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Oracle ups its cloud game

At Oracle OpenWorld 2017 in San Francisco this week, Oracle unveiled a revamped portfolio that added significant new capacity and capability to its Cloud Platform.

Thomas Kurian, Oracle president of product development, showcased new services and enhancements, with deep product knowledge, integration, machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) built into every layer of the stack.

Kurian demonstrated several of these new services on stage, showing how customers can transform business with Oracle’s cloud services. Innovations spanning infrastructure, analytics, data management, and applications showcased in the session included:

  • Infrastructure as a Service: With built-in servers, storage, networking and supporting cloud services (such as load balancing and DNS), Oracle Cloud Infrastructure provides the foundation for customer innovation. As Kurian demonstrated in a number of scenarios, the platform was architected from the ground-up to provide the fastest compute, fastest GPUs, and fastest block storage to drive unmatched performance, predictability and lower costs for even the most intense enterprise workloads. Kurian also introduced new network capabilities including a Public Cloud Service offering 25 gigabit Ethernet to the host with a global scale elastic DNS Service.

Providing customers ultimate choice in how they deploy their architecture, Oracle Cloud Infrastructure enables customers to maintain visibility into their on-premises systems and extend them to the cloud. Kurian highlighted new developments in Oracle Cloud Infrastructure—including enhancements to Compute, Storage, Networking and edge capabilities—offering IT operations, developers and researchers infrastructure services optimized for production-ready enterprise applications.

  • Platform as a Service: Oracle’s PaaS offerings serve as the underlying foundation for developing, integrating, monitoring, securing and optimizing applications with newly built-in AI and machine learning powered tools. Kurian shared Oracle’s vision for the future of PaaS where software automatically learns, manages, tunes and scales to meet changing compute needs. Kurian also discussed the world’s first autonomous database cloud. Powered by the newly announced Oracle Database 18c, the next generation of its industry-leading database, Oracle Autonomous Database Cloud eliminates complexity, human error, and manual tuning, making it easy for customers to provision and operate databases with lower administration costs and freeing them up to focus on other critical business tasks. Also noted was the latest generation of Oracle Exadata (X7); new innovations in the Oracle Big Data Cloud Platform with new artificial Intelligence, data lake and data integration capabilities; and leading-edge new cyber security and systems management solutions.
  • Application Development Cloud Services: Oracle gives customers unparalleled choices when it comes to open source tools, programming languages, and data management platforms that meet desired price-performance needs. This enables customers to preserve existing investments and increase productivity, while eliminating costly learning curves and dramatically reducing integration costs. Kurian discussed major advancements to the Oracle Application Development Platform – highlighting how Oracle is making it even more open, modern and easy to use with container-native development and high scale, fully managed Docker and Kubernetes services; expanded polyglot support; and a new intelligent chatbot platform. He also showcased Oracle’s newly announced serverless computing offering. Based on open-source project Fn, the service helps customers reduce cloud infrastructure and management costs by only paying for the time their functions are running, and not for the entire time the cloud compute is on and sitting idle.
  • Software as a Service: Helping companies operate more intelligently and effectively—whether it’s closing the books, serving employees or engaging with customers—Oracle has built-in AI capabilities across its application suite. No matter what the business opportunity or issue, Oracle is the only vendor to offer customers a complete and connected application suite to run an entire business in the cloud. Offering intuitive UIs and embedded collaboration—amplified with new developments in machine learning, AI and Internet of Things (IoT) and chatbots connectivity—Oracle’s suite of cloud applications help customers better connect critical business functions and accelerate intelligent outcomes. Kurian highlighted new AI SaaS capabilities for finance, human resources, supply chain, marketing, commerce, sales and customer service professionals. He also demonstrated how companies can integrate core elements of the Oracle stack to transform business, such as building next-generation applications with built-in Blockchain capabilities.
  • Data as a Service: Powering Oracle Adaptive Intelligent Apps, Oracle Data Cloud enables them to learn, react and adapt in real time based on historical and dynamic customer data. This empowers marketers to quickly identify audiences, connecting their behaviors across devices and platforms—so they can deliver the right message, to the right customer—at the right time. Oracle Data Cloud, which is the largest data marketplace in the world, features a collection of more than 5 billion global consumer and business IDs and more than 7.5 trillion data points collected monthly.

Quotes from Thomas Kurian

  • “I am incredibly proud of the work our development organization has done these last 10 years to bring you the Oracle Cloud, and to introduce all these new innovations that we showed you today.”
  • “Over 10 years ago when we started building the Oracle Cloud, we had a very simple mission: we wanted any person anywhere in the world to be able to access and use our software. And all that they would need is an Internet browser or a phone.”
  • “Here at OpenWorld we’re going provide a glimpse of the future of Oracle and how we’re infusing new technology in autonomous computing, artificial intelligence, IoT, blockchain and new forms of human interface into our cloud offerings.”
  • “We’re doing this to give you, our customers and developers, a canvas on which you can paint your vision and your ambitions and dreams, to use information technology in a new way, in a fundamentally new way, to transform your organization, your companies and the world.”
  • “We’re introducing amazing technology in the infrastructure layer. So you can get world-class infrastructure delivered to you through a browser.”
  • “The vision for platform-as-a-service was to eliminate the next barrier to technology adoption by our customers. And that was to eliminate all the mundane, manual labor that human beings needed to do in order to use Oracle technology.”
  • “Our vision for the human interface for applications is to become seamless for humans. No longer is it just web and mobile screens, but you could speak to the application. You can interact with it with messaging. You can take pictures and we can identify images, compare them with other things, and automate transactions.”

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Now IBM’s Watson joins IoT revolution in agriculture

Global expansion of the Watson Decision Platform taps into AI, weather and IoT data to boost production

IBM has announced the global expansion of Watson Decision Platform for Agriculture, with AI technology tailored for new crops and specific regions to help feed a growing population. For the first time, IBM is providing a global agriculture solution that combines predictive technology with data from The Weather Company, an IBM Business, and IoT data to help give farmers around the world greater insights about planning, ploughing, planting, spraying and harvesting.

By 2050, the world will need to feed two billion more people without an increase in arable land [1]. IBM is combining power weather data – including historical, current and forecast data and weather prediction models from The Weather Company – with crop models to help improve yield forecast accuracy, generate value, and increase both farm production and profitability.

Roric Paulman, owner/operator of Paulman Farms in Southwest Nebraska, said: “As a farmer, the wild card is always weather. IBM overlays weather details with my own data and historical information to help me apply, verify, and make decisions. For example, our farm is in a highly restricted water basin, so the ability to better anticipate rain not only saves me money but also helps me save precious natural resources.”

New crop models include corn, wheat, soy, cotton, sorghum, barley, sugar cane and potato, with more coming soon. These models will now be available in the Africa, U.S. Canada, Mexico, and Brazil, as well as new markets across Europe and Australia.

Kristen Lauria, general manager of Watson Media and Weather Solutions at IBM, said: “These days farmers don’t just farm food, they also cultivate data – from drones flying over fields to smart irrigation systems, and IoT sensors affixed to combines, seeders, sprayers and other equipment. Most of the time, this data is left on the vine — never analysed or used to derive insights. Watson Decision Platform for Agriculture aims to change that by offering tools and solutions to help growers make more informed decisions about their crops.” 

The average farm generates an estimated 500,000 data points per day, which will grow to 4 million data points by 2036 [2]. Applying AI and analysis to aggregated field, machine and environmental data can help improve shared insights between growers and enterprises across the agriculture ecosystem. With a better view of the fields, growers can see what’s working on certain farms and share best practices with other farmers. The platform assesses data in an electronic field record to identify and communicate crop management patterns and insights. Enterprise businesses such as food companies, grain processors, or produce distributors can then work with farmers to leverage those insights. It helps track crop yield as well as the environmental, weather and plant biologic conditions that go into a good or bad yield, such as irrigation management, pest and disease risk analysis and cohort analysis for comparing similar subsets of fields.

The result isn’t just more productive farmers. Watson Decision Platform for Agriculture could help a livestock company eliminate a certain mold or fungus from feed supply grains or help identify the best crop irrigation practices for farmers to use in drought-stricken areas like California. It could help deliver the perfect French fry for a fast food chain that needs longer – not fatter – potatoes from its network of growers. Or it could help a beer distributor produce a more affordable premium beer by growing higher quality barley that meets the standard required to become malting barley.

Watson Decision Platform for Agriculture is built on IBM PAIRS Geoscope from IBM Research, which quickly processes massive, complex geospatial and time-based datasets collected by satellites, drones, aerial flights, millions of IoT sensors and weather models. It crunches large, complex data and creates insights quickly and easily so farmers and food companies can focus on growing crops for global communities.

IBM and The Weather Company help the agriculture industry find value in weather insights. IBM Research collaborates with start up Hello Tractor to integrate The Weather Company data, remote sensing data (e.g., satellite), and IoT data from tractors. IBM also works with crop nutrition leader Yara to include hyperlocal weather forecasts in its digital platform for real-time recommendations, tailored to specific fields or crops. IBM acquired The Weather Company in 2016 and has since been helping clients better understand and mitigate the cost of weather on their businesses. The global expansion of Watson Decision Platform for Agriculture is the latest innovation in IBM’s efforts to make weather a more predictable business consideration. Also just announced, Weather Signals is a new AI-based tool that merges The Weather Company data with a company’s own operations data to reveal how minor fluctuations in weather affects business.

The combination of rich weather forecast data from The Weather Company and IBM’s AI and Cloud technologies is designed to provide a unique capability, which is being leveraged by agriculture, energy and utility companies, airlines, retailers and many others to make informed business decisions.

[1] The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, “World Population Prospects: The 2017 Revision”

[2] Business Insider Intelligence, 2016 report: https://www.businessinsider.com/internet-of-things-smart-agriculture-2016-10


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What if Amazon used AI to take on factories?

By ANTONY BOURNE, IFS Global Industry Director for Manufacturing

Amazon recently announced record profits of $3.03bn, breaking its own record for the third consecutive time. However, Amazon appears to be at a crossroads as to where it heads next. Beyond pouring additional energy into Amazon Prime, many have wondered whether the company may decide to enter an entirely new sector such as manufacturing to drive future growth, after all, it seems a logical step for the company with its finger in so many pies.

At this point, it is unclear whether Amazon would truly ‘get its hands dirty’ by manufacturing its own products on a grand scale. But what if it did? It’s worth exploring this reality. What if Amazon did decide to move into manufacturing, a sector dominated by traditional firms and one that is yet to see an explosive tech rival enter? After all, many similarly positioned tech giants have stuck to providing data analytics services or consulting to these firms rather than genuinely engaging with and analysing manufacturing techniques directly.

If Amazon did factories

If Amazon decided to take a step into manufacturing, it is likely that they could use the Echo range as a template of what AI can achieve. In recent years,Amazon gained expertise on the way to designing its Echo home speaker range that features Alexa, an artificial intelligence and IoT-based digital assistant.Amazon could replicate a similar form with the deployment of AI and Industrial IoT (IIoT) to create an autonomously-run smart manufacturing plant. Such a plant could feature IIoT sensors to enable the machinery to be run remotely and self-aware; managing external inputs and outputs such as supply deliveries and the shipping of finished goods. Just-in-time logistics would remove the need for warehousing while other machines could be placed in charge of maintenance using AI and remote access. Through this, Amazon could radically reduce the need for human labour and interaction in manufacturing as the use of AI, IIoT and data analytics will leave only the human role for monitoring and strategic evaluation. Amazon has been using autonomous robots in their logistics and distribution centres since 2017. As demonstrated with the Echo range, this technology is available now, with the full capabilities of Blockchain and 5G soon to be realised and allowing an exponentially-increased amount of data to be received, processed and communicated.

Manufacturing with knowledge

Theorising what Amazon’s manufacturing debut would look like provides a stark learning opportunity for traditional manufacturers. After all, wheneverAmazon has entered the fray in other traditional industries such as retail and logistics, the sector has never remained the same again. The key takeaway for manufacturers is that now is the time to start leveraging the sort of technologies and approaches to data management that Amazon is already doing in its current operations. When thinking about how to implement AI and new technologies in existing environments, specific end-business goals and targets must be considered, or else the end result will fail to live up to the most optimistic of expectations. As with any target and goal, the more targeted your objectives, the more competitive and transformative your results. Once specific targets and deliverables have been considered, the resources and methods of implementation must also be considered. As Amazon did with early automation of their distribution and logistics centres, manufacturers need to implement change gradually and be focused on achieving small and incremental results that will generate wider momentum and the appetite to lead more expansive changes.

In implementing newer technologies, manufacturers need to bear in mind two fundamental aspects of implementation: software and hardware solutions. Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software, which is increasingly bolstered by AI, will enable manufacturers to leverage the data from connected IoT devices, sensors, and automated systems from the factory floor and the wider business. ERP software will be the key to making strategic decisions and executing routine operational tasks more efficiently. This will allow manufacturers to keep on top of trends and deliver real-time forecasting and spot any potential problems before they impact the wider business.

As for the hardware, stock management drones and sensor-embedded hardware will be the eyes through which manufacturers view the impact emerging technologies bring to their operations. Unlike manual stock audits and counting, drones with AI capabilities can monitor stock intelligently around production so that operations are not disrupted or halted. Manufacturers will be able to see what is working, what is going wrong, and where there is potential for further improvement and change.

Knowledge for manufacturing

For many traditional manufacturers, they may see Amazon as a looming threat, and smart-factory technologies such as AI and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) as a far off utopia. However, 2019 presents a perfect opportunity for manufacturers themselves to really determine how the tech giants and emerging technologies will affect the industry. Technologies such as AI and IoT are available today; and the full benefits of these technologies will only deepen as they are implemented alongside the maturing of other emerging technologies such as 5G and Blockchain in the next 3-5 years. Manufacturers need to analyse the needs which these technologies can address and produce a proper plan on how to gradually implement these technologies to address specific targets and deliverables. AI-based software and hardware solutions will fundamentally revolutionise manufacturing, yet for 2019, manufacturers just have to be willing to make the first steps in modernisation.

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