By Chris Harding, The Open Group
The Internet gives businesses access to ever-larger markets, but it also brings more competition. To prosper, they must deliver outstanding products and services. Often, this means processing the ever-greater, and increasingly complex, data that the Internet makes available. The question they now face is, how to do this without spending all their time and effort on information technology.
Web Business Success
The success stories of giants such as Amazon are well-publicized, but there are other, less well-known companies that have profited from the Web in all sorts of ways. Here’s an example. In 2000 an English illustrator called Jacquie Lawson tried creating greetings cards on the Internet. People liked what she did, and she started an e-business whose website is now ranked by Alexa as number 2712 in the world, and #1879 in the USA. This is based on website traffic and is comparable, to take a company that may be better known, with toyota.com, which ranks slightly higher in the USA (#1314) but somewhat lower globally (#4838).
A company with a good product can grow fast. This also means, though, that a company with a better product, or even just better marketing, can eclipse it just as quickly. Social networking site Myspace was once the most visited site in the US. Now it is ranked by Alexa as #196, way behind Facebook, which is #2.
So who ranks as #1? You guessed it – Google. Which brings us to the ability to process large amounts of data, where Google excels.
The Data Explosion
The World-Wide Web probably contains over 13 billion pages, yet you can often find the information that you want in seconds. This is made possible by technology that indexes this vast amount of data – measured in petabytes (millions of gigabytes) – and responds to users’ queries.
The data on the world-wide-web originally came mostly from people, typing it in by hand. In future, we will often use data that is generated by sensors in inanimate objects. Automobiles, for example, can generate data that can be used to optimize their performance or assess the need for maintenance or repair.
The world population is measured in billions. It is estimated that the Internet of Things, in which data is collected from objects, could enable us to track 100 trillion objects in real time – ten thousand times as many things as there are people, tirelessly pumping out information. The amount of available data of potential value to businesses is set to explode yet again.
A New Business Generation
It’s not just the amount of data to be processed that is changing. We are also seeing changes in the way data is used, the way it is processed, and the way it is accessed. Following The Open Group conference in January, I wrote about the convergence of social, Cloud, and mobile computing with Big Data. These are the new technical trends that are taking us into the next generation of business applications.
We don’t yet know what all those applications will be – who in the 1990’s would have predicted greetings cards as a Web application – but there are some exciting ideas. They range from using social media to produce market forecasts to alerting hospital doctors via tablets and cellphones when monitors detect patient emergencies. All this, and more, is possible with technology that we have now, if we can use it.
But there is a problem. Although there is technology that enables businesses to use social, Cloud, and mobile computing, and to analyze and process massive amounts of data of different kinds, it is not necessarily easy to use. A plethora of products is emerging, with different interfaces, and with no ability to work with each other. This is fine for geeks who love to play with new toys, but not so good for someone who wants to realize a new business idea and make money.
The new generation of business applications cannot be built on a mish-mash of unstable products, each requiring a different kind of specialist expertise. It needs a solid platform, generally understood by enterprise architects and software engineers, who can translate the business ideas into technical solutions.
The New Platform
Former VMware CEO and current Pivotal Initiative leader Paul Maritz describes the situation very well in his recent blog on GigaOM. He characterizes the new breed of enterprises, that give customers what they want, when they want it and where they want it, by exploiting the opportunities provided by new technologies, as consumer grade. Paul says that, “Addressing these opportunities will require new underpinnings; a new platform, if you like. At the core of this platform, which needs to be Cloud-independent to prevent lock-in, will be new approaches to handling big and fast (real-time) data.”
The Open Group has announced its new Platform 3.0 Forum to help the industry define a standard platform to meet this need. As The Open Group CTO Dave Lounsbury says in his blog, the new Forum will advance The Open Group vision of Boundaryless Information Flow™ by helping enterprises to take advantage of these convergent technologies. This will be accomplished by identifying a set of new platform capabilities, and architecting and standardizing an IT platform by which enterprises can reap the business benefits of Platform 3.0.
A business set up to design greetings cards should not spend its time designing communications networks and server farms. It cannot afford to spend time on such things. Someone else will focus on its core business and take its market.
The Web provided a platform that businesses of its generation could build on to do what they do best without being overly distracted by the technology. Platform 3.0 will do this for the new generation of businesses.
Help It Happen!
To find out more about the Platform 3.0 Forum, and take part in its formation, watch out for the Platform 3.0 web meetings that will be announced by e-mail and twitter, and on our home page.
Dr. Chris Harding is Director for Interoperability and SOA at The Open Group. He has been with The Open Group for more than ten years, and is currently responsible for managing and supporting its work on interoperability, including SOA and interoperability aspects of Cloud Computing, and the Platform 3.0 Forum. He is a member of the BCS, the IEEE and the AEA, and is a certified TOGAF practitioner.