The Washington Post

IT contractors look for ‘big data’ opportunities

The Obama administration announced late last month a new big data initiative meant to help the government better analyze large collections of information. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

Move over cloud computing. The term with the most buzz these days for information technology contractors is “big data,” or large chunks of information too huge to be easily managed by typical computer programs.

The Obama administration announced late last month a new big data initiative meant to help the government better analyze large collections of information. The government’s big data can range from the claims filed by Medicare and Medicaid users to video footage collected by unmanned vehicles on the battlefield.

The initiative kicked off with more than $200 million in projects at six agencies in an effort to advance the technologies needed to collect, store and share the troves of data and expand the needed workforce.

Now, information technology companies are hoping the government’s spotlight will mean additional opportunity.

MarkLogic, a California company with a Tysons Corner-based public sector business, has long specialized in organizing what it calls “unstructured” data, which could be anything from e-mails to geospatial information that doesn’t fit into typical databases.

The company’s government work includes contracts with the intelligence community as well as civilian agencies, and MarkLogic has seen its government unit become the largest group within the company since it was founded about six years ago, said Randall Jackson, vice president of the company’s public sector.

“We feel like we’ve been doing this whole solving the big data problem for many years,” Jackson said.

Mark Weber, president of the Tysons Corner-based U.S. public sector division of storage and data management company NetApp, said his company already has some big data-related work, too. For instance, NetApp last year won a major contract with the Energy Department to provide storage for a supercomputer at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.

For the government, “the amount of data they’re bringing in ... has just created a huge opportunity for them to take that data and do something with it,” Weber said. “But it also creates a huge problem in speed, complexity, volume of that data.”

Companies large and small expect the government’s new focus to provide growth opportunities. IBM, for instance, made analytics — which includes big data analytics — one of the company’s four corporate growth initiatives, said Frank Stein, director of IBM’s District-based Analytics Solution Center.

Reston-based Global Computer Enterprises, which has been working with the General Services Administration to help it make procurement data searchable across the government, said the administration’s focus will likely yield more awareness within agencies.

“It’s a very good signal from the administration that they value this new set of tools,” said Ray Muslimani, the company’s founder and chief executive.

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