Big Data: Are 3 Vs Sufficient?


Way back when, we did not speak about the bigness of our data. We fussed over its accuracy and precision, its incompleteness, and sometimes, our need for more of it.

Having so much data that we could not cope wasnít a problem for most of us. We might hear stories of the computation challenges facing the US Census Bureau or NASA, but those tales didnít resemble the problems facing the average data analyst.

Access to computers, hard drives, and statistical analysis software opened the door to the acquisition of more data. Businesses collected more and more, to the point where even the latest in technology wasnít quite adequate to deal with it.

In 2001, Doug Laney of META Group characterized the problem in ď3-D Data Management: Controlling Data Volume, Velocity and Variety." Three words, each beginning with the letter V, summed up what we now call big data, because:

  • Thereís a lot of it.
  • More is coming in fast.
  • Itís in many forms.

Laneyís three Vs were clear, concise, and complete. They caught on.

But some people canít leave a good, simple recipe alone. A cheeseburger isnít good enough -- itís got to have bacon, too. The burger escalation is on. The door opens to burgers laden with special sauces, cole slaw, or even macaroni and cheese within the bun. So it is with V-words.

A quick Web search reveals anywhere from three to five Vs tacked onto headlines about big data.
A quick Web search reveals anywhere from three to five Vs tacked onto headlines about big data.

First, someone added "veracity." In normal life, that word means "truthfulness," but in the big-data world, it means "uncertainty." In other words, the data might not be complete or correct. No kidding. We had that problem before we had big data.

Then came "value." The data is worth something. That was true before big data, too.

Everybody had to do Doug Laney one better. They threw in validity, visibility, variability, visualization, victory (Iím not making all this up), and finally, volatility, which rhymes with futility and has about the same effect. One guy said recently that understanding big data can be "vexing and vague."

Three is enough
Laney got it right. He found an effective and memorable way to explain the unique challenges of extreme data resources. He was talking about data management -- focusing on costs, not benefits. He did it so well, though, that now everybody wants a piece of the action. So they add a word here and a word there, and hardly anybody credits the source. Some even claim to have started the V thing, as Laney pointed out in ďDeja VVVu: Others Claiming Gartnerís Construct for Big Data.Ē These villainous vandals have taken a vested interest in Vs.

If the proliferation of V vernacular has brought you to the verge of vexation, brace yourself. It will surely get worse before it gets better. Next youíll hear that big data is vital, valiant, vehement, venerable, and puts you in the vanguard of well, something. Yes, big data is viral, vivacious, vibrant, voluptuous, full to the brim with vim, and a nice addition to vinaigrette. It vanquishes vampires and Visigoths, makes them vaporize, vanish, or just vamoose. Big data will teach you some new tricks. Itís very versatile.

Thereís no virtue in this volley of Vs. Itís vain vulgarity, best suited to a vaudeville ventriloquist. An excess of Vs may (or may not) cause varicose veins, verrucae, and vegetarianism, so donít be vulnerable and end up drawn by the vacuum into the vortex. Be vocal and vigilant. Do not vacillate. Resist the voodoo! For Peteís sake, buy a vowel!

If this vent over V vocabulary has left you feeling vacant, make a vow: Stick with the original three Vs. Volume, velocity, and variety are all you need to sum up the big challenges of big data.

There are still some V words left in the dictionary. Heard any good ones lately? Tell us about it here.

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Meta S. Brown, Business Analytics Consultant

Meta S. Brown is a consultant, speaker, and writer who promotes the use of business analytics. A hands-on analyst who has tackled projects with up to $900 million at stake, she is a recognized expert in cutting-edge business analytics. She has conducted more than 4,000 hours of presentations about business analytics, and written guides on neural networks, quality improvement, statistical process control, and many other statistical methods. Meta's seminars have attracted thousands of attendees from across the US and Canada, from novices to professors.

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Re: Article V
  • 5/6/2014 2:19:53 PM
NO RATINGS

Veracity... and Vegas -- now those are two things you don't often think of at the same time!

Re: Article V
  • 5/6/2014 12:36:23 PM
NO RATINGS

If volatility and veracity are so voluminous, let's just go to Vegas and be done with it!

Re: Article V
  • 5/6/2014 9:20:00 AM
NO RATINGS

Terry, why indeed? Don't get me wrong -- I'm all for creativity and out-of-the-box thinking. But when it comes to defining a basic concept, enough is enough. Adding on to a what is already a solid definition only serves to muddy the understanding. 

Re: Article V
  • 5/6/2014 2:27:21 AM
NO RATINGS

I'm in complete agreement, Beth -- a really fun take on a topic we don't normally asscoiate with humor or lightness. And the burger analogy is spot-on. Why must we always try to improve upon something and give it a new, fresh spin? (I'm obviously not in sales.) And loathe as I am to give Gartner credit for creating a classic, I'm also in agreement with Meta that the three original Vs are solid, complete, and are withstanding the test of time just fine.

Re: Article V
  • 5/5/2014 5:18:21 PM
NO RATINGS

Let me add my voice of support, too. At first I thought this was just another vapid post on the three Vs of big data. That would have left me bored and wanting some meat. This, on the other hand, left me laughing (while nodding in agreement.) Thanks! Maybe you should start a campaign to leave the three Vs inviolate!

Re: Article V
  • 5/5/2014 3:46:48 PM
NO RATINGS

Thanks for your vociferous vote of support.

Re: Article V
  • 5/5/2014 3:39:29 PM
NO RATINGS

Oh, I didn't realize there was another layer in the process. I guess that's how the reference to lyrics from Gypsy got clipped, too.

But back to big data, the illustration includes yet another V word that I neglected to mention, Viscosity, an unconventional adjective to associate with data. See how things get out of hand?

Re: Article V
  • 5/5/2014 3:12:05 PM
NO RATINGS

Plantar warts just doesn't have the same quasi-mythological ring as verrucae, does it? But credit for that correction goes to our intrepid copy editors, Meta. I let verrucas slip right by me. 

Re: Article V
  • 5/5/2014 2:15:11 PM
NO RATINGS

Thank you, Michael, for that walk down TV's memory lane. And thank you for teaching me the proper plural of "verruca". (Now if I could just figure out when the period goes inside the quotes and when it doesn't...)

Re: Article V
  • 5/5/2014 11:43:47 AM
NO RATINGS

Interesting how the human mind wants to categorize and explain everything in greater and greater detail. The proliferation of Vs is probably just a symptom of that. Just a bit more variation to variety to provide better value? I agree we need to vacate a lot of the extra V-words!

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