The one thing about the IT industry is that it always needs a buzzword.
Now the hype about cloud computing has died down slightly we have a new contender - big data - which is basically when the volume of data generated becomes increasingly difficult and disparate for companies to manage and they need help bringing it together in one safe, secure place.
With the amount of data created by companies of all shapes and sizes ballooning by the second, the need for proper analysis and management of that data is becoming ever more prevalent. And this, it appears, is where the channel comes in.
Alys Woodward, programme manager for European business analytics at IDC, said the concept of big data was not entirely new but the opportunities it offers are vast.
“There are still a lot of people in the tech space who do not know what big data is and some people are more surprised about it than they should be, which is where all the hype is coming from.
“We talk about big data in the form of four Vs: volume, variety, velocity and value,” she explained. “The volume of data is growing very quickly, as is the variety - as different data sources in the same firm create data. It is also coming a lot quicker and it needs to be noticed quickly - for example, fraud systems analysis or real-time RFID data analysis.
“The final V stands for business value,” Woodward said. “It is very exciting to have a massive amount of data, but organisations will invest where they see business value. It is an area where the channel can help, by taking this raw material in terms of data volume and turning it into something useful.
“A key role for the channel is to find a big data application to fit each specific industry and size sector that they service, and really focus on that opportunity. Everybody should be doing business analytics, but many organisations are still in blissful ignorance,” Woodward warned.
She said many companies are spending a lot of time monitoring traditional programmes such as Excel, but are not looking at the bigger picture.
“The good thing about the hype over big data is that it says to people to give it a go and put it on their radar. They need to keep pace with their business - there is no longer a complete picture of information,” she said. “The role of the channel is to explain to them why this matters specifically to what they do. Sometimes it is very difficult to prove the value of information, but the channel can do that.”
Andy Dean, pre-sales manager at high-performance computing specialist OCF, said big data seems to be popping up a lot more, but many firms, including OCF, have been operating in the space for years.
“It is about bringing big storage into one place. At OCF, because our specialism is high-performance computing, we have been doing this for quite a while, working with systems with hundreds of terabytes, but as businesses create more data, they are going to need more help.”
Dean said the opportunity will get bigger as time goes on, and that the potential for channel collaboration on big data projects was also an opportunity.
“Particularly if one partner has skills that are complementary. For example, if one is strong in storage and one in virtualisation - such as in academia and public sector tenders - there is a number of different lots and plenty of potential for collaboration. We are seeing more opportunity in non-traditional markets and expect this to continue,” he said.
Ian Murphy, analyst at Creative Intellect Consulting, said he believed the bulk of the big data channel opportunity is to sell infrastructure and hardware.
“Customers are currently being frightened about the amount of data that they have and the complexity of the data they have. Also, because of last year’s Thai flooding, they are being told the storage they need is not necessarily available, so it is an ideal upsell to the cloud.”
Murphy said big data does not necessarily mean petabytes of data - it can also mean complexity of data. For example, firms such as Tesco or Amazon are dealing in multiple sets of customer data.
“None of these data sets is humongous, but they have so many interactions and are complex. There is often too much focus on storage rather than complexity, but this is an opportunity to sell service skills,” he said.
He added that most medium-sized to large businesses have lots of little databases, but do not know how to combine them.
“Bringing them together into one big web of information is something that the channel can take advantage of,” he said.
Another area of opportunity is the virtual desktop, Murphy suggested, specifically pulling back all the information from end users.
“Many firms have a lot of non-backed-up corporate data on desktops, and if you can pull everything back on to the network, it is a vital skill. Also, there is the problem of cleaning that data and ensuring it meets compliance demands,” he said.
“At the moment a lot of the big data deployments have been sucked up by the big boys, but the complexity issue is where the middle part of the channel can engage with the SMB upwards and bag the consultancy sell.”
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