We are witnessing information explosion over the internet, tons of information is getting accumulated in. However, we still struggle to get the “Accurate and Authentic Data”. Have you ever needed the zip code of a city, route to reach a place, dining menu of restaurants, weather forecast and history, crime rates in a specific area of city? This list just goes on. How do we get this data? Search this information on our favorite search engines and rest in peace when we find it!! But, do we really know whether the data which we got is really accurate?! It could be stale, misleading or just plain inaccurate!! Why can’t you get information as easily as you can get a size 40 Creamy white Louis Philippe shirt or maybe a striking green 8 GB IPOD shuffle; because INFORMATION is not commodity yet!!
In contrast you may come across a lot of mash up applications which consume data from genuine sources and present it to the end user in his context. This data is not only reliable but also closely up to date in terms of its accuracy. The specialized organizations or vendors, who are responsible to publish data in some predefined format so that it can be consumed by a variety of applications, are called as Content Providers. Content providers expose their data in the form of feeds or messages abiding by some standards so that the consumer can easily make use of the data.
So now we know who can give us accurate and authentic data. Next, we need to find content providers who are specialized in providing the contents to be consumed in our applications. This data is so important for applications or businesses that, we are ready to pay for the usage of the data but the challenge is to filter through numerous content provider sites again via the search engine to look for the appropriate ones. Why can’t we have something or someplace which is like a one stop shop for all popular Content Providers?
Well our prayers have been answered!! Ever since Microsoft has announced Azure Services, they are updating and trying hard to make their offerings richer. In PDC 2009, Microsoft has announced a project code named “Dallas” which addresses all the above pain points for businesses. In the world of X as a Service, you can call out “Project Dallas” with “Information as a Service” but in the true sense it is much more than that. Microsoft made the announcement about Project Dallas in PDC 2009 and further details can be found here introducing Dallas.
Project Dallas is an information market place; yes it is a market place. Dallas brings information together into a single location. Be this information in any form like images, documents, real time data etc. Unified provisioning and billing framework are very important characteristics of this information market place. Dallas provides required setup for a market place and brings together the content providers and the consumers. As most of us have desired for to trade information like a commodity, it seems to be here. Discovery is another key distinctive of any market place. Dallas provides the discovery services to be able to find content providers for a specific business domain. Contents can be viewed on the portal itself to get a quick snapshot of the information.
At this point let me point out another issue in our search for information. Once we finalize on the Content Provider we need to evaluate the interoperability efforts and the plumbing to be done in our application to consume the data. And what if we want to change or add a new content provider? Do we have to go back to do the plumbing again? Sounds very cumbersome, right? Looks like Microsoft has been thoughtful enough to sort this aspect as well. Dallas has very simple provisioning process where a consumer needs to discover and select the provider, take a unified view of the data on Dallas itself and start using and benefitting from it. Dallas supports an inbuilt billing framework to provide consumption details to consumer as well as revenue details to the content providers. So bye bye cumbersome and proprietary plumbing!!
From the business user’s point of view, the dataset from the content providers are rendered within the Dallas portal along with a very powerful analytics tool “Power Pivot”. As an independent analyst, you buy a subscription, use power pivot and take home what you need. It’s that simple. Dallas provides capabilities to bring disparate data at one place to slice and dice the data, analyze it eventually empowering you to make decisions. Analytics capabilities are extended to consume these contents from within Excel using Power Pivot, Microsoft Office and SQL Server for rich reporting and analytics. Your transactional data combined with Reference data brought from Dallas gives broader data points for analysis.
Dallas - High Level Architecture
*Source: Microsoft PDC 2009 Presentation on Project Dallas
The most important part of “Project Dallas” is its integration capability in application development. Once you select the content provider, Dallas would provide you a proxy class to consume the contents. Download this proxy class refer it in your code and in three lines of code in C#; you are ready to use the information from the content providers. That’s it!! With the same ease you can shift to any other content provider available at “Dallas” market place, so no worries of locking and reinvesting efforts to integrate with other content providers. Doesn’t it sound like getting the information as a commodity and use it at our ease. Technically- since the dataset format received through proxy class from Dallas content partner is similar, only proxy class should change and further implementation should not be affected much. Till now the proxy class is available only in C# and it shouldn’t be a problem to provide it for popular programming languages and frameworks. Dallas is a cross platform server hence the contents from Dallas can bring the disparate data together to widen the analysis measures on varied platforms like Windows, Apple iPhones etc.
Microsoft hasn’t forgotten the Content Providers. If you as a Content Provider have premium content, Dallas is the place to go and publish your contents. Dallas provides content partnering business opportunities to businesses to publish their contents, make it available to consumers and offload the licensing and billing management to Dallas. Content providers have to register themselves as partners, publish their data as web service and they are ready with their business. It appears to be a quick setup business model for content providers.
Come Dallas and we can very easily develop creative mash up applications. Imagine applications mashing contents like maps, weather forecast and history, crime rates, new business, news feeds, reviews, real estate contents, Business relevant feeds from research firms ….. And lot more. On the other hand you can use these contents to form a new and enriched analytical measure on your business data. Dallas is going to ”COMMODITIZE INFORMATION”, which can be consumed independently for better impact. Combined with your own transactional data to this is definitely going to raise analysis to a new level so that hitherto tricky questions like- How are transactions impacted because of crime rate in a neighborhood or What are the reviews of your store with respect to service under a specific manager’s shift will be answered with great ease!!