Futurist Gerd Leonhard at NetApp Insight
Futurist Gerd Leonhard at NetApp Insight

“I think we are entering the golden decades of artificial intelligence,” Dave Hitz, NetApp’s founder and EVP, shared during an interview at NetApp Insight 2018 in Las Vegas. Futurist Gerd Leonhard agreed during his keynote: “Humanity will change more in the next 20 years than in the previous 300 years.”


How do companies make the most of their data in this brave new world of AI? The right partners hold the key. During Insight 2018, we explored the life-changing power of AI with leaders from NVIDIA and WuXiNextCODE.

The Big Data AI Train has Left the Station

NetApp’s own business model has shifted from storage to data and the cloud, and AI will be a driving force in our continued evolution. Bharat Badrinath, NetApp’s VP of Product and Solutions Marketing, shared, “AI has a profound benefit of changing how our customers operate; their entire operations have been transformed dramatically overnight.”


As Renee Yao, NVIDIA’s Senior Product Marketing Manager of Deep Learning & AI Systems, noted at Insight 2018, “We need to learn as fast and as much as we can. We can’t let the competition determine where our limit is; instead [we should only be limited by] what is possible—that is a fundamental mindset change in this AI revolution.”


Yao explained that the era of collecting and storing big data laid the foundation for this moment. Now, with the computational abilities of AI and deep learning, companies can process big data and optimize their systems in ways previously impossible.


She shared how NVIDIA, in partnership with NetApp, helped the Swiss Federal Railroad manage a system that carries more than a million passengers over 3,232 kilometers of track. The railway routes more than 10,000 trains a day, often traveling at up to 160 kilometers an hour.


Yao noted that, as a single train runs through the system, it passes 11 switches that move trains from one track to another along a route. Those 11 switches provide 30 different possible ways of routing a train. Add a second train to the system and the possible routes multiply to 900 combinations. By the 80th train, the number of possible route combinations is ten to the power of 80. “That’s more route combinations than the number of observed atoms in the universe,” Yao said, putting things into perspective.


Now, imagine safely routing the railway’s 10,000+ daily trains. “That’s more possibilities and more data than a human can calculate,” she said. Yet the railroad’s interworking switch system must ensure that all of those trains reach their destinations without colliding.


With NVIDIA DGX1 Station, a purpose-built AI workstation, the Swiss Federal Railroad is now able to simulate an entire day of train routes in just 17 seconds. Through AI, the railroad can simulate and map an unfathomable number of possible routes in less time than it takes to reheat a slice of pizza.

Must Have: Collaboration Between IT and Data Science Teams

This level of interaction between big data and AI requires an even closer, more in-step collaboration between a company’s IT and data science teams. Currently, data scientists often wait around as the IT team architects and tests new infrastructures. Likewise, when IT can’t anticipate the infrastructure needs of the data scientists, innovation can grind to a halt.


“No one can afford to be reactive,” Badrinath says. “Data scientists want to do the activation, but they can’t just go to the infrastructure team and say, ‘Hey! This is my workload—do something about it.'”


To help resolve this stalemate, NetApp and NVIDIA partnered to streamline organizational collaboration by bridging data and the cloud. Over the course of a year, NetApp integrated its systems with NVIDIA’s DGX1 supercomputer to create a single package for NetApp customers. This makes it easier for companies to deploy AI in a pre-validated system without requiring time-consuming handoffs across silos. By bringing IT and data science teams together, data and AI can interact seamlessly to fuel business innovation.

Genomics Data + AI = A Life-changing Solution

WuXiNextCODE showcases what this kind of collaboration could mean for our future. The company uses genomic sequence data to improve human health and knew that AI could unearth valuable—even life-saving— insights hidden in that data. They came to NetApp and NVIDIA with 20 years of historical data, totaling nearly 15 petabytes, but only two staff members to manage it all.


Using AI systems developed through the NetApp / NVIDIA partnership, WuXiNextCODE can produce huge simulations and rapid-fire queries to measure the impact of genetic mutations.



“In the past, sequencing was very slow,” Dr. Hákon Guðbjartsson, Chief Informatics Officer at WuXiNextCODE, shared during Insight 2018. He explained that a pediatrician would have to guess what gene was involved in a disease. But now, doctors can begin to narrow down possible mutations based on AI-processed sequence data.


There’s still a way to go, however: “Today, this process needs to be much more data-driven,” Dr. Guðbjartsson said. “You have millions of variants in each given individual, so you need more automation.” AI offers the way forward.


With the right partnerships and collaboration between IT and data science, innovators like WuXiNextCODE can harness the power of AI to do in seconds what previously couldn’t be done in a lifetime. As we stand at the brink of this new golden age, we’re more excited than ever about the infinite possibilities of AI.


Visit NetApp’s AI Solutions page to learn how we can help you master and accelerate your company’s data pipeline with AI and machine learning.

Kelli Lawless

Kelli Lawless is NetApp’s Head of Editorial Content and Strategy. In her time with NetApp, she has led several pilot programs and works closely with executives, partners, and customers to identify thought leaders with inspiring technology stories. In the past 20 years, Kelli has helped iconic brands find their voice, played in instrumental role in award-winning campaigns, and cultivated a deep passion for creating content that helps business leaders learn from each other.

When Kelli’s not honing her storytelling craft, you’ll find her playing on the beach with her two senior dogs, hosting dinner parties for friends, or exploring remote reef systems with her scuba-diving husband.

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