Home Featured What is Big Data?

What is Big Data?

What is Big Data?
Big Data text concept on blue background with world map and social icons.

The term ‘Big Data‘ seems to be popping up everywhere these days. And there seems to be as many uses of this term as there are contexts in which you find it: ‘big data’ is often used to refer to any dataset that is difficult to manage using traditional database systems; it is also used as a catch-all term for any collection of data that is too large to process on a single server; yet others use the term to simply mean “a lot of data”; sometimes it turns out it doesn’t even have to be large. So what exactly is big data?

A precise specification of ‘big’ is elusive. What is considered big for one organization may be small for another. What is large-scale today will likely seem small-scale in the near future; petabyte is the new terabyte. Thus, size alone cannot specify big data. The complexity of the data is an important factor that must also be considered.


Most now agree with the characterization of big data using the 3 V’s coined by Doug Laney of Gartner:

· Volume: This refers to the vast amounts of data that is generated every second/minute/hour/day in our digitized world.

· Velocity: This refers to the speed at which data is being generated and the pace at which data moves from one point to the next.

· Variety: This refers to the ever-increasing different forms that data can come in, e.g., text, images, voice, geospatial.

3 V’s of big data: VOLUME, VELOCITY & VARIETY

A fourth V is now also sometimes added:

· Veracity: This refers to the quality of the data, which can vary greatly.

There are many other V’s that gets added to these depending on the context. For our specialization, we will add:

· Valence: This refers to how big data can bond with each other, forming connections between otherwise disparate datasets.

The above V’s are the dimensions that characterize big data, and also embody its challenges: We have huge amounts of data, in different formats and varying quality, that must be processed quickly.

It is important to note that the goal of processing big data is to gain insight to support decision-making. It is not sufficient to just be able to capture and store the data. The point of collecting and processing volumes of complex data is to understand trends, uncover hidden patterns, detect anomalies, etc. so that you have a better understanding of the problem being analyzed and can make more informed, data-driven decisions. In fact, many consider value as the sixth V of big data:

· Value: Processing big data must bring about value from insights gained.

To address the challenges of big data, innovative technologies are needed. Parallel, distributed computing paradigms, scalable machine learning algorithms, and real-time querying are key to analysis of big data. Distributed file systems, computing clusters, cloud computing, and data stores supporting data variety and agility are also necessary to provide the infrastructure for processing of big data. Workflows provide an intuitive, reusable, scalable and reproducible way to process big data to gain verifiable value from it in and enable application of same methods to different datasets.

With all the data generated from social media, smart sensors, satellites, surveillance cameras, the Internet, and countless other devices, big data is all around us. The endeavor to make sense out of that data brings about exciting opportunities indeed!


Big Data is a big thing. It will change our world completely and is not a passing fad that will go away. To understand the phenomenon that is big data, it is often described using five Vs: Volume, Velocity, Variety, Veracity and Value

I thought it might be worth just reiterating what these five Vs are, in plain and simple language:

Volume refers to the vast amounts of data generated every second. Just think of all the emails, twitter messages, photos, video clips, sensor data etc. we produce and share every second. We are not talking Terabytes but Zettabytes or Brontobytes. On Facebook alone we send 10 billion messages per day, click the “like’ button 4.5 billion times and upload 350 million new pictures each and every day. If we take all the data generated in the world between the beginning of time and 2008, the same amount of data will soon be generated every minute! This increasingly makes data sets too large to store and analyse using traditional database technology. With big data technology we can now store and use these data sets with the help of distributed systems, where parts of the data is stored in different locations and brought together by software.

Velocity refers to the speed at which new data is generated and the speed at which data moves around. Just think of social media messages going viral in seconds, the speed at which credit card transactions are checked for fraudulent activities, or the milliseconds it takes trading systems to analyse social media networks to pick up signals that trigger decisions to buy or sell shares. Big data technology allows us now to analyse the data while it is being generated, without ever putting it into databases.

Variety refers to the different types of data we can now use. In the past we focused on structured data that neatly fits into tables or relational databases, such as financial data (e.g. sales by product or region). In fact, 80% of the world’s data is now unstructured, and therefore can’t easily be put into tables (think of photos, video sequences or social media updates). With big data technology we can now harness differed types of data (structured and unstructured) including messages, social media conversations, photos, sensor data, video or voice recordings and bring them together with more traditional, structured data.

Veracity refers to the messiness or trustworthiness of the data. With many forms of big data, quality and accuracy are less controllable (just think of Twitter posts with hash tags, abbreviations, typos and colloquial speech as well as the reliability and accuracy of content) but big data and analytics technology now allows us to work with these type of data. The volumes often make up for the lack of quality or accuracy.

Value: Then there is another V to take into account when looking at Big Data: Value! It is all well and good having access to big data but unless we can turn it into value it is useless. So you can safely argue that ‘value’ is the most important V of Big Data. It is important that businesses make a business case for any attempt to collect and leverage big data. It is so easy to fall into the buzz trap and embark on big data initiatives without a clear understanding of costs and benefits.

I have put together this little presentation for you to use when talking about or discussing the 5 Vs of big data: