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Massachusetts Puts a Public Face on the Cloud

Big data A recent presentation in Holyoke, Massachusetts, brought together principal players from state government, higher education, and information technology. With Gov. Deval Patrick making the official announcement, a $3 million plan was announced to architect a public cloud space for big data projects by university researchers. The state forged this cross-sector partnership because its big data industry is strong and growing, as indicated by the 2014 Mass Big Data Report. The report, which gathered survey information from over four dozen specialized companies headquartered in the state, determined that approximately 4000 jobs will be created in the industry during 2014. Granted, the figures from the report were generated by surveying 1/10 of businesses in the field and multiplying the total job numbers by 10 (in other words, it’s a loose estimate). Big data: how it’s growing & the statewide effort Big data is the assimilation and analysis of large amounts of information that are now produced in the age of computing. When performed adequately, it involves understanding the data, figuring out how best to meaningfully use it, and applying those findings to new business development. The cloud model is often used to interpret and organize large data sets, in part because of its incredible speed – faster than a supercomputer in most cases, say IU researchers. Many enterprises were initially concerned about the special security concerns of cloud computing, but adoption rates have increased as the technologies that protect the IT environments have become more sophisticated: even the US Department of Defense has used cloud computing to modernize its IT infrastructure. It also represents a massive market. In fact, some say it’s a sector that is growing too fast. In an analysis of some of the top trends in cloud computing, Eric Knorr of InfoWorld noted that “if any bubbles burst in 2014, big data will go first.” Nonetheless, that’s just a short-term prediction. Few computing experts would argue that this trend doesn’t hold enormous promises for businesses large and small. Understanding what you have from interaction with your Internet traffic, customers, and other situations could allow firms a strong innovative edge over their competition, as explained by renowned research group McKinsey & Company. Gov. Patrick noted that the real strength of the movement in the state is in the cooperation that has been achieved. The fact that private and public entities are working together so seamlessly, per his analysis, allows the state to craft strategies that rely on the strengths of each of the individual organizations involved. Massachusetts hopes to become the recognized home for the industry by continuing to invest wisely in projects that enhance its growth. It was not a mistake that the press conference unveiling the Massachusetts Open Cloud (MOC) was made at the Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center (MGHPCC). The facility is a research data center that is also focused heavily on environmental sustainability. It represents a partnership between the University of Massachusetts, Northeastern University, MIT, Harvard, and Boston University. It’s designed to meet the needs of its member institutions and to (as possible) provide research services to other schools and companies. The broader tech picture for the state This public cloud project and the new report were critical components of a general plan the governor created in 2012 called the Mass Big Data Initiative. The stated mission of that overall effort is – as mentioned above – to become one of the primary locations in the United States for the development of the industry. In turn, Massachusetts hopes to become a central player in solving major problems that can be targeted by strengthening the active research community. As with any governmental spending, the initial knee-jerk reaction from taxpayers is how the money is generated. Legislation passed by the state’s Congress in 2012 – the Economic Development Bill – created a fund to foster technology and other areas of business innovation. At that time, Congress green-lighted broad efforts to grow the economy and generate job growth through special funding of collaborative projects between the public and private spheres. Like the MGHPCC facility, this new project will utilize the skills and resources provided by each of the five founding academic institutions. In terms of executive roles, Boston University will handle project management, Harvard will handle operations, Northeastern will focus on development, and MIT will foster the growth of collaborative efforts. The research for which the project will be used will be conducted by professors at all of the schools, while the hardware that makes the virtual platform possible will be stored at the Holyoke-based data center. Boston University VP Gloria Waters noted that the type of computing environment that is being created will both have a positive effect on the state’s economy and make it easier for professionals to work together on research. Most poignantly, though, she remarked that the new approach to handling data in a more integrated fashion will end up paying for itself due to the ideas it will explore and opportunities it will generate. Details of the report The report reviews and delineates current and ongoing efforts for collaborative projects between governmental, educational, and private tech organizations. It suggests that talent can be expanded in the area through efforts to grow the particular economic segment, as can jobs and the ability of citizens to quickly gather information. The document notes that the industry will more than quadruple between 2012 and 2017, reaching $48 billion worldwide. Equipment and third-party solutions will account for the largest financial chunks of that total. However, software engineered to manage and manipulate large pools of information is the specific slice of the industry that is expanding most rapidly. In Massachusetts, companies are generating applications of that sort to fill the needs of enterprises with highly sensitive data, such as banks and hospitals. The open cloud project is exciting for many of those involved in information technology, particularly companies facilitating virtual business solutions. It represents a new way for technology companies and the government to work in tandem, accelerating research and developing our regional economies via an information industry that has become increasingly global.

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