Tag Archives: Cloud Computing

More about Cloud Architecture and Serious Business

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An interesting discussion is developing on ebizQ whether Cloud Computing Too Embryonic to Use for Serious Business Purposes. It shows a consensus that we have to look at the meaning of Cloud Computing in the Enterprise context.

I tend to distinguish between the infrastructure and the software architecture that can support the delivery of enterprise applications in the Cloud (to power users over the web), and the acquisition of such infrastructure and software on a per-use (or other non perpetual) basis.

My personal experience shows that Enterprises are indeed implementing “Cloud Architecture” solutions which are substituting fat Client-Server implementations, but mostly using the traditional business model (perpetual ownership and in-house or hosted location) – when it concerns core and customized solutions. Cloud based infrastructure and applications delivered as a service and on-demand are indeed still limited to “commodity solutions” – collaboration, CRM, etc…

I have described a nice example of these a few months ago (the Segway story and their uniPaaS solution). I’d like to hear more if you have similar or contradictory experiences and observations.


WEB 2.0 and Cloud Computing for the Enterprise

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Today I came across a post by Yoni Barel that I liked very much – The business of cloud computing. Yoni works for ActionBase, and has actually crossed over from the Consumer oriented Internet to the Enterprise side.

Yoni’s assessment of the Enterprise attitude to technology is very relevant in a (virtual) world where the trends are set by attic designs and exploratory stints. Some of these are very cool and attractive, but not always usable and reliable enough for the Enterprise. In this respect, ActionBase walks a fine line, taking the ubiquitous Chat paradigm into the constrained and compliant Enterprise to deliver a cool collaborative experience.

 This pours more water onto the mill of what Enterprise 2.0 is about and Enterprise RIA. Ofer Spiegel published recently a highly recommended paper about Building a User Interface to Deliver Optimal User Experience  – making very useful distinctions between Rich User Interface and Rich User Experience, in particular when it comes to Enterprise Applications.

Yoni also discusses the pertinence of Cloud Computing as the principal computing platform for a business, touching upon the controversy that McKenzie raised a few months ago. The bottom line according to both, is that at present Cloud based infrastructure such as Amazon EC2 is great for temporary and overflow needs, but wholly owned infrastructure (on-premise or hosted) is still more suitable for the basic core infrastructure.

A broader perspective on Google’s CHROME OS

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Following the Chrome OS announcement by Google and the hype it generated, I was asked be several people to comment on it. If you lean back and take a certain perspective, it is fascinating to realize how well it fits into the long term technology lifecycle evolution. Having hated History classes as a student, I’m becoming increasingly impressed by the insights it can provide as years go by…

What we see in computing technology is that initially, new features and products are delivered as independent products. Features that become successful and ubiquitous evolve in functionality and become more generic, often ending up as an infrastructure or Operating System option. One of the most dramatic examples that I experienced was the Image Viewer (that is today part of Windows) for TIFF images. In the early 90’s, when Document Imaging was introduced, you could only scan and view documents using specialized hardware accelerators (a dominant vendor was Kofax). The extra cost to support TIFF viewing on a PC was close to $2000, plus an expensive monitor. Many Document Imaging companies (mine included) made a lot of revenue developing and selling Software viewers, reducing user costs by half. Finally (about 8 years later), Microsoft purchased the TIFF viewer that Wang developed and incorporated it for free within Windows.

The evolving Internet now brings about Cloud Computing, and many new features and products are gaining wide adoption (I refer to this in my “living in SOA” post). The Browser was very material in making that happen. The Browser can be considered as a window to the internet. But as more and more users expect to use net-native applications and devices, the Browser is clearly outdated and underperforming. After all, it was designed to display information – not to contain and execute business logic.

What users want now is a door to the internet – designed for bi-directional exchange and more, not just for browsing. Some vendors with extensive web application experience already understood that, and have come up with alternatives to the Browser that support Rich Internet Applications – such as Adobe Air, Microsoft Silverlight or Magic Software uniPaaS RIA. These are very compact engines (the uniPaaS RIA Client is only 2MB) that are designed to execute net-native applications, where the application code resides “in the cloud” (like portals) yet the user gets a rich interactive desktop experience (unlike portals). As I describe in “A battle royale for RIA market” however, developing applications for most of these “new doors” is pretty complex. A handful of vendors started addressing this hurdle, led by Magic Software with uniPaaS and maybe followed by Microsoft with ‘Alexandria’

Google Chrome OS seems to be right in the same evolutionary line. From the scant information I was able to get, it is trying to move all those hurdles down into the OS level and abstract them from users, so that users and application developers would be able to once again focus most of their effort on business logic and user experience rather than on underlying technologies. But we have to be patient and wait for it to become available. And then wait a few years for it to mature.

In the meantime, why not go ahead and use what’s available? After all, history also shows us that those companies who used the early Document Imaging products and systems did gain competitive advantages and developed their business, independently of what became possible later.

Enterprise 2.0 Applications actually deliver their promised value

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Last week I spent a lot of time going over case stories around application platform, trying to crystallize drivers and benefits. Yesterday came up a very related question at the ebizQ Web 2.0 Forum (www.ebizq.net/blogs/ebizq_forum/2009/05), in which I am a regular commentator: In What Area of an Enterprise is Web 2.0 Most Underutilized?. Here’s my comment on that.

While collaboration at large (including wikis, blogs and networking) is probably the most widespread Web 2.0 practice to penetrate the enterprise, I find that Enterprise 2.0 applications and UI’s are the most underutilized. That is understandable, since it is in that area that enterprises have extensive investments and legacies, and changing and evolving applications is complex and expensive. Yet, that is probably the area that will have a very significant business impact. We start to see the first implementations, which are indeed delivering the expected benefits. Here’s a recent example I came across – a project which I think is pretty representative of Enterprise 2.0 applications – in the general context of Web 2.0 and “millennial” lifestyle.

The enterprise at the heart of this story produces an innovative “millennial” outdoors consumer product, which is taking its time penetrating the market. In order to accelerate the penetration, they decided to accompany the web and viral marketing campaigns with group events, in which they let groups experience the product. That required their channel partners to organize such events, publish details, register participants, and handle the logistics. The solution had to deal with a combination of requirements that are usually handled by distinct software product – Content Management, Process Management, Procurement, Accounting, Resource Allocation and more. The business case did not justify a long and expensive project and the acquisition and integration of several systems, and this was well beyond the scope of Situational Applications. so the CIO saw here an opportunity to use one of the new platforms that claim agile development and Enterprise 2.0 capabilities. The objective was to provide the various functions in a “cloud” manner, from a single location and a single application to partners and visitors wherever they are. The specification described a Rich Internet Application for the use of the channel partners and implementers, and a dynamic web portal to promote the events and handle registration. Using one of the new RIA platforms (Magic Software’s uniPaaS in this case), they were able to address in one project the varied user personas and use cases, with the appropriate mix of Browser based interaction for visitors and rich interactive clients for power users – all part of a single application. Moreover, given the pure Web Architecture, the entire deployment is in a single data center and no local installation is required. It enables to on-board new partners and scale up the channel with practically no IT hassle – a truly agile operation.

I think that one of the reasons for the slow adoption is also the scarcity of appropriate application infrastructure. But it is probably only a matter of time before this would change.

The coming out of the hybrid SaaS model

The current controversy that considers SaaS as mutually exclusive with On Premise is, in my view, more related to the current state of technology, than to business or functional issues.

Clearly, if On Demand applications have to be developed and deployed on entirely different platforms and technologies (RIA and multi-tenant) than On Premise applications (Windows and JEE or .NET), then it is difficult, cumbersome and costly to support both.

 The topic is not a theoretical issue – I consider it the critical enabler for the growth of SaaS. The majority of ISVs are facing a tough challenge when it comes to offering SaaS as they and their customers are looking to cut costs, yet to offer a SaaS portfolio an ISV is faced with a potentially large upfront investment needed to offer a SaaS version of their products. I will expand on the ISV challenge in a separate post.

 That is not a pipe dream – the first application platforms that supported this proposition (Magic Software’s uniPaaS) hit the market almost a year ago, and just recently PaaS provider Longjump announced an On-premise version of their PaaS. There’s even persistent speculation that Force.com would follow suite.Clearly, on-demand business requires a different business approach than on-premise – but I view it rather as a super-set than a mutually exclusive path. And as we see in the SaaS integration business, many vendors offer a SaaS pricing models to on-premise installs – and doing so for applications should not be much different (assuming customers provide a compliant infrastructure and operate it).

 Now, consider the proposition in which the same application platform (and consequently application) supports various deployment modes (single and multi tenancy, Fat, Browser or RIA client). The Client appliance aspect becomes immaterial. A software vendor using such a platform can unify its development and support cycles and have a single cycle of updates and upgrades. The SaaS hosting center (and not necessarily only one) becomes yet another “on premise” customer, hopefully with many more users than a “regular” on premise customer. And customers have the power of choice and can evolve and migrate their software usage in accordance with the evolving business requirements.

Dark Clouds, SOA Obituaries, and how many angels can dance on the tip of a pin

McKinzey published a few days ago a report on Cloud Computing, trying to pin down the definition of Cloud Computing and highlight its economics, in particular when comparing holistic approaches – the cost of an on-premise data center (hardware and infrastructure, if I understood correctly) compared to the cost of the same facility in the Cloud (Amazon in this case). One of their conclusion is that above a certain size, Cloud is more expensive than On-premise.

Last January, Anne Thomas Manes published her famous blog post titled “SOA Is Dead”, claiming that most SOA projects failed to deliver the promised benefits or worse. Unlike McKinzey, she did not go into a lengthy discussion of defining SOA, but the title was enough to unleash a storm in our industry.

The question I ask myself and others is how much of the commotion is for internal consumption of the experts, and how much of it really matters to those who consume the stuff and end up footing the bill.

I do not know personally IT professionals who conducted a SOA project in order to implement a SOA. I do know people who chose to use SOA principles and applied them going forward, sometimes having to retrofit and sometimes transforming, taking advantage of the service orientation and cleaner design. So what’s in the statement “SOA Is Dead” beyond provocative semantics and a great opportunity for industry experts to express themselves?

Now comes the “dark cloud” commotion, with a very similar effect. I would be very surprised if a large company would simply go along with the generic McKinsey report and use it for decision making without a serious subjective evaluation.

My point? Let’s not waste energy on debating theology, and use that to make concepts more understandable and share experience and best practices.