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Should cloud and big data go hand-in-hand?

Cloud and big data are major focuses for many businesses right now. But how are the two technologies related? Does your big data project require cloud?

How are big data and cloud related? Do big data projects require cloud?

Businesses today can collect, store and access an astonishing array of data. That data could come from tracking a visitor's Web browsing habits to watching in-store shopping traffic -- and everything in between. And this data collection comes from more than just register receipts or software logs. Businesses can collect data from cameras, microphones, RFID readers, wireless sensors and more.

These vast and diverse data stores pose a computing dilemma. Their complexity makes it impossible to use traditional data processing applications, such as databases, to yield meaningful business intelligence. Processing big data demands more than a single desktop or server; it requires thousands of servers running massively parallel processing software. In other words, big data requires big computing infrastructures.

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Meanwhile, businesses are trying to reduce their IT footprints and investments. It's hard to justify storing terabytes or petabytes of data and operating additional servers to analyze that data. Instead, businesses offload the necessary storage and computing resources for big data -- which is where cloud comes in.

Cloud isn't the only option for big data storage and analysis, but it's definitely a good one. To help organizations collect -- and ultimately make sense of -- massive amounts of data, cloud provides scalability and flexibility.

Big data analytics, however, doesn't require cloud computing; it's an outsourced computing model that facilitates it. Instead of investing in new hardware, organizations can store and process those big data sets in the cloud. To tackle big data analysis, cloud offers enormous flexibility, and can scale and combine with distributed processing software. And when processing is complete, it can also be scaled back or turned off. Businesses only pay for the computing they use, which transforms capital costs into operational expenses -- a core benefit of public cloud computing.

Public cloud, private cloud and hybrid cloud models can all be used for big data initiatives. However, public cloud -- largely due to its pay-per-usage model -- has emerged as a popular option.

Stephen J. Bigelow is the senior technology editor of the Data Center and Virtualization Media Group. He can be reached at [email protected].

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