Yesterday was a busy day! I flew in to Vegas on Monday night, and arrived too late to visit the registration booth. I met Michael Welter and he watched me eat while we talked about plans for the conference. Later I got a chance to visit with Steve Krandel as well.
I got my registration taken care of the next morning with minimal fuss, had a quick breakfast, and then made my way over to the keynote speech which was going to be given by Steve Lucas and Timo Elliott. It was the first time I remembered hearing of them speaking together, and they confirmed that during the keynote itself. Unfortunately I was going to have to leave the keynote early, as Michael and I had to go review the configuration of the laptops in the room for our training class at 9AM.
The topic on the keynote was big data, which is probably not a surprise. SAP has been using the big data concept to push HANA (to his credit, Steve waited until about 10 minutes into the talk before mentioning that product name ). He also took a more unique approach to demonstrate the growth of big data. In many sessions like this the presenter has focused on a graph that shows the amount of data being generated every week / day / hour / minute of our lives. That’s all well and good, but it doesn’t mean that I have to process all of that data. Who is really going to analyze all of the bytes of every photo ever uploaded to Flikr for example? Instead of doing that, Steve showed a graph based on research from LinkedIn and other sources showing the documented growth of big data jobs. These would be jobs with titles like Data Scientist and so on, and there was a clear growth in this area over the past few years along with a major spike in 2010. Interesting approach.
Steve then introduced the typical “Three V’s” of big data, those being Velocity, Volume, and Variety. At this point Timo stepped in and suggested that a fourth “V was equally important, that being Validity. It doesn’t really matter how fast your data comes in, how much data comes in, or how different the data is if it’s not valid. That’s a fair point, and also serves as a selling point for the data services from SAP which come with various data validation tools. I don’t think that point was lost on the audience.
Steve then went on to show a list of a variety of open source tools used to ingest, process, store, and then analyze big data. There were quite a few tools that I had heard of before (Hadoop, Voldemort, others) but also some tools that I had not yet heard of. Many of those tools are in use in large enterprises today.
However, these open source tools – as great as some of them are – were not designed to integrate with each other. Now we’re starting to see where this talk is going as Steve shows a slide that shows how SAP provides tools for the same four steps (ingest, process, store, and analyze) for handling big data sources. This is about when HANA made her first appearance, I think.
Now that HANA was on the table, Steve was able to start talking about real-time processing of big data. He used an analogy that seemed appropriate at the time but later as I started thinking about it, maybe not so much. He showed a picture of a person looking at traffic on a very busy street. That person wanted to cross the street, and was taking in all of the data points including traffic flow patterns, weather, sounds, smells… basically a huge amount of data was being collected as the person was standing on the side of the road.
Steve then said, would you make your decision to cross the road if your data was five minutes old? What about 60 seconds old? Even five seconds?
The point, obviously, was you needed up to the second, or actual real-time data in order to make that decision. That’s a fair point in a life or death situation like crossing a very busy street, but I’m not sure it works when talking about big data quite as much. For example, what about the volume of the data flow (one of the three V’s mentioned earlier)? If I have been looking at historical data (say for the past 24 hours) then I have some idea of what the traffic flow patterns are going to be. There is not nearly as much traffic at 3AM as there is at 9AM, and thats useful information too. But I am going to maintain that there are times when real-time is important (my speedometer in my car) and times when it’s not as important (fuel gauge). As long as I know my fuel gauge is updated every fifteen minutes that’s accurate enough for me to determine when I need to stop for gas. But I don’t want to have to explain to a traffic policeman that I didn’t really know how fast I was going through that school zone since I had just exited the highway…
The point is, real-time data has a place, but I don’t think that all data has to be real-time data in order to be valuable. (Is that the fifth V?)
At this point I had to leave the keynote, but I know they were webcasting it so perhaps it’s available online for me to go back to later.
Michael and I found that our virtual machine image was working fine, so I think we’re prepared for our training session (which will come later today.) I delivered my first talk of the week about Web Intelligence variables (my first time ever on that subject! ) which seemed to go well. Later I attended a session given by Timo during which he shared a lot of statistics and case studies about analytics, including one about new paint on big boats that was designed to be too slippery for marine life to attach to but had the pleasant side effect of making the boats more fuel efficient as well. It was also good to catch up with Timo again; he says he has now been with Business Objects for twenty years.
At the end of the day I participated in an Ask the Experts session. I shared a table with Tammy Powlas, and we had conference attendees drop by with their questions. The session ran for an hour and a half, and our table always had people there, so I assume we were popular. In fact the last group of folks I talked to went beyond the scheduled closing time and they started to turn out the lights! Eric Vallo did a drive-by but didn’t stop to chat as the table was full.
So what are my thoughts on the event so far?
Everything has been running smoothly and the folks here seem to appreciate the content. WIS made a specific effort to include a lot more “classic” Business Objects content this year so I’m seeing a lot of familiar faces. (Haven’t mentioned Jamie yet, but he’s here, and I expect to see Chris later today. Also had dinner with Alan Mayer (founder of Integra Solutions and now Solid Ground Technologies) last night.) My schedule has kept me fairly busy, but I hope to attend more sessions in the coming days, specifically around mobility. I’ll be back with details.
First post from a new laptop. Browser doesn’t have spell check, so hope everything came out okay…