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Is IaaS what end-users really want?

on ‎03-20-2013 11:11 PM

Source: freedigitalphotos.netFrom all my cloud related conversations, I’m gaining a strong impression two worlds are colliding. On the one hand, most of the CIOs I talk to are focused on providing infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS), whether it is internally to their business users, or externally as service providers. But when I look around me and talk to end-users, they seem interested in the delivery of “applications.” Many of them don’t even talk about cloud; they rather discuss app download and functionality. I’d say this is close to what SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) represents.


One analysis I have not seen yet but would be really interesting, is to understand how much shadow-IT is actually IaaS from public cloud versus how much is the use of free and low cost applications that deliver specific functionality (from dropbox to analytics tools for example). If I can believe my informal data gathering (absolutely not scientific, I admit), the latter is the biggest portion of shadow-IT.


There are reasons why business users are taking their destiny in their own hands and using non-approved services to help them do their job. Joe Stangarone describes 3 ways IT causes shadow IT:

  • IT is too slow
  • IT is stuck in the past and still believes they are the only option
  • IT does not deliver modern solutions

I can actually relate to all three. I still remember the answer I got when asked for the implementation of a mobile front-end application for one of our knowledge management applications.


While users keep being frustrated by the lack of response, IT is experimenting with the provision of IaaS, often with the declared objective to speed-up the provisioning of a server from 60+ days to 1 day for example. IT can easily relate that as provisioning servers as one of their tasks anyway, so by moving that to the cloud, they do not really rock the boat.


The application and software development teams are quite happy with that as it helps them in their jobs, removing the burden of having to reconfigure systems at each step of the development process.


But is that enough to address the needs of the end-users, to change their perception of IT? From what I hear, I believe not.


The data implications

Beyond just using dropbox, I see a number of enterprises increasingly rely on SaaS services sources, with or without the agreement from IT, from external providers. Why is IT accepting that? Because they know they are unable to offer similar functionality within the required timeframe.


But how many of us think through these decisions and look at the long term implications on data and information. Being a little older occasionally has an advantage as it allowed me to remember the history of IT. So, let me take you back in time.


During the 80’s the use of IT to manage sales, production, finance and later customers became the norm. Many start-ups developed excellent software to address each of these needs. So you could find planning, stock management, materials & maintenance management, financial management, production management software, just to name a few.

And many companies implemented a “best of breed” approach as it was called. They used a number of those software packages to manage their operations. But they soon realized the cumbersome task of having to synchronize the data between all the repositories. That is when SAP came along and proposed an integrated suite based on a single database.

At the start, that was their key argument.


If we now look at what is happening today, using SaaS services we dispatch information in multiple locations. CRM data is maintained in, order & production information may be in a traditional SAP, etc. But how do we integrate that information across the locations, knowing some of the data sources are managed by applications that are outside our control. Sure Salesforce has through which you can develop connectors between your applications and your salesforce based data. But we seem back in a “best of breed” world.


Far be it from me to say this is bad. What I want to point out is that there is a real need to think through these elements prior to deciding where to source the services from. We seem back in the age of the best of breed with the same data integration issues.


What role should IT play?

Knowing IT is in a catch-up game, what role should IT play? In my mind two key roles:

  • Set-up an information technology governance to review all requirements the business places on IT and ensure sensible approaches are taken to address them
  • Propose an integration platform ensuring the business users can consume IT from one place and do not have to bother about data integration issues

Let’s discuss both of those elements in a little more detail.



To make sure IT can deliver what the business needs, it’s important for IT to know what they want. Sounds logical, no?

Well you would be surprised how often that is not the case. Using tools such as project & portfolio management, IT can provide transparent information on what it will deliver. But beyond that, there is a need to review how the delivery will take place. Will IT provide infrastructure and install an application on that infrastructure? Will IT allow the consumption of externally provided SaaS services? Will IT develop specific cloud services, etc.? The approach taken should take into account the sensitivity of the application (core or context?), of its data, how integrated that data is with other enterprise information, etc.


An integration platform

In a hybrid cloud environment, business users should not have to spend time figuring out how they can get access to the services they need. As these may come from multiple sources, an integration platform, often called a cloud broker, should serve as front-end between the user and his or her services.


And then you have the data. How do we keep data in sync from multiple service environments? Frankly, today little exists in that space. But the issues aren’t new, so we can re-use some of the techniques used in the 90’s. Can we recreate the concept of the enterprise bus, but this time also extend it to the cloud. Well, this requires access to data contained in SaaS applications and that may be an issue. It is not for Salesforce as they do allow you to develop data access functionality using “The Force.” But again this demonstrates the importance of seriously reviewing the capabilities provided by SaaS environments prior to making a decision.



Beyond IaaS, the role of IT changes drastically. Is this why most IT departments still only speak about IaaS? I don’t know, but what I do know is that we need to prepare for the next phases. What if the world becomes a world of services?

Actually in the late 90’s, object orientation somewhat showed us in that direction. In my next blog post, I’ll take a look at how a service approach could fundamentally change the landscape. Now, I have been around long enough to know that the existing will not disappear. But it’s worth thinking how we could approach services and business processes in a different way.

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