We’ve all heard about the revolutionary insights big data is purported to deliver.  But you may not know that the Harvard Business Review has officially declared the data scientist the “sexiest job of the 21st century.” It’s not hard to imagine considering the big data market is growing an estimated 31 percent annually. We’ve even seen Hollywood adopt the concept: Brad Pitt used big data to acquire a championship baseball team in Moneyball; Tom Cruise, in Minority Report, was a policeman in a future where crimes are predicted before they ever happen.

In the real world, “Big data absolutely has the potential to change the way organizations conduct business, and it’s likely to change how everyone lives their day-to-day lives,” said Susan Hauser, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Enterprise and Partner Group. The world now has twice as much data as there are liters in the ocean, Hauser said.

According to Eron Kelly, general manager of product marketing for Microsoft SQL Server, “in the next five years, we’ll generate more data as humankind than we generated in the previous 5,000 years.”

“Big data is a big problem, and it’s an incredible opportunity,” Kelly said. “What we’re providing is the tool that allows you to scoop the water out of the ocean, pour it into a filter, and make it drinkable rather than having to do on your own each of those potable steps you vaguely remember from high school chemistry.”

“It’s an inevitable reality of our new world that more and more data is being generated,” Kelly said. “Those able to derive insights from that data will make better decisions and will be more efficient, and they’ll move whatever agenda it is that they have forward much faster than those that don’t.” According to the MIT Center for Digital Business, companies that adopt data-driven practices, and use big data to guide decision making, will have output and productivity that is 5 to 6 percent higher than what would be expected given their other investments and information technology uses.

One challenge of big data can simply be managing its sheer size. Storing, searching, analyzing, comparing, refining, combining, visualizing – massive sets of data can be a challenge to traditional database software. That’s where database and business intelligence tools such as Microsoft SQL Server, Windows Server, PowerPivot, Microsoft Office and SharePoint come in handy, Hauser said.

This is a moment for which Microsoft is prepared, and has been preparing – virtually since the company’s origin, Hauser said. “Microsoft believes that big data has the power to drive practical insights that just weren’t possible before,” Hauser said. “It’s about managing all that data and providing tools that enable everyone to answers questions– questions they might not have even known they had. That’s the vision we have.”

Read more about our perspective on Big Data opportunity here.  We also released research findings today. Of note, more than 75 percent of midsize to large businesses are implementing big data-related solutions within the next 12 months.