REDMOND, Wash. — Nov. 13, 2012 — It seems the gigabyte is going the way of the megabyte — another humble unit of computational measurement that is becoming less and less relevant. Long live the terabyte, impossibly large, increasingly common.
Consider this: Of all the data that's been collected in the world, more than 90 percent has been gathered in the last two years alone. According to a June 2011 report from the McKinsey Global Institute, 15 out of 17 industry sectors of the U.S. have more data stored — per company — than the U.S. Library of Congress.
The explosion in data has been catalyzed by several factors. Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter are creating huge streams of unstructured data in the form of opinions, comments, trends and demographics arising from a vast and growing worldwide conversation.
Windows Azure Marketing GM Eron Kelly discusses Microsoft’s focus on delivering software through the cloud, and the opportunity this creates for devices and intelligent systems.
And then there’s the emerging world of machine-generated information. The rise of intelligent systems and the Internet of Things means that more and more specialized devices are connected to information technology — think of a national retail chain that is connected to every one of its point-of-sale terminals across thousands of locations or an automotive plant that can centrally monitor hundreds of robots on the shop floor.
Combine it all and some industry observers are predicting that the amount of data stored by organizations across industries will increase ten-fold every five years, much of it coming from new streams that haven’t yet been tapped.
It truly is a new information age, and the opportunity is huge. The McKinsey Global Institute estimates that the U.S. health care system, for example, could save as much as $300 billion from more effective use of data. In Europe, public sector organizations alone stand to save 250 billion euros.
In the ever-competitive world of business, data strategy is becoming the next big competitive advantage. According to analyst firm Gartner Group,* “By tapping a continual stream of information from internal and external sources, businesses today have an endless array of new opportunities for: transforming decision-making; discovering new insights; optimizing the business; and innovating their industries.”
According to Microsoft’s Ted Kummert, corporate vice president of the Business Platforms Division, companies addressing this challenge today may wonder where to start. How do you know which data to store without knowing what you want to measure? But then again, how do you know what insights the data holds without having it in the first place?
“There is latent value in the data itself,” Kummert says. “The good news is storage costs are making it economical to store the data. But that still leaves the question of how to manage it and gain value from it to move your business forward.”
With new data services in the cloud such as Windows Azure HDInsight Service and Microsoft HDInsight Server for Windows and Microsoft’s Apache Hadoop-based solutions for Windows Azure and Windows Server, organizations can afford to capture valuable data streams now while they develop their strategy — without making a huge financial bet on a six-month, multimillion-dollar datacenter project.
Just having access to the data, says Kummert, can allow companies to start asking much more complicated questions, combining information sources such as geolocation or weather information with internal operational trends such as transaction volume.
“In the end, big data is not just about holding lots of information,” he says. “It's about how you harness it. It’s about insight, allowing end users to get the answers they need and doing so with the tools they use every day, whether that’s desktop applications, devices at the network edge or something else.”
His point is often overlooked with all the abstract talk of big data. In the end, it’s still about people, so making it easier for information workers to shift to a new world in which data is paramount is just as important as the information itself. Information technology is great at providing answers, but it still doesn’t know how to ask the right questions, and that’s where having the right analytics tools and applications can help companies make the leap from simply storing mountains of data to actually working with it.
That’s why in the Windows 8 world, Kummert says, the platform is designed to extend from devices and phones to servers and services, allowing companies to build a cohesive data strategy from end to end with the ultimate goal of empowering workers.
“When we talk about the Microsoft big data platform, we have all of the components to achieve exactly that,” Kummert says. “From the Windows Embedded platform to the Microsoft SQL Server stack through to the Microsoft Office stack. We have all the components to collect the data, store it securely and make it easier for information workers to find it — and, more importantly, understand what it means.”
For more information on building intelligent systems to get the most out of business data, please visit the Windows Embedded home page.
* Gartner, “Gartner Says Big Data Creates Big Jobs: 4.4 Million IT Jobs Globally to Support Big Data By 2015,” October 2012