Big Data: Building Big on Something Small

Greater computing power is revealing once-hidden meaning in millions of data points.


By Doug Caldwell

Back in the day, grubby miners—a few with pockets of gold dust—walked the streets of San Francisco. Today, there’s a new miner in town: 21st century diggers who pick for glittering meaning in vast fields data. But just as piles of gold ore still must be processed to gain true value, so, too, must data.

Joe Hellerstein UC Berkeley The Registry
Joe Hellerstein

“‘Big data,’ without analysis, is just that—a whole lot of data. It’s the analysis that provides the sense that you make of it, which empowers that data and brings real value to it,” said Gilda Farvid, co-chair of the Analytics & Big Data Committee of the Storage Networking Industry Association and Industry Evangelist in the Office of the CTO at NetApp Inc., a maker of data-storage systems in Sunnyvale.

“The buzz is deafening because literally each and every day, whether it is through scientific research, financial analysis, health care, eCommerce, video surveillance or social media, massive amounts of data are being created and in turn requiring the need for big-data specialists—data scientists—to comprehend and manage this ever-growing amount of information,” she said.

Not only is there the issue of storing and protecting it, but also that of learning how to mine it for business benefit. “If companies are unable to process and analyze the data both efficiently and effectively, it will quickly lose its value. Therefore, there is a clear connection between analyzing large data sets and the business success associated,” she said.

Data-mining companies are blossoming across the Bay Area and elsewhere. Late last year, General Electric Inc. Chairman Jeff Immelt trekked to San Francisco to tout the fabulous future of big data and the industrial Internet. “We think there is great opportunity for start-up companies to join this space. We want to facilitate the development of partnerships, which is one of the reasons we are here today,” he said. “We are going to have equity money allocated to make equity investments.”

[pullquote_right]“Big data will … help to create new growth opportunities and entirely new categories of companies.” McKinsey Global Institute[/pullquote_right]GE expects to have a powerful role in the deployment of connected machines by creating the new “analytic software layer” between machines and the humans. Besides a huge new software center in San Ramon to create the programs to extract knowhow from the morass, GE already has 250,000 “intelligent machines” packed with sensors and deployed across industry from jet engines to train locomotives, gas turbines to magnetic resonance imaging devices.

San Francisco-based software company Splunk Inc. closed its initial public offering in April. “Splunk turns machine data into valuable insights,” it brags. Splunk raised more than $545 million last year in an early 2012 IPO and a July follow-on offering. The Climate Corp., also San Francisco based, is creating and using a big-data platform to insure farmers globally against loss in the event of severe weather. It has raised more than $110 million in venture funding, most recently this summer when it raised $50 million, including from Google Ventures. “Unlike traditional insurance, The Climate Corp.’s products pay out automatically based solely on measured weather conditions, requiring no claims process and no waiting for payment,” it said.

Mountain View-based Sumo Logic closed its latest round of $30 million in venture funding in November. The company touts its ability to provide “enterprises with a compelling cloud-based solution for monitoring and analyzing machine data.” Palo Alto-based Cloudera Inc. in early December announced it had raised $65 million in new venture backing to “fund global sales growth and fuel continued development of its platform for [b]ig [d]ata…”

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Photo by Chad Ziemendorf

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