Creative incompatibility and islands of data

Compatibility, data interchange and interoperability often are held hostage by suppliers' creative use of incompatibility to drive purchase of their chosen devices. Is this something new?
Written by Dan Kusnetzky, Contributor

A consistent challenge faced by users of information technology has been getting data they've created using one tool on one device to another device, in the format they'd like to use. I've heard complaints that it is often difficult to move calendar entries, task lists, documents, contact lists, photos, or data files from a person's intelligent devices to their selected destination.

Since the industry as seen an explosion of new devices, each offering its own portfolio of applications, each tuned to its respective platform and operating environment, a problem that used to be the lament of data center operators now has come home to roost nearly everywhere.

It used to be difficult getting data into and out of mainframe computers. Minicomputer suppliers such as DEC, Data General, Prime, and Wang were forced to develop tools that made their systems appear to be a mainframe communications controller or terminal just to make it possible to transport data files back and forth.

As people started to use personal computing devices, the island of data problem appeared again. Once again, the first approach was to make the PC appear to be a terminal or communications controller so that local data could be shared with departmental, business unit or organizational servers.

As suppliers work to find a resolution to the island of data problem, eventually communication standards, such as X.25, TCP/IP and others were developed making data interchange easier. Then people could select the system and applications that seemed the best fit for their requirements knowing that they could overcome the "islands of data" problem of the past. This appeared to work well.  It was possible for data created on mainframes to be exchanged with midrange machines. This data could also be transported to and from personal computing systems as well.

As smartphones, tablet computers and others forms of intelligent handheld devices started to enter the market, the problem returned. Often the supplier would offer only way to move data from one personal computer to their own brand of handheld device.  General interoperability and data exchange was and is an illusive goal.

Cloud computing appears to offer an approach that makes it possible for people to have one data repository and share it among all of their devices.

Why does this happen again and again in this industry? The answer appears fairly clear. It is in suppliers best interest to make interoperability easy for their own products and a painful task for products offered by other suppliers. The creative use of incompatibility is used to drive customers to purchase more and more of a single vendor's products and maximize the revenues and profitability of that one supplier.

Apple, HP, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle and many others have used this approach in the past and continue to use it today.

Cloud computing appears to offer an approach that makes it possible for people to have one data repository and share it among all of their devices. It is possible, for example to create a calendar or task entry on a smartphone, tablet or PC and see and modify that data using other tools. Documents can be created on one device and modified elsewhere.

Suppliers such as Citrix and Dell Wyse would point out that a cloud service isn't really a requirement to do those things. Citrix would point out that XenApp makes it possible to maintain data on central Windows services and access it from just about any type of intelligent device. Dell Wyse's PocketCloud is being offered to address the same problem.  Google would point out that if people use the company's mail, calendar,  and shared drive service, the problem is solved too.

Each of these approaches appears to work for a time, but takes constant fiddling to keep it working. For example, those who use Google's cloud services often find it challenging to keep things working when Apple releases an update to IOS or MacOS. Calendar entries and tasks that used to synchronize won't any more.

What does your organization do to reduce or eliminate the islands of data problem?

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