Frontline’s V2015-R2 offers Excel users access to big data, advanced analytics and more

Frontline Systems is shipping a new product line release, Version 2015-R2 of its Solvers for Excel, including its flagship integrated product, Analytic Solver Platform, and its “professional entry-level” integrated product, Analytic Solver Pro.

The new release enables users, for the first time, to “pull” sampled and summarized data into Excel from compute clusters running Apache Spark, the open-source software widely embraced by big data vendors and users, and to “push” the results of analytic models into Power BI, Microsoft’s new online tool for data visualization and reporting.

The release also includes new versions of XLMiner Platform, a tool for data mining and text mining in Excel; Risk Solver Platform, a tool for simulation/risk analysis, conventional and stochastic optimization in Excel; Premium Solver Platform, Frontline’s best-selling tool for large-scale conventional optimization; and subset “professional entry-level” products Premium Solver Pro, Risk Solver Pro and XLMiner Pro.

“Our message was and is ‘no-compromise analytics in Excel,’” says Daniel Fylstra, Frontline’s president and CEO. “Now we’re giving business analysts who aren’t data science Ph.D.s easy access to big data, plus the tools to use that data in the most advanced analytic models.”

Frontline’s Solvers for Excel are upward compatible from the Solver included in Excel, which Frontline developed for Microsoft, and improved in 2010 and 2011. Users can solve problems hundreds to thousands of times larger than the basic Excel Solver, at speeds anywhere from several times to hundreds of times faster, and they can solve completely new types of problems. V2015-R2 works with Excel 2016 Preview edition, and it will be updated as needed for the final release version of Excel 2016.

With powerful “plug-in” large-scale Solver Engines, including the Gurobi Solver, XPRESS Solver and KNITRO Solver, users can solve linear mixed-integer problems with millions of decision variables, nonlinear problems with hundreds of thousands of decision variables, and many of the largest risk-based stochastic optimization problems that have ever been solved, on any platform.

The new release includes a built-in client that “talks to” a Frontline-supplied server program that runs within an Apache Spark cluster, communicating with the Spark master and worker nodes. Business analysts can access Spark data through a simple point-and-click user interface, with no programming expertise in Java/Scala, Python or R required.

By drawing a representative sample of big data from all the nodes in the cluster, Excel users can easily train data mining and text mining models directly on their desktops. By drawing summarized data such as sums, counts and averages of certain variables, grouped by other variables, Excel users can obtain just the data they need to drive simulation and optimization models.

The new release also includes a built-in client that “talks to” the new release of Microsoft Power BI – currently in public preview and preparing for general availability. With as little as one click, business analysts can “push” data such as final values of decision variables and constraints from an optimization model, or summary statistics, risk measures and percentiles from a simulation/risk analysis model, into their Power BI online accounts.

With a few more point-and-click steps in Power BI, users can obtain insightful visualizations that simplify communication of results with managers and stakeholders. And it’s straightforward to ask questions, change assumptions, re-run the analytic models and update the Power BI visualizations.

In this release, Frontline has further upgraded users’ ability to move from the desktop to the cloud. Since mid-2013, users of Excel Online in Office 365 have been able to use Frontline’s Solver app, available free in the Office Store, to solve the same kinds of optimization models handled by the Solver in desktop Excel, that Frontline developed for Microsoft.

With V2015-R2, users can publish optimization and simulation models to Excel Online or Google Sheets, and solve them in the cloud with Frontline’s Solver and Risk Solver apps/add-ons – up to the maximum size permitted by their desktop licenses. And they can store their models in Office 365 or SharePoint 2013, OneDrive or OneDrive for Business or Google Drive.

Users of existing Frontline Solver products can upgrade to V2015-R2 at no cost with current annual support. Frontline is preparing a special program to enable faculty members to introduce their students to big data with realistic hands-on exercises, without requiring a big investment of money or time.

The Power BI client is included in each of Frontline’s Pro and Platform products. The Apache Spark client is included in Frontline’s four Platform products, with sampling functionality in XLMiner Platform.

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AIMMS featured in Gartner’s ‘Market Guide for Optimization Solutions’

AIMMS, an award-winning optimization platform, has been featured as one of seven major optimization software platforms in Gartner’s new “Market Guide for Optimization Solutions.” In the report Gartner states: “Optimization is a prescriptive analytics approach used to solve complex decision problems that involve conflicting objectives and constraints, making the best use of limited resources.”

While awareness of this approach has traditionally been limited in corporate BI and analytics teams, increased awareness about the benefits of optimization is driving adoption. For instance, a related Gartner report, “Use Cases for an Enterprise Supply Chain Modeling Platform,” highlights how companies are already using advanced analytics platforms to explore options and choose scenarios tailored to their strategy and business objectives. Interviews with AIMMS, as well as three AIMMS customers (BP, JBS and Papyrus), contributed to this report, which included benefits of using modeling platforms, lessons learned and recommendations.

According to Gartner, AIMMS’ key differentiator is that “its platform is built to easily create and publish optimization applications. It offers a browser-based platform for instant publishing, deployment and collaboration on optimization-based and non-optimization-based applications and proofs of concept throughout the enterprise combined with development tools to create optimization solutions in line with the business problems.” This provides users with a fully integrated model and application development environment, which includes productivity tools, an open Web UI visualization standard and multiple solvers.

The flexible AIMMS platform can be used for network optimization, planning & scheduling, risk mitigation, cost to serve segmentation and much more. AIMMS clients such as Nike, Air Liquide and Shell have saved or avoided billions of dollars in costs and significantly reduced carbon emissions through the use of the company’s optimization technology.

“We are thrilled to be recognized by Gartner as a key software provider,” says AIMMS CEO Gijs Dullaert. “After being previously selected as a Cool Vendor in the space, we feel this is a noteworthy acknowledgement for us and the great accomplishments of our customers.”

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Lindo’s What’sBest! 13.0 includes wide range of enhancements

Release 13.0 of Lindo’s What’sBest! software includes a wide range of performance enhancements and new features, including:

  • Faster solutions on linear models with improved Simplex Solver: Simplex LP algorithm improvements boost speed and robustness. Primal Simplex Solver averages 90 percent faster and Dual Simplex Solver averages 45 percent faster.
  • Better performance on integer models: Improved solution times across broad classes of IP models from enhancements due to improved knapsack related cuts, superior default node selection rules and branching variable selection rule options.
  • Expanded capabilities of efficient solution of quadratic problems: If you work with covariance matrices, you’ll appreciate the new Positive Definite (POSD) feature. If estimating a covariance matrix for a portfolio, a constraint may be added to force the matrix to be positive semi-definite (a property required of any covariance matrix). New reformulation capabilities give improved performance on quadratic portfolio models with semi-continuous variables (e.g., min-buy quantities), and/or cardinality constraints limiting the number of assets in a portfolio.
  • Smarter presolver: New preprocessing for linear programs significantly reduces coefficient density of certain dense matrices.
  • Improved nonlinear solver: Upgraded default settings provide performance improvements overall on nonlinear models. Faster processing of long (1000’s of terms) nonlinear expressions in nonlinear models.
  • New functionalities: Support for additional math and probability functions, e.g., Erlang B and C formulae. Add a feature to generate a K-Best report when generating K best solutions.

What’sBest! is an add-in to Excel that allows users to build large-scale optimization models in a free form layout within a spreadsheet.

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