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GTRI's team of Dan Campbell (from left), Rob McColl, Jason Poovey and David Ediger brings graph analytics to a range of data challenges, such as social networks, surveillance intelligence, computer-network functionality, and industrial control systems. (Photo: Gary Meek)

Tackling Big Data

By Rick Robinson

Petabytes of digital information are generated daily by sources such as social media, Internet activity, surveillance sensors, and advanced research instruments. The results are often referred to as big data — accumulations so huge that sophisticated computer techniques are required to identify useful information hidden within.

Graph analysis is a prime tool for finding the needle in the data haystack. This potent technology — not to be confused with simple illustrations like bar graphs and pie charts — utilizes mathematical techniques that represent relationships in the data more efficiently than traditional statistical analyses.

Researchers at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) are bringing graph analytics to bear on a range of data-related challenges. “Our first task is to look at the interesting properties of a graph to find the important questions we can ask of that graph,” said Dan Campbell, a GTRI principal research engineer. “The second task is to find the answers as quickly as possible, and then put them to practical use.”

A graph is a type of data structure comprised of entities — meaning anything that can be represented digitally — and their relationships. In graph terminology, an entity is a vertex or a node; the connections between it and other vertices are edges or arcs. Graphs are constructed using software algorithms that represent both the data points and the relationships between them, and also enable computers to manipulate and analyze that information.

GTRI researchers make extensive use of a graph-analysis framework called STINGER, built specifically to tackle dynamic, ever-changing applications such as social networks and Internet traffic. STINGER was created by a team led by David Bader, a professor in the Georgia Tech School of Computational Science and Engineering.

“Social media analysis clearly has an important role to play in emergency response to both natural disasters, like Hurricane Sandy, and to potential terrorist attacks,” said David Ediger, a GTRI research engineer.

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