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In Praise of Silos

I’m not sure who first started to use the word “silo” as a term of abuse in the computing world, but it seems to be the go-to word for any systems that limits access to its data in any way that the author deems inappropriate. I’m not sure if whoever coined the term was thinking of grain silos or missile silos — perhaps the latter, which would fit the usage better.

Grain Elevator

Silos store and organize grain for distribution.

Anyway, silos are getting a bad rap. A grain silo is a container designed specifically to collect grain produced in a local market, sort it, classify it, and store it for shipment to global markets. Putting data in a silo is portrayed as a means of keeping other people from getting to the data. But putting grain in a silo is the very opposite of preventing other people from getting to the grain; the silo exists for the sole purpose of shipping grain efficiently to other people.

Imagine if we tore down all the silos and forced every farm to truck its grain directly to the shipping terminal, bypassing the silos and the railways. Costs would skyrocket and chaos and delays would be introduced all along the line. Is this really how we want to manage our content?

 

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