Data in the Cloud

David Tan

The first time we started to really hear about the cloud was with software-as-a-service (SaaS). Products like touted the end of software as we know it.  No more need to buy huge software products, just log onto a website, sign up and pay for what you need as you go. Next came Infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS). Companies like Amazon were offering robust back-end server platforms for you to offload data processing and storage functions. Again, a great way to scale and grow efficiently.

Both of these, and all the other similar types of offerings, are nice, but they are very much commodities. No real cloud computing offering has provided a truly unique value add proposition-until now.  The offering I'm talking about is data-as-a-service and the product is Microsoft's newest cloud offering-Codename 'Dallas.'

Dallas is essentially an information marketplace built on the Azure platform that offers companies and developers real-time access to data and imagery. What's great about it is that any content provider can make their data available, and any end user can consume the data, all over the Azure cloud without ever having to worry about putting together elaborate systems for data conversion or translation.The concept sounds a little strange; maybe it will make more sense when you think about it from a practical standpoint.

Let's say you are an insurance company that needs a new platform to generate policy premiums on flood insurance policies. Maybe the two key pieces of information you need are water table maps and population demographics. Traditionally, you would have to find that data somewhere (likely in two distinct places), and write some pretty elaborate code to get it all in one system and feeding into your pricing application. Plus, by the time you had it written, the data would be out of date, and you'd have to hope you could get regular updates. With Dallas, using standard APIs, you could just subscribe to those data sets, and very quickly pull the data into your application-and know the data was constantly updated and relevant.

The example is fairly simple, I admit, but the power of this type of service is difficult to even comprehend.  Just think of the data that can and will be made available in the cloud. Everything from medical and scientific data to global census and population statistics. Plus you can use and pay for only what you need-on demand-and know the data is current and relevant, and in a standard format. The possibilities literally make your head spin.

Saas and IaaS are nice technology offerings, and I have been talking for at least two years about the benefit of moving as much as you can to the cloud. But something like data-as-a-service is truly a game changer.  Anywhere, anytime access to mountainous volumes of data is what the cloud was meant to offer. Every other cloud platform up to now has been a building block-this is the ultimate prize.

As more developers grasp this opportunity, and more providers make their content available, we will begin to see some amazing new products and services that have literally never been possible before.  I, for one, am very excited.

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