Grab a life preserver, because you’re about to be drowning in data. The continued growth of “Big Data,” especially through machine-to-machine (M2M) solutions, is giving businesses a lot more insight into what’s going on out there. It allows enterprises to track the behavior of customers and assets—industrial equipment, point-of-sale systems, energy meters, vehicle fleets, healthcare monitors, you name it—in amazing detail.

But it’s also creating a truly staggering amount of information.

Check out these data points:

Characteristics of successful big data solutions

The reality is that many IT professionals are just beginning to grapple with just how big Big Data really is, and what it’s going to mean for their business. They may not be sure exactly how they’re going to solve this problem yet, but they’re starting to get a sense of what those solutions will entail:

1. A more scalable, “burstable” cloud network platform that’s capable of storing, managing, and securing all this data in an efficient manner (Enterprises can’t plan on running back to EMC every day to buy more storage; and they certainly don’t want to be these guys.

2. New cloud and mobile capabilities that will allow them to access that data anywhere, anytime, on any device.

3. More intelligent tools to understand the avalanche of data they’re receiving – what to keep, what to discard, what must be retained for compliance purposes, what can be archived in the cloud, etc.

4. New analytics capabilities that can take them beyond data collection (which is often the easy part) and help them really understand and respond to the information they’re receiving, and ultimately predict future trends.

It’s a lot to accomplish, but enterprises have no choice but to get started. After all, preparing for the data deluge will likely mean the difference between swimming in information—and drowning in it.

We can expect a 32 percent growth rate in wireless M2M connections over the next three years and 40 billion connected M2M devices by 2020—all of them continually plugging away, collecting information, sending it back home. And it’s more than just sheer numbers of devices. The way we use those devices is also evolving and generating exponentially more data—and more complex data—than ever before.

Consider an electrical utility company that monitors a million meters. The utility used to gather one data point per month; now they may poll those devices every 15 minutes. Similarly, enterprises tracking a vehicle fleet used to note each vehicle’s departure and arrival times. Now, they maintain real-time information about the location of every vehicle, as well as a dozen other metrics tracking performance, fuel-efficiency, road conditions and more.

Shifting currents

We’re also beginning to see a major shift in the way M2M solutions can work. Previously, almost all connectivity was based on one-to-one connections, i.e., one sensor,  collecting some type of data and sending it back to a data center. But we are beginning to see far more one-to-many and even any-to-any connections, as M2M devices begin communicating with each other and creating networks of networks. Think of a smart meter that’s no longer simply monitoring whole-home energy usage, but also communicating with a dozen appliances and electronic devices in the home to track their consumption patterns. Or imagine a future where your car doesn’t just report on traffic and road conditions to OnStar or Google, but communicates with every other car on the road, in real time.

You don’t have to be a mathematician to realize that when you’ve got more connected devices out in the field, when you’re polling those devices hundreds or thousands of times more frequently than you once did, and when many of those devices are now talking to each other as well as to you, you’re going to have a lot of data.

An unbelievably HUGE amount of data, in fact. And a pretty serious business problem.

Batten down the hatches

So what does all this mean for you? Well, if you’re in position to manage, secure, access, and analyze all that data, it means a major competitive advantage. But how many enterprises are really there right now? And, as that data set continues to grow—and demand for mobile and cloud access to that information grows alongside it—how many businesses are really prepared to keep pace? Most of the businesses we talk with using M2M technology are already overwhelmed with the data they’re getting right now.

How is your business handling the influx of data from a myriad of internal and public sources? Have you found ways to leverage this data to improve performance?