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Big Data - Cost of acquiring skills

By David Poole,

Today we have a guest editorial as Steve is away at SQL Intersection.

I was privileged to attend the QCON London 2014 conference in early March.  The value of attending such a conference is that you are exposed to ideas far beyond the world of SQL Server and those ideas shock you into a new way of thinking.

Some of the comments on Big Data by Matt Asay of MongoDB really struck home.  To paraphrase Matt, Big Data is all about exploration and discovery.  Inherent in an experimental approach is that you are going to find a lot of theories that do not pan out.  Matt included a quote from Thomas Edison on inventing the light bulb in his presentation  “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.”

Imagine investing a 6 figure sum in a high end analytics platform or data warehouse appliance only to disprove 10,000 theories!  I cannot imagine senior management enthusing about the return on investment.

Matt made the comment that open-source software allows you to dip your toe in the water with Big Data at very low cost.  Reducing the cost of experimentation is crucial to nuturing an environment with a decent probability of getting value from Big Data. Without the high cost imperative on achieving success and achieving it early there is no incentive to game the system.  There is no need for ugly blamestorming sessions or to try political spin to excuse failure and avoid getting fired!

Ultimately open source software is NOT free, after all companies and individuals who produce the software have to feed their kids, pay the bills just like their proprietary bretheren.  Chances are the free community editions of the products are feature reduced but what does that matter?  You can make a great deal of progress and then determine whether a big ticket spend is required.

And yet low cost experimentation is not just the preserve of the open-source community.  Yes SQL Express is a free download but at around £40 SQL Server Developer Edition is a throttled back version of the full blown enterprise edition.  To me £40 for the chance to learn about the full features of SQL Server represents good value for money.  My only constraint is time.

To wrap this up I should like to leave you with a closing quote from Thomas Edison.  “Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”

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