Reflections on Big Data Roundtable hosted by JNK Securities

Last week I had the opportunity to attend a Big Data round table discussion organized by JNK Securities, a broker-dealer based in NY w/ offices in DC. The attendees seemed to be evenly split between technologists/practitioners and finance professionals hoping to get a pulse on market trends. The conversation was moderated by Atul Chhabra, entrepreneur and formerly Director of Cloud Strategy at Verizon.

The finance professionals were eager to understand how Hadoop, NoSQL, and other Big Data technologies were going to disrupt (or not) existing technology vendors. One person had asked how easy it would be for existing companies to replace their Oracle installs with Hadoop, or NoSQL database, if Oracle licensing agreements were structured to penalize such migration. As was quickly pointed out by the crowd, it is not “termination fees” that are the problem in moving away from Oracle, but the level of investment (i.e., cost) that would be necessary to refactor existing code and applications to ensure the application would function as expected. One way RDBMS vendors increase their product’s “stickiness” and cost of migration is to promote their database’s proprietary language (PL/SQL for Oracle, TSQL for Microsoft) over ANSI standards. If an application relies heavily on these stored procedures, it will have to be rewritten in the new database’s language (or in standard ANSI SQL to make it more easily transferable in the future). Of course, that’s assuming there are no hidden “gotchas” in the code itself, such as a programmer making a direct JDBC call to a database and hard coding the SQL in the web application code itself. Bottom line, it would be very expensive to rewrite existing code; and very hard to justify doing so since by itself it does not add any additional value to the company. Additionally, as Atul pointed out, migrating off Oracle may be unlikely to reduce licensing costs for enterprises since these licensing contracts are typically based on number of employees, or clients – migrating one application off Oracle would not affect number of employees, so the licensing costs remain the same, and in fact increase if there are licensing costs for the new technology (there usually is). What is more likely is for companies to build new tools, new applications using emerging technologies and leave legacy systems as is.

An interesting idea put out by one of the attendees was that they way we think about coding and building applications will dramatically change now that we are in the age of Big Data and Big Compute. There is a fundamental shift in thinking how we design applications – instead of coding for the limits of hardware assume “best case scenarios” of unbounded scalability, unending amounts of storage and RAM thanks to developments in Big Data architecture, horizontal scaling, and massively parallel processing (MPP). For example, no longer code applications and file systems to purposely delay processing while waiting for hard drives to spin up or to perform file seek operations; instead assume instantaneous read/write thanks to SSDs, assume infinite storage (through HDFS-like architecture), and assume unbounded parallelism (i.e., no longer bounded by number of cores on one particular server)

Overall, it was a great event, good dinner conversation with smart people.  Looking forward to future events.

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