Tag Archive | big data

Revealed: Do we now have available the most valuable currency “ever” (potentially)

The title of this blog may seem somewhat sensationalist (probably). It was driven by my recent retail consumer navigation (“last minute present time”), common to many through the Christmas season to date. And the aforementioned “valuable currency”, first off to avoid the numerous cries of foul,  I will eliminate the obvious and fundamental elements for life (air, food, etc) from the rather grand boast of the title. But I hope on conclusion of this brief scribble its clear why I hold this special “currency” in such high regard.

From the dawn of not just modern society, but any society, humans traded in some way, shape or form. Sellers sought to seller their wares to buyers keen to buy (and sometimes not so keen) with the optimum marriage, a product available for sale at the perfect time (and price) to a surplus number of buyers. The final element has remained the sales Holy Grail and to realise that seller buyer perfect relationship the profession of marketing rose from the ashes with the impossible task of stargazing the wants needs and desires of all.  That truly impossible task became probable as marketers leveraged science and human psychology to bind products to potential target customers and often with amazing degrees of effectiveness and accuracy. But still when questioned industry leaders continued to question marketing effectiveness often citing return on investment and other metric driven formulae for less than perfect results.  Until now….

Through the advent of a perfect storm of IT systems at the right price / performance levels, secure enterprise grade connectivity “everywhere”, advanced analytical algorithms / models with near human insight, data structures / repositories capable of previously unimagined data storage / manipulation and finally digital data generated by “things” we now have realised our own “digital alchemy” use to create the most valuable currency ever – “big data”.

At this point after such a monumental build up, the temptation for you to yawn and hit delete may appear (suppress it), but that is somewhat premature with more of the story to unfold.

My Christmas social and retail journey is a current storyboard of the stealth like use of big data today that helps to optimise many of my interactions with people and systems. Websites that know who I am and offer me gift ideas aligned with the season for friends and family based on my past purchases and an awareness of their demographic. Retail stores track my in store movement as a mobile user and leverage my location and browsing habits to make products for sale more attractive to me (via price or enhanced visibility). Payment systems utilise my smart watch which in turn leverages multiple data driven security authorisation/authentication and financial information stores to validate me based on behaviour, location and activity to confirm that I have indeed attempted a financial transaction. I could continue and include my previously low tech bank debit card that has now unleashed via contactless transactions has the potential to be much much more in future. And the unifying factors behind it all, secure network connectivity of people to things to allow them to do previously unimagined “things” but with real-time availability / accessibility to a bordering on human store of digital data insight we now called “big data”. The highly pervasive, always on, now always everywhere, NETWORK is making big data – bigger!

Big data is no longer a “fad” or something leveraged by others – it is fast becoming “the” most “valuable currency” ever. It has the potential to digitally stargaze via advanced data analysis & data joins and deliver a result at an accuracy level and a speed impossible for a human (or banks of humans) to achieve (have a quick look at IBM Watson). Now is the time to make big data less of a conversation for technologists and instead the heartbeat of business. At Computacenter we are not waiting, we deem it so paramount we have our own data analytics Chief Technologist (welcome Aleem Cummings, look out for his blog). The importance enterprises are now placing on the need to leverage and maximise big data to propel business forward makes it a top “C suite” priority.

The network provides the secure connectivity layer to allow “things” to interact with other “things” and for humans to personally, socially and emotionally benefit from that interaction (I promise no mention of IOT, ooops too late). And the information created with that data whether small or big will be the “digital currency” that delivers evidence based proof of value.

Big data doesnt just help to create / find answers its so valuable it can be extracted and traded in its own right. And if this digital, big data is such a value personal and business asset, validated security and secure interaction becomes a precursor to future success. “but is it?”. One for another day I think.

Until next time

Merry Christmas and a prosperous 2016

Colin W @colinccuk – Chief Technologist, Networking, Security and UC.




Workplace IT predictions for 2014


Well it’s that time of the year and no well-meaning blog would be complete without some predictions for the coming year. I canvassed some of my team for their views so that we can look back next year and see if they have potential parallel careers as fortune tellers!

First up is Paul who thinks we will see lots of continued uncertainty in the Mobile OS market, with a surprising upswing in Windows Phone and fight back by Blackberry to maintain adoption in Enterprise – that won’t be matched in the consumer world.  Somewhat polar to market commentary and headlines – so something to keep an eye on!

Next up is Pete who believes SSD (Solid State Disk) will become standard, across all traditional PC client devices. The cost difference for spindle and solid state has reached such a small difference that the performance benefits and reduced failure rates will outweigh this small price difference. Hmmm, could be good news for Samsung and Kingston!

Pete also thinks we’ll see the death of the docking station (again 🙂 ) – as we move towards more choice and more mobile devices, the desire and ability for a consistent docking experience will be surpassed by wireless peripherals and connected screens.

Next one up from the team is not necessarily good news for the industry and somewhat inevitable in the climate but there is the expectation that at least one major ‘pure play’ reseller (read no services division) will either go under or get swallowed up in 2014.

David in Services also suggests that we might see a short-fall in available UK resources to tackle the backlog of Enterprise Windows XP users that still haven’t migrated – caused by the product formally going ‘end of life’ in April 2014. Not sure if this is a prediction or wishful thinking!!

Finally, we move to Tina and Software. First prediction is that we will see Big Data move into the mainstream as people stop talking about it and start to use information to underpin their business models. Whilst 2014 will also be the year that we see the number of software vendors used within Enterprise estates increase as a result of the users opting for smaller ‘app like’ line-of- business tools and not the over specified and under-utilised tools they have today.

Personally, I think that we will continue to be ‘S.M.A.C.ked’ (Social, Mobile, Analytics and Cloud) as a major theme and as the “nexus of forces” continues to empower users through technology and information it will make 2014 disruptive and stimulating for everybody involved in Workplace IT.

So there you have it, down in black and white for judgement next year. I’d be really interested to hear your own predictions for the coming year (related to Workplace IT of course!)?

I hope you have a great Christmas break, and see you all in 2014!

I don’t bleed data – I am data

As a follow up to my recent blog “Cut me – I bleed data”, where I looked at the potential for DNA storage, I thought I would look at how the human body can create data, and how it can be used for our benefit. We are all used to the concept of pedometers; where a small device carried on the person counts the numbers of steps we take in a day. I’m fairly sure all the devices I’ve tried are faulty as it must be more than 300 steps from home to car to office to desk to coffee shop, right? Walking 10,000 steps per day is good for your health apparently, so I may be a little bit short of my daily target.

However a few things caught my eye recently; the first two are very similar – the “Fitbit” and Nike fuelband, both work in similar fashion and take the pedometer concept to the next level. These devices have the same basic aim; to encourage us to lead a healthy active lifestyle and to monitor our progress and feedback in a way that is of benefit to us. They can track our steps, distance travelled, calories consumed and can measure if we are climbing stairs. We can use the App provided on our smartphones, tablets or any other device to input the food we consume and track our goals graphically if we want.

Ever woke up tired in the morning, wanting just another 5 minutes? Well, the next interesting thing they can do is measure how we sleep and what our sleep patterns are; this can then be used to wake us gently in the correct sleep phase to ensure we are ready for the day. Without thinking about it you are slowly building a database about yourself, we create the data and use the instrument to record it, and you wondered where all the growth of data you keep hearing about is coming from? Some of it is your fault, I’m afraid.

That’s all data generation we can control, we choose to wear the device, download the data wirelessly, stand on the wireless scales and transfer information about ourselves, but what about things we would like to control but really not sure how to? What if we wanted to measure heart rate, brain activity, body temperature and hydration levels and rather than having our own database we wanted to share it with our doctor or consultant? We’re not too far away from reaching that stage.

An American based company has piloted the concept of stretchable electronics products that can be put on things like shirts and shoes, worn as temporary tattoos or installed in the body. These will be capable of measuring all the criteria above. Another company will begin a pilot program in Britain for a “Digital Health Feedback System” that combines both wearable technologies and microchips the size of a sand grain that can ride on a pill right through you. Powered by your stomach fluids, it emits a signal picked up by an external sensor, capturing vital data. Another firm is looking at micro needle sensors on skin patches as a way of deriving continuous information about the bloodstream.

The data generated by this technology could be used for Business Intelligence purposes in the healthcare markets, it could be shared between yourself and your doctor allowing proactive activity to occur to improve the care offered and improve efficiencies, and ultimately to reduce costs. No more waiting 7 days to see a doctor, your chosen device downloads data which can be shared with your practitioner, who in turn sends you an email recommending more exercise and more vegetables in your diet.

The ability to use anonymous data from a group of patients would allow health care providers to spot patterns over an entire population or specific geographies. For example, the need for continuous data on blood glucose levels, particularly Type I diabetes patients, has become critical in the treatment of the disease, providing impetus for monitoring devices.

If this kind of information exists for a lot of people, it is arguably folly to not look for larger trends and patterns. And not just in things like your blood count, because overlays of age, educational level, geography and other demographic factors could yield valuable insights. The essence of the Big Data age is the diversity of data sets combined in novel ways.

These technologies could be used to get people with difficult to pin down conditions like chronic fatigue to share information about themselves, this could include the biological data from devices, but also things like how well they slept, what they ate and when they got pain or were tired. Collectively, this could lead to evidence about how behaviour and biology conjure these states, and ultimately could lead to a solution to such problems.

So it’s not just businesses that can benefit from the analysis of data, individuals and the population at large are potential benefactors of the emerging ability of technology to provide analysis of seemingly random collections of data. As I hit the weekend I may not need a wearable electronic device to tell me my brain activity is slowing down or my hydration levels increase, but it won’t slow down the amount of data I’m able to generate on myself, and the contribution this data makes to my future health. Maybe I’ll be able to store my personal database on my own DNA, who knows?

Cut Me – I Bleed Data

I decided to clean out my home office; I’d had enough of the 56K modems lying around, and needed the space. What I didn’t expect was to find a museum of data storage concentrated in such a small space. I suspected at the time I wouldn’t need the 5.25” 720k floppy disks to upgrade to VMS v5.1 again, but who knows maybe I should keep them – so I did, along with the 2000ish 1.44Mb floppy disks and random associated hard disks. Now when I Google floppy disks the first thing that appears is an explanation of what a floppy disk is, or rather was.

Next I moved onto some more recent technology, surely I wouldn’t have to worry about throwing out USB memory Sticks, would I? Having counted somewhere around a 100 of the things lying around the house I decided that this was maybe the time that I didn’t really need 10x 64Mb sticks cluttering up space, after all my new shiny 64Gb version is now 1000x bigger.

This got me thinking about the state of the data storage market, and the changes going on. Whilst the capacity of floppy disks rose slowly and fairly consistently we have seen some spectacular changes in the storage marketplace. We got used to disk capacities doubling every 2 years, then this changed to 18 months, then suddenly the 2Gb drives became 200Gb then 400, then suddenly the 1Tb drive had landed.

It was at this time we started to expect development to slow down – after all as a wise Star Trek engineer once said “you cannae change the laws of physics, Captain” Well, you know what Scotty, actually we can and did, 2Tb drives appeared, now 3Tb are not uncommon in datacentres and 4Tb are available on Amazon.

Surely sometime disk drives have to stop evolving? Well, yes and no, they may stop evolving in their current form, but the requirements to store more and more data, and to hold it for longer and longer goes on unabated. Hmmm, what do we do now?

Well, change the form of course. When it comes to storing information, hard drives don’t hold a candle to DNA. Our genetic code packs billions of gigabytes into a single gram. A mere milligram of the molecule could encode the complete text of every book in the British Library and have plenty of room to spare. All of this has been mostly theoretical—until now. In a new study, researchers stored an entire genetics textbook in less than a picogram of DNA—one trillionth of a gram—an advance that could revolutionise our ability to store data.

Initially there may seem to be some problems around using DNA to store data; first, cells die—not a good way to lose your valuable information. They also naturally replicate, introducing changes over time that can alter the data (and whilst we accepted this on a floppy disk it’s unthinkable now). To get around this challenge a research team at Harvard created a DNA information-archiving system that uses no cells at all. Instead, an inkjet printer embeds short fragments of chemically synthesised DNA onto the surface of a tiny glass chip. To encode a digital file, researchers divide it into tiny blocks of data and convert these data not into the 1s and 0s of typical digital storage media, but rather into DNA’s four-letter alphabet of As, Cs, Gs, and Ts. Each DNA fragment also contains a digital “barcode” that records its location in the original file. Reading the data requires a DNA sequencer and a computer to reassemble all of the fragments in order and convert them back into digital format. The computer also corrects for errors; each block of data is replicated thousands of times so that any chance glitch can be identified and fixed by comparing it to the other copies.

By using these methods they managed to encode a complete book, just under 6Mb in size onto a single strand of DNA. Now, obviously this comes at a price beyond the reach of customers for now, but at the rate the data storage market moves who knows how we will upgrade our storage capacity in the future; it is estimated that a double DNA strand could encode 10 Exabytes of data or 11,529,215,046,100Mb, that’s quite a lot of floppy disks.

So, now when you hear us data guys talking about “Big Data” and not being scared by the volume element, maybe you’ll understand why.

In a few years time when you need to add an Exabyte or two to your data capacity, don’t worry – I’ve an armful right here.

Facebook – Will this brave new world be the right new world

Last Friday was one of those days that will be remembered in the history of modern IT. The one they have all been waiting for finally happened. No, that is not England winning a major football tournament in the post millenium era(sadly still waiting for that one), Facebook the poster child of the brave new social networking world has finally gone public. The share buying frenzy has started with industry watchers polarized on whether Facebook is a “must have stock” or a “wait and see if it’s a must have stock”.

For me whatever happens to the Facebook stock (and I hope for all of our sakes its good things), it is impossible to avoid the impact of Facebook on our social, professional and technical lives. It’s now our social communications norm, its now important to HR professionals within companies as any employee evaluation tool, its fast becoming the “marketing persons” dream platform and from an IT and networking perspective is forcing IT & networks systems to move and manage data at levels previously unimagined. Big data is another of those “buzz phrases” those in the know discuss at length but often struggle to point to easy to digest examples of Big Data at work. Facebook and the data generated and manipulated by its 800m users is a real world example of big data at work, doing work. With my networking, security and visual collaboration hat on imagine the daily challenge faced by Facebook to keep the data used by 800m users, secure, accessible, resistant to failure and available at high speed – 24x7x365. 

Now that’s how I like to see modern technology at work, solving highly complex problems, empowering the end user – but almost invisible to them. Maybe the Facebook share frenzy is justified after all.
Until next time.
Colin Williams

Twitter: @Colinwccuk

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