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From the Farm to the Data Center

December 16, 2014  |  Written by Digital Realty

Where are you most likely to find someone combing through data – say, a list of best-selling products, or a breakdown of how weather affects markets and consumer behavior – in search of patterns and conclusions? In an office, right? You’d be surprised. Big data is literally everywhere, with businesses of all types using it in innovative ways.

Data centers bring analytics to the farm

While data analytics are now central to decision making in every industry from content marketing to professional sports, it has also cropped up in places far outside the traditional office space, such as farms. The reach of the data center is extending, as fast, secure processing and delivery of information become a part of everyday life for farmers. Think of big data as a path from the data center to the farm, effortlessly transporting real-time insights.

For example, number-crunching tools and prescriptive planting solutions can query a database to find out what seeds would be right for a particular plot of farmland. With this additional knowledge, farmers can then make better use of the land, conserve resources and ultimately increase production to feed a growing global population.

How much of a difference can data make in farming? A 2013 study cited by Dr. Raj Khosla, professor at Colorado State University, found that farmers using at least one precision technology (e.g., precision leveling) reduced their water usage by half. At the same time, they boosted grain yields by 16 percent. But these gains are just the opening act in a new age of agriculture.

From GPS to big data: Fresh approaches to agriculture

Using wireless networks and devices isn’t totally novel in farming. It’s common for combines and tractors to leverage Global Positioning System (GPS) and satellite navigation, so that they can travel in straight rows and/or avoid wasting seeds. Moreover, GPS, soil testing, and crop monitoring are all essential to the increasingly popular practice of precision agriculture.

However, given the quality of today’s mobile devices and data center solutions, there’s an opportunity to do even more with software and services to improve farming, even at great scale. For example, take corn, the largest crop by both acres planted and yearly revenue in the U.S.

As data-intensive farming comes into its own, corn production is on track for an all-time record in 2013-14, at over 13 billion bushels. To get a sense of scale, consider that it’s typical for farmers to sow each acre of a corn field with tens of thousands of seeds. Yet, not all parts of the field are equally suitable for growth.

Enter algorithms that draw upon massive repositories of data about landforms, terrain, and weather, in addition to statistical models. Data centers help assimilate this information and relay it to farmers, who can then visualize when and where to plant seeds, all from the screens of their tablets or smartphones. Together, data center infrastructure and analytics are helping boost production and feed the world.

By Rebecca Bergman, director of corporate communications @Rebecca_DLR