Using Big Data To Combat Water Shortages

Brian Wood Blog

Believe it or not, big data can do its part in solving big problems that affect everyone. It’s not exclusively about colocation, server racks, and cloud computing any longer; big data is lending a hand in ways that are proving to be quite beneficial to the world outside of private business and corporations.

Data Center Knowledge, a leading online source of daily news and analysis about the data center industry, recently reported that tech giant Intel currently has two research projects aimed at using big data to solve the world’s food and farming challenges. One of the projects focuses on irrigation while the other focuses on snow mapping in the Sierra Nevada mountain range.

While droughts are nothing new to California, serious efforts are underway to combat them by providing real-time, precise measurements of water available while saving as much as possible. The findings can then hopefully be used to predict more accurately when these conditions might occur again.

The irrigation project, called “Precision Farming”, is being undertaken in collaboration with the University of California at Davis with the end goal being to develop a better system of managing crops and their water supply. In this study, data is gathered through the strategic placement of sensors in agricultural land to monitor moisture levels in the soil and air ( Researchers hope that based on their findings, they can reduce the amount of water needed by up to fifty percent. These are lofty expectations for sure, though not entirely out of reach.

“The rate of water supply to the crop is determined on an ad-hoc basis,” noted Vin Sharma, Intel’s director of planning and marketing for Hadoop. “The notion is that there is a lot of waste because of over-provisioning. You instrument better and you tie that back to the supply of water and reduce waste.” (

Water 1


The snow mapping experiment in the Sierras involves gathering many different data on snow coverage including a compiling data on this coverage through a rating system of one through seven. While calculating and predicting drought conditions is not new, what is different here is the amount of data available now that remote sensing equipment is used instead of a simple stick in the ground to measure snow levels.

“It generates about two terabytes every 15 days, and the source files [are] 75 gigabytes a day,” Sharma said. The challenge they want to address is to make that data ‘queryable.’ We correct the files and load them into a database called EarthDB, based on work that Michael Stonebreaker did.” (Stonebreaker is a famous computer scientist who specializes in databases).

The plan is to construct a database that can be queried to help farmers as well as governments predict grow conditions while perhaps saving crops during years when water supply becomes an issue ( Virtually everyone in California can agree that research like this and the technology that can result will be more than beneficial as water is always an issue here, even during non-drought years.

Water 2


These current projects are a part of a broader program by Intel to apply big data to specific problems. While the short term goal is research insights, the long-term goal is creating reference architectures that can apply across a variety of industries and drive value ( Not only can studies like this benefit many people outside the business realm of big data, but eventually this research can, in fact, expand commercial opportunities for many companies.

Similar studies are becoming conducted more and more, companies are learning about the human side of big data and how it can benefit the entire world. It’s simply a matter of time before the business community begins to capitalize on this “new” science and starts focusing time, research, and money on issues that affect the world.

Data centers are not only following the worthwhile trend of increasing energy efficiency and going green, but they are also beginning to play an active role in the study of and, ultimately, the betterment of humanity on a global scale.

With the case of Intel and their current research, big data is proving to be worth its weight in water.