big data analytics

This definition is part of our Essential Guide: Guide to NoSQL databases: How they can help users meet big data needs
Contributor(s): Lisa Martinek and Craig Stedman

Big data analytics is the process of examining large data sets to uncover hidden patterns, unknown correlations, market trends, customer preferences and other useful business information. The analytical findings can lead to more effective marketing, new revenue opportunities, better customer service, improved operational efficiency, competitive advantages over rival organizations and other business benefits.

The primary goal of big data analytics is to help companies make more informed business decisions by enabling data scientists, predictive modelers and other analytics professionals to analyze large volumes of transaction data, as well as other forms of data that may be untapped by conventional business intelligence (BI) programs. That could include Web server logs and Internet clickstream data, social media content and social network activity reports, text from customer emails and survey responses, mobile-phone call detail records and machine data captured by sensors connected to the Internet of Things

Semi-structured and unstructured data may not fit well in traditional data warehouses based on relational databases. Furthermore, data warehouses may not be able to handle the processing demands posed by sets of big data that need to be updated frequently or even continually -- for example, real-time data on the performance of mobile applications or of oil and gas pipelines. As a result, many organizations looking to collect, process and analyze big data have turned to a newer class of technologies that includes Hadoop and related tools such as YARN, MapReduce, Spark, Hive and Pig as well as NoSQL databases. Those technologies form the core of an open source software framework that supports the processing of large and diverse data sets across clustered systems.

In some cases, Hadoop clusters and NoSQL systems are being used as landing pads and staging areas for data before it gets loaded into a data warehouse for analysis, often in a summarized form that is more conducive to relational structures. Increasingly though, big data vendors are pushing the concept of a Hadoop data lake that serves as the central repository for an organization's incoming streams of raw data. In such architectures, subsets of the data can then be filtered for analysis in data warehouses and analytical databases, or it can be analyzed directly in Hadoop using batch query tools, stream processing software and SQL on Hadoop technologies that run interactive, ad hoc queries written in SQL.

Big data can be analyzed with the software tools commonly used as part of advanced analytics disciplines such as predictive analyticsdata miningtext analytics and statistical analysis. Mainstream BI software and data visualization tools can also play a role in the analysis process.

Potential pitfalls that can trip up organizations on big data analytics initiatives include a lack of internal analytics skills and the high cost of hiring experienced analytics professionals. The amount of information that's typically involved, and its variety, can also cause data management headaches, including data quality and consistency issues. In addition, integrating Hadoop systems and data warehouses can be a challenge, although various vendors now offer software connectors between Hadoop and relational databases, as well as other data integration tools with big data capabilities.

This was last updated in October 2014

Next Steps

IBM SPSS predictive analytics tools for big data may be the best option for your enterprise. KNIME open source data analytics delivers commercial extensions for big data, cluster operations and collaboration.  

Revolution R Open and Revolution R Enterprise are two statistical analytics products provided by Revolution Analytics.

The Teradata Aster Discovery Platform features a number of crucial components, including the Aster database and a version of R.

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