Boston Joins Regional Race to Establish Big Data Hubs

by   |   May 31, 2012 10:36 am   |   0 Comments

Courtesy of Jason Dorfman, CSAIL

Industry, academic and government leaders are coming together to make Boston a big data hub. L to R Intel CTO Justin Ratner, CSAIL Director Daniela Rus, Gov. Deval Patrick, MIT President Susan Hockfield, and BigData@CSAIL Co-Founder Sam Madden

With big data quickly graduating from a buzzword to a business necessity, consortia made up of government, academia and industry are positioning themselves as hubs for data analytics and informatics research and development.

On May 30, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Intel threw a standing-room-only pep rally at MIT’s STATA Center to announce their bid to become world leaders in big data technologies and applications.

Boston is among several regions around the country launching academic programs that spur economic activity and high-quality jobs that come with big data-related investments. All acknowledge playing at least second place to Silicon Valley’s technology cluster of universities, start-up and established companies and venture capital investors.

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New York City unveiled a plan, supported by $100 million in real estate and infrastructure improvements, to launch a technology campus called CornellNYC, a joint venture for computer scientists at Cornell and Technion-Israel Institute of Technology.  The University of North Carolina at Charlotte also has efforts underway to build academic programs and host professional conferences.

The MIT event featured three separate announcements: the state government is devoting resources to creating a multipurpose big data consortium in Massachusetts; Intel is creating a science and technology center in big data centered at MIT and devoting $15 million over the next five years to it, and MIT will create a new department inside its Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) focused solely on big data.

“Our big data initiative alongside private investment like Intel’s support of CSAIL’s program will position the Commonwealth as a leader in a growing, global industry and help us become the premier destination for big data,” said Patrick. “Today we celebrate the launch of these exciting initiatives that will change the future of big data in Massachusetts and all around the world.”

Patrick said the state initiative will have four elements: a matching research and development grant program, government funded big data internships, a mandate to find efficiency and innovation in state government through data analytics, and the sponsorship of Hack/Reduce, a nonprofit community center in Cambridge that provides resources for data projects.

Patrick said the state is already a leader in big data technology, with 100 companies employing more than 12,000 people in big data, with another 58,000 data scientists working in fields like healthcare, financial services and life sciences. He said a Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council study showed the state could add as many as 50,000 more jobs in big data by 2018.

Justin Ratner, the CTO of Intel, said his company chose to open a research center at MIT after a competitive process that featured 55 universities submitting 157 proposals. The center will focus on how to deal with the mountains of data Ratner said will be collected in the coming years once more and more gadgets become “smart.”

“(Data collection) will only further accelerate through the rapid growth of mobile devices that aren’t’ just phones and connected cars,” Ratner said. “While this amount of data is already staggering with numbers so big they defy our imagination, they will really pale in comparison to the amount of data that will be generated in real time by the Internet of things.”

Ratner said five other universities will participate in the research center: University of California at Santa Barbara, Portland State University, Brown, Stanford, and University of Washington at Seattle.

Charlotte’s Web

Like their counterparts in Massachusetts, business leaders and academics in Charlotte, N.C., are working to generate activity around data-based innovations. Dr. Yi Deng, the dean of University of North Carolina at Charlotte’s College of Computing and Informatics, said he is trying to build a partnership that combines local banking, financial services retail and healthcare enterprises’ knowledge of big data problems they face daily with the university educational and research setting.

Earlier this month, UNCC partnered with the Charlotte Research Institute and the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce to host Charlotte Informatics 2012, a local conference about “competing and winning through analytics,” which Deng said was well attended and well received.

“What we’re trying to work with industry on is not only working with us to develop curriculum, but also to understand providing real business cases in such a way that we can use them in the educational process,” Deng said. “Our angle is, how are we really connecting big data from the education side, from the research side to the economy, to the industries? If we do that, we will position ourselves as a hub where there is an eco-system with talent, ideas, business, startups and that will find a flow of a supporting system.”

Deng said UNCC is developing several new degree tracks in accounting informatics and business analytics and informatics. The university already has doctoral and graduate programs in informatics, and he is starting to create continuing education programs for  industry professionals.

“That is something, obviously, that we need to be working very closely together between the university and industry in order to accomplish that,” Deng said. “Right now, big data is still in an emerging stage, not that we don’t have the data, but in how we utilize it in such a way that it will have as broad an impact as projected.”


MIT’s new project, called BigData@CSAIL, will also feature a working relationship with industry through partnerships with AIG, EMC, SAP, Intel and Thomson Reuters, with the goals of creating “real-world applications” and to “drive impact.”

“We gathered here today because we believe Massachusetts is particularly well positioned across many sectors to seize the opportunities that big data presents,” said MIT president Susan Hockfield. “The time is now to invent the tools and the applications that will harness the power of big data.”

Email Staff Writer Ian B. Murphy at

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