Everything is getting smarter these days. From smartphones to smart cars to smart cities, the idea that technology must remain a passive contributor to the world around us is quickly falling by the wayside.
Naturally, much of this “smartness” is permeating the enterprise data environment as organizations seek to drive as much efficiency and flexibility from available infrastructure as possible. But exactly how will all of this play out in terms of overall data functionality? How smart will our systems and subsystems be, and exactly what will they be able to do for us?
One area that is ripe for some intelligence is storage, says Computer Weekly’s Antony Adshead. IBM has begun investigating the possibilities of “cognitive storage” in which data entering the cluster is evaluated so it can be stored on the appropriate medium and in the right tier. This may seem like overkill for normal data volumes, but as Big Data and the Internet of Things start to crank up the TBs under management, even a slight gain in storage efficiency can produce substantial dividends. IBM’s research, for example, is tied to the Square Kilometer Array, which generates upwards of 1 PB of astronomical data per day. Few businesses have to deal with this amount of data (yet), but even the average enterprise will benefit from the ability to differentiate between critical data and not-so-critical data, hot or cold data, or numerous other characteristics that determine where and how it is to be kept.
The idea behind cognitive computing is to essentially mimic the human brain, according to The Economic Times, which has the potential to redefine IT’s role in the business model. The ability to place data in context and to actually learn from it elevates technology from a mere tool to a functioning assistant. Naturally, the use cases are as diverse as the human imagination. Medical diagnoses and treatments for some of the most deadly diseases can be determined in minutes rather than weeks. Complicated building and engineering projects can be worked out at an equally rapid clip, with potential trouble-spots identified and corrected before the first shovelful of dirt is turned. And products of all kinds can become more personalized to their owners through simple interaction.
Once we start talking about the intelligent enterprise, of course, we have to envision the intelligent cloud. Already, organizations are striving to control the disparate infrastructure that arises when you try to blend multi-platform, on-premises infrastructure with multi-platform, third-party infrastructure. One of the best ways to do that is through app-driven intelligence and cognitive, predictive analytics, says Apttus’ Louis Columbus. Microsoft is hoping to bridge these divides by blending its Cognitive Services platform with the Cortana Intelligence Suite that combines information management and scale-out storage with machine-learning analytics and dashboard visualization to turn raw data into actionable intelligence. And Apttus is applying intelligent cloud techniques to its own automated Quote-to-Price service to provide more proactive support to contract lifecycle management.
All of this is why the market for cognitive solutions is expected to top $40 billion by 2020, according to IDC. Everyone wants the competitive edge that intelligent technology can provide even if few people are sure how to use it just yet. Fortunately, start-ups like Noodle Analytics are cropping up to provide just this kind of guidance. Founder Stephen Pratt told Biz Tech recently that optimizing the sales force or supply chain is only the beginning for artificial intelligence. With ancillary advancements in language speech processing and machine learning already evident in systems like Watson, it won’t be long before fully interactive computing platforms are capable of customer engagement, fraud detection, cybersecurity and a wealth of other functions. A key growth area in this field is the advent of AI-enabled APIs that allow Google, HPE and others to incorporate a wide variety of third-party intelligent applications to their enterprise platforms.
With technology on the cusp of this level of functionality, it is easy to envision the nightmare of computer overlords enslaving the human race, but that is more the stuff of Hollywood than reality. The fact is that while technology will be able to mimic the human brain to make connections and even propose solutions, it will still require a guiding hand to ensure that what it produces has actual value.
In the end, humans will bear the same responsibility for getting things done – but soon we will all have capable and engaging assistants to help with the details.
Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata and Carpathia. Follow Art on Twitter @acole602.