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What is Big Data?

Two of the most popular buzzwords of recent years are ‘Big Data’. It hardly seems possible to read an IT article these days without it referring to this mystical entity. But what exactly is Big Data, why has it suddenly appeared, and why is everyone talking about it so much?

The thing to note first with regard to this subject is that there is no definitive definition of Big Data, as it is ultimately an abstract concept. The best way to define Big Data is to say that it essentially recognizes a process which has particularly accelerated in recent years; that of the rabid growth in the availability of both structured and unstructured data.

Although Big Data has been absorbed by the public collective consciousness in recent years, the concept has been understood among IT experts for over a decade. But because Big Data is an exponential concept, its relevance has grown massively of late. Many factors have contributed to its growth, not least that more and more institutions, organizations and businesses are increasingly interested in collecting information en masse whenever they have the opportunity to do so.

And there are plenty of Big Data sources around. Some of the most popular and most utilized sources of big data include retail transactions and behavior, the vast amount of data which can be acquired from social media, and sensor and machine-to-machine data.

While the variety, complexity and scale of Big Data is ever increasing, there are huge advantages for any organization that can collect, structure and efficiently analyze Big Data. It was only months ago that infamous and influential linguist academic Noam Chomsky and Nobel Prize winner Barton Gellman both agreed in a talk at MIT that Big Data offers huge opportunities and that understanding Big Data is going to be both a massive challenge and opportunity in the future.

It is inevitable that even more Big Data will be both created and collected via the cloud, and this once obscure concept will become increasingly important in every area of human endeavor.