Much of the conversation surrounding the cloud storage industry today is centered on managing the demands of big data. Yet the real story may well be how cloud technology vendors are moving to better search and organize the vast amount of data collected by Fortune 500 companies on a daily basis, and the potential problems this trend may cause for cloud storage firms such as Box or Dropbox.
One of the companies at the front line of "smarter data" as opposed to just "big data" is MarkLogic, a database company based in San Carlos, California, who has been working with major global firms since 2001 to improve search and draw valuable meaning from the data being collected, a process often referred to as working within the semantic Web.
The company has seen a rapidly growing interest in its semantic Web technology. "It's become the most quickly adopted technology we've ever released," says Joe Pasqua, the Senior Vice President of product strategy for MarkLogic.
In its literal sense, semantic means is finding meaning in words, something the machine-based Web is still learning to do. MarkLogic's database technology helps power the semantic Web. "It's about how to put the data together, answering questions you didn't even know you had the answers for," explains Pasqua.
He cites an example involving a customer who is a big player in the financial services industry. This particular firm has a need to perform highly sophisticated risk analysis, pulling in key metrics that must be relevant and current. By sourcing mortgage data in different geographical regions, this company has dramatically improved their risk exposure, a result that goes right to the bottom line.
Some of the largest firms in the cloud technology space are also beginning to move more aggressively towards offering data analysis tools. At the huge Dreamforce 2014 Conference in San Francisco Salesforce announced a new cloud analytics platform called Wave last month, which takes data collected from multiple Salesforce tools and lets users tweak and manipulate it to their benefit. "It's analytics for the rest of us," as Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff described it last month.
But for a company such as MarkLogic, who has been a key player in the analytics space for quite a while, the entrance of Salesforce into this market raises other important questions for customers grappling with the demands of big data. "People are justifiably excited at the prospect of getting new value and meaning from their data," says Pasqua. "The question is, are they using all of their organization's data or just pieces of it? Can they tie together not only their data, but also external information like Open Linked Data sets? That's the holy grail."
There is another important question surrounding the current state of cloud technology these days: where does the trend towards analytics and the semantic web leave two major companies - Box and Dropbox - who have rapidly built consumer-based cloud storage businesses but are now struggling to attract more enterprise customers (and have delayed their own plans to go public as a result)?
The biggest problem for these two companies may be that without sophisticated tools to manage and gain insight from the stored data, they will continue to fall behind the MarkLogics and Salesforces of the cloud technology world. The general understanding that nearly any technology product purchased today will come with free cloud storage doesn't bode well for the Box and Dropbox business model. "It's almost as though (cloud storage) has become a human right," says Pasqua.
His point was reinforced last week when Microsoft announced that all of its Office 365 subscribers will receive an unlimited amount of OneDrive cloud storage. Google has also recently been bundling cloud storage with its suite of productivity apps.
To counter this potential vulnerability, both Box and Dropbox have taken steps within the last year to develop, through partnership or acquisition, their own data analytics capability. Box reached an agreement to partner with GoodData last year and Dropbox acquired stealth startup Parastructure this past June. Yet, in reviewing the websites of both companies, any offering of data analytics for business can't be found.
As more connected devices come online through the Internet of Things (IoT), industry observers expect that this will only increase the competitive pressure for companies operating today in the cloud technology space to offer the right tools to manage the rising tide of data. "Yes, big data is important, but our fundamental belief is that all data is important," says MarkLogic's Pasqua. It now appears that being able to manage all data is a huge task which will require not only space but smarts as well.