Archive for the ‘ Platform As A Service ’ Category

What happened to technology’s little guy?

The original article can be found here± http://www.euractiv.com/infosociety/happened-technologys-little-guy-analysis-507349

The revision of the Data Protection Directive is an opportunity to harmonise the European Union’s data protection rules, allowing SMEs to take full advantage of cloud computing’s potential to save both time and money, argues Remi Caron of the Association for Competitive Technology.

Remi Caron is an enterprise (cloud) architect, entrepreneur and member of the Association for Competitive Technology (ACT). Based in the Netherlands, he has over 22 years of experience in the IT industry.

“We all love a David and Goliath story. The underdog who, through superior planning and execution, tackles the giant and wins. Such stories fascinate us in all areas of life, from the grass of the football pitch to the world of international politics. In the world of business, small technology companies have a new powerful tool they can use to compete with the giants: Cloud Computing.

Through Cloud Computing, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can save time and money by renting top-quality computer infrastructure in data centres, rather than making enormous up-front investments. Cloud computing services lower operating costs and mobility while boosting power and scalability. The future will see a genuine chance given to the smaller service provider with the better product, a more competitive marketplace that speeds innovation and gives the customer the full spectrum of choice.

There are, however, regulatory obstacles which SMEs must face before we can truly embrace the possibilities. Protection of data is vital to us all in the Internet age, with worldwide networks also offering new opportunities for those who seek to access our information for nefarious purposes.

The lack of uniformity in Data Protection rules across the 27 EU member states make them hard to navigate and SMEs do not have the legal staff to sift through the intricacies of the laws in each country. Data Protection rules must not be weakened but instead harmonised, allowing Cloud Computing networks to operate across borders in a fashion that is safe for European citizens and beneficial for European business.

An opportunity to do precisely that is just around the corner. The upcoming revision of the current Data Protection Directive presents an opportunity for the European Commission to create a favourable atmosphere for cloud-based technology throughout the EU.

Strong leadership in revising the current Data Protection Directive will help make private data safer, increase consumer confidence and allow SMEs to innovate and thrive. When this can be achieved, our technology Davids will have their sling, and we will have opened the door to improved service, standards and opportunities.”

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The Cloud SPI Model Part 2: Platform As A Service – When You Need to Build Your Own Application

The goal of any information technology department in an organization is to provide services to the personnel of the organization to make them more productive and profitable. Cloud technologies have emerged as a way to provide a wide variety of very capable services at a reasonable, granular cost. These services are delivered in the form of software, and Software As a Service (SaaS) is the way to deliver it.

So why bother with Platform As a Service (PaaS) or Infrastructure As a Service (IaaS)?

The main reason is that the software your users need isn’t available in the Cloud, so you’re going to build it yourself.

PaaS is the next Cloud product down the stack from SaaS, but is arguably the most difficult to implement. Where a SaaS offering is aimed at end users, a PaaS offering is meant for developers. These developers build software on top of PaaS to provide services to the users.

One of the first products in the PaaS space came from Salesforce.com, called Force.com. It’s a set of tools to allow developers to build applications running on the same platform that Salesforce.com runs on. Salesforce.com is the SaaS offering, and Force.com is the PaaS offering.

Amazon’s product in this space is Amazon Web Services. Google has a product called App Engine that serves a similar role to Force.com. Microsoft Azure is a product with huge potential in this space because it takes the massive group of existing developers and cloud-enables them – if you know how to build ASP.NET applications, you’re most of the way to building applications on Microsoft Azure. And making developers productive is the key challenge to any PaaS offering.

What makes PaaS so challenging is the fact that it is a platform – a platform that developers have to learn to use. Developers skilled in one platform, for example, Microsoft’s .NET Framework, are not going to be as skilled in another platform like Force.com. Often organizations are surprised at the impact changing platforms has on developers – it takes longer to build software and often that software has more bugs until the developers get more experienced with the platform.

As with any other new development platform, organizations need to plan in training time, consulting and mentoring to increase the rate at which their developers get proficient in the PaaS product. Picking minor projects to start with is also wise.

PaaS offerings, like SaaS offerings, are built to be highly scalable – which requires particular programming styles. Scalable architectures set very specific limits on certain things that developers can do, for example, limiting the ability of the developer to store data about a user in the computational part of the application, rather than in a database. Developers want to do this because it’s fast and efficient – but at the expense of scalability. Because PaaS is built to scale, the platform will not offer those sorts of storage options and can frustrate developers used to having those services available.

Ultimately these limitations are beneficial – you want the software your developers build on PaaS to be able to scale to whatever the users require. It takes time to get used to these constraints, as it does with any other specific requirements of a new platform.

For better or worse, migrating an existing application to a PaaS environment has proven very difficult. Most successful PaaS products are “greenfield” implementations – built from day one to run on a given PaaS offering. Even if the programming language is the same between the old platform the application was originally built on and the new platform of the PaaS offering, because the platform is different, the services are different which ultimately means the architecture is different. And rearchitecting an existing application is like trying to change the foundation on an existing building – dangerous, difficult, and in many cases, doomed.

PaaS still provides most of the benefits of SaaS: You don’t own the hardware, the operating system or the platform software that your application runs on. All of that is maintained by the cloud provider. But your developers do have to learn how to work with the platform the Cloud provider offers, and to operate in the constraints. In the end the goal is to deliver software that benefits the users.

However, not every set of application requirements fit into a PaaS offering and you need to go even further down the stack to Infrastructure As a Service, the subject of the next blog post.

The Cloud SPI Model Part 1: Software As A Service, What You Really Want From the Cloud

For the most part cloud products have sorted themselves into three classes: Software-As-A-Service (SaaS), Platform-As-A-Service (PaaS) and Infrastructure-As-A-Service (IaaS). These three offerings are now being referred to as the SPI Model of Cloud services. So what are the differences, what should you get and who offers what?

As we started deliberating the thinking around SPI, it became apparent that this would be a very long post, so it’s broken into three parts, one for each offering.

It’s important to realize that SaaS, PaaS and IaaS are not mutually exclusive – they build on each other. SaaS is only possible because under the hood there is platform and infrastructure that SaaS depends on. The platform and infrastructure may or may not be available for sale as PaaS and IaaS offerings, but they are there.

All Cloud offerings are ultimately SaaS, it’s just a question of how much you build yourself. With SaaS, you’re building nothing – the application is finished, you just configure it the way you want to use it. Some of these applications have been around longer than the term “Cloud”. Products like Salesforce.com have been sold under the Application Service Providers (ASP) moniker for a long time. As the larger concept of the Cloud came to the forefront, they jumped onto the bandwagon, but it didn’t really change the product.

Changing the moniker didn’t change the application, and the users couldn’t care less. Users don’t care about Cloud or any other technology – they care about getting their work done. How you deliver the tools to them that let them get that work done isn’t important to them. If that tool happens to be software, and that software is delivered via Cloud technology, and it is effective for the user, then the user will like Cloud. But that begs the question, what makes a given technology (like software) a Cloud offering?

The best definition we’ve found for determining whether a given technology is “Cloud worthy” comes from Dave Neilsen of Platform D. The acronym is OSSM (“awesome”): On-Demand, Self-Service, Scalable and Measured. On-Demand means the product is available whenever you want in whatever quantities you want. Self-Service means that you can order the product without needing any support from anyone else (especially the vendor selling the service). Scalable means you can order as much or as little as you want, it works the same regardless. And finally, Measured means that the product is measured in reasonable increments so that you know exactly what you’ve bought and how much it cost. You’ll pay only for what you use.

Using the OSSM standard, it’s easy to see that Salesforce.com qualifies as a Cloud SaaS offering – you are able to order it yourself without any assistance and get to work immediately. You can buy as many seats as you want, enter as many leads as you want, run as many reports as you want. And you only pay for what you use.

Other SaaS offerings including Google Docs and Microsoft Office 365. In fact, mail in the Cloud is arguably the definitive SaaS product. Why go to the expense and effort of operating your own mail servers when you get everything you want from a SaaS offering, typically at a fixed rate per mailbox?

There are a couple of challenges with SaaS. The first is security. For the most part, security for SaaS applications is sufficient, even if it’s nothing more than SSL. But if the security features of a SaaS application don’t comply with your organization’s requirements, there’s often no recourse. The security the application has is the security the application has, take it or leave it.

A more complex issue is regulatory compliance. This is a huge subject unto itself, depending on the industry you’re in, the countries you’re working in and the work you are doing. There are whole web sites dedicated to the topic of regulatory compliance like the Compliance Authority that also talk specifically about compliance and Cloud. Smart SaaS vendors are helping their customers get through regulatory compliance concerns with great documentation and even features – for example, Microsoft’s Office 365 allows mailboxes to be stored outside the cloud so that a customer can fulfill compliance requirements for mail from a particular country to be stored in that country. There’s also sophisticated mail retention policies and auditing.

Beyond these issues, there’s almost no downside to SaaS. And there is a huge upside –  all the things you don’t have to do. You don’t own the hardware, the operating system or even the software you’re running. Someone else is responsible for all of that, you just utilize the product as you see fit. From an ROI perspective, SaaS is a no brainer.

Ultimately, SaaS is what we want from Cloud – the maximum potential with the minimum of ownership and responsibility. But what if the application you need doesn’t exist in the Cloud already? That’s where Platform-As-A-Service (PaaS) comes into play. It’s the next layer down the SPI Model stack, and is the subject of the next blog post.