recommended reading

White House launches governmentwide investment in big data

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

Officials from science agencies across the government on Thursday announced $200 million in new research and development investments related to the mining, processing, storage and use of big data.

The National Science Foundation, for instance, announced a $10 million grant to University of California Berkeley researchers to build new algorithms and tools to sort through petabytes, terabytes, exabytes and zettabytes of data.

The National Institutes of Health announced a plan to put a data set of the human genome project in Amazon's EC2 computer cloud with tools to make the information easily accessible to researchers. The 200 terabytes of data the project currently stores would fill about 16 million file cabinets or 30,000 DVDs, making it difficult to share, NIH Director Francis Collins said at an event announcing the big data projects.

Assistant Defense Secretary for Research and Engineering Zachary Lemnios announced plans during the event to develop predictive and learning tools that can use big data to make "truly autonomous" defense systems that "can learn from experience with very little training and learn the limits of their own knowledge."

The initiative was sparked by a June 2011 report from the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, which found a gap in the private sector's investment in basic research and development for big data.

Other agencies involved in the initiative include the U.S. Geological Survey, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and Energy Department.

The term big data is used most frequently by online advertising and marketing algorithms that sort through data from social media and elsewhere to micro-target demographics. Similar tactics also have been used by astronomers, oceanographers and geneticists to find patterns in even larger troves of data.

Advances in computing such as nimble computer clouds and programs that can make multiple computers act as one have made it possible to crunch through some data sets that previously were too large for even machine comprehension and to analyze other data sets more quickly and cheaply.

The cost of sequencing a human genome, for example, has dropped from many millions of dollars when it was first completed in 2003 to just $8,000 today, Collins said.

Astronomers who once observed only the sky now can plow through measurement data to model how some astronomical phenomena occur and how others may have evolved in the past, Johns Hopkins University physics and astronomy professor Alex Szalay said during a panel discussion following the government announcements.

For example, Szalay said, astronomers have used big data to model resonance frequencies the universe emits, similar to a drum when its beat, to examine what the big bang might have looked like.

Threatwatch Alert

Thousands of cyber attacks occur each day

See the latest threats


Close [ x ] More from Nextgov

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Modernizing IT for Mission Success

    Surveying Federal and Defense Leaders on Priorities and Challenges at the Tactical Edge

  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

  • Effective Ransomware Response

    This whitepaper provides an overview and understanding of ransomware and how to successfully combat it.

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.