New software can use the graphics processors found on everyday computers to process torrents of data more quickly than is normally possible, opening up new ways to visually explore everything from Twitter posts to political donations.
Known as MapD, or massively parallel database, the new technology achieves big speed gains by storing the data in the onboard memory of graphics processing units (GPUs) instead of in central processing units (CPUs), as is conventional. Using a single high-performance GPU card can make data processing up to 70 times faster.
Right now the prototype technology is being demonstrated on tweets; it can show how a meme is propagating in real time on regional or world maps (watch “Visualizing Big Data in Milliseconds on Cheap Computers”). Many large-scale Twitter visualizations—including animated maps and charts—take several seconds or longer to process data before it can be displayed. With MapD, a user can adjust search terms and other parameters—like time frame or geographical region—and see a new visualization instantly, without having to wait for each new map and animation to compute and load.