Pea pushers

Advertisers are the experts at persuading us to eat burgers, crisps and fizzy drinks. But what if they tried to sell us something healthier?

Pure Storage teams with Nvidia on GPU-fueled Flash storage solution for AI

As companies gather increasing amounts of data, they face a choice over bottlenecks. They can have it in the storage component or the backend compute system. Some companies have attacked the problem by using GPUs to streamline the back end problem or Flash storage to speed up the storage problem. Pure Storage wants to give customers the best of both worlds.

Today it announced, Airi, a complete data storage solution for AI workloads in a box.

Under the hood Airi starts with a Pure Storage FlashBlade, a storage solution that Pure created specifically with AI and machine learning kind of processing in mind. NVidia contributes the pure power with four NVIDIA DGX-1 supercomputers, delivering four petaFLOPS of performance with NVIDIA ® Tesla ® V100 GPUs. Arista provides the networking hardware to make it all work together with Arista 100GbE switches. The software glue layer comes from the NVIDIA GPU Cloud deep learning stack and Pure Storage AIRI Scaling Toolkit.

Photo: Pure Storage

One interesting aspect of this deal is that the FlashBlade product operates as a separate product inside of the Pure Storage organization. They have put together a team of engineers with AI and data pipeline understanding with the focus inside the company on finding ways to move beyond the traditional storage market and find out where the market is going.

This approach certainly does that, but the question is do companies want to chase the on-prem hardware approach or take this kind of data to the cloud. Pure would argue that the data gravity of AI workloads would make this difficult to achieve with a cloud solution, but we are seeing increasingly large amounts of data moving to the cloud with the cloud vendors providing tools for data scientists to process that data.

If companies choose to go the hardware route over the cloud, each vendor in this equation — whether Nvidia, Pure Storage or Arista — should benefit from a multi-vendor sale. The idea ultimately is to provide customers with a one-stop solution they can install quickly inside a data center if that’s the approach they want to take.

Keeping the collapse of civilisation at bay | Letters

Readers respond to Damian Carrington’s interview with Paul Ehrlich whose book The Population Bomb was published 50 years ago

I read Damian Carrington’s interview with Paul Ehrlich and found Paul’s analysis to ring frighteningly true (Scientist stands by warning that collapse of civilisation is coming, 23 March). His book The Population Bomb predicted starvation in the 1970s, something that was avoided by the “green revolution” in intensive agriculture. The green revolution was the point at which farmers turned away from natural techniques (eg mixed farms and crop rotation) and instead started using chemical fertilisers and pesticides along with hybrid plants whose seeds could often not be harvested for re-use. This led to higher yields at first, but then to exhausted and polluted soil and increasing debt to suppliers.

The role of the green revolution was to “delay the calamity”. But at a great cost to nature. So what was humankind’s reaction to these developments? Instead of stopping to take stock, we became addicted to the consumerist traits of “cheap and abundant” with no thought for the real cost and inherent risk.

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On-demand shipping startup Shyp is shutting down

After rocketing to a $250 million valuation in 2015 amid a massive hype cycle for on-demand companies, on-demand startup Shyp is shutting down today.

CEO Kevin Gibbon announced that the company would be shutting down in a blog post this afternoon. The company is ending operations immediately after, like many on-demand companies, struggling to find a scalable model beyond its launching point in San Francisco. Shyp missed targets for expanding to cities beyond its core base as well as pulled back from Miami. In July, Shyp said it would be reducing its headcount and shutting down all operations beyond San Francisco.

The company raised $50 million in a deal led by John Doerr at Kleiner Perkins back in 2015, one of his last huge checks as a variety of firms jumped onto the on-demand space. The thesis at the time was pretty sound: look at a strip mall, and see which businesses can come to you first. Shipping was a natural one, but there was also food, and eventually groceries. Today, there are only a few left standing, with Postmates, Instacart and DoorDash among the most prominent ones. Even then, Instacart is now under threat from Amazon, which is ramping up its own two-hour delivery after buying Whole Foods.

“At the time, I approached everything I did as an engineer,” Gibbon wrote. “Rather than change direction, I tasked the team with expanding geographically and dreaming up innovative features and growth tactics to further penetrate the consumer market. To this day, I’m in awe of the vigor the team possessed in tackling a 200-year-old industry. But, growth at all costs is a dangerous trap that many startups fall into, mine included.”

Shyp is now a casualty of the delivery space. Where it originally sought to make up the cost of delivery in the form of cheaper bulk costs for those deliveries, Shyp’s one-size-fits-all delivery — where you could deliver a computer or a bike — eventually ended up being one of the most challenging and frustrating elements of its business. It began adding fees to its online returns business and changing prices for its bulk shipments. As it turns out, a $5 carte blanche for delivery was not a model that really made sense.

Indeed, that growth-at-all-costs directive has cost many startups, with companies like Sprig shutting down and many companies getting slapped on the wrist for aggressive growth tactics like text spamming. It also meant that startups had to very quickly develop an effective playbook that, in the end, might not actually translate to markets beyond their core competency. Shyp pivoted to focusing on businesses toward the tail end of its lifetime, including a big deal with eBay, which we had heard at the time was doing well.

“We decided to keep the popular-but-unprofitable parts of our business running, with small teams of their own behind them,” he wrote. “This was a mistake—my mistake. While large, established companies have the financial freedom to explore new product categories for the sake of exploring, for startups it can be irresponsible.”

But Gibbon said the company kept parts of its popular but challenged models online – which may have also contributed to its eventual shut-down. The company expected to be in cities like Boston, Seattle and Philadelphia in early 2016, but that didn’t end up panning out. And Shyp increasingly felt the challenges of an on-demand model, trying to push the cost to the consumer as low as possible while handling the overheads and logistical headaches of a delivery business.

“My early mistakes in Shyp’s business ended up being prohibitive to our survival,” Gibbon wrote. “For that, I am sorry.”