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.

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.

What is cloud computing?

This isn’t another quick-start guide to cloud computing and Service-Oriented Architecture (though you can follow that link to get to one); it’s an investigation into what people are searching for on Google.  So what are the top terms for Cloud computing?  It’s no surprise that “what is cloud computing?” is near the top of the list.  Braving Google’s wrath by my apparent keyword spamming, here they are:

cloud computing
ibm cloud computing
what is cloud computing
microsoft cloud computing
cloud computing wiki/wikipedia
elastic computing cloud
cloud based computing
cloud computing definition
cloud computing services
cloud computing market
cloud computing security
computing in the cloud
cloud computing conference
cloud computing software
define cloud computing
gartner cloud computing
sun cloud computing
cloud computing blog
cloud computing solution
free cloud computing
cloud computing uk

So what does this tell us about people’s relationship to cloud computing?  Well, you can’t really tell unless you know how many people are performing the searches.  Surprisingly, Google tells us that while 27,100 people per month searched for “cloud computing”, only 480 per month asked the question “what is cloud computing?” … and from there, the numbers trail off quickly to just a trickle of people making searches on the terms lower down.

So does this mean that people are really quite savvy with the concept of SOA?  I don’t think so.  I think the 27,100 figure is significant, and that many of the people performing this most basic search are in fact looking for a definition of cloud computing.  The fact that the search pattern is so grossly top-heavy, with not so much a long tail of minor searches as a long dribble tells me that people either have a vague idea of the term, or they’ve never heard of it at all.

Is this surprising?  Perhaps it should be, because cloud computing has been around for longer than a lot of people think.  (And I am talking about the current set of “buzzwords”, not reflecting on how “computing’s come full circle” with these new but old concepts of dumb terminals etc.)

Perhaps the main problem is that there are just too many terms flying about.  Let’s try and categorize them all:

Cloud Computing
“in the cloud”
Service Oriented Architecture (SOA)
Web Services
Software as a Service (SaaS)
Platform as a Service (PaaS)
Data as a Service (DaaS)
SOAP
WSDL (or even wisdl)

I think these are the core components of the terminology attached to SOA and cloud computing.  Actually, looking at them, they don’t look too bad.  That’s when they’ve been roughly sorted into some kind of conceptual order though.  Mix ’em up and introduce them to the uninitiated and it starts to look worse.  The biggest problem, though, is that nobody’s terribly sure what all of these acronyms and even backronyms are supposed to stand for.  Take DaaS – it could mean any of:

Data as a Service
Database as a Service
Data Warehousing as a Service
Desktop as a Service

It’s also a Belgian beer.  Now this uncertainty of what all these terms are actually supposed to mean is not exactly helping people get things straight in their minds.  And worse, the terms all interlink in one horrible mess.  I’ve tried to straighten things out a little with this diagram:

Web services, SOA, DaaS, SaaS and PaaS

Cloud computing diagram: Web services, SOA, DaaS, SaaS and PaaS

But really it’s the opposing forces of everyone trying to peddle their own definitions that causes many of these problems in the first place.  Not that I’m going to desist… of course, my terms are the correct ones.  I mean, let’s look at the tangled web of saying DaaS means “desktop as a service”: It’s a desktop as a service.  Which makes it also a platform as a service.  It’s also a kind of operating system as a service (I guess they’re trying to appease the pedants by veering away from calling it an OS as a service) as well as a manner of software as a service.  Hang on… it’s everything!!  It can fit into all the categories.  These terms slide over each other like Venn diagrams of doom, tectonic plates set to annihilate each other with obfuscation.

So let’s just stick with the diagram for the terms SaaS DaaS and PaaS and call it a desktop delivered as a web service.  That’s not confusing.  Order is restored.

Tomorrow I might take a little look at some other popular search terms and try and see where they fit into the picture.  I’ll also be establishing a comprehensive lexicon that is transparent and easy for everyone to get a handle on.  In the meantime, I would be interested to hear about people’s definitions of the various acronyms flying around out there.

Linux is the answer if cloud computing & Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) is going to work… this open-source operating system is the future of SOA & cloud computing.  Let’s present the argument:

Microsoft knows what it’s doing with SOA and Vista

Traditional operating systems will be dead in a few years.   they’ll be killed by service-oriented architecture.  That’s what my money’s on and if you think I’m a rabid Web 2.0 nutcase then you can’t see the bigger picture.  Microsoft have realised it.  In fact, that may (somewhat ironically) be one of the reasons Vista was such a retrograde step in opening up Web 2.0: Microsoft wants to milk us for as much as possible, and the best short-term plan is to positively hold back cloud computing & SOA for as long as possible.  They know Service Oriented Architecture is coming, but as the biggest player by far in the exisiting OS market, why accelerate its growth?  It makes sense to stave it off as long as possible and rely on a business model that they know works.

The reason Microsoft is starting to come round now is that while they don’t wish to accelerate the advance of cloud computing (and miss out on flogging us Windows 7, 8, 9 & 10 for our very earth-based desktops) they want to be the first to the table once a certain tipping point has reached and cloud computing is not only inevitable but immediately forseeable.

Imagine a dog.  This dog has knocked a big butcher’s block off the kitchen table, and two big hunks of steak have fallen off.  One steak is within reach, so he sits there and starts work on it.  The other steak has landed on the other side of the room.  Now, he’s not the only dog in the house.  There’s another one upstairs.  This dog upstairs has heard the commotion and starts coming down.  Now does the first dog immediately rush off to defend the second steak before the first dog gets there?  No.  He’s got enough time, so he wolfs down the steak he’s got before doing an about-turn and pouncing on the second steak, before the second dog gets there.

OK… this is a very laboured and imperfect analogy: the first steak is the existing operating systems and software market, the second the cloud computing and web services market.  The first dog is Microsoft and the second represents its competitors.

The Future of SOA, SaaS DaaS and PaaS

As I forecast in this post, one sensible (but shocking) strategy for Microsoft is to “leap-frog” the market and invest heavily in cloud-based “operating systems” platforms and use this “operating system” to roll out software-as-a-service.  There will be a place for wholly deskbound solutions (late adopters – mostly home users) but this market will be a fraction of what it is now.  I predict Microsoft will concentrate their development on the platform in the cloud and stop pushing their desktop operating systems so hard.  Why?  Because more and more people will be running Linux.  It’s free, and it’s becoming more and more widely supported.  Why should people invest in two operating systems? They won’t.  They’ll use Linux to boot up their computer and use a cloud-based system to interface with software, their desktop, etc.  But it’s going to be messy.  Some people will be running Linux, some Apple, and some will be using Microsoft’s latest home OS.  But the real future is in the cloud and whoever can create the most ubiquitous, one-size-fits-all solution will dominate the market.  Remember, we’ve already seen it with Microsoft and Windows: by leaving the hardware to others (which was seen as a ghastly mistake at the time), Microsoft made an awesome coup in the OS and thus software market.  It scored twice by capturing a platform: it sold the OS and could roll out the software too.  Now Microsoft, if they have any sense, will concentrate less on the earth-bound operating systems market for everyone to fight over and concentrate on making a solution in the cloud.  It should stop beating us round the face with more bulky additions, millions of add-ons and lines of code in its OSes and give us a neat, trimmed-down, lean, super-fast desktop OS that hooks into the real delivery system – the OS in the cloud.  But the OS in the cloud is where the real money will be made because more and more people will switch to Linux – and eventually Microsoft’s earth-based OS business will dry up.

Linux users need to get their heads out of their asses

There’s something about Unix users.  They’re often too clever for their own good.  They’re often smug.  They’re always bloody clever.  They’re a part of a club and often like to look down on the people who use Windows: the double-clickers, the Office buyers, the Wizard users.  Unix users like to have a relationship with their computer.  It’s more personal.  They’re probably built their computer themselves.  I have a suspicion that many Linux users are pleased that it’s more troublesome to use for the average user.  It keeps the riff-raff out of the club.

Here’s the opinion of one Linux user, Scott:

I am sorry, but the Linux world has got to get over the “geekie-ness” and get something out that is for the users. Yes, you can build it, customize it, make your own distro for all it’s worth. The bottom line is that people want an OS that runs the software and hardware they use.

I am an avid Linux and long time Mac user and I have to say, I feel like I am fighting with the OS much of the time. Getting drivers to work is just one of my pet peeves. Yes I can spend my time figuring it out on google, but why? Say what you want, but I can boot up OS X or Windows and they all work (software and/or hardware)…..and you do not need to be a “geek” to get them to work. OS X is what Linux should aspire to be….simple, powerful, easy to use, with enough play under the hood to satisfy any geek.

We can say…virus free, runs on old hardware, and “I do not bow to the MS empire” all you want…but the bottom line is that Linux does not work or run the software or hardware people want….in the home or business. If it did, do you not think more people would be using it?

What I do find funny is that the Linux/OpenSource community may have bigger ego’s and heads that Mac users.

Well, Linux users may take umbrage at my sweeping generalizations, and some may argue that it’s not in their interests to become mainstream anyway (they’re happy as they are) but as I see it, a chance for Linux to come into the mainstream is a major opportunity for a great OS – after all, what’s irritating for existing users of Linux at the moment?  Lack of support from hardware manufacturers, that’s what.  Getting drivers that work.  It’s not mainstream so it’s not supported, so users have to pointlessly wait around for the community to hack the problem.  Adoption by the mainstream would eliminate this problem.  The community would grow.  Linux would be the ultimate King of the operating System.  It’s free so it would become pre-installed on all systems.  People who wanted to “upgrade” to Windows would become fewer and fewer.

Windows users need to get their heads out of their asses

There is a great culpability attached to Windows.  OK, things might go wrong, but you’ve always got someone to blame.  In fact, it’s become almost a sport.  It doesn’t really matter if they can solve your problem or not (which is, I suppose, a good job); the point is it’s Not Your Fault.  With Unix, you have no-one to blame but yourself for choosing the bloody stupid free stuff in the first place.  In this sense, there is a problem.  As I see it, the solution is one of these:

a) Retailers offer Linux customer support (but they won’t know what the hell they’re talking about)
b) Hardware manufacturers offer customer support (Massively unlikely)
c) Businesses are set up that offer a flashy front-end to Unix and charge a nominal fee… mostly for customer support

Asking the community is not enough for the late majority onward: they want a number to ring.  A figure head to hate.  Someone to Blame.  They’ve never been sure of computers and they pretty much need that.

Service Oriented Architecture: Exisiting Open-Source Solutions

Take a look here for some discussion on gOS 3.

Advances are being made and for me, the future of SOA, software, data and platforms as a service is very clear.  As ever, I heartily recommend taking a look at The Web Service website to have a look at some of the possibilities of Data as a Service and cloud computing.

As ever we’ll continue to look at Service-Oriented Architecture: Software as a Service, Data as a Service and Platform as a Service on this blog… if only to ask the pernenial question: “What is Service Oriented Architecture?!”

Microsoft seem keen to embrace Web 2.0 and Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA), despite the fact it’s bungled opportunities for innovation in the past.

Microsoft have made a few statements recently that suggest SaaS and SOA are on its mind, whisperings like this abound and finally a couple of days ago Microsoft stopped being coy about its plans and made a statement.

With Microsoft wading in, does this mean we have to take cloud computing seriously?  I think it does.  What does this have to do with the inability to right-click in Microsoft’s development platform Silverlight?  Why do I randomly bring that one up?  We’ll discuss that later.

I’m going to take you back a few years to illustrate why Microsoft has hit the ball out of the park by taking cloud computing seriously.

Back in the day, most people thought Apple had a good thing going with its market-leading hardware and operating system:

Apple's model

Apple

If people wanted the Operating System, they had to buy into the Mac – and vice-versa.  What could possibly go wrong?  Well we all know what did go wrong for Apple:

Microsoft's model

Microsoft

By positioning itself primarily as an Operating System and Software manufacturer, Microsoft pulled off its now infamous coup de grace: allowing other vendors to supply the hardware increased competition and drove down the price of the hardware.  If you wanted a cheap computer, you didn’t buy an Apple.  So you ended up tied to Microsoft’s operating system and got sold its software, which rapidly became ubiquitous.  Microsoft leap-frogged Apple, positioned itself higher up the food chain and strangled Apple in the process.

Microsoft have had that smug grin on their face ever since.  The one company that’s made that smile waver is Google:

Google's model

Google

The Internet was another rung on the ladder – Microsoft anticipated it but despite successes with their Internet Explorer browser failed to capture the hearts of Internet users after Google scored a sneaky goal by dominating the search market.  There’s enough room in the system for Apple to have a place on the bottom, and there’s more than enough for Microsoft higher up, but Google had now decisively leapfrogged Microsoft.  Despite still wearing that smug grin, Microsoft has been irritated at Google’s share of the expanding market; it does not want to be left behind.  Which is why this has made them a bit happier:

Google's market

Google

It’s made them happier because it hasn’t really worked.  Google have tried to extend their presence into more cloud computing services and they’ve pretty much failed.  Sure, web-based mail has been succesful, but everyone’s got a piece of that and it’s more of a utility than a way of life; a few scattered tools on the web hardly look to challenge Microsoft’s domination of the operating system and software market and neither do they look like much of a missed opportunity (yet).

The whole point of having a platform is that you can use it to roll out your real money-spinners.  Apple used their Mac platform to roll out their OS.  Microsoft used their OS to roll out their software.  Google has dominated the Internet platform with its search engine, but the nature of the technology means that Google can’t use it to sell people anything else.  It earns vast revenue itself through advertising, sure, but Google wants more.  And why not?  It would be the equivalent of Microsoft saying: “Sure, we’ve built Windows, and that makes enough money – let’s not bother trying to sell people Word.”

This is why Google took the natural step and tried selling people on Google apps.  But the problem is that their tools are treated more like fanciful games by most Internet users, not the integral way of life that software like the Office suite has become.  So where does the problem lie?  The problem is with the Internet; it’s too big, Internet users aren’t loyal and they surf about like gadflies.  Google might control it but it’s not really a platform for rolling out web services; it’s too diaphanous.  There is a solution, but it’s difficult to grasp it.  This is the model that had slowly been appearing in the minds of Microsoft and Google:

The Future?

The Future?

(Of course I have over-simplified here: cloud computing will not kill traditional software and Operating Systems, but I believe it will reduce their share of the market considerably.)

Just like the Windows operating system crystallised a bunch of messy code in the minds of users with a user interface that then made software accessible, so a web-based OS should organise the mess of the web into something manageable for the average user.  And it will be a real platform for rolling out web services.

Of course, we’re talking about a conceptual operating system here: users will still need something to boot up their PC!  The way we’re moving, however, it looks like the user-interface and backbone that drives the software will be web-based.  It makes sense.

Isn’t that just an internet browser?  Well, not really.  Google’s Chrome seems developed with web services in mind, with all its accoutrements and javascript powerhouse, but it’s not exactly revolutionary, and neither is it an operating system to drive SaaS applications.

Microsoft are going to try and do to themselves what they did to Apple: leapfrog the market, leave the market free beneath them and thus open up competition below to channel more consumers up the funnel towards their new base.

Something that tells me very strongly that they have this in mind?  The inability to right-click in Silverlight!  If Microsoft are so keen to be a part of Cloud Computing, why have they irritated every programmer in the land by making right-clicks ineffective? (The developers at The Web Service are not happy.  Typical quote:

Why have they disabled right click when Mac users make up 5% of the computing population and only 5% of those have a one-button mouse?  You might as well deliver software to everyone as a book because not everyone has a computer!

Well, it might seem a bit bizarre at first, but this is what I reckon:

Microsoft want to make their cloud computing platform and software as accessible to as many Internet users as is humanly possible, even if that means limiting the applications.

Why?  Simple: They plan on leap-frogging once again, this time into the cloud, and they know they will leave behind their earth-based operating system.  Like they did before, they will move up a level, make a cloud-based operating system that is accessible to all, and will gain mass adoption.   People will abandon Windows XP, Vista and whatever earth-bound incarnation of Windows 7 is around.  They’ll most probably use Linux instead (it will be one hell of a lot cheaper); all the stuff they’ll be interested in, the UI, cuddly bits and what makes their web-based software work will be fed to them through the cloud.

Microsoft knows they’re having to move house and wants to be sure of capturing the new market further up the ladder before the old one decays and withers away.  So they’re trying to do what they did with Windows and make their first steps into a cloud-based OS ubiquitous by letting as many people as possible hook into it.  Then, once more, they’ll be unmoveable.

Maybe that’s too much to read into from one functionality problem with Silverlight, but this sort of thing never stopped Columbo.

Service Oriented Architecture: what is SOA?  And what are SaaS, DaaS and PaaS?

There’s a lot of unnecessary bumf out there at the moment and a bucketload of people who are sounding off about Service Oriented Architecture … unfortunately, most of them don’t know their SaaS from their PaaS, their PaaS from their SOA and their DaaS from their PaaS.

Hopefully I know my SaaS from my elbow so I’m going to try and bring together what some observers have said and add my own take on it; I’ll also try to avoid any corporate nonsense words and PAINSINTHEASS (The P and the A stand for Pointless Acronyms, you can dream up what the rest stand for…)

Hopefully, I shouldn’t have to explain too much as this diagram should help: (by the way, feel free to use the diagram if you want but please include a link back to this blog 🙂 )

DaaS, SaaS and PaaS

Service Oriented Architecture: DaaS, SaaS and PaaS

So here’s the run-down:

We’ll start from the bottom and work our way up.

Data as a Service is the outsourcing of data management.  Someone “in the cloud” hosts the data you need.  This can be:

  • “Public” Data, e.g. Geographic Coordinates, Business Data from Dun & Bradstreet, Addresses etc.
  • “Private” Data, e.g. your company’s personnel files, stocktakes, questionnaire results, whatever.

This Data as a Service may give you access to information like Dun & Bradstreet’s Business Data without you having to sell half your stock to use it.  In this respect people offering Data as a Service are like middle-men; they buy the licence for the information and let you use it for a reduced rate.

With private data, the incentive to take the data-hosting outside of your company’s hallowed walls is that the DaaS service provider will probably offer some way to hook software or interfaces up to your data more easily than if you had to fiddle with a SQL server.  So in short it stops your hands getting grubby with too much development.

I hope you’re still with me!  Now we move on to…

Software as a Service, or SaaS, which is the outsourcing of software.  Someone “in the cloud” has built a nifty piece of software and is hosting it on their server.  If you want to use it, rather than offering you a download or mailing you a CD, they let you use the software as a service: you subscribe to the software rather than “buy” it outright.

It’s the perfect partner for DaaS: one service company could both host the software you need to use and host the data that it uses: for instance, it could host address data (zip/postal codes etc.), as well as the software that hooks into this data – an intuitive data-lookup tool and form-filler, for instance.

A Platform as a Service is an effective way to roll out all these bits of software that people are making.  If a company has invested a lot of time, effort and money into developing a piece of software, they want to send it out into the world as quickly and efficiently as possible.  And with so many people out there making so much software, end-users like to have them delivered over familiar platforms.

Here’s a great example: look at Facebook and all of the programs you can add into it: poker, friend wheels, vampire games, etc.  Facebook is the platform; those cute little games are the software.  Imagine all those little games set up on their own websites… would you ever use them?  Would you even know about them?  The thinking behind a platform as a service is sound.  If anyone needs any more convincing, look at Scrabulous: after existing solely on its own website, attracting a (not unhealthy) 20,000 users, the application was launched on Facebook in 2007.  On the Facebook platform, it attracted nearly a million devotees, with 500,000 people playing daily.  Ultimately, though, Scrabulous had to be taken off Facebook for copyright infringement!  I doubt whether it still has 500,000 active users.

In the world of business enterprise, Salesforce.com offers a Customer Relations Management (CRM) platform that software as a service vendors can plug their applications into.

In the Software-and-Platform-as-a-Service model, the end user is divorced from the development of the application.  They probably don’t think for a second about how the service they use was developed and delivered to them; they just plug in and play.  But!  There’s more than one way to skin a cat.  As well as delivering their software through a familiar platform, software developers can offer their applications up for mashups.

A note on Mashups

If the end-user has the technical know-how, they can bundle up several bits of software together to make a new product with, say, a familiar interface.  They may wish to use this mashup themselves, or they may even wish to offer the mashup to others through their website.

A great example of this is Google Maps.  Let’s consider this scenario: a services company buys geographic data and offers it to users on a subscription basis (Data as a Service).  They develop basic hosted software that plans a route along roads from this data and offer this up too (Software as a Service).  Now, the user can choose to mashup this software with Google Maps to make a visual representation of the route the software plans.  Or they can create a mashup from any other programs out there; perhaps they don’t like Google Maps and choose to plug it into MultiMap instead.  Whatever.

So that’s a run-down of DaaS, SaaS and PaaS, as well as a mention for Mashups.

DaaS, SaaS and PaaS are all web services.  As has been explained, they are all services rolled out over the web.

This leaves Service-Oriented Architecture, or SOA.  In short, SOA is how any or all of these web services operate and interact.  The name, really, is quite self-explanatory.  SOA is not software, it’s not a computer, it’s not the internet and it’s not your neighbour’s dog.  It’s just a way of describing how the web services DaaS, SaaS and PaaS work together in a system.  To quote Bradley F. Shimmin (Principal Analyst of Application Infrastructure, Current Analysis LLC):

SOA is all about how software is structured and SaaS is all about how software is used.

The clue’s in the word “architecture” really, isn’t it…?  If we were talking about a house, we wouldn’t assume “architecture” to mean a brick, or a window.  “Architecture” is not specifically any of these things, but it is all of these things: it’s how the discrete individual elements form a whole.  To take the house analogy further, we could take Data-as-a-Service to be the foundations of a Service-Oriented Architecture; Software-as-a-Service is there with the bricks; The Platform-as-a-Service could be the housing estate the house is built on and marketed through.  If we were going to get needlessly complex we could say that SOAP and WSDL were like the mortar gluing the house together, but I said we’d stray away from PAINSINTHEASS.

So SOA is the term for the whole picture.

Of course, to make things a little bit more tricky, the architecture is seldom completely service-oriented.  Perhaps I subscribe to geographic data-as-a-service but build my own in-house software (say, a store locator wizard).  Or maybe I buy my data as a one-off acquisition on a CD (say, a list of local businesses), host the data on a MySQL server, but to use the data in an application (say I want to have a “local business lookup” feature on my website), subscribe to a software service (with perhaps a pay-per-lookup pricing model).  Both can be seen as having a Service-Oriented Architecture, but of course not every step on the road to delivering something to the end-user has to be provided as a service.

I hope this little rundown helps.

Here are some of the advantages of SaaS and DaaS.