Filtering by Tag: cloud computing

Ionic data storage for high scalability in supply chain

Published on by Joannes Vermorel.

Supply chains moved quite early on towards computer-based management systems. Yet, as a result, many large companies have decade-old supply chain systems which tend to be sluggish when it comes to crunching a lot of data. Certainly, tons of Big Data technologies are available nowadays, but companies are treading carefully. Many, if not most, of those Big Data companies are critically dependent on top-notch engineering talent to get their technologies working smoothly; and not all companies succeed, unlike Facebook, in rewriting layers of Big Data technologies for making them work.

Being able to process vast amounts of data has been a long-standing commitment of Lokad. Indeed, optimizing a whole supply chain typically requires hundreds of incremental adjustments. As hypotheses get refined, it’s typically the entire chain of calculations that needs to be re-executed. Getting results that encompass the whole supply chain network in minutes rather than hours lets you complete a project in a few weeks while it would have dragged on for a year otherwise.

And this is why we started our migration towards cloud computing back in 2009. However, merely running on top of a cloud computing platform does not guarantee that vast amount of data can be processed swiftly. Worse still, while using many machines offers the possibility to process more data, it also tends to make data processing slower, not faster. In fact, delays tend to take place when data is moved around from one machine to the next, and also when machines need to coordinate their work.

As a result, merely throwing more machines at a data processing problem does not reduce any further the data processing time. The algorithms need to be made smarter, and every single machine should be able to do more with no more computing resources.

A few weeks ago, we have released a new high-performance column storage format code-named Ionic thatis heavily optimized for high-speed concurrent data processing. This format is also geared towards supply chain optimization as it natively supports the handling of storage distributions of probabilities. And these distributions are critical in order to be able to take advantage of probabilistic forecasts. Ionic is not intended to be used as an exchange format between Lokad and its clients. For data exchange, using flat text file format, such as CSV, is just fine. The Ionic format is intended to be used as internal data format to speed-up everything that happens within Lokad. Thanks to Ionic, Lokad can now process hundreds of gigabytes worth of input data with relative ease.

In particular, the columnar aspect of the Ionic format ensures that columns can be loaded and processed separately. When addressing supply chain problems, we are routinely facing ERP extractions where tables have over 100 columns, and up to 500 columns for the worst offenders. Ionic delivers a massive performance boost when it comes to dealing with that many columns.

From Lokad’s perspective, we are increasingly perceiving data processing capabilities as a critical success factor in the implementation of supply chain optimization projects. Longer processing time means that less gets done every single day, which is problematic since ultimately every company operates under tight deadlines.

The Ionic storage format is one more step into our Big Data journey.

Categories: Tags: technology release supply chain cloud computing bigdata No Comments

An exciting vision cast into a new product: Introducing BIG DATA PLATFORM [Infographic]

Published on by Joannes Vermorel.

It seems to me that as we grow, our pace of innovation continues to accelerate. We are currently short of somewhat of a frenzy.  More clients means much more exposure to high priority problems in eCommerce and retail, which is our food for innovation. 

The latest addition to our portfolio of Big Data Commerce solutions is a cloud based BIG DATA PLATFORM. It is a truly exciting vision that has been cast into concept and product: Make the capturing, storing and exploiting of all of your company's transactional data in a fast, reliable and agile data platform simple, efficient and low cost. Combine this with smart applications that exploit this data in order to make smarter, faster operative decisions that address specific problems in the company.

Couponing, inventory optimization, pricing, store assortment optimization and personalization of online and offline customer communication are all examples of what can be accomplished with such as system in an efficient and low cost manner. Customer satisfaction, rapid ROI and extreme profitability are the core of what makes us so excited.  Enough said, we chose to use this announcement to try our luck on our very first.... INFOGRAPHIC.

Do you share the excitement of this vision? Like or hate our infographic? Please get in touch or post in the comments.  


Categories: Tags: bigdata cloud computing inventory optimization pricing No Comments

European Supermarket Magazine features Lokad

Published on by Joannes Vermorel.

Europe’s dedicated magazine for the supermarket sector ESM is featuring Lokad this month in a two page article titled Embracing the Cloud. The publication gives a great overview of Lokad to retailers and details why the cloud is such a game changer for retail. ESM had taken notice of Lokad’s presentation at the EuroShop 2011 in Düsseldorf, which particularly impressed the Editor Kevin Kelly.

Also, we agreed to offer ESM’s readers a free proof of concept to benchmark the retailer’s current forecasting accuracy compared to the one delivered by Lokad. Consider a 3 weeks net execution time to get hard facts on your forecasting practice.

In this issue, ESM investigates the highly competitive European grocery market, including the growing prominence of private labels, covers areas of interest to both buyers and other senior management working in the retail and manufacturing sectors, such as supply chain and logistics management, technology (such as EPoS), packaging and design and environmental best practices. The magazine appears bimonthly.

Categories: retail, supply chain Tags: cloud computing press retail supply chain No Comments

Lokad.CQRS v1.0 for Windows Azure released

Published on by Joannes Vermorel.

(disclaimer: post below is rather technical stuff targeting a developer audience)

Lokad.CQRS for Windows Azure is a guidance and framework on efficiently building solutions for the cloud. It fits distributed and scalable enterprise scenarios as well as small and cost-effective solutions.

Our forecasting technology is not open source, but we are very eager to share our experience, and get feedback too, about the building blocks that support our technology.

Lokad.CQRS is based on our experience at running apps on the cloud and on our R&D investments (we did win the first Windows Azure Partner Award 2010 from Microsoft), a lot of existing theory (i.e.: Efficient Development series, CQRS, etc) and numerous production-proven .NET building blocks.

First release manifests an important milestone for us. It includes Azure Starter binaries (available in the downloads), tutorials with samples (1-4) and a large list of reference materials.

Read more about Lokad.CQRS v1.0 release...

Categories: community, open source, release, technical Tags: azure cloud computing cqrs opensource technical No Comments

Width vs. Depth, Rotate your sales forecasts by 90 degrees

Published on by Joannes Vermorel.

We have already discussed why Lokad did not care much about forecasting Chinese food rather than Sport Bar beverages. Another way of thinking our technology consists of rotating your sales forecasts by 90 degrees.

We are observing that a consumer product has, on average, 3 years lifecycle. This means that on average the amount of data available for every single product about 18 months. When, we look at the sales history with a monthly aggregation, 18 months of data means 18 points.

With 18 data points, no matter how smart or advanced is your forecasting theory, you can't do much simply because we face an utter lack of data to perform any robust statistical analysis. With 18 points, even a pattern has obviously as seasonality becomes a challenge to observe because we don't even have 2 complete seasonal observation.

Your mileage may vary from one industry to the next, but unless your products stay in the market for decades, you are most likely to face this issue.

As a direct consequence, classical forecasting toolkits require statisticians to tweak forecasting models for every single product because no non-trivial statistical model can be robustly fit with only 18 points as input data.

Yet, Lokad does not require any statistician, and the magic lies in the 90 degrees rotation: our models do not iterate over data a single time-series at a time, but against all time-series at once. Thus, we have a lot more input data available, and consequently we can succeed with rather advance models.

This approach is just common sense: if you want to forecast the seasonality of your new chocolate bar, the seasonality of the other chocolate bars seems like a good candidate. Why should you treat each chocolate bar in strict isolation from the others?

Yet, from a computational perspective, the problem has just become a lot harder: if you have 10,000 SKUs the number of associations between two SKUs is roughly 100 millions (and 10,000 SKU is nowhere a large number). That's precisely where the cloud kicks in: even if your algorithms are well-designed not to suffer a strict quadratic complexity, you're still going to need a lot of processing power. The cloud just happens to make this processing power available on demand at a very low price.

Without the cloud, it is simply not possible to deliver this kind of technology.

Categories: forecasting, insights Tags: cloud computing depth forecasting insights statistics technology width No Comments

Designed for large scale forecasting with Windows Azure

Published on by Joannes Vermorel.

Lokad is a proud user of Windows Azure, the cloud computing plateform of Microsoft. Our forecasting technology would be nowhere as scalable and accurate without Azure.

Cloud computing opens tremendous opportunities as far reliability, security, performance and costs are concerned. Yet, to get the most out of the cloud, apps have to be natively designed for the cloud. Our current cloudy architecture is drawn below.

Our migration toward Azure costed us about 1 year of efforts that spread from late 2008 to early 2010 (which was still pretty fast considering the tremendous challenge it represented to redesign the architecture from scratch).

Best patterns and practices for entreprise apps in the cloud are still a very nascent area. At Lokad, we want to share our experience and get feedback from the community.

Although Lokad is not an open source company, we release as open source components that we believe to be applicable to other businesses. As a matter of fact, we are supporting multiple open source projects such as:

  • Lokad.Cloud - an O/C mapper for Windows Azure (object to cloud)
  • Lokad.CQRS - Command-Query Responsibility Segregation for Windows Azure.

 Willing to design an enterprise app on the cloud? Make sure you check those two projects.

Categories: docs, insights, technical Tags: architecture azure cloud computing No Comments

Salescast, sales forecasting made WAY EASIER

Published on by Joannes Vermorel.

We are proud to announce that we have just released the first version of Salescast.

Salescast is a web application hosted on Windows Azure that deliverers sales forecasts, the easy way. Feature-wise, Salescast is very close to our Lokad Safety Stock Calculator (LSSC), a desktop app which, despite its name, is also delivering sales forecasts.

Why another client app?

Over the two years of existence of LSSC, we noticed that data integration represented the No1 issue faced by our clients. Forecasting issues were simply dwarfed by the sheer amount of data import issues. We have been trying to add more and more data adapters to LSSC, reaching +20 supported apps, and yet LSSC keeps failing at properly importing data as there are thousands of apps in the market.

Stepping back from the actual situation, we asked ourselves: why should clients even bother about data integration? Shouldn't this sort of thing be part of the service in the first place? Letting our prospects and clients face such issues was not acceptable.

Thus, we decided to address the problem from a radically different angle: just grant Lokad an access to your data, and Lokad will figure out the rest; and the project codenamed Salescast was born.

Salescast needs one single information to setup the whole forecasting process: a SQL connection to your database. Nearly every modern ERP, CRM, accounting, shopping cart, POS, MRP ... software store data in a SQL database. Most of your business apps are probably powered by SQL. Salescast also supports the different SQL flavors: MSSQL, MySQL, Oracle SQL.

Do you believe in magic?

We haven't discovered the ultimate technology that would make all data integration issues go away. In order to solve data integration issues, Salescast uses a combination of technology and process.

1. Salecast attempts to auto-detect the target application leveraging its library of known apps, and if the data format is recognized, it proceeds with the forecasting process.

2. If the database is not recognized, then a Lokad engineer gets appointed to design the data adapter. Once the adapter is designed we get back to step 1.

How much is this going to cost?

We don't intend to charge beside our primary per-forecast pricing. More precisely, we promise to give a try at integrating every single app that gets plugged to Salecast. If the integration proves to be really complicated (which happens with old ad-hoc systems) then, we might come back with a quote to complete the job. Naturally, you're free to refuse the quote.

What about the future of Salescast?

For the initial release of Salescast, we have been exclusively focused on SQL database. Later on, we plan to add a wider range of data formats (Excel spreadsheets, REST APIs, ...). We will also enhance the reporting capabilities of Salescast. Just let us know what you need.

Salescast is readily available, get your forecasts now!

Categories: release, sales, service status Tags: cloud computing release sales No Comments

Where does Windows Azure folks get their inspiration?

Published on by Joannes Vermorel.

At PDC'09, Microsoft and Lokad unveiled a case study about Windows Azure. Yet, what was our surprise when discovered the following video at the Windows Azure booth (check for video links below).

Once upon a time, there was a little company with little funds, but great ambitions.

Data Analytics with Windows Azure

The little company wanted to process truckload of historical data. Yet, it could not afford buying tons of computing stuff.

Import and export data in Windows Azure

Yet, through Windows Azure, the little company was suddently able to process truckload of data, and to output truckload of forecasts too. 

Feed IT systems with Windows Azure

The massive amount of forecasts would then flow into the IT systems of large retailers to optimize their companies.

The little company produced lots of profits, and its employees lived happily ever after. THE END

Categories: community, video Tags: azure cloud computing forecasting microsoft video 2 Comments

Unified pricing system

Published on by Joannes Vermorel.

We are pleased to announce that we are upgrading Lokad toward a new pricing for our Forecasting Services. The details have already been published, check it out.

Although your mileage may vary, simulations indicate that this change will represent, on average, a 20% saving for current customers. Our goal remains to stay far ahead of the competition, both in terms of forecasts accuracy but also in terms of TCO (Total Cost of Ownership).

Pricing has been simplified ...

It's simple enough to be expressed with a single compact formula $0.15 * forecasts 2/3 . And, yes, we still have the Power 2/3 coefficient. For those those who don't enjoy mental calculations of cubic roots, we do provide a calculator .

Wait! What do you call a forecast?  If you want sales forecasts for a single product for the next 3 months, one value for each month ahead, it counts as 3. If you repeat your forecasts twice during the same month, it counts as 6. If you do the same with 1000 products instead of a single one, it counts as 6,000 forecasts.

Then, the power 2/3 just acts as a large discount volumes:

  • 1k forecasts cost $15
  • 1M forecasts cost $1,5k (instead of $15k)
  • 1B forecasts cost $150k ( instead of $15M)

Bottom line, it's rather simple. Our inspiration was a mix of the Windows Azure pricing and the Twilio pricing.

In particular, it must be noted that there is no setup fee. Obviously, such a pricing is only made possible because Lokad is powered by cloud computing.

Then, if you happen to use or need Lokad, only once in a while, you wont be charged unless you actually use Lokad. If your account stay idle for 1 month, then you don't get charged at all!

Finally, there is no threshold effect our pricing (thanks to the power 2/3 approach). The more forecasts you need, the higher the costs, but the higher the volume discount too.

Our old pricing system, which had not been revised for almost 2 years, was suffering from one major issue: there were subtleties. Not major ones, still it was sufficient for people to routinely estimates their subscription costs to thousands of $ while it was only less than a hundred.

We are not going to make the same mistake twice. Our pricing page now includes dedicated simulators for inventory optimization and call center optimization. Any doubt about the new costs, just type in you number of SKUs or you number of calling queues.

... but it's still a variable pricing

Many analysts have been expressing concerns about variable pricing in software. How I can get my business plans in order if everything is changing all the time? you might ask.

In our humble opinion, and as far forecasting is concerned, we believe that variable pricing to solving way many more problems than it causes. You might wonder, what will happen if the subscription costs increases? If your Lokad subscription costs increases, it means that your company is growing and so are your forecasting needs.  The last thing you want while undergoing a steady growth is get your forecasts wrong, and let improper planning wreck havoc in your business. Then, our volume discount factor (power 2/3) ensures that the more you grow, the more volume discounts you get from Lokad.

But there is the other situation that analysts usually don't both bother to consider: what if my business is going down, what if we are downsizing, what if branches get sold?

With Lokad, your subscription will be going down accordingly. You will not be stuck with an over-sized on-premise solution to maintain. Pay-as-you-go guarantees that the software you buy today will not accelerate the demise of your business if the economy turns out to be really rough.

Categories: service status, subscriptions Tags: cloud computing forecasting on demand pay as you go pricing 2 Comments

Forecasting in the clouds and Lokad.Cloud

Published on by Joannes Vermorel.

Cloud computing will be the no1 buzzword in software industry in 2009. Among forums, blogs, even traditional news papers, cloud computing is the new rage; and we, at Lokad, are no exception.

Yet, for us, cloud computing is not a buzzword, it's a very real technology addressing a very critical aspect of our technology: scalability.

In short, delivering forecasts is a rather bumpy process: for one week, we wait, and then, suddenly, a customer sends us a (very) large amount and (rightfully) expects forecasts to be delivered within 1h.

Traditional computing infrastructures do not deal efficiently with those sorts of needs: servers are rented for at least one month with strong pricing incentive toward longer engagements. For Lokad, traditional server hosting means that our processing power is vastly underused; yet during peaks, there is never enough processing power available.

Thus, we have started migrating toward the cloud, and more specifically toward Windows Azure (special thanks to Steve Marx and Yi-Lun Luo from Microsoft for their assistance to get us started with Azure).

For those who rely on us, cloud computing means that we will be able to serve you better through:

  • unrivaled and unlimited scalability: no matter how large your data, we will address your needs, on demand, real time.
  • better forecasts through more complex statistical models that are presently too expensive CPU-wise to be put in production.

Lokad.Cloud big picture

Although, cloud computing is still a rough field lacking many commodities usually taken for granted by developers when dealing with non-cloud apps. This is why we have started a new open source project named Lokad.Cloud that provides a .NET framework to speedup the development of back-office apps built on top of Windows Azure. We expect an alpha release in July. Stay tuned.

Categories: developers, open source, roadmap, technical Tags: cloud computing opensource scalability technology No Comments