Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

Think Big Data Is All Hype? You’re Not Alone.

gartner_hype_cycleWhen a phrase enters the tech industry lexicon in a big way, and has a good way of crystallizing a seemingly overarching trend, it’s usually not long before the very same phrase becomes a victim of its own overuse and is dismissed as “all hype.”

The phenomenon is common enough that the market research firm Gartner has a phrase and an official annual report summarizing it. It’s called the Hype Cycle, and the company released its latest version of it today. Eventually, those technologies and their associated phrases work their way back into respectability, as the overblown expectations collapse and give way to a lower-grade reality that improves over time.

Numerous examples are mentioned, but as a useful technology, Big Data is, according to Gartner’s reckoning, at or near the peak in the hype cycle, when expectations are inflated and out of sync with what is deliverable in reality. Incidentally, Gartner has been making this case since last year.

If it were to follow the typical trajectory, then, it implies that Big Data technologies are soon to be due for a fall into the “trough of disillusionment.” (Gartner explains its methodology here.)

Big Data is a catch-all phrase for the notion that, embedded within the vast troves of data that businesses and governments gather, is useful, actionable intelligence that could lead to new efficiency, improved business processes, lower costs, higher profits and so on. All that’s needed, the argument goes, is the will and expertise to perform the relevant analysis on it.

IBM has been the biggest proponent of the idea, usually to push its analytics software and systems. Cities and commerce and even the planet itself can be made smarter by analyzing Big Data, IBM often says.

Meanwhile, numerous Big Data startups are being funded by prominent venture capitalists. Earlier this summer, for example, Accel Partners launched its second Big Data fund led by partner Ping Li. It has previously invested in companies like Sumo Logic, Trifacta and RelateIQ.

If Big Data is indeed due for a drop into the trough of the typical hype-cycle path, it would mean that early trials of pilot projects would have to fail to deliver on expected benefits. That hasn’t happened yet. Indeed, one sign to watch for is the fortunes of companies selling and servicing Hadoop, the open-source computing environment that breaks Big Data problems down to management sizes.

Startups like Cloudera, Hortonworks and MapR have all been closing big funding rounds in recent months, in no small part because their customers are moving from trying the technology out to deploying it for real. Indeed, Gartner’s primary rival, the market research firm IDC, is calling for the revenue of companies in the Hadoop business to grow by more than 10 times by 2016, and maybe even to disrupt the businesses of software giants like Oracle and Teradata in the process. We’ll see.


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