Digital Catapult | Machine Intelligence Garage: the best-kept secret yet in the open

Introduction

I was at a meetup when Simon Knowles, CTO of Graphcore was giving his talk on the latest development at Graphcore and that is also where I met with Peter Bloomfield from Digital Catapult(@digicatapult). Peter was spreading the word about Machine Intelligence Garage which is an amazing opportunity created by a collaboration between the government and industry leaders like Google, Nvidia, AWS, etcetera to help startups and small businesses access compute resources which they would have otherwise never been able to get hold of.

Digital Catapult - Get Involved

Our conversation

Sometime later, we decided to have a chat discussing the usual questions like what is Machine Intelligence Garage, what is the history, why, how, who, when, and at what stage is the programme at and how do people get involved? As you would imagine, I found our conversation interesting and informative and hence decided to write about it and share it with the rest of us.

Mani: Hey, Peter great meeting you and learning about the initiative from Digital Catapult, can you please share with me the history about this initiative?

Peter: Hi Mani, thanks for dropping in! Our programme, Machine Intelligence Garage was born from a piece of research we conducted last summer. In this report, we explore barriers facing AI startups, and we wanted to test the hypotheses that: Access to the right data, technical talent and adequate computational resources were the main things holding startups back. We collaborate a bit on the first two barriers with government and academic institutes, like the Turing, but the Machine Intelligence Garage programme was designed to provide startups with access to cloud computing vouchers, novel chipsets and HPC facilities. It is through our brilliant partners that we can offer these resources.

Mani: Are there other sister and daughter initiatives or programs, related to Digital Catapult, that everyone would benefit knowing about?

Peter: We have a whole range of digital programmes, across three core tech layers (future networks, AI/ML and Immersive tech as well as some cybersecurity and blockchain initiatives). The full details of our opportunities can be found through the ‘Get Involved’ section of our website.

Mani: Who have been and are going to benefit from this setup that you have in place?

Peter: Our Machine Intelligence Garage programme is designed to benefit early-stage startups who are data ready and need compute power to scale faster. Our collaborative programmes provide opportunities for larger corporations to get involved with startups to address industry-specific challenges.

Mani: How much does this access cost and for how long are they available for access?

Peter: Everything we provide on the Machine Intelligence Garage programme is free to use. The programme was set up using public funding from InnovateUK and CAP.AI. We are able to deliver the compute resources through our work with a wonderful set of partners.

Mani: Can you tell us the process from start to finish?

Peter: When I meet a new company, I have a chat with them about the things they are trying to do, the infrastructure they currently use and the sorts of ML approaches they are using to solve the problem. If the company needs our support and are developing a product with commercial viability and have both strong technical skills and domain expertise I encourage them to apply. The application form asks questions about the product, training data, compute power requirements. If we like the idea, we invite a company to an interview and if successful onboard them with the most suitable resource. The process generally takes 3 weeks from the close of the application call to onboarding with a resource.

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Mani: What other benefits do startups get from being involved? Are you able to introduce them to partners who can help them run trials and give feedback on the products or services they are building?

Peter: We have a large network that we encourage all our companies to take advantage of. Digital Catapult is an innovation centre and meeting the right people at the right time is key to success for many startups. We run a range of workshops, from business growth and pitch training to deep dives to learn more about technical resources and we make sure our startups benefit from all of these. If a startup wants to put some of the new knowledge into practice we are always very keen to facilitate it!

Mani: This is a lot of information, are there any resources on your website that can help. Anything to sign up to, to keep in touch?

Peter: We have a general technology Digital Catapult newsletter (sign-up form at the bottom of the page) and an AI specific Machine Intelligence Garage newsletter (sign-up form at the bottom of the page). If a startup wants to chat about the programme, they can send me an e-mail: peter.bloomfield@digicatapult.org.uk. We announce all our calls and opportunity through our twitter account too @DigiCatapult.

Mani: Can you please touch on the specifics of what the startups will get access to and how it can benefit them?

Peter: We have three main resources available:

  • Cloud Computing vouchers, either through AWS or Google Cloud Platform

To find out the exact amounts and specifics of access, please do get in touch.

Mani: If someone needed to find out about the benchmarks between different compute resources available to the participants, who or where would they look for the information? Do you have a team that does these measurements on a daily basis?

Peter: We do our own benchmarking of the facilities available and our data engineer on the programme can advise on this, as well as point you in the right direction for more literature!

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Mani: I have been to the Digital Catapult HQ at 101 Euston Road, and was blown away with all the tech activities happening there, can you please share details about it with our readers

Peter: Digital Catapult was set up four years ago and is the UK’s leading innovation centre for advanced digital technologies.  We have seen a number of changes over the years but our core values of opening up markets and making businesses more competitive and productive remain. We are incredibly lucky to have some amazing facilities to help companies develop new products and services and get their products to market faster, including a nationwide network of Immersive Labs [see launch photos, photos in 2018], an LPWAN network and the new 5G Brighton Testbed.

Mani: Can you name a few startups that are currently going through your programs and the ones who have already been through it?

Peter: We currently have 25 start-ups on our programme. The reams are a range of sizes, some just 2 people, others 20+. The thing they all have in common is that they are developing some really exciting commercial products/solutions with deep learning and have an immediate need for the computational resources we offer. The full list of start-ups can be found on our cohort page on the Machine Intelligence Garage website.

Mani: I really appreciate the time you have taken to answer my questions and this has definitely helped the readers know more about what you do and how they can benefit from this great government-driven initiative.

Peter: Thank you very much for coming in. It’s great to be able to reach a wider audience and grow our community! See you soon!

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Closing note

I was shown around a number of facilities at their centre (two floors) i.e. the Immersive lab (yes plenty of VR headsets to play with), the server area where all the HPC hardware is kept (at low room temperature), a spacious conference room where meetups are held, a small library full of interesting books and also a hot-desking area shared by both internal staff, partners and friends of Digital Catapult/Machine Intelligence Garage. Looking at the two websites I found the news and views, events and workshops and Digital Catapult | MI Garage blog sites interesting to keep track of activities in this space.

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I’m sure after reading about the conversation, you must be wondering how you could take advantage of these facilities out there meant for you and ones in your network who could benefit from it.

Readers should go to the links mentioned above to learn about this program and how they can go about taking advantage of it, or recommend it to their friends in the community who would be more suitable for it.

Please do let me know if this is helpful by dropping a line in the comments below, and I would also welcome feedback, see how you can reach me, above all please check out to the links mentioned above and also reach out to the folks behind this great initiative.

 

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Containers all the way through…

In this post I will attempt to cover fundamentals of Bare Metal Systems, Virtual Systems and Container Systems. And the purpose for doing so is to learn about these systems as they stand and also the differences between them, focusing on how they execute programs in their respective environments.

Bare metal systems

Let’s think of our Bare Metal Systems as desktops and laptops we use on a daily basis (or even servers in server rooms and data-centers), and we have the following components:

  • the hardware (outer physical layer)
  • the OS platform (running inside the hardware)
  • the programs running on the OS (as processes)

Programs are stored on the hard drive in the form of executable files (a format understandable by the OS) and loaded into memory via one or more processes. Programs interact with the kernel, which forms a core part of the OS architecture and the hardware. The OS coordinate communication between hardware i.e. CPU, I/O devices, Memory, etc… and the programs.

 

Bare Metal Systems

A more detailed explanation of what programs or executables are, how programs execute and where an Operating System come into play, can be found on this Stackoverflow page [2].

Virtual systems

On the other hand Virtual Systems, with the help of Virtual System controllers like, Virtual Box or VMWare or a hypervisor [1] run an operating system on a bare metal system. These systems emulate bare-metal hardware as software abstraction(s) inside which we run the real OS platform. Such systems can be made up of the following layers, and also referred to as a Virtual Machines (VM):

  • a software abstraction of the hardware (Virtual Machine)
  • the OS platform running inside the software abstraction (guest OS)
  • one or more programs running in the guest OS (processes)

It’s like running a computer (abstracted as software) inside another computer. And the rest of the fundamentals from the Bare Metal System applies to this abstraction layer as well. When a process is created inside the Virtual System, then the host OS which runs the Virtual System might also be spawning one or more processes.

Virtual Systems

Container systems

Now looking at Container Systems we can say the following:

  • they run on top of OS platforms running inside Bare Metal Systems or Virtual Systems
  • containers which allow isolating processes and sharing the kernel between each other (such isolation from other processes and resources are possible in some OSes like say Linux, due to OS kernel features like cgroups[3] and namespaces)[4]

A container creates an OS like environment, inside which one or more programs can be executed. Each of these executions could result in a one or more processes on the host OS. Container Systems are composed of these layers:

  • hardware (accessible via kernel features)
  • the OS platform (shared kernel)
  • one or more programs running inside the container (as processes)

Container Systems

Summary

Looking at these enclosures or rounded rectangles within each other, we can already see how it is containers all the way through.

Bare Metal Systems
Virtual SystemsContainer Systems

There is an increasing number of distinctions between Bare Metal Systems, Virtual Systems and Container Systems. While Virtual Systems encapsulate the Operating System inside a thick hardware virtualisation, Container Systems do something similar but with a much thinner virtualisation layer.

There are a number of pros and cons between these systems when we look at them individually, i.e. portability, performance, resource consumption, time to recreate such systems, maintenance, et al.

Word of thanks and stay in touch

Thank you for your time, feel free to send your queries and comments to @theNeomatrix369. Big thanks to my colleague, and  our DevOps craftsman  Robert Firek from Codurance for proof-reading my post and steering me in the right direction.

Resources

(Part 3 of 3): Synopsis of articles & videos on Performance tuning, JVM, GC in Java, Mechanical Sympathy, et al

This is a continuation of the previous post titled (Part 2 of 3): Synopsis of articles & videos on Performance tuning, JVM, GC in Java, Mechanical Sympathy, et al.

In our first review, The Atlassian guide to GC tuning is an extensive post covering the methodology and things to keep in mind when tuning GC, practical examples are given and references to important resources are also made in the process. The next one How NOT to measure latency by Gil Tene, he discusses some common pitfalls encountered in measuring and characterizing latency, demonstrating and discussing some false assumptions and measurement techniques that lead to dramatically incorrect reporting results, and covers simple ways to sanity check and correct these situations.  Finally Kirk Pepperdine in his post Poorly chosen Java HotSpot Garbage Collection Flags and how to fix them! throws light on some JVM flags – he starts with some 700 flags and boils it down to merely 7 flags. Also cautions you to not just draw conclusions or to take action in a whim but consult and examine – i.e. measure don’t guess!

….read more (reblogged from the Java Advent Calendar)

(Part 2 of 3): Synopsis of articles & videos on Performance tuning, JVM, GC in Java, Mechanical Sympathy, et al

This is a continuation of the previous post titled (Part 1 of 3): Synopsis of articles & videos on Performance tuning, JVM, GC in Java, Mechanical Sympathy, et al.

Without any further ado, lets get started with our next set of blogs and videos, chop…chop…! This time its Martin Thompson’s blog posts and talks. Martin’s first post on Java Garbage collection distilled basically distils the GC process and the underlying components including throwing light on a number of interesting GC flags (-XX:…). In his next talk he does his myth busting shaabang about mechanical sympathy, what people correctly believe in and the misconceptions. In the talk on performance testing, Martin takes its further and fuses Java, OS and the hardware to show how understanding of all these aspects can help write better programs.


Java Garbage Collection Distilled by Martin Thompson

There are too many flags to allow tuning the GC to achieve the throughput and latency your application requires. There’s plenty of documentation on the specifics of the bells and whistles around them but none to guide you through them.

(Part 1 of 3): Synopsis of articles & videos on Performance tuning, JVM, GC in Java, Mechanical Sympathy, et al

I have been contemplating for a number of months about reviewing a cache of articles and videos on topics like Performance tuning, JVM, GC in Java, Mechanical Sympathy, etc… and finally took the time to do it – may be this was the point in my intellectual progress when was I required to do such a thing!

Thanks to Attila-Mihaly for giving me the opportunity to write a post for his yearly newsletter Java Advent Calendar, hence a review on various Java related topics fits the bill! The selection of videos and articles are purely random, and based on the order in which they came to my knowledge. My hidden agenda is to mainly go through them to understand and broaden my own knowledge at the same time share any insight with others along the way….read more (reblogged from the Java Advent Calendar)