Tell me about the start of Exa.io
I was always into computers since Middle School. Since I can remember, I was reading PC magazines and all those tech related material. If you ask me why I got involved in tech, the first answer would be – because it was very fast, and I like fast things. Hence, why another interest of mine is cars.
I was attending the University of Bahrain and at that time I was building gaming PCs and was a focusing on a single component called GPU - Graphic Processing Unit which is basically used primarily for 3-D applications.
One day, by mistake I found out from this white paper in 2009 that people in the USA specifically British Petroleum (BP) were funding a research focused oil analysis by using gaming hardware which basically makes the process faster. That was interesting to us and made us think of what we wanted to do using the gaming hardware. Back then this hardware weren’t programmable as now so we had some of sort of a very “low level and ninja – like programming, it wasn’t very popular to use these fast hardware!
Initially we thought to make this program easier and faster - that turned into my graduation project in 2009 and 2010 at the University of Bahrain. Our project was called General purpose Programming on GPUs, a very specialized hardware. Specialised Hardware would be GPUs, the gaming hardware I was talking about. This project later on transformed into EXA.io
“RENDERING BASICALLY IMITATES THE WAY THEY EYE OPERATES”
Tell us an example using the mechanics of this hardware
The Medina Foundation in Algeria is an interesting project. They do reconstruction of old buildings so they go to take pictures and then they digitally re-construct the design on the outside so the architects could visualize how they can remedy the old building – all that is possible using the hardware. So now architects can view how the buildings would look like if re-constructed
Describe the process in the most simple way
You design the basic skeleton
You then add the colors, color shading and shape
You project a light from above to lighten the object
You place the camera to take the virtual shot and make it look real in the camera
Final step is where rendering does all the calculations to make it realistic basically in focus and the calculates the light rays through it and bouncing off into your eyes retina
Rendering takes a lot of effort and time, explain that to us?
The movie Madagascar 3 for example hired three rendering farms with bigger facilities and they had to use 19,000 machines and it took about 55 million compute hours. Of course they worked in parallel and that’s why they finished the process in one year. That’s why you don’t see movies like Lord of the rings, Avatar and those kind of movies every year – because the rendering takes a lot of time and hard work.
Where and how did you get access to the hardware and software that you needed for Exa.io?
There was no environment here for what I wanted to and after I finished the project, I didn’t get enough funding to start.
I found out that Amazon Web Services were leasing those hardware so I didn’t need to buy them and I now had access to hundreds of them and we made the move to AWS. This was an opportunity for us because now we were able to tap into them but it wasn’t so easy because AWS doesn’t give you all the resources that you want – you have to prove to them that you need it by actually having traction. As we increased our traction, they supplied us with more hardware.
Do you use other cloud providers other than AWS?
With rendering you have the hardware that supports the software the designers use. Like Photoshop for example - you need to have Photoshop in the first place to open the file. We have to buy our licenses basically and they’re not cheap.
We are currently using Microsoft Azure because we got a better deal. just to emphasize that AWS is miles better than anything else but now we are a hybrid.
You have a dynamic team, tell us more about that.
We all met through gaming, actually we all used to game together at University of Bahrain. Two members who are also our co-founder are from Algeria. Rest of the team that comprises of two Bahrainis including me and we have some from other regions working on EXA but based elsewhere from America, Japan and Jeddah. Our Japanese team member has visited Bahrain three times already! I always like to share that he loves the island, and Bab il Bahrain especially.
Give an ULTIMATE REASON for your MISSION – Honestly I really feel bad that there are supercomputing technologies that our regions can benefit from and I’ve seen the impact from other countries in terms of security, financial, and content creation – it is important to have to have this computing power in this region
What industries did you see would need your product specifically?
We thought which application could we help render? At first we thought about the oil and gas area but it was too governmental and hard to enter that sector when we first began so other options were finance, insurance hedging and content creation. Content creation was a big space and there was a lot to do there. Just to add - we just visualize the data, content creation and architecture, but we don’t get involved in the design process. Were just accelerating the whole process
What current industries do you provide your services for now?
Interior designing, VR, content creation and architecture would be top categories or industries we work with currently. We are trying to get into other areas like medical visualization for example which is interesting, we are exploring that route as well.
Most clients that use Exa.io come from which countries?
We have people logging in from all over the world!
In terms of analytics, we have people from Bahrain, Jordan, Dubai, USA, Germany. The highest would come from Malaysia and Jordan.
You mentioned that you travel for client work and sourcing opportunities as well, where do you usually go for business?
Malaysia is a place I often visit. A fun fact - It’s a Malaysian company that did the visual effects for “Life of Pi” The tiger is totally digital. Every single hair and motion movements had to be rendered – that’s why the tiger looked so real.
What about Japan? You went a couple of times as well.
We wanted to go for the easier to tap markets like Malaysia and Japan because we don’t have competition. People ask us about Japan and I’m still shocked to say that Japan doesn’t have rendering facilities – for anime, they use something called Cell Shading and it does need rendering but this doesn’t take a lot time because it just flattens the image into 2D and it uses a different methodology. However lately there is a focus on 3D anime like Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle and Ajin on Netflix – check those out and you can see the difference.
“If you ask me why I got involved in tech, the first answer would be – because it was very fast, and I like fast things.
Do you have an partners beyond Bahrain?
We are an nVidia Rendering Partner! Also among the public partnerships I could speak publicly about is called Forum 8 and we have an official partnership with them. We are listed as their partners in Bahrain and they provide several services such as 3D Civil Modeling, VR Driving Simulators and others. They do interesting things with rendering like for example traffic simulation and disaster simulations.
Any new areas you’d be interested to venture into?
Like I said, a sector I’m interested in and would be really awesome to get into is Medicine – for example we had met a Genius Doctor in Japan who we wanted to help visualize the organs with tumors especially better with rendering and 3D for a better analysis before operation. An example on how it would work in this area.
What do you need to work on or improve in terms of Exa.io?
Growth hacking and social media mostly. Right now, it is mostly B2B We would like to focus more on growth, traction and expanding our reach via marketing, social media campaigns and more B2C outreach in different ways.
Do you have any competitors?
Yes, there are two direct Asian competitors in China and the Philippines.
“THINK OF RENDERING AS TURNING 0’S AND 1’S INTO ACTUAL REALISTIC IMAGES. RENDERING BASICALLY IMITATES THEY WAY THEY EYE OPERATES”
What are your next 3 mini goals?
We need to branch out and focus more on HPC (High Performance Computing)
Focus on increasing our traction as we go and growing Exa.io by having more clients and partnerships with other regions
Research more into what the market needs are for our product incorporating AI, Blockchain and Fintech is an area that definitely would need computing power.
Thank you Mohammed for having coffee with us and we will make sure to follow your journey. We are sure it will be epic - KEEP GOING