Friday, January 16, 2009

Cloud computing

Yesterday I participated in the 19th ROC-i-partner conference in The Hague, which had the concept of een integrated application landscape as a central theme. I did a presentation together with Gertjan Sinke from ROC ID College. Unfortunately, all parallel sessiosn were scheduled twice, so I only could attend the two keynote sessions. The morning keynote was given by Ben Gorter from SURFdiensten, and was about 'cloud computing'. The title surprised me a little bit, since in previous announcements the title was something about 'Software as a Service (SaaS)'. Well, listening to Ben I was wondering whether this is just another marketing label for something which is basically the same as SaaS. A lot of stuff he mentioned was about SaaS, with Google Apps and as familiar examples of a SaaS solution. Advantages such as full service by the provider, pay-per-use, web based access and scalability are also applicable for SaaS. I believe it is more or less a matter of representation: there are a lot of services out there (in a cloud) that can be used in an instance. For an overview you might want to take a look at Other examples included the MS Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) and the Amazon webservices. The last one was new for me: Amazon apparently has extended their business with offering all kinds of webservices, e.g. if you need a Windows test server you can find it at Amazon, pay per hour and be up and running within 10 minutes. Another example is the devPay service that can be integrated in your online store and can handle all necessary online shopping and payment facilities. The only 'but' is that they require 3% from your turnover. Gorter argued that ICT will move out of our organisations. Compare it to elektricity power units in the beginning of the previous century. Most of our electricity demands are completely outsourced now. Only for business critical purposes (such as in a hospital) there may still be an electricity aggregate in the basement, in case of emergency.
Gorter closed his talk with some relativating remarks. It's extremely difficult for application developers to shift towards a SaaS approach. SAP has terminated their SaaS developments, because they still focus on developing a complete, coherent software solution. It's also difficult for relatively small companies who operate in the educational market. Typical educational applications can be considered a niche, it will probably take more time before those applications will be offered as SaaS. Nevertheless, the believe is that we will shift towards a SaaS model. The question is when. A lot of issues need to be solve. We will have to deal with interoperability issues, definining standards and last but not least legal and security issues. Do we want our data to be moved to an external repository or not? It still gives a feeling of 'trust' if the content server is inside the walls of our own organisation, but do we really know where it physically is? Especially when thinking about using single resources (to prevent redundancy) or collaborative repositories the physical content will no longer be in your own office, building or even your own organisation. It will take a careful transition process before we can really move to SaaS and what the benefits will be.

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