Clearing the Clouds around the Cloud
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last several years, you’ve probably heard about this thing called the cloud. And depending on who you’ve been listening to, you may be convinced that you need to move all your technology there.
But don’t go upending your strategy just yet. While it’s true that companies are with increasing frequency investing in cloud-based technologies to power their business, not everything is going cloud. For companies that have built their business and competitive advantage on their existing technology infrastructure, ripping and replacing things is not only impractical, but unnecessary.
The beauty of the cloud is that it’s designed to empower businesses to extend their existing on-premise apps and infrastructure to enable new innovative business processes, gain greater insights, and unlock new value for the business. And by implementing a comprehensive cloud portfolio and technology that enables your entire enterprise – not just a single function or department – you can do just this.
There’s no shortage of cloud solutions out there – or FUD surrounding them. But by asking the right questions, you can quickly cut through many of the myths circulating and get the right technology in place to meet your needs and accelerate the results that you deliver. Cloud services come in many flavors. But the best ones deliver two things: innovation and agility. Here are some things to consider as you evaluate what’s out there:
Software as a Service (SaaS)
When it comes to creating a world-class user experience, consistency is King. And oftentimes, what looks nice as an app may create a suboptimal experience for users because it doesn’t look or work the same as it does on a desktop system and isn’t consistent with the ways in which they work.
So in evaluating any cloud solution, be sure to consider the following:
- Is it built for an end user role to engage them?
- Does it deliver a common user experience regardless of the task?
- Does it enable collaboration?
- Is it delivered in the business context and collaborative across different solutions like cloud and on-premise?
- Is it consistent across mobile and desktop?
- How often does the provider innovate and how do they manage the delivery of changes?
- Is the customer involved in co-innovation?
Platform as a Service (PaaS)
Good applications begin with a solid platform strategy. This is particularly true when it comes to the cloud. Case in point: A sales executive needs to have access to information about payment, shipping and production status of the products or services he sells, among other things. This requires an open platform that connects systems and processes across business functions – both internally and externally – and enables your eco-system to adapt what you have, to build add-ons when needed and to enable new processes.
Some things to consider in evaluating cloud platforms:
- Will it enable your existing products as well as empower you to build new solutions and enable new business processes?
- What innovation in future technology does it provide? In-memory? Predictive-analytics? Streaming? Special, graph store?
- Does it enable and support apps development, mobile, analytics AND integration?
The whole point of integrations is to extend your existing applications and infrastructure to the cloud. And with the rapid pace of innovation that the cloud delivers, the vendor ultimately must own the advancement of integrations so that new innovations don’t break existing ones.
If solutions from different vendors don’t speak to each other seamlessly and ownership of the experience is not clear, companies will struggle with consistency. And nothing is more frustrating than calling one company and being told to call the other company.
So when evaluating integration solutions and vendors, be sure there is a common set of diagnostics, reporting, metrics, error handling and error tracking that are generated. Also consider:
- What kind of pre-packaged integration is provided directly by the application vendor?
- Who maintains and updates the integrations?
- Is there a consistent experience when configuring, adapting, controlling or maintaining integrations?
- Does the vendor understand that integration crosses delivery models (mobile, cloud and on-premise)?
- Are the integration flows designed along a business process? Do they have the transformation, routing, API calls and logging information built-in to provide end-to-end business process integrations?
- What are the application programming interfaces (APIs) that enable you to integrate to other solutions you have?
Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)
Any cloud offering needs not only to be built on a rock solid infrastructure, but open enough to handle and support heterogeneous environments from multiple vendors.This requires scalability, availability, security and an enterprise-ready approach through which current applications can be transferred into the paradigms of cloud computing – while innovating.
To identify partners who can deliver this, you need to understand the following:
- What tools are available to virtualize your current system landscape?
- How can your current on-premise solution be transferred to a private cloud environment? What managed services are available to support this?
- What platform is in play for private cloud? Does this platform differ from the public cloud portfolio?
- Is the vendor’s infrastructure able to handle global processes and available globally?
- What is their data center strategy?
Conversations around security are generally focused on data security and privacy. However, three additional points are important to consider as well: data location, portability and the business continuity of the provider.
To start the dialogue, ask the following questions:
- What are your efforts for data security, including physical, network, backup and recovery, compliance and confidentiality and integrity?
- How is security handled in the design of applications and how do you “harden” your systems?
- How do you handle IP if I build on your platform?
- What is your data center strategy?
- Can I decide where and how my data is kept – on-premise and cloud as well as physical location?
- Can I talk to your security and risk officer to learn what we could do with our private cloud offering?
- What are your certifications and can you show me your internal risk framework?
In public clouds, companies share resources with other organizations to drive maximum cost-efficiency. The cloud service provider owns and operates the infrastructure and offers access to the resources via Internet. Security, sharing or multi-tenancy – these are topics you should ask more about.
- Is your vendor using multi-tenant with identical schemas? This approach – used by many vendors – offers substantial scalability. But it limits configuration options for each customer, forcing them to cope with limited business process support from the application.
- Is the solution using multi-tenant with custom schemas? This offers a wide range of configuration options for each customer. But it limits the vendor’s ability to maintain one code base. It may also require the vendor to introduce customer-specific complexity into the code line, potentially impacting delivery cycles, performance and responsiveness.
- Is the vendor enabling a unique hybrid approach? This is the case when the core of the approach is multi-tenant with identical database schemas for each customer. You can export your own schema out of the database, import or export data, and configure or modify fields. With this approach, vendors can enable individual extensibility within the schemas with our Meta Data Framework (MDF) and XML objects maintained in the identical schemas.
Only then you can retain all the advantages of a highly scalable and secure multi-tenant model while still offering a highly configurable application. And this is ultimately what drives agility and adaptability.
Of course a vendor should also be able to provide a distinct application instance for each customer, offering better security through enforced memory segregation.
So in selecting a partner, be sure to ask:
- How do you handle multi-tenancy – identical or custom schemas or a hybrid approach?
- How many innovation cycles do you have and how are they delivered and tested?
- How do you handle integration in heterogeneous landscapes with your cloud solutions? Are third-party partners your only option or do you offer one hand to shake?
- How do you manage user identity across applications in connection to the cloud offering? Show me single-sign on and user rights administration.
- Do you have a tool that can monitor my cloud solutions AND my on-premise solutions together?
There are areas where a cloud infrastructure operated solely for a single organization, whether managed internally or by a third-party and hosted internally or externally makes sense. But don’t focus simply on virtualization and benefits in total cost of ownership at the IT level.
Ask what a private cloud offering can bring to your business and how the vendor will support your needs:
- What can you do for me to get my existing solutions into the cloud while innovating them?
- Is your infrastructure capable to run mission critical cloud solutions?
- How do you manage hybrid cloud landscapes and integration between cloud, on-premise and 3rd party?
The cloud is not an either/or proposition. With the right vendor and strategy, you can mix public cloud applications and services, private cloud managed services, and on-premise technology to meet your company’s specific needs.
So don’t be forced to choose. Demand your cloud, your way.
What is currently in your cloud? File sharing? Your HR applications? Maybe some of your customer relationship applications? Where are you planning to go in the new year?
Let me know by tweeting #inmycloud and follow me via Twitter @SDenecken