Tag Archives: big data integration

Is Big Data Good or Evil? Maybe Neither?

I just finished reading a great article from one of my former colleagues, Bill Franks. He makes a strong argument that Big Data is not inherently good or evil anymore than money is. What makes Big Data (or any data as I see it) take on a characteristic of good or evil is how it is used. Same as money, right? Here’s the rest of Bill’s article.

Bill framed his thoughts within the context of a discussion with a group of government legislators who I would characterize based on his commentary as a bit skittish of government collecting Big Data. Given many recent headlines, I sincerely do not blame them for being concerned. In fact, I applaud them for being cautious.

At the same time, while Big Data seems to be the “type” of data everyone wants to speak about, the scope of the potential problem extends to ALL data. Just because a particular dataset is highly structured into a 20 year old schema that does not exclude it from misuse. I believe structured data has been around for so long people are comfortable with (or have forgotten about) the associated risks.

Any data can be used for good or ill. Clearly, it does not make sense to take the position that “we” should not collect, store and leverage data based on the notion someone could do something bad.

I suggest the real conversation should revolve around access to data. Bill touches on this as well. Far too often, data, whether Big Data or “traditional”, is openly accessible to some people who truly have no need based on job function.

Consider this example – a contracted application developer in a government IT shop is working on the latest version of an existing application for agency case managers. To test the application and get it successfully through a rigorous quality assurance process the IT developer needs a representative dataset. And where does this data come from? It is usually copied from live systems, with personally identifiable information still intact. Not good.

Another example – Creating a 360 degree view of the citizens in a jurisdiction to be shared cross-agency can certainly be an advantageous situation for citizens and government alike. For instance, citizens can be better served, getting more of what they need, while agencies can better protect from fraud, waste and abuse. Practically any agency serving the public could leverage the data to better serve and protect. However, this is a recognized sticky situation. How much data does a case worker from the Department of Human Services need versus that of a law enforcement officer or an emergency services worker need? The way this has been addressed for years is to create silos of data, carrying with it, its own host of challenges. However, as technology evolves, so too should process and approach.

Stepping back and looking at the problem from a different perspective, both examples above, different as they are, can be addressed by incorporating a layer of data security directly into the architecture of the enterprise. Rather than rely on a hodgepodge of data security mechanisms built into point applications and silo’d systems, create a layer through which all data, Big or otherwise, is accessed.

Big Data - Good or Evil

Through such a layer, data can be persistently and/or dynamically masked based on the needs and role of the user. In the first example of the developer, this person would not want access to a live system to do their work. However, the ability to replicate the working environment of the live system is crucial. So, in this case, live data could be masked or altered in a permanent fashion as it is moved from production to development. Personally identifiable information could be scrambled or replaced with XXXXs. Now developers can do their work and the enterprise can rest assured that no harm can come from anyone seeing this data.

Further, through this data security layer, data can be dynamically masked based on a user’s role, leaving the original data unaltered for those who do require it. There are plenty of examples of how this looks in practice, think credit card numbers being displayed as xxxx-xxxx-xxxx-3153. However, this is usually implemented at the application layer and considered to be a “best practice” rather than governed from a consistent layer in the enterprise.

The time to re-think the enterprise approach to data security is here. Properly implemented and deployed, many of the arguments against collecting, integrating and analyzing data from anywhere are addressed. No doubt, having an active discussion on the merits and risks of data is prudent and useful. Yet, perhaps it should not be a conversation to save or not save data, it should be a conversation about access

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Avoiding Big Data, and Big Data Integration Confusion

We discussed Big Data and Big Data integration last month, but the rise of Big Data and the systemic use of data integration approaches and technology continues to be a source of confusion.  As with any evolution of technology, assumptions are being made that could get many enterprises into a great deal of trouble as they move to Big Data.

Case in point: The rise of big data gave many people the impression that data integration is not needed when implementing big data technology.  The notion is, if we consolidate all of the data into a single cluster of servers, than the integration is systemic to the solution.  Not the case.

As you may recall, we made many of the same mistakes around the rise of service oriented architecture (SOA).  Don’t let history repeat itself with the rise of cloud computing.  Data integration, if anything, becomes more important as new technology is layered within the enterprise.

Hadoop’s storage approach leverages a distributed file system that maps data wherever it sits in a cluster.  This means that massive amounts of data reside in these clusters, and you can map and remap the data to any number of structures.  Moreover, you’re able to work with both structured and unstructured data.

As covered in a recent Read Write article, the movement to Big Data does indeed come with built-in business value.  “Hadoop, then, allows companies to store data much more cheaply. How much more cheaply? In 2012, Rainstor estimated that running a 75-node, 300TB Hadoop cluster would cost $1.05 million over three years. In 2008, Oracle sold a database with a little over half the storage (168TB) for $2.33 million – and that’s not including operating costs. Throw in the salary of an Oracle admin at around $95,000 per year, and you’re talking an operational cost of $2.62 million over three years – 2.5 times the cost, for just over half of the storage capacity.”

Thus, if these data points are indeed correct, Hadoop clearly enables companies to hold all of their data on a single cluster of servers.  Moreover, this data really has no fixed structure.  “Fixed assumptions don’t need to be made in advance. All data becomes equal and equally available, so business scenarios can be run with raw data at any time as needed, without limitation or assumption.”

While this process may look like data integration to some, the heavy lifting around supplying these clusters with data is always a data integration solution, leveraging the right enabling technology.  Indeed, consider what’s required around the movement to Big Data systems additional stress and you’ll realize why strain is placed upon the data integration solution.  A Big Data strategy that leverages Big Data technology increases, not decreases, the need for a solid data integration strategy and a sound data integration technology solution.

Big Data is a killer application that most enterprises should at least consider.  The business strategic benefits are crystal clear, and the movement around finally being able to see and analyze all of your business data in real time is underway for most of the Global 2000 and the government.  However, you won’t achieve these objectives without a sound approach to data integration, and a solid plan to leverage the right data integration technology.

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