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Strata 2013 attendees to explore big data and the business singularity

Speakers and exhibiting vendors offer an advance glimpse at this week's O'Reilly Strata Conference, including big data's impact on economies of scale.

Strata 2013Image: Jun Seita

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- One of the biggest data management confabs of the year, the 2013 O'Reilly Strata Conference, kicks off this week -- and attendees are sure to hear a great deal about big data, cloud computing, mobile business intelligence, Hadoop and other perhaps justifiably hyped-up topics of the day.

But Strata 2013 attendees can also expect to find plenty of sessions that look beyond the typical to showcase helpful, thought-provoking and sometimes even controversial stories from the information management trenches, according to conference organizers.

Speaking during a recent webcast, Strata Program Chair Alistair Croll explained that in addition to focusing on big data technologies and tactics, this year's Strata conference will also look closely at the role of the design and the ramifications of the continuing march toward ubiquitous computing. He also introduced some conference speakers who offered more glimpses of things to come of Strata 2013.

"The first day of Strata we actually have something that we call the Data Driven Business Day and that is where we take traditional business problems and apply data and new interfaces and ubiquitous computing to solve those problems," Croll said. "So how does HR or finance or operational theory or strategic planning change under the harsh light of data, and how does that really alter how business people make decisions?"

Croll will lead a session at the conference entitled, "The Business Singularity: Why Software Means Cycle Time Trumps Scale," which posits that the size of an organization is not as important as it used to be in the era of big data.

"I think that business is undergoing a significant change because of this particular shift," he said. "Businesses need to understand singularities because they have one of their own with which to contend, due to the rise of big data."

Provocative sessions at Strata 2013

Some of the other conference presenters who spoke during the webcast included Sandra Crucianelli and Angélica Peralta Ramos, data project managers with La Nacion Newspaper in Argentina; Mark Madsen, the founder of Third Nature, a research and consulting firm; and Tim O'Brien, an enterprise architecture consultant and IT book author.

Crucianelli and Ramos will speak at Strata about what it's like to do data-intensive journalism in a country where there are no open data laws like the Freedom of Information Act, and where the government is under no mandate to share information with the public.

Madsen will be at the conference explaining how the rise of big data technology is disrupting the status quo. Big data technology won't be an outright replacement for the traditional data warehouse, he said, but it will mean big changes for the typical technology stack.

O'Brien will be at Strata leading a session about SQL and the future of big data. While there may seem to be a bit of a backlash against traditional SQL technologies underway, O'Brien pointed out that the majority of companies still rely on relational databases. He also pointed out that while big data technologies are important and much-hyped, they're still not widely adopted.

"I'm going to give a presentation that is a little bit of a contrarian view of big data," he said. "But don't mistake that for me attacking big data."

Exhibitors prepare to show off their wares

No technology conference would be complete without a bevy of software vendors talking about their cutting edge products and the state of the IT marketplace -- and Strata 2013 will be no exception.

The CEO of Neo Technology, Emil Eifrem, will be on hand to talk with attendees about Neo4j, his company's NoSQL graph database. He'll also discuss some of strides that graph technology vendors and users have made in recent years.

"Facebook just launched Graph Search, which is one of the most impressive big data architectures we've seen in a long time," Eifrem said in an email interview. "While pretty much every single Web empire in recent memory (Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Twitter) have been built on the foundation of processing graphs, no one so far has been able to do it at that massive scale in real time."

Eifrem explained that the graph landscape -- which includes graph databases like Neo4j and InfiniteGraph, as well as graph compute engines such as Giraph -- has grown up considerably in recent years. While some graph technologies come from independent vendors like Neo, others like FlockDB and Cassovary are the result of work that was initially done by developers at big Internet firms like Twitter and Google.

"The graph ecosystem today is where Hadoop was three years ago," Eifrem said. "Many of the technology problems have been solved inside of the big Web giants, and it is just now getting spun out and made commercially available to the rest of the world. It's a great time to get clued in on these solutions."

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More and more companies are seeking valuable business insights from mountains of fast-flowing data. That's why Strata attendees can also expect to see plenty of analytics software vendors with booths set up in the exhibition hall. One of those vendors -- Revolution Analytics -- will be demonstrating how its Revolution R Enterprise analytics platform works with Hadoop without spending too much effort moving data around.

"With the maturing of Hadoop in the market, people will realize that moving data from Hadoop isn't optimal for efficiency and that they need to keep the data in Hadoop and find ways to leverage the data place," Revolution Analytics' Chief Strategy Officer Michele Chambers said in an email interview. "That means folks will be looking for more tools to use directly against the data, including ETL and analytics tools without having to write custom mappers and reducers in Java."

Chambers said that some of the other data analytics platforms that work directly with information in Hadoop include Hadapt, Datameer and Karmasphere.

Text analytics will also be a major issue of discussion at Strata 2013. For example, Vision Critical -- a company that recruits consumers to answer questions about a particular product or brand, and then analyzes their responses to deliver business insights -- will be there showing off DiscoverText, the open source text analytics technology it acquired last month.

Stuart Shulman, vice president for text analytics, explained that the DiscoverText technology will help Vision Critical and its clients do a better job of analyzing the open-ended questions that panelists are asked during product evaluations.

"Vision Critical acquired DiscoverText so that customers can build custom machine classifiers, which we refer to as 'sifters,' to better organize and access the central themes and the unexpected rare concepts that appear in a large collection of unstructured text," Shulman said in an email interview. "We also bring a robust capability to harvest free and premium social data feeds, which will now augment traditional panel data."

Shulman's advice for Strata 2013 attendees interested in text analytics is pretty straightforward.

"Beware of the black box," he said. "Transparent tools let you better understand the performance (or failure) of an analytic approach. If you don't know what is happening between step A and step Z, you may be reaching inferences that are invalid."

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