Digital Wellbeing: Maintaining A Healthy Tech-Life Balance
Feb 24, 2021
The overwhelming digitization of our daily lives doesn’t come entirely free of charge, howsoever loved and praised.
For a while now, there were signs of tech integration taking its toll on people’s mental health. Today, it’s time that each of us takes a closer look at the issue as the global community has finally noticed the elephant in the room, giving it proper attention.
To address it, a new term has been coined – digital well-being.
What is it? Is the notion even real? And how to achieve it without going back to a cavemen’s lifestyle?
First of all, let’s get clear with the definitions.
In our case, we refer to a person’s physical and emotional health in relation to their usage of digital technologies. Btw, you may want to check Google’s own page dedicated to the issue and evaluate your level of digital health, before we proceed.
So, what’s all the fuss about? Is scrolling through the IG feed before bed that bad? It turns out, the effects of modern society’s digital immersion are rather drastic.
Digital wellbeing in figures
The stats from San Francisco’s Humane Tech Event paint a rather grueling picture.
According to an assessment of the conference, nearly half of Americans do not have a meaningful in-person social interaction on a daily basis. Instead, millennials tend to check their phones anywhere between a hundred and two hundred times a day, with 70% of teens using social media multiple times a day. While other studies were more optimistic in his regard, all estimates agree on the average screentime for American adults at around 3 and a half hours daily.
That’s 24.5 hours a week – more than a half of an average western workweek.
Mind you – those are pre-covid numbers, which are reported to increase by another 30% to 100% (for adults and children, accordingly) during lockdowns.
Can such tendencies go by unnoticed?
Regardless of some studies finding a low correlation between the usage of digital devices and people’s physical well-being, the effect of such routine digitization can not be ignored by any means.
Here’s another piece of statistics to furtherly prove the point: About one-third of Americans have taken steps to improve their digital wellbeing last year, with 80% of them reporting positive results.
All this being the case, it’s not the end of the story.
Not Just Screen Time
While data does not lie, there’s more to the topic of digital wellbeing when it comes to how people perceive technology.
A recent Google study examined the more subtle nuances to our smartphone usage, concluding that not all screentime is equal. It turns out that the subjective perception of technology’s effect changes depending on the type of user activity.
For example, things like online education and reading, using various health & wellbeing tools, as well as video chatting with family and friends are considered positive by the majority of responders. Interestingly enough, these activities were at the lower end of the time consumption range.
Meanwhile, activities that involved social media, feed scrolling, and online shopping are mostly seen as negative, while more time-consuming, too.
So, just like with any other tool – it’s about what you make out of it.
What are the solutions?
To combat the problem, a number of initiatives for improving the users’ tech/life balance have been introduced by major mobile platforms in the last couple of years.
Like that, iPhone owners can monitor and manage their digital wellbeing via the in-built (for iOS 12 and up) Screen Time Dashboard.
Offering exhaustive stats on the user’s screen time and activity distribution across different time spans, it allows to schedule screen downtime, set limits for particular apps and activities, and set up Family screen time. Also, there are common features like Night Shift (lowers screen brightness at night hours) and a Do Not Disturb mode to silence all notifications.
Meanwhile, Google has come up with a whole bunch of rather creative ideas to help Android users improve their phone/life balance. Here’s a brief overview:
Unlock Clock shows the number of unlocks on your lock-screen.
Post Box – a notifications scheduler.
We Flip for no-smartphone group sessions.
Paper Phone to print out the information you’d usually access from your phone.
Desert Island challenges you to go through the day using only essential apps.
and Morph – an app launcher that features particular apps depending on your time & location data.
Other distinctive third-party apps include:
Forest – a simple and fun application with a “digital forest” that grows the less time you spend on your phone.
Space – your personal assistant for managing unlocks, in-app time, and dedicating no-phone time.
All of this does not come without a pinch of salt, of course.
Simply acknowledging that you are on a digital device right now reading an article written with a computer, based on materials collected from the Internet… makes it kind of hypocritical to overly demonize tech.
Yes, we do tend to rely on our digital devices a bit too much. Still, there are proven ways to improve our relationships with technology so that it enhances our life, not defines it.
Want to learn more about technology and digital wellbeing in 2021? Feel free to reach out!
Digital Transformation In The Education Industry: E-Learning Revolution
Nov 6, 2020
Just like many other traditional industries, education has been shifting to a digital-first dimension for quite a while. Seemingly approaching its pinnacle since COVID, digital transformation in the education industry is only picking up speed right now, and we can watch an actual e-learning revolution happen right in front of our eyes.
How big is the progress so far and what opportunities are there in the e-learning niche? Let’s find it out.
This year’s contact limitations didn’t allow many options for schools but to rethink the standard model of knowledge distribution and adapt to the challenges of the new world. Remote schooling has become the new norm on all levels – from early education and tutoring to higher education, professional growth courses, and non-academic training.
Naturally, such a great demand requires a lot more than an outstanding supply of hardware. This is less of a problem since most households and learning facilities in the developed countries have access to a wide range of tech. The real challenge is to develop appropriate software tools allowing schools and students to fulfill regular activities without sacrificing education quality.
The e-learning revolution
Speaking about the types of digital solutions helping students learn at distance – the list is virtually bottomless.
Right now we’re seeing major efforts at improving web classes, automating student and work assessment, and digitalizing course materials via smart textbooks, rich video content, slide show presentations, and much more. In this regard, Kognity and Lix Technologies are two startups leading the race at the moment.
Secondly, improving general education accessibility and support within the sector, especially for college and university students, is another major focus point right now, with Graduway and Teacherly delivering some great results already.
Various administrative tools for conducting the educational process online are also being developed lately. They include digitalized school payments and fee collection software, student attendance tracking, and education monitoring applications. And don’t forget about language adaptation and designing a new learning model for students with limited abilities.
Meanwhile, the task of digitalizing is rather simplified for adult and post-degree learning – where online courses have already been adopted well before the pandemic.
All this being the case, digital learning remains unsaturated product-wise, as the demand for niche solutions exceeds the current market supply.
Edtech investments and initiatives
Given the timing of COVID and further uncertainty about quarantines and travel restrictions – entrepreneurs see a high time to put both their time and resources into the development of edtech businesses and startups.
Right now, the UK remains the largest hub when it comes to digital transformation in the education industry, receiving almost 40% of Europe’s investments in the sector.
Speaking of which…
While businesses are the main drivers of progress in edTech adoption, governments also play a part in the process. In this regard, Estonia’s legislators show a good example by not only supporting internal edtech market but freely sharing the developed tools and technologies with the rest of the world.
Notably, a lot of digital education initiatives are occurring in third-world countries, where the pandemic has hit the already crisis-affected regions.
Like that, international humanitarian organizations and private foundations are backing versatile tech solutions in cooperation with ministries of education. Right now they are helping students and families in places like Sudan, Uganda, Lebanon, Jordan, Chad, Bangladesh, as well as Kenya, and multiple African countries access affordable education and continue learning.
The global education system is undergoing a major transformation on all levels. Both schools and universities, as well as non-academic educational institutions, are switching to a digital-first approach. This means an increased demand for niche software development and technology maintenance.
Online learning is becoming the new norm, and the trend does not seem to be reversing anytime soon. Therefore, investing in custom e-learning solutions is decisively a winning business move right now.
5G towers are rising on every corner of the cities around the world like McDonald’s restaurants in the 90s. And while the revolutionary network is shrouded by conspiracy on one hand and excitement on the other, the facts speak for themselves: 5G is not so much an inevitable future anymore, but rather a reality arrived at the doorstep.
What does this mean for the average consumer? How does the new technology standard affect the advancement of the Internet of Things? And most importantly what is its role in global digitization? Let’s find out.
First things first
Before anything else, what exactly is 5G?
5G stands for fifth-generation wireless cellular connection, which network companies began widely deploying as recently as last year. It is the successor of the well-known and widely applied 4G, which dominates the Internet consumer market today.
Technically speaking, 5G utilizes radio waves to transmit data – just like other wireless technologies. What makes it distinct from the competition, is a higher frequency of the radio signal that 5G operates on (up to 2.7-39Ghz, against 0.7-2.7Ghz for 4G). Sound clear: the higher the frequency the higher the data bandwidth. That said, it’s not all that simple in reality.
Here’s how network speed has changed over time:
The physical consequence of using high frequencies is a shortened wavelength that inevitably comes along. And a shorter wavelength means a smaller distance the signal can travel without quality loss. And when it comes to creating an Internet network, this means that 5G requires a far more dense cellular geography to achieve even coverage. In simple words, it requires installing a lot more cellular towers per area to effectively penetrate buildings and landscape irregularities in order to reach the consumer.
When fully set up, 5G can support up to a million devices per sq kilometer (as opposed to just a 100,000 for 4G) and offers a whopping broadband speed measured in Gigabits per second – similarly to the cable internet capabilities.
So, what exactly do we need 5G for? Does the opportunity of watching 4k online really drive all of the hype around the new network standard alone?
Well, the main reason behind the introduction of 5G is indeed the increased download speed it offers. However, there are a few equally important things that come out of achieving faster web access.
First of all, apart from your evening movie-watching routine, 5G is highly beneficial to the development of the IoT. By increasing connection speed and coverage, as well as the number of supported devices per area it allows surpassing the present limits to establishing a mesh of connected devices.
Internet of Things is among the fastest growing and most important layers of the new digital realm that we are entering nowadays. So, it’s quite hard to overestimate the importance of facilitating IoT with a radically better type of web access. Btw, you may read more about IoT and it’s part in creating the future today, in our previous article.
Secondly, and this is far less obvious, 5G has the potential to replace local internet service points (like cable internet and wi-fi) with a single, universally applicable technology. Yes, you heard that right. A universal wi-fi will be here before the universal basic income (who’s to judge what is best?).
Check out Ookla’s up-to-date map of 5G rollouts in cities around the world.
Indeed, why bothering with installing cable internet (which requires digging / boring / drilling) and extend it via countless wi-fi routers when you can have a wi-fi cover the entire globe?
It sounds perfect!
Yet, there are actually some concerns…
However great the technology is, it’s a lot like a troubled teen in a household.
Your neighbors don’t like it.
Ever since the introduction of 5G, rumors, disbelief, and even fear and hate just won’t let it go. In this regard, it is (rather widely) believed that the increased density of radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (RF-EMF) caused by a web of 5G network towers may be harmful and poses a threat to people and the environment exposed to it.
In fact, hundreds of scientists from over 30 countries have signed an appeal to the European Union Commission, warning about the potential consequences of rolling out the new 5G cellular network. It should be noted that these claims do not come with no evidence behind it. A number of substantial studies by some of the reputed health protection organizations have found a link between elevated RF radiation exposure and DNA damage.
This point of view, of course, rests at a polar opposite side on the specter of speculation surrounding 5G – as opposed to the obviously arrogant yet surprisingly widespread theory that the cell towers cause COVID.
Whichever reasoning came more convincing for the radical protesters against the new technology, the fact that many 5G cell towers were knocked down and set on fire in the UK indicates that a part of the public does not welcome 5G into their lives yet.
Costs are always an important part of the discussion when evaluating a project. When it comes to 5G, the price is not its strongest feature.
Current 4G carriers use 3-4x fewer towers than needed for 5G, and setting up those additional network points is not free. Not only the equipment costs a pretty buck, but it also has to be located somewhere. This means that placing a 5G transmitter requires either building a new tower or attaching it to an existing tower or building. This comes along with land use right, permits, construction, etc. – all kinds of associated costs.
Now, these costs are difficult to estimate precisely since each carrier has its own ways. That said, independent experts estimate an average installation cost of up to $200k per microcell. Each of these transmitters has a reach between 0.2 and 2 kilometers and can support up to 2000 devices. Read more about the 5G network structure here. Now, you can compare these figures with the number of potential users, along with the areas of their distribution… Avoiding to delve into complex math, it’s safe to say that setting up a next-gen broadband Internet system is quite expensive even for the industry giants.
As for the average consumer, replacing one’s old smartphone with a new one that supports 5G, in addition to advanced carrier plans, is also a hefty investment to consider.
Here are T-Mobile’s 5G plan options, just to have a clue:
… and immature.
Last but not least, it does seem like the revolutionary technology that’s been promised is just not ready yet. Yes, there are a lot of towers in major cities around the world. Yes, the new smartphones support the new technology. And yes – carriers are already offering us that lightning-fast 5G Internet “for just $69.99”.
All that being the case, the coverage is not great, neither are the 5G smartphone prices, nor the actual Internet speeds. There are still connectivity issues in buildings and densely-built areas, and providing 5G to urban areas is just economically disastrous.
Unfortunately, but this is the 5G’s harsh reality we have to face.
Speaking of dreams and reality, another obstacle on the 5G’s way to a bright future may be posed by one of the most daring entrepreneurs in modern history – Elon Musk.
The tycoon’s advancements to create his own universal data network called Starlink is a heavy counterforce to the “mainstream” 5G. What sets Starlink apart from other similar technologies is that it is meant to operate through a web of satellites circulating on a lower Earth’s orbit, as compared to most current space objects. In fact, the satellites fly so low you can see them in the night sky – just like the stars. And since they are linked (it seems so) the network is called Starlink.
Pretty creative, isn’t it?
What’s valuable for considering Starlink as an opponent to 5G is the history of the inventor’s startling projects, which daring, revolutionary, and most importantly – successful every time. Giants of the payment, automotive, and space industries have already fallen prey to Musk’s ambition. And given that 775 Starlink satellites already orbit the Earth – this is definitely something to watch for. Both for the average consumers and the key industry players.
So, is 5G overrated?
5G is clearly a promising technology throwing a lot of benefits on the table. However, the technical part of it is still underdeveloped. Definitely, a great idea, it has fallen victim to big business’s greedy advancements and is just overmarketed for the moment.
All in all, there’s still a long way for 5G to make to live up to the people’s expectations. And given the alternatives that emerge in the global Internet services market, it is not quite clear where will this path end.
AI, Big Data, IoT: The Future Tech Used Today
Aug 28, 2020
Doesn’t it seem like science fiction writers lay out the path to our future?
Even in one’s twenties, it is astonishing to look around and see all the things you’ve read about in books as a kid – gradually take shape and compose the new realm. Literally everywhere, sci-fi movies are becoming less and less fictional. Now, what can be more futuristic (except for space tourism, perhaps) than a mesh of digitalized intelligence covering every level of our daily life?
Believe it or not, this is exactly what technologies of the future like AI, Big Data, and IoT are facilitating already today. Essentially, all three are sides of the same pyramid, the tip of which is a “smart environment” (a.k.a. pervasive computing).
Here’s how it works:
In a smart environment, objects of everyday interaction contain sensors and computers which compose a fine network of smart devices. That’s the Internet of Things. Now, all of these devices generate a gazillion bytes of information (read on for a more accurate figure) that has to be gathered for smooth operation and maintenance. That’s Big Data. Finally, processing and effectively implementing all of this data requires super-human intelligence powered by next-gen computing capabilities. You guessed it right – that’s Artificial Intelligence (potentially run on quantum computers, for performance reasons, you know).
These are the bases of a smart environment. And if it sounds one bit fantasy-like, here’s a reality check for you.
The state of technology
Remember all those movies where the protagonist has information popping on the eyeglasses and his physical condition constantly assessed? This doesn’t even sound futuristic anymore.
These days a fitness bracelet will not only track mileage but also measure your heart rate and blood pressure. It will then alert you or medical personnel should an emergency or worsening medical condition be detected. Self-driving cars avoiding traffic jams and accidents? That’s kids’ stuff! How about facial recognition surveillance systems appraised for helping fight the pandemic in Asia?
Mind you, all that’s mainstream. Now think of what they’ve got for us in the labs. Personally, I am looking forward to some “5th Element/Minority Report/Black Mirror/Brave New World” type of innovations… The tech part of it, of course.
Ok, let’s get back to the topic.
While AI, Big Data, and IoT aim at improving our lives in the bigger scheme of things, the change doesn’t come overnight. Before all of those fun and grandiose things are fulfilled, a much more prosaic path awaits the revolutionary technologies. Traditionally, big business is among the first industries to adopt a new approach for its own benefit.
Btw, here are some numbers for a clearer picture of future-tech trio adoption over time:
As you can see from the graphic above, the combined trend of AI Big Data & IoT is huge, to say the least. Once again, the main idea behind these technologies is for artificial intelligence algorithms to analyze the data collected from the myriads of devices hooked up to the internet. Therefore, it makes no sense to separate the three when looking at how they affect modern business processes. So, it is thoughtful to use the term “future tech” – for convenience, clarity, and simplicity.
AI Big Data IoT application
As already mentioned, commercial enterprises are the first to include robotic automation in their strategic arsenal. At that, there are two main areas where high intelligence technologies can be used to resolve the issues companies often struggle with or want to improve. The first one refers to the internal company processes, like Operation & Management, Recruiting, Security. The second one covers customer-related issues that include User Experience, Support, and Acquisition.
Actually, this goes in line with one of our previous articles about the automation of business processes. In this regard, future tech is essentially the next step in the same direction. So, you may find it useful to check that material first.
Anyways, let’s look into each of the application areas mentioned separately.
Operation & Management
The first and foremost place of application for future tech is of course everyday operation and management. Not only people management – but the management of goods just as well.
Let’s say you run an online shop with thousands of offerings on your website. In this case, your most popular products may often go out of stock due to high demand. These things are just hard to predict. A common issue, it often makes customers shop somewhere else and turn to your competitors. Do you need another hole in the budget? Probably no. In this case, an AI solution analyzing customer behavior and comparing it to the IoT-supplied inventory information may easily predict a shortage and alert you early enough to restock the item. Simple, and highly efficient.
Another example of robotics utilized at the forefront of commerce is drone delivery. Already tested by companies like Amazon and Dominos, this revolutionary approach to goods distribution takes a ton of pressure away from the logistic departments.
Furthermore, AI-based task scheduling tools like X.ai can help executives fine-tune the daily management process, save time, and effectively distribute resources.
If you are not tired of statistics, bear in mind that experts estimate ¾ of all enterprise apps to use AI by 2021, and over ⅓ of data analysis in marketing organizations to be executed by intelligent algorithms integrated within various marketing software by 2022.
Talent acquisition is another important yet burdensome task on the shoulders of your company’s employees. However, this one, too, can be simplified using future tech.
Modern AI solutions (like Fetcher, Hiretual, Textio) can help recruitment teams compose resonating job descriptions, profile potential candidates, and choose the ones that best suit your needs.
Wonder what do the niche experts say?
96% of responders said they believe using AI can greatly improve their talent acquisition work. Of them, between 17% and 41% claim not using it has lead to poor candidate experience, higher costs, and lower overall efficiency.
Cybersecurity is another crucial business aspect enterprises can improve via advanced intelligence algorithms. While it sounds like a strictly IT-related issue, it is not so. Every company that stores or processes clients’ data, deals with online payments, owns sensitive information, or controls essential public or private facilities – should rank cybersecurity high on the list of their priorities.
How can AI help in this and beat the risks?
To access secured digital locations, hackers often use “inventive” pathways and program loopholes through which they can penetrate a lesser-secured frontier (like an employee’s account or a client’s computer) to breach the security border and enter the system. Furthermore, these days hackers themselves can use machine learning algorithms for malicious purposes.
Countering this, AI-based cybersecurity solutions take the knowledge and expertise of seasoned security experts and reinforce it with the computing power of ML algorithms. This allows analyzing and intercepting potential stealthy attacks with high precision. Like that, Symantec‘s AI cybersecurity software detected a chain of Dragonfly 2.0 hacker attacks targeting multiple energy companies in attempts to gain control of the companies’ operational networks last year.
Last but not least – user experience. The statistic shows that automated customer service agents receive the greatest share of funding among all commercial AI use cases (see the chart below). This alone is a valuable indicator of the importance and power of the trend. Chatbots have been a hot topic of discussion for quite a few years and it seems to remain so in the years to come.
Actually, it should not be surprising. Customer service is among the strongest selling points for businesses in any industry. Having a good support team could nail it before. Nowadays, though, it is simply inefficient, if even possible, to maintain enough specialists to comb through the massive flow of user issues that are coming in at a typical enterprise. Especially so when it comes to big retail and services businesses processing tens of thousands of requests every day.
AI chatbots, on the other hand, are scalable, efficient, and lately – even better at helping clients than real people. Actually, some two-thirds of responded web users prefer to deal with a chatbot vs talking to a human when communicating with a business, according to G2 Crowd. Moreso, about 85% of all customer interactions are already taken care of by intelligent algorithms.
That’s it regarding the future tech hands-on application.
AI investments distribution
As for the share of funding different AI implementations receive, here’s how the picture looked like in the past year:
Of course, the smart environment future we all anticipate is coming in one batch at a time and is far more vivid at the frontiers of technologically developed spheres of life. But hey, businesses have always been the early adapts of innovation, and it is great to see the enterprise world incorporate and fuel the progress of intelligent tech. Sooner or later it will enter our everyday lives, just like the internet and microchips did. So, let’s not rush it and enjoy the show!
Need a touch of innovation to improve your own business processes? You know which door to knock on – MintyMint is always open to cooperation.
Microservice vs Monolithic: The Ultimate Software Architecture Guide
Jul 21, 2020
The global IT industry evolves rapidly in size, shape, and form, and so do the software development practices applied all along. Like any evolutionary process, this one strives to maintain efficiency while gaining capabilities. To keep the progress going, the traditional ways of doing things have to be replaced.
For IT development, this means there is a point along the journey of software enhancement where we cannot continue to add structures upon structures of ever-increasing complexity, without sacrificing performance.
Historically, this point fell on the edge of 2011-2012, when software experts from a prominent workshop in Venice came up with the term Microservices to define a new architectural style they have been exploring at the time. Dubbed the fine-grained SOA (service-oriented architecture where app components connect via a network), it wasn’t an entirely new approach to product design, but rather a refined way of building service-oriented applications.
Strictly speaking, microservices divide the bulk of a product’s functionality into independent chunks of software, while preserving the cohesiveness of the system.
Here’s a general idea of the architectural difference when it comes to comparing microservices vs monolithic software:
Microservice vs Monolithic: Which software architecture is best?
Microservices are much like government decentralization, which gives power and responsibility to the regions while maintaining essential relations to keep the state solid. The opposite of that is centralized governance – where the decision-making is concentrated.
Now, the choice of a suitable model is dictated by your needs and setup.
A small project will hardly see the advantages of using microservices, just like a small state does not need decentralization. Bigger and more complex projects, on the other hand, may very well benefit from a more advanced design approach.
That said, it is not all that simple when you dig deeper. There are many factors to consider when comparing microservices and monolithic architecture.
Comparing Microservices and Monolithic software architecture is not an easy task. We have to remain scientifically objective, after all.
For that reason, a point system seems just right.
When it comes to the inherent performance of application architecture, there are two key indicators – network latency and data throughput. Latency represents the amount of time data takes to travel between two destinations.
Here’s how it works:
To pass information, bytes convert into an electromagnetic signal. It then travels via wires or air and is reassembled back into bytes by the receiving party. Now, we can cut down the decoding time. But since the signal takes time to travel, data transfer will always have a slight delay. It is a natural consequence of the basic laws of physics.
In this regard, having a localized, single-core system is superior to a network of interconnected clients operating with each other, often at long physical distances. While the latency of a microservice call is minuscule (around 25ms), the more calls – the higher the delay.
There are, of course, solutions that can minimize this gap, like running all calls in parallel or using a so-called fan-out pattern. In this case, the difference tends to zero as the calls increase. And still, Monolithics turn out slightly quicker every time.
The same is true for absolute data throughput (the amount of data processed over time).
A close call in the first standing, but still a point goes to the Monolithic architecture.
2. Resource usage & scalability
Now that we’ve touched on performance, let’s examine resources usage.
This is a tricky one.
At first glance, microservices calls use more resources than the monolith ones when doing the same amount of work.
However, since microservices can allocate resources as needed, they use them a lot smarter, decreasing the memory and CPU load. In addition, the more instances performed – the greater this difference is in favor of loosely coupled services.
Monolithic software can come ahead in individual cases (when a call transfers large amounts of data) but falls behind in all other scenarios.
The same principle works when you need to upgrade the computing capabilities as the requirements increase. By managing resources more efficiently, decentralized software easily scales the power up and down, adding or removing cloud computing servers as needed.
Clearly, a win for Microservices.
3. Development complexity
Speaking about the complexity of the development process.
While the good old monolithic apps call for greater skillsets from individual developers, microservices projects can be spread into smaller tasks between highly specialized devs.
Here’s an illustration to help you understand why:
At that, the overall amount of work is in often considerably greater with Microservices.
Unlike single-core projects, assembling multiple modules may involve several source codes, frameworks, and coding languages for that matter.
Data synchronization also adds up to the complexity of running dispersed software as opposed to its locally-contained rival. Once again, some tools tackle the issues. Nevertheless, a monolithic architecture is innately more clear and transparent.
Another point in favor of Monolithics.
Are you still there? Great!
4. Deployment & reliability
One of the main reasons why companies prefer microservices are the stunning deployment opportunities it provides.
Compared to the bulky structure of monolithic software, its counterpart is simple and flexible enough to have updates as frequently as desired. In fact, you don’t have to roll out the entire system after changing some of the functionality. All you need to do is redeploy that particular service.
More so, modifying a microservice does not affect the dependent services. Therefore, it won’t threaten the entire system’s work should there be a program malfunction. Whereas even a minor code error can stall the entirety of software built with a monolithic approach.
This boosts the software’s reliability, eliminating a whole bunch of critical operational issues.
Something like having more engines on a plane…
In addition, microservices are a lot easier to test. A limited number of features dedicated to each of the services substantially decreases the number of dependencies involved. This makes it much more simple to write and run tests. Therefore, you can release the product a lot earlier.
In this one, Microservices come out ahead.
So far the score is 2 – 2.
5. Technological flexibility
This is where things get interesting.
There are countless development technologies on the market. Some of them are quick, some – are easier to build. A part of them is better for billing, others are a good suit for data processing, or have better security… You name it.
Microservices empower you to add all of it to the arsenal, taking the best from each technology.
It’s like having all of the superpowers at one’s disposal.
Like that, a piece of software can be quick, rigid, capable, and secure all at the same time. It’s no wonder why the method is so popular among architects of complex IT projects like Netflix, Medium, and Uber.
This will, of course, require hiring a whole bunch of specialists to implement, as mentioned earlier. But hey, that development complexity point is already granted to Monolithics, so we can’t complain.
Another win for microservices.
6. Team communication
Finally, team communication plays a key part in the process of IT product development, and it can be affected by software architecture choice.
Here’s the thing: by dividing the software into smaller chunks, Microservices not only distribute the tasks but also the teams, decreasing the number of individual communication channels between devs.
This goes in line with Amazon’s well-known “pizza rule”, which states that a team is too big and inefficient if it can’t be fed with two pizzas.
You decide what’s right.
I sure wouldn’t be arguing with Amazon’s expertise in project management.
So, the final round goes to the Microservices architecture, too, and the score is: Microservices – 4, Monolithics – 2
Monolithics, it was a fair battle…
Part 2: How do microservices work?
While it did seem like a logical conclusion, it wouldn’t be the ULTIMATE software architecture guide if we didn’t dig deeper into the subject.
So, let’s move on.
Now that we’ve explored how microservices are different from the traditional monolithic software, let’s examine the technology behind the revolutionary architecture.
Just like monolithic apps, modular software can be built with a wide range of coding languages and frameworks. Therefore, most of the rules for choosing a tech stack apply here as well. That being the case, a microservices tech stack is effectively larger and much more versatile than that of traditional software.
Loosely-coupled apps are very complex structure-wise. So, many aspects of the system’s cohesiveness have to be thought through before jumping into the whirlpool of the dev process.
In our case, it is worthwhile to go over all of it gradually – one functionality at a time. So, let’s jump in!
First of all, any software has to run somewhere.
There are three main hosting options to consider for microservices:
Local server – a traditional enterprise computing model. Companies maintain equipment and software in a confined data center, having direct control over its operation.
Public cloud – a rather modern approach. Here, shared computing resources are provided over the internet and are managed on the side of the cloud provider. We’ve already written about on-demand software recently.
Private cloud – offers opportunities similar to the public cloud. In this case, though, companies own and manage remote server capacity in-house (for security or compliance reasons, mostly).
It should be noted that there are also hybrid cloud-hosting solutions, but that is a topic for another blog post…
In most cases, public cloud hardware is the go-to choice for running microservices. It offers virtually unlimited processing capabilities on rather flexible terms.
And while there is an array of remote infrastructure providers, the most popular of them are represented by:
AWS (Amazon Web Services)
Google Cloud Platform
VMs & container management
Now, there are two principal ways of using cloud resources – virtual machines and containers (each containing individual functionality).
Both use remote hardware to perform tasks. Now, VMs emulate entire systems along with the operational systems. Whereas containers share the OS and therefore have a lot of common functionality that needs not be executed separately.
This saves a ton of resources, providing a tenfold launch-time difference and a major cut in RAM and CPU usage, in favor of containers, of course. Having less overhead and close to zero weight, it is a much more favorable environment for complex applications.
However, while it’s very convenient to have individual containers for each of the services, it is another challenge to successfully manage it all. Crucial tasks like automation of deployment, scaling, and networking, add up to the complexity of running loosely coupled software.
This is where container orchestration tools come in handy, effectively tackling these kinds of issues.
In this regard, the most popular choices on the market are:
Other solutions from major cloud providers like Amazon, Google, and Azure.
We have already learned that microservices allow using different tech for individual software components.
On one hand, this gives the flexibility to assign the best-fitting technology for tackling different tasks within the system. On the other, however, it requires establishing effective interaction between those app components.
This is exactly what a service mesh is there for.
A dedicated infrastructure layer, it enables the services to interact with each other via local “sidecar” proxies instead of calling each other directly over the network. In essence, it is an interpreter between services that often “speak” different programming languages.
Service mesh facilitates horizontal (service to service) communication, as opposed to the API gateways that control vertical (client to server) networking. It is also different from container orchestration tools, which are responsible for resource management only.
Some of the widely-applied service mesh solutions include:
When designing modular apps, it is crucial to determine how program components will communicate with the system.
Typically, this task is executed via APIs.
API stands for Application Programming Interface. It enables communication between two systems (for example – your laptop and an app), determining the data transfer protocol. Something like a moderator of the client-to-service conversation who ensures that the message “gets through”.
APIs operate via ‘requests’ and ‘responses’. When a system receives a request it returns a response. The destination of that response represents an endpoint – essentially, one end of a communicational channel between a server and an external device.
Now, what comes down to one communication channel in a monolithic app, may generate an array of those in microservices. This is because splitting software into multiple pieces implies that a single client request may call for separate responses from the services, resulting in multiple endpoints. An API gateway sorts it all up by providing a single point of entry into the system…
Ok, I know that just spilled over the sane limit of tech terms per paragraph.
Let’s break it down.
Imagine a typical blog page like this one. It contains a text field, a list of recommended articles, a comment section, a login form, a sharing functionality, etc.
In microservices, a separate module owns each of the described components’ data sets. So, when you open up that page you actually communicate with a set of micro-apps.
If these calls were direct, your browser would have to send separate requests at all of those services (each with an individual web address) in order to assemble the page. For a number of reasons that furtherly exceed this article’s threshold for heavy terminology, such an option is inefficient. You may read about network latency here.
Another option is to have a distributing entity to sort through multiple client requests and return a single, “comprehensive” response. Kind of like the packing assistant in a grocery store. You know, the one gathering your stuff while you talk to the cashier and check out – to save everyone time.
That’s API getaways.
Some of the best API Gateway solutions are provided by Amazon, Ambassador, Kong, Microsoft, Akamai, Mulesoft, Google, and Express.
Privacy issues accompany any IT product development process.
At that, the nature of microservices poses an elevated threat of security breach, putting additional pressure on software architects.
More so, securing the containers in which microservices run joined the list of the industry’s main data-protection challenges in 2018.
This is happening for two reasons.
For first, it is a well-known fact that a system’s complexity is inversely proportional to its reliability. This is especially true when it comes to software vulnerabilities. Increased interaction between microservices comes hand in hand with additional communication channels – which means more points of potential penetration.
To make things worse, microservice apps are often hosted along with third-party software, on the same physical server. Even the word combination “shared environments” does not sound too safe. Forget about the multitude of less obvious ways things can go wrong in a complex cloud infrastructure hosting disintegrated software.
Luckily for IT enterprises, there are solutions for these issues, too:
Last but not least on the list of the main technologies behind microservices is the so-called middleware. These tools are responsible for additional coherence-related tasks like load-balancing, proxies, caching, and routing. While somewhat similar to the already mentioned gateways, it doesn’t expose microservices as an API does.
In terms of microservices middleware, these are the market leaders:
Although there are no reasons for smaller teams and projects to give up the well-established and proven monolithic software architecture, Microservices are more progressive and seem to be staying around for the foreseeable future.
Yes, the approach is more resource-demanding and complex than traditional program development techniques. However, its benefits outweigh the cost, especially for big projects where software reliability and production speed play a key part. The array of technologies backing microservices-based apps is stunning. From design and implementation to deployment and maintenance – versatile program tools are there at one’s aid on every step of the microservices development process.
SaaS Solutions for Your Business and Clients
Jul 13, 2020
Here’s a question:
When was the last time you had to install a piece of software on your computer’s hard drive? Can you name more than two?
The OS and Google Chrome don’t count!
I bet that it’s hard to tell.
Most probably, a very tiny percentage of the digital products you have recently used required installation. At the very least, there must have been the option of running an online version of the service.
The truth is that from data storage and communication to business management and finance solutions – the tools we depend on are relocating to the cloud, pulling industries worldwide in the same direction. In fact, companies have explored centralized computing since the mid-1980s, so the trend is not young.
Today, the reasons why over a third of all IT budgets are allocated to cloud technology lie on the surface: it is progressive, convenient, and cheap.
Now, where does SaaS fit in all that?
SaaS stands for Software as a Service.
It can be considered a subcategory of the wider notion of cloud computing, which refers to a variety of web-based software.
Yes, cloud solutions and SaaS are essentially two sides of the same coin. The tool and the method for executing the same task, they both aim at providing information technology products remotely. The difference is that with SaaS you no longer have to maintain neither the servers nor the service available online.
At its core, SaaS is a subscription-based product distribution model that utilizes central hosting as opposed to the traditional on-premise software with a perpetual license.
In simple terms, it is the software you can access via a web browser.
I know what you’re thinking – “Well, that’s a bombshell…”
Here’s an example to give you a better picture of why this is happening:
Think back to the times when the locally-hosted MS Office was the primary document editing platform for your daily activities.
The whole experience was kind of nightmarish.
First of all, it came with a limited number of devices you could run it on, at a relatively high price ( ~ $150 per license).
To use it you had to buy a disc or (later on) download and install it.
Switching to another computer meant you have to ensure that a relevant version of MS Office is installed there. Otherwise, it didn’t work.
Once again, enjoying all of these “conveniences” did cost hundreds of dollars.
This is simply hard to imagine today. And few would argue that we are lucky to have things like Office 365 and Google Docs.
I surely do not complain.
A closer look at Software as a Service
Now that we’ve looked at on-demand software from an average user’s point of view, let’s add the business variable into the equation.
In general, SaaS solutions can be divided into two main categories – horizontal and vertical. The first group meets the needs of a particular industry like fintech, engineering, or healthcare. The second one is focused on a specific task like management or analytics.
Some of the big SaaS names you must have heard of include:
Slack – multi-featured business communication platform.
Figma– web-based vector graphics editor and prototyping tool.
You could be using SaaS on a daily basis without ever noticing it.
A rare case in the business world, on-demand software is a win-for-all type of scenario.
Just like your favorite food places, it is a mutually beneficial solution both for the service providers and their clients. While the first get an opportunity to do business at scale, the latter ones can enjoy the product hassle-free and quite often at a lesser expense.
You choose what’s best for you and your business.
That said, let’s move on to the perks clearly provided by SaaS technology.
Benefits of sticking with SaaS
When it comes to the advantages of sticking with SaaS over the good old packaged software – the list really goes on and on.
Here are the main points:
Easily accessing digital products is among the key factors driving the rapid growth and development of on-demand software.
In this regard, SaaS offers an impressive degree of flexibility since you are no longer restricted to using a particular platform, device, or location. All you need to access the service is an internet connection and your login information.
This is very convenient for users as it allows switching between places of work, simplifying the daily grind big time.
At that, SaaS is even more fruitful businesses-wise. Bridging the technological gap between the service and its consumers, it expands the product’s potential audience beyond a particular platform or device family.
SaaS is great at cutting costs for all parties involved.
First of all, enjoying a pay-as-you-go subscription model for your favorite service is very convenient and attractive to the users.
However, remote hosting is even more profitable for entrepreneurs:
By eliminating the need for complex hardware setup, it lifts the weight of server maintenance from businesses and places it onto the shoulders of the hosting provider, along with the electricity bills.
This can radically lower the operational costs and allow you to invest in essential marketing activities or reduce the product price tags to attract clients.
There is no such thing as a final product version in the IT industry. All software is constantly revised and improved in order to meet the ever-changing user demand.
SaaS makes it a thousand times easier to do.
Сentrally-hosted products take much less effort to update and troubleshoot and help to avoid unexpected bugs or compatibility issues.
To the users, this means worry-free access to the latest version of the software they rely on, with no issues.
Last but not least, flexibility is another item in the basket of SaaS strengths.
Unlike traditional software, on-demand solutions allow you to tweak the software to your favor. So you can change the parameters or even the design of the software at wish.
Businesses using SaaS can always change the hosting size, processing load, or the very hosting provider to their favor.
As for the clients of SaaS-based services – the choice is also there to upgrade the plan, get additional features, or roll back to the basic (often free) version of the software.
Everything summed up, Software as a Service is not just an advanced product distribution model. It is also a convenient and cost-effective tool for both businesses and their clients alike.
While there are similar technologies like IaaS and PaaS, they represent slightly different kinds of IT solutions. Meanwhile, software as a service provides access to a specific, ready application.
What does the market say?
With the public SaaS market exceeding $150B in 2020, numbers show that global enterprises are making a heavy bet on web-based digital products.
So, there is no reason to exclude it from your own business strategy, too. Especially if you’re looking for long-term profits.
Contactless payments: spike during COVID-19 and future
Apr 4, 2020
Spike of popularity among contactless payment during Coronavirus pandemic
Coronavirus poses a huge threat to the economies and populations of all countries in the world. One of the sources of the virus’s spread is cash, which carries a huge amount of bacteria. ATMs with cash-recycling functions become a channel of disease transmission. A way out of it is making contactless payments, which allow you to pay instantly and avoid endangering yourself.
Even the World Health Organization recommends ditching cash in favor of contactless payments to prevent the spread of COVID-19. WHO issued this recommendation after China and Korea began separating and disinfecting used banknotes known to carry viruses and bacteria.
A representative of the World Health Organization noted in a recent interview with The Telegraph:
“We know that money often passes from hand to hand and can collect all kinds of bacteria and viruses. We advise people to wash their hands after handling banknotes and try not to touch their face. Wherever possible, it is advisable to use contactless payments to reduce the risk of the infection spreading.”
When will the economy recover?
Opinions vary greatly on how slow the global economy will grow.
The conclusion of the American Institute of International Finance looks quite pessimistic. IIF estimates the global economy to grow by a maximum of 1% in 2020 – the lowest since the 2007-2008 crisis. In China – the source of the virus – GDP growth will slow to 4% instead of the previously expected 5.9%.
Consulting company McKinsey&Company has outlined three scenarios of crisis development.
The softest scenario is the elimination of coronavirus outbreaks up to the second quarter of 2020. In this case, the global GDP will grow by about 2% instead of 2.5%. If the pandemic persists beyond the first half of the year, global economic growth will not exceed 1.5%. In case the pandemic continues to the second or third quarter, global GDP could fall by 1.5%.
So, how can you help the world? One of the options is by using contactless payments. A safe way of using money, its popularity is increasing tenfold due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
How does the technology work?
In most cases, contactless payments are enabled by NFC chips that are found in most modern smartphones and tablets, as well as in many smartwatches and smart bracelets. These chips can transfer encrypted data from a customer’s bank card to another chip, for example, in a POS terminal at a store. The data exchange takes 1-2 seconds, followed by a successful payment.
The contactless connection between the devices is conducted via radio signal (Radio Frequency Identification technology). NFC-chip uses a special radio frequency (13.56 MHz), which works only if the devices are close to each other.
There are two main options for using NFC technology in retail payments:
The first way is payments by banking cards supporting contactless technologies (for example, MasterCard PayPass/ Visa PayWave).
The second way, which is gaining popularity, is by mobile devices through paying services (Apple Pay, Android Pay, Samsung Pay).
To use a smartphone as a contactless payment tool, you need to tie a banking card to your smartphone using a special application. At this stage, the app generates and stores an encrypted “key” (token). After that, you can pay with your smartphone without using the card.
Contactless payment is becoming more and more entrenched in mobile devices. Near Field Communication (NFC) technology is already available in Apple, Samsung, and other mobile devices. In addition to NFC, Samsung has introduced magnetic security transfer (MST) technology for smartphones to interact with terminals that accept magnetic stripe cards.
Wearable devices also influence contactless payments. Some of the leading tech companies like Apple and Samsung produce watches with an embedded NFC chip. Traditional watchmakers, like Mondaine and Swatch, are also keeping up.
Now NFC technology is not only extremely convenient.
Contactless payments offer settlements security provided by the global digital tokenization platform Mastercard Digital Enablement Service (MDES). MDES allows turning any device with an NFC chip and an Internet connection into a secure payment tool, through creating a unique token to protect transactions. A token is a 16-digit combination tied to a user’s bank card number, which is unique for each connected device.
Tokenized payments hide bank card details. To verify the payer by the bank during the payment process Mastercard transforms the token into the card number.
Benefits of Contactless Payments
The main advantages of using contactless payments:
Protection from COVID-19. Using contactless payments you avoid contact with things (money) that potentially can be infected with the coronavirus.
Simplicity. One-touch purchase payment without pin code and signature. You need less time to pay for the purchase.
Quick. Payment using contactless technology occurs almost instantly. This saves time for the client and makes the work of the cashier more effective.
It’s an innovation. The most modern payment technology. If a business uses contactless payment – it gains respect from customers.
But how contactless payments affect business and economy? What are the examples of successful implementation of contactless payment technology?
Here’s a map of the contactless payment limits in various parts of the world:
In 2016, eCommerce giant Amazon launched a new type of Amazon Go offline store in Seattle – with no cash registers or cashiers. In there, buyers just pick up the products and leave the store, and payments are done automatically, contactless, and discreetly.
The company combines RFID (radio frequency identification technology) with smart video cameras. The system records when a customer takes an item off the shelf, while video cameras locate the customer inside the store. Combined data analysis allows the system to identify who took which items and record it in a shopping list in the Amazon mobile app.
This approach allows customers to perform a reverse operation, return a product to the shelf and thus automatically exclude it from the virtual shopping basket. Products can be carried out in pockets or hands. Once a person goes through the turnstiles, the money is automatically deducted from his Amazon account.
Amazon Go, where the whole process of shopping (from selection to payment) is carried out by the buyer, brings 50% more profit than traditional stores.
The company is developing a new payment method that will allow consumers to pay for their purchases using the palm of their hand, without using a bank card.
Amazon had filed a patent for a “contactless biometric identification system” with a palm scanner. The tech giant is developing this project together with Visa and Mastercard. Major banking institutions, like JPMorgan and Wells Fargo, are also taking part in its development.
The company plans to offer customers an opportunity to tie the data of a bank card to their palms. This would allow them to make a purchase with one touch, without using “plastic”. Also, the company plans to introduce such payment in the supermarket chain “Whole Foods”. Clearly, Amazon is the leading contactless payment developing company in the world.
Contactless payments are becoming part of the “on-demand economy”. Taxi applications such as Uber, Bolt, Gett can be used for reference. These services allow users to tie a card to a mobile application once and then automatically pay for their trips without touching neither cash nor the interface of the application itself.
Besides mobile platforms, functions of contactless payments are available both on social networks (Facebook, Twitter) and messengers like Telegram, WhatsApp, and Viber.
Over the next decade, we will see more changes in the banking industry than in the last 100 years. KPMG Global’s research “The Future of Digital Banking” confirms that technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain, Biometrics, 5G, AR/VR will have the greatest impact on the financial services industry in the next 10-15 years. So, voice command and biometrics can replace contactless payments pretty soon. Thanks to the “Internet of Things”, any device can become a digital channel for paying for goods and services.
Examples of successful implementation of contactless payments into banking systems are Monobank, Revolut, N26. All these banks are mobile, they have no offices, but are incredibly popular. Of course, among youth mostly.
These banks are actively competing with each other.
For example, N26 is one of the most highly regarded startups in the world. Revolut has attracted more than $350 million in investments for its development, valued at over $2 billion. Monobank reached the mark of 2 million users in just 3 years – an impressive result.
Effect on business and economy
The sphere of contactless payments is huge and is backed by eCommerce companies, blockchain platforms, mobile developers, financial projects, banks, and even companies specializing in passenger transportation.
The rapid development of mobile technologies and contactless payments is creating a new model of user behavior. This behavior model prefers the active use of smartphones, contactless payments and various connected devices in everyday life.
Banks that do not think about the development of contactless payments may lose both clients and time in the future.
One of the main factors that stimulate the development of contactless payments in the world is the desire to lead innovation. Contactless technologies are a sign of the modernity of banks and businesses.
The future of contactless payments
Many countries have already adopted cashless technology. Some experts even compare the number of NFC payments a country has to its economic potential. Although cash payments are still prevalent in developing countries, high-population states like China, India, Brazil, and the USA are already entering a contactless future.
According to Business Insider, the flagship for developing countries is China with its unique payment technology integrated into a local social network – WeChat. This subsidiary of China’s giant Tencent is a mix of services, one of which is WeChat Pay, a contactless payment system for more than 1 billion users. It allows sending money directly from one smartphone to another within the app, furtherly boosting the commercial boom in China.
According to the Merchant Savvy web service too, China dominates in contactless payment development. In February 2019, 1 out of 9 people on the planet used Chinese payment systems to send and receive cash during the Chinese New Year.
In the US and Europe, card payments are still more popular than mobile payments. There are various reasons for this, but among the main ones are conservatism, as well as firmness of the authority of EMV chip cards, which are very popular among middle-class people.
Contactless payments are the future of money transfers. The coronavirus outbreak and its worldwide spread significantly increase the popularity of contactless payments because cash is transmitting COVID-19. Contactless payments are the best way to prevent the spreading of COVID-19.
Contactless payments are a very convenient way to transfer money. The business actively implements new technologies in its own work and increases NFC popularity. The cases described in this article demonstrate the potential for spreading contactless payments in the world.