Big data’s analytical power is generally spoken of when talking about its ability to improve efficiency and generally do what it is supposed to do – namely handle ever-increasing volumes of information for a variety of businesses.
However, this Forbes report illustrates the way in which online auction house eBay managed to take the concept of big data and apply it in an unusual way in order to save itself significant sums. At EMC, we think that this type of thinking is the new normal. The unusual becomes the usual.
Tens of millions of customers around the world and an incredibly complex infrastructure of online services mean that eBay is generally required to manage huge volumes of data on a daily basis. However, it also needs a significant IT infrastructure made up of various hardware components housed in disparate locations, all of which pull together towards a common goal. But this also costs the company significant sums of money (and significant means more money than you might imagine).
In the recent past, eBay decided to turn its knowledge of big data analytics on to this IT infrastructure itself and pulled information from every single asset and component, so that it could see which areas were operating efficiently and which servers might not be making best use of their resources and being exploited to the fullest extent.
After all the numbers had been crunched – and there were large amounts of data to deal with – a few interesting points were discovered. It was possible for eBay to directly identify hardware that was ultimately surplus to requirements, weeding out areas where its infrastructural elements were not being used efficiently and finding ways to squeeze increased capacity out of what was available.
This meant that it could effectively eliminate various servers and systems that were no longer required – and in doing so save money that could be routed elsewhere in the business.
Oliver Ratzesberger, a spokesperson for eBay, said that the discrepancies and inefficiencies that were highlighted by the data analysis of its server farms would not have been visible to the naked eye of a human technician. We simply lack the ability to see infrastructural anomalies when looking at set-ups of such a major scale and data sets that cover an entire corporate entity.
Mr Ratzesberger admitted that the use of big data analytics in this particular area was not something that eBay had conceived of originally, but that once the idea had been developed it became clear that the company would be able to save millions in capital expenditure as a result. This is the type of thing that big data analytics can do simply. Within the EMC Catalytics and Catalyst portfolio of solutions (www.datascienceseries.com) we have at least three solutions that can do this type of work in days, not weeks or months. And they can do it straight out of the box.
The people at eBay are keen to spread the word about big data and demonstrate that it has applications in a broad array of areas within business, not just when it comes to processing marketing or financial information. As you could probably guess, I’m keen to help them in my role as EMC Technical Evangelist.
The golden opportunity on offer, in simple terms, is one that promises to deliver businesses lower IT costs and improved efficiency without also requiring that the cuts result in compromises when it comes to growth or market share. In addition, the complexity of the infrastructure and its capabilities are not being compromised but are instead supported and encouraged to expand. In many cases, of course, by using cloud technology this can become both simpler and more powerful at the same time (and no – that’s not irony!)
Of course, few firms have to deal with information or infrastructure on the same scale as eBay – but this example contains lessons that should certainly be absorbed by companies of all shapes and sizes.
Meanwhile, another area of the data market that has been the focus of discussion recently is open data, which analysts at Gartner are heralding as being an important consideration for businesses that want to secure growth and a competitive edge over the next few years. Spokesperson David Newman points to open data as having a positive effect on public-sector organisations as well as businesses. He said that big data helps companies to behave more intelligently in response to the available information, while open data improves transparency, enhances collaboration and ultimately gives firms a better chance to grow.
Mr Newman said that the businesses that are most likely to gain from open data are those that operate in a digital, web-based environment, with the internet acting as a conduit for the products and services that they offer.
He explained that sharing information and involving customers would also make it possible to generate more clients and thus help a business to monetise the data that it has gathered and in which it has invested large sums to analyse. This is just one strategy suggested by industry experts that could help companies to fully exploit their data in order to increase revenues and expand over the next few years. In fact, I’ve used open data in a couple of projects recently – the UK crime and school achievement databases are both interesting in their own right, but when combined are stunningly useful when considering a property purchase.
The bottom line is that big data and substrates of the technology are able to help companies save money as well as actually generate more revenue, as long as businesses decide to take the plunge and fully harness the platforms that are already available to them. This is easier than it sounds, but it does require a belief in the potential for benefits to be achieved. EMC is perfectly positioned to help businesses make this happen. With our unique and compelling offerings, we can turn the dream into reality. That’s a corny ending for this blog, but it happens to be true. And so, for now, I’ll leave it there.