Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Business and convergent technologies 9 – massive databases, cloud computing and the killer data app

Posted in business and convergent technologies by Timothy Platt on November 12, 2009

In an earlier posting, will any single killer app define virtual reality? I presented an argument that no single user-facing application will come to dominate and define the emerging all the time and everywhere computing and communications environment, but that does not mean there will be no killer app for ubiquitous computing and communications at all. I see that as happening in basic infrastructure that supports a diversity of more user-oriented front end applications. And I start this posting by referring back to a concept that I first raised in part one of this series: a new and emerging landscape of opportunity.

One of the points I made there is that the volumes of data that are being developed are forcing us to create a whole new vocabulary of scale, with prefixes like peta-, exa-, zetta-, yotta- and bronto- preceding byte. Terabyte sized hard drives are now pretty commonplace in new desktop and even laptop computers but the scales of raw data that we can and do connect into daily, online, are so vast as to dwarf that into insignificance. The only platforms that can make this possible as a general, flexibly expandable capability are in the cloud, with distributed shared database and data warehouse resources.

• Major players like Oracle and IBM have been moving to define and capture market share in this space, as have a growing host of smaller and newly emerging businesses.
• Most all of these companies maintain and develop proprietary code and product.
• From the end user perspective, and particularly where online accessibility is a product requirement, front ends for these products and services have to be open-standards-accessible if product and service providers are to gain access to wide market shares.
• This has put pressure on even the market leaders to participate in technology commons and open source for a growing range of technologies, so as to gain and retain access to the widest possible market space and market share for their goods and services.

That brings me back to those vast and growing floods of data. And that brings me to a single, basic question.

• Is there a dominant, underlying requirement that wide ranges of users will arrive at when tapping into and using all the time/everywhere computing and communications as addressed here?

I would argue that while we are all coming to connect with others globally, the key to our basic usage and usability requirements is going to be that we are still physically located in one place at a time. The term I have turned to for this is local ubiquitous computing and communications – connecting into this global network of computing and communications services and capabilities to more effectively connect into the here and now for where I am, where ever I am and whenever I need to connect.

OK, “local ubiquitous computing and communications” is too long a name, and it sounds like an oxymoron – an apparent contradiction in terms. “Long”, I would argue would be genuine grounds for coming up with a better term and I invite suggestions as feedback comments to this blog if you have a better naming suggestion. “An apparent contradiction in terms” is intentional, as there is a dynamic in this that is very important, and the conflict between “local” and “ubiquitous” is only seemingly real.

I will add that really offering fine-grain localized, all the time and everywhere is going to demand those greater and greater scales of database and data warehouse sizes that I cited above, and with more prefixes beyond bronto- before long too.

But simply pouring more and more raw data into larger and larger boxes cannot be an effective answer to this. And that is where knowledge management comes in with Web 3.0 with its automated approaches for organizing all that data into usable knowledge and knowledge-based patterns.

Once again, specific front-end, user-facing and user demographic prioritized applications of this are not going to emerge as single, dominating killer apps. Three quite different cases for developing this type of capability come immediately to mind for me with:

• Airport security gravitating to automated, Web 3.0 based behavioral analysis systems for pre-screening video content for suspicious activities and to identify possible threat sources.
• Social networking sites like LinkedIn, seeking to pre-select potential networking contacts for their site members who they are likely to already know, using automated pattern analysis tools on their accumulated user connections lists. This one, by the way, also gives these sites a pretty good understanding of how often members connect to people they do not in fact previously know and a lot of other useful user community demographics information.
• Online stores using knowledge management software to discern predictive buying patterns for managing inventory, with both individualized and customer group demographics modeling.

These are only a few quick and obvious applications of many, with new and unexpected ones sure to emerge very often and from and for a wide, wide range of sources – no single overarching killer apps here.

But the lynchpin supporting structures in the form of shared infrastructure standards and apps can and will drive this as a practical matter and they do and will derive their strengths from being front-end agnostic.

The next posting in this series is going to take a somewhat closer look at the data, and particularly at issues of data ownership, access and security.

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