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Big data is an evolving term that describes a large volume of structured, semi-structured and unstructured data that has the potential to be mined for information and used in machine learning projects and other advanced analytics applications.
Big data is often characterized by the 3Vs: the extreme volume of data, the wide variety of data types and the velocity at which the data must be processed. Those characteristics were first identified by Gartner analyst Doug Laney in a report published in 2001. More recently, several other Vs have been added to descriptions of big data, including veracity, value and variability. Although big data doesn't equate to any specific volume of data, the term is often used to describe terabytes, petabytes and even exabytes of data captured over time.
The importance of big data doesn't revolve around how much data you have, but what you do with it. You can take data from any source and analyze it to find answers that enable 1) cost reductions, 2) time reductions, 3) new product development and optimized offerings, and 4) smart decision making. When you combine big data with high-powered analytics, you can accomplish business-related tasks such as:
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