For decades, various networks have been built that bring together organizations, people, and cultures. The network that we call the Internet took its current shape in the early- to mid-1990s, although its actually roots go back to the 1960s. Back in the very early 90s, the Internet has just broken 100,000 connected hosts. By 2000, around 70,000,000 hosts were visible. Today, some estimates suggest that 8 to 10 billion devices are connected. Every day, more and more devices are connected to this burgeoning network environment.
Increasing device variety
At the same time, the sheer variety of devices connected to this global network is growing, too. Today’s connected devices include traditional Web hosts, desktops, mobile devices, industrial devices, and a whole lot more. In many areas, people own and manage a multitude of devices that can be considered hosts on the Internet and that serve a variety of purposes. In looking around my house, I see:
- Several personal computers: There are four of us and four laptops along with a couple of desktops.
- Gaming consoles: I have kids, so…
- Portable electronics Think iPads here.
- Smartphones: My wife and I both carry iPhones.
- Thermostat: Last year, I bought a Nest thermostat for my house.
That’s just one house, and many out there have lots more devices. And we’re only at the beginning of the potential when it comes to in-home devices. I fully expect to see Nest branch out beyond heating and cooling. I actually see that device on my wall as a Trojan horse. It’s a hidden infiltration from a system that eventually has the capability to do much more in my home, such as manage electrical outlets, lights, appliances, and more, for additional energy savings and other uses.
The growth of data, big and small
“Big Data” doesn’t always mean billions of terabytes of financial data. Sometimes the smallest devices generating modest amounts of data participate in the big data trends. For example, that Nest thermostat sits quietly on my wall automatically managing the temperature in my home year-round. Behind the scenes, Nest is also automatically updating itself and sending information about my heating and cooling habits to Nest HQ. I don’t know how much data is generated, but with Nest’s place as a very popular device with a whole lot of deployments, the data storage requirements must be significant.
In addition, these and other kinds of devices are generating more data than ever before, giving rise to many new challenges and a vast array of new opportunities. For example, consider the new Boeing 787 airplane. On a single flight, that “device” can generate a whopping half a terabyte of data. This is per flight information. Over a weeklong period, that kind of data becomes huge and dozens, hundreds, and thousands of flights are flown.
Big Data (or small data) isn’t limited to airplanes and thermostats, though. In fact, big data is already being used to study traffic patterns, and, of course, financial traders’ wealth and woes are adjusted daily through betting on stock prices as they rise and fall… with all of the underlying decision-making being done based on well-established fundamentals.
Analytics are key
Big Data is good, but without analytics, Big Data alone is nothing more than a waste of disk space.
For instance, each month, Nest e-mails me an energy consumption report based on the information that the thermostat has sent throughout the month. With that information, I’m able to see the effect that the weather had on my heating and cooling energy consumption and, if I want, I can make adjustments to Nest’s automatic settings that could result in more energy savings.
Frankly, the potential in Boeing’s collection of so much data is incredible. With so much telemetry information on just about every aspect of an airplane’s flight, airlines can:
- Proactively address potential routine maintenance issues: Imagine this: An aircraft records a fluid leak in its hydraulic systems while in flight. It’s not dangerous, but they plane can’t take off again because of it. Every minute that a plane sits on the ground is a minute of lost revenue for the airline. What if the airplane could automatically notify the maintenance crew at the destination airport that a replacement part is needed and also requisition and approve delivery of that part to the destination airport. This would massively reduce the amount of time that the plane spends on the ground and make operations more efficient.
- Identify potentially critical issues before they become life-threatening: People want to be safe on airplanes and, with few exceptions, airplanes are exceptionally safe. With the right data, trends can be analyzed and action taken before something unexpected happens.
For Boeing and its customers, Big Data doesn’t have to be just a way to follow up after a disaster. With the right analytics, data can be mined to help airlines improve their overall operations and maximize revenue and safety.
As I watched a hospital scene in Star Trek Into Darkness the other night, I was reminded of the potential of Big Data in the healthcare world, but only when coupled with the right analysis. Sure, Star Trek is futuristic stuff, but one entire wall of this particular patient’s room was covered in analytics from sensors scanning the patient laying on a biobed.
We’re certainly not at this level of sophistication yet, but imagine a world where pacemakers regularly and wirelessly report their status to doctors as well as the pacemaker’s telemetry information regarding the status of the patient’s heart. Imagine if we could embed biosensors into a person so that we wouldn’t need to do blood draws and the like.
Or, as the price comes down, perhaps we could record everyone's genetic pattern so that doctors would be able to keep a closer watch on certain potential outcomes based on genetic family history. Of course, on the flip side, such activities would create major privacy challenges as insurers would be more than a little interested in this kind of information as well.
However, such telemetry could eventually reduce the number of invasive and/or costly tests that are administered every year, which could bring down the overall cost of health care while, at the same time, helping people stay healthier in the long term.
HP Gen 8 servers
Last year, I wrote an article here about HP’s Generation 8 servers and the “phone home” analytics that HP built into the platform. These kinds of systems leverage big data and analytics to help customers minimize outages and maximize their investments in their HP equipment.
The result of less downtime is obvious; it translates directly into an improved bottom line and fewer headaches for the CIO. In addition, if these systems can reduce the staff time needed to manage them, that can translate into a CIO being able to redirect technical staff into more business-facing roles, which can also have a positive impact on the bottom line.
In short, the CIO might be able to free up sufficient resources to bring real innovation into the enterprise.
Nimble Storage, a leading vendor of hybrid storage arrays, recently announced its InfoSight service, in which Nimble’s line of arrays sends to Nimble HQ 30 million data points per day. Such massive amounts of data allow Nimble ample mining opportunities, allowing it to be more proactive about repairs and potential customer issues, which helps the company maintain a 99.998% uptime figure for its arrays. This is a great selling point, no matter the product!
Such deep analytics can also help Nimble’s customers better project data capacity growth, provide event correlation, and enables Nimble’s support team to be aware of issues even before a customer calls.
For many years, people have mined their customer data to improve marketing and sales opportunities. Now, as technology grows capable of aiding analysis of growing amounts of data, the sky is the limit with what can be done. What’s outlined here is just the tip of the iceberg. But, all of the examples I mentioned here started in the exact same way. Someone in an organization asked a questions that contains the most important two words possible – “What if…” For Boeing, someone realized the potential in collecting vast amounts of data in an effort to save lives and improve the bottom line for Boeing’s airline customers. For HP and Nimble, someone asked, “What if we could make our customers’ lives easier by knowing about their problems before they do?” At Nest, someone asked, “What if we could get people to drop $250 on a thermostat, but put analytics behind it to help them save money?” In healthcare, people are asking “what if” questions everyday as they seek to find new ways to use data to prolong people’s lives and help them live more comfortably.
The opportunities in this coming together of the Internet of Things, Big Data, and improved analytics are staggering and cross the IT landscape and beyond. Storage companies such as EMC, Nimble, and others can reap the opportunities to be the one-stop-shop for organizations that need storage to support their Big Data efforts. Cloud providers can help their customers by providing a practically limitless environment in which to store data and apply massive compute power to support the analysis.
You, as a CIO, also have a huge part to play in this emerging age. It’s time to think deeply about what your organization is doing and begin to leverage your data assets as strategic assets rather than simply operational ones. Every industry is different, so look at what you’re individual company is doing and look for ways that the data can be used in a transformational way. For example, if you collect traffic data of any kind, can your company create and sell a product to consumers that provides them with real-time traffic information that might be better than what’s out there now? Can you aggregate that traffic data with road repair information to help states better understand why some roads last 10 years and why some last 50 and then help them create a “replacement schedule” for their roads? I realize these aren’t exactly mind-blowing concepts, but they’re just possibilities. Everything is on the table.
Action Item: In short, CIOs have the opportunity to help their companies create completely new revenue possibilities with the intersection we’re seeing today. It just takes an idea to get started and, with the ever increasing number of connected devices, the world is, almost literally, at your fingertips.