Nanotechnology and Data Warehousing: Nano-Warehousing

Published in TDAN.com October 2003

A Futuristic Look at the Application of Nanotechnology in Data Warehousing


Abstract

There is a lot of stir in the manufacturing world these days all about Nanotechnology; it’s abilities to repair, repel, construct, destruct and detect different chemical elements down to the
core of atoms. The government has more than a few initiatives going on in this sector by a tax-funded group called DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency – www.darpa.mil). In the commercial sector of data warehousing and business intelligence, not a lot of attention has been paid to Nanotechnology. This is unfortunate as it
may be truly the next revolution affecting all parts of life down to the atomic level.

This article attempts to peer over the very edge of this technology – and examines theories of what might be headed our way; particularly when this technology is applied to information stores
we commonly know as data warehousing. It is a hypothetical look at some of the very real Nanotechnologies already available, and how data warehousing/business intelligence might change.


What is Nanotechnology anyway?

In an over-simplified definition: it is the ability to represent information encoded at a molecular or atomic level. For example, one particular use of these molecules (when appropriately arranged)
is to function as a superconductor molecular “wire” or tubule. Nanotechnology is the application of arranging molecules to perform specific tasks on an atomic level. When multiple
layers of these molecular items are constituted it becomes possible to conceive macro level applications of these creations – such as stain-free pants or radio frequency identifiers (RFID
tags).

Think I’m kidding about these references? Think you won’t soon be affected or permeated by Nanotechnology or Immune to the changes? Think again, simply run a search on Amazon, Yahoo, or
Google – the number of companies producing commercial goods, the number of books being written are like writing on the wall – this is a one way street, and we’ve already started
down it’s track. We cannot and will not back off now.

Lifelog is the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s effort to gather every conceivable element of a person’s
life, dump it all into a database, and spin the information into narrative threads that trace relationships, events and experiences.”
http://wired.com/news/politics/0,1283,59607,00.html
Noah Shachtman, July 14, 2003


Where is it used today?

An example of the macro level applications (visible at least in cause/effect levels) are the pants that resist staining; another example may be self-healing tires, the tires that when punctured
respond and patch the puncture automatically. There are many different emerging technologies of Nano Applications. RFID (Radio Frequency Identifiers) are just such an example of wide-spread use.

“There are a number of different technologies that have already been demonstrated for communicating in both directions between the wet,
analog world of neurons and the digital world of electronics. One such technology, called a
neuron transistor, provides this two-way communication.”
http://www.kurzweilai.net/meme/frame.html?main=/articles/art0552.html
Ray Kurzweil – The Human Machine Merger: Are We Headed for the Matrix?


What does this mean to Data Warehousing?
What about computing in general?

Data Warehousing today focuses on the storage of information, then gathering, learning and applying the trends from this information. Quite possibly on finding, fixing, and repairing the
“holes” in the data – for instance, data quality and a data-mining algorithm working together to impute missing values. What if we apply this technology not only to missing data
but also to missing relationships between data? What if it can be applied to produce new associations where none existed before? What will this mean to business intelligence and data mining?

There’s no doubt in my mind that it has a significant impact, if not a world-altering paradigm shift. Of course at the Nano level the atoms and strings of encoded atoms (such as DNA
sequencing) are self-aware. How else could they replicate and patch a broken fiber strand? Hmm, this leads to truly massively parallel operations occurring at the molecular level. On a different
level, tracking RFID data will explode the amount of information we will be forced to warehouse, especially if it provides GPS information.

Data Warehousing may very well shift to become nano-warehousing or “NanoHousing” (for those minimalists out there). Our tools will change, our processes will change, the architectures
will change and we (as technologists) will become biologists, chemists, and physicists at a molecular level. What if we wear pants with RFID tags that have not been deactivated? It is conceivable
with transmitters and receivers that someone “watching” or recording the signal will know everywhere our pants go (or we go). This level of tracking and warehousing certainly raises
ethical debates – in fact the entire field of Nano Sciences raises serious ethical questions (which are out of the scope of this article).


Could Nano level operations be the answer to our VLDW concerns?

We currently think of data as bits and bytes (well – at least the computer does). Data is comprised of bits and bytes, and when packed together – certain patterns are bound to emerge.
From these patterns we learn new information or derive new inferences, extrapolate new results, and predict future patterns. This is the macro level of information consumption to the Nanotechnology
world. Not necessarily the answer to our VLDW concerns, but will affect how much data is stored, searched, and accessed. And if one electron spinning a single direction can represent a single bit,
the mathematics state an unfathomable amount of information storage is possible. For instance (simple mans math): 1,000,000 bytes (1 MB) (8 bits per byte) = 8,000,000 bits. How much physical space
does it take to hold 8 million electrons?


How does this translate to the Nanotech world?

Interesting question indeed, and is certainly the crux of this article. The thoughts presented here are only theories based on the limited knowledge of the author. So please take these statements
with a grain of salt. Now to move on to the exiting ideas… We must shift our thinking into a whole new paradigm. Instead of considering terabytes of information with external processes
managing, altering and controlling the information – we must begin to focus on the atomic level. No, I’m not referring to the atomic level data – I’m referring to the actual
atom level of the information; the atom – made up of protons, neutrons, and electrons; all of which Nanotechnology offers control over how the atoms are combined, bridged, and designed. Thus
creating extremely small versions of what we typically do at a macro level.

Let’s draw a parallel (those of you in Nanotechnology, I beg your pardon for this crude reference): Assume for a minute that we use a table structure in a database to represent a container
for information. The information/data is made up of bytes (say a name of an individual – a series of characters). Then we attach database processes that manage the encoding/decoding
(storage/retrieval) as an exoskeleton around these structures. These are the instructions that allow us to manipulate, use, reference, and search the information contained within.

Now at a Nano level this could be (albeit crudely) equated first to an atomic structure of chemically bonded atoms. Cells within the atoms are created for “storage”, and we fill these
cells with data or specifically spun electrons – each electron representing one bit, and the spin representing 1 or zero or null (spinning in an indeterminate state). Now to finish this
analogy we attach specifically encoded instructions (DNA if you will) on what and how this information will be utilized. These instructions also include code on how it handles self-repair,
reads/writes values, security (what other DNA structures or cell structures are allowed to interact with this information or chemical load). Maybe the instructions also include replication
(fail-over, copy, delete/destroy) algorithms.


What happens to the “warehouse”?
Or in this case the Nano-Warehouse?

If each particular engineered sequence is basically self-contained with information, payloads, read/write, security and replication algorithms we may begin to see massive parallel operations on a
Nanotechnology level. The Nano-Warehouse may hold more than a terabyte of information on the head of a pin…


Think this is far-fetched?

Not quite as far fetched, as we’d like to believe. A couple of real-life uses of Nanotechnology are already in place. The technology is still in very early development, however sun-screen
lotions, pants, and even disk storage products are already beginning to show up on the local shelves; direct results of Nanotechnology. Still think this is far fetched?

“The trial uses radio frequency identification (RFID) in which tiny chips can communicate with detectors up to 20ft away. The chip can then return information – anything from a unique
serial number to more complex product details. Or, as in Tesco’s case, it could trigger a camera. […] has found that tags in the razor blades trigger a CCTV camera when a packet is removed
from the shelf. A second camera takes a picture at the checkout and security staff then compare the two images, raising the possibility that they could be used to prevent theft.”
http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,3604,1001211,00.html
Alok Jha, Tesco tests spy chip technology


What would be the applications of just such a “Nano-Warehouse?”

There are lots of potential applications that can be considered: Self-repairing warehouses, infinite scalable information stores, baby steps to self-aware data stores. How about a continuous
collection of a person’s health throughout their life? Maybe the NanoHouse is encoded with algorithms to find, and fix broken body cells such as cancer, AIDS, and Hodgkin’s disease.

This is already happening in research labs without a Nano-Warehouse concept in place, they are doing this on a chemically encoded basis. Unfortunately this restricts the created Nanotech to
specific uses. Armed with data (like DNA and DNA sequencing) – combining form with function; like genetic coding for replication, the Nanotechnology might be able to perform a multitude of
tasks, and change some of it’s’ structures on the fly.

The implications of this technology reach way beyond standard warehousing. There’s a possibility that massive sets of information at a granular level may actually be useful. Has anyone said
that the DNA strand has un-necessary or too much information stored?


What does this mean to me now?

Not much unless you’re interested in the research applicability, but it will have an impact on you and your business going forward, that’s for certain. If you’re a researcher or
simply curious – try thinking at an atomic level, imagine data structures as carbon tubes or atomic level containers, imagine database processes or business processes as micro-encoded DNA
sequencing, and imagine your data as a series of electrons within the atomic structures.

How would you compose a process that is efficient, parallel, and self-contained? Is there a method available today at the macro level that might allow us to model this type of scenario? That may be
a topic for a future article; due to time and space limitations I will not cover it now. However there is something to consider in the change that will occur now: those of us having to produce or
build systems that track RFID technology, capture the data and make sense of it – will be required to look at every piece of information that arrives, in massive quantities and examine it for
usefulness and pattern matching.


To Summarize

In summary, I cannot speculate just how far off in the future Nano-Warehousing is, what I can do is consider the research implications of coupling form with function, design and models all at an
atomic level. We can be assured of two things: Nano-Warehousing will become another huge industry sometime in the near future, and that the basic building blocks for this technology are emerging in
the commercial market place today.

In case you’re curious, or you’re a researcher, or you wish to get in touch with me, I’d love to hear your thoughts, comments and feedback on this issue – both critical and
thoughtful perspectives. This is a research interest of mine.

© Dan Linstedt

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About Dan Linstedt

Cofounder of Genesee Academy, RapidACE, and BetterDataModel.com, Daniel Linstedt is an internationally known expert in data warehousing, business intelligence, analytics, very large data warehousing (VLDW), OLTP and performance and tuning. He has been the lead technical architect on enterprise-wide data warehouse projects and refinements for many Fortune 500 companies. Linstedt is an instructor of The Data Warehousing Institute and a featured speaker at industry events. He is a Certified DW2.0 Architect. He has worked with companies including: IBM, Informatica, Ipedo, X-Aware, Netezza, Microsoft, Oracle, Silver Creek Systems, and Teradata.  He is trained in SEI / CMMi Level 5, and is the inventor of The Matrix Methodology, and the Data Vault Data modeling architecture. He has built expert training courses, and trained hundreds of industry professionals, and is the voice of Bill Inmons' Blog on http://www.b-eye-network.com/blogs/linstedt/.

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