Big Data Revolution

For years now in the digital age I have heard the common refrain, “Content is King”. This idea that the most important thing to have in the age of information is compelling content to bring users to my website from their PC, Tablet, Smartphone and any other device the future holds.  You need to have something exciting. I agree with most of the premise, but in my view content is not king, it’s just a prince. The real king is data and what the companies or governments who own the data intend to do with the data.   We are seeking information.  That is clearly evident with the current industry buzzword “Big Data”.  The amount of data has indeed become “big”.  Data has become so large we easily talk in terms of terabytes  for our local hard drive on our desktops and laptops.  In the cloud all storage is quoted in terabytes or petabytes and we are starting to hear new terms beyond exabytes and now have zettabyte’s and even yottabyte’s. We are entering a time where every movement we make is being recorded and digitized.  It could be our web sites we visit or when we ship at the shopping mall, or drive on the freeway.  The compelling key to all this is can we turn all this Big Data into something useful and actionable.  The view from a far is we can and will and it will cause a consumer revolution unlike anything we have seen before in human history.

The amazing thing is how readily data is available.  The amount of data on the internet is estimated to hit 1 zettabyte in 2015.  Many of you reading this article did not even know the term zettabytye existed (admit it).  Once we add 999 more zettabytes we get to a yottabyte, which will probably happen sooner than we think.  With this amount of data on the public web and the backdrop of the existing NSA leak scandal featuring Edward Snowden should there be reason for concern?  Yes and no.  Our ability to record history will be unparalleled.  In time every activity and event in a person’s lifetime will exist on a thumb drive.  Historians of the future will have little to research or ask.  We are such spontaneous society that when a little pop up happens asking if we accept the terms of whatever the website, we say “yes” with little hesitation.  I predict an entire human life will be recorded and stored on a thumb drive.  From your birth until your death.  Every high emotional event and every crime committed will all be recorded for humanity to witness.

With this type of large amount of data available and an increasing array of information regarding user behavior there remain challenges to get from point A to B.  Though we can collect data across the web using technologies like Hadoop, we still rely on traditional databases to store and analyze data.  It is one thing when you are talking gigabytes or terabytes, but it is a wholly different thing trying to capture, store and analyze data sets in the neighborhood of petabytes and exabytes on a traditional DBMS.  I was fortunate enough to attend a presentation by the late great Microsoft researcher, Jim Gray in 2006, a year before he disappeared off the coast of California.  At the time he was working on a project where you would move a exabyte of data from Geneva to his lab in the Bay Area (when you were Jim Gray you got this type of funding).  The challenge he discovered was not moving the data across the wire, but getting the data on and off the wire.  It turned out it was a limitation in the PCI Bus architecture involving the southbridge  and northbridge.  It turned out they had 500gb limitations.  At this point I could only imagine Jim getting out the duck tape and adding some additional bridges.  Jim Gray was Bid Data before we had a term for it.  If he were still alive he would be enjoying life more than ever.  This highlights but one example of some of the technical issues with Big Data, and since Jim Gray did this project data sets have only become larger and the internet as highlighted above continues with its abundant growth projections.

The reason we tackle this area of Big Data is the promise it can deliver.  There are examples for the future and examples that exist today.  When you do any search on the web the ability of the search engine to quickly identify and recommend to you information is an example of Big Data.  When you go shopping in a website and the website recommends an additional purchase based on prior purchasing patterns, that is an example of Big Data.  The providers of this type of detailed are not satisfied as they want to collect more information about each individual and be better able to service and sell to them.  recently Amazon filed for a patent that was about predictive user behavior.  Identifying what a user will purchase before they have purchased and ship it to them.  Sounds a bit far-fetched but then this is the reality we live in.  We are accruing so much data and we are creating  the ability to analyze the data that makes these far-fetched scenarios not so far-fetched

Like any major trend in technology those who make the big bets early will stand to reap the rewards.  It is still early in the game as the ability to identify and collect the data is maturing, but the real value will be to analyze, decide and execute upon the data.  The opportunities are there.  As much that has been done in the open source community the traditional database players of Oracle, Microsoft and IBM will play a big role and I am sure recognize a big monetary opportunity that will please shareholders down the road.  the one thing I would suggest to all players is extreme focus.  Some of the biggest winners will be the consulting firms that can develop the IP and hire the talent to create robust Big Data practices.  In particular in the short-term as many companies struggle with what all this means

We are still very early in the Big Data revolution.  Though the ideas and vision are there, the tools and expertise necessary to make them happen are still infantile.  As in everything in technology, a technical challenge will be overcome.  In the early days of the PC it was things like memory management and disk compression.  In search it was relevance.  Each step along the way will be met with opportunity for some company or companies to fill a temporary void until a solution is developed.  Those voids are usually temporary opportunities in the billions of dollars.  But in the end the goal will be met in turning Big Data into meaningful date.  Because of it all our lives are set to change, yet again.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann January 28, 2014

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Google Buys Nest for $3.2 Billion

Why comment on this acquisition? Google buys a company known for making your thermostat “smart”. But in so many ways it looks like a smart move and a logical move. Technology has changed our lives in so many ways over the past 25 years, but those first 25 years were confined to devices that housed the technology, the PC, the Smartphone, the tablet etc..Now we are seeing a different trend emerge as the technology now makes its way into everyday devices, many of these devices have been around for a hundred years. Many have not changed a whole lot in those years, but change is now upon them where they will leapfrog in the coming decade what they did in the previous century.  Google’s purchase of Nest will have many ramifications in the industry and across industries and promises to set wheels in motion for both the right reasons and the wrong.

I ditched on the PC a bit in my opening statement, but I should retract my statement a little as it was one of the first example’s of a device several hundred years old being updated, namely the typewriter.   Does anyone remember these devices, which were rather loud as individuals punched the keys. When you made a mistake you needed whiteout. With the advent of the PC things were simplified.   You could easily edit a document. Not only could you now write long documents you could save and file them away without ever having to use a printer if you did not want or need to.  Overnight the college nights spent writing term papers that took forever with the old typewriter were out and a new tool was available that allowed us to easily type, format and print a final document in a professional manner.  The typewriter really had not gone over much fundamental change since Johannes Guttenberg invented the printing press in 1450, it had pretty much been ink and paper for over 500 hundred years

So what is NEST and why should we care? Well if you think of our typewriter example there are a lot of devices in the everyday house that have not undergone a lot of fundamental change since their inception .  NEST basically got in front of two household items: the thermostat and the smoke detector.  Industries are about to go under fundamental changes as technology evolves every device.  Items like refrigerators will be made more efficient by the software, while providing manufactures more information on their use as all devices will be connected to the network. You see examples of this from both old companies like General Electric and new companies, such as the one that was just acquired, NEST.  But beyond efficiency we are really talking about making many old household devices from refrigerators to washers and dryers smart and on the internet grid.

We can analyze the acquisition by Google in a number of different ways, but make no mistake this is about the future of technology and where it is taking us.  Should we be concerned?  Certainly.  The internet has fostered an environment where corporations (and our government) can track user behavior in ways never before imagined.  At first this was limited to what you did on your laptop or desktop.  With the emergence of connected devices we could get to a point where all our actions in the home are tracked and stored.  Any event that occurs in your household can be accessed and turned into a sales and marketing opportunity for some and soon to be many corporations around the globe.  This is why the acquisition of Nest by Google has been met with a degree of skepticism.  We already as a society are a bit freaked out by the Edward Snowden and NSA leaks.  Now companies want even more of our private data.  If all this behavioral information is really about you, is it yours and should you get a kickback in dollars?

Fundamentally our right to privacy is being challenged.  It is happening softly as we browse the web and purchase connected devices, but longer term could have very hard and serious ramifications.  Any web page you type in is captured information.  There are benefits.  I enjoy when I go to Amazon that it knows what books I am interested in or music and offers up suggestions and deals.  The price you pay is you do not own that information, you have given that over to Google, Amazon or Twitter.  As we have seen when national security becomes a significant and real issue the government can come calling in a clandestine method.  Does Google in an effort to aid the government in a terrorist investigation hand over specific information to that case or just dump a bunch of information for the FBI or NSA to pursue?  Now that privacy is about to be further challenged by our thermostat and smoke detectors.

What in the end makes this acquisition both daunting and exciting is the disruptive nature of technology.  Google is entering an area where the traditional players were the utility companies and the old big American corporation, like General Electric.  For the utility companies this is upside as a more efficient method of monitoring and distributing heat and electricity means they will not have to build power plants as often, a huge capital expense.  Of recent times given the every increasing demand for energy something any utility would love to delay or forego.  On the opposite side it is a scary time.  A GE does not want to get into a fire fight with Google.  Google is a disruptive company which wins by changing the existing battlefield.  No one wants to fight on Google’s battlefield, it is an effort in futility.  As always it is driven by the need to collect information, which fuels its search business.  How does GE compete?  Try and buy Bing from Microsoft?  When does Microsoft get into this game? Facebook? Twitter?  The winner in the end will be consumers, but as noted earlier it comes at the cost of privacy.

My expectation is in the future you will see more acquisitions like this one, where companies enter into new industry with the intent of disrupting an industries existing business models.  Could an automotive company become a target? Maybe.  Appliance companies? Sure.  At the end of the day it is about where can I get access to more information about user behavior.  As every device gets update and connected more information will become available.  It will make our lives much more convenient, but like all things it will come at a cost.  The Google acquisition of Nest is just the beginning of a much larger play and the only thing guaranteed is it will take billions of dollars to play.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann January 17, 2013

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Google Chromebooks Momentum

The Google Chromebook has been around for a few years now, but lately it seems to be gaining some traction in the market place.  It is showing up in Best Buy and other retail outlets.  It’s sales are steadily increasing.  There are Chromebooks winning “Best of” categories at CES.  They are being recognized and targeted by competitors, as recently as part of Microsoft’s “Scroogle” campaign they felt it necessary to address their perceived inferiority of Chromebooks.  Not a big fan of these Mark Penn negative spin driven ads, but then I am not on Steve Ballmer’s Harvard buddy list.  The idea behind a Chromebook is we do about ninety percent of our work on the internet why not just have a connected device with a browser? It is a new category of laptop, where technology has taken us in a slightly different direction based on innovations over the past decade.  Chromebooks are coming of age and getting attention, moving beyond cute gadget to contender.

I had the chance to use a Chromebook once a year ago.  It struck me as a fairly simple device.  What is immediately evident is that on the home screen there is pretty much nothing.  You launch your Chrome Browser and off you go.  Having been a Windows guy my entire life this was a bit hard for me to overcome.  Despite the fact that on a Windows machine about 90% of the icons that appear I never even clicked on.  It just seemed so barren to me. Perhaps secretly I like clutter?  The Chromebook is a Google Device, so not surprisingly you are directed to Google products, like Google Docs or Google Drive.  If you are an Microsoft Excel fanatic this device with no hard drive is not for you.  Even a PowerPoint guru would find this a hard sell.  Probably the one product from Google that holds up OK is the Word Processor.  Your experience with a Chromebook from an application perspective is in the cloud, but as more and more traditional desktop apps become cloud enable the appeal of a Chromebook will improve.  My first glimpse into a Chromebook was kind of a “not for me” experience.  But as technology proves over and over again, times change

Google has done a very effective job in attracting schools to use their platform.  My children all use Google Docs and Calendar for their school homework.   A large part is driven by price as a Chromebook retails for between $200-$300.  I honestly do not know how schools budget outside of the fact that my taxes pay for them.  But a key component on particular for schools is price.  When you have a Chromebook and all the Google cloud apps you have a pretty cost-effective financial model that will be attractive to academic institutions.  Technology is being introduced at very young ages in schools and as is often the case people stick with technology purchases based on what they know.

The laptop market is changing as all laptops regardless of OS have dropped in price.  Because of price, functionality and usability the Google Chrome platform has become much more appealing that what competitors offered in the Windows world.  Given the increasingly competitive landscape expect prices to continue downward to less than $100 in the not so distant future.  The price reduction will be driven by OEM’s offering both Chrome and Windows.  This will also impact Apple as they will have to reduce prices.  In the end the winners will be consumers as they will have lower prices and choice.  If the DOJ had understood the competitive landscape and nature of tech they would have foregone the lawsuit against Microsoft.  Things move to quick in technology and what is understood one day is misunderstood the next.

One of the negative critiques of the Chromebook is that it requires connectivity to the internet in order to be of any useful use.  In the short-term, sure I understand the point.  Not everyone is connected via carrier network or near a Wi-Fi hotspot.  Longer term I believe that will be a non issue as we will have ubiquitous connectivity where ever we are whenever we want it.  From Google’s perspective that is a bet they are making and I would say it does not to appear to be a very risky bet.  It is betting the obvious when you have a Royal Flush, you have to go all in.   That being said until we are always connected there is a window of opportunity for the competition to steal Google’s thunder with an always connected device that has more features and functionality and works offline.  First in does not always yield all the rewards, ask MySpace.

At the time of this writing some reports have Chromebooks seizing ten percent of the laptop market.  Unless all ten percent came from Apple this is a pretty significant development.  For the last 20 plus years ninety percent of the market has always been Microsoft Windows.  This will signify in the shift in the market as there now exists another low-cost laptop choice that is able to compete.  The good news for consumers is there are choices with different operating systems at different price points.  This is how a market is supposed to work and the greater the competition the more pressure that will be put of pricing.  How the different OS’ are bundled and priced with hardware impacts not just consumer prices but the various vendors.  Apple makes money from the sale of hardware.  Microsoft receives revenue from the licensing of Windows.  Google does not directly profit from Chrome but uses Chrome to drive search revenue to Google, which is their primary way of making money.

Google is often criticized as a one trick pony.  They only make money off of search.  But where I give them credit is they keep coming up with news ways for you to access their search engine and search.  They started as a url that people learned to use and search from any PC or laptop.  Then mobile devices became a heavy focus.  They realized they needed a browser to compliment search.  Then they have now combined the browser with hardware to create a new category of laptop to drive more search.  On the old growth curve ChromeBooks are steadily moving towards their inflection point.  It is now up to the competition to prevent them from getting there.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann January 9, 2014

CES 2014 – Wearable Technology

It seems as we get ready for this years Consumer Electronics Show, that we are entering a new phase of technology.  The buzz this year seems to be around a new emerging category of technology, namely wearable technology.  From the pre-show buzz it sounds like we should hear a lot coming out of CES this year from new Google Glass applications, to smart watches, virtual reality, and maybe even the classic dinner fork.  It seems a foregone conclusion that this years event will signal a launch pad for this category to go towards becoming mainstream in the modern world.  It is time for a new category as the Smartphone and Tablet are in a mature phase, where it’s no longer just cool to have but expected, meaning they are one step closer to being boring.

It seems all movements forward in technology are driven by limitations in what is currently popular.  The move to laptops was driven by the fact that desktops were tied to a power outlet and users had a need to take their productivity with them.  Then as laptops got smaller we wanted something even smaller and netbooks evolved to ease our troubles.  However all these devices were limited by battery supply and a constant need to find a location with an electrical outlet.  We also need somewhere to sit and place our laptop or netbook.  Thus the advent of Smartphones and Tablets, and a bonus, no keyboard.  We could access information where ever we stood, provided we had connectivity.   The limitation now?  We still need to hold the device and use our hands.

It was with this backdrop that the first device to get notoriety was Google Glass.  They actually looked ok.  I was expecting some huge visor of a person’s forehead, but they were actually kind of sleek.  I can already see that early on these new devices will create some of the social confusion that mobile phones with ear buds  did, the “Are you talking to me?” moment.  No, they actually do not even know that you exist (that is kind of rough reality for some people).  The concept of Google Glass is interesting, it at times seems like you could be in your own world, kind of like some of the bulkier Virtual Reality devices you see attached to people’s head,  however as you walk through town you more or less can interact with what is around you and get more information on things you may see and want to know more about.  Some places have already gone as far as banning them.  The Five Point in Seattle, WA has done this.  It is a dive bar and people go there to get drunk and lose themselves.  I can understand not wanting Google Glass to record them, this is a sign of legal battles to come.

The first Smartwatch I saw was over a decade ago when Microsoft Research came up with the Microsoft Spotwatch, it was connected via FM (as in you r radio).   It could do stuff like check the weather, but it was big and ugly.   In 2013 we started to hear a lot of talk about a new breed of SmartWatches.  At the forefront was the Apple iWatch, which was conceptual at the time and despite the rumors still has yet to be released.  Samsung has since released  its own watch which is available through carrier stores.  Having seen them they have some cool features.  The gentleman at the AT&T store I was at had one, but was not wearing at the time and discussed some of the features.  You can receive your texts via your watch.  Check the weather.   I can see this is going to happen and it will reinvent the whole idea of what a watch will be.  The advantage of having a watch that is connected will be having perfect time.  No longer having to reset your watch as it may be running fast or slow, your time is managed by the U>S Naval Observatory in Annapolis, MD. Beyond time we still need a killer purpose for the watch, but then perfect time may be enough.

An area I am rather excited about is fitness technology.  Wearable devices that in time will help manage our daily fitness.  Tell us when we are doing good and not so good.  We could have our bodies monitored throughout the day.  You have devices that help you train as well, like FitStar being promoted by former NFL great Tony Gonzalez.  A device that helps you workout and stay motivated, not sure about Tony yelling at me but it may work.  Going back to our previous theme of watched, Addidas has a Smart Watch that acts as a personal assistant when you are running tracking things like distance, heart rate, time etc..I can foresee a lot of  devices and services coming in the near future to aid and assist us in living healthier lifestyles.  Accommodating our increasingly mobile lifestyle.

A final area that wearable technology will need to conquer is our vanity.  The reality is most people do not want a geeky gadget.  In order to feel good we want to look good.  In the end we are all slaves to fashion so why should wearable tech be any different.  The idea of wearable technology will become mainstream when it is on the cover of GQ Magazine  or Heidi Klum starts analyzing and commenting on fashion technology on “Project Runway”.  This is wear I think Apple with its dedication to sleek and beautiful design can take a leadership role .  Though it is one thing to make a pretty phone another thing to make accessories that you want to wear.  Technology is a cross-section and intersection of industry as it impacts every business model it touches.  It has influenced design in the back room where ideas are conceptualized, not it will impact us in what we see and wear.

The Consumer Electronics Show this year promises to have a lot of buzz around this new and emerging market segment, which should make for an exciting and entertaining show.  CES is not always a success.  One year the buzz was 3D television, which struck me as not a winner.  Most of the US population had either recently purchased a Plasma or LED television and were not interested in buying a new TV.  Let alone having to wear those awful 3D glasses.  Wearable technology is just a natural extension of where we have already been, dating back to the mainframe.  It will push are lives into new areas we have not explored and hopefully make us better.  While at the same time freeing up our lives to do more of the things that we want, to make our lives more fulfilling.   Welcome to 2014, it is going to be the year to step out in your digital clothes.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann January 3, 2014