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A group of Stanford researchers have recently achieved a supercomputing milestone: 1,572,864 computer cores (processors) and 1.6 petabytes of memory. Cool I said to myself, but what for?

 

Well, someone thought about a very complex question: How do you build a quieter aircraft engine? Giving the human pain threshold is around 125 decibels and at takeoff the sound of a jet aircraft can be as high as 150 decibels, it seems like a great question. But the physics of noise as it appears are extremely complex and difficult to model. Armed with this massive computational power, researchers are now able to perform fluid dynamic simulations. They will likely get answers leading to more questions and more answers… and perhaps enough insight to ignite creative ideas just like the chevrons – serrations on the exhaust side of a jet engine – and one day reduce the noise to Jetsons flying car level.


The same phenomenon is also happening in the business world. The laws of supply-demand still prevail, but the business reality of individual enterprises is often time very difficult to understand, let alone model. Advances in in-memory and visual discovery technologies (such as SAP HANA and SAP Visual Intelligence) allow business people to ask questions about their customers, sales, operations, etc and get answers in seconds or minutes, not days or weeks. And just like the Stanford researchers, this provides an opportunity to continue asking more questions and getting more answers that eventually ignite business creativity (new services, new products, better ways of delighting customers, etc).


In-memory databases play a huge role in this superfast question-answer cycle as they support the 3V (volume, velocity, and variety) of data, but it’s not enough by itself. Visual discovery tools are also critical as they allow individuals to conduct explorations of data sets in far more flexible and visual ways than traditional reporting and analysis tools can. A greater degree of freedom in manipulating and transforming data generally speeds up the time taken to ‘seize’ and familiarize ourselves with it. By presenting quantitative information in visual form (visualizations), visual discovery solutions also give us a chance of using the 30% of our cortex dedicated to neurons processing visuals. The combination of speed, flexibility, and visual cues dramatically accelerates the “time to answer”, but also provides opportunities to ask more questions as answers appear almost instantly in front of our eyes and with little help from the IT department.


The rise of the superfast question-answer cycle will happen, but obviously not fast enough for the late Yogi Berra who famously said I wish I had an answer to that because I'm tired of answering that question.

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