Understanding the Symbiosis of Cloud Computing, Big Data, and Mobile

Symbiosis is defined as: “Interaction between two different organisms living in close physical association, typically to the advantage of both.”  We have many examples of symbiosis in the world of nature, and many in the world of computing as well.

While most understand that cloud, big data, and mobile computing are somehow related, and benefit from each other, most don’t understand exactly what those relationships and benefits are.  Indeed, each emerging market segment is dependent upon other emerging segments of the market, and it’s helpful to break those apart to understand them better.  Perhaps even deal with them as linked concepts.
I’m not the first to think of this approach.  Sanjay Poonen, last month on GigaOM, also makes the case that we should treat these three concepts as one.  “The interdependence of mobile, big data and cloud is undeniable, and will only multiply as data growth and mobile use continue. Yet our strategic thinking lags behind the evidence.”
Most IT organizations like to separate mobile, data, and cloud, and even assign them to different teams.  However, it may be more productive to link them strategically.
I suggest we should consider the degree of dependency of each segment.  For example, big data can certainly operate without the use of cloud-based platforms.  Indeed, most big data systems are running within traditional data centers these days.
However, considering that big data, at its core, is about leveraging massive amounts of servers, taking a divide-and-conquer approach to data queries using technologies such as Hadoop, the use of cloud-based systems is logical fit.  This takes into account that cloud computing offers elasticity and metered use, thus you can access server capacity when you need it, expanding it to a massive scale, and only paying for the server time you’ve leveraged.  Comparable on-premise configurations would and do cost several million dollars.
Thus the use of big data technology, such as those that leverage map-reduce, will provide the most bang for the buck on cloud-based platforms.  Indeed, I would declare that big data is clearly one of the first killer applications for PaaS and IaaS public cloud computing platforms.
You need only look to the public cloud computing providers that support both Hadoop-based technologies (such as IBM’s Hadoop-based InfoSphere BigInsights), as well as more traditional relational models (such as AWS’s Redshift).  Considering the massive compute and storage required to support big data, and the elasticity that public cloud computing is able to offer, the symbiosis here is rather easy to understand.  Both segments will become more tightly coupled as both markets continue to progress.
Mobile computing is a much easier case to make for symbiosis with cloud computing.  They are clearly tightly coupled.
The growth of mobile computing is largely driven by the growth of “personal clouds,” or those that maintain their own documents and data on public cloud resources, and are able to view those resources through any number of personal computing devices, such as smart phones, tablets, laptops, smart TVs, and even integrated systems within automobiles.  Figure 1 depicts the growth of mobile computing by device OS from a Forrester Research report.


Figure 1:  Mobile computing growth has also driven the growth of cloud computing (Source: Forrester Research).

In other words, we leverage mobile (e.g., smart phones) and traditional computing (e.g., laptop) clients as “data terminals” of sorts, allowing us to view and work on our personal data using any number of devices.  I use 9 different devices myself, leveraging data synchronization and remote storage services such as DropBox and iCloud, and office automation applications such as Google Apps and Office 365, as well as thousands of other mobile applications that require access to back-end cloud-based servers.
Therefore, the emerging trend here is to abstract the users away from their data using an array of devices, and place their data into central cloud-based services.  The end result should actually be more productivity and more choice, and thus the continued symbiosis and rise of both cloud and mobile.
Of course, this trend is also driving into the enterprise, no matter if IT likes it or not.  The BYOD movement over the last few years is a direct response to the rise of mobile and the cloud.  Smart enterprises are taking advantage of this technology and defining strategies.
I don’t think that the technologies will merge at any point.  Instead, I’m making the case that there are clear dependencies that should be considered when dealing with these technologies independently, and as a whole.