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Dave Sabey: Electricity to power Big Data

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Seattle entrepreneur Dave Sabey looks into his crystal ball and sees a robust future for North Central Washington, because we’ve got the juice that will transform education, health care and other industries using Big Data.

One of the keys to Sabey’s success is his ability to see patterns and look for ways to systematize processes to create greater efficiency and higher quality. “That’s what Big Data is all about,” Sabey said.

In the same way the National Security Agency is sifting through billions of records in search of terrorists, Sabey sees enormous improvements in efficiency and effectiveness in a wide range of industries.

I had the chance to interview Sabey in the conference room of the Seattle Science Foundation on the campus of Swedish Hospital in Seattle recently, a facility that hints at the future of medicine and education. Its Bioskills Lab and teleconference center are being used to demonstrate cutting edge techniques to physicians and students in faraway places. This is part of the future of medicine that Sabey and others see, using technology. Sabey sees the potential for tapping into the knowledge of world-class specialists and augmenting their technical skills with a best-practices approach using Big Data.

Currently, Sabey explains, medical data exists in impenetrable silos. By figuring out a way to tap into all of the available databases on a real-time basis to understand the outcomes of, say, appendicitis procedures, protocols could be developed based on various indicators that should improve outcomes and reduce costs. He predicts that ways can be found to reduce cost by 50 percent through knowledge sharing.

In other words, what if your surgeon had access to the best practices across the globe on any given procedure? Without that, she’s dependent upon her more limited experience.

That’s the allure of Big Data when it comes to medicine, Sabey told me.

The exciting part for North Central Washington is that we have the cheapest electricity in the country and so the best place to process information in this way is here. He thinks we are in a position to take advantage of this unique competitive position.

“We have 2-cent green electrons,” said Sabey, referring to the 2-cents per kilowatt hour power that we enjoy compared to the 22 cents that they’re paying in Manhattan, where he also has a data center.

What Big Data can do for medicine will also work with agriculture, Sabey predicts. A vast array of weather sensors could predict with greater accuracy the weather in a location. It could be helpful to use that data to optimize what farmers are planting. “Old-time farmers have good hunches, know the soil and the micro-soil situations,” said Sabey. “What if we could give them data to back up those hunches?”

As Sabey sees it, the data center industry has done a poor job of explaining itself. These are more than big buildings with computers in them, he says, adding that he expects it will be cheaper for companies that are working on Big Data to process the information here, which means that we may see a wave of engineers ultimately moving here to tease the data. “The bioinformatics people are going to have to reside there to tweak the data,” Sabey predicted.

“I’m excited by this,” said Sabey, who could hardly contain his enthusiasm as he rattled off statistics of the milliseconds that it takes to move data from Quincy to New York.

“Electricity is the oxygen that drives in the Internet,” Sabey continued. “It’s a story that just hasn’t been told.”

He says we should be questioning our strategy of selling power to California when we could be a global leader in Big Data and create more jobs in the region.

He doesn’t expect the Mayo Clinic to pull up stakes and relocate to Quincy, but we could see some of their researchers locating here.

The challenge for local utility commissioners and executives is whether that influx of good-paying actually occurs. They worry about the local economic development aspect of jobs per kilowatt hour.

It’s the balancing of values that will need to be continually evaluated based on the uncertainties of energy system going forward.