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.
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AI, IoT, and language of bees can save the world
A groundbreaking project is combining artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things to learn the language of bees, and save the planet, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK
It is early afternoon and hundreds of bees are returning to a hive somewhere near Reading in England. They are no different to millions of bees anywhere else in the world, bringing the nectar of flowers back to their queen.
But the hive to which they bring their tribute is no ordinary apiary.
Look closer, and one spots a network of wires leading into the structure. They connect up to a cluster of sensors, and run into a box beneath the hive carrying the logo of a company called Arnia: a name synonymous with hive monitoring systems for the past decade. The Arnia sensors monitor colony acoustics, brood temperature, humidity, hive weight, bee counts and weather conditions around the apiary.
On the back of the hive, a second box is emblazoned with the logo of BuzzBox. It is a solar-powered, Wi-Fi device that transmits audio, temperature, and humidity signals, includes a theft alarm, and acts as a mini weather station.
In combination, the cluster of instruments provides an instant picture of the health of the bee hive. But that is only the beginning.
What we are looking at is a beehive connected to the Internet of Things: connected devices and sensors that collect data from the environment and send it into the cloud, where it can be analysed and used to monitor that environment or help improve biodiversity, which in turn improves crop and food production.
The hives are integrated into the World Bee Project, a global honey bee monitoring initiative. Its mission is to “inform and implement actions to improve pollinator habitats, create more sustainable ecosystems, and improve food security, nutrition and livelihoods by establishing a globally-coordinated monitoring programme for honeybees and eventually for key pollinator groups”.
The World Bee Project is working with database software leader Oracle to transmit massive volume of data collected from its hives into the Oracle Cloud. Here it is combined with numerous other data sources, from weather patterns to pollen counts across the ecosystem in which the bees collect the nectar they turn into honey. Then, artificial intelligence software – with the assistance of human analysts – is used to interpret the behaviour of the hive, and patterns of flight, and from there assess the ecosystem.
Click here to read more about how the Internet of Things is used to interpret the language of bees.
Download speeds ramp up in SA
All four South African mobile network operators have improved their average download speed experience by at least 1 Mbps in the past six months.
This is one of the main findings in the latest South Africa Mobile Network Experience report by Opensignal, the mobile analytics company. It has analysed the mobile experience in the country, updating a study last conducted in February 2019. While a quick look at its South Africa awards table suggests not much has changed since the last report, it’s far from stagnating.
Opensignal reports the following improvements across its measurements:
- MTN remains the leader in our 4G Availability measurements, with a score of 83.6%. But the other three operators are all now within 2 percentage points of the 80% milestone — with Telkom’s users seeing the biggest increase of over 8 points.
- All four operators improved their Download Speed Experience scores by at least 1 Mbps. But growth in our Upload Speed Experience scores has stagnated, with only winner Vodacom seeing an incremental increase.
- MTN and Vodacom remain tied for our Video Experience award, and both have increased their scores in the past six months, putting them on the cusp of Very Good (65-75) ratings. Cell C also increased its score to tip over into a Good ranking (55-65).
- MTN scored over 90% in 4G Availability in two of South Africa’s biggest cities and was just shy of this milestone in the others. Meanwhile, MTN and Vodacom have now passed the 20 Mbps mark in Download Speed Experience in three cities each.
A quick look at the awards table would suggest not much has changed in South Africa since the last report in February. MTN won the 4G Availability award again, Vodacom kept hold of the medals for Upload Speed and Latency Experience, while the two operators tied for Download Speed and Video Experience just as they did six months ago.
But far from stagnating, we’re seeing improvements across most of the measurements. All four of South Africa’s national operators — Cell C, MTN, Telkom and Vodacom — are now closing in on 80% 4G Availability nationally, while at the urban level, MTN has passed the 90% mark in two cities. And in Download Speed Experience, our users on all four operators’ networks saw their scores increase at least 8%.
In this report, Open Signal has analyzed the scores for all four national operators across all their metrics over the 90 days from the start of May 2019, including South Africa’s five biggest cities — Cape Town, Durban, Ekurhuleni, Johannesburg, and Tshwane.
MTN has been top of Open Signal’s South African 4G Availability leaderboard for a couple of years now, and the operator remains dominant with a winning score over 4 percentage points ahead of its rivals. But it was users on Telkom’s network who saw the most impressive boost in 4G Availability, as its score jumped by well over 8 percentage points.
This leap has put Telkom into a three-way draw for second place with Cell C and Vodacom, who both saw their scores increase by at least 3 percentage points.
While MTN is the only operator to have passed 80% in national 4G Availability, the other three players are all less than 2 percentage points away from this milestone. Based on the current rate of improvement, Open Signal fully expects to see all four operators pass the 80% mark in its next report — which will provide testament to the rapid maturing of the South African mobile market.
MTN and Vodacom remain neck-and-neck in the Video Experience analysis, with both operators scoring 65 (out of 100). And the two rivals both saw their scores rise by around 3 points since our last report, meaning the two continue to share our Video Experience award. Cell C and Telkom remain in third and fourth place, but both saw larger increases — of 5 and 4 points respectively — to narrow the gap on the leaders.
The increase in MTN and Vodacom’s Video Experience scores means the two operators are on the cusp of Very Good (65-75) ratings in this metric — with the users on their networks enjoying fast loading video times and almost non-existent stalling, even at higher resolutions. By comparison, Cell C’s score earned it a Good rating (55-65), while Telkom remains in Fair (40-55) territory — meaning users watching video on Telkom’s network, in particular, will likely struggle with longer load times and frequent stuttering, even at lower resolutions.
In terms of 4G-only Video Experience, Cell C’s score has increased enough to tip it over into a Very Good rating — now featuring three operators achieving 4G network scores with a Very Good ranking. And as 4G Availability continues to increase, the overall Video Experience scores will continue to climb, making mobile video viewing more of a viable proposition across all networks. And in a country where fixed-line broadband connections are relatively rare and the large majority of South Africans only connect to the internet via cellular, this improvement has the potential to transform people’s lives.
Read more from Open Signal’s report here.