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The growth of processing power has given us the ability to tackle the enormous amounts of data companies acquire, then slice it, dice it, and model decisions from it, like never before. Here are some companies positioned to profit mightily from it, observes Chloe Lutts of Dick Davis Dividend Digest.

What exactly is “Big Data?” Simply, Big Data is a concept and a buzzword coined to describe the increasingly enormous data sets being analyzed by businesses, governments, and organizations today. Today’s Big Data sets are so large that they’ve been given a new name to set them apart from the data that’s been available in the past.

From a technical standpoint, the defining characteristic of Big Data is that it requires new and purpose-built tools to capture, store, search, share, analyze, and visualize that data. For example, commonly-used database management tools like Microsoft Excel can be used to easily store and use hundreds and even thousands of data points, but are too slow to store and manage Big Data sets containing multiple terabytes or petabytes of information.

An example from the sciences helps show just how much bigger Big Data is. The Sloan Digital Sky Survey is an astronomical survey begun by a New Mexico observatory in 2000. Collecting about 200 GB of data on the cosmos per night, the Sloan survey collected more data in its first few weeks of operation than had previously been collected in the entire history of astronomy.

Businesses are collecting and using big data too. Wal-Mart (WMT) saves data on all of its customer transactions—over 1 million per hour—in databases now estimated to contain more than 2.5 petabytes of data. That’s the equivalent of 167 times all the information contained in the entire Library of Congress.

What use is that much data? It depends on how good your tools are. No one person can look at 2.5 petabytes of data and discern any sort of pattern from it. So software for organizing and analyzing Big Data has become a big business. Organizations with the right tools can use them to make big money...or win big elections.

Right after the presidential election, the Obama campaign shared some of its data strategy with Time. In this article, the campaign explained how having the right tools to analyze the data was key.

Tickers Mentioned: WMT, EFX, ACXM, EMC, TDC