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Celebrating Big Data Heroes in Vegas

By Kevin Davies

June 8, 2011 | First Base | From Jonathan Eisen resplendent in full Red Sox regalia to mathematical prodigy Stephen Wolfram on the future of computing to the welcome return of Deb Goldfarb, a former colleague at IDC and a keynote speaker at our inaugural event in 2002, April’s Bio-IT World Conference & Expo featured an abundance of memorable moments (conference coverage begins on p. 25). More than 2,000 attendees enjoyed nine busy conference tracks and perusing a record 110 exhibiting organizations. Based on the strong momentum the conference has garnered in the past few years, we are setting course for Asia. The inaugural Bio-IT World Asia conference is set for June 2012 in Singapore. (Full details to be released shortly.)

As always, we crowned the winners of the Bio•IT World Best Practices Awards at this year’s conference. (The winners are listed on p. 10 and will be profiled in our next issue.) But they weren’t the only awards in the life sciences data arena this spring. I was recently invited to join a small band of reviewers to judge the entries in EMC’s inaugural Data Hero Awards. The winners were announced at EMC World, the company’s annual conference held in Las Vegas in May.

The idea to showcase “Big Data” and the pioneers who are generating, organizing and leveraging data across all industries is part of EMC’s new vision, brought about by a couple of key acquisitions in 2010. In addition to buying Greenplum, a data warehousing firm, EMC also acquired Isilon, a favorite data storage vendor of many organizations featured in recent years in Bio•IT World. (We might note, however, that on page 36 of this issue, MD Anderson Cancer Center’s Krishna Sankhavaram makes a strong case for other storage solutions).

The idea of the Data Hero awards was to recognize teams and individuals “delivering unique and innovative solutions and techniques for using Big Data to profoundly impact individuals, organizations, industries and the world.” The judges* reviewed and discussed the merits of nearly 50 nominations in various categories: government, public service, media, energy, consumer services, health care, life sciences, and technology.  

The recipient of the first Data Hero Visionary award was Vivek Kundra, appointed by President Obama in 2009 as the first chief information officer (CIO) of the United States. Kundra said he was honored to accept the award “on behalf of the administration.” He was praised for his efforts “to reform how the federal government manages and uses information technology… to lower the cost of government operations.”

The life sciences and health care category was so rich that we formed two categories. The life sciences bracket featured a number of tremendously promising technologies, but we quickly settled on the Broad Institute and its IT team, led by Matthew Trunnell. For more than a decade, the Broad Institute (see “The Broad Way of Next-Generation Sequencing,” Bio•IT World Sept 2010)—formerly the Whitehead Institute Genome Center—has honed a formidable reputation as an innovator in handling the brunt of the data bonanza stemming from next-generation sequencing, as well as its efforts to research and disseminate new solutions in data management, cloud computing, and other areas. In the view of the judges, the Broad’s leadership in not just generating prodigious amounts of data but honing numerous best practices for storing, managing and sharing those data earned the award.

The Broad’s data footprint has grown by a factor of 40 to 7-8 petabytes this year, with a throughput that doubles every five months. Trunnell is responsible for managing that storage, although he said recently that the total amount of next-generation sequencing data had actually dipped slightly, suggesting that his team’s preaching about data retention policies is starting to pay off.

The technology category was split into two brackets. On the IT Infrastructure side, the winner was the Apache Foundation for Hadoop. On the application side, the award went to the IBM Watson Computing System. Although not the last word in supercomputing—Stephen Wolfram had some pointed words on the subject in his keynote address (see page 25), IBM’s Jeopardy-winning Watson supercomputer surely marks a significant advance in computer science.

Among other notable winners were Reid Hoffman and LinkedIn (Consumer Services) and Nathan Wolfe’s global viral forecasting initiative (Government/Public Service). The full list of winners can be found at 

*The 2011 Data Hero Awards judges were: Tom Davenport (Babson College); Edd Dumbill (O’Reilly Radar); Michael Freed (SRI); Hadley Reynolds (IDC); and Kevin Davies.


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