Posts Tagged 'SaaS'

The Cloud is Alive!

As I teach Learning Tree’s introductory course in Cloud Computing Technologies this week in Rockville, Maryland, I am once again reminded that things in the cloud can and do change often and quickly. Google Apps may change slightly. Google App Engine may change the way quotas are defined. Microsoft Office 365 may change the screens that appear when doing a cutover migration to Exchange Online. The names of Azure services may change. Google Apps and Microsoft Azure cost calculators may change the way they work. Amazon Web Services may change the look and feel of its browser-based management console. All of this makes the creation and maintenance of training materials, not to mention teaching the course week to week, somewhat of a challenge.

This, of course, is also an issue faced by adopters of cloud computing in their organizations. SaaS and PaaS providers undertake the versioning and patching of the underlying software and platforms. On the one hand this can free the consumer of the service from the administrative burden and overhead of having to do that themselves. On the other hand the customer often has very little choice about what updates are applied and when the changes will occur. This uncertainty can sometimes lead to surprises!

I have found that some people adapt to unforeseen changes better than others. This seems to be particularly true with SaaS. Some users can respond intuitively to slight interface changes, for example, and just move ahead. Others can become completely stopped in their tracks by anything that is different from what they have become used to. It is somewhat of a generalization, but not altogether untrue, to say that those who are already familiar with using web technologies tend to fall into the first category whereas those who primarily or exclusively use locally installed applications tend to fall into the latter.

What this suggests is that it is very important to consider your user base and skill set when evaluating cloud technologies for use in your organization. Moving to a SaaS version of productivity software, for example, means that you might not be able to simply install it, train users and be done with it. Who are they going to call when they log in one day to find things are different than the day before? Maybe it will be you and you might not yourself even yet be aware that an upgrade has occurred!

Cloud computing is most likely here to stay and this application paradigm will likely become the model for the future. How will IT departments respond to these new challenges if the corporate culture in which they exist has an aversion to change?

Kevin Kell

Cloud Service Models: Comparing SaaS PaaS and IaaS

Defining what comprises Cloud Computing is hard because it is so many things. Many vendors do not help clarify it because labelling products as Cloud Computing makes them appear current and more relevant. Despite all the marketing hype, Cloud Computing can be readily broken down into one of three delivery models as defined by NIST and known as the SPI model. SPI stands for Software, Platform and Infrastructure. When all the hype is stripped away, these just represent hardware and software !

Cloud computing enables hardware and software to be delivered as services, where the term service is used to reflect the fact that they are provided on demand and are paid on a usage basis – the more you use the more you pay. Draw an analogy with a restaurant. This provides a food and drinks service. If we would like to eat at a restaurant, we do not buy it, just use it as we require. The more we eat the more we pay. Cloud Computing provides computing facilities in the same way as restaurants provide food, when we need computing facilities, we use them from the cloud. The more we use the more we pay. When we stop using them we stop paying.

Although the above analogy is a great simplification, the core idea holds. Since computing is many many things, Cloud Computing has a lot of things to deliver as a service.This is where the SPI model helps organise things. Lets consider these in turn.

Software as a Service This is typically end user applications delivered on demand over a network on a pay per use basis. The software requires no client installation, just a browser and network connectivity. An example of SaaS is MicroSoft Office365. Until its launch, if a user required say Word, they would have to purchase it, install it, backup files etc. With Office365 Word can be acquired for a small monthly fee, with no client installation, the files are automatically backed up, software upgrades are automatically received and the software can be accessed from anywhere. Decide you do not require Word anymore – stop paying the monthly fee. It is that simple.

Platform as a Service Used by software development companies to run their software products. Software products need physical servers to run on, with database software, often Web servers too. These are all the platform that the application runs on. Building this yourself is a time consuming task and needs to be continually monitored and updated. PaaS provides all of the platform out of the box enabling software applications to be given to the platform which will execute them with no requirement for administration of the lower level components.

InfraStructure as a Service This covers a wide range of features, from individual servers, to private networks, disk drives, various long term storage devices as well as email servers, domain name servers as well as messaging systems. All of these can be provisioned on demand and often include software license fees for operating systems and associated software installed on the servers. Organisations can build a complete computing infrastructure using IaaS on demand.

So all the services provided by Cloud Computing fit into one of the three delivery models above. End users typically use SaaS, software development teams PaaS and IT departments whose responsibility is the infrastructure use IaaS. There is much more to Cloud Computing, including aspects such as the automatic scaling and security for example, but as a starting point, categorising the deliver models should help to understand that all aspects of computing are covered and it can be potentially useful for everybody involved in, or using IT.

Chris Czarnecki

As cloud computing continues to make information technology headlines, vendors are aggressively promoting the many benefits it can provide organizations.  Our White Paper, Cloud Computing Promises: Fact of Fiction , addresses the claims and questions that are often raised in relation to cloud computing and provides a clear view of what the cloud can—and can’t—deliver in reality.

The Trouble with SaaS

In Learning Tree’s introductory Cloud Computing course we spend part of the first day developing a working definition of cloud computing. Our definition is simpler than the NIST definition but, I believe, captures its essence. We assert that cloud computing is characterized by:

  • Transparent scalability
  • On-demand provisioning of IT resources (both hardware and software)
  • A seemingly infinite pool from which to draw those resources
  • Self-service accessibility

We can consider these attributes at all three levels of the SPI model (Software, Platform and Infrastructure as a Service). Most people get the idea when it comes to IaaS. PaaS is just slightly more confusing because of the greater degree of abstraction it offers. SaaS, however, can present a problem.

SaaS existed before anyone was using the term “cloud computing”. Because “cloud” has become a marketing term in some sense SaaS providers have been promoting its use in an attempt to re-position their product with what is currently fashionable. Unfortunately this does little to clarify the concepts of cloud computing in people’s minds.

I contend that some SaaS is cloud and some SaaS is not. The difficulty is coming up with a consistent set of criteria to discriminate. For example is Facebook cloud computing? What about Skype, Twitter and even Gmail? If the provider of the SaaS is using IaaS in their implementation does that automatically mean that the SaaS is cloud? Is there something about the type of software provided? What about the size of the application? Could there be a distinction between business software and personal software? The truth is that there are no hard and fast rules and various “experts” have different opinions. That is the trouble with SaaS.

Now, ultimately you might say that the definition doesn’t really matter. Whether a particular SaaS is or is not cloud may be irrelevant in your decision to use it. Definitions, however, are important in terms of our ability to understand concepts. I believe that “cloud computing” is something that can and should be defined. Sorting through the hype is necessary to appreciate the real business and technical benefits that cloud computing offers.

All of this leads to some pretty lively discussion in the classroom! People come from a variety of backgrounds. They often have different notions about what cloud computing is. Over the course of three days we discuss various aspects of cloud computing and get some hands-on experience working with several cloud technologies and tools. Attendees leave with a better understanding of what cloud computing is and what it is not. This makes them better prepared to evaluate cloud solutions for use within their organizations.

Kevin

Salesforce.com Strengthens PaaS Offering

In past posts on Platform as a Service (PaaS) I have written about Heroku, a cloud based startup that delivers PaaS for Ruby developers. This month Salesforce.com has acquired Heroku for $212 million in cash. It is interesting to consider how this acquisition fits into the Salesforce.com Cloud Computing strategy.

When considering Cloud Computing, Software as a Service (SaaS) is an elegant application delivery model that Salesforce.com has mastered. For application developers, PaaS is a perfect solution, providing a zero administration, scalable delivery platform. Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) offers instantaneous provisioning of infrastructure in a cost effective, pay as you use model but requires the same level of support as on-premise infrastructure. Application developers have a choice for deployment of using PaaS or IaaS. PaaS is, for the majority, the preferred option for many reasons, primarily ease of use and zero administration (think security, patches, operating system updates etc).

PaaS has been dominated by two companies, Microsoft with Azure and Google with App engine. Heroku, also provides a solution, focused on Ruby developers. What is interesting is that Heroku is built on Amazon EC2 IaaS. With PaaS being so attractive to developers and organisations, it is a market that Salesforce.com are clearly keen to provide solutions for. I recently wrote about their Java PaaS offering, VMForce, in partnership with VMWare. Add to this the core PaaS Salesforce have for extending their SaaS and now via acquistition Heroku, Salesforce are now uniquely positioned to provide the cornerstone for hosting the next generation of applications developed using a variety of programming languages and tools, all with one common feature – exploiting to the maximum the benefits of cloud computing.

In summary, for software developers, the landscape for hosting and deploying applications is rapidly changing – for the better and Salesforce.com, via the acquisition of Heroku have positioned themeselves if not at the head, certainly towards the front of the queue of solution providers.

If you would like to find out more about how Cloud Computing can benefit your organisation, what the solutions from various PaaS vendors offer, how they differ, advantages and disadvantages, as well as gain hands-on experience, why not attend Learning Tree’s Cloud Computing course.

Chris

More Than A Million Reasons the Cloud May Be Safe

I am back on the theme of cloud security. Why cloud security again ? Because cloud security raised its head again last week on a consultancy assignment I undertook. My client requires a new business application. This is available as Software as a Service(SaaS), but can also be purchased as a self hosted application. On the analysis I provided, my client could see many business advantages that a cloud solution could provide them – significant cost savings, transparent scalability, an ability to improve business process efficiency, more effective use of staff time …. the list continued. On the downside, security of the cloud was the factor that was pulling the company away from the cloud.

When I questioned which aspects of security were the primary concerns they listed data privacy and access control and then added availability and reliability. Ok, I know these are not all security but they were perceived as security issues by my client. I know from other consulting assignments and also from teaching the Learning Tree Cloud Computing course that many people have exactly these concerns and see them as a barrier to cloud adoption.

As an example of SaaS that works in a secure, highly available and reliable manner I provided the example of SalesForce.com. Here is an organisation that has been providing SaaS for over 10 years. This company has over a million users, all of who have data that is stored securely, and accessed with high availability and reliability. They have major customers such as Starbucks and Cisco. SalesForce.com show their availability, reliability and performance statistics to all users in real time – an approach that builds confidence based on transparency. The reason I use SalesForce.com as an example is that they prove that Cloud Computing works – over a million user cannot be wrong surely ?

Now, just because SalesForce.com works does not mean everything cloud related will work too. However, they are an example of a company doing things incredibly well and providing major benefits to their customers. There are many other cloud providers who do similar great things. The key in selecting a Cloud Computing provider is understanding the cloud and knowing what questions to ask of a provider. Its this kind of knowledge that is gained in Learning Tree’s Cloud Computing course which provides a vendor neutral technical and business view of Cloud Computing.

Chris

Cloud Computing Technologies: Reducing Risk in a High Risk Environment

Information Week recently published a list of organizations known as the Startup 50. This is a list of new technology companies(less that 5 years old) to watch. The companies were evaluated on a number of criteria including

  • Innovation in technology
  • Business model innovation
  • Business value : lowered costs, increased sales, higher productivity, improved customer loyalty

From the companies that made the top 50, the biggest concentration of product areas were in three cloud computing related subjects: virtualization, cloud computing, software as a service

In my last blog I commented on an article claiming that IT professionals considered the risks of cloud computing outweighed the potential benefits. With IT risk fresh in my mind, the information Week article got me thinking that in the high risk environment of startups, cloud computing technologies can actually significantly reduce the risk involved with starting a new company. Further, for established organizations, whether developing new products to be delivered as a service, or as end users of new products delivered as a service, cloud computing can lower the initial investment required and thus associated project risk. I believe cloud computing can help reduce risks in the following two ways.

  1. By utilizing Infrastructure as a Service(IaaS). Consider a company developing a new software product to be delivered as a service. This potentially requires a significant investment in scalable hardware and software (infrastructure) to meet an as yet unknown demand in service usage. Building this infrastructure is costly. Utilizing cloud computing’s on demand, pay as you use infrastructure, eliminates the large upfront investment required and replaces it with costs that are proportional to usage which should be proportional to revenue growth and thus self funding.
  2. By utilizing the cloud as a product delivery mechanism. With this mode of delivery the risk to potential customers is minimal as they do not have the large upfront cost of buying the product. If after using it for a while the product turns out to be unsuitable, they stop using it and stop paying for it. Contrast this to the risk of paying upfront for an expensive product without actually knowing for sure that it will be suitable for the organization.

Hopefully this post has highlighted how cloud computing can actually lower risks for many organizations, from startups, cloud service providers through to cloud end users. Let me know what you think.

Chris


Learning Tree Logo

Cloud Computing Training

Learning Tree offers over 210 IT training and Management courses, including Cloud Computing training.

Enter your e-mail address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by e-mail.

Join 53 other followers

Follow Learning Tree on Twitter

Archives

Do you need a customized Cloud training solution delivered at your facility?

Last year Learning Tree held nearly 2,500 on-site training events worldwide. To find out more about hosting one at your location, click here for a free consultation.
Live, online training
.NET Blog

%d bloggers like this: