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The big greenfield cannabis cloud

Andrew C. Oliver | Sept. 11, 2015
How marijuana growers are leveraging big data analytics and cloud computing to boost productivity and sales.

I also interviewed New Frontier Financial, which told me all about its analytics and a lot about its methodology, but on the technology side would reveal only that the company operated a NoSQL database in the cloud -- and it used data mining tools written in R -- not which database or ingestion tools were in operation. The company actually regarded this as a kind of competitive edge. I suggested that if the NoSQL database and ETL tools in use was really New Frontier's competitive edge, it was in trouble.

Data difficulties

Frontier is working to solve an entrenched problem in the cannabis industry: data. Data comes in at different quality levels from multiple sources, and financial data has been hard to come by. 

In fact, up until now, even branding hasn't been protected. In the cannabis industry, marijuana growers in different regions or states frequently call the same strain by different names -- or different strains by the same name. This is a hard data problem to solve.

While Frontier works to solve this at a meta level, another company, PotBotics, has a product called NanoPot that detects gene sequences in cannabis to determine which seeds belong to which strain. Meanwhile, the company has a recommendation engine called PotBot -- and a similar product aimed toward medical marijuana called BrainBot -- that uses an EEG to pick the right personalized strain based on your brainwaves.

PotBotics uses a cloud-hosted combination of NoSQL databases, Hadoop, and Elasticsearch to power its products. The recommendation and discovery engines are based on SPARQL.

A serverless world

No one I spoke to talked about buying servers or building a hybrid cloud. Though none of us know what President Trump might do next year, everyone began with the premise that they should start with a hosted solution -- SaaS if possible, custom if necessary, and without a pool of system administrators.

This isn't even a conscious choice. I brought it up when I asked if they'd ever thought of buying a server. Grow Buddy was an outlier with SQL Server, but everyone else started with a NoSQL operational database and various other technologies in the cloud, including Hadoop for back-end analytics.

It strikes me that a lot of companies with a lot less legal or financial liabilities claim they need their own data center and avoid the cloud for security reasons. Yet even the "legalized" marijuana business carries the potential for a visit to federal prison.

If that's not an indication of our future in the cloud, I don't know what is. The people I interviewed for this story all struck me as perfectly capable of making reasoned decisions. Despite very real risks, no one was standing up their own servers in a basement somewhere. The cloud, including big data systems to optimize production, was an assumption.


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