Minnesota’s Big Data Bros Are Crushing It


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Brothers Brock Noland and Mac Noland are the founders of phData.

“Underneath the buzz of big data, there are fundamental changes happening,” Brock Noland begins by saying.

Seven years ago while working at Thomson Reuters, Noland was in charge of scaling a key relational database to new levels — pushing the limits of technology at the time.

While stuck on a solution, he stumbled across Hadoop in a move “that changed the game forever.”

Originating at Google circa 2003 and pioneered by Doug Cutting, Apache Hadoop is an open-source software framework used for distributed storage and processing of very large data sets. It’s built on the premise that storage hardware can and will fail, therefore the framework itself should consider such assumptions.

“The more I experienced, the more I loved it,” Noland recalls.

The romance was real because it didn’t take long for him to connect directly with Cutting, leave Thomson Reuters and head out west for his next chapter.

When Noland joined Cloudera, he was employee number 50.  The Cloudera of today has has since raised a billion dollars of investment capital, counts thousands of employees, and is eyeing IPO as early as this year.

During his four year tenure at Cloudera, Noland realized the bottleneck of adoption that Hadoop faced in the marketplace as larger companies, such as his former employer, were struggling with their own implementations.

So he reached out to his brother Mac, who had done 15 years at Thomson Reuters, and asked if Mac wanted to create a company of their own, one that would “go all in on Hadoop.”

Not only has Hadoop changed the big data game over the last decade — it’s also since changed the career trajectory for these brothers as the founders of phData, which launched late 2014.

With ‘Hadoop as a service’ in mind,  phData is providing coaching, consulting, and managed services exclusively for the Hadoop ecosystem to large companies in need of “data transformation,” as Noland puts it.

Two years after inception, phData had acquired around 20 customers across the Midwest and is managing the data of multiple Fortune 500 companies in various industry sectors, including retail, finance and medical device.

Engagements range from team coaching around analytics, applications, and infrastructure, to custom consulting projects and ultimately annual managed service contracts based on the size of the Hadoop cluster.

The demand has resulted in phData’s employee growth, which has skyrocketed from one to 25 full time employees in two years time, as they push spatial limits from the confines of CoCo in Downtown Minneapolis.

Paralleling phData’s growth is the Twin Cities Hadoop User Group which Noland created some six years ago, now with ~1,800 members.  Naturally, this has created a lot of synergy between phData and the world they live in; at a meetup last month, Cutting himself came to Minnesota to speak in front of a crowd 500 strong at the University of St. Thomas, St. Paul campus.

“When Cloudera has big bad problems, the turn to us,” Noland confides. “Simply said, we’re experts and we know our stuff.  There’s a lot of ties between open source community, the Hadoop meetup, and our company.”

“Our goal is to hit $6 million of sales by the end of this year,” he asserts, a figure nearly double the year prior.