The Data 'X' Games

Aug 19, 2005

Allen Bernard

Organizations increasingly must learn to cope with the explosion of "extreme data" — new types of data unleashed by new devices and used in new ways — according to a new report by Computer Sciences Corporation, Extreme Data: Rethinking the "I" in IT.

"Immediate and omnipresent data, including everything from blogs to satellite images, is changing what's possible for businesses and individuals alike, said Ed Luczak, primary contributor to the report and a senior consulting engineer at CSC.

"Extreme data enables new business processes, interpersonal connections and knowledge, and requires organizations to expand their concept of information, its origins and applications."

For example, data from a car can report actual driving behavior and lower insurance rates. Doctors can monitor patients in remote locations, and individuals can carry their medical history with them via MedicAlert "flash" drive devices.

The report, issued by CSC's Leading Edge Forum (LEF), explores the many new forms and greatly increased volume of information, the challenges and opportunities this presents for corporations, and how early adopters are profiting by putting such information to use in creative new ways.

Vast amounts of information are blurring the line between consumer and corporate technology. Data resulting from instant messages, digital cameras, voice over IP (VoIP), MP3 files, global positioning system (GPS) logs, really simple syndication (RSS) feeds and pod-casts is working its way into the corporate information technology (IT) infrastructure and, in some cases, overburdening it.

"The sheer volume of information is an issue for some companies; others are concerned about increased privacy and security responsibilities associated with storing additional data," said Luczak. "However, the world of extreme data presents outstanding new opportunities for productivity and innovation. The plusses absolutely outweigh the minuses."

The report focuses on four dimensions of extreme data: data everywhere, time and place, social connections and meaning.

Data Everywhere

Since computing has moved to ever-smaller and more mobile devices, data has spread from familiar, stationary locations to virtually everywhere. This immediacy of data is changing norms of our business and personal lives.

Much of this is due to the influence of consumer devices on employee lifestyles. Employees' broad use of consumer technology has expanded to the point that it is driving changes in enterprise IT.

"Everyone should remember the PC, which started out as a toy for hobbyists and was shunned by the enterprise," said Paul Gustafson, director of the LEF Technology Programs. "Consumers led the way."

Time and Place

Extreme data has added two important aspects to data: time and place. The integration of location-detection technologies, digital cameras, real-time sensors, wireless and mobile devices, and geographic information systems allows applications to determine when and where people and things are, and other real-time information. This data provides powerful digital bearings that make individuals and businesses smarter, safer and more precise.

Location-detection technologies such as GPS and radio frequency identification (RFID), coupled with map data, enable four key capabilities: location awareness, dynamic mapping, object tracking and rapid identification.

Social Connections

The world of extreme data has a strong social aspect: people are interacting with each other in dramatically new ways. From chat rooms and instant messaging to blogging and wikis, technology is redefining how we communicate and work with others.

In the enterprise, for example, instant messaging and directory services are making new connections possible, transforming how work gets done.

Another type of socialization occurs when teams work together and share information. A wiki, a shared space on the Web, is a powerful collaboration tool gaining traction in corporations. Anyone can add content to a wiki or edit content already there, increasing collective knowledge and honing best practices.


"The huge influx of data raises an important question: What does it all mean?" said Luczak. "There may be data everywhere, but it will take advances in search technology, semantics and pattern detection to help us use it well; to extract everything we can from it."

An organization's digital assets are no longer confined to text they encompass static images, video, audio and more. Organizations need comprehensive search techniques that can understand disparate media types.

Metadata, or data about data, can be used to add semantic information to data, enabling improved searching. Corporations are beginning to organize their metadata using such tools as a thesaurus or taxonomy in ways that help people navigate by topic.

On a broader scale, the semantic Web movement is attempting to explicitly encode Web data with meaning to enable software applications to find, integrate and work with content more effectively.

Because the data will be accessed by computer programs, which can perform many tasks almost instantaneously, the semantic Web promises to be much more powerful than today's Internet.

"The phenomenon of extreme data is like a surge of electric power," said Luczak. "It's amazing in its own right. But it is the application of that power, much of which remains to be seen, that will change lives and industries."


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