Big Data and the Cloud: Then and Now

Molly Rector, CMO, DataDirect Networks (DDN)
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A CIO Review Interview with Molly Rector, CMO, Data Direct Networks

Cloud Computing in the Storage Industry


Cloud computing brings organizations multiple benefits including archive, long-term retention, and disaster recovery, which is storage of data that you don’t plan to use except in an emergency. But for many of our customers, the most significant benefit has been in the area of data collaboration. Before the cloud, data was traditionally stored in places that limited its accessibility by the hundreds or thousands of users in an organization. With the cloud, you can make data readily accessible through different applications, which enables users to both collaborate and extract value from the data. It’s really changing the business in a lot of ways. For example, employees can share files seamlessly and in real time while also conducting peer review. In the public sector, research data created on a supercomputer can be shared and collaborated on worldwide for public good, which is what happened when one of our university customers was involved in predicting the spread of the Ebola outbreak. The university collaborated with health institutes around the world, sharing data in real time using the cloud. This made it easier to track potential Ebola breakouts. Sharing data in this way makes the world move faster.

“Businesses now are using data proactively rather than reactively, in turn drawing rich insights from their data sets and using it to make business decisions”

Driving business through an effective and proactive use of data

The biggest obstacle we see is the type and use of applications. The shift in how applications communicate with data is certainly under way as users move from file systems to RESTful storage. Once we make this shift from a technology perspective, it will be much easier to access data. In the interim, users face a technology hurdle. If you look at how data is used by businesses today, then it’s well worth it. Three or four years ago, we were all talking about the concept, “Big Data,” and now it’s ubiquitous. We’ve made the leap from businesses thinking about what Big Data is to actually having a funded initiative. For example, analytics for fraud detection isn’t just a concept; it’s real. Predicting the spread of a disease through real time data analysis is here today. And, oil and gas exploration is now a high tech field where data mining is critical to understanding deposit and asset patterns. Businesses now are using data proactively rather than reactively, in turn drawing rich insights from their data sets and using it to make business decisions.

The current role of a CMO

One of the big shifts I’ve seen that organizations used to grapple with is the concept of cloud storage and Big Data being threats to IT. Three to five years ago, IT organizations were very threatened by the concept of cloud storage. There was a lot of talk about outsourcing of jobs, so corporate IT departments did not embrace the cloud.

Then, as organizations started to look at Big Data initiatives, which were managed by the business unit and not the IT department, businesses started talking about data value and extracting insights from data. Now, just in the last six to 12 months, businesses are recognizing the value IT brings to managing the data, and there’s an apparent shift back to IT owning the data. Storage, compute and application are now transitioning back under IT where it can all be managed consistently. Instead of silos, we’re seeing initiatives integrated within the business, which is a big deal. It lowers overall costs and makes cloud and Big Data part of a business strategy rather than something IT is resisting.

The biggest takeaway I’ve seen in implementing these solutions for our own company and selling these solutions to companies around the world is separating traditional storage infrastructure from the type of storage infrastructure businesses need for a cloud or Big Data strategy. The type of storage system built for supporting databases, running Exchange and storing people’s home directories simply doesn’t have the right attributes necessary for successful Big Data and cloud strategies. How the storage performs, the workloads it supports and the types of files a Big Data analytics strategy uses requires a different storage technology. Trying to take an existing IT infrastructure and then modifying it for Big Data and cloud applications can often result in a CIO being unsuccessful in the initial effort to deploy a Big Data analytics infrastructure. Instead, looking at storage solutions specifically designed for cloud and Big Data should be a number one priority.

What does the Internet of Things mean for the storage industry?

The Internet of Things is a good exam¬ple of new technologies designed for specific types of workloads. If you look at the type of data that is found on the Internet, it is typically machine generated and a mix of rich media, large files, smaller files, and everything in between. Systems need to be designed to accept machine generated data at the rate machines can generate data, which is why traditional IT systems are not the right solution for Big Data and cloud. Everyone has the capability to create different types of content extremely rapidly, and not only do they want to be able to create data, they want to be able to access i t quickly. We need storage systems that can accept and return the data as quickly as it’s being created and used, but also can index it. It’s like talking to Siri on your iPhone; you create a new contact in your iPhone and you expect 30 seconds from now to be able to talk to the phone, have the phone understand you say, “Please map me to my new contact,” know who that contact is and be able to drive you across town to get to that person. New modern storage systems are designed for these types of workloads, as well as to deliver the Internet of Things experience people expect.

Innovative technologies and processes for the storage industry

We really need solutions that are able to seamlessly integrate private and public cloud. We’ve been talking about the concept of hybrid cloud storage for a long time. It would be great to be able to easily and strategically leverage a public cloud in a way that isn’t two different operations, two different systems, or two different data sets. Users aren’t going to be able to leverage their data effectively if these operations are siloed, and I don’t think we’re there yet as an industry.

True data driven businesses are going to be the most successful organizations in the next decade. Businesses that figure out how to use their data to make critical decisions on where to invest, how to anticipate the competition and how to deliver value to end users will shape how our economy will move in the coming decade. Innovative vendors delivering new technologies designed from the start to enable the data driven business is a paradigm shift. We’re seeing CIOs and, importantly, a new breed of Chief Data Officers reaching out to us to help them implement their data driven business strategies. This is the age of Big Data and this new title just shows how important this all is.

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