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Big data gets its first official standard at the ITU

The United Nations' ITU agency has long worked to promote global cooperation in a variety of technical areas, and on Friday it announced its first-ever standard for big data.

The new international standard details the requirements, capabilities and uses of cloud-based big data, with an eye toward ensuring that its benefits can be achieved on a global scale. It also outlines how cloud computing systems can be leveraged to provide big-data services.

"This new ITU standard provides internationally agreed fundamentals of cloud-based big data," said Chaesub Lee, director of the International Telecommunication Union's Telecommunication Standardization Bureau. "It will build cohesion in the terminology used to describe cloud-based big data and offer a common basis for the development of big data services and supporting technical standards."

Outlined in the ITU's new report are recommendations and requirements for data collection, visualization, analysis and storage, among other areas, along with security considerations.

What isn't entirely clear, however, is whether the specifications add substantially to what's already been established by vendors in the space.

"We're somewhat skeptical around the area of international standards in the data space," said Alan Duncan, a research director with Gartner. "We have not really seen any of them have a huge amount of traction."

What often happens is that before official standards even exist, market forces push vendors to establish interoperability on their own, Duncan pointed out.

"The rationale for having standards is to make things interoperable, but in big data, that's already happened at a practical level, driven by the need for vendor solutions to be able to work together," he said.

Vendors such as Tableau, Teradata and Alteryx, for example, have already forged connections among their platforms, Duncan noted.

So, while the ITU standard may be "excellent in theory," he said, practically speaking, "it's late to the party."

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