Technology Focus: ?Big Data? Goes Consumer, Too

on April 29 2012 9:44 AM
Technicians monitor data flow in the control room of an internet service provider.
More employers globally and in the United States are having trouble finding skilled technicians, sales representatives and engineers. Reuters

It's not just enterprises and government agencies that are already starting to benefit from the new era of so-called Big Data. Consumers are already beneficiaries, even if they don't know it.

As discussed last week, market researchers like Gartner forecast this year's flow of all kinds of data traffic will increase 48 percent to 2.7 zettabytes, merely in one year.

To make it more understandable, a zettabyte is 10 to the 21st power. By contrast, a trillion bytes, or a terabyte of data, is just 10 to the 12th power.

Obviously, the biggest enterprises in technology such as International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE: IBM), the No. 2 computer company; AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), the No. 1 telecommunications carrier and Oracle Corp. (Nasdaq: ORCL), the world's biggest database developer, are all giants in the sector.

But last week, more consumer-focused players announced huge jumps in their Big Data' services, too. Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL), the world's most valuable technology company, disclosed that its iCloud services more than 125 million customers -- after only six months! Adobe Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: ADBE) unveiled its Cloud services targeted directly to consumers.

Then Amazon.com Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN), the biggest e-retailer, announced a staggering 35 percent first-quarter revenue rise that also included a 61 percent boost in its Amazon Web Services division. While only about 4 percent of the overall corporate total, the boost was enormous.

That side of Amazon allows smaller companies, as well as startups like Dataminr, the New York social media data analysis specialist that detected the U.S. commando raid on Osama Bin Laden's compound a year ago and reported it first, to offer computer services.

Both Apple and Amazon, as well as Google Inc. (Nasdaq: GOOG), the No. 1 search engine, have huge data centers around the country to handle consumer requirements. There's no reason why they can't be used to provide data services as well, much as the tech giants do for enterprises.

Consumers have been taking advantage of the concept for a while even if they don't realize it. After all, what is a smartphone search for a restaurant or movie listing that reaches Google or Yahoo Inc. (Nasdaq: YHOO)? A Twitter feed or RSS? Or a service like OnStar from General Motors Co. (NYSE: GM)?

The same holds for increased marketing and targeting by retailers and advertisers. Macy's Inc. (NYSE: M) and others collect customer email links and mobile numbers, then offer discounts and rewards. But in so doing, they collect all kinds of private data that generates further targeted marketing.

Just wait for the weeks before the Nov. 6 U.S. presidential election. Supporters of President Barack Obama and Republican contender Mitt Romney (and probably Ron Paul) are going to be bombarded by all kinds of media. The campaigns already know plenty about us beyond our party affiliations and voting regularity.

One reason is that the main enterprises have developed or acquired tools to help tap Big Data even better. Last week, IBM said it'll acquire private Vivisimo Software to enable it to tap into data across entire enterprises to permit federated search and scale up analytics from small amounts of storage to big ones.

Last year, Oracle snapped up a rival, private Endeca, to take advantage of similar technologies.

Consumers aren't going to care, though. What they'll want is for their data to download quickly on their iPhones and Droids, the shipper to deliver packages directly to the door and get the electronic signatures and for service companies like utilities to recognize them when they call and efficiently handle their queries and purchases.

Still to be tackled: data security, privacy and abuse of information. Too many horror stories have emerged about them to allow for complacency as the market mushrooms.