Here and now: The new era of real-time distributed data management

The world’s vast troves of data are distributed. Increasingly, we need to access that information in real time. To get that real-time access, we must build advanced distributed data management systems – no simple task. But I assert that we have been evolving toward a distributed data management paradigm without our even knowing it.

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My proof point of where we are heading is my mobile cellular phone. I live in London, but I travel around the world with my phone. When I arrive at a new destination, I expect my phone to work. And it always does, because of the astounding very low-latency data synchronization technology used by the carriers.

Let’s say I leave London for the U.S. and switch off my phone on the tarmac at Heathrow. My carrier, Vodaphone, receives a message that updates the database, known as the Home Location Register, about the device’s status. In that database, there is a subscriber record called “Irfan Khan.” That record includes information about my subscriber package such as my data and voice plans. Once I have switched off my device, the database is updated and remains in a consistent state.

The moment I arrive in, say, New York City and switch on my phone. The first thing my device does is communicate with the nearest available cellular tower. If that tower is owned by T-Mobile, for example, it recognizes that my mobile phone does not have subscription plan with the company and will send a request to its Host Location Register to determine whether there is roaming agreement between my device and its network. When it finds such a roaming agreement it pulls my subscriber information from the Host Location Register into another database, the Visitor Location Register. It then can deliver the same services I have in London that I will need in New York. This happens in real time.

A few industries, such as telecommunications, are well-versed in distributed data management with a very low latency database infrastructure. But we need that mentality in all industries. It will take a conscious mind-shift among many in IT to adopt this real-time, distributed data management paradigm. But it’s a step they must take, because users are unconsciously becoming accustomed to experiencing it for some of their information needs and will begin to demand it for all of them.

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