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Vodafone TV — television in the cloud

Vodafone TVYou need a fast fibre connection to use the new-look Vodafone TV. Less than 100Mbps won’t cut it. That means a UFB connection or Vodafone’s own FibreX alternative.

You also need a Vodafone broadband account. The service is company exclusive. CEO Russell Stanners says he hopes customers who like the look of Vodafone TV will reward his company with their business.

Vodafone has offered a TV service for some time. Its 2013 earlier incarnation was, in effect, a version of Sky TV’s My Box reworked for the internet.

The new version is something else. The hardware is a puck-sized box packaged with a remote control. In some ways it is like Apple TV.

It’s not about the hardware

There’s not much to the hardware because there doesn’t need to be much. The cloud does all the heavy lifting. An Amazon server stores all TV shows, movies and other video. It could be in Australia, but it could be anywhere in the world.

Cloud storage has the vast catalogue of material and the user’s own saved program choices.

There are also mobile clients for phones and tablets. Stanners says, you might be sitting at home watching the All Blacks test on a large screen before going on a trip.

When your taxi arrives, you can press pause on the big display. Load yourself in the car and resume watching the game from the point where you stopped en route to the airport. Pause again, dump your bags and find a seat in the lounge before getting back to watching the game on your tablet.

Stanners says the experience is seamless and brings all the screens together. Vodafone wasn’t able to show the hand-off at the Auckland event to show off the product. Yet staff were able to show how well Vodafone TV works on big screens and on mobiles. It is impressive and like all impressive technology has a faint whiff of magic about it.

Reverse electronic programme guide

Using the cloud has other advantages. There’s no likelihood of running out of local storage. And there’s a powerful reverse electronic programme guide.

This makes it easy to find the shows you want. One neat twist is you can use your mobile phone to cue big screen content. It’s a form of on-demand programming. Armed with the reverse programme guide, you can search back through the last week or so to find shows that you may have missed. The actual timespan wasn’t discussed.

Vodafone TV uses the company’s proprietary intellectual property. The company has a similar product in parts of Europe. Stanners says there has been a huge amount of local input into the service on sale here. Not least, is the work clearing the rights with content owners to build the reverse electronic programme guide.

Vodafone TV: made for Sky merger

The TV-as-a-service product was already in the pipeline when Vodafone planned to merge with Sky. It shows what Vodafone was able to bring to the party. Sky, meanwhile, owns the bulk of content. It will all be there on Vodafone TV, but it’s isn’t an exclusive relationship. The device is able to run apps and from day one there will be Netflix, YouTube and content from Mediaworks. TVNZ will join them soon after.

Vodafone was coy about the precise launch date and the cost. Stanners says it will be soon. There was a whisper at the event that soon means the next week or two. We could have the new Vodafone TV before we have a government.

He wouldn’t talk prices, but Stanners says they will be competitive. Again, the word around the event is that it won’t be expensive. There will be add-ons, some premium content and extras like Netflix subscriptions. At this stage customers will have to buy Netflix themselves, but Vodafone may yet offer it.

Party-on dudes

It doesn’t stop there. Stanners says one advantage of Vodafone’s approach is it makes distribution easy for smaller content providers. He says that means we could see the emergence of Wayne’s World-like niche channels.

The event made it clear there is still a strong relationship between Vodafone and Sky. Vodafone TV delivers most of what a merged operation could have achieved. It does so without causing regulatory ripples. There is no legal compulsion for Sky to offer the same content to other broadband suppliers.

Vodafone TV puts the company in a strong competitive position. It should be able to grow its share of the broadband market. Yet even with stellar growth it will struggle to match Sky’s satellite reach. It goes places fibre doesn’t.

Fibre is important to Vodafone TV. You need a solid, fast, reliable connection for it to work.

Chorus and the other fibre companies have graphs that show how fibre uptake took-off. It happened first when Spark introduced Lightbox. Then, again, when Netflix opened in New Zealand. There were two clear inflection points.

Inflection point

It wasn’t only uptake. The graphs also showing how much data users download. These also turned corners at the inflection moments. Expect a similar effect as Vodafone TV kicks in.

Close Vodafone watchers may have spotted a theme with the company in recent months. Vodafone group product director Sally Fuller was in town earlier this year. The main thrust of her presentation was that we’re moving to: “Everything-as-a-service”. She says the ownership of things is on the way out, instead we buy outcomes.

This is something you could miss in Vodafone’s TV announcement. Yes, it is a flash new product. It has the capacity to delight customers and win business from rivals.

At the same time it is another step closer to “everything-as-a-service”. This is the future world Vodafone refers to in its advertising. Vodafone TV is more than a product, it is a strategy.

Public Wi-Fi plus cloud file sharing « The Diversity Blog 

Ben Kepes writes about an infosec panic:

Bitglass, a company that is all about protecting organizational data, wanted to see the impacts of widespread use of public wi-fi, alongside the use of unsanctioned file sharing solutions…

…Bitglass’ threat research team tested two real-world scenarios—public wi-fi use and sharing of data from within a cloud app. The assumption being that the combination of public (and, one assumes, at-risk) wi-fi and cloud file sharing apps (shock, horror, cue the “cloud is risky” FUD) would deliver a double blow of cataclysmic risk.

Source: Public WiFi plus cloud file sharing: A recipe for InfoSec panic? « The Diversity Blog 

Kepes goes on to talk about his experience of using public wi-fi. He says he uses it a lot and never runs into trouble.

That makes sense. But it misses something. Kepes is motivated. He owns a business. He has enough experience, knowledge and sense to steer clear of obvious traps.

You, I and Kepes might be sensible. You can’t assume everyone using an enterprise computing app on a mobile device will be as careful or as savvy.

No amount of training or awareness programmes changes that.

Public wi-fi, risky, not too risky

Organisations are at risk from careless use of public wi-fi. As Kepes points out the level of risk might not be high.

There is a simple way to deal with the risk. Build VPN functionality into every heavy-duty mobile enterprise app. That way that users have a secure, encrypted end-to-end link from their mobile device to the server handling their data.

VPNs are not expensive, they are not hard to build. They don’t impose much of a performance overhead.

Enterprise software companies can absorb the cost, a few cents per month, into their pricing model. It makes sense to guarantee security with an insurance policy against data being hijacked between a mobile device and the server.

Kepes’ point, is spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt undermines cloud computing. In general, cloud is more secure than older computing models. You might not expect cloud infrastructure vendors to address mobile access risks; it should be a priority for an enterprise SaaS business.

Nothing nebulous about Microsoft’s cloud transition

Four years ago Microsoft lost its mojo. The software giant had failed to compete in web search.

People questioned whether Microsoft was on an IBM-style path to irrelevance. When the phone business flopped, it looked like Microsoft’s time in the sun was over.

Today it is back. The 2017 Microsoft is a different beast, the main reason for its revival is a successful transition to selling cloud computing services. Microsoft’s rebirth isn’t yet on the same scale as Apple which came back with the iPhone, but that can still happen.

This week Microsoft reported quarterly profits that are more than twice the level of a year earlier.

It’s not all good news. Some of the jump was down to the company realising a tax benefit after writing off its failed mobile phone business.

Fast growing cloud transition

Yet that’s the past The important part of the quarterly announcement is that Microsoft’s cloud business is growing at a clip. That was enough to send the share price up three percent.

This wasn’t the first quarter where Microsoft’s cloud business was the star of the show. It’s been climbing for years now. In the latest quarter Intelligent Cloud revenue was up 11 percent to US$7.4 billion. Revenue for the company’s Azure cloud services was up almost 100 percent.

While Azure still trails behind Amazon Web Services, there is clear blue sky between Microsoft and the next set of cloud service providers. Being second in the most important market of the day is a huge win for Microsoft.

Azure profits

At the same time, cloud economics means it is close to a winner takes all game. Amazon and Azure share almost all the cloud profits.

The other cloudy good news from Microsoft is that revenue from the cloud version of Office 365 went past traditional software sales for the first time. There are now 90 million Office 365 users on iOS and Android. That is a big thumbs up for CEO Satya Nadella’s decision to support non-Microsoft operating systems.

Although Microsoft is doing a better job of transforming than rivals like IBM, Oracle or Google, it isn’t in the clear yet. Sales of Surface devices fell two percent during the quarter. Meanwhile enterprise service revenues fell. Yet it appears to be keeping pace with AWS, that’s something no-one else can manage.

How to choose the right cloud storage plan

Cloud storage means you can have fast access to all your important data no matter where you, no matter which device you are using at the time.

It is good for storing and sharing files. That’s important if you now find yourself working at home and need to collaborate with remote colleagues.

You can use cloud storage for Word or other written documents, PDFs, spreadsheets and photos or anything else that is a digital file.

Cloud storage means you can access all your work files, even when you’re not at the office.

Your files are safe. Even if something terrible happens to your computer, phone or tablet, they will still be there in the cloud.

If you don’t already use a cloud storage service, you should think about it. You’ll get an added layer of protection for your important files. But first, take time to check you are not paying to store junk data.

You may already have cloud storage

There’s a chance you already have cloud storage. Limited free services are part of the deal when you buy an Apple computer or pay for a Microsoft Office 365 subscription. Google’s Gmail and Docs services come with a healthy helping of free cloud storage.

Free storage is good. It may be enough for your needs. Yet it’s often worth paying for more.

That way you can get the cloud storage plan that best suits your needs. When you pay, you get more storage. You may also get more features and tools or extra security.

In some cases paying means you can not only store more data, but also store larger files. There may also be better ways to share them with friends or colleagues.

Microsoft OneDrive

OneDrive is Microsoft’s default cloud storage and synching service for Windows 10 and Office. It integrates well with the operating system. It also works well with Office.

If you’re a Microsoft 365 customer you get 1TB of OneDrive storage with your account.

If not, there is a free 5GB basic version of OneDrive. That’s barely enough to get you started, but it will give you a taste or what OneDrive can do.

Microsoft sells a 100GB of OneDrive cloud storage for NZ$3 a month.

OneDrive comes with a comprehensive set of cloud tools and apps. This includes web versions of Office apps like Word and Excel. In practice OneDrive seems to be slower at syncing than the other options listed here.

If you use Windows and Office, OneDrive has to be the first service you should consider.

While there are apps for iOS and MacOS, the integration isn’t always smooth.

Apple iCloud

Apple customers often use iCloud in a different way to the way Microsoft owners use OneDrive. iCloud is more about syncing between devices than simple storage. Although it does that too.

If you own Apple hardware and use Microsoft software you may end up using both iCloud and OneDrive.

Every Apple customer gets 5GB of iCloud for free. It’s not enough for serious use, but does show you what to expect if you pay.

A 50GB plan costs NZ$1.69 a month. It should be enough for a light user. There’s a 200GB plan for NZ$5 a month. This is ideal if you have a lot of files or if you plan to share your iCloud account with family members. Families who get through a lot of data can buy the 2TB plan for $17 a month.

iCloud is a must for Apple users. You only get one 5GB allocation even if you have many devices. If you have a Mac, iPhone and iPad you may find it isn’t enough. Windows users can sign for any iCloud plan.

Apple designed iCloud to work with Apple apps. That is still where it shines the most. You may not even notice you are using it, the experience is that seamless.

iCloud is easy to install on Windows computers and there is a great web interface.

Google Drive

There’s more to Google Drive than cloud storage and sync. You could say the same about OneDrive and iCloud. Those services complement Microsoft software and Apple hardware offerings.

Drive goes further. It is a key part of Google’s collaborative online office suite along with Google Docs and Google Sheets. The emphasis is less on backing up your phone or PC docs than replacing them in the cloud.

Google Drive’s 15GB is generous compared to the other cloud storage services. Yet it is not as generous as it first looks. The allowance includes mail messages and images stored with Google Photos.

Some find Google Drive harder to navigate than OneDrive. Of the three big services, it is the least geared towards conventional back up. In practice backup works well enough.

Google Drive is a must if you own an Android phone or a Chromebook. You can’t avoid if you work with Gmail or Google Docs.

Dropbox

Dropbox is the independent alternative personal cloud service. You get less free storage but it’s independence means flexibility. You’re not tied to anything. In practice it is the best way to share files with others when you don’t know what technology they use.

In some respects Dropbox is simpler than the services mentioned above. That’s a good thing, it does one job and does it well. The main drawback is that paid Dropbox accounts are expensive. Prices start at US$15 a month.

You can connect to Dropbox via the web, but there’s some pressure to download and use an app to handle uploads and download. In practice I found the app is not as reliable as the web service, it some cases data transfers to the cloud could take more than a day when uploaded using the app.

Box

Box is expensive compared to the other services here. It’s easy to use and the free service is generous. For these reasons along you should look at it.

Mega

New Zealand-based Mega has a generous 15GB free allowance. It’s main claim to fame is that you get end-to-end encryption, which is an added layer of security and privacy. If you want to store private documents online, this is the service for you.

In practice I found Mega requires a little more work than the services from Google, Apple and Microsoft that integrate with apps. Yet it is on a par with Box and Dropbox.

Personal cloud storage services compared
ServiceWhat you get for freeStoragePrice
Apple iCloud5GB50GBNZ$20
200GBNZ$60
2TBNZ$200
Microsoft OneDrive5GB100GBNZ$36
Office 365 Home 1TB is includedNZ$80
Google Drive15GB 100GBUS$20
Storage shared between 2TBUS$120
Drive, Gmail, Google+ and Google Photos10TBUS$1200
20TBUS$2400
30TBUS$3600
Dropbox2GB3TBUS$200
Box10GB100GBUS$60
UnlimitedUS$180
Mega50GB400GBNZ$100
2TBNZ$200
8TBNZ$400
All prices in US dollars unless it says otherwise, annualised and prices rounded to nearest sensible number

Oracle takes cloud shortcut, overpays for Netsuite

Oracle paid US$9.3 billion in cash to buy Netsuite; a cloud ERP company. The move will help bring the database giant up-to-speed in the market for cloud business apps.

It needed a boost. Oracle dismissed cloud computing in the past and has been slow at getting onboard.

While Amazon and Microsoft were busy building cloud portfolios, Oracle still pushed on-premise computing.

As reported in The New York Times, the deal beefs up the database giant’s cloud offering.

Oracle will pay $109 per NetSuite share in cash, according to a news release issued by Oracle on Thursday. That represents a 19 percent premium above NetSuite’s closing price on Wednesday.

No surprise over Netsuite

The deal surprises no-one. Netsuite has always been close to Oracle. Perhaps too close. An ex-Oracle executive founded Netsuite. Its CEO also worked for Oracle. Oracle boss Larry Ellison provided capital in Netsuite’s early days. He remained a significant shareholder with about 40 percent of the company’s stock.

Some will raise eyebrows at the price Oracle paid. Many in the tech sector think Netsuite stock was overvalued.

It won’t help conspiracy theorists that Ellison pockets US$3.5 billion from the deal.

Yet as Ben Kepes writes in Computerworld:

Oracle was quick to inform the world that the deal was decided upon by a subcommittee consisting of only independent directors of the company.

The news may not be good for customers. Oracle has a history of putting the price squeeze on customers after an acquisition. Not only that, but it has a rigid, old-school approach to licenses, renewals and support. Netsuite has always belonged to the more approachable SaaS world.

Nor is it good news for employees. Oracle has a reputation for brutal efficiency when culling staff after a take-over.

Still, Oracle does acquisitions better than most technology companies of its scale. You can expect the new owner to sniff out the value propositions, repackage them and get them to market fast. The deal will also speed Oracle’s own cloud transformation.