By now, you undoubtedly know the story of big data. It goes a little something like this: The volume of data companies and their customers produce is growing exponentially. So, too, is the variety of data they produce, as new unstructured data types like social, text and sensor data have rapidly invaded the information landscape.
At the same time, IT vendors have delivered a wave of new big data technologies, each of which advances the ability to capture, store, retrieve and analyze these new forms of unstructured data. Put it all together, then kick the media frenzy into overdrive, and it’s easy to see why, in an industry dominated by hyped-up megatrends, big data may be the most hyped of them all.
Lost amid the hype surrounding unstructured data and new big data platforms, however, is the role of structured data and the traditional relational database management system (RDBMS). Juxtaposed against the hype machine that is big data, structured data and traditional RDBMS technologies seem like yesterday’s news, so much so that it would be completely understandable to think that the importance of structured data and relational databases has greatly diminished.
Completely understandable, but completely wrong. According to the results of a new survey of 300 database administrators (DBAs) and others charged with managing corporate data, while unstructured data types and new database management systems certainly play an increasing role in the modern data ecosystem, structured data in relational database management systems (RDBMS) remains the foundation of the information infrastructure in most companies. Conducted by Unisphere Research, the survey indicates that despite the hype surrounding big data, most organizations continue to focus primarily on managing structured data, and will do so for the foreseeable future.
Structured data, relational databases still dominant
The Unisphere survey provided many telling indicators about the true nature of today’s database management landscape. For example, while management of unstructured data will likely become more prevalent as modern advanced analytics initiatives continue to gain traction, structured data still makes up 75 percent of data under management for more than two-thirds of organizations, with nearly one-third of organizations not yet actively managing unstructured data at all.
The survey also revealed that Oracle and Microsoft SQL Server – the most traditional of the so-called traditional databases – remain the most common platforms organizations use to support mission-critical data. In addition, though Hadoop and NoSQL are exciting new technologies, and though much has rightfully been made of their ability to help companies manage unstructured data, many companies have yet to evolve to the point of factoring them into their data management plans.
Making sense of a complex landscape
The complexity that now permeates the data and information management landscape is here to stay. In the years ahead, information infrastructure will only grow increasingly complex, and the need to leverage data to speed decision-making, improve operational efficiency, and uncover new revenue streams will only grow increasingly critical. The question becomes what should CIOs and their database management teams do to make sense of their complex data environments.
For starters, they shouldn’t discount big data, even if the degree to which big data technologies are used in the real world doesn’t yet match the hype. The fact that structured data and relational database technologies remain dominant does not in any way mean that big data is dead, or that early-stage technologies such as Hadoop and NoSQL databases will not continue to gain traction. Unstructured data types and new data management systems will absolutely continue to play an increasing role in the modern data ecosystem, and CIOs need to be prepared to manage a world in which complexity is king. With that in mind, here a few best practices that all organizations, regardless of their size or the nature of their business, should implement.
#1 – Develop an all-data strategy
One of the most common questions customers ask today is what they should focus on – structured or unstructured, relational or NoSQL, transactional or social? The answer, in all cases, is both. Successful information management is not about managing just big data or just traditional data, but about optimizing, connecting to, integrating and analyzing all of your data, regardless of how big it is or where it resides. Companies that can do that are the ones that will break down silos and best position themselves to benefit from the opportunity afforded by the modern data economy.
#2 – Plan for the coming analytics revolution
According to the Unisphere survey, the need to support new analytical use cases is the most important factor driving adoption of new database management systems– and for good reason. Ask any CIO what her top priorities are, and she’ll invariably talk about the need to help the company transform all of its data into actionable insights that fuel smarter business decisions. After all, that’s the end-game here. That’s the reason big data has garnered so much hype, and it’s the reason so much time and effort goes into managing data and information.
As such, organizations that wish to remain competitive now and into the future need to build an information infrastructure that paves the way for modern predictive analytics. Using data to figure out what’s happened in the past simply isn’t enough. Gaining insight into what’s going to happen in the future has become paramount. CIOs should focus on investing in data platforms and data management technologies – such as cloud-aware data integration tooling – that best position the company to drive successful analytics initiatives. More often than not, that’s going to involve a combination of both modern and traditional information management solutions.
#3 – Prepare DBAs for a bigger role
As the real-world implementation of Hadoop and NoSQL technologies grows, so too will the role of the database administrator. According the survey, most DBAs are already responsible for managing multiple database instances, with some managing databases from as many as five or more vendors. Once again, this is a trend that’s not likely to slow anytime soon. Whether through hiring, training, or a combination of both, organizations need to build a team of DBAs equipped to handle an increasingly multilingual role.
Above all else, organizations should be proactive. Smart use of data is no longer a “nice to have.” It’s a must. By building out a data management strategy that accounts for all data, paves the way for advanced analytics, and empowers team members to excel in the face of complexity, companies can not only survive in the data economy – but thrive.
John Whittaker is the executive director of marketing for Dell Software’s Information Management group, where he oversees marketing activities for a diverse portfolio of solutions spanning database management, data integration, business intelligence and big data analytics.