A multi-agency big data initiative offers an array of national advantages.
U.S. government agencies will award a flurry of contracts in the coming months under the Big Data Research and Development Initiative, a massive undertaking involving multiple agencies and $200 million in commitments. The initiative is designed to unleash the power of the extensive amounts of data generated on a daily basis. The ultimate benefit, experts say, could transform scientific research, lead to the development of new commercial technologies, boost the economy and improve education, all of which makes the United States more competitive with other nations and enhances national security.
Big data is defined as datasets too large for typical database software tools to capture, store, manage and analyze. Experts estimate that in 2013, 3.6 zettabytes of data will be created, and the amount doubles every two years. A zettabyte is equal to 1 billion terabytes, and a terabyte is equal to 1 trillion bytes.
When the initiative was announced March 29, 2012, John Holdren, assistant to the president and director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, compared it to government investments in information technology that led to advances in supercomputing and the creation of the Internet. The initiative promises to transform the ability to use big data for scientific discovery, environmental and biomedical research, education and national security, Holdren says.
Currently, much of generated data is available only to a select few. “Data are sitting out there in labs—in tens of thousands of labs across the country, and only the person who developed the database in that lab can actually access the data,” says Suzanne Iacono, deputy assistant director for the National Science Foundation (NSF) Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering.