Big data, analytics and sophisticated computer modelling may be the way of the future. Their costs, however, make them business tools that can be expected to remain the exclusive preserve of major corporations that have the budgets to run the ‘super computers’ with the massive processing systems needed for crunching the numbers.
In South Africa, this expectation is being turned on its head as innovative owners of established small and medium-sized businesses turn their entrepreneurial skills to exploiting sophisticated niche markets.
“It is smaller enterprises that have the agility, niche expertise and truly innovative spirit that are helping make a difference in the South African economy,” says Ethel Nyembe, Head of Small Enterprise at Standard Bank.
“As sponsors of the new Business Day TV series, The Growth Engines, we believe that the programme’s approach to examining the relationships between major businesses and smaller suppliers is important. How the two entities collaborate to their mutual benefit and use innovative approaches to solve issues – an example is the availability and cost of super computer processing capacity – makes fascinating viewing. It also serves as a source of inspiration to others who may be thinking about building a business around a very specific business demand.”
A case in point is the innovative approach by a Johannesburg company, CrunchYard, that used its founders’ highly-specialised knowledge to create an avenue that opens the world of super computers to just about anyone who needs processing power.
The brainchild of CrunchYard’s electrical engineer, Dr Renier Dreyer, the SME has adopted a unique approach to democratising access to the world of supercomputing. Nothing could be more democratic than the Internet, and it is this platform that CrunchYard has used to provide a service that allows sophisticated simulations to be run off the Internet on a ‘pay-for-use’ basis.
The service allows big businesses to test the viability and structural integrity of their projects – tasks which require enormous amounts of computing power. The users are primarily engineers and scientists working in fields as diverse as antenna design (such as Poynting Antennas, also featured on The Growth Engines, and responsible for nominating CrunchYard to appear on the programme as its innovative supplier), exploration geophysics, fluid dynamics and even swimwear design. The common denominator of these big businesses, until now, had always been a lack of ‘in-house’ computational power to run simulations.
The system at CrunchYard is made up of 320 computer cores that have been joined to cope with large amounts of data. The task of testing is vastly simplified and considerably cheaper – so much so that demand for the service is growing and CrunchYard is already gearing up to add more core processing power to their facilities.
“The idea for this unique super computer service was born when the founders realised that only major corporations with deep pockets could afford the processing computers needed for most complex simulations. The question was asked why a service catering for the needs of this niche market could not be offered over the Internet?” says Ms Nyembe.
The ultimate benefit stretches far beyond South Africa’s borders. As Dr. Dreyer explains;
“Super computer power is now available to anyone who wants to use it. Looking at Africa, the tendency would be to rely on a first-world power doing research into an African problem. This allows Africans to solve Africa’s problems. It allows the people at the places where challenges arise to begin looking at them and developing home-grown solutions.”
“This innovation illustrates just how outsourcing from a large company to a specialised smaller company can produce huge benefits. The company that uses the facility does not need to have the computing power or support staff required for a dedicated facility, whilst the company providing the service doesn’t require special skills to interface with the client. They just need to be experts in their own systems.
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