Don't Fall in Love With the Big Data Trend -- Yet


Welcome to tech earnings week.

Virtually every big name is reporting -- Google (today), Apple (Wednesday), and Microsoft (Thursday). While they're talking PCs and mobile, IBM , which also reports today, will be talking about big data and middleware.

My advice: take whatever Big Blue says about big data with a boulder of salt. IBM already knows it's too early to cash in on the trend.

"I think we're still very early in the adoption cycle. I call it the 3 Ps: they play, they pilot, and they put it in production. And most of the clients are still in the play phase or the pilot phase," Robert LeBlanc, IBM's senior vice president of the software middleware group, said at a Deutsche Bank conference in September.

That's saying something. With a business that spans not only servers but essential software for connecting different types of systems, Big Blue is better positioned than most to help companies create the massive infrastructure required to unite and extract big data for analysis.

Think of it as akin to building a skyscraper out of scrap metal. Or just listen to how LeBlanc describes IBM's partnership with Vestas Wind Systems :

They look at the Big Data problem as a 6-petabyte problem, because they look at 6 petabytes of data to where do I place [a] turbine ... Placing the turbine 100 yards in the wrong [direction] to the right or to the left can cost them an unbelievable amount of efficiency for that turbine. And so they look at geospatial data. They look at weather patterns. They look at all kinds of things, [and then] bring that information together to try and give them better insight into where to place the turbine.

How many companies have such expensive problems that solving them is worth spending tens of millions? Not many, I'd wager, especially when so much of the cost appears to be wrapped up in finding data scientists with the requisite skills to diagnose a big data problem.

Nor have smaller data-handling enterprises such as Informatica, MicroStrategy, and Qlik Technologies shown the sort of growth you'd expect from an industrywide pursuit of big data. MicroStrategy and Qlik, in particular, reported disappointing third-quarter results.

Big data is no doubt a big idea that will have its day. It just hasn't arrived yet.

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Fool contributor Tim Beyers is a member of the Motley Fool Rule Breakers stock-picking team and the Motley Fool Supernova Odyssey I mission. He owned shares of Apple, Google, IBM, and Qlik Technologies at the time of publication. Check out Tim's web home and portfolio holdings or connect with him on Google+, Tumblr, or Twitter, where he goes by @milehighfool. You can also get his insights delivered directly to your RSS reader.The Motley Fool recommends Apple, Google, Informatica, and Qlik Technologies. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Google, International Business Machines, and Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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