“I see big data. All the time. It’s everywhere.”

By Tamara Dull, SAS Best Practices

I saw my first movie when I was 14 years old. I took my 5-year-old brother to see “For the Love of Benji” at a local theater, which only had one screen and thinly-padded, scruffy seats. Perhaps the theater had two screens – I can’t remember – but small theaters were the norm back then.

Today, it’s rare to find a 1-2 screen theater amidst the sea of cineplexes with 8, 12, 16 or 24 screens, equipped with plush, reclining lounge chairs. And it’s not uncommon to go to the theater and find three versions of the same movie: standard, 3D, and IMAX (not to mention IMAX+3D).

What used to be a simple choice – pick this movie or that one – is now a bit more complicated.

Big Data is the Cineplex of Today’s Data

I saw my first database when I was 24 years old. It was an Oracle database – version 4, I believe. For the next 20 years, I grew up with the database and the applications that worked intimately with it – from operational transactions to high-end analytics.

Then in walked the Internet. And Google. And Facebook. And the iPhone. And suddenly my “small” theater of RDBMS data exploded into a cineplex of big data.

What used to be relatively simple is now a bit more complicated.

For the past couple of years, I’ve spoken and written a lot about big data. I remember in 2010, when I first started focusing on everything “big data,” how foreign, yet familiar, this new, noisy world felt. It didn’t take long for me to figure out that the “data” in “big data” is not new.

Consider this: We’ve been dealing with a lot of this “big” data for years – e.g., email, photos, videos, PDFs, spreadsheets, RFID tags, and the like. What is new are the emerging big data technologies that are making it possible to both store and process all this data – structured and unstructured – at a fraction of the cost and time of traditional systems. Why limit ourselves to our clean, structured data when we can have it all now?

What used to be simple is becoming more complicated.

Big Data is Everywhere

The irony is that once you begin to understand what big data is, you start to see it everywhere—sort of like how the young boy in the movie “The Sixth Sense” began to see dead people. “I see big data. All the time. It’s everywhere.” A lot of this big data is not new, and you don’t have to be a data scientist to see it.

The list below is a small sample of “big data.” Do you recognize any of these?

  • Google. A big data pioneer who developed a big data platform from scratch and then built its first app on top of it. Today, we call it Search. The platform and its apps continue to drive new developments in big data technologies.
  • Boston Marathon 2013. This was a big data story. Through the use of “big” data – mostly generated by those watching the race – and big data technologies, they were able to identify the bombers quickly.
  • Self-driving cars. Google’s stealing the spotlight on this one for right now – but again, this is a big data project.
  • Facebook. Another big data platform with a very popular big data app built on top of it. Almost 20% of the world uses it.
  • Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Even though we still don’t know why or where this plane went down, it was the use of big data – much of it open to consumers – that helped drive the plane search and investigation forward.
  • Fitbit. This is personal big data either making you more fit or making you feel more guilty.
  • Person of Interest. Have you seen this TV show? It’s the collision of 9-11, big data, law enforcement, and saving the good guys from the bad.
  • Disney MagicBand. Disney has figured out a way to make personal data collection cool and your park visit more magical. Welcome to Dataland.
  • Amazon. Another big data company who loves data and refuses to discard any of it. They use it to develop new site features and revenue lines.
  • Waze. One of my favorite traffic/navigation apps. It’s a crowdsourcing app that learns and grows from the drivers who use it.
  • Edward Snowden and the NSA. Why bring up this “old” story? Because it’s changed how the U.S. (and the world) looks at big data privacy. This story continues to evolve.
  • Internet of Things. IoT is at the center of today’s tech hype. Keep your eye on this one because big data is a major player.

Like I said, big data is not new. It’s everywhere. And it’s evolving. What used to be simple is no longer simple.


Tamara Dull is the Director of Emerging Technologies for SAS Best Practices, a thought leadership organization at SAS Institute. Through engaging publications, rich media and industry engagements, she delivers a pragmatic perspective on topics including big data, Hadoop, open source and the Internet of Things. Tamara has been in the high tech industry for over 25 years, and has held positions in enterprise training and consulting, software development, marketing, and IT, product and executive management.


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