March 09, 2011, 10:35 AM — The now-trendy concept of Big Data usually implies ever-growing hordes of data, including unstructured info posted on Facebook and Twitter, and ways of gleaning intelligence from all of it to create business opportunities. The concept, however, also carries with it risks for anyone opening up about themselves on the Internet and raises questions about who exactly owns all this data.
Big Data is associated with technologies such as the Apache Hadoop distributed computing platform and is prompting some technology companies, including IBM, to make major acquisitions. But the term "Big Data," claims GigaOm analyst Derrick Harris, is a bit of a misnomer; it's really about data from different sources, including social networks and even cell phones. "It's coming from sensors, it's coming from computers, it's coming from the Web," he says.
[ Read InfoWorld's primer "The big promise of Big Data." | See how IBM views Big Data in Eric Knorr's interview "A conversation with IBM's Mr. Big Data." | Learn about the emerging BI and Big Data trends in depth with InfoWorld's interactive iGuide. ]
The strong interest by both IT and business units in Big Data is "about being able to harness it, and it's about being able to do something with it" -- in essence, analyzing it, says Harris. "The great thing about Big Data is we accumulate this amount of information and we have systems in place where we can use that for good," such as analyzing human genome information or making government data available, says Mozilla developer evangelist Christian Heilmann. Business analysts can study large data sets by renting servers for an hour, using technology such as Hadoop, he says.