My Peak: Short Q&A with Altumea’s founder & CEO Andrew Nikolov
Get acquainted with Andrey Nikolov, the man behind Altumea’s idea and a manager in love with technology. We wanted to hear his story, and how the new decentralized computing project can help to improve science.
Hi Andrey. Tell us a bit about yourself and the how the idea of Altumea was born.
I was 9 years old when I received an awesome present, ZX Spectrum computer. It was a metal box with 64kb memory inside of it. It could be connected to a TV to play games and besides, it has a built-in Basic programming language that triggered me to start writing my first programs. They were pretty simple, but made me fall in love with technologies.
Subsequently, I focused more on managing aspects, studied economy and technical investment. Now I’m running a Bulgarian branch of international IT academy that operates in 17 countries. We train digital designers, professional software engineers, cyber security and machine learning specialists. Of course, we need a lot of GPUs and we want to keep them up to date. But with the mining hype, prices of equipment have tripled. We searched for solution, tried to rent GPUs, but it was either too complicated or too pricey. That was when we recognized the problem and determined to find a solution.
We bought some equipment eventually, pretty expensive. Of course, it does not run all the time and we started to think about additional ways to monetize it. We already knew there was a demand for computing power (we felt it as well). That triggered an idea: what if usual owners of equipment, would be able to sell the computing power directly to those who need it — universities, researchers and artists.
Why did you call the project Altumea? What does it mean?
I reside in Sofia, and the mountains inspire me every day. Altum in Latin means “high or height”. So the name Altumea means “my height” or “my next peak”. Mountains have their top in the cloud and that is where we are heading: to the cloud, to decentralized computing.
Do you think Altumea can push forward the science?
I definitely believe so.. I saw some awesome ideas that had not been realized because of the lack of computing power. We want to provide our colleagues, scientists, artists and data miners with all the resources they need, so that they can afford it easily.
We have set an ambitious goal to change the GPU cloud computing market the same way as Airbnb did for the short-term rental market. I believe that everyone should have the possibility to monetize their GPU equipment. At the same time, scientists and engineers should be able to buy computing power at an affordable price, not from gigantic, closed data centers, but from ordinary people who own almost unlimited capacity.
It may not be a super innovation. All the technologies needed to build our project already exist. We just want to connect the dots. We want to make the marketplace simple and affordable. At the same time, we want to be the first thought of anyone looking for GPU processing.
We do not want to do something unique; we want to do something really good.
On what stage is the project now and what are the next steps?
We are not in a big rush. We would rather get everything right than rush. Our priority is the architecture, exploring the best cases for security and beta-testing inside the team. We plan to implement distributed CUDA calculation prototype and distributed data transfer processing this year. The alpha launch is scheduled for Q3 2019 and the release is planned for Q4 2020.
I am of a strong opinion that, when you create any kind of platform, you do not have a second chance. If people visit the platform and see it’s raw, not very user-friendly, they just go away and never come back. We do not want to make this mistake. The platform should be perfect from the first day it is made available to a customer.
Together with the product development, we will build a community of GPU owners (miners, gamers, artists) who will be the first testers of the platform. We also plan to partner with scientific institutions and universities, which will receive preferential terms to purchase GPU computing power.
Now, it is too fancy and overhyped, but I believe blockchain will become as common as the Internet in years to come. In the academy, we even have a blockchain study project for kids. Upon their successful completion, they receive crypto-diamonds and can change them for toys. Although, I do not really support this hype about cryptocurrency, there is a huge potential inside the idea. Something really big is coming from it that can change the world.
I also hope that blockchain helps us to pay more attention to cyber security, since we are all too connected, over-connected.
Any other future changes you anticipate?
That computer in my childhood, it had all the games we have now — strategies, shooters, RPG you name it, all scenarios existed long time ago. If you ask me what changed from late 90s, I would say “the graphics”. I do anticipate the future development of visual processing. For example, you wear glasses, look at the product and see what’s inside, look at the person and figure out who she or he is. Like in a Black Mirror, though I hope it won’t be that grimly.
Communication between human being and computer will also change. Right now, we have Alexa, but it does not seem to understand us perfectly. In future, the dialogue between computer/robots and humans will be clearer and specific and it will become easier to get what you want.
What tips would you give to others looking to build their business?
First of all, you need to look at the unsolved problems, which are still many. Oftentimes, we want to start a business having just an interesting idea. But, if this idea does not solve the problem, then it becomes difficult to build a business out of it. And of course you need to be very stubborn :)