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The New Convergence Space between 'The Internet of Things' and 'Big Data'

By Cynthia Weaver, A.V.P of IT, Walbridge

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Cynthia Weaver, A.V.P of IT, Walbridge

When you work for a construction company that’s been in business nearly 100 years, much of your world revolves around things of great physical size–heavy equipment, big stacks of building materials, and beefy data centers.

Today, we still utilize massive earth movers and you’ll see large piles of steel beams that dot our project landscapes. But what’s missing from my world, with virtualized servers and 60 percent of our data already in the cloud, are the flashing lights and racks of data center equipment that once exempli­fied my digital dominion.

Our migration began with a single goal: outsource com­modity applications. A few add-on applications were con­trolled first steps. They provided us with the foundation to test performance standards, web services and our cultural resolve for less customization. These first steps assured us, but made little change to server count.

Noteworthy changes would require resource intensive tar­gets. E-mail, while generally the lifeblood of any organiza­tion, was an obvious target. Numerous cloud offerings meant secure, geo-redundant, 24 hour care and greater reliability than thinly stretched technology budgets can generally pro­vide. Our teams muscled through the frustrating changes that come when you can no longer control rules and system settings and learned to rely on never seen faces to keep us operational.

“Cloud technologies need to be device agnostic and packaged in consumption models that match our industry ebbs and flows”

Seasoned infrastructure and systems specialists did the heavy lifting, transitioning into exceptional application man­agers. Information technology professionals are in the busi­ness of change and career retooling should be planned and mapped out like any well planned change. Years of corporate knowledge are assets worthy of investment and companies planning that long strategic shift away from internal data centers will wisely invest in team members willing to make the change.

We built upon our success and continued to move systems and data to the cloud. We evaluated each system request with a cloud-first mentality. Storage area networks were augmented with new gateway devices to de-duplicate data while auto­matically keeping frequently accessed data local. Older data is automatically migrated to the cloud and still accessible. Construction companies globally are wrestling with triple digit storage growth needs. This model gave us instant and easily managed cloud expansion options with pay-for-use options.

Many well-established construc­tion systems, another industry trend, have been steadily assembling larger offerings by purchasing niche ap­plications. Cloud offerings are now abundant and the change toward soft­ware giants hosting their own applications is welcome news.

For years, the rush to bring software to market, increasing complexity, and economic pressures resulted in flawed and fragile software releases from com­panies that have been slow to acknowl­edge or fix prolems. Many of them simply do not use their own systems and never experience these challenges outside of a carefully manicured test en­vironment. Support models that require companies to run the latest version of a vendor’s application, when the vendor is slow to incorporate support for releases of heavily used operating systems, desk­top applications and browsers is an un­reasonable model. Software companies, as Owner Operators, have more to lose by ignoring these problems and have much to gain by creating industry intelligent offerings that play well in their own space.

The construction indus­try, long seen as a laggard in terms of technology, has long been wrestling with concepts like “bring your own device.” These is­sues occur each time many compa­nies come together to bring design to reality. We’re ready for these new solu­tions which are only now poised to solve our long-time problems. For that to oc­cur, cloud technologies need to be device agnostic and packaged in consumption models that match our industry ebbs and flows. They’ll be designed to keep our data secure, intact, accessible and mo­bile. They’ll understand and be designed to solve our real challenges of low band­width with fast growing file sizes based on complex models as well as the hyper-convergence between “the internet of things” and “Big Data”.

Temporary tools will pop-up that will make it hard to keep that balance between the right tool for the job and too many tools which hinder our mobility.

Cloud choices extend beyond tradi­tional software systems. Fully hosted cloud-based telecommunications sys­tems are maturing and ready for adop­tion. With one region migrated, we’re testing the limits of our hosted telephone system. Internet outages, a long-time hazard in our industry, sped up the test­ing of call forwarding and soft-phone apps. And, while it’s still too soon for an enterprise wide commitment, our cur­rent test has been a success with more benefits than problems.

We’re continually bombarded with emerging cloud based systems, giving companies access to higher end capa­bilities at a lower startup cost, than ever in the past. With cloud features built into our most basic daily applications and the continuous news of data and celebrity photo leaks it’s essential to have a compre­hensive cloud strategy. Large construction companies should embrace the new tech­nologies or risk being outperformed by their mid-sized competitors.

I’m ready for this transformation. I’m already imagining the last days of my once proud data center. It will likely be remod­eled into a new collaboration space, where our innovative teams will gather to work on the next big step into the future.

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