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Super-computers for all

Sophisticated or super computer may be the way of the cuter, but due to their prices they are out of reach for many South Africans. But, the founders of local company, CrunchYard, have used their knowledge to create an avenue that opens the world of super computers to just about anyone who needs processing power.

Big data, analytics and sophisticated computer modelling may be the way of the future. Their costs, however, make them business tools that can be expected to remain the exclusive preserve of major corporations that have the budgets to run the ‘super computers’ with the massive processing systems needed for crunching the numbers.

In South Africa, this expectation is being turned on its head as innovative owners of established small and medium-sized businesses turn their entrepreneurial skills to exploiting sophisticated niche markets.

“It is smaller enterprises that have the agility, niche expertise and truly innovative spirit that are helping make a difference in the South African economy,” says Ethel Nyembe, Head of Small Enterprise at Standard Bank.

“As sponsors of the new Business Day TV series, The Growth Engines, we believe that the programme’s approach to examining the relationships between major businesses and smaller suppliers is important. How the two entities collaborate to their mutual benefit and use innovative approaches to solve issues – an example is the availability and cost of super computer processing capacity – makes fascinating viewing. It also serves as a source of inspiration to others who may be thinking about building a business around a very specific business demand.”

A case in point is the innovative approach by a Johannesburg company, CrunchYard, that used its founders’ highly-specialised knowledge to create an avenue that opens the world of super computers to just about anyone who needs processing power.

The brainchild of CrunchYard’s electrical engineer, Dr Renier Dreyer, the SME has adopted a unique approach to democratising access to the world of supercomputing. Nothing could be more democratic than the Internet, and it is this platform that CrunchYard has used to provide a service that allows sophisticated simulations to be run off the Internet on a ‘pay-for-use’ basis.

The service allows big businesses to test the viability and structural integrity of their projects – tasks which require enormous amounts of computing power. The users are primarily engineers and scientists working in fields as diverse as antenna design (such as Poynting Antennas, also featured on The Growth Engines, and responsible for nominating CrunchYard to appear on the programme as its innovative supplier), exploration geophysics, fluid dynamics and even swimwear design. The common denominator of these big businesses, until now, had always been a lack of ‘in-house’ computational power to run simulations.

The system at CrunchYard is made up of 320 computer cores that have been joined to cope with large amounts of data. The task of testing is vastly simplified and considerably cheaper – so much so that demand for the service is growing and CrunchYard is already gearing up to add more core processing power to their facilities.

“The idea for this unique super computer service was born when the founders realised that only major corporations with deep pockets could afford the processing computers needed for most complex simulations. The question was asked why a service catering for the needs of this niche market could not be offered over the Internet?” says Ms Nyembe.

The ultimate benefit stretches far beyond South Africa’s borders. As Dr. Dreyer explains;

“Super computer power is now available to anyone who wants to use it. Looking at Africa, the tendency would be to rely on a first-world power doing research into an African problem.  This allows Africans to solve Africa’s problems. It allows the people at the places where challenges arise to begin looking at them and developing home-grown solutions.”

“This innovation illustrates just how outsourcing from a large company to a specialised smaller company can produce huge benefits. The company that uses the facility does not need to have the computing power or support staff required for a dedicated facility, whilst the company providing the service doesn’t require special skills to interface with the client. They just need to be experts in their own systems.

* Follow Gadget on Twitter on @GadgetZA

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Veeam passes $1bn, prepares for cloud’s ‘Act II’

Leader in cloud-data management reveals how it will harness the next growth phase of the data revolution, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

Veeam Software, the quiet leader in backup solutions for cloud data management,has announced that it has passed $1-billion in revenues, and is preparing for the next phase of sustained growth in the sector.

Now, it is unveiling what it calls Act II, following five years of rapid growth through modernisation of the data centre. At the VeeamON 2019conferencein Miami this week, company co-founder Ratmir Timashev declared that the opportunities in this new era, focused on managing data for the hybrid cloud, would drive the next phase of growth.

“Veeam created the VMware backup market and has dominated it as the leader for the last decade,” said Timashev, who is also executive vice president for sales and marketing at the organisation. “This was Veeam’s Act I and I am delighted that we have surpassed the $1 billion mark; in 2013 I predicted we’d achieve this in less than six years. 

“However, the market is now changing. Backup is still critical, but customers are now building hybrid clouds with AWS, Azure, IBM and Google, and they need more than just backup. To succeed in this changing environment, Veeam has had to adapt. Veeam, with its 60,000-plus channel and service provider partners and the broadest ecosystem of technology partners, including Cisco, HPE, NetApp, Nutanix and Pure Storage, is best positioned to dominate the new cloud data management in our Act II.”

In South Africa, Veeam expects similar growth. Speaking at the Cisco Connect conference in Sun City this week, country manager Kate Mollett told Gadget’s BRYAN TURNER that the company was doing exceptionally well in this market.

“In financial year 2018, we saw double-digit growth, which was really very encouraging if you consider the state of the economy, and not so much customer sentiment, but customers have been more cautious with how they spend their money. We’ve seen a fluctuation in the currency, so we see customers pausing with big decisions and hoping for a recovery in the Rand-Dollar. But despite all of the negatives, we have double digit growth which is really good. We continue to grow our team and hire.

“From a Veeam perspective, last year we were responsible for Veeam Africa South, which consisted of South Africa, SADC countries, and the Indian Ocean Islands. We’ve now been given the responsibility for the whole of Africa. This is really fantastic because we are now able to drive a single strategy for Africa from South Africa.”

Veeam has been the leading provider of backup, recovery and replication solutions for more than a decade, and is growing rapidly at a time when other players in the backup market are struggling to innovate on demand.

“Backup is not sexy and they made a pretty successful company out of something that others seem to be screwing up,” said Roy Illsley, Distinguished Analyst at Ovum, speaking in Miami after the VeeamOn conference. “Others have not invested much in new products and they don’t solve key challenges that most organisations want solved. Theyre resting on their laurels and are stuck in the physical world of backup instead of embracing the cloud.”

Illsley readily buys into the Veeam tagline. “It just works”. 

“They are very good at marketing but are also a good engineering comany that does produce the goods. Their big strength, that it just works, is a reliable feature they have built into their product portfolio.”

Veeam said in statement from the event that, while it had initially focused on server virtualisation for VMware environments, in recent years it had expanded this core offering. It was now delivering integration with multiple hypervisors, physical servers and endpoints, along with public and software-as-a-service workloads, while partnering with leading cloud, storage, server, hyperconverged (HCI) and application vendors.

This week, it  announced a new “with Veeam”program, which brings in enterprise storage and hyperconverged (HCI) vendors to provide customers with comprehensive secondary storage solutions that combine Veeam software with industry-leading infrastructure systems. Companies like ExaGrid and Nutanix have already announced partnerships.

Timashev said: “From day one, we have focused on partnerships to deliver customer value. Working with our storage and cloud partners, we are delivering choice, flexibility and value to customers of all sizes.”

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‘Energy scavenging’ funded

As the drive towards a 5G future gathers momentum, the University of Surrey’s research into technology that could power countless internet enabled devices – including those needed for autonomous cars – has won over £1M from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and industry partners.

Surrey’s Advanced Technology Institute (ATI) has been working on triboelectric nanogenerators (TENG), an energy harvesting technology capable of ‘scavenging’ energy from movements such as human motion, machine vibration, wind and vehicle movements to power small electronic components. 

TENG energy harvesting is based on a combination of electrostatic charging and electrostatic induction, providing high output, peak efficiency and low-cost solutions for small scale electronic devices. It’s thought such devices will be vital for the smart sensors needed to enable driverless cars to work safely, wearable electronics, health sensors in ‘smart hospitals’ and robotics in ‘smart factories.’ 

The ATI will be partnered on this development project with the Georgia Institute of Technology, QinetiQ, MAS Holdings, National Physical Laboratory, Soochow University and Jaguar Land Rover. 

Professor Ravi Silva, Director of the ATI and the principal investigator of the TENG project, said: “TENG technology is ideal to power the next generation of electronic devices due to its small footprint and capacity to integrate into systems we use every day. Here at the ATI, we are constantly looking to develop such advanced technologies leading towards our quest to realise worldwide “free energy”.

“TENGs are an ideal candidate to power the autonomous electronic systems for Internet of Things applications and wearable electronic devices. We believe this research grant will allow us to further the design of optimized energy harvesters.”

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