In an earlier post, I talked about two challenges which fuel cloud computing: the capital and support costs of network infrastructures and desktop anarchy. I want to pick up here where I left off, with more discussion of three cloud computing opportunities.
Software as a Service probably has the most familiarity. The wispy tendrils of Software as a Service reached into my Thanksgiving this year. Usually, we don’t host, and this year we will. To reduce operational costs, frustrated with the support costs involved with email, I put the family invite list, arrival and departure logistics and food contributions up on doodle.com.
It’s off my desktop and phone system into their system--simple, collaborative, low cost, centrally maintained, reliably backed-up, eminently scalable (hopefully won’t need that for our thanksgiving), platform independent, secure (enough for this), environmentally sustainable (carbon offsets for how much we may eat).
Doodle is a light weight alternative to meetingwizard.com or more elaborate reservation systems, and though its light-weightedness caused some other problems, it helped.
Meanwhile, Linda tapped into foodie SaaS epicurious.com to supplement the menu planning. Yes, we also have the 3-ring binders of family recipes and a shelf of cookbooks. Epicurious (OK, I prefer allrecipes.com) brings a world of collaboration, search, on-demand, pay as you go to the meal planning type of project. Print magazine co-sponsor Gourmet magazine is about to close its doors, but no doubt SaaS Epicurious will continue.
Holiday photo-sharing? Facebook, Flickr, Google web albums and not bring-your-own laptop, flash drive or photo album.
At the consumer level, Google has championed this approach more than any other company. Google entices millions to leave the desktop behind and do our daily work with on Gmail, Google Documents, Calendar, YouTube, Maps, Groups and more. Yahoo and others add to the offerings.
Once you get comfortable, you may find yourself surrounding yourself with other services. You may well use a hosted pay as you go service like Basecamp, Zoho or Central Desktop to mange projects. You may use Mozy, Carbonite, Dropbox or other web based services for back-up. You may use webex, adobe connect, or logmein to provide hosted screen sharing or web conferencing services.
Going back ten years, at the corporate level, Salesforce championed the software as a service approach to managing contacts, leads, business relationships, and all things related to the sales process (and now support and other business functions). Instead of network installing Act, Goldmine, Microsoft stuff at the low end or Siebel and other systems at the high end, they invited customers to use their web service. Pay according to what you need month-to-month, and let them take care of security, back-up, support, upgrades and the like.
The SF foundation charitable donation and “starter pack” has extended Salesforce’s appeal to nonprofits as well.
As I suggested earlier, these types of services typically may get justified on cost basis. Specifically, they transform long term capital and human resources costs into operating expenses. Today’s recession favors this calculation. Instead of figuring out the total cost of ownership of a new server, new software, support costs, licensing, periodic version updates, desktop upgrades, back-up, security and other ancillary utility purchases, SaaS lets organizational planners focus on one thing—the monthly usage cost. They also favor collaborative approaches to getting things done that are not as easy or natural on traditional network installed systems.
As critical applications move up to the cloud, the desktop does not matter very much. All that matters is having a standard browser.
Yet, to get to those web software as a services, you still have you to boot up that familiar personal computer and land on your personal desktop. Google hopes to go further, turning its Chrome browser into an entire web-facing operating system. More about that another time.
For now, for most of us, the desktop still matters a lot. Most of us still do our daily work there—word processing, maybe email, maybe other stuff. It matters for installed donor and contact management systems, network accounting software, critical long time installed databases whether Microsoft Access or some giant client server application. It matters when you want to print, scan, archive, share files, and avoid malware all the while. When these issues come up, the costs in time and support in monitoring and managing desktops come into play.
IT as a service (or Infrastructure as a Service) looks at things from this end. If the premise of SAAS is to make the desktop matter less, with IT as a Service, the idea is to tame it.
IT as a service has levels and gradations. It often begins with combining and rationalizing network servers using virtualization. VMWare and other companies have popularized the idea of running mutual virtual machines on the same hardware. Many businesses and organizations today have more than one server. They may have a basic server for sharing files and printing. Another for Exchange email management. Another for their fund-raising software or other special applications. Virtualizing servers takes advantage of increased computing power to reduce the total number of servers, and focus on keeping those few up and running well.
A related trend is to centralize and standardize the user experience. You start up your machine and then connect via Microsoft Terminal Services or Citrix into central server which then gives you a new, fresh, controlled desktop. For larger companies, creating that standardized network infrastructure makes it easier to then have IT infrastructure specialists manage everything from afar using elaborate diagnostic tools such as Kasaya.
The higher level next step is to move the whole infrastructure up to the web. If everything is centralized, virtualized, standardized, why not seek even higher efficiencies of scales by running the whole operation on someone else’s servers, where bunches of other organizations also are getting managed at the same time in the same place.
Ask you local network support organization if they have this kind of offering and compare prices with what you are doing and planning now. I recently got a major taste of this approach at a day-long business summit run by Zumasys, a West Coast infrastructure company which has helped some of our larger clients, and I see other partners heading in this direction.
Of course, like SaaS, IT as a Service come at a cost. Both point in the direction of flexibly supporting organizational expansion, especially in a recessionary era, reducing support costs, and reducing user woes and problems, and also reducing the cost of a desktop computer.
The goal is usually not to reduce on-site IT staff, but to keep that staff from burning out and to keep it focused on strategic support and innovation. By commodifying basic support issues, IT staff can focus on what is critical and distinctive about what you need and do.
Next up, the newer “aaS,” Platform as a Service.