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iTech Toronto 2017: Get ready for big data & the cloud 2.0

IT experts share how to effectively incorporate big data and the cloud into your business.

Cloud and big data aren’t ‘coming.’ They’re already here — and most businesses are likely considering moving more to the cloud to deal with the shifting IT environment.

Just like Napster changed the music industry forever, the “genie is out of the bottle” and we can’t go back, said Andrew Ford, Client Solutions Specialist with Global Knowledge, in a presentation during iTech Toronto 2017, a Canadian IT conference focusing on infrastructure, cloud, security and mobility held on May 9 in Mississauga.

Your technology strategy is the new IT

“Business strategy today depends on a technology strategy — if you don’t understand technology, you don’t have a business strategy,” Ford said.

“This is a big challenge — it will stop a lot of business leaders in their tracks.” Often, they don’t Andrew Ford speaks at iTech Toronto 2017 understand the technology they’re using or how it works, yet they’re trying to write a business plan that involves technology.

However, IT is no longer responsible for IT, said Ford. To some degree, it can be said that IT is now the responsibility of a consultant, cloud provider or the responsibility of a managed service provider. “The infrastructure required is no longer being built by the IT department,” he said. “Cloud providers can build, scale and secure better than the average company.”

Changes & challenges of the cloud

Moving to the cloud is easy, but running a business in the cloud is hard.

“Making use of the cloud to improve your business is a challenge,” said Ford. You can’t just dump stuff in the ‘cloud’ as a one-step technology strategy. “You’re now running in ‘cloud,’ but you’re not really becoming a technology business.”

As most companies know, accessing big data in a way that provides insights into your organization takes talent, and working to provide a better experience for clients and customers takes ingenuity.

“We’ve got to unload a lot of what we do that is not visible,” said Ford. That means turning to a third-party provider for baseline IT such as email, Internet access and device management.

Businesses can then focus on innovation by developing projects that add value to the company and creating a competitive advantage.

Part of the trick is knowing what can go in the cloud — and what probably shouldn’t. Any I/O intensive apps such as billing and CRM, or apps with sensitive data, are difficult to put in the cloud, said Craig Snow, Senior Architect of Data Centre Solutions with Huawei Technologies in a session called ‘Fast & Furious.’ Huawei, mainly known as a smartphone provider, is also a strategic partner with all major Canadian carriers, which are running on Huawei equipment.

Craig Snow speaks at iTech Toronto 2017

Craig Snow speaks at iTech Toronto 2017.

But other tech, such as operational and management systems, could be moved over to the cloud — and perhaps should be, considering the shift in where company data is stored.

“We’re seeing a challenge with what happens in data centres,” said Snow. “As the amount of data has grown, data centres have had to get larger.” We’re also seeing an evolution from spinning disk to solid state technologies.

Snow further explained the questions that many companies face. “Can your data centre handle all that equipment? Do you have the power, cooling, floor space and people to look after that kind of explosive growth?”

Humans & machines combine forces to deal with big data

Big data is touching every company, every day. So it’s imperative to find the right people and systems that are capable of managing the information and making sense out of the data. “Somebody’s got to store all that data – and then look at all that data…to do patterning,” said Snow. “Something’s got to crunch those numbers,” Snow explained.

Chris Pratt speaks at iTech Toronto 2017

Chris Pratt speaks about the emerging technology of cognitive computing.

In a later discussion on how to be a market disruptor, Chris Pratt, Strategic Initiatives Executive with IBM Canada, discussed how IT pros are at a point where they feel totally overwhelmed by the sheer amount of data being collected. “We have to find a way to get through these complexity limitations.”

Why now? “The amount of data we’re subjected to from pre-birth that gathers around us and around the things we do is growing at an incredible rate,” Pratt said. “We’re finding our ability to assimilate what we see in front of us and turn it into something meaningful is getting harder. It’s not that there’s too much of it – there are too many different types of it, and it’s not going to change or slow down.”

That’s where cognitive computing has a role to play; machines will have an awareness of where they are and what they do. (We’re already seeing that in self-braking vehicles). Humans and intelligent systems will work together, said Pratt, in a “cognitive feedback loop.”

iTech Toronto 2017 trade show floor

iTech trade show and exhibition floor, featuring live demos and networking.

So how do you lay a foundation for cognitive computing?

Accept that hybrid cloud is the future, said Pratt. Start thinking differently about design, and start thinking about open collaboration by embracing open technologies (such as the Hyperledger Project, OpenPower, Spark, NoSQL and Containers) and innovating with partner ecosystems.

He also suggests we start thinking about big data more actively, and on a bigger scale. “I think we’ve passed big data — we’ve arrived at humungous data,” said Pratt.

Many companies aren’t quite there yet, as Pratt pointed to a recent survey from IDC Canada found that 84 per cent of small businesses aren’t ready for big data, while 75 per cent of mid-sized businesses and 63.5 per cent of large enterprises aren’t either.

“Is your infrastructure ready for it?” Moving to the next level means designing around your data and putting the technology strategy first so you can reach those insights ahead of the competition.

Missed iTech Toronto? You can still register for the next iTech conference stops, in Montreal on June 12 and in Ottawa on June 13. Bell MTS Data Centres expert, Bill Yaeger, will be speaking about network downtime, the challenges companies face and the associated costs to your business.

Up Next: Get a sneak preview of Bill Yaeger’s iTech session.

Understand the true costs of network downtime

Vawn Himmelsbach

Vawn Himmelsbach is a freelance writer and editor based in Toronto. She has covered technology and travel for 15 years, for media outlets such as, The Globe & Mail, Metro News, ITBusiness, PCworld Canada and Computerworld Canada. She also spent three years living abroad and working as an Asian correspondent.

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