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Microsoft Seeks To Empower Users With Big Data Tools

In a data-driven culture, the potential for maximizing business profitability by leveraging Big Data represents a great opportunity. But, it has been hyped and rumored that in order to manipulate this Big Data and be able to visualize it and drive the benefits from it, enterprises have to hire a new breed of specialists that scarcely exists today: data scientists.

Microsoft disagrees and wants to empower the average user to be able to manipulate and visualize data without being a data scientist by enhancing its front-end tools like the Office suite and minting them with Big Data and Business Intelligence capabilities. As a prime example, Microsoft aims to enable the average user to use Excel in conjunction with Power BI to translate regular rows of data into visual, actionable assets.

It's truly refreshing. For once, someone is simplifying Big Data and saying, "Look, it does not have to be this complicated. Human beings understand Big Data naturally, so why should technology complicate what we do naturally without knowing?"

Eli? Are you saying humans are Big Data analyzers? Yes, that is exactly what I am saying. Our nature is to absorb and analyze data of different sources, correlate it and then make decisions based on it. We even absorb structured and unstructured data as well naturally. Here's an example: When driving a car, you are absorbing and analyzing different data sources that are unstructured and unpredictable. First, you need to learn how to drive a car. That comes through a structured data source. Someone took the time to show you how to drive the car, showed you the gas pedal, the brake pedal, how to park, how to turn, etc. You learned the rules of the road from a book. All of this is structured data.

Now while driving, you absorb unstructured data in the form of pedestrians crossing the roads or bikers coming up on the side, pot holes and debris on the road. You also have to factor in weather and adjust your driving based it. The way you drive in snow and rain is different how you drive in sunny, 80-degree weather.

So, when you factor in the weather, road conditions and pedestrian and adjust your driving accordingly, are you not correlating different unstructured data sources which your brain is then visualizing in real time? Is that not Big Data? And if you don't need to be a car scientist to drive a car, you should not be a data scientist to analyze data. Of course, I want to keep things in perspective. Large, complicated data sets require advanced skill sets, and then again, driving a car is not the same as piloting a plane. And the same applies to data scientists.

With that all in mind, consider what Microsoft last week unveiled in its portfolio of products geared towards big Data. They started off with a new version of SQL Server 2014 that has in-memory processing for all workloads. That means that SQL can process workloads up to 30 times faster. That is huge and so is its potential financial impact on business from a profitability stand point. What is the most critical aspect of a sale? I will tell you without fail it is timing. The consumer is likely to change his or her mind if they are given enough time to process something. It has happened to me many times where I was ready to buy something, asked a question and it took the sales rep five minutes to get me an answer: "Sorry sir, my computer is slow today." No, your computer is not slow, your database probably is, and by the time I get my answer, I may not be interested in buying anymore.

Microsoft also announced an appliance-based Big Data analytics solution called Analytics Platform System that unifies SQL Server and Hadoop from a software stand point and leverages Microsoft partners for converged infrastructure on the hardware side.

Of course, no Big Data announcement is complete without a cloud twist of some sort: Microsoft announced Azure Intelligent Systems Service which will allow you to collect and manage data from the Internet of things. This is important because I constantly tell my customers, if the Internet of Things were to take shape and we start seeing sensors, machine-to-machine communication, human-to-machine, and so on, our private datacenters will never be able to keep up with the amount of compute or storage needed for this real-time world. We don't even have the ability, scale or discipline to rapidly build or expand our private data centers to keep up with this real-time world.

As a result, relying on public cloud services for its scale and ability to handle these large sets of data is inevitable and this is where this Azure announcement fits the bill perfectly. Microsoft is positioning Azure as a contender to host these data sets and enable customers to visualize them.

Microsoft's strategy is a smart one: enable the business at the local level with SQL Server on the back end and Office at the front end. Better yet, accelerate adoption by offering appliance-based software, hardware and support and position yourself to take advantage of the Internet of Things with Azure, so that customers that are using your on-premises based solutions will want to migrate to a platform that they are familiar and comfortable with when the time is right.

I definitely like the new Microsoft CEO and his vision. Thoughts? Please share in the comments section.

Posted by Elias Khnaser on 04/21/2014 at 1:10 PM


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