Skip to main content

Synching the 2.0 web

Advocates of web 2.0 suggest that we can access nearly all of the services we need from web suppliers. We can edit our documents, store our photos or company data, and run our applications. It sounds great - but what happens when the web is unavailable? Over the last few years I have travelled quite a bit and I've often found myself in places with no wifi connectivity - or at least none at a price I'm willing to pay. So I value having a copy of my data on my laptop, so that I can carry on working.

I've put forward this argument at a couple of events recently. At an excellent session on Web 2.0 and science at the UK e-Science All Hands Meeting, the response was that 3G coverage will soon be sufficient to give us access almost everywhere. The next generation will take it for granted, the way they take GSM talk coverage for granted already. I have to admit that this scenario seems quite likely, although of course there are still places that don't even have talk coverage.

Nevertheless, there are still problems. Cloud services are far from 100% reliable, at least as yet. The word from companies using cloud computing for their business is that we should expect failure and deploy applications on multiple providers. I believe we should do the same with our data. In addition to guarding against technical failures, it would protect us from vendors who go out of business or close down a service. It would would also prevent vendors from taking advantage of "lock-in" to increase their prices.

So, we need systems that can replicate data from one data store to another. Fortunately, we know how to do this, whether via Grid or via P2P technologies. Unfortunately, we seem no nearer achieving standards for interoperability, so we will need to build systems that interface to the variety of proprietary systems out there.

Ideally, the data should be self-describing, so that two copies can be synchronised by a different application from the one that actually created the copies. I'm put in mind of the apparently simple problem of syncing my calendar between my PDA and my PC. When I migrated my PC calendar to a new application, the next synchronisation created two copies of each event. You'd have thought that the iCalendar format would tag each event with a UUID so that multiple copies could be easily reconciled, but it seems that this doesn't happen. Let's make this a ground rule for storing data in the cloud.

I'll leave the last word to a panellist at the Cloud Computing event in Newcastle. When I explained that I wanted my data on my laptop so that I could work on the plane, he suggested that perhaps I'd be better using the time to read a good book.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Changing Principles

In EA, architecture principles set a framework for making architectural decisions.  They help to establish a common understanding across different groups of stakeholders, and provide guidance for portfolios and projects.  Michael Durso of the LSE gave a good introduction to the idea in a webinar last week for the UCISA EA community.

Many organisations take the TOGAF architecture principles as a starting point.  These are based on the four architectural domains of TOGAF: business, information/data, applications, technology/infrastructure.  These principles tend to describe what should be done, e.g. re-use applications, buy in software rather than build it, keep data secure.  See for example the principles adopted at Plymouth University and the University of Birmingham.

Recently though, I encountered a different way of looking at principles.  The user experience design community tend to focus more on how we should do things.  E.g. we should start with user needs, use iterative developm…

Why the UCISA Capability Model is useful

What do Universities do?

This may seem a strange question to ask and the answer may seem obvious.  Universities educate students and undertake research.  And perhaps they work with industrial partners and create spin-off companies of their worn.  And they may work with local communities, and affiliation bodies for certain degress, and they definitely report on their activities to government bodies such as HEFCE.  They provide student services and support.  The longeryou think about it, the more things you can think of that a University does.

In business, the things that an organisation does are called "capabilities", which is a slightly strange term.  I think it is linked to the HR idea of a combination of the CAPacity and ABILITY to do a task.  Whatever the name, it is a useful concept.  A capability is more basic than a process: a University may change the way it educates students but as long as it remains a University it will educate them one way or another.

A capability …

"No more us & them"

WonkHE recently posted an interesting opinion piece with the title Academics and Administrators: No more ‘us and them’. In that post, Paul Greatrix rebutted criticisms of professional services (administrative) staff in Universites from some academics. To illustrate his point, he quoted recent articles in which administrators were portrayed as a useless overhead on the key tasks at hand (teaching and research).

This flows both ways, as Greatrix himself points out. As Enterprise Architect, I work with Professional Services colleagues and I have heard some of them express opinions that clearly fail to understand the nature of academic work. Academics cannot be treated as if they were factory workers, churning out lectures on a treadmill.

I think these comments reveal a fundamental clash of ideas about how a University should work. Some people who come into management positions for other sectors tend to frame the University as a business, with students and research funders as customers t…