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Big data: "It's not data, it's information"

Charles Ewen, IT director at the Met Office, has claimed the term Big Data is often misleading, as it most often applies to information rather than data.

“Big Data is not a very helpful phrase because it’s got nothing really to do with data,” he claimed, speaking at the Cloud World Forum earlier last week.

Ewen added that Big Data presents many problems, particularly in his own personal context at the Met Office where an IBM supercomputer holds “whacking great datasets.”

“The stuff that rolls off the supercomputer is of little use to use to anybody and the reason that it is of little use to anybody is you probably need a supercomputer to do anything with it,” he claimed.

The IT director added that it’s very hard to get that information anywhere very quickly and there is a real volatility issue when it comes to Big Data.

Another issue surrounding Big Data that concerns Ewen is the misuse of it – to support his point, he showed the audience slides featuring graphs demonstrating correlations between completely unrelated events, adding that many people confuse correlation and causation.

“We see a future where data has gotten so big the notion of open data and the idea ‘let’s share our data with everybody and anybody’ just won’t work,” he said.

However, making sense of this information is critical to the functions of the Met Office, said Ewen.

“We turn that data into other datasets that are more fit for purpose, to try and turn those back into information to get back into people’s heads in order for them to be able to make more important decisions,” he claimed.

These decisions include using the interpreted data to protect life, protect property, to enhance wellbeing and to generate economic growth.

Ewen also took the time to warn against cloud providers who claim they can solve all of an organisation’s problems.

He believes that real world problems can be solved by a multitude of cloud vendors, but is wary against suppliers who claim their solutions are all encompassing.

“The trendy stuff out there claims to be great at everything, but don’t get carried away. We don’t see cloud as anything but capability,” he said.