Sunday, September 19, 2010

It's got serious cloud appeal

Anyone who knows anything about delivering IT solutions will have heard of cloud computing by now. Since the initial rumblings from the office back in the early noughties, the promised dream of cloud computing has been well publicised even while real offerings were pretty scarce. You might be excused then, for thinking that cloud computing is going to follow the many over-hyped and charred trails of other "hot" ideas in terms of visible impact to businesses. You would be very wrong with that conclusion.

While a lot has been written about cloud computing it is only now that the model is really providing enterprise-level alternatives to businesses. The options are now mature enough to prompt even the largest slumbering enterprises to raise one eyelid and take a look. The Google Atmosphere event that took place in April this year is a case in point. Around 300 business executives (many of those CIOs) assembled at the Googleplex to hear leaders in the IT industry share real examples of enterprise adoption of cloud solutions. One such speaker was Walt Oswald, CIO of Motorola who said:

"In the world of Microsoft Exchange, we had a physical server that someone could steal and have everything. With Google, those emails are across thousands of systems. No one person has that access. Our legal team, security team spent a lot of time looking at this, and we came to the conclusion that it was more secure than our current environment."
Walt Oswald was not alone and was joined by CIOs of Seagate, Genetech and MWV (MeadwestVaco) in pitching the virtues of Google's cloud offerings. With visibility of this type it's clear that the time of cloud solutions has arrived and it is important that businesses of all sizes take note.

"Cloud 101" - the promise of Cloud Computing

So for those less initiated in cloud computing, a quick "cloud 101" review of the promised dream. The cloud computing model (if you need more on the model itself this blog post from Mark Chu-Caroll's provides a nice description) offers a number of advantageous over the on-premise model, the key ones being:
  • No up-front capital costs. Business don't need to invest in large one-off licence fees or expensive hardware to use cloud solutions. This also means small businesses can broadly benefit from the same cloud solutions as global enterprises.
  • Greater accessibility. Cloud computing solutions share common data and resources across the globe and make them available to everyone, anywhere, that has a decent Internet connection.
  • Reduced time to delivery. Software-as-a-service applications not only avoids the need to procure and install infrastructure and servers but generally provide faster tools to turn business requirements into configured solutions. This dramatically reduces the amount of time users must wait to use the solution in turn decreasing the risk of expensive project overruns and/or not meeting the business requirements.
  • Sustainability. Cloud solutions are more eco-friendly. Good cloud solutions are natively designed to run on a multi-tenant infrastructure, optimised by experts of the industry. Its the basic law of economies of scale and the more people we get on to the cloud the greater the sharing of it's resources which benefits everyone. 
  • Scalability. Cloud solutions should never run out of disk space or hit performance issues. We say should because of course it depends on the providers the solutions. However, let's face it. A large proportion of CRM / ERP transformations face difficult performance issues or spend a significant amount of money trying to avoid them. I will place my bet on the experts running Google/Amazon/'s/Microsoft's hosted solutions over the in-house ICT department to most effectively avoid scalability problems.
  • Mobility. Leading cloud solution providers like Google and have specifically designed interfaces for the iPhone, iPad, Blackberry and other smartphones as well as the common PC browsers enabling access to the same data in the office, from home and on the move.

Options in the market

In addition to the benefits of the model, the online application offerings today showcase fantastic new functionality ideas. Look at Dropbox or Seesmic useful apps in the Cloud, Prezi's re-think to Powerpoint presentations (although since it's based on Flash it may need to be re-written), or's Chatter product that provides Facebook-style user engagement approach. The online apps market is a hot-bed of creativity that threatens to multiply, merge and mature to disrupt the binary SAP/Oracle view of the enterprise world before. You could draw parallels to the competition hotting up in the "Web OS" market vs. the days when an OS was just a product called Windows.

So what are the present cloud offerings to consider? this deserves a post in its own right. However, if you go any further you're sure to encounter one of these four public cloud services:

  • Amazon Web Services - from database to infrastructure services
  • (from - app development platform run on infrastructure
  • Google App Engine - app development platform run on Google infrastructure
  • Microsoft Azure -app development

This is just the tip of the iceberg. We can also talk of Public, Private and Hybrid Cloud models to select from, vendor hosted offerings from the big players (SAP and Oracle) and many other providers that tackle the cloud solution at the differing levels of Software-as-a-Service, Platform-as-a-Service or Infrastructure-as-a-service.

Ready for the enterprise

The cloud computing movement has been underway for several years now but it's only recently that the technologies are ready for widespread adoption. It's time for enterprises to take a proper look. The good news is that the average technical implementation time of cloud solutions is by nature relatively fast, however, the business considerations are not just technical. Implications range from business change to tax, security, compliance and procurement arrangements.

Let's save that discussion for a later post. For now, if the above stirs any constructive thoughts you'd like to share please feel free to post a response or email me.

Disclaimer: The views contained in this post are my own and do not reflect the views of my past or present employers. 

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