Author Archives: Pund-IT

Dell’s UltraSharp 40 – Enhancing Work and Workplaces with Monitor Innovations

By Charles King, Pund-IT®  March 3, 2021

Dell caused quite a stir at this year’s virtual CES 2021 with the announcement of a slew of new hardware and software solutions the company said were designed to “reimagine work.” Among these was the new Dell UltraSharp 40 Curved WUHD Monitor (U4021QW) which it described as “the world’s first 40-inch ultrawide WUHD 5K2K monitor.” Dell recently offered to let me put an evaluation unit through its paces, and the experience made me consider and reconsider how a well-designed monitor can impact working and productivity. Following are a few thoughts on my experience. Continue reading

IBM Boosts Hybrid Cloud with New Power Systems and Red Hat Features

By Charles King, Pund-IT®  February 24, 2021

Vendor discussions of cloud and hybrid cloud computing typically follow a “go where you know” trajectory. That is, server and silicon vendors pitch new and different cloud-focused hardware functions while software and services players focus on new applications and tools that make life easier for cloud-bound code writers, developers and data center staff. However, when it comes to hybrid cloud, IBM’s efforts are in an entirely different class.

IBM is the only systems vendor still developing its own silicon (Oracle might disagree but its SPARC CPUs haven’t been updated since the arrival of M8 in 2017) and optimizing resulting servers for hybrid cloud. Additionally, IBM has sizable portfolios of home-grown enterprise operating systems (AIX, IBM i and z/OS), middleware and business applications it can bring to bear for cloud-based services. Finally, the company’s decades-long support of Linux (the lingua franca of cloud) resulted in strategic partnerships with major open source vendors, as well as IBM’s 2019 acquisition of Red Hat which has its own substantial cloud-enabling technologies and services.

What this all means for enterprise customers was made abundantly clear in the new Power Systems and Red Hat offerings IBM introduced this week. Let’s consider that announcement. Continue reading

IBM Cloud – Building a Frictionless Experience for Enterprise Customers

By Charles King, Pund-IT®  February 24, 2021

It is undeniable that people and organizations have embraced cloud computing. The proof is in the steadily growing balance sheets of many cloud vendors, and in the continual rollout of cloud-based services for businesses and consumers. But amidst the good news, there are also some curious dichotomies.

For example, in a recent IBM-sponsored study 74% of enterprise CEOs said they believed that cloud computing will be the most helpful technology for their organizations to deliver results over the next 2 to 3 years. But at the same time, most IT industry watchers believe that only a fraction of mission critical workloads have moved to the cloud.

While it is likely that part of this seeming disparity relates to careful development efforts—no successful organization migrates critical workloads willy-nilly—it is also reasonable to assume that many others are simply not finding services that deliver the levels of security and performance they require.

How are vendors approaching these challenges? Recently, Howard Boville, SVP of IBM Cloud, hosted an analyst webcast where he discussed the company’s hybrid cloud strategy and its latest development efforts. IBM is clearly focused on the needs of large businesses—the company is synonymous with enterprise-class computing—and this sets it well apart from other cloud vendors. Let’s consider the points Boville raised during that event. Continue reading

IBM Storage – Squeezing Enterprise Value into Small, Flexible Form Factors

By Charles King, Pund-IT®  February 10, 2021

The trickle-down effect of enterprise IT is as old as business technology. Vendors have long aimed new innovations at enterprises whose deep pockets and desire for competitive advantage will lead them to pay a premium for shiny new products. Over time and with the help of constant technological evolution, yesterday’s leading-edge solutions are reconfigured and repackaged for smaller companies with tighter budgets.

That dynamic has played out time and again across enterprise tech, but recent developments, including the Covid-19 pandemic, have hastened the speed and urgency of the process, especially in data storage. Companies of all sizes are struggling to effectively manage increasingly massive amounts of business information both on premises and in often sprawling hybrid cloud environments. What are vendors doing to help these customers?

The new FlashSystem 5200 announced this week by IBM is a good example of how to squeeze enterprise-class capacity, performance and other innovations into flexible, affordable packages suitable for any size organization. Let’s consider IBM’s new offerings and what they will mean for its customers. Continue reading

Pund-IT Spotlight: Rola Dagher, Dell Technologies’ Global Channel Chief

By Charles King, Pund-IT®  February 3, 2021

It is hard to think of a senior executive who has broader and deeper work experience than Rola Dagher, Dell Technologies’ Global Channel Chief. Dagher and her infant daughter emigrated to Canada from Lebanon in 1989, joining other family members in Toronto. Seeking work and a better life, she first worked as a telemarketer for Bell Canada which led to jobs in sales and management. Dagher then went on to executive and senior leadership positions at Dell and Cisco System Canada before returning to Dell in September 2020. In this Pund-IT Spotlight interview, Rola Dagher discusses the details of her life and career, her vision and plans for Dell’s Global Channel organization and her dedication to issues and organizations both inside and outside the workplace. Continue reading

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 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.