Whether you like it or not, big data analytics technology has nabbed its spot as the next hot trend in the IT industry, and the term will be banded about for years to come.
At increasing numbers of industry events big data analytics is listed, along with cloud computing, social networking and mobile computing, as a technology that has the potential to change the IT landscape as we know it.
IDC published a report last month that forecast the market for big data technology and services will grow from $3.2bn in 2010 to $16.9bn in 2015. This is seven times the annual growth rate that is forecast for the IT market in general.
It's quite shocking when you think about it. Hardly anyone was even talking about big data five years ago.
But now as big data becomes the new IT buzzword, droves of press releases latch on to the term like it's the only subject that will keep the public relations industry alive, while us journalists begin to regard the topic with dread.
And you can't really blame us. We remain swamped by the cloud computing ‘revolution', writing story after story about companies that have finally taken to the cloud or IT providers that have released cloud products.
We've covered research into the size and value of the cloud market, investigated the extent to which firms are for prepared for the cloud, and had a good, long discussion about all the possible cloud computing challenges you can think of.
But maybe we shouldn't be so hasty. Before we've dismissed big data as the next cloud, let's just lend it a moment's thought, and consider whether this technology has a silver lining.
Big data analytics is not just a new type of computing architecture that can cut costs and drive efficiencies, but a set of technologies that have the potential to change society so that it resembles sci-fi films.
Interactions between individuals, businesses and the government can become faster and more intelligent with the analysis of big data. Yes, some of this is scary, especially to those individuals who worry over privacy. But there is also a lot of good the technology can offer.
One of the oft-cited examples is law enforcement agencies using big data analytics to research crime hotspots and combat crimes of a specific nature.
This has advanced in the US with an initiative called Crimespotting, and in the UK police force with Crime Maps. Both programmes aggregate crime reports and allow the public to track instances of crimes in their neighbourhoods.
Meanwhile, another example often used to highlight benefits of big data is that of medical researchers soon being able to scan data from public health records, medical textbooks, clinical studies and individuals' genomes to pinpoint successful treatments or to spot diseases before they emerge.
This is in fact not so far off. Europe's largest university hospital, Charite University of Medicine Berlin (PDF) gives every doctor and senior manager ready access to data about operations, scheduling, patient care, and in some cases, patient records. This allows operations to be planned according to the skills on wards at a particular time, reducing the waiting times of all patients.
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