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Has Big Data Nuked the Fridge?

As a disclaimer, I should point out that I have been working with very large data for all of my working life and am extremely passionate about it. In fact, I was on the team that ran the first 1 terabyte, non-extrapolated ETL benchmark 10 years ago.

However, if I’m being completely honest, I must confess that all of this talk about Big Data (including from yours truly on the Syncsort blog) has me increasingly thinking that enough is enough. Suddenly, every company is now a Big Data company. It wouldn’t shock me to find a furniture company at the next tech industry tradeshow selling special reinforced Big Data storage cabinets!

Like kissing in the school yard, Big Data is the topic that everyone is talking about but very few are doing well (if at all). CEOs and CIOs everywhere are being bombarded with messaging that makes it sound like their businesses are about to grind to a halt if they don’t redirect significant portions of their budgets to this “new” area of focus.

As an aside, my first thought for the title of this post was “Has Big Data Jumped the Shark?” before I recalled a post by a similar name from Curt Monash.  In addition to being a very good post, I loved Merv Adrian’s quote towards the end about it being Crocodile Dundee’s job to determine what is and isn’t Big Data. That said, I have grown to quite like the title that I landed on for this post.

I must admit that I do love what Big Data has done for my social street cred. It used to be that data geeks like me, with our vampire tans from being in the data center all day (somehow made worse for a Brit like me), used to be mocked. Can you believe that! Now we are data scientists that are in high demand and can earn fortunes. I have even wondered if my experience in this space will one day lead to me being called a “Big Data professor.” But I digress and it is time to get back to business…

Recently, I met with two very smart (and very talented) executives looking for guidance on how to stop their company’s “impending destruction” at the hands of Big Data.  I naturally tried to share some pearls of wisdom, but what really struck me was that it took a simple name, “Big Data,” to make all this stuff sexy. Data didn’t just become Big Data overnight. One could argue that it has always been that way! Even before I was born, Syncsort was helping customers address the challenges of handling very large data volumes to save money.

So, I’m curious. Is it just me that’s thinking the term Big Data is starting to get so overhyped that it could eventually become meaningless? Is “Big Data” poised to be simply called “data” again? Leave me a comment with your thoughts.

Regardless, I love the fact that data and all the plumbing around it are finally sexy. If this keeps up, it will only be a matter of time before we will all be able to go to a spray tan shop and get the “data scientist special.”

  • Steven Haddad — April 5, 2012 at 10:42 am


    A few days ago, I’ve met an analyst who spoke to me about the “4V” of Big Data.
    As I had heard about the “3V” – Volume, Variety, Velocity – I asked about the 4th one.
    He answered : The 4th one is Value. Today, BigData actors try to sound relevant by showing that they can “handle it”. The real winners will come soon. They’ll succeed in making value out of the new data flows.
    Then, you’ll have real differences between Big Data and Traditional Data :
    – Origin (traditional systems vs new data sources as social networks and clickstreams)
    – Value enclosed (and way to extract it) – TBD

    Who cares about counting words in Shaekespeare’s books ?


  • Aaron Bradley — April 19, 2012 at 7:24 pm

    Thank you for writing this post so I didn’t have to.

    Well, actually my unwritten post would have been terribly brief. The title would have been sufficient to convey the gist of my complaint: “Enough with the ‘big data’ already!” I don’t know exactly when it changed, but recently it seems as though every other title in my analytics feed contains the phrase “big data.”

    To a certain extent I appreciate the distinction between “data” and “big data” as it applies to practitioners (as you pointed out in regard to your social street cred). Indeed, I call myself a Internet marketer specializing in “enterprise-level SEO” – just to kind of make it clear that I deal with big sites that have millions of visitors, not mom-and-pop brochure sites.

    But at the end of the day I deal with search traffic, and whether Google sends me 50 visitors or 5,000,000 the principles are all the same, and I what I really practice is “SEO.” And when I’m wearing my analytics and data analysis hats, I’m dealing with lots of data too. Is it “big data” or just “data”? I don’t know, because I don’t know how much volume, or how many variables, or how many databases it takes to earn that label. But it sure is “data,” and that’s a term I’m far more comfortable with than its buzzword phrase cousin.

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