The art of turning global hordes of unstructured data into decisive knowledge could be a boon for Ireland, according to Jason Ward, country manager at EMC.
Across the world today vast quantities of data sit idle. Everything from tweets to footfall on buses and trains and attendance at football matches are being logged but no one knows what do with it all.
However, a new generation of technology is emerging that could turn all this into lucrative, real-time, decision-making firepower by combining the world’s data with analytic technology.
If the vision comes to fruition, Ireland could emerge as the home of big data. In recent weeks, the Government of Ireland and data storage giant EMC, along with Cisco, VCE, VMware and the IDA revealed plans to create a major cloud innovation centre.
The new centre, which will consist of two world-class private cloud infrastructures that will sit inside both EMC and on the Irish Government’s data infrastructure, will perform a number of important roles.
Firstly, the innovation centre will allow indigenous SMEs and multinationals to test, develop and demonstrate apps that could be used by the public sector.
Secondly, it will provide public sector departments and agencies with a platform to trial new cloud solutions and avoid costly IT blunders.
The centre will also promote Ireland as a leader in cloud computing and big-data industries and provide entrepreneurs and start-ups with an opportunity to vie for Government contracts.
A cloud innovation centre in Ireland
EMC country manager Jason Ward explains how the project arrived in Ireland.
“The Cloud4Gov platform began a collaboration between ourselves and the IDA. EMC is in Ireland 30 years now and we were looking at how we could invest in Ireland and develop some infrastructure to support the Government, innovation and cloud computing in Ireland.
“The Cloud4Gov platform is an infrastructure that will support the Government and innovation whereby we will provide an EMC private cloud appliance to sit on the Government network which enables all departments access to a private cloud infrastructure.”
But the really cool and innovative thing about this, Ward says, is that it will be open to SMEs to access, as well.
“While we have a private cloud sitting on the Government network we will also have a private cloud infrastructure in EMC’s campus in Cork and we’ve already opened that up to a lot of SME organisations, developers, etc, in an open-source way so that any business or developer could conceivably develop a new app for driving efficiencies across the public sector, and we will host and test it.
"If it is fit for purpose we will help bring that into the Government framework and allow the Government to access that."
EMC isn’t alone in pursuing the big data opportunity. Organisations like Accenture and Oracle are working to help the world turn hitherto useless information into valuable, split-second insightful knowledge.
For example, a European Commission study from 2009 estimated the value of public-sector data across the EU at €27bn if opened up to the public and turned into useful software applications.
A good example of a big data play from an entrepreneurial perspective is Polecat, a real-time analytics and decision intelligence company wooed by Enterprise Ireland to locate in Dublin, which has just raised €850,000. Declared by Oracle’s Larry Ellison as "Best Emerging Technology Company", it is bringing big data to the fingertips of business executives.
Its software platform MeaningMine joins search text analytics and learning-based algorithms with innovative visualisations to deliver real-time insights on any topic. Polecat’s clients include Shell, BP, HSBC, Silicon Valley Bank, Sony, Microsoft, Ernst & Young, McKinsey, the EU, the UK government and Irish Government.
What the Cloud4Gov infrastructure will do
Ward says the Cloud4Gov infrastructure will help close the perceived gap between small local software companies and larger technology companies that had better success winning business with the State.
"What this does is provide a small enterprise company that is developing new applications with a foothold or entrance or on-ramp into selling solutions into the public sector in Ireland.
"If someone developed a new app that drove efficiencies in e-procurement, for instance, and it resonated and worked well with Government departments here because by its very nature it is open source and on a cloud platform, there’s no reason why that vendor couldn’t bring that app to the UK, EMEA, the States.
"And EMC would also foster that development and help them to develop new markets elsewhere outside Ireland. There’s a massive opportunity for small businesses, as well."
Ward says that traditionally it was difficult enough to access, let alone make sense of, huge volumes of data, such as human genome sequencing.
"For example, some of our oil and exploration companies off the coast of Ireland are serving massive geological surveys around maps, seismic shifts, patterns across the Atlantic, etc. That is petabytes and petabytes of data – it is huge.
"Traditionally, if you were to run queries or try and analyse that it could take perhaps a couple of weeks – through the concept of big data and taking a lot of that unstructured data and sharing it across multiple processes and different systems and infrastructure in a shared way, the query time is massively reduced to seconds."
Big data presents huge opportunity for Ireland
Ward reiterates his belief the opportunity could be enormous for Ireland.
"Look at the companies that are coming here – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google – there’s a wealth of expertise and graduates who understand whole ICT space.
"If we develop Ireland as a hub for big data there are going to be more jobs we can get. Then there are products and platforms you can design from that, which will support more jobs."
To enjoy careers in big data, Ward points to the emergence of the data scientist. These are individuals who know how to make sense of the volumes of data that reside in databases, on servers, etc, and by tying this in with analytics and other capabilities, such as statistics, are already in big demand by employers.
"STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects are critically important to have in that framework of understanding. A lot of colleges, like CIT, UCC, indeed most third-level bodies, are looking to have cloud-based courses and big data is appearing on the curriculum," he says, pointing to CIT and EMC’s collaboration last year to create the world’s first master’s degree in cloud computing.
The importance of this skill base was underlined at the launch of the Cloud4Gov platform by EMC’s global HR director Jack Mollen.
"Six years ago, there were no consumer apps available via iTunes. Today, there are half a million apps available, mostly built by small companies.
"The same phenomenon will happen to the enterprise and Government sectors. There will be platforms where it’s no longer necessary to have your own data centres, but you can utilise and share other people’s platforms."
Mollen said the new innovation centre will facilitate not only the innovation of third-party Irish SME organisations, but also the testing and proof of integration between legacy and cloud applications.
"Until now in organisations like governments, there were systems that other departments couldn’t use, that will change. To prove this point, we will open this up with a new development lab that will allow new software vendors to come in and build and sell software."
Jason Ward is one of the panellists at Silicon Republic’s Digital Ireland Forum on 23 March in the Convention Centre in Dublin.
Photo: At the recent launch of plans to create a joint Irish Government/EMC cloud innovation centre were (left to right) Bob Savage, vice-president and managing director of EMC’s Centre of Excellence in Cork; EMC global HR chief Jack Mollen; the Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte, TD; and EMC country manager Jason Ward
Watch a video of EMC country manager Jason Ward here, as he outlines the big data opportunity for Ireland: