Software-as-a-Service Ship Is Cruising Full-Steam Ahead

May 1, 2013


Software-as-a-Service Ship Is Cruising Full-Steam Ahead

NEWS ANALYSIS: Software as a service and cloud computing are now powerful and permanent forces in the IT industry that enterprise executives must reckon with.

“The software-as-a-service ship has sailed,” Google CIO Ben Fried told attendees at the Bloomberg Enterprise Technology Summit in New York City late last month.

Where once there were entire conferences dedicated to whether or not cloud computing would ever be right for the enterprise, that argument is now moot.

OK. So it is a moot argument, but the reality is that it isn’t one boat but an entire flotilla of boats that have sailed. Not to belabor the metaphor all that much, but there is the SS Amazon, the SS Rackspace, the SS OpenStack and a mixed crew of major vendors, independent developers and CIOs.

The CIOs attending the Bloomberg forum weren’t disputing the value of cloud computing, but were still concerned about security, privacy and liabilities related to the cloud. However, rather than allowing those issues to scuttle cloud computing initiatives, the executives want to be able to evaluate the varied cloud offerings in a real environment rather than looking at PowerPoint slides of promises.

Former U.S. CIO (and now executive vice president of emerging markets) Vivek Kundra, when asked what is the biggest concern of the business and technology executives he now meets with, answered “extinction.”

He explained that the examples of brick-and-mortar retail stores, print books and cumbersome bureaucratic services being digitally disrupted have CEOs and CIOs looking to implement strategies that will keep their enterprises off the path to extinction. Cloud computing is an integral part of creating that extinction-preventing digital-first strategy.

As Walmart CTO Chip Hernandez said, CIOs need to build a reference architecture that allows them to plan their transition to the cloud and also determine whether it is better from the company’s perspective to create a private cloud or make use of a public cloud. Hernandez said Walmart has opted for the private cloud. The public and private trade-offs mostly center on control and the comfort levels executives have with public clouds.

The cloud, that overarching term, continues to grow to embrace all those other buzzwords that have sprouted within the technology space.

BYOD Redefined

The bring-your-own-device movement is another one of those boats that have left port. Rather than struggle against BYOD, the advice from CIOs is to get ahead of the trend. As Freddie Mac CIO Robert Lux put it, “CIOs need to embrace BYOD,” and added that if BYOD or other computer services grow within the shadow IT community [such as employees signing up for IT services with credit cards beyond the control of IT], that is the fault of the IT organization, not the fault of employees looking outside IT to get the services they need to accomplish their jobs.

Less clear is where BYOD meets compliance—especially in the financial sector, which was a big portion of the Bloomberg audience. The conference took place after the Associated Press Tweet stream was hacked and sent the financial markets into a short-lived nosedive based on false tweets regarding an explosion at the White House.

The role of social networks is making inroads into traditional disclosure methods. However, the hardware associated with BYOD (smartphones, tablets, etc.) can increase the velocity of the software sitting on those devices.

While smartphone companies—notably BlackBerry and Samsung—are making it easier to separate the smartphone into business and personal communications, the same is less true for Twitter- and Facebook type services. Applying big data techniques to monitor employee social network comments is one possibility. But it’s a solution sure to add to employee unease and privacy concerns.

While it might seem that cloud computing provides a boost to disaster recovery plans, that is not always the case. The interplay between in-house services and public cloud services can be complex and involves a level of development and testing that many companies are not yet ready to undertake.

A panel on disaster recovery noted that many cloud providers are opaque in detailing where computing loads are taking place. “Many companies are not sure who really owns disaster recovery,” noted Steven Manley, CTO of EMC’s backup recovery systems division. While cloud computing may indeed provide substantial disaster recovery capabilities, the old saw about disaster recovery remains true, “don’t wait for the disaster to see if your recovery plans are correct.”

Let me flog that ship metaphor a little more. If you are sailing off in the cloud computing ship, it would be nice to know that your crew knows how to run the machinery and trim the sails. In a panel on the cloud workforce of tomorrow, it was clear that the traditional methods of software development are changing.

GitHub, Atlassian, Dropbox and Box are trying to build platforms that make it easy to collaborate. The need to get business executives, developers and operations departments working more closely together has long been apparent. The issue concerning using GitHub and other collaborative systems is to make sure you are not merely throwing technology at a business process problem.

“The shift is to a more distributed workforce,” said Tom Preston-Werner, CEO and co-founder of GitHub.

So, what are the applications that will drive new business? Applications that match social sentiment and business analytics are high on the agenda. The “Internet of Things” where digital sensors measure and monitor goods and services once encased in an analog world is another. And underpinning all those applications are cloud applications based on tying together cloud services via internal and external application programming interfaces.

Eric Lundquist is a technology analyst at Ziff Brothers Investments, a private investment firm. Lundquist, who was editor in chief at eWEEK (previously PC Week) from 1996-2008, authored this article for eWEEK to share his thoughts on technology, products and services. No investment advice is offered in this article. All duties are disclaimed. Lundquist works separately for a private investment firm which may at any time invest in companies whose products are discussed in this article, and no disclosure of securities transactions will be made.

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