We are entering a new era of information technology, when the network will be the computer. And significant computing tasks will be done somewhere in the network 'cloud'. Just a short time ago that may have sounded farfetched. The IT environment familiar to most readers was based on desktop/laptop computers, and the enterprise-wide deployment of information to those systems. The notion of an enterprise having to depend on the availability and responsiveness of some amorphous network of distributed data resources was challenging.
Some readers may argue that it's far easier to create a controlled, predictable IT environment by buying the hardware, the software, and even the data, and integrating them. This makes the system completely self sufficient. Arguably, this position was once the only option. But now we've experienced significant changes in technology. The Internet is just one. It started with a browser that pointed to web pages, reports, or documents. It is now extending into databases and collaboration services. As a result, a lot of us have come to depend on the internet for much of the information we consume. Thanks to Web 2.0 applications the world is embracing internet-based social networking and wiki worlds which have highlighted a generational shift in the way that we manage and access information.
In order to cope with all this increased internet activity, other technology has evolved. The introduction of broadband internet has improved the user experience significantly. Internet consumers – in some countries – are already experiencing very little difference whether they access resources internal or external to their organization. With the introduction of fiber to the home in North America, Australia, Europe, Asia and other regions, a vast majority of households will experience unencumbered access to remote resources. The availability of high speed broadband will change the way that we do a whole lot of things.
However, there's more to this than just having mountains of remote distributed resources. The development of Service Oriented Architectures (SOA) support the concept of web services that allow programs or web applications to integrate these remote services and data. The development of SOA meant that applications developers could easily ‘cobble’ together any number of remote resources. An army of developers is working to build web-based and desktop ‘mashups’ that integrate any number of these remote services via web services. This trend is only in its infancy. As we become more comfortable with it, its usage will proliferate.
So we already have the fundamental infrastructure to broaden our use of information beyond the boundary of the enterprise. For the Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI) community what is now needed is the growth of remote services that can be harnessed in this manner. We need more distributed services that are exposed on the internet, and that can be discovered and accessed via standards-based web services. This Information as a Service (IAAS) model is a trend that is gaining a momentum of its own – initially in controlled intranet/extranet environments – but increasingly on Internet "cloud" as well.
We'll explore some specific examples in future parts of this series.
- Jeff and Brad