Number One on Gartner’s list of the “Top Ten Strategic Technologies” for two years running (2010 and 2011) has been Cloud Computing. If your organization has not already begun to redeploy hardware or software resources to the Cloud, it may be in your budget for the coming year.
In fact, “the Cloud” has become such a common term that even the average consumer will have a sense of what this means. From a simplistic standpoint, the Cloud is the virtual network called the Internet where we can all connect and run an endless variety of applications – everything from email to social media to online shopping and so much more – without need to understand the complex technical infrastructure we are accessing.
From the standpoint of an organization with a rich set of enterprise applications and hardware/network infrastructure to manage their business, there is a lot more to understand about this evolving capability. For businesses that can effectively make use of Cloud Computing, the potential business benefits are significant.
Today, Cloud Computing is a broad term involving a range of offerings from “open public” to “closed private” offerings. With respect to types of Cloud Computing, there are variances with this constantly evolving subject (depending on which vendor or journalist you speak to), but the following have become common terminology:
- Software as a Service (SaaS) – business applications available online, via a Web browser or Web service
- Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) – computer resources available in the Cloud, on demand, often referred to as “virtualization” of hardware and networks for an organization
- Platform as a Service (PaaS) – the newest form which involves integration and development technologies available in the Cloud
Historically, before Cloud Computing (just 10 to 15 years ago) as the Internet was transforming into a viable platform for deploying business applications, the ASP (Application Service Provider) model was garnering attention. Essentially an ASP is a third party who offers services to host an application “outside the firewall” or externally to a company’s internal networks.
As “ASP” offerings became more sophisticated, specialized applications – such as CRM – were deployed in a multi-tenancy fashion (meaning multiple organizations have their applications housed within one system) and so the term, Software as a Service (SaaS) was coined around 2001. One of the largest and early players in this space is Salesforce.com, which has now become a standard component of many organizations’ enterprise applications (including LANSA).
Implementation (and management of) large scale business or ERP application suites can be a resource intensive and expensive undertaking. The benefits of Cloud offerings, for “commodity” application areas can include: 24X7 accessibility, scalability, reliability, reduction in time to market and many other benefits, resulting in lower costs and easier systems management.
In fact, academics are envisioning a future where all of an organization’s computer resources – including hardware, storage services and software – will be managed remotely over the Internet without the need for enterprise IT knowledge of the physical location or configuration details of their own servers or applications. To some, jumping into the deep end of Cloud Computing may sound “heavenly.” But is it practical? How close are we to making this a reality?
At the heart of many mid- to large-sized organizations, you will typically find a complex enterprise application, which may have its roots from one or more ERP packages and in-house developed software, with transactional capabilities to external partners using EDI and integration between various server-based and desktop applications. These enterprise application “suites” may not easily be replaced or simply deployed in the Cloud without significant planning, modernization and in some cases replacement. So while not every application is suitable for deployment to the Cloud today, there will definitely be opportunities to deploy some newer applications to the Cloud and integrate them with in-house systems.
As Cloud Computing capabilities continue to advance and organizations work towards improved applications infrastructure, using ideals such as SOA, ongoing Cloud-sourcing decisions should be considered and gradually implemented, to recognize key benefits of lower costs, easier systems management, scalability and accessibility for users.
Will we ever be ready to embrace full scale Cloud deployment of all IT hardware and software resources? Personally I’m skeptical right now, but then look at how far we’ve come in the past decade and a half with the explosion of the Internet. The sky does really seem to be the limit.