Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Saturday, December 3, 2022

Cloud Computing Tames Big Data to Extract Value 

<img style="float: left;" src="" alt="" width="95" height="121" />Cloud computing is much more than just a bunch of third-party servers running at a remote location so businesses can stop spending money on computer hardware. Cloud computing, or more specifically high performance computing in the cloud (HPC cloud), is an opportunity for a single enterprise or an entire industry to fundamentally transform their business model.

For years, I’ve been telling anyone who would listen that cloud computing is much more than just a bunch of third-party servers running at a remote location so businesses can stop spending money on computer hardware. I have always maintained cloud computing, or more specifically high performance computing in the cloud (HPC cloud), is an opportunity for a single enterprise or an entire industry to fundamentally transform their business model.

Business transformation is a difficult concept for anyone to wrap their head around. And linking it to Cloud computing simply makes one’s eyes glaze over more. But that’s probably because these conversations focus too much on what Cloud Computing is, rather than what it enables.

So here goes… Here’s my explanation of what cloud Computing, or HPC cloud, can do for most businesses, manufacturers especially. HPC cloud tames big data. Not only that, it extracts true value from big data to benefit the enterprise. The value comes from actionable intelligence and better situational awareness that ultimately helps the enterprise make better informed decisions.

Big data is a buzz term with many meanings right now. Digital manufacturers, however, understand big data and its problems because data – lots of it – is central to manufacturing processes. In previous columns, I’ve discussed how HPC cloud technology can take just minutes to crunch the enormous data volumes directly involved in every digital manufacturing phase from concept, to modeling and production.

Digital manufacturers that have incorporated HPC cloud technology into their core manufacturing processes have seen their businesses become faster, more agile and efficient. Their business transformations have just begun, however. In such cases, the cloud has tamed only one part of the big data challenge. But bigger (near) real-time problems abound, which means the rewards in tackling them are equally large.

That’s because most organizations are drowning in data, and like the boiling frog story (i.e., the widespread anecdote describing a frog slowly being boiled alive), organizations don’t even know the data level is rising. For most businesses, big data is flowing into and out of the enterprise in many forms and many ways.

What Else Can HPC Cloud Do?

The majority of digital manufacturers that have embraced HPC cloud technology employ it directly to their core manufacturing processes. For the vast majority, this is the extent of HPC cloud implementation in manufacturing. While transformational, these applications just scratch the surface.

A much smaller group has begun using the technology for supply chain optimization. They track the thousands of items, which must arrive at the manufacturing facility just in time for assembly. By tracking the movement of components, the weather, geographic events, social unrest and more, these highly automated assembly lines keep running smoothly.

These digital manufacturers are extracting true value from the supply chain. By knowing when product shipments could be delayed based on ocean carrier data or other information sources for inventory in-transit (e.g., crate or rack tipping, shock, temperature, etc.), they receive value from knowing in advance if the supply chain performance would impact current customer orders, the sales pipeline, service level agreements and more.

Immediately outside the core manufacturing processes, think of all the different business operations within your company that generate data: financial transactions, website clicks, product shipments, incoming parts delivery, dissatisfied returns, online customer reviews, equipment sensors status, quality control, feedback systems…and the list goes on. These data are streaming through the organization – coming in and going out – in significant volumes at varying velocities and in wide varieties of formats.

Commonly referred to as the 3V’s of big data (volume, velocity and variety), this fire hose of data contains information of tremendous value to the organization if it can be managed, correlated and analyzed in (near) real-time. Sure, many companies have an employee monitoring their equipment operations, and another logging returned product complaints. But cloud computing allows the automation and optimization of these processes too, while also correlating them to help find problems and even recommend solutions.

These data streams will only become more torrential as new sensors and monitoring systems come online. A company simply can’t keep adding more and more in-house computing resources to deal with the pending onslaught. HPC cloud is the only technology that can securely scale to handle these data streams. Just as importantly, the technology is inherently elastic, expanding and contracting to meet the changing demands of seasonal and economic cycles.

Next -- Where's the Value? >

Where’s the Value?

In discussing the value of HPC cloud, we often focus on its ability to manage, archive and process big data. And these are valid capabilities. Too often, however, organizations capture their data and store it on servers, but they do little if anything with the data. As noted earlier, the cloud gives companies an unmatched opportunity to analyze data in extraordinarily complex ways to cull intelligence from it. That’s where the opportunity for business transformation begins.

For digital manufacturers, the advantages of leveraging cloud computing to run core manufacturing processes are obvious. But manufacturers, and other organizations, must think beyond their core operations to every activity that generates or consumes data. There’s no sense in going to the trouble of collecting and archiving all that data unless advanced business analytics are applied to gain insights into products, customers, components and operations that can be acted upon in some way to improve all stakeholders.

Moreover, simply buying big-data technology won’t deliver value to an organization. The esteemed Harvard Business Review recently addressed this issue.

“Investments in analytics can be useless, even harmful, unless employees can incorporate that data into complex decision making,” the Review notes. At this very moment, “there’s an odds-on chance that someone in your organization is making a poor decision on the basis of information that was enormously expensive to collect.”

In addition to having an agile business model in place, the key to taming big data with cloud computing is to ensure that an enterprise train employees and executive management about data value and analytics so they become data-savvy knowledge workers instead of today’s “well-intentioned skeptics.” This allows the enterprise to be better equipped to leverage information, and enables their IT team to spend more time helping the company as a whole derive value from data and less time answering simple data support questions.

The old computer adage still remains true: “Garbage in is garbage out.” Today, we might rephrase the adage some: “Big data in real-time—no matter how it’s analyzed—needs to be complemented with big judgment and the will to act.”

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