Six Ways To Decide Which “aaS” Is Right for You
Making sense of the complex “as a Service” ecosystem
Apr. 15, 2010 11:15 AM
The benefits of doing things "as-a-Service" (aaS) and leveraging cloud-based technologies are well-known and documented, such as a low barrier to entry, reduced capital outlay and infrastructure, easy scalability, and device/location independence. Many companies also appreciate the reliability of service and the ability to leverage specialized domain knowledge expertise from an experienced aaS provider.
However, there is still a great deal of confusion about the many different types of aaS and questions remain over how much companies should rely on the cloud. Specifically, when is the right time to turn to aaS rather than build and manage in-house and what are some of the pitfalls that can be avoided when moving to an aaS-based solution?
Leveraging the cloud and delivered as a service, each aaS has the ability to help you do things faster, better, cheaper. The most attractive characteristic of the aaS movement is a flexibility that allows for an incremental or selective approach to deployments. You don't need to do it all at once, and you can mix and match.
The following is a brief synopsis of current aaS variants, when you should consider them, and what the future might hold for this technology.
First, here's a quick cheat sheet of three most common aaSes:
Integration-as-a-Service (IaaS) is probably the oldest, and has historically been the most stagnant, of the aaSes. IaaS originally functioned as a connector, providing integration for businesses to transmit documents to each other, such as EDI (electronic data interchange) and VANs (value added networks). Examples of this type of business document interchange go back to as early as the 1960s and really took hold during the '70s and '80s when early service providers helped companies automate this exchange. IaaS improved substantially once documents could be sent digitally over the Internet.
Typically, IaaS provided a backbone network, routing services, monitoring, reporting, and a normalized format to transact messages between business partners. While effective, this first iteration of IaaS failed to exploit the full potential of a rapidly maturing Cloud Computing environment and does not attempt to align the integration with the broader business process, such as supply chain management.
Thus, we move next to Net2 IaaS, a more advanced version, that incorporates business processes. As the key to meeting the needs of your customers, business processes are the lifeblood of your enterprise and demand continuous management and improvement. Net2 IaaS moves you in this direction by building on the simple customer transaction messages of IaaS and extending it to provide data transformation and correlation services. It also enables more policy and business intelligence-based integration processes, including access control rules, exception handling and intelligent reporting, among other capabilities. This is where the technology is today with leading integration vendors.
The next logical step with this aaS we'll call Business Collaboration Integration as-a-Service (BC IaaS). The core component of BC IaaS is the establishment of governance across inter-business services. At this stage, integration, business process management and service-oriented architecture (SOA) come together in the cloud. BC IaaS adds the governance and management through SLAs, advanced compliance and security, and precise message exchange expectations. This approach strengthens customer and partner relationships by establishing firm rules and building trust through transparency - without sacrificing any of the efficiencies and automation of IaaS. The platform also offers the capability of building strong vertical solutions that apply to both specific businesses and industry sectors.
Another, yet different IaaS, Infrastructure-as-a-Service, is just what it sounds like, an outsourced infrastructure that replaces the need to build your own. This includes a secure premise with high throughput Internet backbone connectivity, a continuous power supply, dedicated computer hardware, basic router/firewall and backup services. A variant on this is Virtual Infrastructure-as-a-Service, which we'll call "VIaaS," which uses virtual provisioning to segregate multiple customers' applications on shared hardware. An example of this is the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud that provides resizable computing capacity in the cloud, allowing customers to pay only for the capacity they use.
Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) is perhaps the best known aaS. This is when a specific piece of software or an application is delivered as a service and available on-demand via the Web for users. SaaS comes in two flavors: UI-based SaaS and Machine-to-Machine (M2M) SaaS.
Salesforce.com (a leading customer relationship management SaaS application) is a good example of UI-based SaaS. Salesforce.com is a pre-canned application exposed as a service, allowing the customer to interact with a Web site to access the application from anywhere. Web sessions are protected by an authentication login, and each company has its own view of the application.
M2M SaaS allows a customer's application to interface with a SaaS application to get information. This can range from basic queries, such as accessing a stock market quote to more complex services. One example would be an ERP procurement application that accesses airline flight pricing information and business rule data in response to an employee's travel request.
A Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) can be used by customers to create and run Web-exposed applications (Windows Azure, Salesforce's Force.com, and Google Web Toolkit are examples). PaaS is typically presented as a design studio the provider makes available to you, where there are widgets you can use to create your own applications. You own the life cycle (including promotion/test) of the application and all intellectual property, even though you are building on the vendor's PaaS. It offers robust fault tolerance and a true virtual machine sandbox with strong data segregation.
The most attractive element of PaaS is that it is Web-exposed. You can create a vertical application and have people work with the application without building out your infrastructure or worrying about stability or performing back-ups. It's another example of faster, better, cheaper.
Clearly, there are a lot of aaSs in IT today. Combined with the power inherent in cloud computing, each of these aaSs holds immense potential. Determining how and when to utilize which technology requires a good grounding in what is available today, what is on the horizon, and, most important, how new deployments will advance your business objectives by anticipating, meeting and exceeding the needs of your customers.
IT guys are a skeptical lot and with good reason. It would be naïve to assume the opinion of an aaS vendor comes without its share of bias; however, an assiduous vendor (such as Hubspan) will have done its homework, studied all available materials and is able to present key facts. While each company should do its own research and find solutions and vendors that best meet its specific requirements and budget, there are some universal, key points to keep in mind:
1. Start small: One of the great aspects of aaS is the ease of scalability; you can to start with one application, one integration project or one business process and grow as needed once you're ready. Carefully choose your first foray into incorporating any aaS. Make sure it's the most likely to succeed and will bring visible, quantifiable returns, and is aligned with business goals. Also, make certain it represents the most logical path toward the full adoption of your strategy. For example, your company's best bet might be moving storage and back-up data to the cloud, utilizing the cloud for some of your development environment or leveraging one of the well-known SaaS-based applications for CRM.
2. Watch out for aaS pitfalls: While the benefits are great, there are still pitfalls to avoid. For example, sometimes the services offered are too granular or focused too narrowly on one area; they don't expand or provide for integration with other applications or services. Imagine the pain around managing several dispersed but tightly interconnected services. Debugging becomes a huge challenge and vendors can try to blame each other, requiring you to log into and analyze several different management sites. Password management can also be cumbersome.
3. Beware the hidden costs: Make sure you understand the pricing tiers and any potential additional costs that can be added to your fees. For example, if your service is payload-size based, you will need to carefully watch the size of your transactions. Or there might be a premium fee for any unexpected spikes in throughput, which you may or may not be able to forecast. Areas such as these should be negotiated and built into the contract so you do not end up with billing surprises.
4. Look for best practices: Do some research to understand how other companies like yours are using the cloud and aaS solutions. Also, there are some good rules of thumb out there you can follow. For example, Gartner has laid out how different types of users are taking advantage of different cloud architectures and why. Gartner views every aaS as fitting into one of three fundamental layers: Application Services, Application Infrastructure Services and System Infrastructure Services. Application Services are attractive to large enterprises as the best path to acquiring unique applications. For the SMB, it's a way to reduce the work-load and capex costs of internal IT departments. Similar capex cost concerns compel smaller ISVs to utilize Application Infrastructure Services, while large enterprises can use them to accelerate time-to-market. System Infrastructure Services are used by large enterprises as a way to reduce costs and as a good way to take care of time-boxed projects such as development work and testing.
5. Choose the right third-party vendor: Forrester Research has delineated important characteristics to look for when choosing a SaaS vendor, which is applicable to any aaS. Forrester's list includes everything from making sure the SaaS vendor is financially stable to security, architecture and roadmap, among others.
6. Ensure the highest level of security: As mentioned briefly above, security in the cloud is paramount. A cloud platform should adhere to the highest levels of network security, physical security and data protection. When evaluating cloud vendors, here are some key questions we recommend you ask:
The benefits of cloud and "aaS" are real and quantifiable. With the right research, plan and vendor, your company can reduce costs, improve operational efficiencies, become more agile, achieve business and IT alignment, and increase levels of customer and partner satisfaction.
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