EMC: We are the face of big data

October 2nd, 2012 | by Chan Chi-Loong

Steve Leonard, Office of the Chairman, EMC @ Human Face of Big Data event, Singapore

Big data, when harnessed, will change the world. And EMC wants to own this space.

At a swanky Asia Pacific media and analyst reception in Singapore today, storage vendor EMC crafted a master marketing pitch on how and why the ability to process extremely large sets of data in real-time will change the way we live and work.

At the heart of the event were the stories around the “Human Face of Big Data”, a project to crowd-source and visualize global social data from ordinary people.

Launched just last month, the project is an ingenious marketing device by EMC to gain mindshare in the big data space.

Yes, the project is run by third party production house Against All Odds Productions, but the main sponsor is EMC, with their usual technology allies like Cisco and VMWare making an appearance as well.

The project entails collecting masses of real-time information from people who sign up from an Android or iPhone application, visualizing the results online, and analyzing and presenting the insights in a book and documentary later.

Big data on the rise

Now big data as a technology meme is still relatively immature, but by no means is EMC the only vendor to play here.

There are tons of players looking at different problems in the space.

From massively parallel processing databases (like Greenplum, bought out by EMC and Vertica, bought out by HP), to in-memory computing (like SAP’s HANA and SAS’s HPA), to cloud platforms (like Microsoft’s Azure and Amazon Web Services), just to name a few.

As a tech PR/journalist who keeps abreast of things, I’m already sold on big data from my conversations with vendors like IBM and TIBCO.

But I appreciate how EMC has put together a package to tell a not-so-easy to grasp story of how billions of bits of data floating around in virtualized servers in some data centre somewhere can change our lives.

I like it that they gave specific end case references, like how SETI’s search for aliens is easier through big data analytics.

Or how Singapore’s local transport woes of taxis disappearing in rainy weather can be diagnosed through big data visualization, a project by the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART).

One of six visualization pods at EMC Big Data Mission Control event, Singapore

A great PR idea was getting their partners Tableu Software to visualize Twitter data to tell big data stories, as it brings out the impact visually. They did it at six “visualization pods” at the event.

I will reserve judgement on the vigor of the insights portrayed as the research methodologies like data-set selections, sentiment analysis and context mapping makes a huge difference to the end results. Having done various social media analytic projects for various clients in past lives, this is one area that I’m careful about.

But I think it serves as a nice starting point to show people how masses of data can give useful insights.

I’ve been to a few other vendor events where they share grand visions on how big data will change the world, but were short on references and stories.

EMC has done a good job on grounding and fleshing out the story with their references and visualizations, and frames it up nicely with the Human Face of Big Data project.

Marketing to gain mindshare is especially important in any new space, but the real fight will be in achieving deliverable results.

Big data is definitely a real trend, but who will win depends on who can harness it best. It will be fun to watch the vendors jockey in this space the next few years.

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