Big Data: time to believe the hype?

big dataI was in Singapore this week for a big Intel announcement, ably covered by my Reg colleague Timothy Prickett Morgan here. That left me with no news but a bit of wriggle room to consider the bigger picture: just where is Big Data headed, what’s the big deal with Hadoop and is Intel really a software company now?

Well, let’s take the last question first. Yup, Intel has been a software company for several years now actually. It was the $7.6bn acquisition of security giant McAfee which really sealed the deal though and its roadmap for taking security capabilities down to the OS and chip level is taking shape nicely. This week’s big news was that Intel is getting into the Hadoop game with its own distribution of the open source Big Data management framework.

It’s a smart move for Chipzilla, helping to drive extra revenue and boost take-up of its Xeon chips. According to global director of Enterprise Computing, Pat Buddenbaum, however, there was another reason for the move, namely “to instill confidence that Hadoop will remain open”.

“One of the concerns was that its primarily driven by start-ups with venture backed direction, which may fork from the 100 per cent standardised open source path,” he told me.

Intel as open source saviour? Well you can be sure that commercial interests were probably its primary motivator here, and it has no plans to make similar moves for other open source frameworks which may be at risk of forking.

So what about Big Data? Should you believe the hype? Well, although even Buddenbaum admitted it was a bit of a buzz word, the premise behind it is sound. It’s about organisations making sense of the vast quantity of data – be it internal or external, customer-related data – literally inundating their  datacentres, in order to drive business growth and improve agility in realtime. Analysts I spoke to are in agreement that the Big Data trend is a positive one and Intel’s move will benefit the industry. Now it’s up to the OEMs, SIs, and ISVs to play their part and enable the democratisation of Big Data by pushing Hadoop down to the mass market via their products and services.

Don’t hold your breath though. The industry is at such a nascent stage that, according to Intel’s APAC Datacentre Products GM Jason Fedder, it’s not even clear which region if any is ahead of the curve. In the meantime the hype will continue as long as IT vendors (excluding Intel, of course) think they can flog some extra units on the back of this latest buzz word. But I’m pretty confident that in a few years’ time we won’t be talking about Big Data anymore – not because it will have fallen from favour but because it will be ubiquitous.

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MediaTek and the battle of the budget quad cores

mediatek logoLast week Asian chip giant MediaTek launched its latest System on a Chip design, the 28nm quad core MT6589. Before you click on to something more interesting, here’s why it should make anyone with a mobile phone sit up and take notice.

First, MediaTek. It’s probably the most ubiquitous chip company you’ve never heard of. Asia’s biggest and the fourth largest fabless chip company by revenue globally, it lists LG, Huawei, Sony and others among its clients. Until now the firm has largely been focused on the 2G feature phone market, especially in China where demand was huge  until recently, but this announcement sees it really break out into the high end smartphone space.

The analysts I spoke to pretty unanimously agreed that MediaTek and arch rival Qualcomm between them are making a seriously disruptive play in the mobile space. Put simply, MediaTek is making quad core affordable by sticking CPU, GPU and wireless modem on the same SoC, which means the MT6589 will end up in plenty of cheap smartphones as well as some higher end ones.

The result? The big brands are going to have to differentiate on something other than quad core. In effect, as IDC analyst Teck-Zhung Wong told me, it’s going to kick off a whole new round of price competition, which is great for users and will spur the industry forward to keep on innovating, which is good for all stakeholders.

In the background there’s also the tussle between Qualcomm and MediaTek.

Qualcomm is doing amazing things this year and now sits third by revenue in IHS iSuppli’s new ranking of global chip companies. It has already produced a quad core aimed at the same market and has an advantage in its modem capabilities, which even MediaTek admitted to me. So it’s Taiwan versus the US in the battle of the budget quad cores. MediaTek historically has that huge customer base in China to tap and is likely to be faster to market but Qualcomm is catching up and apeing many of MediaTek’s technical advantages and customer relations strategies.

The jury’s out but it will be an interesting 12 months to see who the smartphone winners and losers will be.


Intel marching on in China

intel logoWas in Bangkok with Intel this week to get an update on the firm’s cloud and datacentre plans – well, the two are inextricably linked I suppose.

No news as such but key themes from that part of the business included Big Data; stellar growth in China thanks to the datacentre needs of the large internet firms over there like Tencent and Alibaba; and continued security risks as pointed out by a McAfee representative.

Jason Fedder, Intel’s Asia Pacific datacentre group GM, agreed with the view of EMC and others that China is where some of the most exciting cloud projects are taking place today thanks in part to the lack of legacy infrastructure in organisations there.

But he went further to say that the PRC is really turning itself from being a technology follower to innovator – pointing to Tencent and Alibaba’s efforts to craft their own compute standards under the Project Scorpio banner, and of the state-run telcos ripping out their IBM boxes to replace them with spanking new Xeon kit.

Intel’s been in China for some time and is about as well-supported over there as any foreign company can be given the sometimes harsh business climate afforded non-local companies.

As an example of its growing influence in the country, Fedder explained how Intel is trying to broker a deal to ensure the closed Chinese crypto-standard Trusted Cryptography Module (TCM) is made interoperable with the Trusted Platform Module (TPM) hardware authentication standard its TXT technology is built on.

However, there are some aspects of doing business in China which even Intel can’t get around fully, as IT manager Liam Keating told me. The network infrastructure is still pretty bad outside the Tier 1 and 2 cities in the PRC, a fact made worse by the Great Firewall and meaning challenges in the firm’s smaller field offices and complaints from staff, he said.

To get around this Keating and his team have been forced to look at other ways to improve traffic flow, such as “in-country cacheing” using outsourced cacheing providers, and by modifying app design to reduce the amount of dynamic content.

It’s reassuring to know that even Intel has the same problems experienced by many when it comes to China’s infernal internet infrastructure.