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Interview David Smith REvolution Computing

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Here is an Interview with REvolution Computing’s Director of Community David Smith.

Our development team spent more than six months making R work on 64-bit Windows (and optimizing it for speed), which we released as REvolution R Enterprise bundled with ParallelR.” David Smith -

Ajay -Tell us about your journey in science. In particular tell us what attracted you to R and the open source movement.

David- I got my start in science in 1990 working with CSIRO (the government science organization in Australia) after I completed my degree in mathematics and computer science. Seeing the diversity of projects the statisticians there worked on really opened my eyes to statistics as the way of objectively answering questions about science.

That’s also when I was first introduced to the S language, the forerunner of R. I was hooked immediately; it was just so natural for doing the work I had to do. I also had the benefit of a wonderful mentor, Professor Bill Venables, who at the time was teaching S to CSIRO scientists at remote stations around Australia. He brought me along on his travels as an assistant. I learned a lot about the practice of statistical computing helping those scientists solve their problems (and got to visit some great parts of Australia, too).

Ajay- How do you think we should help bring more students to the fields of mathematics and science-

David- For me, statistics is the practical application of mathematics to the real world of messy data, complex problems and difficult conclusions. And in recent years, lots of statistical problems have broken out of geeky science applications to become truly mainstream, even sexy. In our new information society, graduating statisticians have a bright future ahead of them which I think will inevitably draw more students to the field.

Ajay- Your blog at REVolution Computing is one of the best technical corporate blogs. In particular the monthly round up of new packages, R events and product launches all written in a lucid style. Are there any plans for a REvolution computing community or network as well instead of just the blog.

David- Yes, definitely. We recently hired Danese Cooper as our Open Source Diva to help us in this area. Danese has a wealth of experience building open-source communities, such as for Java at Sun. We’ll be announcing some new community initiatives this summer. In the meantime, of course, we’ll continue with the Revolutions blog, which has proven to be a great vehicle for getting the word out about R to a community that hasn’t heard about it before. Thanks for the kind words about the blog, by the way — it’s been a lot of fun to write. It will be a continuing part of our community strategy, and I even plan to expand the roster of authors in the future, too. (If you’re an aspiring R blogger, please get in touch!)

Ajay- I kind of get confused between what exactly is 32 bit or 64 bit computing in terms of hardware and software. What is the deal there. How do Enterprise solutions from REvolution take care of the 64 bit computing. How exactly does Parallel computing and optimized math libraries in REvolution R help as compared to other flavors of R.

David- Fundamentally, 64-bit systems allow you to process larger data sets with R — as long as you have a version of R compiled to take advantage of the increased memory available. (I wrote about some of the technical details behind this recently on the blog.)  One of the really exciting trends I’ve noticed over the past 6 months is that R is being applied to larger and more complex problems in areas like predictive analytics and social networking data, so being able to process the largest data sets is key.

One common mis perception is that 64-bit systems are inherently faster than their 32-bit equivalents, but this isn’t generally the case. To speed up large problems, the best approach is to break the problem down into smaller components and run them in parallel on multiple machines. We created the ParallelR suite of packages to make it easy to break down such problems in R and run them on a multiprocessor workstation, a local cluster or grid, or even cloud computing systems like Amazon’s EC2 .

” While the core R team produces versions of R for 64-bit Linux systems, they don’t make one for Windows. Our development team spent more than six months making R work on 64-bit Windows (and optimizing it for speed), which we released as REvolution R Enterprise bundled with ParallelR. We’re excited by the scale of the applications our subscribers are already tackling with a combination of 64-bit and parallel computing”

Ajay-  Command line is oh so commanding. Please describe any plans to support or help any R GUI like rattle or R Commander. Do you think Revolution R can get more users if it does help a GUI.

David- Right now we’re focusing on making R easier to use for programmers by creating a new GUI for programming and debugging R code. We heard feedback from some clients who were concerned about training their programmers in R without a modern development environment available. So we’re addressing that by improving R to make the “standard” features programmers expect (like step debugging and variable inspection) work in R and integrating it with the standard environment for programmers on Windows, Visual Studio.

In my opinion R’s strength lies in its combination of high-quality of statistical algorithms with a language ideal for applying them, so “hiding” the language behind a general-purpose GUI negates that strength a bit, I think. On the other hand it would be nice to have an open-source “user-friendly” tool for desktop statistical analysis, so I’m glad others are working to extend R in that area.

Ajay- Companies like SAS are investing in SaaS and cloud computing. Zementis offers scored models on the cloud through PMML. Any views on just building the model or analytics on the cloud itself.

David- To me, cloud computing is a cost-effective way of dynamically scaling hardware to the problem at hand. Not everyone has access to a 20-machine cluster for high-performing computing — and even those that do can’t instantly convert it to a cluster of 100 or 1000 machines to satisfy a sudden spike in demand. REvolution R Enterprise with ParallelR is unique in that it provides a platform for creating sophisticated data analysis applications distributed in the cloud, quickly and easily.

Using clouds for building models is a no-brainer for parallel-computing problems: I recently wrote about how parallel backtesting for financial trading can easily be deployed on Amazon EC2, for example. PMML is a great way of deploying static models, but one of the big advantages of cloud computing is that it makes it possible to update your model much more frequently, to keep your predictions in tune with the latest source data.

Ajay- What are the major alliances that REvolution has in the industry.

David- We have a number of industry partners. Microsoft and Intel, in particular, provide financial and technical support allowing us to really strengthen and optimize R on Windows, a platform that has been somewhat underserved by the open-source community. With Sybase, we’ve been working on combing REvolution R and Sybase Rap to produce some exciting advances in financial risk analytics. Similarly, we’ve been doing work with Vhayu’s Velocity database to provide high-performance data extraction. On the life sciences front, Pfizer is not only a valued client but in many ways a partner who has helped us “road-test” commercial grade R deployment with great success.

Ajay- What are the major R packages that REvolution supports and optimizes and how exactly do they work/help?

David- REvolution R works with all the R packages: in fact, we provide a mirror of CRAN so our subscribers have access to the truly amazing breadth and depth of analytic and graphical methods available in third-party R packages. Those packages that perform intensive mathematical calculations automatically benefit from the optimized math libraries that we incorporate in REvolution R Enterprise. In the future, we plan to work with authors of some key packages provide further improvements — in particular, to make packages work with ParallelR to reduce computation times in multiprocessor or cloud computing environments.

Ajay- Are you planning to lay off people during the recession. does REvolution Computing offer internships to college graduates. What do people at REvolution Computing do to have fun?

David- On the contrary, we’ve been hiring recently. We don’t have an intern program in place just yet, though. For me, it’s been a really fun place to work. Working for an open-source company has a different vibe than the commercial software companies I’ve worked for before. The most fun for me has been meeting with R users around the country and sharing stories about how R is really making a difference in so many different venues — over a few beers of course!


David Smith
Director of Community

David has a long history with the statistical community.  After graduating with a degree in Statistics from the University of Adelaide, South Australia, David spent four years researching statistical methodology at Lancaster University (United Kingdom), where he also developed a number of packages for the S-PLUS statistical modeling environment. David continued his association with S-PLUS at Insightful (now TIBCO Spotfire) where for more than eight years he oversaw the product management of S-PLUS and other statistical and data mining products. David is the co-author (with Bill Venables) of the tutorial manual, An Introduction to R , and one of the originating developers of ESS: Emacs Speaks Statistics. Prior to joining REvolution, David was Vice President, Product Management at Zynchros, Inc.

AjayTo know more about David Smith and REvolution Computing do visit http://www.revolution-computing.com and

http://www.blog.revolution-computing.com
Also see interview with Richard Schultz ,­CEO REvolution Computing here.

http://www.decisionstats.com/2009/01/31/interviewrichard-schultz-ceo-revolution-computing/


4 Comments

  1. revodavid says:

    Ajay Ohri interviews me at @decisionstats about R and REvolution Computing: http://bit.ly/uZRIf #rstats

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  2. onertipaday says:

    Nice Interview with David Smith http://tr.im/mXkJ #rstats

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  3. markmadsen says:

    RT @decisionstats An Interview with REvolution Computing, David Smith (commercial R vendor and supporter) http://tinyurl.com/kpklge

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  4. markmadsen says:

    RT @decisionstats An Interview with REvolution Computing Director of Co http://tinyurl.com/kpklge

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

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