Spotlighting ‘dark data,’ and other IT inefficiencies

Russian intelligence: Computer scientist/physicist Nikolai Joukov is bringing data analysis in from the cold.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

A Stony Brook tech firm with a hard-science history is tracking data’s “unknown unknowns,” helping enterprise administrators control complex and rapidly changing IT environments.

ModelizeIT, a 2012 startup launched by Russian import Nikolai Joukov, is a cyber detective of sorts, fine-toothed-combing servers both frontline and forgotten to discover “dark data” and other costly and potentially dangerous information-storage inefficiencies.

Unlike structured data (database content, for instance), dark data – generally defined as operational data that’s not being used, such as unlocked log archives – can be a security risk, among other challenges to IT managers.

And that’s just one potential hurdle in enterprise IT environments of 100 servers or more, where documentation is always incomplete, personnel is always shifting and vital business knowledge is routinely lost in the shuffle.

“In a data center, it comes with so many different components and millions of interdependencies,” Joukov said. “Realistically speaking, there is no complete knowledge of what’s going on there.”

Worst of all are what ModelizeIT calls the “unknown unknowns” – the vital data left unprotected or unexplored or both, because nobody knew it was there.

“Complexity,” Joukov noted, “is the general problem we are solving.”

Quantum leap: Physics wasn’t quite dynamic enough for Joukov. (Photo by Bob Giglione)

The scientist comes at these confounding big data conundrums from a decidedly different perspective: physics. After earning a master’s degree in physics from Moscow State University, his research introduced him to then-experimental quantum computing – standard binary computing multiplied by quantum mechanics – and quickly, Joukov’s destiny was in flux.

“I just had a feeling I wanted to become a computer scientist,” he told Innovate LI.

That led him to the United States and Stony Brook University, where he earned a PhD in computer science and ultimately launched ModelizeIT, a member of the university’s Clean Energy Business Incubator Program and resident of SBU’s Long Island High Technology Incubator.

The theory: All companies with small, moderate or large IT systems have some level of missing IT knowledge. It’s not a measure of any particular operation’s IT chops, Joukov noted, but an unavoidable truth of the digital era – and IT leaders who think they don’t have a problem “simply never investigated it for real.”

“This is something we see everywhere,” he said. “I have worked with IT departments at dozens of companies, many Fortune 500 companies, and there is a lot of incorrect knowledge everywhere.

“Some people believe it’s only in an exceptional situation, like a mismanaged company, but it’s just reality,” Joukov added. “The degree of care simply changes from company to company.”

ModelizeIT’s answer: an “analytical software solution nobody else in the world has,” according to the founder and CEO, who designed it himself and keeps on upgrading with the help of some 20 ModelizeIT programmers, analysts and IT experts.

While identifying unknown and unused IT resources and de-risking (and speeding up) cloud migrations are primary functions, ModelizeIT also has true green-tech ambitions – “practical green IT,” Joukov said, folding electricity savings and other energy-related efficiencies in with the data discovery and analysis.

“Optimizing hardware and floor space, security, disaster recovery – there are many factors,” he said. “We want it to be a practical solution, not just a scientific exercise.

“One of our clients had a major disaster related to a hacker attack,” Joukov added. “Their whole IT environment was in a disaster stage and they needed to recover fast, so they used our solutions.”

The CEO is understandably reluctant to share the names of clients experiencing “disaster”-level events, though he did note a fairly impressive client list for an early-stage software firm – or any firm – anchored by a “large entertainment company,” a “very large finance company” and “a large U.S. retailer probably everybody has used.”

ModelizeIT is also attracting the attention of system integrators and other IT consultants, according to Joukov, who did name at least one of those major-league clients: Granite Construction Inc., a California-based titan anchoring the joint venture behind the $3 billion Tappan Zee Bridge reconstruction project.

Including subsidiary operations, Granite Construction boasts over 120 national offices – and an IT network to match, Joukov noted.

“They had an urgent need to do an audit of their data centers, so they called us,” the entrepreneur said. “It became our fastest engagement ever, record time. In seven calendar days, we delivered our first report, on their software assets.

“As you can imagine, their data centers are not small.”

Hence the power of ModelizeIT’s proprietary solutions – two U.S. utility patents issued, one pending, all covering information organization and analytical solutions, according to Joukov – which can quickly overcome the biggest flaw of most in-house data audits: a bad starting point.

“There are some tools, but most of the work is done manually in the data centers,” Joukov noted. “So you’re asking the IT guy who doesn’t know where all the information is, and you’re limiting yourself only to a portion of the information.

“And those projects are lengthy, and require a lot of staff time.”

It took the scientist and his skilled support team years to get the IT-modeling software where it needed to be. Proving out in supersized server scenarios was always Joukov’s plan – “We didn’t want to have too many clients,” he said, “but we wanted to have high-profile clients” – and now the entrepreneur is ready to target “a wider audience.”

Joukov, who was an award-winning IBM researcher before launching ModelizeIT and currently teaches a DevOps course (essentially, solving IT problems) at NYU, said companies that ignore the risks do so at great peril.

“If you think about it, any major outage – whether it’s a security breach or some other IT-related situation – is caused by incorrect information about what’s really happening in the data center,” the computer scientist said. “This is the problem we’re solving.

“People just don’t know what applications are running, or where their data really is,” Joukov added. “Our aspiration is that every single company will be using this technology in their ecosystem, because IT complexity is something everybody fights with.”

ModelizeIT

What’s It? Software solution for optimizing and securing complex IT environments  

Brought To You By: Major brain Nikolai Joukov, who’d mastered physics and decided to give computers a whirl

Status: Now playing to “wider audiences”