SOA


Mention cloud computing to a business hack and you’re more likely to be given a restraining order than an interview.

“Not cloud computing,” they’ll groan. “But while you’re on the phone, does your client have a life-threatening illness and live in the North-West?”

cloud-vomit

Or something like that. But apart from what’s perceived as massive over-hype, cloud computing’s got real problems. A lot of people don’t know what it means. Even more think it somehow sprang up overnight to save small businesses everywhere, when the reality is that it’s a term describing manifold and incremental changes across decades in how we use IT. The web’s awash with IT companies propagating obfuscating Aascronyms.  But here are the kickers for business – can you feel the bile rising?

Security
It’s pretty clear that companies aren’t going to start whacking up lumping great chunks of mission-critical infrastructure into the “cloud” en masse. They just aren’t going to do it. There are no universal standards in place. And the all-encompassing term “cloud” hides the fact that data is actually stored right here, on Earth – and as Jamie Turner said recently, “you can have as much redundancy as you like at any given site but if it disappears into the San Andreas Fault you’ll be wishing you still had that magic DAT tape.”

The only reason CRM (e.g. Netsuite and Salesforce), for instance, has succeeded in the cloud is because there’s no viable alternative. This has forced people into trying it out. They seem to be happy but nevertheless there has to be a driver for people to take the plunge elsewhere.

Privacy
I’ve already discussed “Twittergate” here.
This is linked to cloud security and there are no concrete answers here either.

Control
This is my favourite. The irony is that often, if you outsource some function to the cloud, the guys who look after that aspect of your business operations actually do a far better job.

They should be specialists in that area, after all. Uptime, for example, is probably considerably better. The only problem, of course, is that when you’re totally in control of your own infrastructure you don’t mind so much about hiccups… you might even discreetly write them off. You might grumble but you won’t start tearing your hair out if something has to go down for a while.

Five minutes of down-time for a cloud-based operation can spell disaster and a reputation in tatters. Businesses need to choose suppliers with a good track record but they also need to accept their lack of control or make sure the service fails over elsewhere in the event of downtime.

Conclusion
“Cloud computing” covers a range of IT practices that really can benefit business. But there are problems, and they need to be addressed intelligently. “Cloud computing” – a dumbed-down blanket term which covers far too many processes – is a phrase which more often than not just gets in the way.

What’s an Aascronym? We’ve all seen them. They keep some IT-types awake at night with annoyance… while others lie awake trying to think what the next one could be. Is it PRaaS? Is it UaaS? Whatever it is, it probably won’t stick.

Not all Aas is Fine Aas
So what’s hot, and what’s not? Which Aascronyms are common currency, and which ones aren’t worth the five seconds it took some small-time software vendor in Belgium to dream up? It’s difficult to formulate any absolutely reliable metric, but I’ve sorted the top ten as-a-service offerings by the current number of Google matches for the term.

server
1. SaaS
Software as a Service; about 2,870,000 Google matches
Software-as-a-Service is the most commonly-known aascronym. It’s no coincidence that it’s also probably the easiest term to understand: it’s simply software such as you would find on a CD, only accessible as a service through the Internet. The standout example in the enterprise space is customer relationship management (CRM) software, with Salesforce and NetSuite both strong offerings. Salesforce has very aggressively promoted its adoption of the tag “Software as a Service” though there are countless examples to be found on the web.

2. PaaS
Platform as a Service; about 1,260,000 Google matches
Platform-as-a-Service providers give developers a starting point from which to develop web applications – and usually an environment in which to sell them. Again, CRM is an easy-to-understand example: both Salesforce and NetSuite’s platform-as-a-service offerings let developers code extensions and sell them to users through the website. In this way a cloud eco-system is created where useful applications float to the top and the actual software-as-a-service application is enriched. (Remember, one of the criticisms of SaaS is its supposed lack of customisation.)

3. DaaS
Data as a Service; about 490,000 Google matches
“Data warehousing as a Service” and “Desktops as a Service” have been put forward as possibilities for “DaaS,” but if the number of Google SERP matches are anything to go by (2,190 and 7,350 respectively) it appears they haven’t caught on. Data-as-a-Service is a huge business need; not only is data and business intelligence becoming ever-important in recession, but the cost of data is generally prohibitive. A new breed of (possibly value-added) data-as-a-service companies are offering access to datasets “as a service,” getting data into applications at once-dreamt-of costs.

4. IaaS
Infrastructure as a Service; about 183,000 Google matches
Infrastructure-as-a-service is the outsourcing of physical infrastructure to the cloud. According to Wikipedia: “Rather than purchasing servers, software, data centre space or network equipment, clients instead buy those resources as a fully outsourced service.” The best-known example is Amazon’s EC2 , or “Elastic Compute Cloud”. The huge advantage with IaaS is the rapidity with which businesses can ramp up their operations – there is less expensive outlay for servers and other equipment.

5. IDaaS
Identity as a Service; about 60,800 Google matches
Identity-as-a-Service aims to devolve user identity and access management into one discrete service. Fischer International are one example of a company with some success in this area. This aascronym might not be used all that much but it’s a solid example of a defined term describing a granular, loosely-coupled function (in other words, a service all in its own right).

6. XaaS
X (anything) as a Service; about 56,000 Google matches
It’s interesting that XaaS isn’t used more. Maybe too many people couldn’t stomach proliferating yet another aascronym purely for the sake of describing aascronyms. XaaS is simply a term for “anything as a service,” coined I believe by Scott Maxwell, whose YouTube video demonstrates the lengths to which the average blogger will go to coin another neologism.

7. EaaS
Everything as a Service; about 44,300 Google matches

See: XaaS.

8. HaaS
Hardware as a Service; about 38,400 Google matches
Hardware-as-a-Service is pretty much the same as Infrastructure-as-a-Service. In fact, type it into Wikipedia and you’ll be redirected to IaaS. This aascronym has probably bitten the dust, pushed out by one of its rivals. I donlt think anyone will be sorry to see it go.

9. AaaS
Anything as a Service; about 33,400 Google matches
See: XaaS.

10. MaaS
Monitoring as a Service; about 14,700 Google matches
We’re really starting to get towards the bottom of the barrel now. I’m losing the will to live.
IT infrastructure monitoring as a service may include vulnerability assessment, log management and intrusion alerting. It doesn’t seem to have caught on so well so it seems that perhaps a lot of companies would rather this was all going on behind the company firewall. My prediction is that upcoming in-house black-box offerings will oust MaaS once and for good. Another problem with MaaS is that it doesn’t lend itself so well to being a granular service in the first place.

The Pretenders

11. CaaS
Communication as a Service; about 10,100 Google matches

We’re at the end of the list now and personally, I think this one is junk. Hasn’t communication pretty much always been offered as a service? Since when did we go out and actually buy phone lines? There’s even a subscription for regular TV. This seems to me to be a term invented by VoIP vendors who are fudging the fact that communication infrastructure has always been provided as a service.The people that are pushing these terms are probably out of luck. Usage is negligible.

These are just as pointless (and noone uses them):
EaaS – Ethernet as a Service
PRaaS – Processes as a Service
UaaS – Uptime as a Service

Conclusion
One trouble with these terms is the inevitability of vendors latching onto a term and remorselessly beating everyone round the head with it until it’s accepted; I could probably be accused of the same thing (in fact, I have!) This is all well and good, but a more worrying habit is the suppression of terms by vendors who have a vested interest in whatever competing aascronym they have trademarked.
Can anyone tell me why DaaS doesn’t have an entry on Wikipedia, while UaaS (Uptime as a Service) and a raft of other equally pointless terms do? I tried correcting the omission myself only to be slapped down by the Wikipedia admins. Ho-hum.

If you have any more aascronyms, please email them to me. I’ll be glad to add to the list. The worse the better.

Data as a Service can empower your business, or help you develop great web apps quickly and easily.

data

Not everybody believes in the validity of the term “data as a service,” but these opinions seem to be held mostly by academics and niche bloggers who are resistant to “yet another –aaS acronym” (which is understandable, I guess). There is still no entry for the term DaaS on Wikipedia.

But whatever you want to call it, the vendors who are leading the charge for this kind of functionality – data on tap as and when you need it, priced affordably – are calling it DaaS, and as far as I’m concerned, they offer the service so they make the rules. Here’s my top 5, unranked:

StrikeIron

strikeiron

http://www.strikeiron.com/

I believe StrikeIron coined the term “Data as a Service,” positioning itself as a supermarket for data. It seems to me that since CEO David Linthicum (link) left the data reseller has lost its way a little – it seems to offer less datasets than it once did – but this may be a sign of the recession and the huge cost that some of these data providers charge for a standard licence. However they still offer a raft of data and claims its IronCloud platform is “the only comprehensive Web services Delivery Platform that opens up new channels for data distribution and consumption through Web services.”

Jigsaw

jigsawhttp://www.jigsaw.com/

Jigsaw is a bit of an unknown factor at the moment. It’s managed to garner quite a bit of interest through its collaborative infrastructure, “open source” credentials and its mission to “map every business on the planet.” This is worth a look, though it’s nowhere near the size and scope of Dun and Bradstreet’s formidable database. What is interesting is that D&B recently announced an alliance of sorts with Jigsaw, with intention to pull Jigsaw’s 12-million-strong contact database into its own 140-million-business-strong records. In this respect Jigsaw has a fairly limited scope as a DaaS company (and I suspect that even its core offering of a complete company contact database will be one puzzle that’s never finished). Nonetheless, what it’s doing and the way it’s going about it is very interesting indeed.

Postcode Anywhere

PCAhttp://www.postcodeanywhere.com/

Postcode Anywhere has a somewhat misleading name for those outside the US (no, they don’t physically post people code, postcode is Britspeak for zipcode). They started in 2000, essentially building auto-fill web services around addressing data and reselling the functionality and data on. The company now offers a far wider range of services than its name suggests, including demographic profiling and route optimisation. What’s interesting is the company is constantly adding to its portfolio of services, so it truly isn’t “just” an address auto-fill company any more, building other data services on its award-winning platform. It is also bringing cloud computing to government with services like AL2Anywhere, a lightweight but powerful GIS tool.

The Web Service

twshttp://www.thewebservice.com/

Cloud expert David Linthicum recently blogged about TheWebService’s innovation in the arena of Data as a Service. The website is about to undergo a radical change from going the StrikeIron route of “data marketplace” to being a developer-centric hub where users can upload their own data and build web services around it. This is similar to Caspio’s offering; developers can upload their data in Excel or CSV format and TheWebService will host it (this is called “MyTables”). What’s more interesting, though, and what Linthicum noted recently, is the ability to securely bypass your company’s firewall and build web services around *live* data, pumping it from your local machine and through TheWebService’s interface, with auto-generated code making it easy to build web services around your own live data.

TheWebService will be showing off a redesign soon (first pre-release design below) and anyone looking to beta-test the service should email philr@thewebservice.com.

Caspio

caspiohttp://www.caspio.com/

Caspio Bridge is very similar to TheWebService’s MyTables offering, with blogger Bill Ives commending its “flexibility, power, and ease of use.” Network World says it is “polished, performs well, and is competitively priced.” A system designed so you can build web services around your own data, it might not be as technologically accomplished as TheWebService (there is no functionality for building services around dynamic data) it’s certainly easy to get a handle on what they’re offering. Fees are fixed monthly bills, with different caps on the data transfer, according to the pricing plan, as opposed to TheWebService’s pay-as-you-go rates, so users have a choice there too.

In conclusion…

These top 5 all have something different to offer the cloud developer who wants to build in some extra functionality to their website or app. The beauty about Data as a Service is that the price of getting data into the end-user application is typically very low indeed; as companies embrace cloud computing these new ways to empower business quickly, easily and affordably offer a shining light at the end of the tunnel of recession. It’s not just Amazon, Google and Microsoft’s Azure that are making the enterprise cloud interesting. I’m affiliated with Postcode Anywhere and TheWebService, so I know all about the cool stuff they have to offer – and through research/experience I know of a few others – but if you have any more DaaS vendors you’d like to see in an updated blog post just email them to me and I’ll put them on a new list soon.

New design for TheWebService website…

TWS-screenshot

As you can see there will be more of an emphasis on developers hosting their own data, as well as the many benefits of MyTables and MyFeeds. It’s not finished yet (as the placeholder “jellyfox” text indicates) but it should make it a lot easier for developers to get to grips with TWS’s powerful functionality. Remember, it will be open for beta testing soon so email philr@thewebservice.com to get on board.

The latest Twitter controversy surrounding the blog, the hacker and the cloud vendor isn’t disturbing – just inevitable. By now anybody with an iota of interest in cloud computing will know what this story is about. Many people are probably damning Google for their ” lack of security.” But hang on here. Aren’t people being quite cavalier with their data? The other day I refused to give my own partner my PIN… but as I write, it’s happily stored somewhere as a draft on GMail. That really doesn’t make sense.

Hell, I trust the cloud more than I trust myself

Who’s really to blame? I don’t think it’s black-and-white. Frankly, as a rule I trust some company I know nothing about  a  lot more than I trust myself. I leave my passwords lying around on the desktop. I write my PIN on a scrap of paper and keep it in my wallet next to my debit card (nobody’s fooled by the fact I’ve made it look like a phone number). I’m lazy and useless – and I suspect most people out there are too. However, I think cloud vendors have a responsibility to make sure they compensate for users’ inadequacies.

Keeping sensitive data in the cloud isn’t “probably going to happen” – for consumers, it’s been happening for years – the big vendors just need to pull their finger out. At the moment, if you get stung by a lack of cloud security you’ll just be told:

“Only a dribbling buffoon leaves all their valuable data in the cloud.”

While it’s true that simple passwords were used – and in this respect Google is relatively blameless – there really ought to be more safeguards in place so people are forced to at least set more secure passwords. This is a must if the  business cloud is going to expand from web services and utilities into other areas such as secure data hosting.

Jamie Turner, UK cloud computing evangalist and IT Director of TheWebService, has this to say:

Cloud storage, just like Esperanto and the Sinclair C5, is a concept that makes sense… almost.

Having access to your data anywhere in the world from any device is an incredibly powerful thing. The scope is huge, enabling much wider usage and new possibilities, most of which haven’t even been thought of yet.

The problem is, making your calendar universally available in the cloud is a very different thing to placing business-critical company and customer information out there – especially financial information. Despite the significant business drivers that may promote this approach – scalability, agility and all the things that basically remove the inertia that blights most IT departments – security’s still the show-stopping concern.

There are too many questions, and too few answers. What control do we really have over data once it’s up there? What’s the physical security of the data centre? Where is the data centre? Are there cross-border legal issues with hosting the data overseas or in territories with ‘incompatible’ legislative environments? What if you need to destroy data – is that even possible? Then we need to consider the availability of the data: what if the cloud provider folds or they’re taken over by an overseas organisation? If there’s a catastrophic data centre failure, what’s the recovery time? Do they even back things up or just hope that a single data centre will always be safe? It’s a glib but important question – you can have as much redundancy as you like at any given site but if it disappears into the San Andreas Fault you’ll be wishing you still had that magic DAT tape. Are we blindly throwing data into the sky in the hope it will stay safe? Ultimately, this is the big problem with storing sensitive data in the cloud – at least for now: there are just no convincing answers to any of these questions.

So let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater – this problem just needs to be addressed, fast.

Despite the huge announcement of this cloud computing development platform last week, the blogoshpere has been relatively quiet.  Now we’ve had a little time to reflect, what does Windows Azure really mean for cloud computing?  What will it mean for the future of web and software development, as well as the future of computing?

If you are so inclined, you can read a lot of glossy bumf in the Windows Azure factsheet which doesn’t really tell you a great deal.  One key message to take from it, however, is this one:

Windows Azure is an open platform that will support both Microsoft and non-Microsoft languages and environments.

It will certainly be easier for software developers to make cloud-based applications.  Not only that, but there will finally be some kind of universal standard for the development of all things web-based. This is exactly what we were discussing a few weeks ago – if cloud computing is going to support mass adoption (and I think it will) then Microsoft has made a massive coup and “leapfrogged” the market again. A cross-environment cloud computing platform from Microsoft is just what the doctor ordered.

Concerns

Putting cloud computing into the spotlight means that Microsoft will inevitably draw fire from the doubters and conspiracy theorists.  These sorts of comments are highlighted as being all the more ridiculous when we read on message boards things like: “Call me paranoid, but all I see in the ‘cloud’ is a future of oppressive information oligarchs. No silver lining to this one methinks” (that from the PC Pro forum) and less intense comments like: “Keep control of your data… keep it on your own desktop!” (Times Online feedback)

Call me paranoid, but all I see in the ‘cloud’ is a future of oppressive information oligarchs.

As ever, most of the negatives come fom people who don’t really know what they’re talking about.  The unknown breeds fear and the idea of having your personal data looked after by someone in some ethereal and indiscrete “cloud” gives some people the willies if they think about it for too long.  But this is this no more a leap of faith than storing data electronically on your own system rather than physically in a notepad or book.

There is also the question of where this leaves Windows 7.  What will it look like?  With all this emphasis on the cloud and fallout from Vista (perceived as needlessly flabby and clumsy) we can expect Windows 7 to be a stripped-down, cleaner on-site operating system.  But will this deter users from using open-source alternatives like Linux for their earth-bound operating system, which may increasingly come to be used for the sole purpose of booting up the computer and managing on-system resources?  If Microsoft plays its cards right, they should squeeze out as much revenue as possible from what may be their last few user-hosted operating systems packages.  And if Windows 7 proves to be stable, lean and reliable, there may never be the mass switch to Linux that some industry insiders predict.  We should remember that XP is so old it is quickly becoming a “legacy” OS, and yet according to Wikipedia, “as of the end of September 2008, Windows XP is the most widely used operating system in the world with a 69% market share, having peaked at 85% in December 2006.”

There may never be the switch to Linux that some insiders predict

This also begs the question of what OS Microsoft will be running on their own servers.  But you can bet it will a simple and stable one.

Another concern centres around cloud computing as a whole.  Ray Ozzie, then man who replaced Bill Gates as Microsft’s chief software architect, says Azure is “a new tier in our industry’s computing architecture” – and for some, this is exactly the problem: more layers mean more code, and more tangled spaghettis of communication across tiers, which this blogger explains here.

Conclusion

Ultimately, this Windows offering can only be a good thing.  With the Microsoft juggernaut firmly behind cloud computing, the only way is up.

Richard Geary, Senior Developer for Postcode Anywhere, said: “This is going to be big.  Very big.  People said before the launch of .NET ‘bah, it’ll never catch on, Microsoft are being weird’ – and look at where it is now.  Remember, this is Microsoft we’re talking about.  If you want a platform for mass adoption, Microsoft have the magic.”

I’ve already waxed economical (if you’ll forgive the pun) about the credit crunch and SOA, and the benefits to web services companies.

More proof, if it were needed, that SaaS and SOA will not only escape the jaws of the impending recession, Houdini-like, but will actually flourish as business looks to trim the fat and adopt more lean business practices, comes from Devnet:

Gartner released its review of Software-As-A-Service on the 20th October 2008, and it outlined that SAAS sales for the enterprise market are predicted to surpass $6.4 billion this calendar year.  The report noted that market is just starting to feel the tightening of corporate budgets, which could mean a spending drop as the economy moves towards a gloomy 2009.  But products such as Google Apps continue to remain strong and have seen an uplift in countries such as Australia.

The Gartner SAAS report outlines that the market has grown 27% since 2007, and with the market expecting to double by 2012.  The SAAS revenue will top $14.8 billion as companies move towards spending less on servers, storage and related IT equipment.  SAAS suites such as Google Apps Premier Edition will account for 9% of software revenue by 2012 and will continue to coexist with installed applications such as Microsoft Office and Lotus Notes.

A number of SAAS solutions are popular because they are “freeware” but these applications are not a bulk of SAAS sales.  The second largest segment of the SAAS enterprise market is Customer Relationship Management “CRM” software such as SalesForce.com, SugarCRM & NetSuite.

Based on current trends, Gartner expects worldwide software markets to grow at around 10% through to 2012, and in worst case scenario 9.4%.

If anything, an economic downturn could be the catalyst SOA has needed for more widespread adoption.

E-marketers are missing an opportunity to tell the world how eco-friendly they are

In the SOA industry – infact, any industry that operates at all “in the cloud”, being “green” is a differentiator that can swing business your way. In this digital world where price plays such a huge part in purchasing habits – whether B2C or B2B – it actually gives you an opportunity to up-sell your SaaS services.

While observers in other sectors predict eco-friendliness becoming so ubiquitous it ceases to be a viable USP, the digital world has remained remarkably resistant to being more sustainable.

I caught up with Guy Mucklow, managing director of UK-based web services company Postcode Anywhere, who I (obviously) work closely with and who is an advocate of being green and the green marketing that goes with it: “This shouldn’t be about ‘greenwashing’ – the deplorably cynical business of claiming everything you do is green, indiscriminately, in order to win a few customers cheaply,” he tells me, taking a break from typing.

“Most digital businesses are naturally going to be greener than their traditional counterparts: if we consider e-commerce, for instance, there are less vehicle miles, lower inventory requirements (pre-selling means lower production of obsolete goods), less printed materials, less packaging and altogether less waste made than with traditional businesses.

“The fuel emissions saved by switching to online grocery shopping is estimated at between 18-87%[1] – pretty impressive! So why not tell everyone about it? Because there’s a problem… it’s just not quite enough to say ‘we operate online, we’re green, buy from us.’ It’s pretty lame and certainly not a differentiator if your competition is mostly other companies operating in cyberspace.

“But it’s pretty easy to go that extra distance. Look at other organisations, especially (dare I say it), the public sector. What about carbon-offsetting your website at www.carbon-neutral-website.org ? And if you’re not sold on the benefits of carbon-offsetting, why not switch to a green energy provider?

“Remember: no greenwash! These changes can’t happen overnight and it’s a sensible idea to spend a day drafting up an eco-plan listing all the areas that can be improved and imposing a sensible timescale on achieving them.

“That’s what we’re doing at Postcode Anywhere. We’re already virtually paperless and more changes are on the way. And it fits in with our corporate culture – one of our latest services is a route optimiser that can cut haulage companies’ petrol usage by 30%.

“In fact, excessive fuel consumption is one of the stumbling blocks for e-commerce’s green appeal – if there’s a tangible product to be delivered, they mess it up on the last leg by plotting lousy delivery routes.

“If all the small-medium haulage businesses (who generally aren’t as green as the big players) used our route optimisation, we would see a 13 million ton drop in CO2 emissions every year – more than twice the yearly emissions of Teesside power plant.

“So that’s something to think about too. If you run a large e-commerce company you might want to consider taking the plunge and going with an established software company that offers route optimisation like FleetRoute. For the smaller companies, we have developed a pay-per-use product at Postcode Anywhere which typically costs a few pence per use – opening up route optimisation to everyone. It’s green and it will save you serious money as well.

“There’s so much you can do. You can get free water saving save-a-flush bags from Severn Trent (stick them in your cistern and the job’s done!) and you might be able to get free energy efficient light bulbs from Warwickshire Energy Efficient Advice Centre (WEEAC ) – visit their website at www.weeac.org for advice. And what about working from home where possible? It saves petrol and is very viable for web-based businesses.

“In short, making genuine changes to the way your digital business operates should be a lot easier than it is in other sectors. You’ll help the environment. You’ll offer a more attractive product or service. Going green is a no-brainer. All you need to do then is tell people about it!”

Information on Postcode Anywhere’s affordable route optimisation software is available at their website.


[1] Source: Siikavirta, H, Punakivi, M., Karkkainen, M and Linnanen, L. (2005) Effects of E-Commerce on Greenhouse Gas Emissions, A Case Study of Grocery Home Delivery in Finland. Journal of Industrial Ecology, Vol 6, No 2, 83-97.

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