Vivek Tyagi is the Director for business development, Embedded and Enterprise, at Western Digital.
Humans have always been nomads for most of their history, though travel began as a necessity in the hunt for food, new lands, and later, for commerce. Today travel is a huge industry that caters to the spirit of wanderlust that has stayed alive in us. Technology played a pivotal role in radically changing the dynamics of travel; from travelling on foot and horseback, to buggies, ships, cars and airplanes, each advancement has shrunk the world a little more so today we take hours or no more than a couple of days to cover ground that used to take weeks or even months.
Technology has also helped the industry that supports travel to undergo a radical makeover. Travellers are no longer at the mercy of travel agents with outdated catalogs and photos and a limited array of choices. Instead we have at our fingertips a range of travel portals and websites that we can browse from the comfort of our home and plan our travel in a leisurely and informed manner. Armed with photos, videos, tips and recommendations from like-minded travellers we can craft the perfect travel experience without having to deal with pushy sales agents or pressure tactics. Options are offered up for every budget and for every requirement or limitation.
After a few clicks, you might even observe that your favourite portal or website seems to be in sync with your preferences and offers up options that seem interesting and worth pursuing. It is almost as if is reading your mind and trying to match your preferences and requirements. And indeed it is. The travel industry has realised the value of mining the massive volumes of data generated in the digital world and use the insights to provide an outstanding customer experience. Creating useful and actionable business intelligence out of the masses of unstructured data pouring in is a critical element for success in a digital and data-driven world.
How a business manages its data can make all the difference in its competitive success. The amount of data generated is growing exponentially and according to an IDC forecast, is expected to cross 163 zettabytes by 2025 (for reference, one zetta byte is a trillion gigabytes). A vast majority of this data is unstructured — by some estimates 80 percent of enterprise data is unstructured. Unstructured data consists of photos, videos, PDFs and other human generated content that does not work well in traditional database systems. But it is the unstructured data that provides the riches in terms of predictive analyses.
The unstructured data produced by millions of travellers all over the world in the form of tweets, Instagram photos, videos, blog posts and reviews holds immense value for the travel and hospitality industries. But to process this data in an efficient and cost effective manner requires that they move away from traditional databases and hierarchical file or block based storage systems to Object Based Storage (OBS). OBS has the ability to handle non-traditional or unstructured data since it stores it in a flat format and has metadata associated with each element that allows for efficient categorisation and flexible indexing based on the kind of search that is being performed.
For instance, when a potential customer on a travel portal starts to research holidays in Greece, the portal has to be able to quickly find and blend all the different formats of unstructured data — videos, photos, tweets and reviews about the most popular destinations — into a comprehensive, structured and easy-to-digest view with maximum user impact. Furthermore, the portal can also use the sketchy requirements specified by the user and extrapolate it to patterns of searches by previous users, to present predictive offerings that would appeal to the user. This will increase the chances of closing a sale or transaction. OBS systems are uniquely positioned to support this activity because of its ability to provide the high performance and scalability needed to handle massive datasets in real-time. Depending on the requirements, an OBS database can be created on any of the popular and high capacity physical memory options including HDD and flash. For example, OBS databases on flash memory, particularly non-volatile memory express (NVMe), can be a potent combination of speed and performance that the heavy duty travel portal servers need, to provide the lightning fast responses that users demand.
In the era of big data, storage can make or break the system as it is directly responsible for whether a customer experience is a superior or a mediocre one. Picking a storage system that meets the requirements of a high-performance and high-traffic system running on unstructured data is one of the most important decisions that an IT team or the Chief information officer (CIO) will make. OBS systems are configured for high density, ranging from the hundreds of terabytes (TB) into the petabytes (PB). This translates into a more compact datacenter footprint, with the option for quick and convenient scaling, adding to its cost effectiveness by helping lower operational expenses. OBS fits in easily into cloud-based configurations and its simplified management structure, advanced data availability and durability makes it the ideal choice for travel portals with their unique and long-term data management needs.
The author is a director for business development, Embedded and Enterprise, at Western Digital.