I identify three trends in IT that will have a large impact on the university:
- increasingly inexpensive storage, network, and computation power for individuals For $25/year, I am promised unlimited storage and bandwidth for all my photos by Flickr. I can upload all my videos to YouTube or Google Video for free. For $16/month, I have 400 GB of storage and 4TB of monthly bandwidth from dreamhost.com. With this comparatively inexpensive infrastructure, I can create sophisticated web applications that fuse together a vast array of open source libraries and applications, as well as further storage (S3) and computation power (EC2) from amazon.com and a numerous other providers.
- the rise of peer production/mass collaboration in "Web 2.0". In naming "You" (that is, all the many, typically nameless, individuals who participate on the Web) as Person of the Year, Time summarizes this trend in the following way: "In 2006, the World Wide Web became a tool for bringing together the small contributions of millions of people and making them matter." It is easy to spot the plentiful junk emerging from Web 2.0, yet universities will find it increasingly difficult to dismiss the astounding richness of such entities as the Wikipedia and Flickr.
- the continued deployment of XML web services XML will continue to be used widely by organizations and, more recently, by individual users. Using service-oriented architectures, organizations/enterprises will re-factor their infrastructure in terms of reusable services that will be accessible through XML web services.
After first dismissing these technology trends as merely faddish, the university community will come to terms with them to take advantage of their positive aspects, adapting them to the university environment, while avoiding the negatives (which are very real, because of the difference in priorities between commercial enterprises and the university)
These technology trends will accentuate the computerization of research in academic disciplines. Some pioneers, especially those in disciplines that have a long history of computation, have already taken advantage of commodity hardware and built extensive computer-based collaborations. Many other researchers will be struggling to use the same technology. I argue that it is in the institution's interests to help all of its members to work at some baseline level. Moreover, there will be challenges, such as the long-term archiving of data, that the university as a whole will have to tackle, creating a demand for architectures and policies to handle these common needs.
The availability of cheap hardware and storage outside the university presents an immediate challenge to university. Many pioneering university members will be tempted to use those systems, because of low prices even if these services are not quite optimized for users' academic needs. Should people at the university be encouraged to use those outside services? Is there a way for the university to purchase those services and adapt them on behalf of the university community? What policies should be put in place concerning the use of outside services? I predict that the university will figure out a combination of industrial partnerships, system integration, and ways to help individuals cobble together the best solutions that will satisfy their research needs and also handle relevant policy issues.
The university community will have its own large collections of data and digital content to handle. Take, for example, the digitization of the UC library, which will result in a collection of millions of digitized books available to the university community. These data present incredible opportunities for education and research, ones that are best exploited if we work together as a community.
This is a great time for the university to develop an information technology architecture to handle these challenges, specifically an SOA that will work for this context.