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It is a big world for big data after all

In the Information Week Global CIO blog, Patrick Houston says that big is bad when it comes to data questioning the appropriateness of the term big data. Houston highlights the risk of the term being taken literally by the not-so-technical folks. Big data will continue to spread with emerging associative terms like big data expert, big data technologies, etc. I also see other reactions to this term like the one in this post from Allison Watterson on What do you mean big data, little data is hard enough. Why has it gained this broad adoption so fast?


Here are my top 5 reasons why the term big data has stuck and may be appropriate after all notwithstanding Houston’s insightful observations:


Foundational. It all started with data processing going decades back. Over the years, we have seen:

  • Big Computer - monolithic behemoths – or in today’s terms, legacy platforms
  • Big Network - local and wide area networks
  • Big Connector - the Internet that facilitated meaningful access with a purpose to consumers across the globe
  • Big Communicator - social media that has fostered communication beyond our imagination

It is all leading up to the generation and consumption of big data driven by presence. It was all about data to start with, and we have come back full circle to data now.


Pervasive. Big Data will pervasively promote a holistic approach across all architectural elements of cloud computing:

  • Compute: complex data processing algorithms
  • Network: timely transmission of high volumes of data
  • Storage: various media to house <choose your prefix> bytes of data

Familiar. Big is always part of compound associations whether it be a hamburger, Big Brother or The Big Dipper. It is a big deal – shall we say? Data has always been generated and consumed with continued emergence of evolutionary technologies. You say big data and pictures of data rapidly growing like a balloon or spreading like water come to mind. It has something to do with data. There is something big about it.


Synthetic. Thomas C Redman introduces a term "Informationlization" in the Harvard Business Review blog, which I discuss in this post on Informationalize your data to rationalize your applications. To me, the term big data is also about synthesis individual pixels on the display device coming together to present a cohesive, meaningful picture.


Simple. You cannot get simpler than a three-letter word paired up with a four-letter word to mean something by itself. Especially when neither one is a TLA (three-letter acronym) for something very difficult to pronounce! Children in their elementary grades start learning these simple words before moving on to complex spelling bees with an abundance of vowels and y and x and q letters. Big data rolls off the tongue easily with a total of three syllables.


As humans, we tend to gravitate towards simplicity. Which is why the whole world chimes in and sways back and forth when Sir Paul McCartney sings Hey Jude! decades after the first performance of this immortal piece. The line that sticks in our mind is the simplest line in the whole song - easy to render - one that we hum along with our hearts. Likewise, big data provides the most simplistic interpretation possible for a really complex world out there. By the way, Was McCartney sending a sublime message with this rendition?  


I actually like what Houston proposes – gushing data – however, I am not sure if it would enjoy the attention that big data gets. It represents a domain that needs to be addressed globally across all architectural layers by everyone including the consumers, administrators and orchestrators of data.


Therefore, big data is not just good enough – it is apt.


What about you? Do you have other names in mind? What does big data mean to you?


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