Scientific computing and the cloud

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This year I’ve had a chance to experiment with tools for compute intensive applications. In particular, tools that harness the profusion of inexpensive CPU/GPU cycles available — OpenMP for multi-threading on single machines so that multiple cores can be leveraged; MPI to distribute compute load over clusters of machines; OpenCL for handing general purpose computation off to a graphics processor. And then on top of these tools, NumPy and SciPy for scripting and visualization from Python. The amount of excellent computational software which is now available is amazing, these capabilities would have cost immeasurable amounts of money just a decade ago. And the first time I tied together a cluster of machines or yoked up a GPU and did a massive computation, and then displayed the animated results using Python — what a great feeling! The ability to attack really hard, really large problems is better than it is has ever been.

But what a nightmare of housekeeping. Breaking up computation into threads and spreading it across multiple cores with shared memory and file system is tedious and error-prone — hand-offs between threads create opportunities for many errors. The work to break up and manage the computation load across multiple machines is even more mind-numbing and error-prone, and now the lack of shared memory and files are additional complications. Using graphics processors is even more obtuse, with their funky fractured memory spaces and architectures and limited language support. And getting all the software piece parts running in the first place takes a long time to work through all the dependencies, mixing and matching distributions and libraries and tools, and then getting it all right on multiple machines. And then you get to maintain all this as new versions of libs and runtimes are released..

But again the results can be stunning — just look around the web at what people are doing in engineering (“Youtube video”:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4z1STnnA3aM), life sciences (“Science Mag article”:http://www.sciencemag.org/content/331/6019/848.full#F3), or any of a dozen other areas. Harnessing multiple cheap processors to perform complicated modeling or visualization can have huge payoff in financial services, bioinformatics, engineering analysis, climate modeling, actuarial analysis, targeting analysis, and so many other areas.

However, it is just too darn hard to wield all these tools. The space is crying out for a cloud solution. I want someone else to figure out all the dependencies and library requirements and spin up the correctly configured virtual machines with all the necessary componentry. And keep that up to date as new libraries and components are developed. I want someone else to figure out the clustering and let me elastically spin up 1, 10, 100 machines as I need to, and manage all the housekeeping between these machines. I want someone else to buy all the machines and run them, and let me share them with other users, because my use is very episodic, and I don’t want to pay for 100 or 1000 or 10000 machines all the time, when I only need the machines for a week here and there. Maybe I want to run all my code in the cloud, or maybe I want to have all the VMs and clustering info delivered to my data center, but I want someone else to solve the housekeeping and configuration issues, and let me get to work on my problems.

Amazon is doing some great work in AWS with their HPC support (“AWS HPC support”:http://aws.amazon.com/hpc-applications/#HPCEC2).
Microsoft has made a commitment to provide scientific computing resources in the cloud (“NYT article”:http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/05/science/05cloud.html). There is a lot of great academic work happening (“ScienceCloud2011”:http://datasys.cs.iit.edu/events/ScienceCloud2011/). But the opportunity is out there to do a lot more.

My iPhone sucks at keeping me in touch with the most important people in my life

The most important elements of my life are relationships. My spouse/partner. Kids, parents, siblings. My company, co-workers, project teams, classmates. Community groups that I am part of — churches, school communities, neighborhoods, charities, etc.

It is interesting that my most personal electronic item, my iPhone, does not really provide much support for these relationships. The top level apps are generic actions that work equally well with all my contacts e –mail, texting, calls, scheduling. There is little support for or focus on the most important relationships in my life.

* Why, when I start to compose an email and type “Liz” in the address book, does the mail app suggest all the “Liz”s I have ever known with equal importance, including people I haven’t contacted in 8 years? Why doesn’t my phone know that I mean the Liz in my immediate family?
* Why do I have to click as many times to send a text to my spouse as I do to send a text to a co-worker? Shouldn’t it be super quick to send a text to my spouse?
* Why is it 1000x easier to share my calendar with my co-workers than with my spouse? Part of this is an Exchange back-end problem, but…
* There are 100 apps to try to keep track of where your potentially cheating spouse is, but why are there so few good ones focusing on the positive scenarios? (Glympse:”www.glympse.com” is a good positive tracker, a recent Ignition investment)
* The best way to see my children’s latest photos is to navigate to their facebook page — why aren’t these as easy to see as my photos?

And so on. It ought to be extra-easy to communicate with the closest people in my life — but it is no easier than communicating with some distant friend or business associate. It is easier to play a game on my phone that to communicate with my family.

Android and Windows Phone have much better support than the iPhone, enough to make me consider switching some days. Just being able to pin a contact to my home screen as I can with Android would be a nice first step.

I’d really like an app on my first iPhone page that is my spouse/partner app:

* A thumbnail of him/her
* A count of important items I need to respond to — email, texts, vmails
* quick buttons to call, text, email him/her
* his/her current mood — each of us can quickly set this and it transmits to the other’s phone immediately
* what’s on their/our calendar today and this week
* their photostream from facebook, twitter, their phone, etc
* the latest messages we’ve exchanged
* countdown to birthdays, anniversaries
* where they are right now (ie Glympse functionality)
* honeydo lists — things she/he needs me to do
* and so on. The app probably needs to be very customizable as every relationship is different.

And I’d like something similar, not quite as much info, for my kids, my parents. And maybe key friends or coworkers. Right now, my phone is a distraction from my personal life, rather than a tool that helps me to improve my personal life. For this most personal of technologies, that just seems wrong.

Busy week at Ignition — Bromium, Storsimple, Glympse, ScaleXtreme

I’ve fallen out of the habit of talking about Ignition portfolio news up here, but it has been a busy week and I am re-motivated to talk about some of these companies.

* “Bromium”:http://vator.tv/news/2011-06-22-bromium-gets-92m-to-make-the-cloud-more-secure has a great team and working in an exciting spacen — the intersection of security, cloud computing, and virtualization. I am very interested to see how this team evolves, I can personally see myself using their technology.
* Continuing in the cloud space, “ScaleExtreme”:http://www.scalextreme.com/ is making it really simple to manage all your servers in the cloud, I am also excited to try this out. And check out the super sweet “pic of Frank”:http://www.thewhir.com/web-hosting-news/062111_ScaleXtreme_Closes_11_Million_Funding_Round_Names_Board_Member in this press piece!
* “StorSimple”:http://www.storsimple.com/press-releases/bid/59821/Latest-Funding-Establishes-StorSimple-as-the-Safe-Bet-in-Enterprise-Cloud-Storage integrates enterprise storage with the cloud, giving the benefits of local storage performance and cloud backup/archiving/tiered storage. Probably not something I can ever personally use, but a great space to be in.
* In a whole different direction, “Glympse”:http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/technology/glympse-raises-75-million-to-help-you-share-your-location-a-few-hours-at-a-time/2011/06/22/AGfztafH_story.html lets you share your location with friends and family. I’m not a big public checkin user (foursquare, etc), but keeping family and close friends up to date with my location is a lot more compelling to me. Great team and a nice intersection of our software and mobile investment biases.

Where are the great sports apps?

I am a huge sports enthusiast. I love the Buckeyes (despite all their current woes!). I follow with interest the Seahawks, the Browns, USC, UW, the Big Ten, the Pac Ten, the SEC. I watch excessive amounts of college football, college basketball, pro football, and pro basketball. And of course I get sucked into Olympics, the Stanley Cup, World Cup, or pretty much any other major sports event. Except baseball, which is incredibly boring.

I spend waaay too much money on sports. It is embarrassing to add it up.

* Season tickets to OSU football games, parking pass, and all the travel and other costs associated with attending OSU games — thank goodness my folks and sister usually cover the tailgate, thanks!
* Occasional bowl tickets and bowl trips. The 2002 National Championship win against Miami was the greatest trip ever.
* Other sporting event tickets a couple times a year. Latest: Rat City Roller Derby here in Seattle. Highly entertaining.
* A stupid amount on cable/satellite service. Because despite all the promise of IPTV and sites like Hulu, if you want to watch live HD sports, you pretty much need to pay for cable or satellite. And not just the basic package either, but the packages that pick up all the ESPN channels, the Big Ten network, and the Fox Sports channels. And given all the recent NCAA football TV deals, I am sure my costs will just go up here.
* And of course I buy magazines, t shirts, jerseys, “giant foam fingers”:http://www.overstock.com/Sports-Toys/Ohio-State-Buckeyes-1-Fan-Foam-Finger/5967412/product.html, “Fatheads”:http://www.fathead.com/, and all other kinds of fan gear.

My daily web reading includes all the online sports media. The major branded sites of course, but also all the blogs covering college football, and there are some great ones — “EDSBS”:http://www.everydayshouldbesaturday.com/, “Dr. Saturday”:http://rivals.yahoo.com/ncaa/football/blog/dr_saturday, “Smart Football”:http://smartfootball.com/, and oh so many more. And the beat writers for local media covering the teams I care about — the “Dispatch”:http://www.dispatch.com/live/content/buckeyextra/dispatch-stories/osufootball.html, the “Plain Dealer”:http://www.cleveland.com/osu/, the “Seattle Times”:http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/sports/, the “Orange-County Register”:http://www.ocregister.com/sections/sports/usc/, the “LA Times”:http://www.latimes.com/sports/college/usc/, etc. I hit the web sites, consume the RSS feeds, subscribe to the tweet streams.

NCAA basketball pools? Bowl Pickem contests? Regular season pickem challenges? Of course, though I have never really gotten into fantasy football, thank goodness, because I would probably love it and burn way too much time playing it.

I’m not alone in my obsession or my spending. Thank goodness sports mania is more socially acceptable than other bad habits, the amount of time and money spent on sports each year is mindboggling. College football as a business took in $3.2B in revenue last year, making $1.1B in profit (“PDF”:http://www.sbrnet.com/pdf/college-football-financial-stats-by-division.pdf). There are games on nearly every day of the week now, and possibly spinning into Sunday in a big way if the NFL labor problems continue. And TV coverage is growing apace, with all the major conferences following the Big-10’s lead and spinning up dedicated networks. 50 million fans attended games last year, a “record”:http://blogs.orlandosentinel.com/sports_college/2011/02/record-setting-year-for-college-football-attendance.html — only stadium capacity limits prevents this from being even larger.

The NFL is an even larger beast in revenues — $9B in revenue (“PDF”:www.thebostoncompany.com/core/…/May11_Views_Insights_NFL.pdf). Not as many people attend the games as at the college level, but the media rights, merchandising rights, etc. are worth far more.

Expenditures don’t stop at watching games — fans will obviously buy anything having do to with their teams. I consider my collection of jackets and hats to be fairly modest. I haven’t begun to tap into the richness of the market. The range of products and services available is stunning, for example:

* “Grill grates”:http://www.ohiostatealumni.org/shop/marketplace/Pages/OhioStateGrillGrates.aspx.
* “Longaberger baskets”:http://www.ohiostatealumni.org/shop/marketplace/Pages/LongabergerTallTissueBasket.aspx. These first two make some sense given the tailgating scene
* “Pottery”:http://www.ohiostatealumni.org/shop/marketplace/Pages/OhioStatePottery.aspx.
* “Furniture”:http://www.collegechair.com/. Starting to get a little far afield
* “Credit cards”:http://alumni.usc.edu/benefits/bankofamerica.html.
* “Travel”:http://www.texasexes.org/travel/find_trip.asp. Not just physical goods!
* “Toys”:http://www.buckeyeshoppingdeals.com/fan/ohio-state-buckeyes-mr-potato-head
* “Wine”:http://www.personalwine.com/catalog/site_affiliate_index_label.php?name=texas
* “Fishing reels”:http://ardentreels.com/products/viewProduct2.asp?prodId=92.
* “Fashion Apparel”:http://www.meeshandmia.com/UniversityofNebraskaAll.html. For some definition of “fashion”
* “Perfume.”:https://masik.com/index.php/university-of-florida. What does a Florida Gator smell like? Or aspire to smell like? and how is that different than the fragrance aspirations of an LSU Tiger
* “Galvanized Buckets”:http://www.amazon.com/NCAA-Oklahoma-Sooners-5-Quart-Galvanized/dp/B003M9YPRU

My smartphone/tablet doesn’t really deliver much to me. Given all this enthusiasm, it is suprising to me that the iPhone (and other smartphone) and iPad experience for sports is so tepid, so undeveloped — no one has figured out how to extract money from me on my mobile device. My #1 app for following sports on the go is Twitter. I download a bunch of free score apps (ESPN and Yahoo Sportacular are both reasonable) which are fine, but I don’t pay a dime for any app or service. Given the willingness of people like me to pay for damn near anything, this is surprising. There are a bunch of sports checkin apps, but they don’t provide any real value — no better game info, no scores, no video, and honestly the enthusiasts just aren’t on these services.

What’s missing?

* Video. Realtime, clips. This is the biggest glaring problem. Particularly on football Saturdays. I want to see highlights of my team, highlights of other games, full videos of other games, plays of the day, video summaries of action in other conferences. During the week, video highlights of the upcoming opponent, clips from last year’s game, etc. And I want it on demand. I can get some of this flipping around channels on the TV but I can’t get it on my device. I’d pay for it but no one is offering.
* Opponent information. The tweet stream is good but I’d love more. What are all the opponent blogs says. What are the opponent mainstream press sites saying. Latest updates on injuries. Some curation/editorial would be good here. In the week we play Nebraska, where do I go to read all the pregame Nebraska material — blogs, newspapers, analysis, forums, etc? Where do i load up on Nebraska Hate gear? Where do I find Nebraska jokes?
* On site experience. There are some real challenges to deal with with respect to on-site, game day services. The load of 150K people all trying to use their phones around Ohio Stadium is crushing. If I was a carrier I’d offer a peak location package, truck in some antennas (cell and wifi), and charge more for peak location use. No idea if the economics would work out here. Beyond just connectivity, I’d like “PointInside” like features at the game. Where and when does the band perform. Where are various other pre-game festivities. Where is the best tailgating activity. Where can I grab a pedicab. Where are the porta-potties.
* Scores and stats. The ESPN and Yahoo Sportacular apps are fine, but they totally break down under Saturday load. There must be a way to better architect these for load. I am always super frustrated at some point on Saturday due to the lack of current reliable score info.
* Deep focus. The existing mobile apps from ESPN, etc, are all super generic, covering all sports and all teams. I’ll pay for depth coverage of college football or of Ohio State. I won’t pay for apps that cover tennis, golf, baseball, and football equally well.
* Gaming. Fantasy football is obviously popular at the NFL level. Nothing comparable really exists at the college level. Yet the level of personal identification with teams, the level of passion is probably greater at the college level. A great college game will need to leverage the intense rivalries in the game.

Sports enthusiasts have proven they will spend stupid amounts of money on their sports mania. It is surprising to me that no smartphone apps have done a good job targeting this user base and trying to separate them from some of their money. I spend more money on stupid casual games apps on my smartphone than I do on one of my main avocations in life, and this seems out of step.

Thinking that intrigues me

* Touchable holography. Uses tracking cameras and directed ultrasound to create interaction and physical sensation. Cool demo.
* Algortihmatic – online library of algorithms and IDE. Cool tho limited.
* The LED’s dark secret. Droop in LED performance to be overcome for broader use.
* Plasmobots — “their previous research has already proved the ability of the mould to have computational abilities”.
* Ford Mike Rowe video. I didn’t realize they automatically tracked every single assembly operations through the tools. Fascinating.
* Brad Feld’s open office hours. An intriguing idea. Commendable.

fun carbon stats for paper

GreenPDF has a ton of info about the carbon costs of paper, fun to read. i am not sure why they commingle the message with PDF adoption, that seems strange, but the numbers are fun. we’ve invested in a couple companies that combat the use of paper — Docusign, Earth Class Mail — so I feel kind of good that we are helping to fight the good fight

VC transparency

Via Techcrunch, TheFunded which tracks feedback on VCs by funded companies. This s awesome, more transparency and communication is always good. I note Bessemer is rated highly, I’m on a board with some Bessemer folks and I would have to agree, they are great. I hope all the Ignition portfolio companies rate us, and rate us honestly.