Saturday, December 2, 2023

Data horsepower lies in the cloud

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Harnessing the horsepower of global cloud computing services on a pay-as-you-go basis is becoming a go-to option for New Zealand agri-tech firms wanting to either scale up their research capability or make the leap to be an international software provider. Richard Rennie spoke to the head of Amazon Web Services in NZ about what it means for agriculture.
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For the past few months giant cloud computing company Amazon Web Services has been working on increasing information technology workers’ capabilities in cloud computing applications and expanding the services available to growing companies.

It claims to have about 34% of all cloud computing capacity, putting it ahead of the likes of Microsoft, Google and IBM.

New Zealand country manager Tim Dacombe-Bird said the tech sector is going through a reskilling process as cloud computing grows. More staff  need to be up-skilled on the manipulation and development of applications now able to be performed thanks to the almost unlimited capacity of cloud computing networks.

“The old days where people would be deployed in tech is not the way of the future. The traditional method of racking and stacking multiple servers has definitely gone now.”

With the heavy lifting of computer capacity now done by the likes of AWS it should free up technology staff to do different things. 

AWS has been working on a self-set goal of reskilling 60,000 people in NZ over three years, with its first year target of 16,000 due to be met comfortably.

Dacombe-Bird says NZ’s tech sector is valued at about $9 billion and in that the agri-tech sector recorded about $1.4 billion of exports in 2018. It also forms a significant sector of AWS’s focus in re-education.

“What we have found is the agri-tech sector has an incredible amount of passion rooted in the culture with very deep levels of knowledge and skill. Working with the likes of LIC, looking at problem-solving in different ways, we have been able to provide technology platforms to solve those problems at a scale not available previously.”

Dairy herd genetics generates millions of data points that combined can provide valuable insights to individual animal, herd and national performance. But that volume also makes processing the data in large amounts challenging.

The elasticity of cloud computing enables companies to scale up almost immediately to swallow data for processing and analysis, without the physical and financial commitment to more servers.

LIC chief executive Wayne McNee said the organisation has more than a billion pieces of farm data stored on an AWS cloud that has significantly shortened the time taken to analyse data from different sources across the farm, providing real-time insights through its MINDA application, enabling farmers to make quicker, more informed decisions. 

As genomic research advances cloud computing is now enabling researchers to more closely examine the bovine genome and its three billion base pairs since it was unravelled in 2009.

“The challenge has been how to get insights from data. We have built at scale analytic platforms that allow customers to analyse their data at scale and keep it at scale. This provides them with greater insights to their research because they are taking much greater amounts of data to study,” Dacombe-Bird said.

Other data-rich companies capturing cloud storage and systems in the agri-tech sector are GPS-IT, Fonterra and farm financial company Figured. 

Fonterra alone every millisecond gets data from one of 900,000 sensors in manufacturing plants and cloud storage has given it the elasticity to compute and hold that data.

All too frequently NZ agri-tech firms fall into something known as the valley of death where post-launch sales of a proven software system fail to hit the critical volume needed to start generating a reasonable profit. 

Dacombe-Bird said AWS has identified 1200 software companies in NZ.

“We can work off our platforms to help them optimise their business in terms of scale so if they do find their customer base expands rapidly, using our platforms they can scale up easily.”

Using a third party also saves on expansion costs and provides the technology to deal with cyber security.

The Internet of Things is estimated to be capable of adding $570 million to the economy and will also benefit by having cloud computing support.

“With agriculture there is a legacy of monitors for soils, weather, production and water already in place and IoT means they now have the ability to be connected and data generated from them,” NZ IoT Alliance chief executive Kriv Naicker says.

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