Secure Open-Source Workloads With Enterprise Support

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Not that long ago, many tech observers wondered whether open-source solutions had a place in the enterprise. Now open-source software is in use practically everywhere. It’s not just in DevOps, either. Open-source solutions are used for production workloads, monitoring systems and applications, powering analytics and machine learning, allowing you to make sense of your data.

In a 2019 survey of IT leaders commissioned by Red Hat, 69% of the 950 respondents viewed enterprise open source as “very important” or “extremely important,” while just 1% considered it “not at all important.” According to the same survey, 68% of respondents reported that their use of open source had increased over the prior 12 months, while 59% said they anticipated making greater use of open source over the coming 12 months.

The idea of open source is that it’s a community of contributors, programmers who are willing to share their ingenuity with the world. “What makes open source so cool is it’s completely nimble,” says Laura Morrison, business development executive at Tech Data. “For many products, subscriptions aren’t required, so people are unfettered by those financial reins. They can download the code and build their solutions.” The downside, however, comes when an enterprise must rely on that same unstructured community to provide a patch for a mission-critical application, for instance.

Open-Source Software Support Makes Business Sense

So, while open source is cool, you have a business to run―and your IT staff is already swamped, managing and maintaining your servers and networks. Meanwhile, your executives must be assured that your critical business systems and data are secure.

That’s where open-source software support comes into play. It may seem contrary to the open-source “model,” but acquiring technical support for the open-source solutions that are so critical to your enterprise makes sound business sense. And Evolving Solutions, a Premier IBM Business Partner, can provide comprehensive and affordable support packages to suit your specific needs.

Open-Source Support from a Coordinated Collective

Open-Source Software Support FAQs

Still have questions about open-source software support? Check out this list of frequently asked questions (FAQs).

Q: What’s the logic of paying for open source software if I can download the code without a subscription?

A: Those who develop open-source software are, by and large, talented and experienced coders. But bugs happen, particularly when a piece of software is frequently updated. And care must be taken when introducing any new package into a production environment. Production systems deserve enterprise caliber support.

“I believe the primary challenge is and always will be security,” says IBM’s Hector Luna, open-source/multi-vendor software services (MVS) sales

executive, North America. “Large enterprises typically do not track their open source, which causes their patching to not be up-to-date and allows for vulnerabilities. And while the developers of the software know best, hunting online for information from the open-source community can also be very time-consuming.”

Q: What are some other benefits of open source support?

A: Even in large IT shops, open-source expertise may be lacking. Morrison has seen it many times.

“I’ve been on client calls with literally hundreds of open-source users, and I’ve found that many companies have a handful or sometimes even just one key expert on open source—a wunderkind who can fix anything,” Morrison says. “But you know what? What if this person takes a vacation? What if they find a better job? Suddenly this enterprise is going to find itself without reliable staffing.”

On the flip side, do you want your experienced—and likely, already very busy—system programmers and application developers browsing forums or searching for bugs? With technical support, you have access to experts who can do the digging and provide the quick answers you need.

Q: What are the benefits of Evolving Solutions working with IBM to provide enterprise-wide open-source support?

A: IBM is renowned for its breadth of technical support services, and the company has been in this business for decades. By working through Evolving Solutions, a company that’s been implementing technology solutions for more than 20 years, clients are connected directly to skilled software engineers to answer questions or resolve technical issues.

“Only IBM has this kind of enterprise-caliber support with options for 9-5 or 24-7 support on community open-source packages,” Morrison says.

Training and consulting services are also available through IBM. These customizable offerings could take the form of a scheduled consultation, a virtual workshop or formal onsite training that’s devoted to specific open-source packages.

Q: What are the pricing guidelines?

A: Of course, it varies based on the services being sought, but support packages are volume-based and very competitive. Note the emphasis on physical hardware: A single server running hundreds of virtual instances is considered one server. With cloud environments, the billable units are determined by the number of instances regardless of the number of virtual

CPUs. In large environments of 100 or more servers, for example, volume discounts would reduce those per server prices by roughly half.

Of course, it varies based on the services being sought, but support packages are volume-based, with the annual price generally in three or four figures. For instance, in an environment with 1-5 physical servers, the annual contract price is $1,000 for 9 to 5 service and $1,400 for 24-7 service. Note the emphasis on physical hardware: a single server running hundreds of virtual instances is considered one server. With cloud environments, the billable units are determined by the number of instances regardless of the number of virtual CPUs. In large environments of, say, 100 or more servers, volume discounts would reduce those per server prices by roughly half.

“The pricing matrix for this is very friendly,” says Morrison.

Q: What specific open-source solutions are IBM-supported?

A: No one computing platform can serve the needs of the entire business world, and IBM understands this. With this is mind, a good place to start is with Linux distributor SUSE. You likely know that IBM recently acquired Red Hat, but rest assured, if your enterprise is running SUSE Linux, IBM’s world-class support is available to you. IBM support also covers the common open-source code—including R, Perl, PHP and Python—as well as middleware, operating systems like CentOS and Debian, databases like PostGreSQL. Finally, there’s an array of open-source packages, a list too lengthy to recount here.

“We manage more than 160 open-source software projects and a handful of the largest software distributors like Red Hat, SUSE, Canonical, EDB, Datafax and now Confluence,” says Luna. “We manage L1 through L3 remote support calls for our customers—one throat to choke, one hand to shake, as I like to say—and one contract with a range of service levels our clients can choose from. I’ve looked at alternate companies for open-source support and we can’t see anyone within that realm who can provide an end-to-end support structure like IBM can provide.”

How a Multi-Vendor IT Support Strategy Helps You Save

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Data center managers and technicians have a lot on their plates. Computing and storage systems, network devices and various other equipment must be installed, managed, monitored and maintained. Ensuring smooth operations requires regular troubleshooting and constant vigilance.

But what about that failed hard drive? Is the warranty still active on that server? Or what about that old storage system you took offline last month? Are you still paying support on it? Have you ever considered the need for battery support for the UPS devices that power your data center?

IT professionals who are consumed with day-to-day matters don’t always have time to plan and organize. That’s why it’s good to have another set of experts available who can tend to the small details that make up the big picture.

Simplifying Complex IT Architecture

There’s a reason that multi-vendor solutions dominate data centers. While a “one-stop shop” model may seem more efficient, the reality is that many organizations require power and functionality that no one vendor can provide. And over time, when their needs inevitably change, they find it practical to acquire the most promising new technologies, regardless of their origin.

“Most of our customers have at least six different manufacturers in their data center,” says Marilyn Sanford, maintenance contracts manager, Evolving Solutions. “The single shop is going away for a lot of reasons. Between storage, computing and migration,many different players in the market offer a variety of solutions, and customers appreciate having these choices. They don’t want to be stuck with one manufacturer anymore.”

Challenges of Multi-Vendor Environments

Nevertheless, multi-vendor computing environments present many challenges. Again, your data center employees manage your servers, install software, monitor performance, etc. Day to day, they keep everything running. But in the meantime, other routine considerations may go overlooked. Little things fall through the cracks. Do you know how many physical servers are running in your data center? Not everyone does. Not everyone has time to figure it out.

“We have customers that give us a list and say, ‘We have these assets,’ ” Sanford says. “So we work with them to pull inventory reports or at times even do a physical inventory. We’ve told customers, ‘You gave us a list of 10 but here are these other five.’ And the response is always, ‘Oh. I didn’t know that.’ ”

While alarming, this situation is also understandable. Machines constantly come and go. Contracts are being signed, agreements are expiring. But with a multi-vendor support contract, you don’t have to worry about those details. A support contract through IBM Multi-Vendor Support can streamline support for multi-vendor IT environments. As a premier partner with IBM, which has been providing multi-vendor support for more than 30 years, Evolving Solutions can help.

Simplify Your IT Inventory 

In addition, managing inventory is a unique service. The Customer Asset Management Portal (CAMP) houses accurate, regularly updated inventory information. Say you’re experiencing an outage and you need to know serial numbers as well the status of your relevant contracts and support and warranty information. Just pull up the portal, 24-7, and all your inventory and contact information there. In a manner of moments, you’ll be placing that call.

Evolving Solutions strives to help you keep IT costs in check. As your IT equipment comes up for renewal, advisors conduct cost assessments to help you decide if renewing a contract or purchasing new equipment is a more prudent course of action. Advisors also work with you to consolidate support contracts and ensure you have appropriate levels of support. Over time, as support agreements accumulate, holes or redundancies in your coverage can crop up. For instance:

  • Is 24-7 coverage needed for servers running in your test environment?
  • Are you paying support on hardware you no longer even have?

These lapses can and do regularly occur in busy data centers.

“We work with the customer to make sure we have the right coverage, and then we work to co-term and consolidate,” Sanford says. “Rather than have 10 maintenance contracts, let’s get these down to two or three so you’re not paying throughout the year.”

“Our mission is to simplify these things for our customers,” she adds. “We’ve invested heavily in these tools to track our customers’ assets and contract information, and we’ve found oftentimes that it’s more accurate than the manufacturer’s data. We understand our customers’ needs and goals, and we work to be their trusted advisor.”

Evolving Solutions, the Minneapolis-St. Paul area-based provider of IT technical and support services, can help you manage your multi-vendor computing environment. Our experienced advisors can simplify the complex and time-consuming processes of inventory tracking and life cycle management. And through its partnership with IBM, Evolving can make sure you’re getting the best possible value for the support services you need.

 

 

IBM DataCenter Modernization Meetup

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Join IBM and Brocade SME speakers Thursday August 15th to learn about the exciting trends in Virtual Tape, Enterprise data Extension and why Flash and NVMe are driving the need for DataCenter Modernization.

Date: Thursday August 15th
Time: 1:00 to 4:30 Followed by Happy Hour
Location: Brookview Golf Club Event Center
316 Brookview Parkway S
Golden Valley, MN 55426

Sessions:
What’s new in IBM TS7700 Virtual Tape: Toy Phouybanhdyt – IBM
Cover features and the functions of TS7700 R4.1.2 and TS7700 R2 that will help reduce the TS7700 storage capacity utilization as well as reducing the network bandwidth without spending much effort, and to utilize the cloud as an extension of the TS7700 grid to store long term retention and cold data.

Brocade SAN Extension & Network Mgmt.: Tim Jeka – Broadcom
IBM/Brocade Extension platforms can support all long distance data replication. Today’s platforms provide the stability and performance needed for storage over distance solutions. Learn how today’s platforms support both FCIP and IPEX (IP Extension), transports for Block/File/Object storage solutions.

IBM Flash, Data Modernization & Cloud strategies: Matt Key – IBM
See how IBM Flash enables data modernization, hybrid cloud, and some other unique strategies across customer bases. “Using Flash to lower costs, lower risks, and increase corporate value.”

Brocade FC and NVMe enhances Data Modernization: Tim Jeka – Broadcom
With today’s data growth and the advent of NVMe arrays, the storage network is critical to ensure optimum performance from storage, otherwise, bottlenecks move into the network. IBM/Brocade Gen 6 SANs are the proven modern infrastructure ready for NVMe storage today and as it evolves. Prepare your datacenter and take advantage of new technology strategies

Business Partner Advisory Council Sessions did not Disappoint

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I was fortunate enough to represent Evolving Solutions at three IBM Business Partner Advisory Council sessions from June 11-13 in Charleston, SC.  Evolving Solutions is a member of the IBM Z, IBM Power Systems and IBM Storage advisory councils.

IBM’s messaging is clear – Hybrid Multi-cloud is the future of IT. As IT organizations move to Cloud 2.0, they are evaluating the merits of moving mission critical applications to the public cloud against leveraging existing assets on prem to support digital transformation. To quote an IBM Executive: “Cloud is a means to an end; not a strategy”.  Gartner predicts that organizations are likely to have 1/3 of workloads on prem, 1/3 of workloads in the public cloud and 1/3 of workloads in a hosted environment.  Organizations will need a solid Hybrid Multi-cloud strategy to support their business transformation.

IBM Z continues to be a growth platform for IBM and many clients continue to put their trust in the platform.  This is due to the high level of integrated security, automation and the platform’s design for data serving.  IBM’s investments are enabling the platform to become an integral part of any Hybrid Cloud environment through the development of RESTful APIs that allow seamless integration. The platform value of the IBM Z is being extended through open standards and tooling across all cloud consumption models.  In addition, IBM’s Tailored Fit Pricing delivers simplicity, transparency and predictability of pricing. Several options exist but the Enterprise Consumption Solution offers a cloud-like usage-based licensing model.

A highlight of the week was hearing Paul Zikopoulos, Vice President of Big Data and Cognitive Systems, speak on AI and Deep Learning.  Data is the next natural resource for companies – only 20% of the world’s data is accessible today. The real value lies in uncovering the insight from the 80% that is not accessible today. AI and Deep Learning will be the key to uncovering the insights from today’s dark data. A key quote from Paul stated that “There is no AI without IA (Information Architecture”.  Complex workflow can lead to data isolation, which is a key challenge in uncovering the value in the hidden data. A solid Information/Data Architecture enables the true benefit of AI. IBM’s Systems reference architecture for AI spans IBM PowerAI, IBM Spectrum Computing and IBM Storage.

There was big news in the world of SAP.  SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud (HEC) will soon offer IBM POWER9 as an option.  Why?  SAP HEC executives were looking for a more reliable and flexible architecture that allowed SAP to meet strict SLAs while adapting to highly dynamic environments. The POWER9 platform simplifies and accelerates SAP HANA deployments.  We are also excited to see POWER9 come to both the IBM Cloud and Google Cloud Platform this summer.  More to come in the next few months…

The three days were packed with great information and learning. Of course, we also enjoyed the social time with a great IBM team.  The IBM partnership is one of our longest and most-strategic, and we value the opportunity to provide insight into the company’s future systems strategies.


Jaime Gmach, President and CEO

Jaime Gmach co-founded Evolving Solutions in 1996 and continues to lead the company today as its President and CEO. Together with the extended Evolving Solutions team, Jaime has built the company into a business focused on creating enduring, open and trusted client relationships as a leading technology solution provider to businesses throughout North America.

Jaime has spent the past 30 years serving in various leadership roles within the technology industry. Jaime’s career began as a Systems Engineer with a Minneapolis-based professional services firm where he traveled throughout the world focusing on the implementation and support of mid-range compute and storage solutions. Daily face-to-face interaction with clients early in his professional career served as the inspiration for Jaime’s entrepreneurial passion and for his continued desire to work closely with clients.

Like what you read?  Follow Jaime on LinkedIn.

Key Takeaways from IBM Think 2019

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By Bo Gebbie, Vice President, Sales, Services and Marketing

During the week of February 11, IBM hosted IBM Think 2019 in San Francisco, CA.  In addition to Think, the annual IBM PartnerWorld Conference was also held during the same time.  Hosting these events together saw almost 30,000 attendees descend on San Francisco for the week.

Evolving Solutions had several team members and clients attend the event.  It was an outstanding opportunity to learn about IBM’s 2019 strategic imperatives, new solution announcements and new channel program enhancements.  Additionally, the event afforded us the opportunity to network with hundreds of clients and IBMers from across the country.

As I reflect back on Think, there were several key take-aways for me.

  • Hybrid Cloud is where it’s at. According to the IBM Institute for Business Value, clients are already using between two to 15 clouds.  These environments might be on-premise or in the public cloud.  As the number of cloud silos continue to grow, clients need an easier way to connect the applications, no matter where the data resides.  During Think, the IBM Cloud Integration Platform was announced.  This platform is “designed to securely connect applications, software and services from any vendor regardless of whether those systems are on-premises, in a public cloud or a private cloud,” according to IBM.
  • Data.  Data. Data.  According to IBM CEO Ginny Rometty, “only 20% of the world’s data is searchable.”  Applications such as Office365, CRM, expense management, etc. were the “easy apps” to get into the cloud.  There is 80% of data out there that is critical to an organization’s overall success.  Those core systems will be the focus of the next era.  How do clients utilize that data to make gather meaningful business insights, and make-real time decisions?  IBM is placing big bets on “the next 80%” to help grow its solution portfolio.
  • Artificial Intelligence will transform how we all work. Many people still think of AI as something you would see in a Sci-Fi movie.  But, according to Rometty and several executives we spoke with, AI will be embedded in applications or layered on top of them in the future.  AI will enable new or improved business processes.  AI will enable every single person to do their job in a more efficient or data-led way.  AI will not replace jobs; rather it will augment how we do work.  I like the theory, and look forward to seeing how this plays out over time.
  • Red Hat is key to IBM’s future. The IBM executives could not say a ton about the Red Hat acquisition, since the deal has not closed yet. But, every single IBMer was excited for what Red Hat can bring to IBM in terms of new client opportunity, innovating the product stack and keeping IBM relevant to the next generation of buyers.
  • Holy moly, the Moscone Center is huge. One of my non-business learnings is that the Moscone Center in downtown San Francisco is enormous.  It is no small feat to fit tens of thousands of people into one place!

Over the next few months, we will have Evolving Solutions team members at several of our other strategic partners’ premier conferences.  We will share our insights from those events on our blog.

I am looking forward to returning to San Fran next May for Think 2020.  Hope to see you there!

Bo Gebbie joined Evolving Solutions in January, 2017 as the Vice President of Sales, Services and Marketing. In this role, he is responsible for the sales, pre-sales services, post-sales consulting and marketing pillars within the organization. He is a member of the Executive and Management Teams, and represents the organization externally on vendor and partner Advisory Councils.

Before joining Evolving Solutions, Bo was an IBM executive, serving last as Vice President of Server Solution Sales, North America. In that role, he had sales and profit responsibility for a $3B portfoilio across Power Systems, z Systems and the Server Linux brands. Prior to that, Bo was the Business Unit Executive, Power Systems Sales, North America.

Like what you read? Follow Bo on LinkedIn.

Weather (data) for all seasons

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By Doug Polen, Software Sales Specialist

Many people don’t know this, but Weather Underground was a part of The Weather Company, which was acquired by IBM a few years ago. They had been offering an API that many customers and weather junkies had been using for quite some time to gather weather data for a vast array of applications.

To accommodate Weather Underground’s rapidly growing customer base, The Weather Company made the decision to move the Weather Underground platform to IBM’s enterprise API infrastructure and set this popular API to be shut down this month.

There are several different flavors of the API that are being published. The scalability of IBM’s infrastructure will allow existing Weather Underground customers to continue to receive the consistent customer experience they are used to, as well as better serve the developers working on the next generation of weather data.

As a result of this change, I was called upon to help with the surplus of inbound inquiries this decision created. Little did I know when I agreed to help work with these folks, the wealth of information I would take in about weather data and its seemingly endless use cases.

So why is this something that’s worth writing about? The Weather Company continues to remain the world’s most accurate forecaster and IBM is committed to ensuring its customers receive precise and accurate weather data at rapid speed.

Weather is something that impacts everyone daily in their personal lives. It’s a lot like the 82,000 memes you’ve seen on social media around the January 2019 Polar Vortex here in Minnesota … this guy survived his first -30° day ever, and here I am writing a weather blog in the postmortem.

Is it going to be sunny today?
What’s the wind chill today?
Will I need an umbrella?

This information is invaluable from a business perspective.

Will a snow storm impact a shipment?
Does an electric utility require more power today because more people will be using their AC’s?
What is the historical sun/wind/rain pattern that could impact agricultural output?

You get the point, the bottom line for business is having the ability to access better weather information can really have an impact on how business decisions are made. Helping clients make their businesses better and more competitive through data, is what I do. These new IBM offerings are both cost effective and robust.

Truth be told, in my sales career, I’ve never enjoyed the customer conversations more than I am right now. These are really fun conversations to have. I’ve learned about vineyards and how weather affects wine production, how off-shore oil rigs rely on accurate weather information to make decisions on worker safety and asset protection, and the ways public safety uses weather to predict what’s coming so they can best plan and schedule the resources necessary to keep public utilities going during weather events.

Speaking of fun, I’m positioning the Weather Company for Enterprise use, but I’ve got a new app on my phone that I simply love. WTForecast is a great app that I recently discovered (not affiliated with IBM). If you want a little humor (and let’s face it, when it’s -30° you need to laugh, albeit carefully, so as not to crack your face), be sure to give this one a try.

The point is, take a look at how decisions are made in your organization. Could better weather data help your company to make better choices to enhance profitability, make a more enjoyable workplace, or maybe even save an employee’s life? Let’s get to work today and uncover what we can do for your future.

#ISurvivedThePolarVortex

Doug Polen is a Software Sales Specialist at Evolving Solutions.  He has been with Evolving Solutions since 2015, after spending 16 years at IBM as a Software Client Leader and Client Executive.

He specializes in IBM PassPort Advantage, Software as a Service, Analytics, Cloud, Cognitive, IoT, Security, Social & Weather solutions and holds numerous IBM software certifications.

Like what you read? Follow Doug on LinkedIn.

Remember that time when IBM’s Watson went to Hollywood with the First “Cognitive Movie Trailer” and it was a horror flick?

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How do you create a movie trailer about an artificially enhanced human?

You turn to the real thing – artificial intelligence.

20th Century Fox has partnered with IBM Research to develop the first-ever “cognitive movie trailer” for its upcoming suspense/horror film, “Morgan”. Fox wanted to explore using artificial intelligence (AI) to create a horror movie trailer that would keep audiences on the edge of their seats.

Movies, especially horror movies, are incredibly subjective. Think about the scariest movie you know (for me, it’s the 1976 movie, “The Omen”). I can almost guarantee that if you ask the person next to you, they’ll have a different answer. There are patterns and types of emotions in horror movies that resonate differently with each viewer, and the intricacies and interrelation of these are what an AI system would have to identify and understand in order to create a compelling movie trailer. Our team was faced with the challenge of not only teaching a system to understand, “what is scary”, but then to create a trailer that would be considered “frightening and suspenseful” by a majority of viewers.

As with any AI system, the first step was training it to understand a subject area. Using machine learning techniques and experimental Watson APIs, our Research team trained a system on the trailers of 100 horror movies by segmenting out each scene from the trailers. Once each trailer was segmented into “moments”, the system completed the following;

1)   A visual analysis and identification of the people, objects and scenery. Each scene was tagged with an emotion from a broad bank of 24 different emotions and labels from across 22,000 scene categories, such as eerie, frightening and loving;

2)   An audio analysis of the ambient sounds (such as the character’s tone of voice and the musical score), to understand the sentiments associated with each of those scenes;

3)   An analysis of each scene’s composition (such the location of the shot, the image framing and the lighting), to categorize the types of locations and shots that traditionally make up suspense/horror movie trailers.

The analysis was performed on each area separately and in combination with each other using statistical approaches. The system now “understands” the types of scenes that categorically fit into the structure of a suspense/horror movie trailer.

Then, it was time for the real test. We fed the system the full-length feature film, “Morgan”. After the system “watched” the movie, it identified 10 moments that would be the best candidates for a trailer. In this case, these happened to reflect tender or suspenseful moments. If we were working with a different movie, perhaps “The Omen”, it might have selected different types of scenes. If we were working with a comedy, it would have a different set of parameters to select different types of moments.

It’s important to note that there is no “ground truth” with creative projects like this one. Neither our team, or the Fox team, knew exactly what we were looking for before we started the process. Based on our training and testing of the system, we knew that tender and suspenseful scenes would be short-listed, but we didn’t know which ones the system would pick to create a complete trailer. As most creative projects go, we thought, “we’ll know it when we see it.”

Our system could select the moments, but it’s not an editor. We partnered with a resident IBM filmmaker to arrange and edit each of the moments together into a comprehensive trailer. You’ll see his expertise in the addition of black title cards, the musical overlay and the order of moments in the trailer.

Not surprisingly, our system chose some moments in the movie that were not included in other “Morgan” trailers. The system allowed us to look at moments in the movie in different ways –moments that might not have traditionally made the cut, were now short-listed as candidates. On the other hand, when we reviewed all the scenes that our system selected, one didn’t seem to fit with the bigger story we were trying to tell –so we decided not to use it. Even Watson sometimes ends up with footage on the cutting room floor!

Traditionally, creating a movie trailer is a labor-intensive, completely manual process. Teams have to sort through hours of footage and manually select each and every potential candidate moment. This process is expensive and time consuming –taking anywhere between 10 and 30 days to complete.

From a 90-minute movie, our system provided our filmmaker a total of six minutes of footage. From the moment our system watched “Morgan” for the first time, to the moment our filmmaker finished the final editing, the entire process took about 24 hours.

Reducing the time of a process from weeks to hours –that is the true power of AI.

The combination of machine intelligence and human expertise is a powerful one. This research investigation is simply the first of many into what we hope will be a promising area of machine and human creativity. We don’t have the only solution for this challenge, but we’re excited about pushing the possibilities of how AI can augment the expertise and creativity of individuals.

AI is being put to work across a variety of industries; helping scientists discover promising treatment pathways to fight diseases or helping law experts discover connections between cases. Film making is just one more example of how cognitive computing systems can help people make new discoveries.

Cognitive Computing: Improving X-Rays

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“What if your X-ray could predict a potential disease months in advance,” writes Laura Lorenzetti for Fortune. This past summer IBM Watson Health created a new partnership with leading medical providers and imaging tech companies to see if cognitive computing can take medical imaging one step further to actually predict the chance of diseases like cancer and heart failure.

Ms. Lorenzetti’s article points out that much of the data gathered from an x-ray or MRI is “unstructured.” It can be difficult for computers to connect the information to patient records in a meaningful way. IBM Watson Health is trying to change that and utilizing its power to connect unstructured data with its massive databases of patient medical history.  Ms. Lorenzetti writes, “the goal is to provide new offerings across various medical environments (a hospital ER or an everyday physician’s office) that can connect systems (medical records, picture archiving, lab results) and deliver cognitive insights to doctors on the spot for better diagnoses.”

One example from the article is the use of mammograms. Not only could Watson connect the image results to the patient’s medical history but it could also “cross-reference against the similar patients within the Watson database.”  These connections could improve a doctor’s  ability to identify early warning signs or risks.

Another example is the use of cognitive computing to help doctors predict which patients are more likely to have a heart attack after reporting chest pain.  Ms. Lorenzetti reports that 2% of patients who visit an ER with chest pain have the early signs of a heart attack missed. By connecting the data dots IBM Watson Health could help doctors identify these signs better.

IBM Watson Health’s shear power to process unstructured data such as medical imaging while also consuming vast amounts of patient data allows for it to draw cognitive insights that will one day improve patient diagnoses and treatments.

AI – Practical Applications

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Last week’s blog post featured information on what augmented intelligence (AI) means and the industries using the technology from IBM Research.  Today, let’s review a couple real life examples of AI applications.

First, a quick definition, IBM prefers to refer to AI as augmented intelligence.  Their approach is to use cognitive computing capabilities, such as machine learning, reasoning and decision tech, language, speech and visual tech and human interface tech, to create practical applications that enhance and scale human expertise.

IBM’s Watson Health – Partnering with New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK), IBM’s application helps to consume and process the massive amounts of medical research while also “learning” from cancer experts, working to ultimately expand access to cancer treatment options and expertise. Laura Lorenzetti of Fortune explains, “Some MSK oncologists have a highly specific expertise in certain cancers. By training Watson to think like they do, that knowledge expands from one specialist to any doctor who is querying Watson. That means that a patient can get the same top-tier care as if they traveled directly to the center’s offices in Manhattan. IBM’s Watson provides the framework to learn, connect, and store the data, while MSK is imparting its knowledge to train the computer.”

Financial Services – cognitive computing is assisting financial advisors so  they can better serve their  clients.  By ingesting financial information and client data, Watson can answer the everyday client questions while also using its processing power to help identify potential options for the advisor to evaluate.  Many believe that by integrating with Watson financial advisors will be able to expand their practices and serve more clients. William Sprouse of Financial Planning further explains, “In practice, such cognitive computing power would work with an adviser just like a helpful Star Wars droid: virtually present during a meeting with a client, gathering data, and ready to instantly assist with queries and projections, along with its own suggestions based on client data.”

These two examples both demonstrate not only the processing power of augmented intelligence systems like Watson but also the ability to “learn”.  This ability to learn can provide access to critical expertise to more people than ever before in healthcare and financial services.

IBM: AI 101

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A recent article from Tech Crunch by Devin Coldewey highlights an RFI response from IBM regarding artificial intelligence (AI). Mr. Coldewey writes, “The field of artificial intelligence is so huge, and the potential applications so numerous, that it would be folly to try to explain it all in one — no, wait, IBM just did.” Today we will look at some of the highlights from IBM’s response.

First, artificial intelligence vs. augmented intelligence. IBM prefers to speak to augmented intelligence which is the process of creating systems that enhance and scale human expertise rather than systems that attempt to replicate human intelligence.  IBM further describes their approach as cognitive computing or “a comprehensive set of capabilities based on technologies such as machine learning, reasoning and decision technologies; language, speech and vision technologies; human interface technologies; distributed and high-performance computing; and new computing architectures and devices. When purposefully integrated, these capabilities are designed to solve a wide range of practical problems, boost productivity, and foster new discoveries across many industries.”

How is AI currently being used?  IBM provides the follow highlights by industry:

  • Healthcare – AI is advancing precision medicine through its ability to “ingest” patient information and run it against vast stores of medical research
  • Social Services – AI can be used to predict resource needs from specific population groups
  • Education – AI provides new capabilities to design true personalized learning plans
  • Financial Services – AI is being used to ensure financial resources are utilized well. This can come from the advancement of the applicant approval process or through efficient weighing and processing of insurance needs against risk, costs and regulations

In particular for IBM what started as a contestant on Jeopardy, IBM Watson, is now full blown cognitive computing that can be applied to practical problems in a variety of industries.

Next week, we will feature more on the blog from IBM’s AI 101. Be sure to check back. Until then you can also read more on AI and cognitive computing here.