'Big data' refers to data sets that are too large or too complex for traditional data processing applications. The term is often used to refer to predictive analytics or other methods of extracting value from data. In order to harness big data, businesses rely on raw storage and processing power as well as strong analytics capabilities and skills. In 2017, annual revenue from the global big data market was expected to reach 33.5 billion U.S. dollars, with predictions suggesting this could double in size within the following four years. The largest share of big data revenue is believed to stem from hardware spending, representing slightly more than a third of the overall market. The major providers of big data services include global names such as IBM, SAP, Oracle, Hewlett Packard, and Accenture.
While not every piece of data finds its way into the big data ecosystem, a number of figures already highlight the challenge of finding useful data amongst the rest. In 2017 it was estimated that mobile data traffic would reach 11 exabytes (11 billion gigabytes) a month, climbing rapidly into the future. That same year, cloud computing traffic was forecast to reach 320 exabytes per month in North America alone. Contributing to the rapid growth of data traffic is the internet of things (IoT), which is already connecting the digital and physical worlds through a network of sensors. Some forecasts put the number of IoT connected devices worldwide as high as 31 billion by 2020.
At present, big data is most often used in the areas of marketing, sales, IT, and finance; however, as the reliability of big data improves, businesses see further, long-term opportunities for big data in the areas of risk management and logistics. Nonetheless, some caution is required as big data is not without its challenges. These challenges range from maintaining the quality of data to complying with domestic and international laws governing the use of data. Businesses that rely on poor quality data risk wasting time, losing sales, and lowering their margins due to inefficiency.
One other industry benefiting from the growth of big data is that of cloud computing. The amount of processing power and/or storage required to make use of big data is such that many businesses have taken to hosting and processing their big data sets in the cloud. In one survey, 69 percent of respondents said that their organization used cloud technology for data storage and backup, while 56 percent said their organization was using cloud computing for data analytics.
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