10/12/2010 11:34 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Why "Data Computing" Is the Future ... Of Everything

Here's a challenge for you: Imagine your life today without the Internet.

Almost impossible, isn't it? Chances are you're reading a digital version of this article, whisked to your computer across thousands of miles via the routers, switches, and other networking gear that make up the World Wide Web. But most of us don't give this miracle of technology a second thought.

The same can be said of other technology trends -- the personal computer, for instance, and more recently, smart mobile devices and Facebook. Technology is woven so completely into the fabric of our daily lives, our work, our world, it's only when it breaks down that we realize the magnitude of its impact. Today, and for the foreseeable future, it's part of who we are and how we live.

That's why I am excited when I think about the next big technology trend coming down the pike--call it "data computing." As the name implies, it has to do with data -- mountains of data, or what's been dubbed "big data" -- and it's already having a huge impact on us all. Earlier this year, I wrote a piece for this publication titled Your Data Rules the World about the data revolution that is changing the world we live in.

Data, Data Everywhere

Everywhere we look, the quantity of information in the world is soaring as we blast out a fire-hydrant stream of numbers, words, pictures, video, and sounds from security cameras, RFID chips, cell phones, scanners, sensors, emails, Tweets, and Facebook updates. By one estimate, mankind cranked out 150 exabytes of data in 2005 -- a number that's projected to swell eightfold to 1,200 exabytes this year (one exabyte is equivalent to a billion gigabytes -- or a 1 with 18 zeroes after it).

Simply keeping up with this torrent of data and storing the bits that might be useful is a tall order in and of itself; experts say the data deluge has already outstripped our technological capacity to store it. It's a flood unlike anything we've seen before, and with machines now generating 10 times the amount of data we humans create, it shows no sign of letting up. Neither do our efforts to tame it. Why? Because data is becoming the new raw material of business--an economic input almost as fundamental as capital and labor.

Have No Fear, The Answer Machine Is Here!

But where "data computing" comes into its own is in the analysis of this data to identify trends and extract actionable information -- in other words, to find the answers. Technologies for making sense of big data are nothing new -- Wal Mart, for instance, has been using them to great effect for years. What's different in this new era is the types of technologies that are available to do the job, and the number of companies and individuals that NEED to do the job. Gone are the days when high-end, specialized supercomputers were the only machines up to the task.

Today, a number of technology vendors (including EMC, which formed a "data computing" products division last summer after it acquired Greenplum, the company I co-founded) are bringing to market a new wave of transformational appliances designed to analyze bigger mountains of data faster, with more penetrating insights, and at lower cost. Using industry standard servers and technologies like "parallel computing," these "answer machines" can expedite all manner of useful tasks hundreds of times faster and more cheaply than competing technologies -- from spotting business trends and unlocking new sources of economic value, to preventing diseases, providing fresh insights into science, and combating crime.

Supercomputing for the Masses

In "data computing," speed is truly of the essence. If gleaning insights from oceans of data is the killer app, then doing so in real time, or near real time, is the Holy Grail itself. Many new business insights come from what is essentially "dead data" -- that is, stored information about past transactions that yield hidden correlations when examined. But companies today are increasingly focused on analyzing real-time information flows to help them make real-time decisions.

So are individual consumers. In fact, a key factor in the ripeness of the "data computing" trend is consumer demand for the information that these technologies serve up. Already accustomed to the on-demand nature of Web-based services -- from personal banking to up-to-the-second traffic updates, weather reports, and sports scores -- consumers are hooked on analytics and insight. They want real-time information, analysis, and recommendations, and they want them now. With "data computing," they can have them. In fact, it's just a matter of time before everyone will be doing their own version of "data computing." Think of it as supercomputing for the masses.

And I Mean... Everything

The potential impact of this type of "data computing" cannot be overstated. This past summer, The McKinsey Quarterly listed "experimentation and big data" as one of 10 tech-enabled business trends to watch, describing companies' ability to make data-driven decisions in real time as a trend that "has the potential to drive a radical transformation in research, innovation, and marketing." That is where I believe "data computing" is headed and, as an entrepreneur, I find it inspiring to be a part of an organization that is driving this movement. The evidence is all around us. Insofar as data is at the heart of the information revolution, "data computing" is indeed the future ... of everything.