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In-Memory Databases

Driverless Car

Google Driverless Car

A couple years ago I wrote an email to the CEO of Cloudera about why I was so excited about Hadoop and the potential for distributed processing (he never wrote back 😦 ).  When I studied computer science we talked a lot about how processors could be coordinated to do work, and I saw MapReduce as an interesting real world application of distributed processing – although in this case the emphasis was on data distribution and retrieval.   I’m still a believer in what Hadoop and what its offspring can do for managing and reporting on large volumes of transaction data.

I am even more excited about the potential for in-memory data storage.    There is a real mismatch between the speed at which today’s CPU’s can process data and the speed at which they can get access to databases that reside on hard disk drives and even the new flash drives.   What happens when that bottleneck goes away?   What happens when the CPU is free to do its data processing 1000 times faster than it does today?

The folks in analytics talk about reducing batch jobs from hours to minutes.   They talk about increasing the complexity of jobs – with more data points in a time series or with more data from related data sources – without increasing the time required to do analysis.  This could be a real advantage for the corporate world.

I wonder what this means for even more interesting things like robotics and artificial intelligence.   Say for example, that my automated vehicle has all the data related to every trip it’s made from my home to the grocery store available to match real time with the conditions it senses (sees) ahead of it.   It “remembers” the blind driveway that my neighbor occasionally backs out of without looking, or the new oil they put down for a street repair last week that is slick in the morning dew.  Like a computerized chess master playing a board that is always changing, it can quickly run through 1,000 scenarios in near real-time, anticipating more moves and creating more contingencies than the typical human driver (especially the ones distracted by their smart phones).

We aren’t there yet.   In-memory databases are just now taking hold in the corporate world.  I wonder how soon this technology will trickle down and become affordable on desktops and mobile devices, and what kind of wondrous capabilities will be enabled?

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