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Fish farming in the cloud


January 8, 2015
By Erich Luening

Topics
Aquanetix provides data on feeding

When running a fish farm, managers, owners, and other staff gather data related to feedings, mortalities, water samples, and production estimates, but a lot of the information is written and correlated in paper records or basic computer programs not necessarily designed for the particulars of raising fish.

 A growing number of software makers, big and small, are vying for aquaculture businesses looking to better manage the data generated in their multi-faceted fish farming enterprises.  The latest entry into this niche software market is Aquanetix.

 To understand Aquanetix functionality one needs to grasp the concept of Cloud computing.

 “The Cloud” is ubiquitous. Basically, the cloud refers to software and services that run on the Internet instead of your computer. Apple iCloud, Dropbox, Netflix, Amazon Cloud Drive, Flickr, Google Drive, Microsoft Office 365, Yahoo Mail — those are all cloud services.

 There are many advantages to Cloud computing. Since the videos, photos, documents, games and other software that lives in the cloud are available on any device with an Internet connection, you can access your data, aquaculture related as well, from anywhere.

 And that’s how the team at Aquanetix wanted their software services to work, be available to their customers on their PCs, laptops, and mobile devices.

 Around a year ago, “we started working on Aquanetix and the idea was to leverage a number of technologies that today are available and quite cheap, such as cloud computing and mobile internet on smartphones and tablets, and literally bring data management to the hands of farm workers and farm managers,” Diogo Thomaz told Aquaculture North America.

 Based on his experience working with farmers in the region of the Mediterranean he noticed how much of the production data was being collected by the workers and being sent up the ladder to managers and then onto administration in a one-way stream, without any flow back  down to be used to by workers and managers so they could work better.

 “In my view, all software available today are based on this philosophy of data management,” he claimed. “[Those systems] are made by people that think a bit like accountants and not as managers and especially, not aquaculture farm managers.”

 Also, he said, current applications end up having very little impact on production and costs. “Workers that feed are the ones that should be targeted by these applications, in an industry where 60-80% of costs are the feeds.”

 Aquanetix aims to change the way managers work by giving them access to data immediately and by using data collected in realtime to alert managers to actions that need to be taken during daily operations, including traceability from broodstock to customer, he said.

 Thomaz comes from the aquaculture business side of things, which is useful for understanding the needs fish farmers have when it comes to controlling business information flow, but has its limits when building a tech services package to meet the challenges every fish farming company has in utilizing that data for making good business decisions.

 “We had assembled a team that at one point reached four developers, one designer, and one marketing professional, including me and Stella,” he explained. Stella Adamidou is co-founder of Aquanetix and chief scientist. “The core development work was by Dutch developer Klaas Speller, and he increased the team with a front-end designer from Germany and a Greek back end developer.”

 A part-time Android developer, Giannis Drosidis, was recently hired full-time, Thomaz said. The company also hired three computing students to assist in the development of an alert application for pathologists and farm managers as an early warning system, though that app is still in production.

 “My background is in aquaculture and genetics but I’ve done some programming work (simulations in genetics) and was responsible for the development of the production database at Selonda Aquaculture, one of the biggest aquaculture companies in the Mediterranean,” he explained.

Cloud backbone

 In order to host services on “the cloud,” a company has to partner with a cloud computing provider. In this case, Diogo, who admits he had little experience with Cloud computing, went with IBM subsidiary SoftLayer Technologies, a Texas-based company that offers not only its own services, available since 2005, but also the huge business offerings from Big Blue, as IBM is known in the U.S.

 SoftLayer has been expanding since IBM purchased the company in 2013, mirroring the growth in the cloud infrastructure industry as traditional IT (information technology) shifts to the cloud. Companies who don’t want to invest in their own infrastructure—SoftLayer gives them an economical solution to rent their computing server virtually.

 For Aquanetix, hosting their software services through SoftLayer allows them to provide aquaculture customers with a package of tools to manage fish farm data from hatchery to grow-out. Providing customers with a fast and simple setup online allows for no in-house servers or specialized IT personnel, which can be a deal-breaker for start-ups looking to limit upfront costs.

Aquanetix for all

 Aquanetix staff claim the complex business of farming fish sustainably produces a lot of operational data that rarely gets used as business intelligence to drive the value of the product at the end of the line. Insufficient data and the inability to interpret data lead to waste of business resources and can lead to increased pressure on resources which then increase production costs, they argue.

 The European aquaculture business tech services provider aims to change the way fish farm managers work by giving them access to information immediately by using real-time data to alert managers on actions that need to be made throughout the day.

 By pushing minute-by-minute farming data to laptops, tablets and smartphones, with a graphic video game-like interface, Aquanetix gives users aquaculture management knowledge with the press of a key, screen touch, and/or swipe.

 Information data links all of various facets of the fish farm business together and, if managed seamlessly, can connect fish performance, staff and executive management in ways that enable better business productivity if the right tools are utilized from the bottom up.

 Aquanetix provides users fish farming data focused on feeding, environmental parameters, stock behavior, and health status, infrastructure conditions, and many other variables, so workers, managers, and business execs have a complete picture of their current operations and what can be done to make better decisions for future growth.

 With its modular architecture built on all the ‘big data’ collected overtime, business decision makers can work with end product certification makers, conduct production planning, build sales channels, and make year-to-year procurement plans.

 “We also want to include a full traceability of production, from broodstock to final customer but this will take some time (mid 2015),” Thomaz said.  “At present we are focusing on cage farms and will soon start working with a Spanish company on tank production. Then the idea is to develop the hatchery services, where the amount of data collected is much larger and their need is much more urgent: we will be deploying tank histories to the smartphones on the wrists of hatchery technicians, helping them judge the state of larvae from the history of feedings (rotifers, artemia, feeds, etc) of the last few hours or days.”

 Currently, Aquanetix is going through trials at Baja California, Mexico seabass producer Pacifico Aquaculture, a salmon producer in Scotland, a large tilapia producer in Africa and a number of bass and bream producers in Greece.  For more information www.aquanetix.co.uk.

— Erich Luening


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