You’ve probably heard of cloud by now – maybe even had a little play with bits of it through things like Google Docs or even something a little more meaty such as salesforce.com. But where is cloud going, and will it be the marriage made in heaven for an organisation’s future?
Firstly, cloud is not a brand new technology. At the “something old” level, the cloud is based on approaches that have been proven in the market over the past few years – particularly on service oriented architectures (SOA) and web services. It is also an evolution of the business models behind the old application service provider (ASP) model – but here is where it has had to bring in the “something new”.
The two main problems with the ASP model were the lack of standardisation and the poor business models that underpinned the system. Applications towards the end of the 1990s were still pretty proprietary, which had driven the rise of enterprise application integration (EAI), and this made the provision of services from within a hosted environment very much a one-to-one affair – just a hosted application, rather than a hosted service.
The applications were also caught in a licensing trap: the majority of applications required the user to own the licence, and so a mismatch was created where the hardware, the operating system and the application server were owned and run by the service provider, whereas the application licenses were owned by the user, but the application was managed by the service provider. The cost model just didn’t stack up, and over 90% of ASPs went to the wall when the .com and telecomms bubbles burst in early 2000.
So what has changed? Open source means that many cloud solutions aren’t hobbled by licensing issues, and even commercial vendors are moving towards true service provider licenses, where the service provider owns the licenses and can decide how to charge these on. The majority have moved to either a straightforward subscription model, or plumped for a transaction-based one.
At the ”something borrowed” level, it is necessary to look at how the breakdown of the technology walls within an organisation has impacted the approach to facilitating business processes, which has required the evolution of approaches to information security. The need to automate processes across the value chain of suppliers, the organisation and the customer has led to the growth of an ecosystem ensuring that data can be secured at rest and on the move – and this has been taken to heart by the cloud providers.
At the “something blue” level, the more “blue sky” future of cloud needs to be looked at. The last thing any organisation wants is to be shunted down some technological evolutionary cul-de-sac where the cost of change becomes a major issue in the future.
Although the choice of provider will always involve some risk and a cost of change should there arise a need to move away from a provider, as cloud evolves into a functional entity, the existing application approach to computing will begin to die away and the new, dynamic “composite application” will begin to take over. Here, an organisation’s processes, changing on a regular basis driven by strategy or external market forces, will need to have flexible technology underpinning them.
Through the use of functional computing served through the cloud, internal and external elements can be brought together on the fly to facilitate the process. No more changing the way an organisation operates to match the application – change processes as required, and take functions from a host of different cloud providers as needed, based on dynamic, wire-speed technical contracts defining transaction volumes, speeds and so on.
The cloud will not all reside outside of the organisation, however. The internal data centre will continue to be there – it will just need to be “clouded” itself, and act as a store of functions that can also be used when facilitating the business processes.
Cloud is the future – as in the majority of marriages, things may not always run smooth. However, I believe that this is one marriage that will run the course and survive.