CES 2021 – The Way Forward for Tech Conferences and Trade Shows

By Charles King, Pund-IT®

Like most tech industry analysts, I’ve spent quite a bit of time attending conferences designed to provide customers and partners the latest news on the sponsoring vendor’s strategies, solutions, services and business plans. Trade shows, like last week’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES 2021) are considerably different creatures.

Yes, numerous analysts and reporters travel to CES (over 6,500 of last year’s 171k+ attendees were members of the media) but the primary purpose of CES and similar events is to physically connect Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) member vendors/manufacturers who exhibit at the show (4,400+ in 2020) with wholesalers and retailers, and encourage commercial deals. So how well can a “virtual” event like CES 2021 support what has traditionally relied on face-to-face engagements? Looking ahead, what does this potentially mean for the CE industries and markets? Let’s consider these issues. Continue reading

CES 2021 – Dell Spotlights WFH Innovations

By Charles King, Pund-IT®  January 13, 2021

Though my work as an industry analyst largely involves business technologies, I’ve made it a point to attend the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas since I launched Pund-IT in 2005. Why so? Because for the past couple of decades, consumer technology products typically presaged what would arrive in the workplace a year or so later.

That was mainly because vendors initially aimed advanced new features in PCs, peripherals, displays and audio/video gear at consumers who were more willing to pay a premium for shiny new things than businesses that regarded IT as an investment. That doesn’t mean that business tech is entirely absent from CES. Workplace-related trends, like Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and increasingly powerful and light notebooks, tablets and phones that enabled employees to work from anywhere garnered floorspace over the years.

However, the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting need to support employees working from home (WFH) have inspired some vendors heading to CES 2021. In particular, the products that Dell is taking to this year’s virtual CES highlight how the company is focusing on integrated, transformative solutions and services that enable employees and employers to reimagine how they approach business. Let‘s take a closer look at what Dell is introducing at CES 2021 Continue reading

Covalent’s AirCarbon Meets IBM Blockchain on LinuxONE

By Charles King, Pund-IT®  January 13, 2021

Beyond commercial demand the price of goods often has an historical or cultural basis, like the value attributed to precious gems and minerals, fine art and famous jewelry. However, establishing and maintaining the value of unique technologies or substances is a more challenging task, especially in markets where stealing intellectual property and counterfeiting luxury goods are commonplace.

In circumstances like this, what can makers of these goods and their customers do to protect their investments? One example was highlighted this week when fashion brand Covalent is using IBM Blockchain on IBM LinuxONE to track the carbon footprint of the fashion accessories it manufactures. Let’s consider why Covalent and IBM are working together and what their effort means for other companies.

Covalent’s AirCarbon

What is Covalent? Covalent manufactures fashion accessories, including sunglasses, handbags and wallets using a new biomaterial called AirCarbon developed by Covalent’s parent company, Newlight Technologies. A biological carbon capture process involving ocean microorganisms is used to create AirCarbon which can be used as an alternative to plastic and leather. AirCarbon is certified as carbon-negative by the Carbon Trust, meaning it results in a net reduction in the amount of carbon dioxide in the air, thus impacting global warming and related environmental issues.

Along with being in a new category of “regenerative” products positively impacting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, each Covalent product is fully traceable via a 12-digit “Carbon Date” that can be used to show the steps in its production process, as well as its third party-verified carbon impact. That number can be entered into Covalent’s website to track the steps that went into creating a product and readying it for sale.

Given the significant public interest in reducing GHGs and consumers’ enthusiasm for product traceability (an IBM Institute for Business Value study found 53% of consumers would pay a premium for items that are reliably traceable), AirCarbon products could be targeted by fashion counterfeiters and knock-off scammers. In order to prevent such scams, Covalent engaged IBM Business Partner, Cognition Foundry, a services provider and systems integrator to store “Carbon Date” information in an IBM Blockchain solution hosted on IBM LinuxONE.

Why IBM Blockchain and LinuxONE? The ability of blockchain to securely store and manage an immutable record is well-aligned with Covalent’s desire to maximally protect Carbon Date information, along with its AirCarbon brand. Plus, by hosting its IBM Blockchain solution on IBM LinuxONE, Covalent can benefit from the platform’s notable scalability and resiliency as well as features, including the industry’s first and only FIPS 140-2 Level 4 certified Hardware Security Module (HSM).

Final analysis

Covalent is obviously not the only organization benefitting from blockchain solutions. In fact, when you combine IBM’s LinuxONE and IBM Cloud’s Hyper Protect Crypto Services, IBM Blockchain becomes a highly beneficial and secure solution for a wide variety of business services and processes.

More broadly, helping to protect Covalent’s unique AirCarbon products and brand highlights how IBM is successfully developing singular solutions that reflect the vitality of and demand for its IBM Z and LinuxONE offerings. By doing so IBM is meeting the business needs and emerging requirements of both existing and new enterprise customers.

© 2021 Pund-IT®. All rights reserved.

Remembering the Lessons of 2020

By Charles King, Pund-IT®  January 6, 2021

By any measure, 2020 is a year most would prefer to forget. The uncontrollable spread of Covid-19 and related economic crises slammed places and people in every corner of the globe. Here in the U.S., the Federal government’s inept management of pandemic response was nearly overshadowed by what was, by any measure, the weirdest election the country has ever seen (and continues to suffer, thanks to a delusional President and his enablers). Toss in drought-fueled wildfires and a record-breaking hurricane season, and the arrival of a potentially fresh New Year is exactly what we needed.

However, consigning 2020 to the trash bin with little beyond a brisk “Adios, sucker” is less than wise. Though the year contained harsh events and burdens, it also provided lessons worth remembering. Rather than peering into a crystal ball to see what lays ahead in 2021, let’s look in the rearview mirror to consider what we’re leaving behind. Continue reading

IBM’s Bayesian Optimization Accelerator and the Journey to Commercial Viability

By Charles King, Pund-IT®  December 16, 2020

How complex computing technologies become commercial solutions is often unclear. In most instances, launch announcements mark the first time the public hears about such products. However, that is not always the case. For example, the appearance of IBM’s recently introduced Bayesian Optimization Accelerator can be tracked over other company breakthrough innovations. Following that trail offers some insights into how what some people might consider an obscure technology can become a commercially viable product.

What is Bayesian optimization?

Originated by the Reverend Thomas Bayes in 1763, Bayes theorem determines the probability of an event based on knowledge of conditions that might influence or be related to the event. As noted in Stephen Meserve’s post on IBM’s new solution, Bayesian methods are commonplace in mathematics but applying standard solutions, like Monte Carlo search, to product design problems is often challenging or impractical.

With that in mind, IBM designed the Bayesian Optimization Accelerator to find optimal solutions for real-world design challenges in less time and with fewer resources than other solutions. It can scale to orders of magnitude larger number of dimensions and tackle highly complex problems. Plus, IBM’s solution can determine design points with a smaller number of samples than other methods require, delivering results faster and more cost-effectively.

However, developing the Bayesian Optimization Accelerator as a commercial solution required the efforts of several IBM teams and business units.

Hardware foundation – IBM’s POWER9-based AC922

Introduced late in 2017, Power Systems AC922 was the first commercial IBM server to utilize the company’s new POWER9 processors, as well as NVIDIA Tesla Volta 100 (V100) GPUs. The AC922 also incorporated features developed for the Summit and Sierra supercomputers deployed at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge Laboratory. The Summit system also led the Top500.org top-performing supercomputer lists from June 2018 until June 2020.

As noted in a blog by Ron Gordon at the time of the launch, the “AC” designation in the AC922 stands for Accelerated Computing because of the performance of two POWER9 CPUs, I/O bandwidth, and memory bandwidth and up to four NVIDIA GPUs. The AC922 is particularly well suited for Artificial Intelligence applications, including machine learning and deep learning, using Linux and frameworks like Torch and Caffe.

The AC922 continues to deliver superb performance for AI workloads and provides hardware foundation for the new Bayesian Optimization Accelerator.

IBM Research’s Bayesian optimization help drive Power innovations

In June 2020, IBM discussed advances achieved by a team of engineers in its High-Speed Bus Signal Integrity (HSB-SI) organization. Implementing IBM Bayesian optimization software, a machine learning tool developed by IBM Research, the team was able to dramatically reduce the number of simulations required to reach the optimal configuration for chip-to-chip communications.

The legacy “brute force” processes that are typically used to analyze chip-to-chip design channels are engineering- and simulation-intensive and take days to arrive at an optimal combination. By running IBM Research’s software on a Power Systems server, the HSB-SI engineers were able to dramatically cut the amount of time required to deliver the same results and used far fewer compute resources to get there.

I wrote about the team’s achievement earlier this year. Using a 10-core Power System server with IBM Bayesian optimization software reduced the compute time required for one job from nearly eight days to 80 minutes. In circumstances where results were required to be delivered in 100 minutes, a Bayesian optimization-enabled Power System server with 9-cores successfully completed that task while brute force techniques required a system with 1,126 cores to achieve the same results.

Enter IBM’s Bayesian Optimization Accelerator

The new IBM solution is a dedicated Power Systems appliance optimized for accelerating Bayesian search calculations. The appliance’s minimum technical requirements include an IBM Power Systems AC922 with dual POWER9 CPUs, 256GB of memory, two NVIDIA V100 GPUs, two 1.6 TB NVMe SSDs and two 1Gb Ethernet ports. Software requirements include RHEL 8, CUDA 11 and ESSL 6.3. Appliances can also be configured to meet specific technical and design requirements.

Key features include enabling task parallelization to reduce CPU and wall clock time, scaling to orders of magnitude more dimensions than conventional open source Bayesian libraries, determining design points with fewer samples than methods, like Grid and Random search require, and ensuring traceability to models to build trust in model design methodologies. IBM also notes that the new appliance offers improved throughput and is easy to add to existing HPC clusters.

Final analysis

While some products appear to spring fully formed from the minds of inventors and developers, far more evolve and are assembled from various, often disparate individual and team efforts. IBM’s new Bayesian Optimization Accelerator is clearly among this latter group. The core Power Systems AC922 platform was enabled by IBM’s new generation POWER9 CPUs, the company’s efforts in designing the Summit and Sierra supercomputers and its strategic partnerships with NVIDIA, Mellanox and others.

On the software side, the new solution owes much to the work of IBM Research developers. By their efforts and in concert with IBM Power Systems hardware, the company’s Bayesian optimization software massively improved the speed and efficiency of what had been highly complex and resource-intensive design processes.

Today, companies have access to commercial iterations of what were once speculative IBM projects. As those organizations put the Bayesian Optimization Accelerator to work, its journey is likely to be eclipsed by the new and unique destinations it helps IBM customers achieve.

© 2020 Pund-IT®. All rights reserved.

Lenovo DCG Offers New Data Management Solutions for Hybrid Cloud and AI

By Charles King, Pund-IT®  December 9, 2020

Computing is and always has been about data, the “information” in IT. That is especially true in business organizations, where the earliest computing solutions focused on speeding and simplifying financial transactions and similar processes. Evolving technologies enabled companies to access, manage, gain insights and profit from new forms of data, often gathered or created in remote locales. But doing so requires IT vendors to develop more robust and sophisticated tools for managing and analyzing that information.

These points underscore the value of the new storage systems, monitoring tools and management capabilities that Lenovo’s Data Center Group (DCG) recently announced. Working alone and with strategic partners, Lenovo has considerably expanded its business customers’ options for working with hybrid cloud, analytics and artificial intelligence (AI). Let’s look at that more closely. Continue reading

Lenovo DCG and DreamWorks –Technical Innovation Meets Real-World Experience

By Charles King, Pund-IT®  December 2, 2020

Cementing relationships with well-known companies is something most every IT vendor hopes to achieve. That is hardly surprising since doing business with organizations that are household names suggests that vendors are doing something very right. Often that assumption is entirely correct since successful companies can pick who they want to do business with and typically choose vendors whose products best fit their needs.

Landing a client like this and keeping the relationship on track qualifies as a big deal but so does being supplanted by a powerful rival. At Lenovo’s recent Tech World conference, the company announced that animation leader DreamWorks Animation had chosen Lenovo’s Data Center Group (DCG) to update its legacy data center. DreamWorks had a longstanding strategic relationship with data center vendor HPE.

Let’s consider what likely drove DreamWorks’ decision and why Lenovo is the right vendor for the job. Continue reading

Pund-IT Executive Spotlight: Denis Kennelly, GM of IBM Storage

By Charles King, Pund-IT®

Denis Kennelly’s passion for technology and leading enterprise transformations has resulted in a remarkable career spanning multiple continents and major vendors. Following senior roles at DEC, EMC, and Motorola, Kennelly became SVP of engineering at Vallent Technologies, a mobile solutions start-up that was purchased by IBM a few months later. Leadership positions in IBM Tivoli, IBM Security, and IBM Hybrid Cloud followed the Vallent acquisition. In August 2020, Kennelly was appointed GM of IBM Storage. He leads the team that delivers industry leading storage solutions and supports client journeys to hybrid cloud and AI. Continue reading

Dell’s Sam Burd and the Renaissance of the PC

By Charles King, Pund-IT®  November 11, 2020

Disasters impact people and organizations in different ways. Some wither and fall under enormous pressure while others rally and hold on. Still others discover unexpected capacities and characteristics that can help them not just cope with seemingly overwhelming events but thrive to explore new options and opportunities.

These dynamics can similarly impact commercial technologies and products, including personal computers (PC). In a discussion with Tiffany Wallace during the recent Dell Tech World Digital Experience, Sam Burd, president of Dell’s Client Computing organization, discussed how the Covid-19 global pandemic has impacted the company and customers, and is leading to new behaviors and trends driven in large part by Dell’s innovative client solutions and services. This “Renaissance of the PC” as Burd calls it, is helping organizations, including Dell, reinvent themselves and the ways that they do business. Continue reading

IBM Announces Cross-Portfolio Expansion of Hybrid Multi-Cloud Capabilities

By Charles King, Pund-IT®  November 4, 2020

If you follow enterprise computing, you know that hybrid multi-cloud technologies and solutions are driving many companies’ IT discussions, strategies, plans and implementations. The reasons for that are pretty straightforward. Though organizations continue to enjoy the easy access of public cloud, few are embracing those platforms for most or all their IT needs.

In fact, a recent Forrester study found that 85% of respondents are increasing funding for IT infrastructure outside of public cloud. But how and how effectively businesses achieve their hybrid multi-cloud goals is another thing entirely. The vast majority enlist trusted vendors to help them on that journey, but the results of those engagements can vary significantly. That’s why IBM’s recent announcement of new hybrid cloud capabilities spanning its IT infrastructure portfolio is worth investigation.

Let’s consider what the company is doing and how it will impact IBM customers. Continue reading