Amazon CTO: Big Data? An unfortunate, 'catchy phrase'

Beyond relational versus NoSQL

The Power of One Infographic

Technology Frontiers “I love that the world is data intensive... unfortunately, it’s called 'Big Data',” says Amazon’s chief technology officer Werner Vogels, who went on to describe BD as "a nice catchy phrase".

Did the CTO of a company in the top tier of those generating and storing billions of objects through retail sales and cloud service just punch a hole in Big Data hype?

At last count, about a year ago, Amazon’s S3 cloud storage service was home to 1.7 trillion objects, the giant tells The Reg.

Amazon, Facebook, Twitter and Google are the pioneers of Big Data, or so we’re told. They are the web-scale operations that mere corporate mortals can only aspire to follow when it comes to the completeness of the their understanding of customers and the speed of change.

Separately and together they surf Big Data, leaving lesser enterprise vendors struggling with more and more data from more and more customers who are interacting more frequently - customers who are more mobile and less loyal then ever before.

Speaking at The Economist's Technology Frontiers conference in London on Tuesday morning, Vogels indicated the Big Data idea has become a over-simplified: adding that the prevailing “definition” of Big Data is trying to understand who your customer is and what they are doing by collecting more data to build a “finely grained result.”

That’s certainly a definition subscribed to by the tech makers punting relational and NoSQL databases and the business intelligence tools and server hardware that power it.

Many of the NoSQL databases actually came out of operations like Facebook and Twitter and now try to sell you consulting and support services on the back of that. The response of vendors like Oracle is to pump you full or iron, cores and caching - 'roids from the big boys.

As ever with tech, “the tech” is just part of the bigger story and people, process and culture are also important. Simply buying more Oracle or Business Objects licences doesn’t suddenly turn you into a Big Data player if you don’t know how to use what you've got or adapt your game.

Vogels is clearly a big believer in the power of data. He has to be: he's the CTO of one of the web’s biggest retailers - the one Oracle and others are trying to beat on cloud. He just seems to have a problem with the way the phrase the phrase “Big Data” has been hijacked, abused and over-used.

According to the CTO, data is the raw material you need to help you understand your customers, but you also need what Vogels calls a “complete pipeline”. That means looking at how you ingest, store and organise data, ensure quality of data and share it with those who need it. Suddenly, this “Big Data” sounds familiar - like data warehousing.

But wait, this isn’t about doing things the same old way and you must use your data pipeline to facilitate experimentation. Even big enterprises must experiment, says the CTO. Enterprises must quickly develop products and services, learn what’s working and what’s not, rapidly improve those products that work and dump those that aren’t working.

Why biz fat cats need to more like skinny, scared startups

“You can't afford to have a three- or five-year cycle to bring a product to market because you might fail,” says Vogels. He said he reckoned that enterprise needs to become like startups, because it faces the same risk of extinction on the web. “Enterprises are being confronted with the same level of uncertainty that startups normally enjoy,” said the CTO.

Vogels inevitably pushes the cloud as something to help in this, allowing enterprises to scale their compute and to strip out waste because they no longer need to buy and provision the servers for their experiments and tests.

But as with “Big Data”, success doesn’t come by simply playing buzzword bingo. It comes from adapting culturally, not dumping all your compute cycles on Amazon’s servers. It comes down to people and culture - switching mindsets.

“If you look at cloud as just another data centre you will lose out. If you want to exploit this, you have to believe in the system itself. We spend a large amount of time with customers getting to a different architectural mindset,” Vogels says. “Just by switching mindsets and thinking about ‘it’ differently requires revolutionary thinking."

That can mean re-architecting your application or processes from running on 20 servers for hours on end to 200 servers for just a single hour, he said.

Change: Yeah, we've heard that one before...

Of course, enterprise users, who unlike Amazon are burdened with years of legacy technology and bear the scars of years of political fights to affect change will be sympathetic yet skeptical. They have heard the clarion call to change plenty of times from the tech companies and service providers who want their data and dollars.

According to Vogels, though, the cultural change has already started; that’s thanks to a generation of people who’ve grown up using Software as a Service (SaaS), BYOD users who are used to “friendly” technology interfaces and using technology without the authorisation of central IT... These are the users who buy services such as Salesforce on expenses on their credit cards.

The sort of change he is talking about could empower embattled IT types who are finally allowed to indulge their passion for technology instead of swinging an axe.

“Ten years ago a CIO told you they wanted a seat at the board but he was a cost cutter who reported to the CFO," Vogels reckons. "Now he can be an innovator. The only way he could cut costs was by using a single vendor. Now they can have two to three CRM systems, including Salesforce, targeted to a particular business unit – things they could not do before.”

Technology without the hype? That's a change to believe in. ®

The Essential Guide to IT Transformation

More from The Register

next story
Stick a 4K in them: Super high-res TVs are DONE
4,000 pixels is niche now... Don't say we didn't warn you
BBC goes offline in MASSIVE COCKUP: Stephen Fry partly muzzled
Auntie tight-lipped as major outage rolls on
iPad? More like iFAD: We reveal why Apple fell into IBM's arms
But never fear fanbois, you're still lapping up iPhones, Macs
Philip K Dick 'Nazi alternate reality' story to be made into TV series
Amazon Studios, Ridley Scott firm to produce The Man in the High Castle
Amazon Reveals One Weird Trick: A Loss On Almost $20bn In Sales
Investors really hate it: Share price plunge as growth SLOWS in key AWS division
Bose says today is F*** With Dre Day: Beats sued in patent battle
Music gear giant seeks some of that sweet, sweet Apple pie
There's NOTHING on TV in Europe – American video DOMINATES
Even France's mega subsidies don't stop US content onslaught
You! Pirate! Stop pirating, or we shall admonish you politely. Repeatedly, if necessary
And we shall go about telling people you smell. No, not really
Too many IT conferences to cover? MICROSOFT to the RESCUE!
Yet more word of cuts emerges from Redmond
prev story


Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Seven Steps to Software Security
Seven practical steps you can begin to take today to secure your applications and prevent the damages a successful cyber-attack can cause.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.