Gov. Charlie Baker, MassMutual's Roger Crandall see promise, peril in Big Data

This story follows and expands upon: UMass gets $5M from state for cybersecurity

SPRINGFIELD — The more science, industry and society at large make use of humanity’s rapidly expanding access to data concerning nearly every field of human endeavor, the more that data will be at risk from people who might use it for ill.

For that reason, and for the business opportunities Big Data will create, the state of Massachusetts has granted $5 million to buy the latest in computer equipment to power both the data analytics and the cybersecurity programs at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and the UMass satellite in Springfield.

“Cybersecurity is a growing necessity,” Gov. Charlie Baker said Wednesday. “It’s a global issue and in some ways a global fight.” 

Baker and MassMutual Financial Group CEO Roger Crandall sounded similar themes Wednesday when announcing the funding. They spoke along with state Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst, state Sen. James Welch, D-West Springfield, state Rep. Carlos Gonzalez, D-Springfield, Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Jay Ash, UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy and UMass President Marty Meehan.

Crandall said potential cyber criminals try and breach the computer networks at the Springfield-based insurance giant virtually millions of times a day. The company has security teams working around the clock seven days a week.

“Because once you lose that network, things can go badly very quickly,” Crandall said.

And the threats will become more stark in the future as the “internet of things” takes hold. The internet of things is the notion that in the near future nearly every object will be connected to the web and monitored by software.

“So the hack might come in through your car. It might come in through your watch or your pacemaker,” Crandall said. “Soon we will have computers in our clothes.”

In June, MassMutual announced that it will donate $15 million to UMass computer science programs over the next 10 years. This is the largest grant MassMutual has ever made in support of an initiative in the region.

Of the $15 million, $12 million will support the UMass Amherst Center for Data Science with additional faculty, double of the number of available courses and an expanded master’s degree program.

In Springfield, the company will donate $3 million over 10 years to expand a cybersecurity certificate program taught at the university’s center in MassMutual-owned Tower Square. The cybersecurity certificate program is an eight-week, 15-credit-hour program preparing cybersecurity professionals for the workplace.

“We need them,” Crandall said.

He added that he appreciates the support of the Baker administration.

“The reality is, companies have a choice as to where they can go,” Crandall said.

Baker said one thing he has learned since taking office in January 2015 is that colleges and universities play a larger-than-ever roll developing local economies and generating jobs.

The $5 million comes from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative capital investment fund, said Pat Larkin, the agency’s interim executive director. It will pay for a team of computers called graphic processing units used to handle large amounts of data.

Michael F. Malone, the university’s vice chancellor for research and engagement, said the equipment itself will be located at the Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center (MGHPCC) in Holyoke where there is special infrastructure, staff and security to support it. But the $5 million worth of computer equipment will have remote-access terminals in Amherst, Springfield and Boston.

Andrew Kachites McCallum, UMass professor and director of the of the Center for Data Science and of the Information Extraction and Synthesis Laboratory in Amherst, said these computers do things in days that it took the last generation of computers months to accomplish.