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Data as a Service opportunities for solution providers

In today's interconnected world, the amount of data being collected is growing at a staggering rate, and that data is becoming more varied and complex and at the same time less structured. Data as a Service (DaaS) helps bring order to this morass of information by making business-critical data available to key users in a secure, timely and affordable manner. Based on

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Web services standards and service-oriented architecture (SOA), DaaS provides a dynamic infrastructure for delivering information on demand to users, regardless of their geographical location or organizational separation – and, in the process, presents solution providers with a number of significant opportunities.

In the traditional data-driven environment, a data center houses relational databases or other data stores, which software that was designed specifically to present the data then accesses. As these data/software packages proliferate in an organization, an enterprise application integration (EAI) solution is often needed to allow the applications to communicate with one another. Unsurprisingly, such an approach encourages vendor lock-in, because it's easier to implement apps based on the same technological foundation, leaving IT to manage large and complex software environments.

However, Data as a Service decouples the data from the application and makes it easier to aggregate data from difference sources, whether relational database management systems (RDBMSes), customer relationship management (CRM) solutions, enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, SOA and custom applications, registries and directories, or other types of data repositories.

With Data as a Service, users can access an organization's data externally -- in real time via the Internet -- through the DaaS services layer, which in turn accesses the data stores that house the source data. The DaaS platform does not contain the actual data. In fact, SOA and Web services make the data platforms themselves irrelevant. The users' applications need only connect to the DaaS services layer to access a consistent and interconnected source of information.

DaaS benefits to the customer

Data as a Service can offer many benefits to solution providers' customers. At the top of the list is data quality. Because the DaaS Web services provide a centralized, managed interface to the data in real time, users always have a single version of the truth. Incoming data can be verified against existing records. Outgoing data can be aggregated from multiple sources and is always up-to-date. This single interface also lets customers cleanse data, deal with multiple versions of the same data and implement control mechanisms, such as encryption and strong passwords.

Data as a Service vs. Storage as a Service and Desktop as a Service

In the Storage as a Service model, service providers or large companies lease space within their storage infrastructures to other organizations. That can be a handy alternative for small and medium-sized businesses that don't have the personnel or physical resources necessary to manage their own storage spaces. It is primarily concerned with storing data, whereas Data as a Service is primarily concerned with delivering data. In the Desktop as a Service model, also referred to as virtual desktop services or hosted desktop services, service providers deliver cloud-based, virtual desktop environments to users.

Another benefit customers can realize from a DaaS solution is the data's accessibility from anywhere an Internet connection is available. Business-critical information can be provided to a variety of systems, applications, websites, and users, regardless of their location. And because customers are working with real-time data, they can move quickly on analyzing and acting upon the information they gather.

Data as a Service is relatively easy to implement and manage. Although the DaaS platform is normally housed in the cloud, an organization's data stores reside on-premises, where they can be managed and controlled by in-house resources.

However, much of the in-house overhead associated with delivering data can be avoided. Organizations don't have to support special infrastructures, implement additional hardware or set up management teams. Essentially, customers outsource the presentation layer, leading to reductions in the costs associated with delivering the data and maintaining that infrastructure, while avoiding the type of vendor lock-in found in traditional data-driven systems.

When an organization decouples its data from its applications and makes that data available as a service, data from diverse platforms can easily be provided to key users. However, DaaS is not limited only to data within the organization. Customers can use DaaS to aggregate their own data with data from external sources. For example, they can aggregate public social networking information with corporate customer data to perform trend analyses and gain market insights.

The main drawbacks of implementing DaaS are the same ones customers will find with any cloud service -- relying on a service provider to deliver the reliability and availability necessary to provide DaaS services effectively and securely. In addition, a DaaS solution is not the best fit for customers that analyze terabytes of data at a time or that have to adhere to compliance directives that prevent data from passing through the cloud. But for most organizations and the data-driven applications they support, DaaS offers enough benefits that the disadvantages pale in comparison.

Opportunities for solution providers

Traditional approaches to data delivery often result in an assortment of moving parts, which have, in the past, presented many opportunities for solution providers. Yet software in itself is becoming secondary to the data it manages and presents. DaaS addresses the importance of that data head-on. It's up to solution providers to realize the opportunities that DaaS offers.

For starters, customers that implement DaaS will likely want many, if not all, of their systems and applications and websites updated to access data directly from the DaaS Web services to ensure that all users are seeing the same single point of truth. Although retrieving data through the DaaS application programming interfaces (APIs) is a straightforward process, systems that need access to the DaaS data will require at least some refactoring.

Developing new solutions for customers presents another possible opportunity to solution providers. Because Data as a Service can deliver cleansed and enriched data much easier and cheaper than before, organizations might want to develop new applications that take full advantage of the DaaS infrastructure. Many of the resource costs associated with developing traditional data-driven applications and systems can be avoided by leveraging the DaaS Web services, especially if those services are already in place. Budget-minded organizations both large and small might be ready to build solutions once deemed unaffordable, providing new opportunities for solution providers to retain or expand their customer bases.

In some cases, customers might choose to outsource their DaaS platform to providers that can host and supply the DaaS Web services. However, if the generic DaaS cloud offering doesn't fit a client's needs, the solution provider might be called upon to develop and implement a custom DaaS SOA infrastructure and its supporting APIs, as well as retrofit apps or create new ones. Customers might also want to use the DaaS infrastructure to offer their own data to other organizations in order to generate additional revenue.

Another opportunity available to some solution providers is to add their own DaaS platform as one of the services they offer. This way, they can reach those potential customers that are looking for a one-stop solution for hosting and implementing their own DaaS infrastructure. As part of the service, the provider might also offer data mashups for customer consumption or data analytics software as a service.

There's certainly no shortage of opportunities available to solution providers when it comes to DaaS. For some customers, the traditional data-driven technologies will continue to serve them well. But DaaS offers advantages that directly address the challenges of today's dispersed and varied data, both structured and nonstructured. Solution providers that embrace DaaS technologies could be giving their customers the edge they need to stay competitive and in control of their own data. And the providers that can do that will be helping not only their customers, but also themselves.

Robert Sheldon is a technical consultant and freelance technology writer.

This was first published in January 2013

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