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Data comes in all types of formats and from a variety of sources — from online and mobile applications, sensors, social media, purchases and more. With the exponential growth of data over the years has come a number of challenges, including how to store such massive volumes of information as well as how to make it useful.

For a large educational institution like the University of Arizona, the ability to analyze enormous amounts of data and take meaningful action could significantly benefit various areas of the university, including its medical school, admissions department and research labs.

MicroAge was eager to help.

“Advanced analytics help us explore massive amounts of data to discover anomalies, find correlations, and gain new insights that can transform scientific research,” says MicroAge Founder Jeff McKeever. “It was an exciting opportunity to be able to help my alma mater implement a solution to allow them to do that.”

UA Eller College of Management logoEarlier this year, Jeff and MicroAge made a donation to the UA, allowing the school to purchase a Hadoop cluster for big data analytics. An open-source software framework for the storage and processing of very large datasets across clusters of servers, Apache Hadoop will allow the university’s INSITE Research Center to focus on big data analytics at the Management Information Services (MIS) department of the Eller College of Management.

To put together the system, Jeff turned to MicroAge solutions expert Chris Pirwitz.

The Solution

Hadoop’s distributed computing model benefits organizations in numerous ways. Its robust computing power allows for the processing of a lot of data. And, unlike some databases, there’s no need to pre-process data before storing it, enabling a user to store it all now and decide later how to use it.

Hadoop can be used to derive valuable insights from social media and clickstream data which is important for medical and emergency planning purposes.

Additionally, a key advantage of using Hadoop is its fault tolerance — when data is sent to any individual node in a cluster that data is also replicated to other nodes in the cluster. In this way the architecture provides protection from both single and multiple failures.

Chris worked with the client to understand their storage and computing needs, ultimately choosing SuperMicro servers.

“We felt that SuperMicro servers would give them the most processing power for the money,” Chris explains. “Plus, MicroAge ensured an on-time delivery and arranged for the installation of the OS.”

The powerful Hadoop cluster for big data analytics includes six data nodes and one management node running Cloudera’s CDH and offers nearly 1TB of RAM along with 150TB of raw storage capacity on a 10GB network. Additional machines host application servers.

Sudha Ram, co-director of the INSITE Research Center, says her department is very grateful to Jeff and MicroAge for this generous donation, which has enabled them to move forward in new and exciting ways in terms of research and education.

“The INSITE center now has undergraduate, MS/MIS and PhD students making use of the MicroAge cluster to work on big data projects as part of their research and experiential learning,” she says.

The INSITE Hadoop cluster for big data analytics is being used to efficiently process datasets for a number of research projects, including:

  • Developing a model to predict how many people will be admitted to the emergency room of a large area hospital due to asthma-related complications.
  • Starting analysis on a large anonymized dataset from a large health network containing 9 million patient records and 15 million encounters to understand readmission rates and related performance measures.
  • Continuing the “Smarter Campus” project to analyze three to four years of UA student data to develop ways to increase freshman retention.
  • Several new possible collaborations with the UA Phoenix Medical Center.

The donation lets the UA’s INSITE Research Center focus on big data analytics at the MIS department of the Eller College of Management.

Paying It Forward
Jeff McKeever, a member of the Eller College National Board of Advisors, earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the UA — something he was able to do because of A. Louis Slonaker, the UA dean at the time. Slonaker was so impressed with Jeff’s desire to pursue his education that he loaned him the money for his first semester’s tuition.

That experience inspired Jeff to pay it forward. He has made a number of contributions to the school over the years. In 2012, for example, he made a donation to the University’s MIS department to transform and expand an outdated computer lab with upgraded technology and furnishings. His donations are helping UA conduct important research and train the next generation of data scientists.

“The intersection of education and information technology is a profound one,” Jeff says. “It’s important to me to help enrich the education of as many students as I can, and technology is one creative way to do that.”

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