From ON Magazine, Issue No. 4, 2009
By Jeff Nick
The Web has given us new opportunities and tools for collaboration, information access and visualization, and IT service-based consumption, ushering in the new era of cloud computing.
Before the dawn of the Web, if you wanted to collaborate, you had to bring together everyone in the same room at the same time. The odds of having all the right players present were slim. This was not only due to the barriers created by travel time and cost, but because, in large global organizations, it was difficult to know where all your potential collaborators—those with the most relevant talents—existed within the company.
The Web has changed this landscape in truly powerful ways, allowing us to find relevant people, information, and resources in a global manner, limited only by the security boundaries that we set in place. At EMC, this new way to collaborate has facilitated a new model for innovation and product development. The EMC Innovation Network is based on the principle that innovation is an open process involving multiple players from different organizations, coming together in a global network to share ideas and their passion for a specific topic of research and to incubate these ideas to realization. It allows us to discover and leverage EMC talent anywhere in the world and to build a community of interest that can also be open to outside partners.
Making content consumer-centric
The Web has also given us new tools and models for managing how information is assembled and presented. In the past, the display of information was constructed in a rigid, hierarchical way based on a vendor’s best guess about what the average user wants or needs, or based on what the producer wants to deliver. Today, users can control and customize what information is delivered to them. With Web-inspired mash-up capabilities, users can assemble information from different sources and define how it is going to appear on the screen.
EMC and other leading IT vendors are embracing this shift from producer-centric to consumer-centric content. For example, EMC Data Center Insight allows IT administrators to mash up information from different sources to yield much deeper insights about the IT infrastructure. This is next-generation IT, and coming up behind it is the next-generation Semantic Web.
Up ahead: The Semantic Web
Similar to how translators break down language barriers so that information is comprehensible to a diverse audience of listeners, so too will the Semantic Web unleash information that is now stored in silos—tied to specific schema and access methods—so it can be seamlessly discovered and accessed over the Internet by all the people and applications that need it. By unlocking data from many heterogeneous sources, then assembling and linking it into sets of information that are contextually meaningful to the user, the Semantic Web will allow us to gain deeper, richer insight into the vast quantities of data being accumulated in every industry and organization.
Take healthcare, for example. In the healthcare supply chain—which includes not only providers, but also insurers, regulators, and other parties—we have many different players. They are not only creators and custodians of data (which exists in many different formats), but they also must access data that is created and stored by others. It is neither desirable nor feasible to move all the data to one place. We need to leave the data where it is today but be able to find it, catalogue it, classify it, interact with it, translate it, and update it all along the supply chain.
Our ability to create an electronic healthcare record system will be predicated on our ability to build an information exchange where information can be extracted from these proprietary data sources, translated into the form fit for the next participant in the supply chain, and then updated and stored back into the original data sources in a secure and authoritative manner. This kind of semantic information exchange is the business corollary to the Semantic Web.
The semantics of cloud computing
The Semantic Web also has a correlation to where we are going with cloud computing. The ability to find, allocate, and consume IT as a service has its roots in the Web’s mechanisms for discovery and navigation. The Internet provides us with the semantics to interact with end points and exchange “information about information.” In a similar way, we are now starting to exchange information about resources at Internet scale. The Web has been a stepping stone to our ability to actually interact with and federate to resources that are distributed globally.
Cloud computing is based on Web-facilitated collaboration, the Web-inspired idea of consumer-centric information mashups, and now Web-based discovery and access of IT resources as a service. Semantic Web-based information exchanges will follow. As such, cloud computing stands on the shoulders of the Web.