In spite of all the attention paid to unstructured data as the raw input for Big Data initiatives, there’s a counterpoint circulating in IT circles: Structured data is still king when it comes to volumes and business relevance.
In recent years, much of the conversation about Big Data has focused on the growing amount of unstructured data: video, tweets, podcasts and so on. The stuff can be truly fascinating and packed with information, but doesn’t yet fit neatly into a spreadsheet or database.
But as companies rush to provide ways to capture and analyze unstructured data, Dell has issued a report stressing that good, old-fashioned structured data remains every bit as important. In fact, it may be even more critical.
The Dell report spells it out this way: Although advancements in the ability to capture, store, retrieve and analyze new forms of unstructured data have received significant attention, a survey of 300 database administrators revealed that most organizations are focused primarily on managing their structured data – and they plan to continue that focus in the foreseeable future. The survey estimates 75 percent of data managed by organizations is still structured data.
Of course, over time, the report’s authors at Unisphere Research, a division of Information Today, say unstructured data will continue to grow in importance, especially as companies develop new analytics and tools to capture and dissect this information.
Here’s another surprise: For all we hear about the exploding volumes of unstructured data, the report predicts that structured data will grow even faster. That’s because structured data comes from both external sources, such as e-commerce transactions, as well as internal documents and processes, such as human resources.
The prediction is based on how database administrators measure data volumes today. More than a third of respondents said their structured data is growing at a rate of 25 percent or more per year, whereas fewer than 30 percent of respondents said the same about their unstructured data.
None of these points are meant to minimize the potential of capturing and leveraging unstructured data. This is not an either/or scenario. It’s about being able to do both things well.
The report is a great reminder, though, to think critically about bright shiny new objects. Moving forward, it’s going to be important for businesses to continue investing in traditional data systems if they want to take full advantage of all the information available.