Is Microsoft Leading a Data Revolution?
It was about two years ago when I first wrote about the exciting development possibilities of "Mining the Cloud," with new data markets such as the "Dallas" project on Windows Azure.
Well, Dallas has matured into the Windows Azure Marketplace, and at least one forward-looking research organization is predicting the fruition of that effort into something really big. One of O'Reilly Radar's "Five big data predictions for 2012" published last week is the "Rise of data marketplaces." It reads:
"Your own data can become that much more potent when mixed with other datasets. For instance, add in weather conditions to your customer data, and discover if there are weather related patterns to your customers' purchasing patterns. Acquiring these datasets can be a pain, especially if you want to do it outside of the IT department, and with some exactness. The value of data marketplaces is in providing a directory to this data, as well as streamlined, standardized methods of delivering it. Microsoft's direction of integrating its Azure marketplace right into analytical tools foreshadows the coming convenience of access to data."
Indeed, from the "dozens of feeds" I discovered in my initial exploration of Dallas, Windows Azure Marketplace now boasts "thousands of subscriptions and trillions of data points," with more coming online regularly, such as historical weather data and a "Stock Sonar Sentiment Service" added last month.
Two years ago I demonstrated how easy it was to subscribe to a data feed and incorporate it into custom reports and visualizations. Imagine what developers can do now.
While Microsoft may be the vanguard of new data-centric initiatives, it's not alone, of course. ReadWriteWeb summarized the emerging data market ... uh, market that developers might tap into in this July piece, and reviewed some of the other players such as Datamarket.com, Factual, CKAN Data Hub and Kasabi. But looks like Microsoft is indeed the frontrunner. The site even wondered "Is Microsoft's Future in Data-as-a-Service?"
But one worrisome trend that could curtail this movement is the possible loss of hundreds of thousands of raw data sources that come from the federal government as the tanking economy threatens to impose cost-cutting measures that will eliminate or severely curtail services such as Data.gov. "When the current budget cuts were revealed to include cuts to the e-government fund that supports Data.gov, everyone starting questioning Data.gov's value," reads a blog posting from the Sunlight Foundation last April when budget cuts were announced. "The cuts could spell the end of Data.gov," warned a Washington Post blog at the time. And this is with a Democrat in the White House!
The site is still up for the time being, but it's somewhat alarming that the last blog posting on the Data.gov site's Open Data section announced the resignation of the program executive last summer. And there's little activity on the forums in the "Developer's Corner" section of the site.
But with demand, there will be supply, of course, so data markets such as Windows Azure Marketplace will continue to provide valuable information that can be incorporated into exciting new development opportunities -- you just might have to pay more for less. But that's nothing new these days.
What do you think about the Windows Azure Marketplace and data markets and opportunities for development of new apps? What's the coolest app you've found that utilizes this data? Do you think the government should continue to fund sites such as Data.gov in this dire economy? Comment here or drop me a line.
David Ramel is the editor of Visual Studio Magazine.