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In on-premises solutions we have the full range of options open for a given computing solution – but we don’t always take advantage of them, for multiple reasons. Data goes in a Relational Database Management System, files go on a share, and e-mail goes to the Exchange server.
Over time, vendors (including ourselves) add in functionality to one product that allow non-standard use of the platform. For example, SQL Server (and Oracle, and others) allow large binary storage in or through the system – something not originally intended for an RDBMS to handle. There are certainly times when this makes sense, of course, but often these platform hammers turn every problem into a nail. It can make us “lazy” in our design – we sometimes don’t take the time to learn another architecture because the one we’ve spent so much time with can handle what we want to do.
But there’s a distinct danger here. In nature, when a population shares too many of the same traits, it can cause a complete collapse if a situation exploits a weakness shared by that population. The same is true with not using the righttool for the job in a computing environment. Your company or organization depends on your knowledge as a professional to select the best mix of supportable, flexible, cost-effective technologies to solve their problems, whether you’re in an architect role or not.
So take some time today to learn something new. The way I do this is to select a given problem, and try to solve it with a technology I’m not familiar with. For instance – create a Purchase Order system in Excel, then in Hadoop or MongoDB, or even in flat-files using PowerShell as an interface. No, I’m not suggesting any of these architectures are the proper way to solve the PO problem, but taking something concrete that you know well and applying that meta-knowledge to another platform will assist you in exercising the “little grey cells” and help you and your organization understand what is open to you.
And of course you can do all of this on-premises – but my recommendation is to check out a cloud platform (my suggestion would of course be Windows Azure :) ) and try it there. Most providers (including Microsoft) provide free time to do that.