In space, no one can hear you scream ‘big data’. There’s no air — you wouldn’t be able to summon a breath to do it. Just ask the guys at NASA. They know about things like this. They also know a lot about big data, and one NASA employee, Nicholas Skytland, has a particular interest in it.
Nicholas works at NASA’s Open Innovation Program and his role as program manager means that he has to handle many issues relating to big data on a daily basis. Oh, and just to keep things interesting (as if that weren’t enough!), he also trains astronauts and plots moon missions. In an interview given ahead of ZDNet’s TechLines panel, “Finding the Big Data Signals,” Nicholas talked about his current perception of big data, how it is employed within his own organisation and how it might change the nature of IT and business in the future.
The Open Innovation Program has been deeply involved with various space missions over the years, including the training of astronauts and the gathering of NASA’s big data from outside of the Earth’s atmosphere. It has also been important because of its advisory role within the US government, acting as a barometer for the big data industry and establishing how this technology can best be deployed in the public sector. Nicholas believes that big data is arguably a key point on the trajectory of modern IT and will play a defining role in how technology will develop and be harnessed over the coming years. And for what it’s worth, I agree with him completely. Nicholas sees it as a tool for tackling problems that have so far remained without a solution. However, he admits, there will be a great degree of complexity involved in its application. This complexity exists not only in the methods by which data is captured and analysed, but also in how the results are put into practice and visualised — specifically in a way that will have ramifications outside of purely academic work.
Many people are pricking up their ears and starting to take an interest in the various benefits of big data analytics, as it becomes increasingly clear that businesses simply can’t do without this in-depth information.
One area in which big data is assuming a major role is in management. Why? Because this type of technology makes it possible for businesses to analyse the numbers and work out how they can continue to grow and prosper – even if they have limited budgets.
ComputerWorld has pointed out that this type of managerial approach is, in part, being adopted thanks to the real-life story of a US baseball team whose manager was able to turn around its fortunes, despite its lack of money. They were able to analyse statistics and then come up with the most cost-effective player roster in the league.
Data transformed the way US baseball teams are managed
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.
Data scientists and business analysts: are they one and the same, or are they worlds apart? If the analogy that a data scientist is a business analyst working in California is to be believed, then the positions are only separated by a zeitgeist job title. But in reality, this isn’t the case: the two roles have very different parts to play in the ever-evolving landscape of big data. While data scientists are (and will continue to be) eagerly sought after in an attempt to plug a gaping hole in the employment market, business analysts are already there — on the ground, working with the data harvested by their enterprises. More and more as the industry progresses forward, these business analysts will be called on to contextualise that data, providing valuable business and industry insights.
Big data is sweeping into every part of the business world. According to the IDC’s Digital Universe Study, the amount of information managed by enterprise centres will grow by 50 times in this decade alone. And, as big data pervades the business world, traditional models will change to incorporate it and traditional job roles will change as part of a cultural disruption. The smart business analysts – those who wish to be change agents and seen as integral to their business and industry – will be at the forefront of this shift. So, with that in mind, we’ve put together a primer for business analysts — something that you can cut-out-and-keep, or pass on to your colleagues. Open up the primer below.
Will future historians look back and note that this was the decade the big data floodgates blew wide open? 90 percent of the world’s data has been created in the last two years, so why wouldn’t this be seen as the time the tide swelled and the wave of big data surged forward? IT managers, faced with the prospect of their company adopting a big data strategy, are having to think about ways of dealing with this torrent of multi-structured data sets and don’t have the benefit of hindsight. This is something real; something they’re having to think about every day. And how IT managers react to this oncoming big data wave will decide whether they sink, swim or ride it all the way towards glory (well, glory within the confines of their company and wider industry — but glory nevertheless).
The huge volumes of information people are creating and storing digitally, and the data that is subsequently generated from that information, is changing the face of business today. A gigabyte of stored data can generate more than a petabyte of related data, and companies that are able to extract value from this are in a powerful position to drive growth.
The wave of big data could possibly wash away businesses unprepared for it, so we’ve put together a primer for IT managers — something that you can cut out and keep, or pass on to your colleagues.