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What exactly is big data?
The definition of big data is data that contains greater variety, arriving in increasing volumes and with more velocity. This is also known as the three Vs.
Put simply, big data is larger, more complex data sets, especially from new data sources. These data sets are so voluminous that traditional data processing software just can’t manage them. But these massive volumes of data can be used to address business problems you wouldn’t have been able to tackle before.
Two more Vs have emerged over the past few years: value and veracity. Data has intrinsic value. But it’s of no use until that value is discovered. Equally important: How truthful is your data—and how much can you rely on it?
Today, big data has become capital. Think of some of the world’s biggest tech companies. A large part of the value they offer comes from their data, which they’re constantly analyzing to produce more efficiency and develop new products.
Recent technological breakthroughs have exponentially reduced the cost of data storage and compute, making it easier and less expensive to store more data than ever before. With an increased volume of big data now cheaper and more accessible, you can make more accurate and precise business decisions.
Finding value in big data isn’t only about analyzing it (which is a whole other benefit). It’s an entire discovery process that requires insightful analysts, business users, and executives who ask the right questions, recognize patterns, make informed assumptions, and predict behavior.
But how did we get here?
Although the concept of big data itself is relatively new, the origins of large data sets go back to the 1960s and ‘70s when the world of data was just getting started with the first data centers and the development of the relational database.
Around 2005, people began to realize just how much data users generated through Facebook, YouTube, and other online services. Hadoop (an open-source framework created specifically to store and analyze big data sets) was developed that same year. NoSQL also began to gain popularity during this time.
The development of open-source frameworks, such as Hadoop (and more recently, Spark) was essential for the growth of big data because they make big data easier to work with and cheaper to store. In the years since then, the volume of big data has skyrocketed. Users are still generating huge amounts of data—but it’s not just humans who are doing it.
With the advent of the Internet of Things (IoT), more objects and devices are connected to the internet, gathering data on customer usage patterns and product performance. The emergence of machine learning has produced still more data.
While big data has come far, its usefulness is only just beginning. Cloud computing has expanded big data possibilities even further. The cloud offers truly elastic scalability, where developers can simply spin up ad hoc clusters to test a subset of data. And graph databases are becoming increasingly important as well, with their ability to display massive amounts of data in a way that makes analytics fast and comprehensive.
Big data benefits:
Big data can help you address a range of business activities, from customer experience to analytics. Here are just a few.
While big data holds a lot of promise, it is not without its challenges.
First, big data is…big. Although new technologies have been developed for data storage, data volumes are doubling in size about every two years. Organizations still struggle to keep pace with their data and find ways to effectively store it.
But it’s not enough to just store the data. Data must be used to be valuable and that depends on curation. Clean data, or data that’s relevant to the client and organized in a way that enables meaningful analysis, requires a lot of work. Data scientists spend 50 to 80 percent of their time curating and preparing data before it can actually be used.
Finally, big data technology is changing at a rapid pace. A few years ago, Apache Hadoop was the popular technology used to handle big data. Then Apache Spark was introduced in 2014. Today, a combination of the two frameworks appears to be the best approach. Keeping up with big data technology is an ongoing challenge.
Discover more big data resources:
Big data gives you new insights that open up new opportunities and business models. Getting started involves three key actions:
Big data brings together data from many disparate sources and applications. Traditional data integration mechanisms, such as extract, transform, and load (ETL) generally aren’t up to the task. It requires new strategies and technologies to analyze big data sets at terabyte, or even petabyte, scale.
During integration, you need to bring in the data, process it, and make sure it’s formatted and available in a form that your business analysts can get started with.
Big data requires storage. Your storage solution can be in the cloud, on premises, or both. You can store your data in any form you want and bring your desired processing requirements and necessary process engines to those data sets on an on-demand basis. Many people choose their storage solution according to where their data is currently residing. The cloud is gradually gaining popularity because it supports your current compute requirements and enables you to spin up resources as needed.
Your investment in big data pays off when you analyze and act on your data. Get new clarity with a visual analysis of your varied data sets. Explore the data further to make new discoveries. Share your findings with others. Build data models with machine learning and artificial intelligence. Put your data to work.
To help you on your big data journey, we’ve put together some key best practices for you to keep in mind. Here are our guidelines for building a successful big data foundation.