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Data analytics, machine vision, and the Chinese supercomputing export drive

Chinese supercomputer vendor, Sugon, is expanding into the UK. Bikal is the small British company that is acting as its springboard.

September 2016

18th October, London, UK.Nowhere is the convergence of high-performance computing and data analytics more evident than in the partnership that Sugon, the Chinese supercomputer manufacturer, has formed in order to expand into the UK market. Rather than a conventional integrator or computer systems reseller, it recently chose a small British company, called Bikal, that specialises in machine vision and security cameras.

The images from modern cameras generate huge amounts of data that have to be archived – but readily available – and processed and analysed almost in real time. So Sugon’s UK partner, Bikal, hadbeen developing a real-time analytics and visualisation platform powered by machine learning predictive analytics, in addition to its camera hardware product line. The deal with Sugon now allows Bikal to offer, in addition, the hardware on which that data analytics software can run and, by extension, to offer high-performance computing servers to other customers outside of the machine vision sector.

A meeting in California

The hardware on which most visual analytics run makes extensive use of Nvidia GPUs and, for RajSandhu, Bikal’s chief executive, the fact that Sugon is Nvidia’s main partner in Asia was crucial to the arrangement. Raj told Scientific Computing World that Bikal had been frustrated for some time because it had to act through resellers or distributors when it wanted to install compute hardware for its customers – and the resellers did not understand the detail of visual analytics.

The problem was not the quality of the hardware, he said: ‘We’ve been dealing with Supermicro and HP. As a small company in the UK we’re going through various distributors and I wasn’t able to get direct communication. It was always through a distributor. And information gets lost when creating innovative systems for disruptive technology’.

He met Sugon at Nvidia’s annual GPU Technology Conference (GTC) last year. ‘I went up to them and said I was looking for direct supply, plus I needed HPC and, also, storage that is software defined.’ Raj pointed out that a mix of computation and storage was a characteristic of visual data analysis: ‘You might have a pattern from the past seven days, and you want to research it on the archive from six months ago’. Sugon got the point, he said.

Later in the year, while on a trade mission to China, he met them again at their offices in Beijing: ‘They said to me “You seem to understand HPC and know where the applications are” and thatthey were looking for someone to carry this out in the UK. When they asked if Bikal would be prepared to work with them: ‘I said “yes”.’

Rajpointed to the contrast with his previous frustration at being unable to satisfy the hardware, as well as the software, requirements of his university clients. ‘Supermicro do a fantastic job,’ he said, but even so, ‘we were restricted in our business model because of the supply, the lack of knowledge that was out there among the distributors especially.’ Now with the Sugon partnership, he can go back to some of the UK universities with whom Bikal has been working on image processing algorithms and offer HPC using Nvidia technology (with which they are already familiar) on Sugon machines.Bikal now serves three business sectors areas: camera hardware; big data analysis; and compute servers through the Sugon partnership.

Sugon, is the third largest supercomputer manufacturer in the world. As measured by the number of systems they have in the most recentTop500 – the list of the world’s fastest supercomputers published every six months -- HP is the leader with a 31 per cent share; Cray is number two with just under 14 per cent, but Sugon comes third, with 49 systems, or 9.8 per cent of the Top500 list.

Not just hardware

In Raj’s view, data analytics will be the route by which Sugon hardware can make inroads into the UK market, at least initially. He believes that companies are still not taking full advantage of the data that they have available to them and this is an opportunity for Bikal. ‘The universities will create a benchmark. By getting Sugon’s gear into a university that is doing some outstanding research, I can reference that back into companies.’Commercial companies may not need the level of processing power installed in the university environment, but he believes they will understand that, as a result of the university work, whatever hardware they do opt for will have been rigorously tested.

However, Bikal is not offering just a technology solution – that would be not much different from the approach taken by the distributors. Instead, he went on: ‘I get domain experts – medical, police, retail – who currently work in their professional fields, but they understand what an API is.’ The pitch, therefore, is not coming from a technology person but from a domain expert. In this way, he believes, ‘Our approach is different. We want to work with people out in the field. Let the large enterprise companies look after the day-to-day infrastructure, but the applications -- that is something we will manage. Sugon, at the current stage, is a good partner for that. They understand the processing and storage for real-time data solutions.’

As reported in the article China’s Long March continues published on the Scientific Computing World website on 17 December 2015, all the major Chinese supercomputer manufacturers have ambitious plans for expansion and they are turning their eyes towards export markets.

About Bikal:

A UK company that provides software and devices to capture video, audio and big data. These can then create efficient processes, increase public safety and provide preventative healthcare. This is done by liaising with end users and using HPC and algorithms to process the data. We work through our network of global offices and partners to create localized solutions for local communities.

About Sugon Information Industry Co., Ltd (Sugon):

Sugon is a high-tech enterprise formed on the basis of significant and technological achievements under the National 863 Program, with the strong drive from the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Sugon specializes in the research, development and manufacture of high-performance computers, general servers and storage products as well as providing the service of software designing, system integration and other technical support based on high-end computers. In 2014, Sugon was successfully listed on Shanghai Stock Exchange (stock code: 603019).

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