Friday, December 18, 2009

Cloud computing or not – Should you really care?

I was reading a debate between Private and Public cloud computing installations on David Tweedy’s article on Business Insurance . It seems that every vendor is now replacing ‘ASP’ by ‘Cloud’ and jumping on the bandwagon. ( Not that it is completely wrong in every case.) Another interesting aspect is that the public cloud computing infrastructure such as Amazon, SalesForce is enabling relatively smaller vendors to provide a reliable, specialized and cheaper services to their customers.
It is all good, but I have a problem with the marketing hype and jargons surrounding all these offerings. The words like Cloud, SaaS, ASP confuses the hell out of you without realizing the exact benefits of the offered service. Really, should the business care if the hosted service is a perfect ‘Cloud computing’ or not?

I would say - yes, however, rather than going by the word, they should look deep for the meaning of the word. So, what makes a perfect Cloud computing environment for hosted applications? and what does it mean in business terms?

Here are some thoughts -
1) Hosting Model - When you choose a Cloud based application, you should not be worried about Technology infrastructure beneath the application, in fact, and you have no control over it. All you should worry about is the Service levels. This is same as the most of the traditional hosted ASP models.
2) Scalable, reliable Infrastructure - The application should be highly reliable, available 24 X 7 and should perform at the optimum level. In other words, the infrastructure supporting the application should be equipped to support your growing business needs and also those of all your fellow businesses, using the same hosted application.
You should ask your vendors questions to clarify how they are planning to scale their infrastructure, especially when they add more and more customers. A virtualized environment is typically deployed to dynamically scale the infrastructure.
3) Customizability (or in terms of jargon ‘Multi-tenancy) - It should be quicker and inexpensive to implement the customization that you need and it should not degrade the performance. In other words, the application should be built in such a way that the customization is considered in the basic architecture. For example, every time you ask for new variable, the vendor should not add a new table or column in their database. Such a design becomes unwieldy as you add more customizations or vendor adds new customers. A new paradigm of architecture called ‘Multi-tenant’ architecture is often used in Cloud computing environment to address these issues.
4) Security - Your business data should be secure from errors, hackers and disasters. Ask vendors about the database and data structure – whether the data is logically and physically separated, user access control, transportation security, storage security ( encryption mechanism) etc.

So, unless your vendor provides minimum of above 4 points, don’t let them claim their application as ‘Cloud’ based application. In my experience, many vendors do not satisfy 2, 3 and 4. If they are offering hosted service, they tend to call it ‘Cloud’ based service.

- Amit Unde


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