While big data enters the everyday lexicon, it begins to conjure the image of a Sasquatch-style beast made of infinite strings of numbers. But big data doesn't have to be intimidating. Your business can harness the big data haystack to quickly find the needle of insight contained inside. For example, researchers at Virginia Tech are proving that, with the right tools, it's possible to comb through and analyze data—even data as complex as the human genome—that can lead to the next big breakthrough.
As Wu Feng from Virginia Tech's Department of Computer Science explains, this requires lots of computing capability. "You've got this juxtaposition of big data, every 8 months doubling," explains Feng. "But you've got the compute capability only doubling every 24 months." That's where the cloud comes in. Here's how you can use cloud tools to unlock opportunities in big data.
Connect the dotsGenerating data faster than it can be analyzed is a challenge every business faces. And there's possibly nothing as complex as next-generation sequence (NGS) analysis.
"We seek to use computing to more rapidly understand where cancer starts in the DNA," explains Feng. "It’s like finding a needle in a haystack, but in this case we are searching through massive amounts of genomic data to try to find these 'needles' and how they connect and relate to each other 'within the haystack.'"
Tools such as Microsoft Azure can help your business link multiple data sources to give you the insights needed to form a complete picture. When dealing with big data, finding common links allows your business to identify and capitalize on opportunities you may not even have known existed. This is what leads to business breakthroughs.
Add intelligence, faster
Cloud applications can be accessed from virtually anywhere, including on mobile devices. Feng believes this will, in the not-so-distant-future, allow researchers to engage in genome analysis outside the laboratory, "say at a hospital, which could lead to faster, prescribed treatments."
In the meantime, better data analysis tools can help your business keep up with overwhelming amounts of data faster, while also analyzing it more intelligently. And while the cloud provides an easy way to manage unwieldy big data, it also makes it easy to share the data to facilitate collaboration.
"We want to enable the scientists, engineers, physicists, and geneticists, and equip them with tools so they can focus on their craft and not on the computing," says Feng. "The cloud can accelerate discovery and innovation by computing answers faster, particularly when you don’t have bountiful computing resources at your disposal. It enables people to compute on data sets that they might not have otherwise tried because they didn’t have ready access to such resources."
Big data without big costsYour organization doesn't have to worry about creating its own supercomputing center to intelligently mine data and extract insights. As Feng explains, having a cloud environment with a provider such as Microsoft allows Virginia Tech to "give users the ability to compute big data, while not having to incur the institutional overhead of personally housing, operating, and maintaining such a facility."
"In another five years, [cloud computing] will become a democratized resource for the masses," predicts Feng. "It will get to the point where it will be just as easy to use storage in the cloud as it will be to flip a light switch; we won’t think twice about it. The future of computing and data lies in the cloud." And while the cloud brings Virginia Tech one step closer to understanding cancer, it's your business' secret weapon in finding its own needles in the haystack.
Watch how the cloud is helping Virginia Tech researchers get one step closer to their next medical advancement.