Channel Makes Slow Progress in Big Data Race

By Michael Vizard

Big data will offer significant business opportunities—to  one degree or another—for just about every solution provider in the channel. However, it just may be a little while longer before the projects that will drive those opportunities become more commonly deployed.

A recent study conducted by Dell Software found that the vast majority of IT organizations have some type of big data project under way. But the degree to which those applications are ready to be deployed in production environments is still fairly limited.

In addition, big data implies a lot of hardware to support multiple terabytes, even petabytes, of data. Yet most big data applications start out relatively small. In fact, hardware winds up being a small percentage of the overall solution.

 "When it comes to big data, it's all about the algorithms," said Vik Mehta, CEO, VastEdge, a solution provider that is building big data applications used in heavy-machinery environments. "By being able to correlate data, we can figure out things like why a crane that costs millions of dollars is about to break because a $100 part is about to fail."

For a port, Mehta said the value of that crane goes well beyond the cost of replacing it. Without the crane, part of the port shuts down. Ships carrying millions of dollars in goods then get backed up in the harbor waiting for the crane to get fixed. For that reason, it is little wonder that Fortune 100 companies such as General Electric and United Technologies are leading the charge in terms of trying to monetize big data.

Right now, however, Mehta reports that hardware is a relatively small percentage of the total big data solution, which may help account for why the presence of big data projects is so uneven across the channel.

Where's the Demand, and Who Will Address It?

CentriLogic, a managed and cloud services provider that specializes in enterprise applications, has yet to see any big data application projects.

"As of yet, we haven't seen any demand for big data applications," said company CEO Robert Offley.

Similarly, Sam Kildare, vice president of sales and marketing for synergIT, reported that the solution provider hasn't seen any demand either.

"We have a lot of experience in data warehousing," said Kildare. "But as a company focused on small and midsize  businesses (SMBs), we're not seeing any projects.

That doesn't mean there won't be sometime soon. Training will be crucial. For example, more than 3,500 people signed up for an online "Tackling the Challenges of Big Data" training course developed by the faculty at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Clara Piloto, one of the organizers at MIT Professional Education, each of the students that received a passing grade received a certificate from MIT and those that did well in the course also gained continuing education credits.

"Most of the students already had a degree in computer science," said Piloto. "The most interesting thing we found is that even though the course was online they still broke into their own study groups."

Not only will the course be taught again this fall and winter, Piloto said that next up MIT Professional Educations Services will be working with some major companies to create private instance of the online learning system MIT Professional Education through which they can train their employees.

Training Will Be Key

For solution providers in the channel the number of trained big data specialists being turned out by universities, such as MIT, is key. One one hand, it's those specialists that help create the demand for big data applications. Just as importantly, those graduates also create the pool of talent that solution providers need to build, deploy and service those applications.

A shortage of big data talent is hampering the overall growth of the market. Corporate interest in big data outpaces the availability of skilled workers to address its potential.

"As organizations rely more on analytics, there is a sense of urgency to retool their workforce with skills that will enable more decision-makers to take advantage of new analytic technologies," wrote Chris Preimesberger of eWEEK, a Channel Insider sister site.

The real challenge facing solution providers, however, may not be when exactly those big data projects will manifest themselves, but rather if they have the skills needed to seize those opportunities when the demand for big data expertise finally materializes.

A recent column in Forbes summed up big data's progress: "Here's the thing: though big data itself has certainly grown into adolescence and the need for big data analysis has reached somewhat of a unanimous, economy-wide realization, big data platforms are still in their primal state."

Solution providers need to start preparing today if they really want to profit from big data tomorrow.

Michael Vizard has been covering IT issues in the enterprise for 25 years as an editor and columnist for publications such as InfoWorld, eWEEK, Baseline, CRN, ComputerWorld and Digital Review.

This article was originally published on 2014-09-29