Think Bigger

Developing a Successful Big Data Strategy for Your Business

 Think Bigger

Author: Mark van Rijmenam
Pub Date: April 2014
Print Edition: $27.95
Print ISBN: 9780814434154
Page Count: 288
Format: Hardback
e-Book ISBN: 9780814434161

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Of all the data in recorded human history, 90 percent has been

created in the last two years. However, the need to use and interpret

such Big Data has been around for much longer. In fact,

the earliest examples of using data to track and control businesses date

back 7,000 years, when Mesopotamians used rudimentary accounting

to record the growth of crops and herds. Accounting principles

continued to improve, and in 1663, John Graunt recorded and examined

all information about mortality rolls in London. He wanted to

gain an understanding of and build a warning system for the ongoing

bubonic plague. In the first recorded example of statistical data analysis,

he gathered his findings in the book Natural and Political Observations

Made upon the Bills of Mortality, which provides great insights

into the causes of death in the seventeenth century. Because of his work,

Graunt can be considered the father of statistics.

The nineteenth century witnessed the start of the information age.

Modern data was first gathered in 1887, when Herman Hollerith invented

a computing machine that could read holes punched into paper

cards to organize census data.


In 1937, during Franklin D. Roosevelt administration, the United States

created the first major data project to keep track of contributions by

more than three million employers and 26 million employees under

the new Social Security Act. IBM was awarded the contract to develop

a punch card-reading machine for this immense bookkeeping task.

The British developed the first data-processing machine in 1943

to decipher Nazi codes during World War II. The device, named Colossus,

searched for patterns in intercepted messages at a rate of 5,000

characters per second. This reduced the time required to perform the

task from weeks to merely hours. It was a huge step forward.

In 1952 the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) was created

and, within 10 years, it had contracts with more than 12,000 cryptologists.

They were confronted with information overload during

the Cold War, as they started collecting and processing intelligence

signals automatically.

In 1965, the U.S. Government decided to build the first data center

to store its more than 742 million tax returns and 175 million sets

of fingerprints. Employees transferred all those records onto magnetic

computer tape that was stored in a single location. The project

was later dropped out of fear of “Big Brother,” but it represented the

beginning of the electronic data storage era.

Then, in 1989, British computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee developed

what eventually became the World Wide Web. He wanted to

facilitate the sharing of information through a “hypertext” system.

Little could he know at that moment the impact his invention would

have on everyone.

Beginning in the 1990s, data was created at an amazing rate as

more and more devices were connected to the Internet. In 1995, the

first supercomputer was built; it performed as much work in a second

than a calculator operated by a single person could do in 30,000



In 2005, Roger Mougalas of O’Reilly Media coined the term “Big

Data,” a year after the company created the term Web 2.0. He used

the term to refer to a large set of data that is almost impossible to

manage and process using traditional business intelligence tools.

In that same year, Yahoo! created Hadoop on top of Google’s

MapReduce. Its goal was to index the entire World Wide Web;

nowadays, many organizations around the world use the open-source

Hadoop to crunch massive data sets.

As more and more social network sites appeared and Web 2.0 took

flight, more and more data was created daily. Innovative startups slowly

mined this vast amount of data and governments also began Big Data

projects. In 2009, the Indian government decided to take an iris scan,

fingerprint, and photograph of all of its 1.2 billion inhabitants. All

this data is stored in the largest biometric database in the world.

By 2010, when Eric Schmidt, the Executive Chairman of Google,

spoke at the Techonomy forum in Lake Tahoe, California, he put

the information revolution in perspective by stating that “every two

days now we create as much information as we did from the dawn of

civilization up until 2003. . . . That’s something like five exabytes of

data. . . .”

In 2011 the well-received McKinsey report on “Big Data: The Next

Frontier for Innovation, Competition, and Productivity,” concluded

that by 2018, the United States would face a shortage of 140,000 to

190,000 data scientists, as well as 1.5 million data managers. The

job Big Data Scientist is therefore often coined the sexiest job of the

twenty-first century.

In the past few years, there has been a massive increase in the

number of Big Data startup companies. All are trying to help organizations

manage and understand this explosion of Big Data. As more

companies are slowly adopting Big Data, just as with the Internet in

1993, the Big Data revolution is still ahead of us, so a lot will change

in the coming years.

In fact, the amount of data is growing at such an explosive rate

that we have gone past the decimal system. Today, U.S. agencies, such

as NSA and the FBI, are talking about yottabytes when calculating the

size of their files. In the (near) future, we will be talking about brontobytes

regarding sensor data. Therefore, new terms have been created

to describe the amount of data that is expected to be created in

coming years.

Big Data will completely change organizations and societies

around the world. It is expected that the amount of data currently

available will double every two years worldwide. So, let’s take a

closer look at what Big Data exactly is.

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