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IBM Systems Technical University - Day 1 morning
This week, I am presenting at the IBM Systems Technical University in Orlando, Florida, May 22-26, 2017. Day 1 included keynote sessions. Here is my recap for the morning.
General Session "The Quantum Age"
Amy Hirst, IBM Director of Systems Training, served as emcee for the General Session. The theme this week is "Power of Knowledge, Power of Technology, Power of You. You to the IBM'th power".
Chris Schnabel, IBM Q Offering Manager, explained what "IBM Q" is.
Chris feels "our intuition of what we can compute is wrong". Classical (non-Quantum) computing has evolved over past 100 years.
Consider Molecular geometry. The best supercomputer can only handle the smallest molecules, those with 40 to 50 electrons, and even then are unable to calculate bond lengths within 10 percent accuracy. Quantum computing can.
Another area is what computer scientists call the "Traveling Salesman Problem". If you had a list of 57 cities, what would be the optimal path to minimize the distance traveled to get to all of the cities. Doing an exhaustive search would be 10 to the 76th power. Dynamic Programming techniques provide some shortcuts, reducing this down to 10 to the 20th power, but still, that is impossible on most computers.
Chris mentioned that there are easy problems to solve in polynomial time, and hard problems that are exponential, in that they get worse and worse the bigger the input set. There will always be hard problems.
"Nature isn't classical, dammit, and if you want to make a simulation of nature, you'd better make it quantum mechanical, and by golly it's a wonderful problem, because it doesn't look so easy."
-- Richard Feynman
Nature encodes information, but not in ones and zeros. Quantum computers are measured on the number of Qubits, their error rate, etc. The three factors that IBM focuses on are Coherence, Controllability and Connectivity.
Chris explained how Superposition and Entanglement are used in Quantum Computers. I won't bore you with the details here, but rather save this for a future post.
Today: 5 to 16 Qubits (can be simulated with today's classical computers. 5 Qubits is the power of your typical laptop)
Near future: 50-100 Qubits (too big to simulate on supercomputers), with answers that are approximate or correct only 2/3 of the time.
Future: millions of Qubits, fault-tolerant to provide exact, precise answers consistently.
Quantum Computing opens up a new range of problems, what Chris call "Quantum Easy" problems. Problems that might take years to solve on classical supercomputers could be solved in seconds on a Quantum computer.
Chris showed a picture of [Colossus], the first digital electronic computer used in the 1940s. Quantum computing today is like 1940's of classical computing.
IBM is now working on Hybrid Quantum-Classical algorithms, for example:
Quantum Chemistry - can be used in material design, healthcare pharmaceuticals
Optimization - logistics/shipping, risk analytics
There are different ways to build a quantum computer. IBM chose a single-junction transmon design, using Josephson junctions. While the chips are small, the refrigerators they are contained in are huge, and have to keep the chips at very cold 15 milliKelvin temperature (minus 459 Fahrenheit)!
To get people excited about Quantum computing, IBM created the "IBM Q Experience" [ibm.com/ibmq] that allows the public to run algorithms on a basic 5 Qubit system using a simple drag-and-drop interface to put different transformational gates in sequence.
IBM Research team were shocked to see 17 publications in prestigious journals make practical use of this 5 qubit system! Since then, IBM now offers a Software Developers Kit (SDK) called QISkit (pronounced Cheese-kit) as a text-based alternative to the drag-and-drop interface.
Amy Hirst came back on stage to remind people to use Twitter hashtag #ibmtechu to follow the event. There are two more events like this planned for the end of the year. A Power/Storage conference in New Orleans, October 16-20, and another event focused on z Systems mainframe, November 13-17.
Pendulum Swings Back -- Understanding Converged and Hyperconverged Systems
This presentation has an interesting back-story. At a client briefing, I was asked to explain the difference between "Converged" and "Hyperconverged" Systems, which I did with the analogy of a pendulum. I used the whiteboard, and then later made it into a single chart.
At the far left of the pendulum, I start with mainframe systems of the early 1950s that had internal storage. As the pendulum swings to the middle, I discuss the added benefits of external storage, from RAID protection and Cache memory to centralized management and backup.
To the far right of the pendulum, it swings over to networked storage, from NAS to SAN attached devices for flash, disk and tape. This offers excellent advantages, including greater host connectivity, and greater distances supported to help with things like disaster recovery.
Here is where the pendulum swings back. IBM introduced the AS/400 a long while ago, and more recently IBM PureSystems that combined servers, storage and switches into a single rack configuration. Other vendors had similar offerings, such as VCE Vblock, Flexpod from NetApp and Cisco, and Oracle Exadata.
Lately, the pendulum has swung fully back to internal storage, with storage-rich servers running specialized software on commodity servers. There are two kinds:
Pre-built systems like Nutanix, Simplivity or EVO:Rail which are x86 based server systems, pre-installed with software and internal flash and disk storage.
Software that can be deployed on your own choice of hardware, such as IBM Spectrum Accelerate, IBM Spectrum Scale FPO, or VMware VSAN.
So, over time, my single slide has evolved, and fleshed out into a full blown hour-long presentation!
Cloud storage comes in four flavors: persistent, ephemeral, hosted, and reference. The first two I refer to as "Storage for the Computer Cloud" and the latter two I refer to as "Storage as the Storage Cloud".
I also explained the differences between block, file and object access, and why different Cloud storage types use different access methods.
Finally, I covered some of our new public cloud storage offerings, using OpenStack Swift and Amazon S3 protocols to access objects off premises, including the new Cold Vault and Flex pricing on IBM Cloud Object Storage System in IBM Bluemix Cloud.