Tag Archives: PaaS

Cloud Computing – Hype or Reality?

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Last week I spoke about this theme at the CON.ECT conference in Vienna with the same title. I found it a pretty representative sample of the present perception and market situation. Here are a few highlights.

There is a very live interest in Cloud Computing. This event managed to convince some 40 C level and Team Managers to spend most of a day learning more and getting acquainted with this topic.

Most of the effective projects are essentially hosting of traditional applications in a virtual hosting environment, driven essentially by cost savings and a measure of on-demand infrastructure features.

Google, Amazon and Microsoft were perceived by the audience as the key players in the foggy space of Cloud Computing. My presentation of effective Cloud based core applications and implementation examples, and the technical architecture required for such, raised a lot of interest and surprised many attendees. I was in turn surprised by the almost total unawareness of the architectural/technical issues related to the deployment of Cloud applications (as opposed to Cloud Infrastructure).

Another intriguing and highly demanded topic was the legal angle. Data Protection and Privacy legislation impose quite specific responsibilities and liabilities on IT operators and providers, and the multi-tier settings of data storage in the Cloud create potential liability exposures that must be assessed and dealt with before a business implements such a solution.

My conclusion – there’s still quite a lot of fog and hype surrounding Cloud Computing, and the industry must continue to educate and communicate in order to enable the potential it holds.

I’m keen to have more opinions on this.

More action in the Cloud with VMWare+SpringSource – and ISV’s getting encouraging results

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The proliferation of “everything-as-a-service” acronyms is often confusing, and merits an explanation and simplification. The VMware acquisition of SpringSource is an excellent illustration of the architecture. At the infrastructure level we find Operating System resources, which VMware encapsulates and virtualizes, offering shared hardware multitenancy but very limited elasticity. In order to increase the resource elasticity – which is the key factor of cost savings – virtualization needs to extend to the application level. That is the next layer, and I would expect that a tight integration of SpringSource with VMware would in fact provide this for Java based applications.

 This evolution has a lot of similarities to Microsoft’s move with Azure. Whereas Azure offers Cloud enablement for .NET applications, VMware+SpringSource would do the same for Java applications. However, in both cases this applies rather to newly developed applications – existing applications need to be redesigned in order to take advantage of the virtualization and resource abstraction features.

As I have noted in other posts, ISV’s who want to extend their portfolio and take advantage of the growing demand for SaaS need to work across multiple deployment models, where development and maintenance costs can double if they need to create the same application in more than one format.

 So the main challenge for most ISV’s is to manage an extended solution portfolio, continuing to service their current customer base with current deployment models while driving growth through Cloud Based deployment. VMware+SpringSource will facilitate this for Java oriented ISV’s, as the announcement states support for both traditional JEE deployments as well as Cloud based deployments.

 An alternative to the bottom-up approach of system infrastructure vendors such as VMware or Microsoft, comes from some Application Infrastructure vendors such as SalesForce.com or Magic Software. These vendors provide for some time already PaaS and SaaS/Cloud Enabled Application Platforms (SEAP), which deal with virtualization and elasticity by abstracting system resources from the applications, so that XaaS can be achieved at conventional data centres.

 Today I came across an account of a UK based ISV whose been there and done that – successfully, even in the present economy climate. Take a look at the story of FactoryMaster and how they manage take advantage of the new platforms.

How about a “Personal Cloud”?

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Mike Gualtieri recently posted “Cloudmania: Developers Need A Personal Cloud”, which I find very pertinent and descriptive of developer’s views. I must say that  I do not know professional developers who entertain the idea of their development baby being hooked with an umbilical cord to another mother (such as a hosted PaaS). But they certainly want the ability to test it whenever they want in the target environment.

One thing that probably contributes to the confusion is the almost non-existent distinction between situational applications and core applications. Mike evoked in the past the emergence of “enlightened developers”, who produce situational apps with highly abstracting Platform as a Service environments. But what he is discussing here are not those type of apps and developers but the more professional breed, that develops Enterprise Applications.

I am still perplex at the reasons that made the Application Development community regress from the productive 4GL platforms that emerged in the early 90’s back to 3GL environments such as C and Java. The increasing technical complexity of the Cloud finally halted this and is a fertile ground for the revival and emergence of Metadata Driven Application Platforms, which abstract the technical constraints by pre-programming optimized engines, which feed on Metadata based business logic. And we have to distinguish here very clearly between platforms designed for situational applications, with coarse grained widgets and services, and platforms designed for enterprise applications, that offer the entire granularity spectrum from application and process templates down to embedding code snippets.

Salesforce.com showed the way with Force.com, but it is still Cloud only and pretty much tied to the basic CRM environment. uniPaaS from Magic Software is leveraging its past 4GL experience to provide probably the first Application Platform that corresponds to what you describe as “a Personal Cloud that would allow them to configure their local environment in multiple way and take it with them wherever they go”. My recent interactions at industry events such as RIA World and with many enterprises and ISV’s confirm the growing interest and adoption of these platforms. That’s good news for us all.

Impressions from RIA World

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I attended today the RIA World convention in Munich, and took away some interesting observations and thoughts.

Enterprise 2.0 and RIA are still very fuzzy – used by everyone, but no one at my session ventured to offer a definition. Very much like Phil Wainewright suggested yesterday on ebizQ, many people associate Enterprise 2.0 with social networking in the enterprise context and RIA’s with flashy effects in the Browser. This being said, it was interesting to note the frequent nods and acknowledging expressions as I brought up Enterprise RIA issues and challenges – the tiered architecture, the connectivity iceberg, and the potential benefits.

Also interesting was to see the increasing awareness of uniPaaS, evidenced by Golo Roden in his sessions about RIA platforms, Ajax and Flex.

At the Microsoft pod I finally saw my first Silverlight based Enterprise RIA – a CRM implementation by Cas Software, with a Silverlight Client and a Linux and JEE backend…

I also met my old buddy Hans-Jochen Fink, one of the pioneering partners of Magic Software in Germany. As we were musing over some old “war stories” and our first encounter at Cebit over 20 years ago (we actually closed a deal at the show), we noted the amazing decline of trade shows and event attendance. That is where the web has tremendously changed the buying behavior. Nowadays, when buyers finally interact with a vendor, they often know more about the vendor’s product than the salesperson they talk to. That knowledge is obtained from the Web – so that’s where vendors should be, rather than at trade shows. The question that follows is what to do with the huge exhibition centers that proliferated in recent decades. RIA World was one of three Internet related conventions that ran simultaneously at the new Munich Trade Fare, but nevertheless these occupied a couple of small floors and the huge place remained mostly empty.

I’m looking for new ideas and reasons to have these conventions – it is still fun to meet the people, but we have find some good business reasons to drive these.

The widening gap between SaaS demand and supply

The growing customer demand for SaaS solutions and the shift from perpetual license models bears mostly bad news to the traditional software industry. The high margins of applications vendors cannot be sustained in a SaaS model, nor the extensive and expensive on-site consulting and services of large SI’s. Worse, the switch to the new models is very costly. In order to develop and deliver a SaaS solution, a vendor needs twice the capital – and it takes at least twice as long to break even. Vendors who already service a customer base have thus to more than double their costs by maintaining virtually two businesses – one to continue and serve their on-premise customers, and one to develop and later deliver the SaaS version. Once this is achieved, they have to maintain two code bases on two different platform and technologies.

In the current business and investment climate, it is almost impossible for vendors to engage in such transitions and investments – they are more busy with survival.

So at present we have a growing demand for SaaS, and a stagnant supply of some 40 successful SaaS solutions that has little chance to grow and match the demand for more variety, due to the technical and financial barriers mentioned above. Consequently, we could expect some M&A activity as successful SaaS vendors would acquire failing traditional vendors with good IP, and then start porting that IP to their platforms. But that would take a few years – until new solutions become available in quantity.

Which means that we have a growing vacuum – on one hand stagnant supply, and on the other growing demand. Hence the increasing recognition of hybrid models and the appearance of application platforms such as Longjump and Magic Software’s uniPaaS, positioned to can take advantage of that vacuum and grow on it.

SaaS Enabled Application Platform (SEAP) vendors who already have an ISV ecosystem, like Magic Software, might alleviate this situation. I’m familiar with Magic Software’s ecosystem, so I’ll use it as an example. It consists of quite a lot of ISV’s (about 2500) with a broad variety of vertical solutions. Many of them are small, but their continuing existence over the years means that they have good competence in their line of business and loyal customers. Some of them are more professional and have compelling and leading solutions, such as Intelys (French market leader in Real Estate ERP), Creativ (Swiss market leader in NGO ERP) or Dove Tree Canyon (US leading provider of Warehousing and Distribution solutions). Many of these ISV’s see the expansion of their offering to SaaS as their growth path. To do so, they’ll have to migrate to uniPaaS and RIA they will have to improve their User Experience and processes to match current best practices. Yet all this effort would require a fraction of the cost and time compared to traditional vendors, and be much more sustainable. They would be able to pursue a more balanced business model with both short-term on-premise revenues and longer term SaaS based revenue, and fill up the growing vacuum in SaaS solutions.

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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.

A battle royale for RIA market? Isn’t something missing?

I just read Jeff Feinman’s report in SDTimes (http://www.sdtimes.com/link/33404). It is all nice, but in my view it is a colorful account of the visible tip of the RIA iceberg that ignores the submerged bulk of corporate applications. True, R.J. Owen is quoted on JavaFX’s better fit for the corporate environment, yet I did not find any consideration in this report to the main hurdles of Enterprise Rich Internet Applications, which relate to the coupling between the Client and Server tiers of a RIA. In defense of Jeff, I could say that indeed none of the 3 platforms (Adobe Flex, Microsoft Silverlight and JavaFX) deal with that challenge – all of them address only the Client tier. But then, when the subject is the RIA Market, I think that one should address all the aspects of RIA’s and not just the Client tier platforms.

Compared to the present standard of Enterprise Applications (Client/Server with a fat Client), RIA’s have very compelling advantages for Enterprises; they run anywhere – remote or Local, support On-premises and Off-premises deployment, offer a rich interactive user experience and a native platform look & feel without the hassle of a local fat client, reduce the cost of ownership, improved scalability and tighten security.

But in order to make these advantages usable, RIA platforms need to take the sting out and resolve the coupling management. A Client-Server application involves a fairly simple architecture, relying upon a permanent connection between the Server and the Client. With a tightly coupled design, there is no need to explicitly manage or preserve various logic states. Conversely, web applications, which centralize their processing in the Server, leave the Client essentially decoupled, or loosely coupled. As long as web applications feature short and simple logic processes, and a limited richness of interactivity, they can be usually implemented with standard Web architectures and simple session management. We start seeing even LAN interaction styles with Ajax, such as Google with the ‘Google Suggest’ function that brings up popular search terms as you type in every successive letter of your search word into the search field.

However, broadband internet is not sufficient for tightly coupled business applications having tens of interactive fields per screen, typical to Enterprise Applications. To get around this limitation RIA’s have to partition processing between Server and Client.  So you end up working with two physically separate and logically dependent logic sets – running in tandem on both the Client and the Server. While smarter, the Client now is required to play in concert with the Server, and to keep the session coherent requires sophisticated state and session management. So while traditional Client Server apps only needed the skills of a business developer, if you want to develop a non-hosted RIA using a Client-side platform you need to add sophisticated system programming skills to your team, adding considerably to the complexity and risk of the solution – a painful and costly sting.

There is now a new breed of end-to-end platforms that can provide a comprehensive answer to this RIA Iceberg challenge, mostly targeted at the XaaS model. Forrester recently covered the PaaS market in its report “Platform-As-A-Service Is Here: How To Sift Through The Options”, and Gartner published a similar report titled “Application Infrastructure for Cloud Computing: An Emerging Market”. One of the most popular platforms that take out the sting of Enterprise RIA’s is Force.com, but it is currently available only as a hosted platform. An alternative, which is available also as on-site (the venerable “Private Cloud”) is Magic Software’s uniPaaS, which can be used either on-site or as a hosted Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), providing the choice “to be or not to be” in the Cloud. The key difference to Client tier platforms such as JavaFX is that this type of platforms provide all the parts of the solution – including the hidden part of the ‘iceberg’ – without needing you to develop it separately. Hence ‘end to end’.  All that’s really needed is to describe the application’s business logic and design the compelling user interface, and the platform then takes care of the rest.