Monday, September 8, 2008

Applications in the Cloud – Is Your Business Ready?

Talk about cloud computing seems to be growing by the minute and I can understand why. If you believe what some industry pundits are suggesting you should soon be able to have your whole desktop PC delivered as a web service to whatever device you choose wherever you are. Work performed in one place will instantly be synched up with the next place, just when you need it. Sounds kind of appealing, doesn’t it?

Well maybe, but the whole concept also has me wondering if I’m missing something. I think there may be more work involved migrating some parts of my digital life to the cloud than others. Storing photos online makes lots of sense to me. They are much easier to share and the services I’ve tried can organize my photos better than I can alone. Backing up my documents online makes a lot of sense too. So, where do I see darkness looming in these web clouds?

I suspect it will be more difficult for businesses to transition to a cloud computing model than for individual consumers like me. Most businesses have been managing their applications and data a lot longer than I’ve been taking digital photos. That probably means they’ve developed a variety of software customizations and methods to help automate business processes with their software as well.

This unique “warmware” found in businesses often represents considerable investment and may become a speed bump, or worse on the way to the cloud. For example, small businesses have counted on Quickbooks to manage their accounting for years and many have developed valuable business procedures around this software. Migrating these individualized accounting solutions to other vendor’s web services could prove challenging and costly.  It might be better to wait until Intuit provides a suitable web service of its own.

What about all of the other software applications whose developers don’t offer a near-term cloud strategy or outright custom applications whose authors are long gone? How can the business processes supported by these technologies migrate to the cloud? I doubt very easily or quickly. Even cloud computing’s poster child, Google Apps doesn’t claim to be a Microsoft Office replacement yet (although it may some day). The thousands of lesser known desktop applications and their warmware will need a migration path of their own if businesses are to fully benefit from the aggregate synergies of cloud computing.

A potential near term solution may still include key cloud components, such as persistent and pervasive data storage and fundamental collaboration tools. These functions represent some of the most compelling elements of cloud computing, but don’t necessarily have to be embedded within process specific applications. SaaS (Software as a Service) and now cloud based service providers are compelled to integrate these functional layers because it can improve the customer experience and create a “sticky” business model. 

However, for business customers seeking a transition to a cloud based model an intermediate option may be worth exploring. Ideally, such a model would allow these organizations to preserve their investments in the customization, training, etc. related to their existing software while helping to move their data to a safer and ultimately more functional location in the cloud…

We’ll look into the specifics of what that model might include in the next few days. I suspect we may be able to get a few pointers from the online data storage and yes, online document management vendors as well. Until then, cheers! Jim

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