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AI Server Workflow, Nvidia Transfer Learning Toolkit Example

Continuing our series on Edge AI Servers and the rapid transition underway as developers migrate their workloads from traditional datacenters / clouds to smaller, distributed workloads running closer to users, let’s investigate a specific Nvidia AI Server workflow where a hosted Jetson Nano or Jetson Xavier NX could make sense.

At GTC in May 2021, Nvidia launched the Transfer Learning Toolkit (TLT) 3.0, which is designed to help users build customized AI models quickly and easily.  The process is rather straightforward:  Instead of creating and training a model from scratch, which is very time consuming, you instead take a pre-trained model such as PeopleNet, FaceDetectIR, ResNet, MobileNet, etc, add in your custom object (image for vision applications, sound for audio or language models), re-train with the added content, and then you can leverage the resulting output model for inferencing on smaller, edge devices.

The Transfer Learning Toolkit is part of the larger TAO (Train, Adapt, Optimize) platform, and is intended to be run on big hardware.  Their requirements state:

  • 32 GB system RAM
  • 32 GB of GPU RAM
  • 8 core CPU
  • 100 GB of SSD space
  • TLT is supported on A100, V100 and RTX 30×0 GPUs. 

However, the end result is a model that can run on a much smaller device like a Jetson Nano, TX2, or Xavier NX.

Looking closer at the TLT Quick Start documentation, installation begins with setting up your workstation, or launching a cloud VM like an AWS EC2 P3 or G4 instance which have Volta or Turing GPUs.  There are a series of prerequisites to install, a TLT container that is downloaded from the Nvidia Container Registry, and once your python environment is setup, you launch a Jupiter notebook that will help guide you through the rest.  

There is also a sample Computer Vision Jupyter notebook that can get you up and running quickly, located here:

Once you have the Transfer Learning Toolkit workflow established, you can begin testing the output and resulting models on Jetson devices.  This is where a hosted Jetson Nano functioning as an AI Server might make sense, as you could simply some automation or CI/CD workflow for training with TLT and testing the results on the Jetson.  Then, if everything passes, results are highly accurate, detection, segmentation, etc are all performing well, then you could deploy to your production devices in the field.

This is of course only one example of the value of hosted AI servers, and we’ll continue looking at more use cases in the near future! 

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The Edge AI Server Revolution (Driven by Arm, Of Course)

The past 2 years have seen rapid growth in experimentation and ultimately deployment and adoption of AI/ML at the Edge. This has been fueled by dramatic increases in on-device AI processing capability, and equally dramatic reduction in size and power requirements of devices. The Nvidia Jetson Nano with its GPU and CUDA cores, Google Coral Dev Board containing a TPU for Tensorflow acceleration, and even Microcontrollers running TinyML have quickly gained widespread adoption among developers. These devices are cheap, accurate, and readily available, allowing developers to deploy AI/ML workloads to places that were not practical just a short time ago.


This allows developers to re-think their applications, and begin to migrate AI workloads out of the datacenter, which was the only place to run their AI/ML tasks previously, potentially saving money or improving performance my moving processing closer to where it is needed. This also allows for net-new capability, adding computer vision, object detection, pose estimation, etc, in places that previously were not possible.

In order to help prepare developers and allow them to experiment and build their skills, miniNodes is making available some Edge AI inspired Arm Servers, starting with the Nvidia Jetson Nano. These nodes are intended to be used by engineers and teams just getting started on their Edge AI journey, who are testing their applications and deep learning algorithms. Another use for an Edge AI Arm Server is for light-duty AI processing, where it doesn’t make financial sense to rent big AI servers from the likes of AWS or Azure, and instead a smaller device will work just fine. Finally, developers and teams that do AI training that is not time-sensitive, or relatively small, can achieve significant savings by using a hosted Jetson Nano for their model training, instead of local GPU’s or AWS resources.

Whether you are just getting starting and beginning to explore Edge AI, or have been following the trend and already have Edge AI projects underway, a miniNodes hosted Jetson Nano is a great way to gain hosted AI processing capability or reduce AWS and Azure cloud AI costs.

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Arm Server Update, Spring/Summer 2021

As usual, we are overdue for an update on all things Arm Servers! Today’s announcement of the Arm v9 specification is a great time to review the state of Arm Servers, and what has changed since our last update.

First, let’s review our last update. Marvell canceled the ThunderX3 product, Ampere had announced the Altra but it wasn’t shipping, AWS Graviton was available, and Nuvia was designing a processor.

Fast forward to today, and the Ampere Altra’s are now becoming available, with limited stock via the Works on Arm program at Equinix Metal, and some designs shown off by Avantek, a channel supplier. Mt. Snow and Mt. Jade, as they are known, are also formally designated as “ServerReady” parts, passing standards compliance tests.

Nuvia, the startup that was designing a new Arm Server SoC from the ground up, was purchased by Qualcomm, in an apparent re-entry into the Arm Server market (or for use in Windows on Arm laptops?). Don’t forget, they previously had an Arm Server part, the Centriq, though they scrapped it a few years ago. So, it now remains to be seen if Nuvia will launch a server-grade SoC, or pivot to a smaller target-device.

The other emerging trend to cover is the role of Arm in the Edge Server ecosystem, where the trend of pushing small servers out of the datacenter and closer to customers and users is rapidly gaining momentum. In this scenario, non-traditional, smaller devices take on the role of a server, and the energy efficiency, small form-factor, and varied capabilities of Arm-powered single board computers are taking on workloads previously handled by typical 1U and 2U rackmount servers in a datacenter. But, small devices like the Nvidia Jetson AGX, RaspberryPi Compute Module 4, and NXP Freeway boxes are able to perform Edge AI, data caching, or local workloads, and only send what is necessary up to the cloud. This trend has been accelerating over the past 12 – 18 months, so, we may see some more niche devices or SoC’s start to fill this market.