Under Seattle’s Cloud, a Big Data Cluster Grows

12/4/12Follow @bromano

It’s a good time to be doing big data in Seattle.

So says Ed Lazowska, the University of Washington computer science professor who played host and tour guide to the region’s big data lineup during the Washington Innovation Summit last week. He points to the region’s strengths in cloud computing, and a steady stream of big data achievers marching forth from the UW.

While Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) may be among the most recognizable of these players, the work being done here now is not just about finding a better way to get you to buy exactly what you didn’t know you always wanted. From startups and investors to giants like Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) and Google (NASDAQ: GOOG), the Seattle-area big data cluster is at work on novel solutions to major problems in healthcare, transportation, energy, communication, and yes, commerce, too. They’re also building tools to democratize big data and improve upon Hadoop, an underlying piece of big data computing infrastructure.

Christian Chabot, co-founder and chief executive of Seattle-based Tableau Software, a big data visualization company, has a refreshing take on the opportunities emerging from all this investment. Essentially, big data could put a lot of people to work on meaningful things.

“One of the great tragedies of the modern technology industry is that a majority of the world’s most brilliant and talented people, many of them computer scientists, have spent the last 15 years working on projects that are primarily about getting people to click on more ads, or put more stuff in their shopping cart,” he says. “I just don’t find this very inspiring.”

Thankfully now, Chabot continues, this technology is finding its way into education, science, developing countries, and “every single industry you can name.”

Lazowska noted the work of Eric Horvitz at Microsoft Research toward helping doctors make better discharge decisions by analyzing thousands of factors and predicting which patients are most likely to be readmitted, and the efforts at P4 Medicine—”predictive, preventive, personalized, and participatory”—from the Institute For Systems Biology. There’s also INRIX, the traffic information provider; 3TIER, which parses loads of weather and climate data for the renewable energy industry; Decide, co-founded by UW computer science professor Oren Etzioni, predicts consumer electronics pricing; and many other companies that have been built to sift through, and make some sense out of, big sets of data.

“It’s all driven by big data, and it’s all tied to the cloud,” Lazowska says. “And the Seattle area is really kind of the owner of the cloud.”

Opportunity for innovators and entrepreneurs abounds.

Bellevue, WA-based venture capital firm Ignition Partners has investments in big data companies including … Next Page »

Benjamin Romano is editor of Xconomy Seattle. Email him at bromano [at] xconomy.com. Follow @bromano

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