Eyes on APAC

March 22, 2019  8:33 AM

Is open source lock-in possible?

Aaron Tan Aaron Tan Profile: Aaron Tan

Earlier this week, open source software company Suse announced that it is strengthening its presence in the Asia-Pacific region following its acquisition by growth investor EQT from Micro Focus.

Well-known for its Suse Linux distro that got me into Linux during my student years, Suse faces strong competition from its bigger US rival Red Hat.

The two open source software companies have similar offerings, starting with Linux for the infrastructure piece, to container orchestration and OpenStack in the platform layer. But unlike Red Hat, which has Red Hat Ansible under its fold, Suse does not appear to have a commercial version of the Ansible open source automation tool.

In its public communications on its APAC expansion plans, Suse took the chance to stake the claim that it is now the industry’s largest independent open source company – in light of Red Hat’s impending acquisition by IBM.

During a recent meeting with Suse executives, Andy Jiang, Suse’s vice president for Asia-Pacific and Japan, touted the company’s independence and claimed it would not lock users into its platform unlike other open source rivals.

While Jiang did not provide specific examples of how its rivals were locking in enterprises, any open source company that does so will be going against the ethos of free and open source software, that is, users have the freedom to choose an open source vendor and switch suppliers easily if things don’t work out.

Of course, as commercial open source software vendors, the likes of Red Hat and Suse are concerned with profitability and have the right to employ ways to maintain their customer base.

But they should base those efforts on their innovation chops and strength of their service and support offerings, and not try to lock a user to their platform – like Apple does with its ecosystem. After all, isn’t open source software supposed to be open and interoperable regardless of which platform you choose?

Have you been locked into – or felt like you were being locked into – an open source platform by a commercial open source vendor? Tell us more in the comments!

March 8, 2019  5:41 AM

Getting farmers up to speed with farm tech

Aaron Tan Aaron Tan Profile: Aaron Tan

Improving crop yield using artificial intelligence (AI) has been a hot topic as researchers and tech suppliers cast their sights on an industry that isn’t exactly the forerunners in applying technology.

Earlier this year, Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and rural technology start-up Digital Agriculture Services (DAS) launched a new platform that uses AI and cloud-based geospatial technology to deliver farm data and analytics to farmers.

Called the Rural Intelligence Platform, it is the first of its kind that can assess and monitor rural land anywhere in Australia, drawing on information from trusted data sources on productivity, water access, yield, land use, crop type, rainfall, drought impact and more.

More recently, IBM announced a two-year research collaboration with Thailand’s National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA) to improve the yield of sugarcane in Thailand, the world’s second largest exporter of sugar.

With domain support from Mitr Phol, the largest supplier of sugar in Asia, IBM and NSTDA will pilot an AI-driven intelligent dashboard called Agronomic Insights Assistant to provide insights on crop health, soil moisture, pest and disease infestation risk, expected yield and commercial cane sugar (CCS) index by leveraging weather data.

The dashboard will also make use of local sensing technology customised and enhanced for sugarcane farming in Thailand by NSTDA to deliver those insights.

For a start, it will be piloted in the middle of this year on three sugarcane farms of up to one-million-square-meter. If things go well, farmers may be granted access to information that can help them assess and manage risks early, optimise productivity and ultimately increase their crop yield.

With insights up to two weeks in advance and alerts on pests and diseases, stem borer and white leaf risk, hyper-local, short-term, and seasonal weather forecasts, it is expected that farmers will be able to plan specific actions such as irrigation, fertiliser application, and pesticide spray proactively to fight against threat of yield loss.

While the objectives of a growing number of digital agriculture projects are commendable, given that  agricultural development is critical for reducing poverty in developing countries, these technology solutions must be affordable and cost-effective to farmers in the longer term if there’s going to be widespread adoption.

Rather than go it all alone, technology suppliers like IBM could work with the likes of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to achieve economies of scale and drive down costs for individual farms.

The ADB has been championing the use of technology to improve farm yield, potentially becoming a unifying force not only to fund projects, but also to bring together different players to overcome barriers to technology adoption in agriculture.

These include the lack of coordination across data producers, weak methodological processes, limited human and capital infrastructure, inadequate capacities to collect and analyse data from a policy perspective, and poor-quality metadata and dissemination tools.

February 22, 2019  7:55 AM

Google opens developer space in Singapore

Aaron Tan Aaron Tan Profile: Aaron Tan

Inspired by the cafes in Silicon Valley that developers hang out at to meet fellow coders and potential employers, Google has opened a similar space at its Asia-Pacific headquarters in Singapore for the developer community in Southeast Asia.

The first of its kind for Google in the region, the 7,200 square feet space is configurable to suit different needs, whether it’s machine learning workshops or conferences of up to 200 participants, said Sami Kizilbash, Google’s programme manager for developer ecosystem in Southeast Asia.

With food being served freely at Google offices and campuses around the globe, the space also features a micro-kitchen that serves food for hungry developers, complete with catering support for events.

And needless to say, developers working at the space will also get easy access to Google’s resources, including its people, programs, network and technologies.

Lending support to Google’s new developer space was Singapore’s minister of communications and information S. Iswaran, who noted at an opening event that the new facility will augment the country’s efforts to boost the digital capabilities of Singapore-based firms.

These efforts include the TechSkills Accelerator programme to train existing IT pros and people aspiring to join the tech sector, as well as the AI apprenticeship programme announced in August 2018.

The networking opportunities afforded by Google’s developer space will also encourage sharing of ideas and collaboration, enabling local enterprises and talent to become more innovative and competitive, Iswaran said.

The investment that Google is making in its new developer space underscores the company’s growing efforts to lure more developers to create applications on its platform rather than that of its rivals.

It is also doing so in areas where it has a competitive edge, particularly in AI and machine learning. In November 2018, it organised a machine learning bootcamp and has since hosted more than 1,200 developers at the new space.

While the battle for developer mindshare among tech companies has been hotting up for some time now, Google’s latest salvo bodes well for Singapore which has been pitching itself as a magnet and breeding ground for high-quality technology talent in Asia and beyond.

February 12, 2019  8:27 AM

Live from Singapore – can two AI bots fall in love?

Aaron Tan Aaron Tan Profile: Aaron Tan

In the run-up to Valentine’s Day, toothpaste brand Closeup has teamed up with MullenLowe, a Singapore creative agency, to discover if love can overcome all boundaries (even firewalls), with a unique experiment to discover whether two AI bots can fall in love.

The two bots, Sol and Num, were developed based on Microsoft’s Bot framework and Amazon Lex respectively.

What will happen when we bring them together? Will they bicker? Will they fall in love?

Click on the image below to watch the live feed of their conversations at The Arts House @ Old Parliament, Singapore, and stay tuned for the final result of the experiment!


February 1, 2019  5:45 AM

Malaysia mulls over Huawei’s role in 5G networks

Aaron Tan Aaron Tan Profile: Aaron Tan

Malaysia has become the latest country to look into the security concerns surrounding Huawei, which has been accused by mostly western powers of conducting corporate espionage and potentially installing backdoors for the Chinese government.

Earlier this week, Malaysia’s communications and multimedia minister Gobind Singh Deo, said the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) is working on a report on the matter before the government decides if it will ban the use of Huawei’s equipment on 5G networks.

“When it comes to 5G, there are many views that have been put forward. The focus is for us to study the system and to make sure the system is secure because we anticipate this is a technology that is going to change things in the years to come,” he told local media.

Huawei has repeatedly denied the security allegations, noting that it has been adopting a “whiter than white” approach to alleviate security concerns, such as undergoing third-party certification of its hardware, software and solutions.

“If we look at the results of those certifications, we can clearly see over the past 30 years, Huawei and Huawei’s equipment has maintained a very solid and correct record in our industry when it comes to cyber security. We have never had a serious cyber security incident for our equipment,” Huawei rotating chairman Ken Hu said in December 2018.

Noting that Huawei is a private company owned by its employees, Hu said it has never taken any requests from any governments to damage the business or networks of customers or other countries.

“The fact is that over the last 30 years, there’s been no major cyber security incident; there’s been no cyber security threat; and there’s been no evidence showing that Huawei is damaging cyber security. And we’ll continue to take proactive communication engagement and also open collaboration so more and more people will be able to realise this.”

On the backdoor issue, Hu deferred to a spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China who has formally clarified that no law in China requires companies to install mandatory backdoors.

“Of course, just like the US and Australia, China also has certain legal requirements for counter terrorism or cyber security objectives,” Hu added. “China also specially emphasises that all government institutions or agencies must enforce the law according to the law. There are clear definitions.

“For Huawei, our approach is to address these issues in strict accordance to the law. In the past, we haven’t received any requests to provide improper information. In the future, we will also follow in strict accordance to the law in dealing with similar situations. When we talk about according to the law, the law has clear stipulations around the terms of reference for related agencies.”

In Malaysia, where Huawei has a growing presence through its consumer products and public sector partnerships in areas such as cyber security, the government’s 5G decision, following the release of the MCMC report, will have to take into consideration Malaysia’s 5G roadmap and how its ties with the Chinese company will be affected.

January 25, 2019  5:12 AM

Singapore’s growing cyber security influence in ASEAN

Aaron Tan Aaron Tan Profile: Aaron Tan

At a recent event marking the launch of Trend Micro’s regional headquarters in Singapore this week, the company’s executives cited Singapore’s vision and influence over ASEAN in cyber security matters as one of the reasons for choosing the city-state as its regional hub.

Yet, it was only in 2015 when the government set up the Cyber Security Agency (CSA), about two years after a series of high-profile defacements of Singapore websites – including that of the prime minister’s office – that cyber security was cast into the spotlight in Singapore.

How then, did Singapore go from not having a central agency to coordinate cyber security efforts that were taking place across various security agencies, to becoming a regional thought leader that has been attracting cyber security firms to invest more in the city-state?

Having the willpower and foresight to bring together planning and development functions related to cyber security across the government under a single agency in the prime minister’s office certainly helps, but the impetus lies in Singapore’s highly connected economy and pervasive use of technology in critical sectors like financial services.

Not acting fast enough to put cyber security among the top of the national agenda would have negative impact on investor confidence and the economy, given that Singapore is a regional business hub where many multinational companies have based their Asian headquarters.

That in turn drives greater demand for cyber security expertise at all levels, turning Singapore into a top magnet for such talent in both public and private sectors, and propelling Singapore into its cyber security leadership position in ASEAN.

A more cyber secure ASEAN is good for all member states, including Singapore. Besides supporting efforts by ASEAN countries, dialogue partners and various CERT (Computer Emergency Response Team) mechanisms to boost cyber security in the region, Singapore has also been running the annual ASEAN CERT Incident Drill for more than a decade.

In addition, Singapore plays a facilitating role as the Voluntary Lead Shepherd under the auspices of the ASEAN Senior Officials Meeting on Transnational Crime/ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Transnational Crime.

In 2016, it invested S$10m in the ASEAN Cyber Capacity programme to enhance the region’s cyber security capacity and capabilities, and currently hosts the Interpol Global Complex for Innovation, a key node in Asia to support international cyber crime-fighting operations and build regional capacity to counter cyber crime.

Singapore’s influence in cyber security will continue to grow over time, not only in ASEAN but also on the international stage. As a testament to that, CSA’s CEO David Koh was conferred the first Billington Cyber Security International Leadership Award in March 2018 for his leadership in cyber security and contributions in strengthening cyber security in Singapore.

Koh has also made significant contributions towards shaping international and regional cooperation on cyber norms of behaviour and cyber capacity building. Under his leadership, Singapore was ranked number one in the International Telecommunication Union’s Global Cybersecurity Index (GCI) for 2017.

January 18, 2019  6:20 AM

Australia’s CSIRO unveils AI platform to improve off-farm decision making

Aaron Tan Aaron Tan Profile: Aaron Tan

Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and rural technology start-up Digital Agriculture Services (DAS) have launched a new platform that uses artificial intelligence, machine learning and cloud-based geospatial technology to deliver farm data and analytics to farmers.

Called the Rural Intelligence Platform, it is the first of its kind that can assess and monitor rural land anywhere in Australia, drawing on information from trusted data sources on productivity, water access, yield, land use, crop type, rainfall, drought impact and more.

The platform uses satellite imagery to track paddocks and their performance over time. Information from Australia’s digital soil map is incorporated and climate information interpreted to show drought, frost, heat stress for livestock and other risks.

Michael Robertson, CSIRO’s agriculture and food deputy director, noted that the platform will help the agribusiness community calculate the risks associated with certain investments or management decisions.

According to DAS estimates, A$125bn worth of agricultural economic decisions are made in Australia each year based on unreliable or incomplete data.

“The platform provides accurate information that can help to identify vulnerability or the most promising options for investment that will build resilience,” Robertson said. “This is a whole new model for rural analytics which will make it easier to quantify risk and prepare for challenges like climate volatility and change.”

Since it was established in partnership with CSIRO in 2017, Melbourne-based DAS has secured a total of A$4.25m in funding from founding equity and R&D partner CSIRO, Australian ASX-listed agribusiness Ruralco and private investors.

DAS is already working closely with a number of companies to pilot the Rural Intelligence Platform, with some of the strongest uptake coming from the property, financial services and insurance sectors.

“Digital agriculture is far more than just on-farm technology, it’s also about improving off-farm decision making and this platform lays the foundation for Australia to become a leader in new generation agricultural analytics,” DAS CEO Anthony Willmott said.

The market for digital agriculture in the Asia-Pacific region is estimated to be worth A$10bn to A$25bn billion by 2028, fueled by pressure to meet challenges from population growth and climate change.

January 11, 2019  8:27 AM

COI report offers stark reminder on cyber hygiene

Aaron Tan Aaron Tan Profile: Aaron Tan

The Singapore government’s Committee of Inquiry (COI) that looked into the unprecedented cyber attack on SingHealth’s IT systems released a public report this week, detailing security lapses leading to the incident as well as recommendations to improve the public healthcare group’s cyber defences.

Although made in the aftermath of the attack and tailored to the operational environment of SingHealth, the recommendations included in the 425-page report equally apply to any organisation looking to shore up its cyber hygiene.

These include viewing cyber security as a risk management issue and not just a technical one, plugging security gaps in the network and end-point devices, enhancing employee awareness of cyber security, securing privileged accounts and boosting incident response processes.

Now, anyone in cyber security would appreciate the COI’s recommendations, but it is widely known that many organisations do not always adhere to them for various reasons, whether it is complacency on the part of management and cyber security teams, or the lack of resources.

In SingHealth’s case, it was a combination of factors – including the startling fact that a non-IT staff was tasked with managing the compromised server – that gave the perpetrators leeway to execute the typical cyber kill chain: infecting a PC with malware via spear phishing, establishing connections with C2 servers, and making lateral movements across a network before exfiltrating data.

While what happened to SingHealth was unfortunate, the incident – and the COI report – serves as stark reminder for organisations to take cyber security more seriously, and to avoid the fallacy that it could never happen to them. Remember, it takes just one loophole or an oversight for an attacker to breach a system.

December 19, 2018  7:33 AM

Will 2019 be the year of the blockchain?

Aaron Tan Aaron Tan Profile: Aaron Tan

The plummeting prices of bitcoin may have dampened the mood of cryptocurrency investors, but that has not stopped proponents of the underlying blockchain technology from deploying real-world blockchain applications.

In 2018, more businesses across the Asia-Pacific region such as SunMoon started rolling out blockchain-based platforms to track their produce and other goods, and more importantly, to capture real-time information on order fulfilments and product quality.

Earlier in the year, Singapore-based Global eTrade Services (Gets) had also launched an open trade blockchain (OTB) network to boost cross-border trade between China and the rest of Asia.

These developments are expected to continue in the new year. However, in the IT realm, there are other areas that will be affected as blockchain becomes more prominent in 2019.

Traditional backup, for one, will give way to hyper-converged solutions, according to Ravi Rajendran, managing director for Asia South at Veritas Technologies.

Convergence will occur between compliance, protection and security as businesses continue to address risks and exploit opportunity with the data they have access to. In the coming year, organisations that can effectively leverage blockchain will be the clear winners as technologies continue to converge.

“This makes blockchain ripe for the backup and recovery market because it can touch all pieces of data, stored in any location, Rajendran said.

“As long as data exists, the need to tap into that data will also exist – but who has access to this data will be the real determinant of blockchain’s power,” he added.

To that, Rajendran said individuals will need to be able to delete their data and access it when they like. Organisations will also want to use insights from the data to explore new opportunities. At the same time, both parties should be concerned with any threats from third parties, he said.

“Blockchain can provide a solution that enables all of the above. But before it can be widely adopted, factors such as people, legality, business, culture and more will need to be well aligned.

“In 2019, we will see more innovators experimenting with blockchain use cases that demonstrate many of the blockchain data protection benefits.”

Will 2019 be the year of the blockchain? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section below!

November 28, 2018  12:00 PM

China is growth engine for mobile data traffic

Aaron Tan Aaron Tan Profile: Aaron Tan

Being the world’s largest mobile market, China has unsurprisingly topped the charts when it comes to the growth in mobile data traffic.

According to the latest figures from Ericsson, mobile data traffic in China during the third quarter of 2018 grew close to 79% year-on-year – the highest rate since 2013.

In fact, the increased data-traffic-per-smartphone in Northeast Asia – mainly in China – has pushed the global figure notably higher.

And with traffic growth per smartphone of around 140% between end 2017 and end 2018, Northeast Asia has the second highest data traffic per smartphone at 7.3GB per month. This is comparable to streaming HD video for around 10 hours per month.

The appetite for mobile data is likely to increase once the first 5G networks are ready.

In Northeast Asia, 5G subscriptions are forecast to account for over 43% percent of mobile subscriptions by the end of 2024.

Among enterprises, the uptake of NB-IoT and LTE Cat-M1 technologies will also drive the growth in the number of cellular IoT connections worldwide.

Of the 4.1 billion cellular IoT connections forecast for 2024, Northeast Asia is expected to account for 2.7 billion – a figure reflecting both the ambition and size of the cellular IoT market in this region.

Industry players have certainly taken note of the huge potential of 5G in China.

Ericsson, for example, had teamed up with Intel, China Mobile Research Institute and China Mobile Jiangsu Company to make the first multi-vendor standalone (SA) 5G New Radio (NR) call in June 2018, accelerating the commercial deployment of standard-based 5G networks.

More recently, rival Nokia announced that it has signed three separate agreements worth more than €2bn with China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom.

Under the agreements, Nokia will deploy technologies and services to improve performance in fixed and mobile broadband networks across China.

Mike Wang, president of Nokia Shanghai Bell, said: “We are excited to continue our close collaboration with these important customers in China, to drive new levels of network performance as they transition toward 5G.

“Leveraging the breadth of our end-to-end network and services capabilities, we will work closely with China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom to deploy technologies that meet their specific business needs.”

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