Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Integrated Clouds

Cloud Computing continues to grow at an unprecedented pace; MSFT's Azure is live and gaining momentum, SAP is taking it seriously, vmforce is coming this fall, AWS has a region in Singapore and even some of the larger banks in the world have the cloud on their radar.

Ubiquitous and affordable broadband along with the evolution of social networks, real time and mobile technologies emphasize the importance and value of the Cloud. While the skeptics continue to focus on the missing pieces, it is very hard to ignore the ways in which the Cloud is shaping the way we live.

Yet, in spite of this progress, somehow today's Clouds remind me of the pre ERP days when companies would have separate systems for different functions: accounting, customer service, manufacturing, etc. While Clouds tend to be more open and easier to integrate than pre ERP enterprise applications, the reality is that Cloud integration is still in its infancy. Yes there are many interesting mashups coming along but most of them just collate information from different sources in the browser and rarely engage in significant business processes.

To reach its full potential the Cloud will need to become more open and more integrated, loosely coupled, integrated on demand and with a specific purpose. It is nice for business users to be able to combine data from different web services in a Google document but the integrations that I have in mind would happen at the application level, where exchanges information with Parature which then kicks off a process in Netsuite which then triggers a payroll in Intuit which then updates a dashboard in Tableau and publishes the results to Twitter. All automated and coordinated to solve a particular problem. Once that process is automated, the next step would be to make that process smarter, that would be the era of the intelligent Cloud and a great topic for a future post.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Cloud Computing Lessons Learned

The beginning of a new year has brought along a large number of predictions regarding the impact adoption of disruptive technologies like Cloud Computing. The art of the possible is certainly exciting, it drives innovation and shapes the future.

While I believe that innovation can't be stopped, I recognize that expectations and change management are largely responsible for the ultimate adoption of a promising technologies. As such, I thought it would be appropriate to share a few lessons learned around some of the challenges and opportunities surrounding Cloud Computing.

Challenge: Privacy and Security
Lesson Learned: Mainstream technology and reasonable precautions are enough to satisfy the requirements of a majority of organizations.
Observations: Privacy and Security remain an unsolved and a delicate issue and its severity and complexity vary by industry. Nevertheless, the leading cloud providers (e.g., AMZN, GOOG) have in place controls, technology and procedures to properly secure data and applications.

Challenge: Vendor Lock-In
Lesson Learned: The Cloud continues to be more open than legacy technology and vendors like GOOG have initiatives in place to keep it that way.
Observations: Migrating from one cloud provider to another with ease is a key criteria in many practitioners' checklist. The ultimate goal for some is the ability to switch cloud providers quickly, easily and cheaply. I'm not sure how feasible this goal is. I think it is inevitable that most solutions will be optimized for a particular cloud provider (SaaS, PaaS, IaaS, or other). Commodity services will get easier and easier to change but other services will always require work. Either way, the tendency towards more openness does not appear to slow down.

Challenge: Hype
Lesson Learned: Buyers are well informed and proceed with caution
Observations: There is a lot of hype around Cloud Computing but the early adopters are focused and well informed. I have seen technology buyers fall in 3 categories: 1) Focused on a particular solution 2) Skeptical but doing thorough due diligence 3) Skeptical and not adopting. What I find notorious is the absence of a 4th group that is rushing towards towards cloud computing with unrealistic expectations. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure they are out there but there aren't that many. It feels a little different from the late 1990s.

Opportunity: Innovation
Lesson Learned: There is an explosion of services, many of them truly valuable
Observations: When thinking about Cloud Computing, a majority of my acquaintances think about cutting costs and saving money. I like to focus on finding value. I have come across a large number of applications that I find incredibly useful and more importantly worth paying money for. These are innovative services that solve specific problems (e.g. collaboration, version control, project management, communication, etc.) efficiently and profitably. All the necessary signs of sustainable economics.

Opportunity: Globalization
Lesson Learned: The world is flat but the cloud makes it flatter
Observations: Call me naive but I must confess that I have been truly surprised by the global reach of Cloud Computing. I have worked with customers in 4 continents with remarkable ease. Somehow, the Cloud's always-on nature enables a familiar (standard?) and relatively efficient marketplace; almost like a new lingua-franca. Like I said, call me naive.