Big data is a collection of massive data sets that are generated and collected through various sources. Big data can be present in structured, semi-structured and unstructured form. It helps in identifying trends and past behaviours in any field. It has applications in many fields including banking, education, Marketing and business.
However, there are certain challenges associated with big data such as lack of storage capacity and processing technologies. High computing power is required to process big data and find meaningful insights from it.
Which software technologies are used to manage big data?
In traditional computing systems, organizations had to buy infrastructure and maintain them to have proper computing system. It was very costly as well as time consuming. Cloud computing solved this problem. It offered customized computing systems at affordable costs.
Big data requires massive on-demand computation power and distributed storage. It is often present in petabytes which is too large for traditional computing systems. Cloud computing provides scalable on-demand integrated computer resources, required storage and computing capacity to analyse big data. Users can use these resources and end the session when done. They will be charged only for the resources used.
Apache Hadoop, an open source distributed processing framework is used to perform the processing of big data. It uses Map/Reduce algorithm to process large volume of data. It works on divide and conquer method in which a problem is broken down into many smaller parts. Gradually other processing tools such as Apache Spark and MongoDB Atlas were introduced after Hadoop. Often an ecosystem of different technologies are used for big data processing.
What are various definitions of big data?
According to Edd Dumbill on O’Reilly, big data is data that can't be processed through conventional database systems. The data is too big and increases too fast to fit the structures of database architectures. An alternative way should be chosen to process it.
According to Microsoft Enterprise Insight Blog, big data is the process of applying high computing power – the latest in machine learning and artificial intelligence – to massive and highly complex sets of information.
According to Networkworld, any amount of data that’s too big to be handled by one computer is big data.
According to Cory Janssen's post on Techopedia, big data is a process that is used when traditional data mining and handling techniques cannot find insights and meaning from data sets.
What are the characteristics of big data?
Characteristics of big data can be defined by 42 V's. Some major of them are as following:
- Volume: Size of big data is often larger than terabytes and petabytes. Every second more data is stored on the internet than the total data stored on the internet just 20 years ago.
- Variety: It denotes the type and nature of the data. Technologies such as RDBMS were capable to handle structured data efficiently but they weren't sufficient to process and analyze semi-structured and unstructured data.
- Velocity: The speed at which data is generated and processed for analysis. Two kinds of velocity related to big data are the frequency of generation and the frequency of handling and processing.
- Veracity: It signifies the degree of accuracy and reliability of data. Often big data is the accumulation of data collected from various sources, hence it is important to make sure the data collected is accurate and trustworthy.
- Value: The useful information retrieved from big data determines its value. All the datasets collected in big data not necessarily provide useful information.
What are sources of big data?
Big data is made up of text, image, video and audio files. Big data is generated through many sources. Some major sources of big data include Internet of Things (IoT) devices, self quantified data, multimedia data and social media data.
IoT data is generated by GPS devices, mobile phones, intelligent clothing, alarms, intelligent/smart cars, mobile computing devices, PDAs, window blinds, window sensors.
Self quantifying data is generated by the measuring individuals' behaviour. Data from wristbands used to monitor movements and exercise and sphygmomanometers utilized to measure blood pressure are examples of self-quantification data.
Multimedia data is generated from various sources such as text, images, and audio and video. Each individual connected to the internet generates this data. This type of data grows exponentially each day.
Social media data is generated by platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Instagram and so on. This type of data grows at the highest speed. Excessive usage of social media leads to a lot of social media data generated each day.
How is big data stored and processed?
Data lakes are used to store big data. Unlike typical data warehouses that are commonly built on relational databases and contain structured data only, data lakes can support various data types and are based on Hadoop clusters (an open source distributed framework that manages data processing and storage for big data applications in scalable clusters of computer servers), cloud object storage services, NoSQL databases or other big data platforms. Consistency, availability and partition tolerance are some important factors of big data storage systems.
Often big data environments are made up of a combination of multiple systems. For instance, a central data lake might be integrated with other platforms, including relational databases or a data warehouse.
Technologies such as Hadoop and Spark are used to process big data. Heavy computing power is required to process big data which is provided by clustered systems that distribute processing workloads across hundreds or thousands of servers. Hence, Cloud is preferred choice for big data systems.
What are use cases of big data?
Companies use big data to understand different consumer patterns and improve their operations to provide better customer support. Companies that use big data make better and faster decisions than companies which don't.
Big data has many use cases in various fields such as finance, healthcare, education, media, IOT and specially business. Below are some applications of big data:
- Product development: Big companies such as Netflix and Procter & Gamble use big data to determine customer demand and needs. They find out the key attributes of past successful products/services and use this data to build the new products/services.
- Predictive maintenance: Analysis of unstructured data such as log entries, sensor data, error messages and engine temperature can help in predicting the lifespan of products.
- Customer experience: Big data allows organizations to collect data from social media, web visits, call logs, and other sources and improve the customer experience.
- Fraud and compliance: Big data helps in finding leakage in security systems by finding similar patterns in fraud cases.
- Machine learning: Big data allows us to teach machines how to perform instead of just programming them.
What are challenges faced with big data?
One of the major challenges with big data is its volume. The size of big data is increasing at a very high speed. According to Oracle, data volumes are doubling in size about every two years. Current data processing algorithms are not capable of retrieving the required information on time in case of big data storage. They are designed for limited amount of data.
Data is only useful if it conveys any meaning or gives any results. Organizing data in such a way that it gives insights takes a lot of work. Data scientists spend 50-80 percent of their time curating and preparing data before it can actually be used.
Apache Hadoop was the only technology used to handle big data. Soon Apache Spark was introduced. The combination of Hadoop and Spark framework is a better approach for big data processing. Staying up-to date with big data technologies is also an overhead.
Often NoSQL databases are used for big data. NoSQL databases have many advantages such as flexibility, open source, cost effective and scalability. They have certain limitations too such as lack of maturity and consistency related to performance.
What are some good big data practices?
Big data can be an expensive burden on the organization if its employees don't know how to make insightful decisions from it. Hence, organizations deploying big data strategy should consider investing in their employees' skills and training.
With the increase in collection and usage of data, data misuse also started increasing. European Union employed General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). It limits the types of data organizations can collect and makes opt-in consent from individuals compulsory for collecting personal data. A similar law is applied in California, called California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA).
Organizations should focus on their needs rather than rapidly evolving big data technology. Businesses should find out the problems/opportunities that big data can solve. After that a collaborative effort between data scientist and business executives can lead to fruitful insights from data sets.
Limited and authorised sources of data should be chosen to avoid complexity and useless loads of data.
Having backup of big data is important as data can be lost or corrupted. Also, it protects data from cyber threats.
How does big data analytics work?
Below are series of steps involved in deriving big data analytics;
- Data Collection: Organizations can use numerous ways to collect data from from cloud storage to mobile applications to in-store IoT sensors and beyond. The data is stored in data warehouses and data lakes.
- Data Processing: After the collection of data, it is organized properly for further processing. Batch processing is a data processing option which looks at large data blocks over time. It is useful when there is a longer delay time between collection and analysis of data. Stream processing is a data processing option which looks at small batches of data at a time. It shortens the delay time between collection and analysis of data enabling quicker decision-making.
- Data Cleaning: Regardless data is big or small, cleansing of data is mandatory before analysis. Any duplicate or irrelevant data should be removed and data should be formatted correctly.
- Data Analysis: Now advanced analytics processes are used to turn big data into insights. Some of these big data analysis methods include data mining, predictive analytics and deep learning.
What are the myths about big data?
With evolution of big data, myths about big data has also evolved. Some of them are as following:
Big data is costly and only for IT department
The cloud SaaS platforms such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud have made big data systems very affordable. No hardware/software purchase or installation is required. The access of right data can improve the performance of employee/organization regardless of department.
Big data can predict the future
Big data only tells the possibility of events based on the past data. It does not precisely predict the future. The predictions are based on past events and can be wrong too.
Big data is all about size
Volume is an important characteristic of big data but variety and velocity are equally important feature. Data should not only be large in size but also from credible sources.
Big data will replace existing data warehouses
Big data fulfils specific requirements but it is not the solution for every data-related issue. It cannot replace the traditional data warehouses or RDBMS.
Big data is just hype
Marketers in many industries are using it to increase revenue and reduce the operational costs.
Computer scientists Doug Cutting and Mike Cafarella create an open source framework called Apache Hadoop. It is used to store and process large data sets. Apache Spark is an open-source data processing framework introduced in 2009. It can quickly perform processing tasks on very large data sets. It provides the computational speed, scalability and programmability required for Big Data. The primary difference between Spark and Hadoop is that Spark processes and retains data in memory for subsequent steps, whereas Hadoop processes data on disk.
The White House announces a national "Big Data Initiative" that consists of six federal departments and agencies committing more than $200 million to big data research projects. The U.S. state of Massachusetts announces the Massachusetts Big Data Initiative which provides funding from the state government and private companies to a variety of research institutions. Harvard Business Review titles Data Scientist as the “Sexiest Job of 21st Century”.
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