Italian businesses expand pilot of marketplaces-in-the-cloud

Although project leaders are still gathering data, the cloud computing pilot being spearheaded by University of Bari is finding early proponents.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor

I had an opportunity to catch up last week with one of the proponents of a private cloud application being used in the southern Italian region of Puglia to create new marketplaces for local fisherman, wine growers and olive oil merchants beyond their local community.

The idea behind the project is to help small businesses develop a more sustainable economic model, because they will be better able to match supply to demand both locally -- and in other regions that they might not normally have reached.

The service, developed by a consortium of companies spearheaded by the University of Bari, first came to my notice in July 201, when the university began testing its cloud-based marketplace ideas with a small group of what project leader Professor Giuseppe Visaggio, software engineering professors of the department of informatics at the University of Bari, likes to call "innovators." These are businesspeople willing to test out new ideas, in Visaggio's estimation. Those that follow quickly are "imitators."

Now, the project has expanded to include more regions in Italy as well as 45 different companies, Visaggio said during the update briefing in late June, which was pulled together by technology and services giant IBM. The consortium, known DAISY-net, includes several Italian universities aside from the University of Bari that hope to apply information technology to the challenge of fostering economic and industrial growth. So far, there are three applications on the platform:

  • An online marketplace for fisherman, that helps them determine whether it is prudent to bring back certain parts of their catch. The "official" way that the fisherman can contribute information about what they catch is a touchscreen, that communicates wirelessly from boats to shore. That way, fish are already designated for certain buyers before the boat even hits the dock; and the boat hands can sort the catch while still at sea. Truth be told, though, the fisherman can also call in the information with a mobile phone. "Simplicity is imperative," Visaggio said.
  • A soil monitoring application that is used to keep tabs on soil conditions and (by extension) grape quality at local vineyards. There is also a marketplace for 60 different wineries, and sensors can also keep tabs on wine cellar conditions.
  • A logistics application that uses sensors on trucks and other delivery vehicles to keep tabs on whether it is being jostled or bounced too much. The idea is to optimize routes so that cargo arrives both quickly and in good shape.

Given its technology resource, the University of Bari became the logical choice to host the cloud computing infrastructure that is being used to build out these applications. This is some pretty intense technology, including an IBM System z9 Business Class server, which is intended as a cloud computing host. Other technologies used by the university are the IBM System Storage DS6800, Novell SUSE Linux Enterprise Server, IBM Tivoli Service Automation Manager, IBM DB2, IBMz/VM (a virtualization solution) and the IBM WebSphere Process Server.

When I asked Visaggio about specific "results" from the cloud computing experiment, he said the university is still collecting statistics but the companies that have been participating (which were hand selected) have been more "empowered" than their peers to make business decisions quickly. Perhaps even more important, University of Bari students are participating in the experiments, working side by side with fishermen and merchants to help them use the technology.

That is important for one really big reason: these students will want tools like these to do their jobs. The impact of including them in these projects might not be felt immediately, but it WILL be felt when they join the workforce and expect to have access to applications like these that can help make businesses more efficient and, therefore, more sustainable.

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This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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