As Unstructured Data Swells the Big Data Reservoir, the "Post-Relational" Era Arrives

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 New Data Management Solutions Under Active Evaluation

Jaded IT professionals and managers, as well as market analysts, weary and wary from decades of overblown analyst claims about emerging new technologies, "paradigm shifts" and "enchanted quadrants," will take heart in a new series of Unisphere Research studies being released over the next several months.

The first of these, "The Post-Relational Reality Sets In: 2011 Survey on Unstructured Data," has just been released, and tackles the current dimensions and impact of unstructured data on enterprise IT practices, technologies, policies, purchasing priorities and the evaluation of new technologies.

The survey, conducted in April, 2011, extensively polled the views and opinions of 446 data managers and professionals who subscribe to the industry journal Database Trends and Applications and was underwritten by MarkLogic Corporation. The 35-page final report is now available for download at

Of the IT professionals who responded to the survey, 72% identified themselves as DBAs, systems administrators, IS/IT directors/managers, enterprise architects, or business analysts, and CIOs. The balance of the respondents hold managerial or consulting titles, primarily.

How Do Professionals Identify "Unstructured Data" And How Significant Is It?

Unstructured data has become much more clearly defined as professionals have moved past the "I can't actually define it, but I know it when I see it" phase. Ninety-one percent of the respondents report that they are aware of unstructured data files in their enterprise systems and only 2% say they have no unstructured data.

Types of unstructured data identified at respondents' sites include business documents like spreadsheets and presentations (67%), PDFs (63%), social content (59%), digitized articles/books/journals (58%), video/audio/multimedia/graphics (57%), web content  (48%), configuration logs/audit data (43%) and geospatial/remote sensing data (23%).

Moreover, the majority of respondents report difficulties in managing and storing  business documents with similar challenges being reported for other types of unstructured data - in stark contrast to their experience in managing and storing relational data. This presents a looming management issue moving forward. Seventy-eight percent of respondents report that there has been an increase in unstructured data, with over half forecasting that unstructured data will eclipse the amount of structured data in their enterprises within the next 10 years.

Currently, one-fifth of the respondents report that unstructured data already tops their relational data stores - a clear driving factor behind the emergence of "Big Data" enterprises. Further enlightening the growing horizontal market presence of unstructured data is the fact that manufacturing firms anticipate the most growth in unstructured data over the long haul - an insight not widely perceived, and related to the emergence of digital product design and computer-aided manufacturing, according to the study author Joseph McKendrick.

What is Being Done To Contend With This Trend?

While the final report offers a number of directional recommendations, perhaps one of the most compelling survey findings and an early indicator of the breadth of the "Big Data" challenge is the degree to which new technologies are now being actively evaluated for deployment within enterprises. Forty-three percent of  respondents are now evaluating brand new data management technologies for their enterprises - an astonishing shift that has only recently taken hold. Some of the specific technologies under evaluation include log monitoring and reporting tools (such as Splunk) at 19%, in-memory databases at 18%, NoSQL databases at 17%, Hadoop at 11%, and MPP data warehouses such as EMC Greenplum or Aster Data at 10% of all the enterprises surveyed.

The Scope Of The Survey Findings

"The Post-Relational Reality Sets In: 2011 Survey on Unstructured Data" delivers an extensive overview of the nature of unstructured data and where it resides, the organizational issues associated with its presence and growth rate in the enterprise, the management practices associated with it, and the sources of unstructured data and the technologies used in unstructured environments. A concluding chapter provides a checklist of recommended approaches to understanding the phenomenon in the enterprise and for establishing a baseline for building internal awareness of both the issue and the potential for deriving business value from these new data assets.

The study may be downloaded at