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Q&A: How BT Mack improves PC performance at low cost with Intel Optane technology

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by Intel on 09/28/2020
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“Contain the complexity.” That’s the slogan of BT Mack Technology Group, an Ogden, Utah-based tech provider, founded in 2007, that specializes in three markets: travel plazas, K-12 schools and small businesses.

It’s now specifying PCs using Intel Optane technology to significantly improve performance at a low cost.

BT Mack logo

To learn why BT Mack has made this move, we spoke recently with the company’s founder and CEO, Larry Welch. Following are highlights from our discussion.

Larry Welch of BT Mack Technology Group

Larry Welch, founder and CEO, BT Mack Technology Group

How did you initially evaluate Intel Optane technology?

We used a Lenovo system equipped with Intel Optane memory for a home-construction company, Kartchner Homes. They do a lot of web-based CRM work, floor-plan designs, and project management, as well as a lot of QuickBooks and spreadsheets.

We tested Intel Optane memory on the CFO’s PC. The CFO has as many as 15 to 20 spreadsheets open at a time. Before we enabled the Intel Optane memory, he was frustrated with the poor performance and slow loading time.

And the result of this test?

After the Intel Optane memory was deployed, the CFO noticed a major difference. When he turned off Optane, the PC would freeze trying to run everything. But with Optane on, the PC ran flawlessly. He thought the PC performed as fast as a workstation with an SSD. So we’ve sold them on Intel Optane with its efficiency.

How does Intel Optane technology help your customers save money?

This particular client wants to be sure they’re saving money. Some of the heavy users in the company have not upgraded their systems yet. But now that the CFO has seen the performance of Intel Optane memory, we expect that he’ll authorize those upgrades. The company is impressed with the performance, which saves them time and money.

Would you recommend PCs equipped with Intel Optane memory to your other clients?

We do have other clients who would be interested in using PCs featuring Intel Optane memory. For example, we work with an insurance company that is soon moving to a new building. They’ll want to upgrade to all new PCs at the new office, and we’ll recommend Intel Optane memory to improve their efficiency.

Why do you prefer PCs from Lenovo?

We use Lenovo as our primary OEM. The company’s reliability and performance have been great, especially the Tiny units and the small form factors. Lenovo also has great customer support. We’re impressed with Lenovo’s overall performance.

Ready to help your customers improve PC performance at low cost? Check out Intel Optane technology for personal computing.

 

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Q&A: How Alvarez Technology speeds remote work with Intel Optane memory and storage

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by Intel on 09/09/2020
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Working from home wouldn’t be so bad if the average home PC weren’t so slow. Alvarez Technology Group has a better way: HP’s cool Dragonfly notebook loaded with Intel Optane memory and SSD storage.

Alvarez Technology is an IT services firm based in Salinas, Calif. Founded 20 years ago by Luis Alvarez, the company today serves more than 200 small and medium business clients.

In its own tests, Alvarez Tech has found that PCs with Intel Optane H10 memory with solid-state storage deliver some big gains over older systems without Intel Optane. These gain include 3x faster document launching, 2x faster loading of Excel workbooks, and far better image clarity and resolution during online meetings.

Alvarez Technology logo

To learn how Alvarez Tech has done this, we spoke recently with the company’s president and CEO, Luis Alvarez. Following are highlights from our discussion.

Luis Alvarez, CEO of Alvarez Technology

Luis Alvarez, president and CEO, Alvarez Technology Group

What type of customer and applications did you select to test the Intel Optane memory H10?

We deployed the HP Dragonfly notebook PC with Intel Optane memory H10 with Solid State Storage to one of our financial-services customers. The customer works with big Microsoft Excel worksheets full of formulas and also spends a fair amount of time in video calls.

Before we deployed the system, our own staff tested it extensively. Everyone had really high praise for the HP Dragonfly.

How did you test the solution?

We tested against a Lenovo system that was less than a year old. It had an SSD, but no Intel Optane memory. I ran the user through her typical apps, and she was really impressed.

The customer uses some incredibly large Microsoft Excel spreadsheets full of formulas. She reported that the HP Dragonfly was much faster than her other laptop, which the bank had purchased for her to work from home. The decrease in wait time improved her productivity, and the touchscreen was superfast.

How did your customer respond to the performance?

She said, “This is what I want to work on. I’m going to give my other laptop to someone else.”

The bank holds a lot of Microsoft Teams meetings, and the customer reported that the video on this PC streamed perfectly, with no stutters whatsoever, and that there was better resolution and clarity. She also said it was so light, sometimes she almost forgot she was carrying it!

How does this HP Dragonfly/Intel Optane solution fit into your own managed services offering?

Now, with so many of our clients considering a permanent work-from-home future, they want to provide company-owned systems to their remote workforce. So we’ll lead with the HP Dragonfly — it’s a great system for that.

In addition, Monterey County (where we live) has a world-renowned aquarium, and the whole county is focused on sustainability and plastics not going into the ocean. So the sustainability message resonated more than I imagined it would. Our client really liked that the HP Dragonfly had recycled plastic — especially because the company has a sustainability commitment.

HP is your vendor of choice, and you’ve also partnered for more than 10 years with ConnectWise. Why is that?

We like Connectwise Automate because of the scripting capabilities. You can automate a lot of manual functions, and that frees up our techs for more strategic tasks.

As for HP, it’s our go-to brand for laptops, mobile devices and desktops. They make every form factor we need. Also, HP has stellar reliability. We’re attaching our name to any PC we give our clients, and the last thing we want is to have a system fail. Then we’ve got egg on our face. And with HP, we’ve never had that happen.

Learn more:

> Intel Optane memory

> Intel Technology Provider webinars

 

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Q&A: How 5K Technical Services speeds PC customer service with the Intel vPro platform

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by Intel on 08/20/2020
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Haste doesn’t always make waste. In fact, the faster you can resolve your customers’ PC issues, the happier they’ll be.

5K Technical Services, a managed services provider in Plano, Texas, has found that one powerful way to speed customer service is with the Intel vPro Platform.

Making this shift has cut the average time the company needs to resolve an OS problem from 45 minutes to just 15. Shortened the time it needs to fix a hardware problem from an average of 30 minutes to only 10. And reduced the number of desk-side visits it needs to conduct from an average of 10 a month to just 1.

5K Technical Services

To learn how 5K has done this, we spoke recently with the company’s president and CEO, Corey Kirkendoll. Following are highlights from the discussion.

Corey Kirkendoll of 5K Technical Services

Corey Kirkendoll, president and CEO, 5K Technical Services

Why do you now recommend that your customers build PCs around the Intel vPro platform?

Our business focuses on architectural firms, construction companies and nonprofits. All of these clients rely on powerful PCs and uptime. If they can’t access their computers, they can’t bill. So the Intel vPro platform is a standard for us, because it makes it easy to find issues before they become problems.

We already have many Intel vPro platform-based PCs deployed. We see the potential of how the technology can help us achieve growth without adding headcount, make our customers happier, and make everyone more productive. That’s our goal.

How does the Intel vPro platform help you improve your customers’ security and reduce the time you need for troubleshooting?

For patching, the Intel vPro platform is critical. Being able to power-on a machine is remarkable — especially because the standard Wake-on-LAN is not always reliable. We want all our machines secure and up-to-date, and now we can be sure we have patch saturation.

Also, to be able to reboot to BIOS and actually see the screen is a game-changer. We can now troubleshoot without having to roll a truck.

How about using the Intel vPro platform for remote access? Is that saving you time and money?

Without the Intel vPro platform, if we need to reboot or do anything that requires interaction with a PC, we've got to either talk with the customer and potentially interrupt their workflow or we have to roll a truck. But Intel Active Management technology gives us more tools in our tool belt, especially if we need to reboot a machine or get into the BIOS.

You recommend your customers choose Lenovo hardware. Why’s that?

Our customers love how black, thin and sexy the Lenovo PCs are. And we like that they’re rugged and hold up over their lifetime. The support Lenovo provides is really good, too. It makes our job easier if there is a warranty issue.

Learn more:

Intel vPro Navigator

Intel Technology Provider webinars

 

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Infographic: Are you ready for virtual training?

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by Intel on 08/17/2020
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This isn’t your father’s technical training. In today’s environment of social distancing, training is going virtual.

In fact, over 90% of organizations ether already use live online learning now or plan to use it this year.

E-training student

Yet there’s plenty of room for growth. Only about 1 in 10 formal training programs are live online. And fewer than 1 in 10 learners use mobile devices to participate in virtual training classes.

Big benefits

The benefits of e-learning are impressive. One survey finds that e-learning takes anywhere from 40% to 60% less time than classroom instruction. Another study shows that e-learning enables students to learn 5 times more material for every hour of training than classroom learning.

Benefits including these are why 60% of organizations expect to conduct more e-learning. And why 70% expect to blend live classrooms with virtual training.

Top challenges of e-learning? They include unprepared participants (cited by 38% of respondents to a recent survey), technology challenges (37%), and unskilled facilitators (25%).

How about you? Now’s the time to get ready to train your customers virtually.

Get ahead with virtual training:

> Check out the education solutions in Intel Solutions Marketplace

> Download an Intel infographic, Virtual Training in 2020...click on the PDF link below:

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Tips for keeping your remote workforce productive

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by Intel on 08/13/2020
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Is working from home really more productive than working in a regular office? That depends. Are you following best practices? And is your technology up-to-date?

Here are tips on both the management and tech fronts. They’ll help keep you, your staff and your customers productive while working from home.

Technology

> Computer: Consider lightweight laptops for those who will need to move around their house or apartment. Long battery life helps, too. If desk space is an issue, good options to explore include an All-in-One or mini PC. If remote manageability is important, consider PCs powered with Intel vPro technology.

> Docking station: This is a smart, time-saving way to connect multiple peripheral devices while also charging a laptop. For high-speed connectivity, check out the latest Thunderbolt 3-enabled docks.

> Visuals: Reduce eye strain with either dual displays or larger-format monitors. Today’s 4K and UHD monitors, some with LED backlighting, can increase comfort, too.

> Smart devices: A PC and phone is good enough to get started, but for increased productivity, other devices can help. One example is Lenovo’s ThinkSmart View collaborative smart device. It takes on administrative tasks that would otherwise hog the resources of a PC; it retails for $350, making it an affordable addition.

> Headset: With live meetings pretty much a thing of the past, workers are now spending a lot more time on the phone. Noise-canceling headsets help keep their conversations quiet and professional while eliminating neck strain.

> Keyboard: Ergonomic keyboards may look funny, but don’t let that stop you. They really are more comfortable than traditional keyboards. They’re also available in a choice of either wired or wireless, and in both regular and compact sizes. For maximum comfort, combine them with an equally ergonomic mouse.

Best practices

> Mimic a traditional work schedule: Set a doable schedule. Then stick to it. Also, use calendaring software to keep track of all those Zoom, Skype and Teams meetings.

> Create a dedicated workspace: If possible, everyone should have just one place for work. That should include a desk, comfortable chair, lighting and whatever else is needed.

> Minimize distractions: With a world of content just a few mouse clicks away, it’s easy to waste hours and hours by endlessly checking email, social media, videos and more. Instead, schedule blocks of focused time for your detailed projects.

 

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In the Zone

Q&A: How VNR cuts hardware-resolution times in half with Intel vPro technology

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by Intel on 08/04/2020
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“Synergy” means creating a whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts.

And synergy is exactly what VNR Tech Solutions, a managed services provider based in central New Jersey, has gotten by combining its existing management console software with PCs featuring Intel vPro technology.

VNR Tech Solutions

With the synergy of this powerful combination, VNR has achieved:

> An up to 50% reduction in the time needed to resolve a hardware problem.

> An up to 60% reduction in the time needed to resolve blue-screen issues.

To learn more about how VNR did this, we spoke recently with the company’s president, Vince Robinson. Following are highlights from our discussion.

Vince Robinson, president, VNR Tech Solutions

Vince Robinson, president, VNR Tech Solutions

You recommend that all your customers use Intel vPro technology in their PCs. Why?

Because Intel vPro allows us to manage more systems and remediate problems quickly and remotely.

It all boils down to this: Our average client is 30 minutes away, so we end up wasting a large amount of time driving. But Intel vPro-based PCs let us handle more issues remotely from our office. So the technology makes us much more efficient.

And in the future, as our customer installed base gradually becomes more and more vPro-based, this will have a significant positive impact on our margins.

How have you used Intel vPro technology to cut hardware-repair times in half?

If a customer has a hardware issue on their PC, they may be up to an hour’s drive away from us. With Intel vPro, we can diagnose the issue remotely. So when we make the first visit, we’ll take the right part. And we’ll avoid the need for a second visit.

This is a big deal: Our average time savings is 60 minutes. Also, our client is back in business faster, and our communication with the client is clearer.

How did you cut blue-screen repair times by 60%?

With Intel vPro’s KVM [keyboard, video, mouse] Remote Control. It allows us to diagnose and usually fix a blue-screened PC remotely, without having to drive to the customer’s location.

The time savings is significant, about a half-hour on average. Plus, the service level for our customer is improved. Our customers are back in business faster, and they’re saving money through improved productivity.

Earlier, you mentioned improved margins. How does remote manageability of PCs help with that?

Take a client who is 25 miles away. It could take us an hour to get there, then an hour to get back. That can add up to $200 in useless cost, just to drive around.

So any time you don’t have to roll a truck is great. And Intel vPro-based PCs greatly reduce deskside visits.

I estimate that a customer with Intel vPro-based PCs will need just a third of the desktop visits required by a customer who doesn’t have vPro.

During the pandemic, is Intel vPro helping you manage customers working from home?

Yes. With COVID, more and more of our customers’ employees are becoming remote workers. We’ve seen a great increase in the number of PCs that we support in workers’ homes. So reliable remote access is now more essential than ever.

Intel vPro’s superior remote capabilities — and the fact that they’re integrated into our Datto RMM remote management console — make vPro-based PCs ideal for the changes we’re seeing.

In fact, having Intel vPro technology capabilities integrated into Datto RMM greatly improves the value of Datto to our business. So we get a significant additional value for no additional investment.

You favor Lenovo’s PC hardware. Why is that?

Like any MSP, we find that the service we receive from our vendors is critical. Lenovo’s support for both sales and technology is top-notch. If we need something, I know Lenovo will take care of it.

 

Learn more:

Intel vPro Navigator

Intel Technology Provider webinars

 

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Managing in a pandemic: The evolution of partner support

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by Intel on 07/21/2020
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By Greg Baur

Responding to ever-changing partner needs during a global pandemic requires companies like Intel to be creative…and quickly.

I’d like to share some of my reflections. Here’s what it takes to support partners and the community through Intel’s Pandemic Response Technology Initiative and Channel Relief and Support Program, and in a business environment that’s changing daily.

Early warning signs

When troubling news started coming out of China about a virus earlier this year, and as the scale of the outbreak accelerated and started making headlines in countries around the world, our partners wanted to know what we were hearing.

What our partners wanted was reliable, up-to-date information. They knew our wide network of customers and industries and our global outlook could provide the insights they needed.

Even before COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic, businesses around the world started to face local lockdown orders, causing work-from-home mandates to be handed down quickly. Our partners were dealing with how to get everyone set up to work remotely. They were also looking for help to deliver secure networks with adequate bandwidth to keep people connected.

Once again, information was the most valuable resource to our partners. They were looking for best practices for transitioning their workforce to work at home to keep their people safe.

What’s interesting now as I look back at our evolving response is that, although managing cash flow is top-of-mind today for many businesses, it wasn’t the first concern they shared with us. The first thing they needed was reliable information and best practices to help protect the health of their people. They also wanted best-known methods to secure remote workplaces for both their own operations and the operations of their end customers.

The next area of support was helping partners figure out how to properly run their businesses and manage their supply chains. We helped them tap into our supply-chain expertise with best practices developed in our “supply chain war room,” which was at the cornerstone of our pandemic response.

For example, we deployed a rapid mobilization program and used our cross-company expertise to expedite creative solutions for our providers. Communication was a cornerstone of the effort, both internally with global experts and externally with partners and suppliers. That helped to ensure all our efforts were coordinated.

Coping with mountains — and cliffs

Within a few more weeks, we started to see more businesses impacted. Some of our partners faced a mountain, while others saw a cliff.

With work-from-home orders skyrocketing, partners in the client business needed to get a remote workforce geared up and operating fast. Also, server and networking hardware was urgently needed to support increasing end-user demands. To respond, Intel needed to spin up our supply chain and adjust inventory to support our partners facing that mountain.

While some partners were struggling to keep up with demand, others were seeing some big valleys ahead for their business and cash flow. Our Channel Relief and Support Program was designed to help a broad cross section of partner concerns.

That includes warranty relief and programs to ensure that while sales were being impacted, membership levels were protected and costs were minimized with additional Intel Technology Provider Points offers. We also continued to provide marketing and sales support.

Supporting innovation

An unprecedented global situation such as COVID-19 requires creativity, innovation and quick decision-making. That’s how we’ll combat the virus, keep people healthy and safe, and ensure students can continue to learn.

Intel’s $50 million Pandemic Response Technology Initiative was created to accelerate access to technology at the point of patient care, speed scientific research, and help students and teachers access online learning.

I have no doubt that our partners will be instrumental in finding solutions to the problems brought to light during the pandemic. As those solutions take shape and are ready to scale, the Intel Solutions Marketplace will help partners make connections on a global basis.

The light ahead

For businesses still in the thick of the shutdowns, it can be difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Many companies are wondering what the business environment will be like when economies reopen.

While no one can know what the future holds, we can share what we’re seeing around the world.  Here’s the good news: As businesses reopen, we’re seeing many companies return to a stronger financial footing.

Looking ahead, we see the client business continuing to be very strong. Companies that can operate with some level of work-from-home status will see a quicker return to “normal.” But where working remotely is not possible, the impact will take longer. Research is also showing that a large percentage of companies will continue work-from-home programs even after lockdowns are lifted.

While we’re all looking forward to getting “back to normal,” we need to realize that normal does not mean what it was before.

The pandemic has changed everything from working at home to healthcare, industrial operations and retail. The pandemic has fundamentally changed how we communicate, work and interact.

We are so interconnected. That’s why we need to support each other. Together, we can survive in the short term and thrive over the longer term.

Stay safe. And stay connected. #iamintel

Learn more: Intel COVID-19 Response and Support Hub

About the author: Greg Baur is a VP and general manager of global scale and partner programs at Intel.

 

 

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Check out Intel’s add-on software for IBM Cloud Pak for Data

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by Intel on 07/17/2020
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Do you have customers running IBM Cloud Pak for Data? If so, tell them about Intel’s add-on software packages.

These Intel add-ons can save your customers weeks of time in configuring and tuning software for their workloads. Even better, they’re free.

If you’re new to IBM Cloud Pak for Data, it’s a unified, cloud-native platform that provides users an information architecture for AI. And it runs on the Red Hat OpenShift Container Platform, an open analytics system. (As you may remember, IBM acquired Red Hat last year for $34 billion.)

Also, IBM Cloud Pak for Data supports multicloud environments, including AWS, Azure, Google Cloud, IBM Cloud and private clouds. Companies use the platform to collect, organize and analyze data, infusing AI throughout their organizations.

Easier deep learning

Now add to this Intel’s Deep Learning Reference Stack. It’s an integrated, high-performance open source stack for platforms based on Intel Xeon Scalable processors. And it gives AI developers easy access to all the features and functions of Intel platforms.

This containerized software stack is easy to install and run. And it could save your customers weeks of times in adjusting and customizing the software.

The Deep Learning Reference Stack works with both TensorFlow, a machine-learning framework for deep learning; and PyTorch, an open source machine-learning library for Python. Both TensorFlow and PyTorch are already optimized for Intel hardware. And both are free with the IBM Cloud Pak for Data platform.

4 add-ons

Currently, Intel offers a total of 4 add-ons for IBM Cloud Pak for Data. There are 2 add-ons for the Deep Learning Reference Stack, and 2 add-ons for analytics:

Add-on software for Deep Learning Reference Stack:

> Deep Learning Reference Stack for TensorFlow: To take full advantage of the Intel architecture, and to achieve maximum performance, the TensorFlow framework has been optimized using Intel MKL-DNN primitives.

> Deep Learning Reference Stack for PyTouch: This open source machine-learning library for Python runs significantly faster on an Intel Xeon Scalable processor-based platform than non-optimized versions.

Add-on software for analytics:

> Analytics Zoo for Apache Spark: An open-source distributed deep-learning library for Apache Spark. It helps companies scale AI models for distributed training and inference.

> Intel Distribution for Python: A ready-to-use integrated package that includes prebuilt solutions for data analytics and drop-in replacements for existing code.

Intelligent AI

Intel’s add-ons for IBM Cloud Pak for Data can help your customers customize their AI systems. They also help your customers take advantage of features built into their Intel Xeon Scalable processors.

Your AI customers can get faster performance from these free tools. Customers can also save weeks of time.

Now that’s intelligent.

Read more:

> Intel add-on software for IBM Cloud Pak for Data (PDF)

 

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Develop computer vision & AI prototypes with Intel Neural Compute Stick 2

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by Intel on 07/16/2020
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Q: What’s under 3 inches long … plugs like a thumb drive into the USB port of a Windows 10, Ubuntu/CentOS Linux or MacOS computer … includes the OpenVINO toolkit … makes it easy to develop computer-vision and AI prototypes for IoT and edge devices … yet retails for just $70?

A: Intel Neural Compute Stick 2.

Intel Neural Compute Stick 2 (NCS 2) is a development and prototyping platform. You can use it to quickly bring computer vision and AI to IoT and edge devices.

Intel Neural Compute Stick 2

Intel NCS 2 is built on the latest Intel Movidius Myriad X VPU (visual processing unit), a dedicated hardware accelerator for deep neural-network inferences. This component, combined with access to the Intel Distribution of the OpenVINO toolkit, boosts the NCS 2’s performance by up to 8x over the previous generation.

You can combine the hardware-optimized performance of the Intel Movidius Myriad X VPU and the Intel Distribution of OpenVINO Toolkit to accelerate deep neural network-based applications to systems with a common USB Type-A port. You can also use the NCS 2 to test, tune and optimize your applications, then move from prototype to production with help from an Intel AI: In Production partner.

Intel NCS 2 supports common frameworks and includes out-of-the box sample applications for easy on-boarding and fast development. And you can run NCS 2 “at the edge” without a cloud-computing connection.

Developer tools

As mentioned above, Intel NCS 2 comes with a free downloadable software developer kit, the Intel Distribution of OpenVINO toolkit. It’s a collection of developer tools which can be used to develop and deploy computer vision inference applications across Intel NCS 2 and other Intel hardware.

The Intel Distribution of OpenVINO toolkit also supports frameworks such as Caffe and TensorFlow on Intel NCS 2. Also included are APIs for C++ and Python that you can use to build deep-learning applications.

Models, references included

Pretrained models are included, too, so you don’t have to search for or train your own. These include a smart shopping cart, 3D printing error detection, machine learning for mammography, and coral reef restoration and research.

There’s also a long list of open-source reference implementations to help you quickly deploy projects. These include intruder detection, store traffic and shopper gaze monitors, a parking lot tracker, and a monitor for machine operators.

And once you’ve developed your prototype on Intel NCS 2, you can bring it to production with help from the Intel AI: In Production website. It’s your ecosystem of equipment providers, software and analytics providers, systems integrations, solution aggregators and cloud service providers that can help you get rolling.

Do more with NCS 2:

> Intel Neural Compute Stick 2 main webpage

> Intel Neural Compute Stick 2 data sheet

> Intel Neural Compute Stick 2 product brief

> Step-by-step instructions for Intel Neural Compute Stick 2

> Intel Distribution of the OpenVINO toolkit

 

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Why animators creating complex movie monsters turn to Intel and Ziva Dynamics

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by Intel on 07/15/2020
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Think your deadlines are tough? Try making a Hollywood movie with complicated computer-generated animations.

Rendering these animations is so complex, one recent movie, “The Meg,” would have taken a single machine an estimated 113 years. Instead, Scanline VFX, the visual-effects studio working on the project, engaged a “render farm.” This compute cluster was powered by 2,500 Intel Xeon processors and loaded with visual-effects software from Ziva Dynamics. With this render farm, Scanline VFX completed the work in just under 21 days.

The Ziva Dynamics software relies heavily on Intel libraries to let users generate results by running computationally expensive simulations offline. “Intel’s CPU architecture lends itself extremely well to parallelized simulations,” says Ziva’s chief creative officer, Michael Smit. “These need a lot of compute power.”

Smit adds: “Teams using our software running on Intel’s technology are able to decrease turnaround time on iterations of their work, run multiple simulations in parallel, and — as a result — deliver better results in a fraction of the time.”

The Meg: beware the big sharks

The animated creatures in “The Meg” are prehistoric, 75-foot-long sharks known as megalodons. To create these sharks, Scanline VFX ran some 2.7 million simulation tasks, 1.7 million 2D image renders, and 1.3 million image renders. That averaged out to nearly 6,000 simulations and renders each day.

The Meg animated shark

The Meg: happy to eat you

This degree of processing was possible using Ziva Dynamics’ VFX Batch. This software enables studios to distribute simulation jobs to render farms for greater processing capacity and speed. This process is further enabled by Intel Xeon processor computations that can run in highly parallelized scenarios.

“We basically take our Intel Xeon processor–based render farm and combine it into a supercomputer,” says Stephan Trojansky, a supervisor at Scanline VFX. “That’s what makes it possible to create the massive simulations needed in feature films these days.”

Pacific Rim monsters

Another recent Hollywood movie sped along by the powerful combination of Ziva Dynamics software and Intel Xeon processors is “Pacific Rim: Uprising.” This sci-fi thriller features giant space creatures, known as Kaiju, covered with dinosaur-like plates and bony spikes.

Pacific Rim's Kaiju animated monster

Kaiju: not just another pretty face

These monsters were created by DNEG, a UK-based visual effects studio, using AI and machine learning systems powered by an Intel architecture. “We wanted to push the boundaries,” says DNEG’s computer-graphics supervisor, Russell Bowen.

Specifically, DNEG used Ziva Dynamics’ flagship Ziva VFX simulation software. Traditionally, animations are created by first building the characters, then animating them frame by frame. Instead, ZIVA VFX uses advanced simulation technology that lets animators essentially mimic the physics of any material. Created characters can organically move, flex, jiggle and stretch.

ZIVA VFX works by creating physics-based computational models of the natural body features of real people and creatures. The software then applies simulation algorithms based on biomechanics and animated movements.

As part of the development process, ZIVA VFX also allows simulation results to be feed into a machine learning (ML) process. This reduces the data model, allowing it to be loaded into a real-time animation pipeline.

‘Real computational overhead’

To appreciate how big a shift this represents, consider the project’s scale. Some of the shots in “Pacific Rim: Uprising” included 10 Kaiju monsters, with each creature involving as many as 1.7 million polygons.

“There’s a real computational overhead in each of those characters,” says DNEG creature supervisor Adam Vanner. “Ziva software helps us accelerate that process. That allows us to produce characters in parallel and produce great-looking results with fewer resources than we’ve needed in the past.”

For the “Pacific Rim: Uprising” project, all of DNEG’s workstations and servers were powered by Intel Xeon processors. Overall, the company used 25 servers and 3 petabytes’ worth of storage, with systems located in London, Vancouver and Mumbai.

Why so much hardware? In a word, speed.

DNEG’s Bowen estimates that if the company had instead rendered the movie on just one standalone computer with 24 cores, the work would have taken nearly 14 million hours.

In other words, they would have missed the deadline by a mere 1,600 years!

Explore more:

> How Intel AI and Ziva Dynamics are delivering more likelike characters, faster and more efficiently (webpage)

> Ziva Dynamics: Powering the animation revolution (case study)

> Intel and Ziva Dynamics: Transforming computer-generated imagery (white paper)

 

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