Mention the brand Lenovo and its sleek and powerful laptops immediately come to mind. However, Sumir Bhatia, president of Lenovo’s Infrastructure Solution Group in Asia Pacific (APAC), is quick to correct that notion.
“Consumer electronics, to be honest, is just the tip of the iceberg for Lenovo. We’re a US$60 billion ($80 billion) tech pioneer and we build solutions from the pocket to the data centre, to the cloud,” he says.
Bhatia: GOAST can help any sort of research to meet their objectives faster, and at a much lower cost. Photo: Lenovo
China’s Lenovo has six groups under its business, including the intelligent device group (IDG) and ISG, which Bhatia leads. “All these businesses recognise transformative tech to make people’s lives better. If you look at harnessing tech like 5G, Internet of Things (IoT), high performance computing, artificial intelligence (AI), edge computing and the cloud, Lenovo ISG specialises in servers, storage and enterprise solutions that are at the forefront, ready to change,” he adds.
“Lenovo is beyond consumer electronics. The mantra is really to build that smarter tech for all, and you can’t [do so] by just providing devices. It’s about how these devices connect. It’s about how the software, the solutions and the algorithms, all connect together.”
What is GOAST?
In a recent interview with DigitalEdge Singapore, Bhatia talks about Lenovo’s latest technology, the Genomics Optimization and Scalability Tool (GOAST). Developed in partnership with Intel, GOAST is a bundled hardware and software tool that can decode and sequence genomes at up to 167 times faster than any other computing technology currently available.
Established in 2019, Bhatia says GOAST helps to optimise genomics and scale the genomics research. It combines high performance computing, AI and academia to respond to the needs of both science and tech.
“The fantastic thing about this tool is that it used to take months and months to map a single genome. Recently it’s taken 60 to 150 hours per sample. GOAST is extremely powerful in that it brings the process down to 48 minutes to sequence the mapping of genomics,” he continues.
With GOAST, researchers can now help measure an individual’s susceptibility to diseases, predict responses to a specific treatment and eliminate unnecessary side effects and so on. He explains: “Let’s look at Covid-19 as an example. People were wondering about the vaccines — they came out so fast that people wondered if the vaccines were effective or not. In my opinion, it’s not about the speed, but that the technology is available today.”
With that, “tools like GOAST are able to help any sort of research to meet their objectives much faster, and at a much lower cost.”
The greater good
In addition to reducing the amount of time used to map a single genome, lowering costs was a key consideration when developing GOAST.
“The whole objective is to make GOAST more accessible for the healthcare industry and academia [as similar tools of the past were expensive, meaning only] large organisations or those with a lot of research grants could afford them. [Since GOAST costs about a third less than previous and boutique solutions,] smaller research organisations and the ancillary research organisations that are also doing research for bigger labs are able to afford it,” says Bhatia.
“[In line with] our mantra of smarter technology for all, GOAST is about democratising knowledge and really lowering the barriers for usability.”
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Beyond genomics, Bhatia says that the tool is also being used to develop more climate-resistant crops to improve yield and food security. “We have customers using GOAST for crop research [and answering questions such as] how we can help feed the planet in the next 20 years, which is a challenge as we urbanise everything,” he says.
"Any technology cannot be delivered for the sake of technology. There has to be a purpose. That purpose for us is bringing that smarter tech for all and from an ISG standpoint, is really about solving humanity’s greatest challenges.”
Developing GOAST was not an easy feat. First, there were mixed variables and the team at Lenovo had to match them correctly in terms of the right tools, software, utility and hardware. “There were variables like 30 single threaded non-distributed and distributed tools woven and interwoven throughout the workflow,” says Bhatia.
Besides that, Lenovo had to ensure GOAST is a plug-and-play tool. As he says: “Research organisations shouldn’t be spending time configuring — or tuning — their hardware and software. They should just have to put the tool in to work and get the results.”
Keeping the cost down so smaller research houses have access to the tool was yet another challenge. Bhatia attributes this to his able team. He continues: “We could do this with the expertise we have in the high performance computing department. I’m very proud of our research and development (R&D) team, our technologists. Just the expertise they put in there… the deep knowledge that they have and the passion that they bring to come up with this… It’s mind blowing.”
That said, Bhatia claims that the tool is “not the end”. There are always further improvements to be made with the next level of infrastructure, stronger central processing units (CPUs) to improve GOAST’s effectiveness while further reducing the cost. He adds: “[We’re now looking at] how we can make this tool agile and quicker. It could sequence a genome in 48 minutes today, but perhaps that time could be halved tomorrow. That’s always the objective, to keep improving the tool.”
On facing the ongoing global shortage of semiconductors, Bhatia says he is “optimistic” on the group’s ability to deliver. “If you look at our supply, we have a very robust and global supply chain and manufacturing footprint.
"At Lenovo, we operate 30 plus manufacturing sites globally. This is a mix of our wholly-owned supply sites, our joint ventures, as well as contract factories that are delivering over 100 million Lenovo products to customers, retailers and partners across 180 markets overall, and we will continue to increase that,” he says.
“While this continues, we do expect [to face supply constraints] in most of 2022 but it’s about how we manage it. We have alternative solutions, where if one thing isn’t available, we can provide an alternative and give the best possible solution to our customers. Customers understand that it’s not a one vendor or Lenovo problem. It spans multiple industries.”
Given its capabilities, GOAST has received an “extreme lot of interest”. A premier government-backed genomics research body in India, for instance, is leveraging GOAST in its Center of Excellence to accelerate path-breaking research on the coronavirus. Meanwhile, the University of Delhi’s Department of Genetics used GOAST to extract more genetics-backed data to develop climate resistant crops, improve crop yields and food security.
Still, Bhatia concedes that implementation takes time for most organisations as there is proof of concepts (POCs) and testing involved. “GOAST is a relatively new launch — about a year and a half. It’s getting better, and more and more customers are looking [at GOAST to solve the problems humanity faces such as food security and infectious diseases].”
Cover photo: Unsplash