June - 2011 - issue > Technology
Ashish Bhagwat
Wednesday, June 8, 2011
The Cloud Revolution
I do not have to emphasize that cloud computing is turning out to be one of the big revolutions in Information Technology. First, we had Mainframes, then, we moved on to the minicomputers, then to PCs (the client-server era), and then the web era for the last few years. The significance of every one of these eras, (and distinguishing aspect relative to other events of magnitude) was that it was not just the technological breakthrough but also the great business model changer and innovation enabler.

Cloud Computing has brought about changes in the way organizations look at the technology-driven business. It has opened up new possibilities in the business models. It provides great levers for small businesses to compete with larger enterprises, and for larger enterprises to get more agile and efficient. It has enabled easier access to the technology that otherwise would have been out of reach financially and sometimes physically. It has also enabled access for the business to the prospects, customers and users. At the same time, it also offers the much needed abstraction of technology so that the business can focus on business decisions and not get lost in the myriad of technical approaches and constraints.

Hence, it is not surprising that most organizations are today asking as to how they could move to cloud. It is just a plain way of asking how they could take advantage of Cloud computing in the context of their business. So, how do you approach your decision?

Moving to cloud? Options and Tradeoffs
Out of the above, IaaS and SaaS are easy to understand for most. They translates to a simpler own v/s lease kind of decision matrix, and typically this comparison in Capex v/x Opex decision making is easier to formulate. Also, the choice is very obvious in terms of infrastructure level alternative (for IaaS) and Application level alternative (for SaaS) against their enterprise level counterparts.

Most businesses find it easy to equate the movement to cloud in terms of “Rehosting” or “slight refactoring” of the existing legacy Apps by getting rid of the “owned” and “on-premise” infrastructure with a pay per use infrastructure provided by service provider. It is also easier to just go ahead and start using an application on a per usage basis, made even easier through trial usage, as an alternative to an outdated internal application or a packaged app that’s getting too difficult and pricey to maintain.

But, where it gets confusing is when PaaS comes into picture. While IaaS and SaaS continue to remain an easy entry point, PaaS is where the real longer term leverage for strategic advantages would come from. The understanding of the huge value proposition of the platforms layer arises out of the true definition of cloud. It is not just about own v/s lease decision, but a deeper consideration for the Pay-Per-Use models, multi-tenancy, auto-scaling at not just infrastructural level but throughout the application stack, and scale out models.

Emergence of PaaS
PaaS (Platform-as-a-Service) is going to be the ultimate weapon of mass disruption in the coming years. It is the future of cloud because it changes the way developers write the applications and deliver them to the end-users. A PaaS provides an application development environment over cloud, and also allows them to deploy the created application on a cloud from where it can be accessed by end-users over internet through browser.

An application architecture that is built for the cloud has to scale well. It has to be highly available over internet. It needs to have the basic characteristics of cloud such as multi-tenancy (which means sharing of the underlying resources by multiple entities and still maintaining the isolation among them). So, an application doesn’t become a cloud application by hosting a legacy architecture app to the infrastructure on the cloud. On the other hand, a SaaS application doesn’t offer the competitive advantage at business level beyond the cost reduction & efficiency through such usage for non core standard applications such as CRM or HRMS. A truly competitive leverage comes from an innovative business approach leveraged through a platform that provides the best of both worlds: Advantages of cloud characteristics as well as ability to build the applications specific to the organization’s interest.

There is even more to the Applications PaaS than meets the eye, still. The traditional IT conundrum has been around the balance among Cost, Quality and Speed. Many larger enterprises have, over decades worked on building the abstracted out, standards based, and robust platforms to ensure they achieve the Time-to-market and quality of their development efforts that rely on heterogeneous breed of developers that are technology centric. Imagine what would happen when they want to do the same thing for the cloud! There is no luxury of time, nor the financial capacity, to do this all over again for cloud fitment.

That is where the Applications PaaS actually provides the next powerful step for the Enterprises to get the true advantage of the cloud based architectures. Companies like OrangeScape have spent years building such platform architecture that is true to the cloud characteristics. And these platforms are available for leverage for businesses right from the word go, and in some cases like OrangeScape, the flexibility of a cross-cloud offering removes the nervousness around which target cloud environments would sustain over time.

Picking your PaaS Options
Among Application Platforms on the cloud (Application PaaS), there are still more options available that provide the various capability across the dimensions of Granularity, level of Programming, and technical control. Businesses and Time-to-market requirements, obviously, always want the abstraction, productivity and a business functionality oriented approach through a modeling driven approach. However, technology functions within the Enterprise want to exercise their technical decision making and control – which even though slightly counter-intuitive from a cloud standpoint, still is a reality with today’s IT.

Regardless of the specific characteristics that various enterprises may prefer across these dimensions, the power of the platforms on the cloud is ready to get unleashed. Especially now, when many enterprises have tasted the blood with the infrastructure and application level leverages that the cloud era brings about. We will see huge activity in the areas around Platforms on the cloud, i.e. PaaS. The strategic advantage will really lie with enterprises that pick their options early and adopt with the changes in the next few years than those waiting on the fringes for the disruptive activities to settle down before making the leap. Why wait?

Author is the Ashish Bhagwat, Vice President, OrangeScape

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