Big data strains small-business bandwidth

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Just as enterprise tech has always trickled down to smaller businesses, so too are the benefits and challenges of big data

Sooner or later, small businesses encounter many of the same challenges big businesses face -- and it's happening now, big time, with rampant data growth. You'd think the burden of the data explosion would fall primarily on storage infrastructure. In fact, for many small businesses, WAN bandwidth is proving to be the biggest bottleneck.

Storage vendors seem to be doing a great job staying on top of the demand for ever larger data densities and software to allow you to make more efficient use of it (think dedupe and intelligent thin provisioning). But for the most part, you can't say the same about the telcos and ISPs providing the wide area networks we're using to acquire and share that data. This is particularly a problem in rural areas, where many small high-tech companies have decided to locate themselves for cost and lifestyle reasons.

A case in point

Recently, I started a long-term technology planning discussion with a client that's dealing with this very challenge. It's a small, growing engineering firm that boils down raw geophysical data into structured data that can be consumed by customers. This data is huge -- a single job often involves more than a terabyte of raw data and a comparable amount of intermediate work product. Business is good: What used to be an operation of a few engineers in one location is poised to grow into a number of satellite locations with increasing reliance on partners and remote contractors.

Here's where things get tricky. Efficiently moving and analyzing terabytes of data on a local network is hard enough, requiring a strong helping of SSD and 10Gbps Ethernet to keep things flowing. But the impending need to move beyond that local office and make that data and work product available to a wider group of distributed employees and contractors turns a tough, but surmountable problem into a nearly impossible one.

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