By Chris Bucholtz
“The cloud” is a term that has been abused, abducted, misappropriated, Shanghaied and commandeered for the evil purposes of vendors who see it more as a sales tool than as a definition that helps users understand a somewhat complex concept. (Well, not evil purposes, necessarily, but commercial purposes, certainly. And if intentionally confusing customers is an aim of those purposes, I’d consider that to be at least a little evil.)
So what is a cloud application – especially one in the modern sense? Is it an application provided through a glorified ASP model, or is it something different? And how can these applications bring business benefits to the people who use them?
“The reason people get caught up in the definition is that the definition leads to a vendor’s unique value proposition,” said Mitch Lieberman, vice president of marketing at Kana Software, when I asked him about this. “Customer directionality is a nice approach, as the core issue is what the customer needs, not what the vendor wants to sell.”
The reason I chatted with Mitch was that, instead of trying to define a modern cloud application, I thought I’d ask some smart folks who live this stuff every day.
Let’s begin with Mitch. He laid out five attributes that define a true cloud application:
1. The application must be elastic – it acts the same whether it is supporting 10 users or 1000. The response time does not change and I do not need to send an email or make a phone call for that to happen
2. Maintenance, patches, upgrades are not my concern. I am given the rule book and as long as I play by the rules the application will function as advertised – both before an upgrade and after.
3. The application meets all security and data segregation requirements of a modern business.
4. The application provides three 9s of availability.
5. The application must be expandable and able to be extended to third-party applications via a well defined API.
Next up is Josh Greenbaum, Principal at Enterprise Applications Consulting. His list is similar, but slightly different:
1. Runs off-premise, but can offer an on-premise version if appropriate (controversial, but I think the hybrid model will define the best practice for many cloud-based applications).
2. Automatic updates within a time window, not totally dedicated by vendor’s schedule.
3. Provides network effect value-add on top of basic application functionality.
4. Offers a comprehensive meta-analytical layer that provides statistics on key processes and functions across the cloud applications customer/stakeholder base – a key value add.
5. Extended security layer for mobility in order to manage data leaks from bring-your-own-device employees.
6. Multi-tenant or functionally equivalent (from the customer’s cost and usage perspective, not necessarily the vendor’s).
R. “Ray” Wang at Constellation Research was even more succinct:
1. Pay as you go.
4. Single copy of the software exists
5. Meta data-driven configuration
6. Infinitely scalable
7. One-to-many upgrades can be performed at the same time
Jesus Hoyos of Solvis Consulting answered as well, and of course, he was quick to add that his definition had a “Latin American flavor.”
“A cloud application should be provisionable in any IaaS, PaaS and/or SaaS infrastructure, either by the vendor or a third-party cloud provider like RackSpace, Amazon, IBM or Microsoft Azure. The flexibility to move from a cloud provider like Amazon to an on-premise installation should be there, as should the ability to move to a managed or hosted environment – and this movement should be available in both (directions). The cloud application should be able to be resident in cloud provider with global, regional and local data centers – especially in Latin America.”
Jesus continued, “The modern cloud application should also provide a deep and real analytic engine (not just dashboard reports from transitional data), vertical modules, a market place with add-on solutions, and integration packs to integrate to other applications. Also, it most be supported by both the vendor and a value-added re-seller channel.”
Finally, I quizzed Denis Pombriant of Beagle Research. “To answer your question – who knows!” said Denis in his usual helpful style. But, as always, he went on: “Seriously, a modern cloud app should run in a web browser, though there is some debate about the necessity of constant communication with some terrestrial database. I still like the idea of needing and using other cloud applications like GPS, but I think I might expand to using social media in some form. For example, an app that uses GPS and checks social ratings of places in my neighborhood would certainly be a modern cloud app.”
That’s five opinions from five very smart guys. If you’re wondering if you should deploy a cloud-based CRM application, look at those definitions in the context of what your business needs – then take the points that are important to you and examine whether an application you’re looking at truly fits the bill as a cloud application.
We’ll talk more about the cloud and the confusion that surrounds it next week – and we’ll provide a great tool for understanding what it is, how to use it, and how to see past the myths to bring clarity to your understanding of how the cloud can benefit you.