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College of Engineering and Computer Science Fall Newsletter

GE’s Big Daddy of Big Data Spawns a Revolution

Dec. 13, 2013

Alumnus Bill Ruh, vice president and corporate officer of GE Global Software Center. Photo: College of Engineering and Computer Science

The mention of the industrial revolution generally evokes images of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, when the onset of large-scale mechanized manufacturing and steam-powered factories fortified unprecedented, sustained economic growth.

But alumnus Bill Ruh, vice president and corporate officer of GE Global Software Center, says we are now at the dawn of a new industrial renaissance, powered by intelligent machines and specifically by the development of next-generation big data software.

"We aim to ignite this next industrial revolution by connecting minds and machines. The first frontier of the Internet focused on giving consumers a voice," recalls Ruh. "The next frontier, known as the Industrial Internet, will give every machine — including wind turbines, jet engines and MRI machines — a voice, and more importantly, something powerful to say. That is big data — valuable, proven big data."

The Industrial Internet, a term coined by GE, is the integration of complex machinery with networked sensors and software. The resulting industrial big data — the massive pool of information generated by the Industrial Internet — is more complex even than content extracted from other Internet channels, such as social Web and the consumer Internet.

"Collecting, analyzing and retrieving large amounts of structured and unstructured data is the challenge posed by big data linked to the Industrial Internet," says Ruh '83, '84 (B.S., M.S. computer science).

In the cybernetic heart of the Silicon Valley, Ruh and his team at GE Software are developing programs to effectively and dynamically manage Industrial big data. By doing so, they aim to forever change the way humans interact with machine.

"The mission of my group at GE is to design a layer of software that makes the concept of intelligent machines a reality," says Ruh. "Core to our strategy are software-based services provided by GE Software that will enable the brilliant machines of the Industrial Internet to evaluate tradeoffs, optimize decisions and apply lessons learned. These same services also provide the appropriate information to other machines, companies and people for decision-making, collaboration and actionable knowledge."

By its sheer magnitude, big data has potential to stimulate a new wave of technological and economic prosperity. The abundance of big data in the Industrial Internet is exemplified by the commercial airline industry.

"A single cross-country flight in the United States generates an astonishing 240 terabytes of big data! Using aircraft performance data, prognostics, predictive analytics and real-time data from nose-to-tail sensors, airline assets can be optimized to extend engine life, turning unscheduled maintenance into scheduled maintenance, and identifying potential operational disruptions before they occur," explains Ruh. "Across our customer base, a mere 1 percent increase in productivity will create significant profits — multibillion dollar profits per industry — for our customers."

A recent platform innovation pioneered by Ruh and his team is already providing deliverable solutions.

"This year, we announced an exciting new architecture; it's the first big data and analytics platform robust enough to manage the data produced by large-scale, industrial machines in the cloud. As part of this architecture, we delivered Proficy Historian HD, data management software that allows one to harness the power of the Industrial Internet by tracking every key component of a power plant," he says. "The new platform promises to revolutionize the ways in which industries capture sensor data, perform local processes and industrial analytics in real-time, and distribute data to end-points."

Acknowledging the ongoing success of his professional endeavors, Ruh points to Cal State Fullerton as the origin of his passion.

"At CSUF, I learned the value of software in implementing a complex system; I've been fortunate enough to apply that knowledge to the advancement of a career I love."

To young engineers who aspire to achieve as much as he has, Ruh offers wisdom guided by one of his more leisurely passions — golf.

"Golf may seem impossible; hit a 1.68-inch white ball into a 4.25-inch hole more than 500 yards away in only five swings," he says. "Yet, people do it on a daily basis, and the best often do it in fewer than five swings. Why? They have the right tools, training and technique — it is the same with life."

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