Hampered by skills shortages and fears over data security, western Europe is only now starting to catch up with the US in the use of big data.
Adoption of the technology has also been slowed by a chill economic climate and smaller European datasets, according to IDC. On top of all that, recent EU regulations, such as the right to be forgotten, call into question data usage and ownership.
"The legal principle of the right to be forgotten goes to the very heart of a company's ability to mine even anonymised data, which could negatively impact the value of collecting certain data if a company is not allowed to use it via big-data tools for business purposes," the analyst firm said in a statement.
Nevertheless, IDC is forecasting the market in western Europe for big-data technology and services to grow from $2.3bn in 2013 to $2.9bn by the end of 2014 and $6.8bn in 2018. Those figures represent a compound annual growth rate of 24.6 percent between now and 2018.
IDC divides the big-data market into infrastructure — which includes servers, storage, and networking — software, and services. Storage accounts for the lion's share of infrastructure spending with a figure of $536m in 2013, followed by servers on $314m.
But IDC's new report, Western Europe big data technology and services 2011–2013 market size and 2014–2018 forecast by country and segment, also shows that software spending represents the largest single segment with a 2013 figure of $698m, while services are on $593m.
"Western European organisations are catching up rapidly with their north American peers in terms of analytical maturity despite later adoption," the study said.
IDC argues its research shows a correlation between greater use of analytics and better organisational performance But moving from analytics to big data creates a complexity that makes gaining value a significant and growing challenge.
"Value from big data is far from guaranteed," IDC research director Alys Woodward said. Consequently, vendors need to do more to help customers build systems that meet specific requirements to support business priorities.
Storage for big data has the highest compound annual growth rate of 30.5 percent, compared with 21.9 percent for both software and services.
Compound annual growth rates for individual western European countries range between 22.3 percent at the bottom and 32.2 percent at the top, with the rate of adoption driven by factors such as the existing extent of analytics use, macroeconomics, and the presence of larger organisations, particularly in retail and finance.
"The UK, Benelux, and Nordics tend to show higher initial adoption, though Germany and France are catching up rapidly, while southern Europe still lags behind," IDC said.
The study also noted that Hadoop-related investments will focus on buying services, and that the arrival of smaller, independent vendors will help drive the use of big data beyond large enterprises.
A lot of demand is expected to come from the public sector, which is trying to use analytics to make processes more efficient and cut costs.
Government use of big-data technology for threat prevention can be controversial in cases where it raises privacy concerns, IDC said, and could act as a major inhibitor for stronger growth.