Big Data and the Cloud

Arthur Cole
Slide Show

The Business Impact of Big Data

Many business executives want more information than ever, even though they're already drowning in it.

When Big Data is coming your way, you need big infrastructure to deal with it.

That, in a nutshell, is what drives cloud computing today - the need for enterprises to somehow accommodate the reams of largely unstructured data generated by email, social media and digital communications in general.

Earlier this week I wrote about the future of the cloud as an application layer as opposed to the data repository functions driving most deployments today. Planning for the future is always a healthy exercise, but in the here and now, the main thing keeping CIOs up at night is data volumes.

That's why we're seeing such a rush of cloud-based data management platforms from top-tier developers. A prime example is Oracle's Big Data Appliance, a mixture of hardware and proprietary and open source software designed to sort and analyze large data sets as they head into cloud-based storage infrastructure. The idea is to shift responsibility for these functions away from IT and more toward the business units that are creating the data, according to computing's Martin Courtney.

A key innovation is the fact that it bridges both structured and unstructured data, said ZDNet's Jason Hiner. By grabbing unstructured data with NoSQL and Hadoop, the unit can then tie into Oracle's own 11g platform to create a broader view of data patterns and relationships. This should allow organizations to drill even deeper into their data environments to either correct deficiencies or find opportunities that management didn't know existed.

The same demand of large-scale analytics and management is what drove Red Hat to pay $136 million for Gluster, which specializes in guiding unstructured data volumes through internal and cloud platforms. The GlusterFS system has a knack for pooling large numbers of commodity servers and storage devices, which is expected to provide a good fit for the majority of Red Hat distributions. It works particularly well with scale-out NAS architectures, which are likely to become the preferred method for the cloud, and has the added advantage of moving metadata out of the server architecture to enhance performance.

And despite the seeming turmoil at HP's top levels, the company at least seems to recognize Big Data solutions as one of the top priorities in the enterprise. The Autonomy acquisition, for example, has Big Data written all over it. According to Autonomy founder Mike Lynch, the real value will be in integrating Autonomy's unstructured data management tools with Vertica's columnar database technology, offering a unified structured/unstructured platform to match Oracle's.

If anything, the cloud enables this scale of data manipulation for a broader segment of the enterprise industry. Previously, only top-tier organizations had the resources to handle it. Mid-sized and small firms place equal stock on the value of their data, however, and now at least have the platform to make better use of it.

In the end, though, that flexibility comes at the price of entrusting large portions of that data to the cloud.

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