Bows and flows of angel hair…

by

Dr. Ken Buetow, BIG Health Catalyst

And ice cream castles in the air, And feather canyons everywhere, I’ve looked at clouds that way. (Both Sides Now, Joni Mitchell 1967)
 
Clouds are all rage! The virtualization of computer resources – the shift from using storage, computing power, and applications on computers you can touch to accessing these resources through the internet has caught the attention of the lay press.  No longer the domain of arcane “geek-speak” PowerPoint presentations where we drew the internet as a cloud (the “cloud” in “cloud computing”), the cloud has spilled over into mainstream media such as Newsweek and The Economist.
 
The concept is not new and some of the cognoscenti (think Larry Ellison of Oracle) are asking what all the fuss is about.   Industry leaders such as IBM and Oracle have been talking about On Demand Computing and Grid computing for some time.  Much of this is the natural progression of what of Sun Microsystems meant when they adopted the motto: “The Network is the Computer™” two decades ago.   Pioneers of e-business such as CommerceNet have extended the concept to use virtualization to create new business models that have transformed much of industry.  If the concept is not new, why the excitement?  One reason may be that there is a major new player using “the cloud” – consumers.  As millions of consumers have become “wired” through high-speed internet connections and everyday devices such as cell phones, and PDAs connect to the internet a whole new market has opened.
 
A “new” Cambrian Explosion.
 
Irving Waldawsky-Berger, an IT thought leader from IBM, suggests that cloud computing may launch a new Cambrian Explosion and that it may be the “next Big Thing” in information technology.   The Cambrian Explosion refers to the period in evolution about 530million years ago where there is a sudden, rapid increase in the number and complexity of species.   Arguably, this occurred as evolution “mastered” the concept of multi-cellularity.  Two features are key to creating multi-cellular organisms.  First, to make the organism efficient evolution needed to figure out how to re-use components of the genome without duplicating them.  Second, it needed to master inter-cellular communications so that the organism could work together, as a whole.
 
The current day advantages of “multi-cellularity” have been recognized by economists for some time.  Adam Smith in his 18th century Wealth of Nations speculated that economic success was driven by greater productivity and that the greatest improvement of production came from the division of labor.  He further suggested that division of labor was limited primarily by the market of those consuming the specialized services. Through cloud computing organizations do not have to duplicate expensive functions that can be more efficient delivered on an industrial scale by others.  This permits a group to focus precious resources on core business aspects and cost-efficiently consume other capabilities at commodity prices.   Cloud computing is predicated on the availability of diverse resources that can be accessed from a multitude of appliances using common connection protocols.
 
BIG Health Consortium as Cloud
 
I will leave it to the “captains of industry” to debate whether cloud computing is new or whether it is an evolutionary concept in the commercial sector.   In biomedicine the cloud concept has the capacity to be revolutionary.  Biomedicine exists metaphorically in a Precambrian state.  Like low complexity organisms, each individual, organization, and institution carries the burden of having to do it all.  Biomedicine struggles to capture the synergy of specialization. 
 
The BIG Health Consortium™ seeks to create and leverage a novel biomedical “organism”.   The BIG Health market place offers up specialized capabilities that can be assembled in unique combinations. Underpinning BIG Health is BIG, the Biomedical Informatics Grid – a cloud that connects the diverse communities and their unique specialties.  Each participant can contribute their novel capabilities and consume of the capabilities of others.  BIG Health’s Web 2.0 approaches to community building offer a strategy for virtual organization coordination.
 
The BIG Health Consortium™ projects will demonstrate the power of this new model.  Like the Cambrian Explosion it is hoped that this new model will allow biomedicine to efficiently exploit resources and venture rapidly into new places – to address problems that are beyond the reach of current approaches and to demonstrate the reality of personalized medicine.

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One Response to “Bows and flows of angel hair…”

  1. Ravi Madduri Says:

    Ken
    Great article. If we premise that Cloud Computing is about leveraging Computing and storage capacity provided by Amazon, MS and the likes how would one go about still being compliant with HIPAA and IRB regulations. But if you are talking about hospitals/cancer centers having private clouds that they can use to share capacities how is it different from what is the case right now?

    Regards

    Ravi

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