Governments Plan Data Grid Projects

Some governments and not-for-profit organizations such as hospitals are beginning to look at data grid technology as a means to improve services, lower operating costs and spur economic development.

Separate data grid plans involving hospitals, schools and municipal agencies in Cleveland and within Singapore's government were announced this month. Such efforts will likely take years to reach fruition. But that doesn't stop people like Vincent Miller, CIO at Cleveland-based MetroHealth System, from seeing their potential.

"Wouldn't it be neat if we could tie ourselves together as part of a regional health organization?" Miller said. "From a conceptual perspective, it makes a lot of sense."

IBM, under the new Economic Development Grid initiative, has started working with a regional group called OneCleveland to develop data grids in that city. Miller said a plan for a grid connecting area hospitals is in the early discussion stages.

How They Work

A data grid is similar in concept to a compute grid. But instead of tapping CPU resources from different systems to improve computational efficiency, data grids use a middleware layer and metadata framework to give connected end users a centralized view of information, no matter where it's stored on a grid.

Vendors such as Avaki Corp., which was acquired this month by Sybase Inc., offer technology for developing data grids. But thus far, most grids have been deployed internally by businesses for pooling research or financial data. Creating a data grid that spans multiple organizations is relatively new, said Jonathan Eunice, an analyst at Illuminata Inc. in Nashua, N.H.

Singapore has set up a CPU grid for developers of computer games aimed at the Asian market that they can use to test and deploy their products. Now the government is working with the country's construction industry and the National University of Singapore on a multiyear effort to develop a data grid. Sun Microsystems Inc. is among the vendors involved in the project.

Khoong Hock Yun, assistant CEO at the Infocomm Development Authority in Singapore, said last week that the plan calls for a grid that allows government agencies, construction firms, suppliers and specialty contractors to exchange data and files.

Yun said the government wants to help construction firms become more efficient and reduce building costs. The overarching goal is to help make Singapore a more attractive business location to multinational companies, he added.

Enabling the data sharing requires overcoming technical hurdles, such as developing security capabilities, interfaces between systems and rules that ensure regulatory compliance. But those involved say the bigger challenge is organizational.

"Many of the companies by nature don't want to collaborate," Yun said. He added that he has succeeded in getting a core group of private-sector firms to participate in the project. But doing so hasn't been easy, Yun acknowledged.

Scot Rourke, president of OneCleveland, which operates a broadband networking service for nonprofits and universities, also sees organizational issues as critical. "It's less of a technology challenge than it is coordinating the various needs and interests of the participants," he said.

Grid Ideas

IBM and OneCleveland have several potential data grids in mind, in addition to a proposed health care project:

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A K-12 schools outreach grid would coordinate the sharing of information among local schools and universities.

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A higher-education collaborative grid would support broad data sharing among colleges.

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A public information grid would link municipal agencies.

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