As Published In
Oracle Magazine
May/June 2009

COMMENT: Analyst's Corner


Getting Grounded in the Cloud

By David Baum

Developers find challenges—and opportunities—in new architecture.

Oracle Magazine spoke with Al Hilwa, program director of application development software at IDC, about new types of cloud computing architectures and how they affect enterprise software deployments.

Oracle Magazine: What does cloud computing mean to today’s enterprises?

Hilwa: Cloud computing is a broad topic, so let’s start by defining our terms. IDC defines cloud services as “consumer and business products, services, and solutions that are delivered and consumed in real time over the internet.” These include IT services—like software as a service [SaaS] and storage or server capacity—and non-IT business and consumer services. Cloud computing is an IT development, deployment, and delivery model that enables real-time delivery of products, services, and solutions over the internet. It encompasses all elements of the IT stack that enable the development, delivery, and consumption of cloud services.

Oracle Magazine: What motivates CIOs to consider these new architectures?

Hilwa: There are two fundamental drivers. The first is a desire to lower costs by reducing the amount of infrastructure that a company has on premises, as well as the responsibility for maintaining and upgrading that infrastructure. The second is speed to enablement. Since cloud infrastructure and applications are already in place in the cloud, getting up to speed with a particular offering, service, or implementation is generally much quicker. In some cases, it’s simply a matter of adding a new company or subscription to get started.

Oracle Magazine: What are key concerns when considering cloud computing solutions run by a third party?

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Hilwa: Clearly there is some loss of control associated with cloud services and with outsourcing in general. You have to be willing to let somebody else be the custodian of your data. In some cases, companies are putting their intellectual property out there in the cloud. In response, service-level agreements [SLAs] and user license agreements have become much more systematized and granular. They permit CIOs to buy into multiple levels of service and support with agreed-upon quality, availability, or scale.

In addition, there’s a loss of control over the future configuration and longevity of a particular service. You have to define tight rules of usage, ownership, sharing, security, and so forth. We’ve seen steady evolution in cloud service contracts as well as the ability of service providers to manage these new types of SLAs. Like the selection of any IT software, the selection of a cloud service provider must be done with the same diligence. Concerns about financial stability and longevity of the service provider should be addressed by other means, such as the availability of on-premises alternatives that can be rolled out on short notice and with minimal disruption. These dynamics favor the established software providers, who may well get first right of refusal on the upcoming cloud services marketplace.

Oracle Magazine: What kinds of applications and services lend themselves to cloud computing?

Hilwa: The most-effective applications delivered through the cloud are those that require minimal configuration— essentially applications oriented toward end users. Application development in the cloud is fairly new, but some interesting movements are afoot, buoyed by the open source community. Packaged applications such as customer relationship management [CRM] and enterprise resource planning are strong contenders, as we’ve seen with offerings like Oracle On Demand and Oracle On Demand for Siebel CRM.

Services for business users are probably the most-popular cloud offerings. In the last couple of years, we have seen the emergence of infrastructure offerings from Amazon and other vendors in which applications can be hosted and run within virtualized environments in the cloud.

Oracle Magazine: What should developers do to prepare themselves for these cloud computing models?

Hilwa: Cloud services imply new types of automated computing APIs. Developers have to learn a whole new set of services, APIs, and platforms that are now available only in the cloud. That’s definitely a challenge, but it’s one that most developers are already familiar with.

The application development industry has seen a steady evolution of languages, frameworks, APIs, and platforms for hosting applications. So this is just one more transition that developers have to go through. Many developers have already been exposed to these APIs without knowing it.

 



David Baum
(david@dbaumcomm.com) is a freelance business writer based in Santa Barbara, California.

IDC (www.idc.com) is a global provider of market intelligence, advisory services, and events for the information technology, telecommunications, and consumer technology markets.



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