RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
The amount of digital being stored today is ballooning. And is boomed in what is known as big data, is expected to produce thousands of new jobs over the next several years - especially in the high-tech hub around Boston.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
From member station WBUR, Curt Nickisch has this report.
CURT NICKISCH, BYLINE: Go to a server farm today, and you will freeze. The air conditioning is running full blast non-stop to keep the computers from overheating, rows and rows of them, lights blinking away. There are hundreds in the same amount of space as a single mainframe from decades ago.
SAM MADDEN: Computers are now millions of times faster. Storage is millions of times larger.
NICKISCH: But Sam Madden, a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says today's computers still basically store and handle data the same way they did back in the 1970s. And he says that just doesn't cut it anymore.
MADDEN: It's time to kind of rethink these designs to say how we would build things differently now for this new kind of data.
NICKISCH: Big data. That's the catchphrase for the trillions of gigabytes that are being recorded and stored nowadays, all our online transactions, the booming number of digital sensors out there, satellite images, the smartphones we carry, more complex data, and more of it.
JUSTIN RATTNER: The amount of data involved is so overwhelming.
NICKISCH: That's Justin Rattner. He's the chief technology officer of Intel Corporation. You probably have an Intel chip in your personal computer. Rattner thinks big data presents opportunities that could be as big as the personal computing revolution or the Internet.
RATTNER: Very transformational. It definitely warrants Intel's attention.
NICKISCH: It may be that his California-based company has to design new processors to handle these giant, complex, ever-growing databases. It may mean redesigning computers so they can feed more data to the processors right when someone wants to find out something.
RATTNER: This is not, you know, like running the accounts receivable program overnight, so that when everybody comes into the office the next morning, they know who's paid and who hasn't paid. I mean, this is right now, real time. We're going to need extremely fast access to that information.
NICKISCH: To figure out what kind of new technologies will be needed to make sense of big data, Intel is opening a research and development center at MIT. One reason the California company chose the Boston-area university is because the city is already home to around 100 companies working on big data problems.
MARILYN MATZ: What do we do? We build software tools for data scientists.
NICKISCH: Marilyn Matz is the CEO of one of them, a company called Paradigm4. One of her clients is an insurance firm that would like to offer auto coverage on the fly. Meaning, you only buy insurance when you take your car out of the garage.
MATZ: In your car right now, when you plunk in an address, and it comes back and says: there are three routes. Now imagine that for each route, it would tell you the insurance you would pay for that route at that time of day.
NICKISCH: Matz's company's software would help the insurance company perform that complex calculation from multiple, giant datasets in real time. Her company's in Boston because a lot of the companies she works with are here, too. Pharmaceutical firms researching reams of genetic data. Financial services firms, also, she says.
MATZ: You always produce better tools when you're working closely with people who ask the right questions, and you can facilitate their work.
NICKISCH: That kind of collaboration is expected to create 15,000 big data jobs here over the next six years.
For NPR News, I'm Curt Nickisch, in Boston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.