Enterprises have gotten the memo on cloud computing; surveys indicate more than one-third are planning to or have implemented some form of cloud technology or service. What may surprise IT professionals is the extent to which cloud computing can have an effect on application delivery.
We let the tech leads spread the word [of private cloud].
Altaf Rupani, VP of global strategy and IT architecture, Dow Jones
Analyst firm IDC reports that public cloud services are growing almost 30% from year to year, with 75% of that growth in Software as a Service. SaaS products, like Salesforce.com, Gmail and now Microsoft Office 365, have a lot of appeal for some enterprises.
Take Andrew Bartels, CTO at PSA Insurance and Financial Services, an insurance brokerage house in Baltimore, Md., with approximately 150 employees. Bartels rolled out Salesforce.com a few years ago, but the company's sales teams, used to working on existing applications (primarily AMS360), making phone calls and extending that personal touch, flat out refused to use it. They'd have to recreate all of the existing data (services and vendors they broker, sales teams, customers, leads, etc.) into Salesforce.com, duplicating effort and getting nothing special in return. "It wasn't popular, to put it mildly," Bartels said.
That's because rolling out SaaS was a boon to Bartels' IT organization; it saved them from investing in a new business intelligence/customer relationship management (BI/CRM) application and simplified support and management -- all the standard benefits of cloud. But it made users' lives worse.
Fast forward a few years and cloud services have exploded, said Bartels, and essentially gave him a way to sell cloud to his users.
Bartels built a soup of existing services for his data -- hosted on-premises -- out of services like GoodData.com, a BI tool that runs online; Informatica Cloud, an online data integration service; an email indexing service that yes, runs as a service; and topped it all off by customizing his Salesforce.com dashboards with a company called Active Endpoints.
Feeling a little dizzy at the prospect? Bartels said it's only possible, and feasible, because all of these services standardize over APIs, are highly available and most of all, when combined, allow him to give users something actually useful -- a Salesforce.com experience that isn't duplicative, has all the users’ stuff and crucially, gives them capabilities they didn't have before.
"In terms of driving adoption, you've really got a value prop to offer," he said. Adoption took off the minute salespeople saw their peers closing leads and getting away with murder (in sales terms), and Bartels' view of application delivery was changed forever. Combined with the Web 2.0 ease-of-use and the availability of a few supercomputers lying around waiting to crunch his data on a subscription-based model, the need for a traditional BI implementation is over.
Bartels said he's aware he can duplicate all of these services in-house with the right products and enough horsepower, but the cost analysis is overwhelmingly in favor of cloud. His bandwidth is robust these days, he can continue to own his data, and the investment just doesn't make any sense. "If you want a traditional BI solution, you're not getting out of the gate for less than 50,000 [U.S. dollars]," he said.
What about private and hybrid clouds?
On the other side of the IT house, where infrastructure is the concern, private and hybrid cloud offerings are also revamping IT delivery to end users. Altaf Rupani, VP of global strategy and IT architecture at Dow Jones, recently said in an interview that his private cloud build-out started as a small, greenfield project, and like Bartels, had to gradually be sold to end users, not forced upon them.
"We let the tech leads spread the word," he said. Rupani built his cloud on commodity hardware and VMware and DynamicOps software and built a Web portal, subject to managerial approval, that users can go to and self-provision. He started handing out cloud instances in test and dev, which is the obvious starting place for cloud; Rupani said public cloud is off the table for Dow Jones for security and compliance reasons.
Now, thanks to a soft sell and the ability for users to get their own resources without going through IT (mostly), every new server provisioned at Dow Jones is a cloud server. Rupani says these cost half of what a physical instance costs, including labor, and he's up to about 350 instances at any given time. He expects all new infrastructures to be provisioned this way, and says lines of business applications (Dow Jones is primarily a media company, but it is increasingly delivering high-tech services like real-time data analysis) are moving to his cloud in an orderly fashion.
Between CTOs like Bartels, delivering an online application that consumes offline data that users actually want, and Rupani, delivering infrastructure to developers just like Amazon or Rackspace does, it's clear that a fundamental shift has occurred. When cloud computing was a new idea a few years ago, companies like Salesforce.com jumped in to claim the title, but it was clear the real change was going to be under the hood. Now, it seems, that's actually coming true for the enterprise.
Carl Brooks is the Senior Technology Writer for SearchCloudComputing.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.