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Federated Cloud

In an interesting paper in the IBM Journal of Research and Development, the concept of a federated cloud model is introduced. This model is one in which computing infrastructure providers can join together to create a federated cloud. The advantages pointed out in the article include cost savings due to not over provisioning for spikes in capacity demand. To me the biggest advantage of this federated model is the lack of reliance on a single vendor and likely higher availability due to greater distribution of computing resources across different infrastructure. One of our primary aversions to a complete cloud hosting solution is the reliance on a single vendor for the entire availability of your site. A true federated cloud would eliminate this issue.

However, as the article aptly points out there are many obstacles in the way of achieving such a federated cloud. Not the least of which are technical challenges to architect applications in such a modular manner as to be able to start and stop components in different clouds as demand requires. Other issues include administrative control and monitoring of multiple clouds and security concerns over allowing direct access to hypervisors by other cloud providers.

As we’ve prognosticated, pure VM based clouds like AWS have had to offer dedicated servers for those high intensity IO systems like large relational databases. We’ve also predicted that with double digit growth in cloud services predicted for the next several years, providers will resist the commoditization of their offerings through service differentiation. This attempt at differentiation will come in the form of add-on features and simplification across the entire PDLC. This unfortunately makes the likelihood of a federated cloud offering happening in the next couple of years very unlikely.


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The Future of IaaS and PaaS

Even though I’m a fan of technology futurist, I’m not much of a prognosticator myself. However, some recent announcements from Amazon and recent work with some clients got me thinking about the future of Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) such as Amazon’s AWS and Platform as a Service (PaaS) such as Google’s App Engine or Microsoft’s Azure.

Amazon’s most recent announcement was about Beanstalk. In case you missed it this new service is a combination of existing services, according to their announcement “AWS Elastic Beanstalk is an even easier way for you to quickly deploy and manage applications in the AWS cloud. You simply upload your application, and Elastic Beanstalk automatically handles the deployment details of capacity provisioning, load balancing, auto-scaling, and application health monitoring.” This sounds like a move towards the PaaS to me but the announcement made a point that users retained the ability for total control if desired. It states “…you retain full control over the AWS resources powering your application and can access the underlying resources at any time.”

Werner Vogel, Amazon’s CTO, stated on his blog the need for Beanstalk was in dealing with the complexity involved in managing the entire software stack, which to me id the reason the concept of PaaS was developed. He cites examples already in use of Heroku and Engine Yard for Ruby on Rails, CloudFoundry for Springsource, Acquia for Drupal, and phpfrog for PHP. He states “These platforms take away much of the ‘muck’ of software development to the extent that most RoR developers these days will choose to run on a platform instead of managing the whole stack themselves.” This to me sounds like a blurring of the lines between IaaS and PaaS.

Another item, that we’ve actually written about at the end of last year, is the concept of DevOps. This idea which has gained popularity recently acknowledges the interdependence of development and operations in order to producing timely software products and services. Software developers in many organizations need simpler consolidated platform services in order to procure, deploy, and support virtual instances themselves. This is another push for PaaS platforms but with the flexibility for control when necessary.

Market predictions for cloud services in 2014 span from $55B according to IDC up to $148B according to Gartner. Regardless of the exact number, the trend is double digit growth for many years to come. While the market will pressure for commoditization of these services, providers will resist this through service differentiation. This attempt at differentiation will come in the form of add-on features and simplification across the entire PDLC.

The future of Iaas and PaaS is a blurring of the lines between the two. IaaS providers will offer simpler alternatives while still offering full control and PaaS providers will likely start allowing greater control to attract larger markets. Let us know if you have any thoughts on the future of IaaS or PaaS or both.


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Moving from Packaged Software to SaaS

You can be successful both shipping software and delivering services through software. But you can't be successful at both without distinct architectures.

It’s probably no surprise to our readers that many old packaged software companies are attempting to take their software and hence their business models “online”.  And why not?  The model is attractive and benefits accrue to both the providers of service through software and those who outsource portions of what was once bothersome internally hosted software.  The providers benefit from economies of scale in hosting that generate attractive profits for the provider and savings for the customer, lower maintenance costs resulting from custom customer deployments, predictable revenue streams fostered through closer customer contact, more frequent and smaller releases that reduce risk and faster implementation times that result in faster profit recognition.  Customers benefit from outsourcing non-core IT functions, providers who specialize in delivering specific services, lower capital expenditures and faster deployment times.  SaaS is both a desert topping and a floor wax!  It’s the cure for cancer and the answer to the riddle of life!

But what many of these companies don’t realize is that the way one architects a product and runs a company focused on service delivery is simply different than the approach of a company focused on delivering software.  Customers expect that you are going to give them higher availability and fewer headaches.  Software alone simply won’t meet this goal; it is imperative that one design SaaS systems holistically which in turn requires skills in both infrastructure and software architecture (or “systems” architecture).   The cost leverage necessary to both increase profit margins and decrease customer cost typically requires multi-tenancy which has its own share of headaches.  Fault isolation and rollback capabilities are a must to minimize customer impact and mitigate rapid deployment risks.

It is not enough to simply bundle up an application in a hosted fashion and label yourself a “SaaS” company.  If you don’t work aggressively to increase availability and decrease your cost of operations, someone with greater experience will come along and simply put you out of business.  After all, your business is now about SERVICE – not SOFTWARE.  This is a fundamental mind-shift that some companies simply can’t overcome or maybe simply don’t recognize.  This isn’t to say that a good engineer or product manager can’t be equally good at developing packaged and SaaS applications, but it does mean that the approach is completely different.

Stop trying to figure out how to leverage your existing assets with minimal work and start thinking about having two different products.  Or, determine which business you want and kill the other one off.  If you decide to keep both products alive, you can share services and code between these platforms, but you should not do so at the expense of optimizing your SaaS solution.  Attempting to satisfy both with a single architecture will likely result in you failing at both.


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