Smart Computing in Real Time

We’re hearing plenty of talk these days about smart phones, smart homes, and smart cities.  “Smart” in this sense means adding computing power to our phones, houses, or public facilities, and connecting them to a network or the Internet.  So in that context, what could “smart computing” possibly mean?  How do computers get smart?  And what does smart computing have to do with real-time cloud computing, if anything?

A few years ago Andrew H. Bartels wrote a white paper for Forbes titled Smart Computing Drives The New Era of IT Growth.  In this paper Bartels defines what he means by “smart computing” as “a new generation of integrated hardware, software, and network technologies that provide IT systems with real-time awareness of the real world and advanced analytics to help people make more intelligent decisions about alternatives and actions that will optimize business processes and business balance sheet results.

Can we simplify that a bit?  How about saying that just as something in the real world gets “smart” by connecting it to a computer, computers get “smart” by connecting them to the real world, which ultimately helps us to make better decisions.

As we would expect in a white paper from Forrester Research, there are some well-thought-out projections on where this trend might take us.  It states that smart computing is the next big wave, a fourth wave coming after mainframe, personal, and networked computing.  Does that sound familiar?  We’ve heard people saying pretty much the same thing about cloud computing.  This should not be surprising, since Bartels identifies cloud computing as “one of the underpinnings of smart computing.

What strikes me is how much benefit smart computing can gain from real-time cloud capabilities.  Consider this list of the Five A’s of Smart Computing that Bartels suggests:

Robots_smallAwareness means connectivity to the world, pretty much as we’ve seen in the Internet of Things – sensors, embedded chips, video, and so on.  Bartels says: “Unified communications technologies such as third-generation (3G) wireless networks will transport this data from these client devices back to central servers for analysis.”  In many scenarios, the closer to real time that the data transport takes place, the more useful the information will be.

Analysis is done using standard business intelligence tools, and Bartels points out the value of feeding real-time data into these tools: “Businesses and governments have already been using these analytical tools … But now, they will be deployed against the real-time data being transmitted from the new awareness devices.

Alternatives refers to the decision-making process: evaluating alternatives and making decisions.  Bartels foresees a need for a significant increase in data transfer rates to keep pace with the real world in real time.  “The basic function of rules engines and workflow will stay constant — seismic leaps will be necessary in the data flow and analytical inputs in a world of vastly expanded real-time awareness.

Actions are based on the results of analysis, either automatic or with human intervention.  In either case, Bartels suggests: “These actions will be executed through integrated links to the appropriate process applications.”  Real-time cloud systems can provide two-way data communication to support control functionality when required.

Auditability is a feedback system to ensure that the action has taken place, complies with legal regulations and company policies, and also provides some way to evaluate for improvement.  “Using data on activity at each stage, record what happened and analyze for purposes of compliance and improvement.”  A real-time cloud system should be readily able to support that capability.

To sum up, new technologies are necessary to support smart computing.  These include the ability to capture data from the real world and send it in real time for high-speed analysis and feedback.  This is what real-time cloud computing is all about.