronis says it deals with malware, malicious websites and code injection. This means the security software has to work in real-time.

There’s the timely addition of protection from videoconferencing interference. This is a threat that emerged during the Covid-19 lockdown. The feature is not included in the MacOS version.

In effect, Acronis repackaged its enterprise security technology for individuals and small businesses.

Acronis True Image 2021

One user interface

Having back-up and security controlled by a single user interface simplifies the two processes. That’s important. Many small business buy back up and security then fail to make the most of them because it’s difficult.

True Image 2021 has a clean, straightforward interface. This hasn’t changed since I reviewed True Image 2019 more than two years ago.

It’s not immediately obvious how everything works, but it is easy to learn. The trick is to mouse your way around the user interface and try all the options.

Once you’re done, you can leave True Image to work without day-to-day intervention, although it is likely you will need to revisit the app.

Testing True Image

I tested it on an iMac. Here it adds an icon to the menu bar. Unlike other MacOS apps, this is not a menu, instead it shows notifications. There is an option to open the app’s main screen from here.

Back-up remains the focus. You can create images of entire drives, partitions, folders or even individual files. True Image can back-up your network drives and add back-ups for your mobile phone or tablet.

There are options to do a full back-up, this can take a long time, or to do a differential back-up. This means backing up everything that changed since the last back-up.

Back-up options

You control the back-up frequency. Options range from monthly, which I’d regard as “why bother”? all the way to hourly.

The default is daily. There’s a twice daily option which I’ve set to back-up about half way through my working day and then late at night. That way I’m never going to lose more than a few hours work.

More frequent back-ups are possible, but this can tie up resources.

There are options to remove older back-ups when you are running out of space on your target disc. You can do this manually or leave it to the software. You can also set up validations.

Pricing

There’s a basic A$70 subscription that doesn’t include cloud back-up. You’ll need a local or network drive. Acronis does not appear to allow you to use alternative cloud storage.

The A$98 Advanced plan includes 500GB of cloud back-up storage. There is a A$140 plan with a terabyte of storage. These prices are for one computer.

Acronis’ per computer price drops if you add more, but you don’t get more cloud storage.

This complex price structure is strange given that everything else about True Image 2021 works to hide complexity. I’m concerned that buyers can end up buying more than they need, or not enough.

Back-up updates

There are updates to the way True Image handles back-ups. It no longer duplicates data if a back-up is interrupted, say if you lose your connection. Instead of restarting and doing the whole back-up again, it picks up from where it left off.

While testing I ran into a couple of interesting observations. First, there may be times when you want to turn off protection. I did this when bittorrenting a copy of LibreOffice 7 for review.

True Image’s security stopped my bit torrent client from working. Fair enough. To allow it through I paused the software, then forgot to restart. The next morning an email arrived telling me the scheduled back-up failed. This is excellent. It’s easy to forget to switch back on and leave yourself without back-ups or protection. Getting a non-intrusive reminder is the best way of fixing this.

Safe replication

Likewise, after first installing the application, I chose to make a replica of my Mac hard drive using the Acronis Cloud. All good. Then I swapped out my home Wi-Fi router for a D-Link Wi-fi 6 router review.

The router remained installed. When I went to update the drive replica, True Image responded with a message saying replication would restart after I connected to an approved Wi-fi network.

This protection would stop True Image from automatic drive replication when, say, a laptop connects to public Wi-fi. It takes a couple of clicks to resume replication with a new router.

True Image’s replication will wait until the everyday back-up is complete. It handles tasks one-by-one, not in parallel. This is useful on slower connection.

Fast, if your network is fast

Cloud back-ups are fast. I have a gigabit fibre connection, my Wi-fi 6 router is the bottleneck. It can clock speeds of over 500mbps. On my set-up, when True Image connects to the Acronis Cloud the reported speed fluctuates from around 100 mbps up to over 200 mbps.

Back-up times vary. The time indicator on the user interface gives a rough guide, but don’t take it seriously. It warned me a full drive back-up of 340 GB would take 52 minutes. I left it running and checked 30 minutes after starting to find it had finished.

Incremental back-ups of around 200 MB take a couple of minutes. Again, the times reported on the user interface can be misleading. The ‘less than one minute’ turned out to be a few seconds over two minutes.

Early back-up software, including earlier versions of True Image, could hurt system and network performance. I found this year’s edition of Norton LifeLock ties up all system resources when in full flight and then some. That is another story for another time.

True Image 2021 has no noticeable impact on performance. Automated back-ups can happen while I’m on a Zoom call and I’d never know. I haven’t seen a spinning Mac beachball while using True Image. This is in part down to plenty of headroom on a fibre connection and Wi-fi 6 local network, but, as mentioned, Norton struggles with the same resources.

True Image 2021 verdict

I can’t think of any other application that combines back-up and security in the way True Image does. The price is on a par with buying separate applications to do the two jobs.

You won’t need to pay for Acronis back-up and a separate security suite. You won’t need to learn two user interfaces. This is important if you don’t have full time IT professionals to call on for help.

Getting both back-up and security in a single integrated package from one source simplifies both.

Today, True Image is comprehensive to the point of providing more protection than everyday users or small businesses need.

It could be overkill for your needs.

If your data is precious or your work makes you a security target you should consider True Image.

If you handle other people’s data it could be essential. It makes sense if you work for a company or agency that requires high levels of security. Choose it if losing your data for more than a few minutes will cost you money.

Footnote:

I took my time testing Acronis True Image 2021 for a good reason. The software came the same time as Norton Lifelock, which is an indirect rival. Lifelock trashed my computer. I wanted to give Acronis enough time to screw up before telling readers one is better than the other. After two months, I’m happy to report nothing untoward happened.

Eagle Technology spatial mapping on farm – NZ Herald

Top flight farm management

Source: Agribusiness report: The benefits of geographical information systems on farm – NZ Herald

Eagle technology is helping farmers to use spatial mapping to manage their businesses. Last week I interviewed Eagle Technology GIS product owner Lauren McArtney and Scott Campbell, the company’s head of GIS technology for the NZ Herald.

There’s nothing new about farmers using spatial mapping to manage a farm. They have done it for centuries.

Now farmers make digital maps and, as the Herald feature shows, allows them to get more from their data.

Agricultural GIS seems to be reaching its stride thanks to the arrival of cloud computing, the Internet-of-things, drones and recent technologies.

On Tindall’s green data centre opportunity

A green data centre industry would unlock new infrastructure and create jobs.

Writing at the New Zealand Herald, Warehouse founder Sir Stephen Tindall makes the case for building a clean, green data centre hub in this country: The green, high tech opportunity NZ can’t afford to miss.

He says:

New Zealand has the opportunity to develop a green data centre industry that serves not only New Zealand government and corporate clients, but could position our country as the leading provider of green data centres to the Asia-Pacific region, much like Scandinavia has done for Europe.

As a global industry, data centre companies and users are leading the way towards carbon neutrality by investing in building new, modern centres that run on green energy. With our country’s high percentage of renewable energy sources, we are perfectly positioned to take advantage of this explosively growing industry.

Tindall is right. We are well placed to do this. Most of our energy is renewable. We have the skills needed to make this work.

We are much better placed to build data centres than a decade ago when Tindall was in a team of entrepreneurs behind Pacific Fibre. That was an abandoned attempt to build a submarine cable between New Zealand and the West Coast of the USA. Tindall’s thinking was ahead of the game. Now there are four cables connecting New Zealand to the world.

Tindall makes a strong green case for New Zealand pushing further into data centres. It would be good for jobs too.

But there’s another argument for investing in New Zealand data centres. The term isn’t fashionable anymore, but there was a time when our leaders often talked about making New Zealand the Switzerland of the South Pacific. We are, in relative terms, a neutral player in international politics, not a threat to anyone. At the same time we have a mature political and legal system.

Data centres and cloud computing hubs are subject to the laws of the countries they are located in. Our laws are benign. We are not a totalitarian state, nor do we have a worrying state security apparatus demanding to snoop on other people’s data. We can leverage these aspects. New Zealand has a strong brand as clean and green, it also has a growing reputation for probity and values.

 

IT spending set to fall 7 percent this year

New Zealand’s spending on information technology is set to drop by 7.3 percent when compared with 2019. Gartner, a research firm, forecasts IT spending will be less than NZ$12.6 billion. This is a billion dollars less than last year.

While the drop is significant, New Zealand will fare slightly better than most of the world. Gartner forecasts the worldwide spend will drop eight percent. Australia faces a six percent fall.

The drop is a direct result of the Covid–19 pandemic and the expected international recession that will follow.

Critical IT a priority

Gartner says companies around the world are prioritising spending on mission critical technologies and services. For now they are shelving their growth or digital transformation projects.

       
New Zealand IT Spending Forecast (Millions of New Zealand Dollars)
New Zealand2019Growth2020Growth
Data Centre4051.0%347-14.3%
Enterprise Software2,19612.1%2,113-3.8%
Devices1,950-0.3%1,646-15.6%
IT Services3,9894.9%3,799-4.8%
Communications Services5,0250.1%4,665-7.2%
Overall IT13,5653.3%12,570-7.3%
 

Analyst John-David Lovelock says the bright spot in the international forecast is spending on public cloud services. This includes messaging, telephony and conferencing. This is not forecast to do as well in New Zealand.

The sharpest drop in New Zealand is expected in purchases of digital devices. Gartner forecasts a massive 15.6 percent fall in spending down to $1.6 billion. Last year it was the only sector to show negative growth. The fall is in line with the worldwide trend.

Gartner forecasts an equally steep 14.3 percent drop in spending on data centres, although the absolute value of the segment is far lower. This year it will fall from $405 million to $347 million.

Communications

Communications services will fall 7.2 percent according to Gartner. This is well ahead of the 4.5 percent worldwide figure.

Lovelock says he doesn’t see a recovery until the third quarter of 2021. Moreover he says it will take until 2024 for the economy to get back on its long term track.

He says: “Recovery will not follow previous patterns as the forces behind this recession will create both supply side and demand side shocks as the public health, social and commercial restrictions begin to lessen.”

Lovelock also warns not to expect a V shaped recover. Which also means it isn’t going to be quick. IT may be in better shape than many other sectors but we’re in for a bumpy ride.

Business strategy in focus as networks become platforms

Wide Area Networking is evolving fast. WAN users already combine fixed-line and wireless technologies with concepts like software defined networking.

This approach is better suited to cope with a world where workers, applications and workloads are in a constant state of flux.

Eventually we could reach a point where, just as cloud computing users don’t always need to know where their data is, network users won’t need to know how their data gets from A to B.

All they will care about is that it gets there on time and at a reasonable cost.

Explosion of options

IDC vice president Huge Ujhazy says a year ago he was talking about carrier supported multi-Lan and multi-cloud. He says; “There is an explosion of options along with the race to interconnect all the public cloud, private cloud, on-premise cloud and wrap all this into the overall enterprise network.

“This year we’re adding the concept of multi-platform, because we think the future is moving towards a platform play. This means an application will make a request for a connection, it will give the request some parameters. It will then do whatever job it was going to do before handing the connection back.

“This is in contrast to the conventional approach where a customer might have to get a fixed two-year contract for a link.”

Ditching the fixed links

With a platform play, telcos will offer connectivity services alongside compute, storage and applications on terms that are similar to cloud computing. Just as cloud customers don’t have to pay for on-premise servers, but spin up on-demand services instead, connectivity customers won’t need fixed links. They’ll be able to by the connections they need as they need them. And like the computing cloud, the network is always on.

Ujhazy says; “We have to assume the network is always going to be there and you have to know what particular connection we are going to use. You might make a request such as ‘I want connectivity to an end point in Hong Kong. I want one millisecond latency and I want the least cost route’”.

Abstraction

This is a way of abstracting communications to the point where the customer doesn’t need to know or care about what is going on. In effect they are asking for a connection, letting the network operator choose the technology and the route. All they do is pay for the delivered service. There is no need for a permanent relationship with the network.

Ujhazy likens this to loading an app on a phone. He says; “It goes out there, grabs some cloudy bits, some application bits and does its thing.”

We are not there yet. Ujhazy says there is still a way to go.

The message from the carriers is “if we present ourselves as a utility, where all I’m offering you is a pipe to shove data down, then I’m increasingly marginalised. So if I start offering you a connectivity platform which has a place to store all this data you are connecting, a place to consume it from any device from any location at any time and a place to share it, then I can become really relevant”.

Like AWS and Azure, but with networks

He calls this approach “moving more and more behind the curtain. Think about what AWS and Azure have done for us. There was a time when we had to work for a living and build these environments. Now it’s a matter of matching this much virtual machine with this much storage and this much capacity and here is the credit card.”

Ujhazy says he is impressed at what Singtel is doing in terms of unifying all these parts. He says; “They’ve built an interface on top of all the cloud providers and all this connectivity. It’s called the Liquid Infrastructure. Customers can come in through the Liquid Portal and they can choose this and that and it comes down to a single Singtel bill. That’s the sort of complexity which we can push behind the curtain and make it the responsibility of the carrier. It’s quite appealing to customers who don’t want to deal with all that.”

Communications technologies are converging elsewhere. Ujhazy says in some markets Vodafone offers IoT Plus. This brings together traditional IoT connectivity with LTE and 5G along with edge computing. This is all wrapped together with managed services. In effect Vodafone is telling customers it will take care of everything. It’s a compelling proposition.

This story was originally published in The Download magazine as WAN platform play moves complexity behind the curtain .