Socitm’s Pioneer Challenge lets Chorley test its cloud disaster recovery plan

By Emma Marshall, ICT and programme manager, Chorley Council

Chorley has a population of 115,800 people, up 11% in the last decade and with 19% aged 65 or over. As the population grows, the pressure and demand on our council services is increasing. We need to find a way to deal with that, with less resources and less staff.

Late last year, we had both our ICT and Digital strategies approved. These outlined a three-year plan enabling us to deliver improved and efficient digital services both to our residents and also to staff. This is essential to support flexible working, but also a first step towards the full-cloud strategy that we hope to achieve in the next five years.

Because our infrastructure was out of date and redundant, we have replaced entirely the hardware in our data centre and network. With Nviron, we have implemented Dell EMC vSan Ready Nodes, with data backed up to Amazon Web Services (AWS). Previously, we had our data spread over two data centres, with our back-up stored by Lancashire County Council in Preston. By moving to the cloud, we’ve been able to get rid of that, saving a subscription – it is possible for us to get the benefits of having two data centres for the cost of one. Our data is copied to the AWS back-up, and we don’t pay for any processing unless we spin up those services in the event of a disaster.

By moving everything to a single, simple management system, all from the same manufacturer, it makes it much easier to outsource work in the future. It’s future-proofed –within a five year period the hardware will not be fit for use, so we will be looking to move everything to the cloud. It enables our services always to be available, so if members of the public want to order a garden waste bin at 2am then they will be able to do that.

Why did we win the Pioneer Challenge? It’s our belief that many IT departments across UK think that ‘if you can see it, you can fix it’, and have a fear of something in the cloud. We’ve proved that, even though we are a local authority with only 250 staff and 50 elected members, moving to the cloud is possible and can be cost-effective. We are the first user of this solution in the UK and it is working well for us.

Through the Pioneer Challenge we won US$20,000 (£15,400) of AWS credit, which we have used for consultancy and to test our data fully before we roll this out. We are still in the implementation stages, due to be completed in the next few weeks. Because we have the AWS credits, we are going to be able to spin up a full disaster recovery environment to enable our users to test those services and use them for a prolonged length of time.

This testing will give us the assurance that the system is set up properly and is all working; it gives our members the confidence that the money they spent was well worth it. Also, for 15 years, we have had one outstanding audit action where we need to be able to prove that in the event of a disaster our data can be accessible. This ticks that box.

Socitm’s Pioneer Challenge lets Chorley test its cloud disaster recovery plan

Friday roundup: A week in tech

By Max Salsbury

Fun phone firms Apple and Samsung have managed to bag themselves some big time fines for purposefully slowing their devices down.

Italian law types have hit the massive corporations for indulging in ‘planned obsolescence’ – the practice of using software updates to effectively sedate electric telephones into a state of infuriating sloth-ness, and thusly spurring aggrieved users to spend large on new handsets.

Anyway, Apple have earned themselves a €10 million fine, while Samsung have netted a more agreeable penalty of €5m.

According to the Italian authorities, the tech scoundrels offered and encouraged users to download OS upgrades without making it clear that their phones would struggle to cope with the overload of newness. Fancy that!

Samsung is ‘disappointed’ (aren’t we all!) and has proclaimed its innocence, claiming that it didn’t ‘issue any software update that reduced the Galaxy Note 4’s performance…in contrast, Samsung has always released software updates enabling our customers to have the best experience possible’.

Apple, meanwhile, hasn’t made any comments, as far as I can tell.

And it’s not over, for Apple at any rate. French prosecutors are currently going after the company for the same wretched sneakiness, with a judgement expected soon. Watch this space, if you can get the site on your phone.

***
Brazil looks like it’s soon to become the next formerly reasonably reasonable country to elect a psychotic idiot for its boss – and the grotesque event could at least in part be down to WhatsApp.

According to this BBC investigation, 120 million Brazilians use the messaging service as a sort of alternative to the social media that us lucky westerners use to help send us mad/keep us miserable – and it’s their phone numbers which are being scraped by dodgy software before they’re sent propaganda messages and added to manipulative groups.

With the enormously unpleasant Jair Bolsonaro on course to win this Sunday’s election, WhatsApp owner Facebook has claimed that it’s banned hundreds of thousands of accounts it believes are connected to a shady marketing group that is in thrall of the fascist favourite.

And guess what: all this data scraping violates Facebook’s big and continually ignored rulebook. Furthermore, it might even amount to an electoral crime, so these conspirators better watch out – remember the punishment Cambridge Analytica received? Oh, hang on.

Read the whole BBC report. One, because it’s very good/terrifying, and, two, because I don’t think I’ve done a great job of explaining what’s going on.

Another day, another headlong dive into global division and hatred. Thanks, big tech!

***

Digital versatile disc players: they conjure up such average memories of not very long ago. But, if John Lewis be a harbinger of extinction, the things could be on the way out for good.

The store has announced that it won’t be putting anymore of the devices on the shelves after its present stocks are depleted – which is fair enough as sales have dropped 40%.

With modern day folk giving up entire weekends to watch 57 episodes of the latest US drama set in a prison/drugs cartel/hospital/bathroom showroom on binge-watch outfits like Netflix and Amazon, the friendly old get-up-and-swap-a-disc-every-two-hours-or-so DVD player will soon join the VCR, Ceefax and liberal democracy in the dustbin of history.

To be fair, you’ve been able to pick up DVD players for about £20 in supermarkets for ages – though, on the whole, they seem pretty easy to break, like by turning them on.

But laser-read media fans needn’t fully despair: Blu-ray’s doing all right, so there’s still a small window of opportunity to burn a calorie or two while you get up and change discs.

Friday roundup: A week in tech

Friday roundup: A week in tech

Twitter

The good folks at Twitter have shared a gigantic heap of politically meddlesome Russian and Iranian tweets – 10 million of them to be exact: imagine sifting through that lot.

The 360GB cache of allegedly state-backed digital chicanery was posted on the silly yet popular social media network between 2013 and 2018, with a great deal of it concerning two of the most divisive events of our times: the Toblerone size-reduction scandal, and GDPR.

Only joking! I mean of course the election of President Donald Trump and the ongoing Brexit balls-up – both of which may or may not have been partly engineered by foreign Twitterizers.

A US think tank called The Atlantic Council was given early access to the heap of nonsense – and has now concluded that: ‘One main purpose was to interfere in the US presidential election and prevent Hillary Clinton’s victory but it was also aimed at dividing polarised online communities in the US, unifying support for Russia’s international interests and breaking down trust in US institutions.’

Meanwhile, interference with a more Iranian flavour was focused on spreading good news about that country’s government – although one suspect account sent out a French-language tweet that read ‘What they will never tell you about Christmas’ with a tempting link. Must have been irresistible.

In even more shocking news, the Iranians tweeted Theresa May’s name (Theresa May) a shocking 344 times, and French president Emmanuel Macron’s name an unforgivable 3,661 times!

Hang on. This is all a bit underwhelming, isn’t it? Is this how you bring down Western democracy? Through rubbish tweets?

Anyway, in vaguely related news, Russia’s state censor has ‘jokingly’ offered net users a 24-hour internet ban – you know, for a laugh.

The funny jokers at Roskomnadzor posted ‘Friends, only today and only to mark our anniversary, we are handing out one-day bans to anyone who wants them,’ adding that ‘You can then tell all of your friends that RKN itself has blocked you’.

Isn’t that hilarious. The organisation was given the power and block websites in 2012, and has in the past banned Russians’ access to evil Wikipedia and the messaging service Telegram. Still, it’s good to know they have a sense of humour about these things.

***

You know that super-fast, super-exciting 5G that’s heading our way? Well, bad news: we’ll all have to buy new phones if we want to actually use it.

To the undoubted absolute orgasm of the likes of Apple and Samsung, to access 5G tomorrow’s phones will need to have a far more complex antennae, better chipsets and increased energy resources. Naturally! Furthermore, David McQueen of ABI Research reckons that 5G-ready phones will start at around £438-£534 – and you can quite imagine that Apple, for instance, will whack £1,000 on top of that for starters.

Anyway, this interesting article from the BBC asks if people will actually bother forking out the extra cash for 5G’s rumoured pleasures.

According to Scott Petty of Vodafone, 5G ‘will kick off another wave of innovation that we haven’t seen in the last three or four years,’ which includes better virtual reality on the move – so, while at present you can only stare blankly at a small screen while the real world passes you by, in the near future you’ll be able to experience full emersion in Facebook while the sun rises and sets.

A spokesperson for Apple didn’t really say: ‘We couldn’t be happier. This is going to go on and on. After 5G comes 6G. There’s no end to it, really. We own you.’

***

The expansion of global internet access has slowed down dramatically, a report has revealed.

Shared with the Guardian (not with me, oddly), the Web Foundation’s as yet unpublished report shows that the rate at which earth humans have been getting online has dropped massively since 2015, with women and poor rural folk the groups most likely to be missing out on being insulted over Twitter.

The rate of net access growth fell from 19% in 2007 to below 6% in 2017.

Dhanaraj Thakur, research director at the Web Foundation, said: ‘We underestimated the slowdown and the growth rate is now really worrying. The problem with having some people online and others not is that you increase the existing inequalities. If you’re not part of it, you tend to lose out.’

(This is all firmly unfair and unacceptable: everyone should have access to the net. However, I can’t help but feel a little bit envious of those deprived of the web. I know this isn’t the point, but I try to find ways to spend as little time on it as possible.)

Anyway, the report warns that ‘as our daily lives become increasingly digital, these offline populations will continue to be pushed farther to the margins of society.’

Here’s a for instance: in 2016, 98.2% of Icelanders accessed the internet, but only 1.2% of Eritreans did, which is a pretty shocking disparity. Having said that, it’s freezing in Iceland so there’s probably little to do but stay inside and moan at strangers over social media, while Eritrea is quite warm, isn’t it?

Ok, I’m being flippant, but is there not something in that? I mean, when we go on holiday and lie next to sparkling swimming pools at luxurious resorts in the burning sun we don’t waste our time on the internet…oh hang on, nothing changes, does it. Yep, ok, get Eritrea some internet.

Anyhow, here’s the full Guardian story about the report they were given a sneak preview of.

Have a good weekend.

Friday roundup: A week in tech

The power of the Pioneer Challenge 

PC-Blog.png

Did you ever have an idea for a product or service you’d love to develop but never had the budget or resources to turn it into reality? Well, this could be your big chance to bring that vision to fruition.

We’ve once again teamed up with tech giant Amazon Web Services (AWS) to provide you with the means and the budget to bring your ideas to life! If your team has a plan, a scheme, a vision for your organisation’s ICT services which is going to make people’s heads spin in awe and delight, then you are ready for Socitm’s Pioneer Challenge!

The amazing AWS package – including $20,000 of credit for use on the AWS platform, monthly business reviews, free online training resources, and more – will be provided to you for free. We repeat: for free.

Chorley Council, a local authority in central Lancashire, is already reaping the benefits of being a Pioneer Challenge winner. It successfully applied for a similar AWS package earlier this year to help deliver an innovative, cost-effective back-up and disaster recovery (DR) solution never tested before in local government.

The council has chosen to deploy a new data centre at its civic offices, which will have virtual servers replicated to AWS providing low cost data storage for DR. The AWS package is being used to fund consultancy, setup and running of resources for a full DR test followed by a full active failover to AWS.

“As a council, we intend to be far more efficient and a lot more secure with our data and to get to a point where in the event of a disaster we can rely on our back-ups at AWS to continue providing vital day-to-day services to customers,” explained Asim Khan, director of customer and digital.

Khan added: “The free AWS credits we won through the Socitm’s Pioneer Challenge arrived at a critical point in our journey which has helped modernise our digital infrastructure by enabling practical testing of our DR plans.

“The application process was simple to follow and we got help throughout the process.”

Chorley Council has been working closely with AWS on the project, with Khan describing the relationship between the authority and the vendor as very positive.

“Working with AWS has been very straightforward,” said Khan. “We’ve had no issues with them. It’s been a great experience.”

If you’re interested in entering, please click here to visit the Pioneer Challenge webpage to find out how to submit your pioneering idea. Hurry, the deadline is 31 October.

The power of the Pioneer Challenge 

Friday roundup: A week in tech

Google.jpgGreedy guts Google is appealing against a huge fine – which it received for being very greedy indeed, allegedly.

Back in toasty July, the greed-busting European Commission slapped the internet-controlling firm with a £3.8 billion penalty for, that word again, allegedly manipulating the Android operating system to ‘cement its dominance’. I know! As if Google would even dream of doing such a thing!

The company’s cries of innocence fell on deaf ears at the Commission, where it is firmly believed that the tech monster insisted device manufacturers pre-install its search app, as well as having given tasty cash incentives to mobile network operators to exclusively install the same app on their devices.

At the time, the more or less openly demented US president Donald Trump denounced the fine as an attack on a brilliant, wonderful US company, or words to that effect. However, weeks later he was frothing spittle over the very same Google for fixing the internet to say bad things about him, or words to that effect. It doesn’t get any better, does it?

Despite the firm’s whining that users are not actually prevented from downloading alternative search apps on their devices, Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s competition commissioner and chief Old World Google nemesis, shrewdly pointed out that ‘once you have it, it is working, very few are curious enough to look for another search app or browser’.

Anyhow, Google’s appeal (it already has a £2.1bn fine over its shopping comparison service, inflicted by, you’ve guessed it, CC Vestager, under appeal) may take several years – by which time the search giant may well have gone safely out of business, with its rich owners living in luxurious homes under the Alps while they await a return to habitable conditions on the Earth’s service.

***

Here’s some good news. According to this probably sensationalist BBC headline (but ‘sensationalist’ in a nice way) you could have bought your last car. What, what, what?

The report reports that tech analysts reckon that within 20 years we’ll all have stopped owning cars, and the filthy internal combustion engine will be no more. Hurrah!

If, like me, you hate the sight of cars, hate sitting in traffic, despair at the exhaust-poisoned air you have to breathe, are aghast that the stupid methods of transport we’ve created are massively contributing to the demise of the Earth as a life-sustaining enterprise, then maybe you’ll be cheered, too.

Basically, an age of driverless electric cars could well be heading our way – so who’s going to bother buying, taxing, insuring, MOTing, filling with petrol-ing, having to drive in, not-being-able-to-have-a drink-and-drive-in car when you can just jump in a frequent, friendly, clean electric joy wagon? A short trip will probably cost about a penny, or maybe you’ll merely be required to perform a good deed [I’m mildly ribbing my own green delusions here].

Anyway, this nice report has lots of positive and interesting things to say about the coming tech that may or may not help to prevent us from completely devastating our environment.

(Warning: Article not suitable for angry, reactionary, BBC-hating, car-loving, ‘the-whole-world’s-against-me’ types.)

***

Microsoft’s not very good search engine is, apart from not being very good, also quite racist, it turns out.

Journalist Chris Hoffman went off on a mission (in front of his computer) and discovered that searching words such as ‘Muslims’, ‘Jews’ and ‘black people’ on Bing yielded top results that linked to mad far-right racist material.

Additionally, Mr Hoffman found that the search engine ranked nonsense conspiracy theories among its top results for other words. He wrote: ‘We all know this garbage exists on the web, but Bing shouldn’t be leading people to it with their search suggestions.’

Microsoft says it’s ‘taken action’ to address the digital carnage, which is the very least it can do – though I’m sure the move will inflame ‘freedom of speech-loving types’ who believe that being allowed to express a political opinion and start a genocidal race war are exactly the same thing.

I used Bing for a while in an attempt to prevent Google from CONTROLLING EVERY ASPECT OF MY LIFE. I recently switched to Ecosia– a nice outfit that plants trees with the ad revenue generated by users’ searches. It’s nice to feel slightly ethical as you listlessly type things like ‘uk weather’, ‘ASDA opening times’, and ‘Cush Jumbo pics’ into the search bar on yet another drab autumn eve.

***

Accomplished buffoon Kanye West has deleted his social media accounts, for the third or fourth time.

The rapper, who is fond of US president Donald Trump, decided… actually, I haven’t it in me to go on with this ‘story’. If you care at all, here: read the Mirror’s write-up. Dreadful.

***

America’s extremely expensive fighter aircraft and other weapons systems are incredibly easy to hack, a report has found.

According to the US’s Government Accountability Office (GAO), tests between 2012-2017 revealed cyber-vulnerabilities in almost every blowing-things-to-pieces system scrutinised – including the snazzy F-35 jet.

Astonishingly, the GAO discovered ridiculous things such as the bungling Pentagon not changing default passwords on multiple weapons systems, while a password that some thoughtful soul had bothered to change was guessed in nine seconds (possibly from ‘weapons_system_admin1’ to ‘weapons_system_admin2’).

Seemingly not easily alarmed security expert Ken Munro isn’t ‘at all surprised’ by the report’s disturbing revelations, claiming that it takes ages to ‘develop a weapons system, often based on iterations of much older systems. As a result, the components and software can be based on very old, vulnerable code’.

Something I might have done is have made sure all the issues were fixed before I released a publically available report detailing to my enemies/pranksters how vulnerable my defence systems are, but who cares what I think. It’s almost as if they want to be hacked. Mysterious.

***

Things look like they’re going from bad to worse over at Tesla – the outfit that generates a couple of peculiar/bananas stories a week.

With the firm’s increasingly absurd owner, Elon Musk, forced to step down as chairman of the board the favourite to replace him is – James Murdoch! Poor Tesla!

Mr Musk has kindly agreed to step aside and install a replacement chairman to keep US money regulators off his back in the wake of fraud allegations.

Earlier in the year, the weird magnate tweeted that he was planning on taking Tesla private – but then backtracked, which in the world of people who make lots of money by buying shares is a big no-no. (Sometimes it almost seems as if the financial system we live within is a woefully fragile, shambolic mess, likely to crumble to dust at the slightest pratfall.)

Perhaps the beleaguered firm can expect some better luck under Mr Murdoch? If his tenure at News Corporation is anything to go by, now might be the time to dump those Tesla shares (if you haven’t done so already).

***

You know that spitefully irritating advert in which the actor Martin Freeman debases himself for Vodafone cash on a rainy night in a car? Well, excellent news: you won’t ever see it again, at least not in its current form.

The good folk at the Advertising Standards Authority have ruled that the ad is misleading – a common theme in mobile phone and broadband marketing (in fact, a central plank of the industry’s philosophy).

In the ad, the biddable Freeman squabbles with an uncooperative mobile network supplier that won’t let him leave his contract – but, the ad goes on, at magnificent Vodafone things are different, because YOU CAN leave your contract when you want.

Except you can’t, at least not after the first 30 days, which the advert cannily fails to be very clear about; instead, a footnote of sorts alludes to a vague ’30-day service guarantee’. In fact, other networks offer a 15-day grace period, so Vodafone’s offering isn’t that noteworthy.

Anyway, a spokesperson for the firm shared these words: ‘Our “love us or leave us” 30-day service guarantee is the best in the market. We already make clear that the 30 days is from the start of a customer’s contract in our terms and conditions, and will also make sure this is totally clear in our marketing.’

And that wraps things up for another week. Have a great weekend – and please try to resist the temptation to hack into any US tank divisions for a giggle.

Friday roundup: A week in tech

Friday roundup: A week in tech

Computers.jpg

The man who gifted us the ghoulish nightmare which is the internet has announced his latest plans: a new, much better internet.

Tim Berners-Lee, for it is he, is determined to remodel the swelling catastrophe he created, and wants to give the world’s billions of internet users (or ‘victims’ as they are increasingly known) control over their own data – rather than obediently handing it all to the big tech thugs that now run everything.

Mr Berners-Lee says his new platform, Solid, can give users ownership of their digital materials, deciding which apps can access what, while improving privacy and so on. And that sounds like a very good thing to me.

It’s probably best to hear what the man himself has to say. In a blog post, he wrote: ‘…for all the good we’ve achieved, the web has evolved into an engine of inequity and division; swayed by powerful forces who use it for their own agendas. Today, I believe we’ve reached a critical tipping point, and that powerful change for the better is possible — and necessary.’

Give this man a promotion. Read his blog piece – it’s great.

And his words were well-timed: the day before, shambolic, data-voracious horror-show Facebook admitted it’d managed to foul up for the 1000thtime, with the details of 50 million users accessed during a data breach.

Another day, another bungled mess. Here’s to Internet Part 2!

***

From one great, ethical, forward-thinking mind to…the polar opposite.

Deceit specialist Alex Jones is suing PayPal after the firm blocked his abysmal conspiracy-splattered website, InfoWars.

Mr Jones alleges that PayPal’s ban is ‘viewpoint discrimination’, and is part of a wider Silicon Valley plot to proscribe so-called ‘conservative views’ – though I’m sure the company should be able to successfully argue it merely doesn’t want to be associated with t**ts.

After all, when the firm stopped processing payments for InfoWars earlier this year it justified the move by pointing out that the outfit was in breach of its terms covering the promotion of hate and violence. And that’s InfoWars’ is all about, isn’t it?

Meanwhile, Mr Jones himself is also being sued by some of the parents of children murdered in the Sandy Hook school massacre, an event Mr Jones insists was faked – a mad claim that has led to horrific levels of harassment aimed at the victims’ families.

Another day, another disgusting mess. Here’s to Internet Part 2!

***

If you like using the internet to search for Kim Kardashian news, I’m very sorry to hear that.

Actually, there’s more. If you like using the internet to search for Kim Kardashian news, you should be careful – for the woman is apparently the most dangerous person to look for on the internet.

According to cybersecurity specialist McAfee, search results containing Mrs Kardashian’s name (Kim Kardashian) link to more sites riddled with malicious nastiness than any other (even more than Boris Johnson, amazingly).

Last year’s top spot for sites-containing-a-celebrity-name-that-have-malware-on-them went to Craig David – so, it seems there’s a link between online peril and mediocrity.

And the bland theme continues: other famous people whose names pose a threat in search results include Adele, Kourtney Kardashian, Caroline Flack and Simon Bates (I made the last one up).

Rai Samani, McAfee’s chief scientist, said: ‘There’s endless opportunities to pick and choose which entertainment options we prefer to enjoy from a variety of connected devices. With Kim Kardashian’s influence and business ventures, people will go to extreme lengths to be a little more like Kim.’

So, take care when you’re searching for your favourite famous faces over the weekend. Or go out instead.

Friday roundup: A week in tech