David has over 40 years of industry experience in software development and information technology and a bachelor of computer science
The Ever-Increasing Presence of Data
Usable information is everywhere. We generate it constantly, through virtually everything we do. Health information is created when we go to the Doctor or Dentist, attendance information is created when we step through the gate at a movie theatre, and traffic information is created when we run a traffic light. It all adds up. And it's getting bigger by the minute. But what good is it if we can't organize it, make some sense of it, or draw any significant conclusions from it? Well, in a word, none. That's where big data makes its entrance.
What is Big Data?
Big data is the area of science and technology that deals with large data sets. By and large, we mean data sets that can't be handled by traditional methods. For the most part, this means either by hand, or with software packages like Microsoft Excel, Access, SQL Server, and their equivalents from other vendors. Even with powerful machines underneath, current data sets are pushing the boundaries of these traditional packages. It is also important to note that the boundaries are changing. Every year sees faster processors, and larger, cheaper storage. It won't be long before yesterday's big data becomes today's normal size data.
What Are Its Advantages?
The biggest advantage of big data these days it that it can tell us things we don't already know. Certainly, we gain some information from smaller, traditional sized data sets. But imagine what additional things we might learn if we examined more information. Conclusions would get better because there is more informational support. We might also gain new conclusions, because the original data set didn't contain this new data.
Let's use health information as an example. Would the conclusions drawn from examining every patient record in the world be better than the conclusions drawn using only records in your own doctor's office? Could a new attribute of a disease be discovered, or perhaps a new cure? Absolutely!
What Are Its Challenges?
The challenges for big data are numerous, and amount to virtually everything. Storage is a problem because of the space requirements. Processing is also a problem because current processor speeds aren't fast enough to chug through the large amount of data in a reasonable time. These two combine to make it difficult to move it around as well. Furthermore, searching it is a problem because of the amount of data involved. You get the idea. Resources are obviously an issue for this area. But it is clear that new methods need to be developed in order to handle the requirements of this exciting area.
To recap, big data is the area of science and technology that deals with large data sets. In other words, data sets that can't be handled in the usual fashion. These methods include by hand, and by using software packages such as Microsoft Excel, Access, and SQL Server. The biggest advantage of big data these days is that it allows us to draw conclusions, conclusions that weren't immediately apparent. This includes additional support for drawn conclusions, and new conclusions that couldn't be drawn from smaller data sets. The challenges are mainly tied to resources - processing storage and handling can be difficult.
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