A partner needs sales data from last quarter that is sitting up in your Azure Data Lake. They are a new partner so the necessary infrastructure hasn’t been setup to facilitate data transfers over to their system.

If the dataset is small enough, you could always zip it up and place it in Dropbox or maybe setup an FTP server they could access. If you wanted to go old school, you could put the data onto a thumb drive and send it Fedex overnight. If you were to throw the concerns of time and money out the window, you could build out a set of API endpoints for the partner to tap into. How about sharing big data? I wish you the best of luck.

As you can see, we have a group of imperfect solutions to a fairly common business problem. Thankfully, Microsoft has whipped up with a little slice of perfection with Azure Data Share. With just a few clicks, you can securely share and monitor data with partners and customers through the Azure portal. Azure Data Share is a Platform as a Service, requiring no code or infrastructure to get up and running. Let’s break down how this new Azure service works and what makes it particularly valuable to the enterprise.

What data can be shared?

Azure Data Share was released to public preview last month during the Microsoft Inspire Partner Conference in Las Vegas. During its preview phase, Data Share supports sharing datasets from Azure Blob and Azure Data Lake, but Microsoft promises more options are coming soon.

Sharing is easy. Within the dataset panel, you can drill down to the file level to give consumers exactly what they need and none of what they don’t. As you would expect with Azure, there are no limitations on the amount of data that can be shared, and it will effortlessly scale to meet the demands of big data.

How to regulate what gets shared?

Regardless of the industry, data governance is a huge concern. You can’t have lax standards regarding who has access to data and what they are allowed to do with it. Azure Data Share comes prepared, positioning governance front and center.

The Portal provides a comprehensive view of who data is being shared with, what is being shared, when that share began as well as a full history of refreshes that have been triggered since inception. Before receiving access, all recipients must agree to the predetermined terms of use. If a partner is receiving regular updates on a shared dataset, that access can be revoked at any time. Revoking access doesn’t extend to any snapshot that has already been captured. It simply blocks any future access.

How is a Data Share setup in the Azure Portal?

Data Share is currently available to all Azure customers. Simply type Data Share into the search bar to be directed to the management panel. Click the Start Sharing My Data button to get started. You’ll be asked to define the data share which includes the name of share, a description and its terms of use. Those fields will display in the invite email so be sure to flesh them out appropriately. Next, the recipients of the data share are established by inputting their email address. This email address must be connected to a valid Azure account.

When your partner or customer initially grabs the dataset, they are not accessing the data directly. Instead, they get a copy, or a moment in time snapshot, of the data. That’s great for the next hour or maybe day, but what happens as that data evolves? Within the settings tab, you can setup how often the snapshot will be refreshed — hourly or daily. Finally, the details of the newly created Data Share will need to be accepted before it will send the invite to the recipient.

From the email, the recipient will be directed to their received shares panel within the Azure Portal where they will define the new or existing subscription the data will be drawn into as well as the storage account within that subscription. Data doesn’t populate automatically. The partner will need to trigger a snapshot, designating if they want to a full or incremental copy. The status of an invitation can always be monitored from the Azure Portal.

How secure is Data Share?

There are layers of security coming into play when data is shared and transferred. Azure Active Directory manages who has access to the Azure Portal based on managed identities. Only recipients who are specifically authorized by the data provider are able to access the data share, and that access can be revoked just as easily as its granted. Lastly, data is encrypted as it is transferred between accounts.

How are companies using Azure Data Share?

A few use cases that come to mind include:

  • A retailer sharing data with their supplier to aid forecasting and inventory management.
  • An insurance company sharing their claims data with a data monetization firm which in turn sells it to a car manufacturer like Telsa, providing the insurer a fresh source of revenue.
  • A warehouse management firm sharing data with its grocer partner, showing food shipments damaged in transit to be billed back to the carrier.

The monetization angle is an interesting one. As companies accrue mountains of data, that data has worth in ways that many companies hadn’t considered. Making a new revenue stream appear out of thin air is always a welcomed thing, but in the age of GDPR and in the aftermath of Facebook, companies have to tread lightly to determine what data has value and what will bring a storm of regulatory headaches crashing down upon them.

Big Data is expected to be a $40.6 billion segment by 2024 according to Research and Markets. As the reach of big data becomes more pervasive, organizations will need to share this data with partners and customers. Azure Data Share provides a streamlined approach to sharing, refreshing and monitoring data in a secure fashion. It’s not a perfect solution, but it does represent a significant improvement over the status quo.

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