Big data: hands on or hands off?

By Derek du Preez
21 Feb 2012 View Comments
Concept image of businessman with big data

Last year saw a distinct rise in the number of organisations exploring new ways to exploit their information assets in order to improve their performance. 

Further reading

By harnessing what is often called “big data” – large, and sometimes vast, amounts of structured and unstructured data derived from a variety of sources, including social media and the internet – these organisations aim to understand their customers better and to target markets that their competitor’s might not have yet discovered.

However, despite what some vendors might claim, the number of organisations with a formal big data strategy is still small, with most IT leaders still weighing up the benefits of additional insight into markets and products against the significant investments in hardware, software and skills needed. 

That said, according to Oracle the issue of big data is already having a significant impact on the way organisations manage their datacentre resources. In January, the software giant released its second Next Generation Datacentre Index, which, it said, indicates that companies are now using external datacentre capabilities to try to take advantage of big data, rather than investing in on-site infrastructure. 

The index found that the proportion of respondents across Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) that only use in-house datacentres is just 44 per cent, down from 60 per cent in the first index published last May. It also found that 56 per cent of respondents are using some sort of external datacentre to cope with data volumes, up from 40 per cent in May last year. 

Furthermore, only eight per cent of respondents said they do not see the need for a new datacentre in the foreseeable future, down from 17 per cent in the first index. These figures suggest that in the short term companies are exploring the benefits of big data outside the walls of their current infrastructure, but are also at least considering bringing this capability in-house in the future. 

The benefits of big data

But what exactly are the benefits of big data? And is it true that more companies are looking to invest in it? 

According to John Abel, chief technology architect for Oracle EMEA server and storage, companies that have been trying to gain a competitive advantage through datacentre consolidation and virtualisation are not seeing the benefits that they had hoped for, and are now looking to big data to gain an edge. 

He argues that virtualisation is a fairly standard process in an enterprise, which keeps companies on a level playing field, whereas big data could provide a company with insight that no rival would have, thus giving it a competitive advantage. 

“Virtualisation, which we have seen a lot of in recent years, will only get you so far along in your journey in being leading edge and the best in your market. Large enterprises now have to drive their organisation through innovation – finding new products, markets and customers that your competitors don’t have,” says Abel. 

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