In the 45 years since the beginning of widespread use of information technology, we have seen a swing from a focus on automation to an emphasis on data. Could we now be on the cusp of a new paradigm that will push data management to an even higher level, perhaps a model that goes beyond what we can do with traditional data stores? There is reason to think we are at a point where this is a distinct possibility.

The new paradigm has its origins in cloud computing. Like so many developments in IT, cloud means different things to different people. The notion of cloud computing originated with the idea that existing IT infrastructure not working to capacity could be rented out, or even made available for free, for owners unwilling to invest in additional dedicated resources to run applications. Amazon is a good commercial example of this. Academic institutions have pioneered similar innovations in grid computing, which is typically used to meet the needs of research programs by accessing unused capacity across networks. The widely documented SETI@home project is one example in this area, and is not a new model. Those of us old enough to remember the heyday of mainframes can recall time-sharing, whereby spare capacity was rented out to enterprises that did not have enough of their own.

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