It's Big Data, Not Big Iron, That Counts in Computing

Article excerpt

The $200 million effort will try to make sense out of the rising flood of digital data from many sources, including the Web, biological and industrial sensors, video, e-mail and social network communications.

The U.S. government is beginning a major research initiative in big data computing. The effort, introduced Thursday, involves several government agencies and departments, and commitments for the programs total $200 million.

Administration officials compare the initiative to past government research support for high-speed networking and supercomputing centers, which have had an impact in areas like climate science and Web browsing software.

"This is that level of importance," said Tom Kalil, deputy director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. "The future of computing is not just big iron. It's big data."

Big data refers to the rising flood of digital data from many sources, including the Web, biological and industrial sensors, video, e-mail and social network communications. The emerging opportunity arises from combining these diverse data sources with improving computing tools to pinpoint profit-making opportunities, make scientific discoveries and predict crime waves, for example.

"Data, in my view, is a transformative new currency for science, engineering, education, commerce and government," said Farnam Jahanian, head of the National Science Foundation's computer and information science and engineering directorate. "Foundational research in data management and data analytics promise breakthrough discoveries and innovations across all disciplines."

On Thursday, the National Science Foundation announced a joint program with the National Institutes of Health seeking new techniques and technologies for data management, data analysis and machine learning, which is a branch of artificial intelligence.

Other departments and agencies announcing big data programs at a gathering Thursday at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington included the U.S. Geological Survey, the Defense Department, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Energy Department. These initiatives will mostly be seeking ideas from university and corporate researchers for collaborative projects.

The private sector is the leader in many applications of big data computing. Internet powers like Google and Facebook are masters at instantaneously mining Web data, click streams, search queries and messages to finely target users for online advertisements. Many major software companies, including International Business Machines, Microsoft, Oracle, SAP and SAS Institute, and a growing band of startups are focused on the opportunity in big data computing. …