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.
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.
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)
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 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.
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’”.
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.
There’s evidence that the number of people working from home, at least for some of the time, was already rising before the Covid–19 pandemic accelerated the trend.
Remote work slow, steady rise
The rise has been slow, but steady.
It exploded when New Zealand and most of the world went into lockdown. Anyone who’s work could be done remotely logged on from home. Data volumes on broadband networks soared and hitherto esoteric applications like Zoom became part of everyday life for white collar workers.
For some home will be cemented in as their main future workplace. It’s worth remembering this only applies to certain types of work, a surgeon can’t operate via Zoom, nor can a supermarket shelf stacker.
The National Business Review closed down its editorial office, apparently for ever. The paper gave staff an allowance to cover home working costs.
Remote work is not too lonely and alienating for journalists. The job often involves attending functions or meeting people for interviews or information gathering.1 It could be hard going for some.
Yet, hundreds of companies are working through similar plans.
One key thing that changed with the early 2020 lockdown was that managers and individuals alike realised that mass remote working is possible and practical. Until now there was scepticism, especially among more anally-retentive managers.
There are still questions over its desirability in every case. Some voices say remote working is more productive. Other managers hate the idea of not being able to look out from the corner suite to see rows of heads down with people beavering away.
For what it’s worth, my experience over the years is that it can be more productive at times, but work quickly eats in to the rest of your life. I certainly do more than a forty hour week and can count the number of non-working weekends over the last 15 years on my fingertips.
Either way, my gut tells me that while we are going to see more home or remote working than before lockdown, there will also be a drift back to the office.
Mix and match remote work
Maybe people will work from home two or three days a week and commute on the other days. Or it could be people will work one way when they need to focus on their own, and another way when close collaboration is needed.
It’s not all about me, but let’s go back to my experience in this department. I find if I only work from home, my productivity is OK, but not great.
Likewise, if I only work from an office, it’s not great either. But if I mix things up, productivity shoots up. If I have the freedom to work from home as and when the mood or my energy levels dictate, I get the best result of all.
Your experience might be different. It certainly will if you have a young family or if there’s not a lot of space at home. In those cases getting out is wise. This goes some way to explain the popularity of co-working spaces.
Which brings me to the other key point. It’s likely that many future workplaces will look and feel a lot more like co-working spaces.
Well, that’s my experience and I’ve been working this way for almost 15 years now and sporadically for periods before this one. ↩︎