Disappointed with the cloud?

12 10 2011

A recent eBizQ question has sparked this post, essentially it asked “Why are so many disappointed with the cloud?”, and this question was based on the fact that few organisations have made the move to the cloud, and those that have, many are stating they are disappointed with the results…So why would you be disapoointed? After all, it does what it says on the tin…

 

Cloud variants

A big problem is what do people mean when they say the “cloud”? If we take a look at the big players here, Amazon, Microsoft and Google, we see 3 different interpretations. Amazon deliver IaaS, which is Infrastructure as a Service. So essentially they deliver you an infrastructure for you to leverage as you please. This is very different to Microsoft’s Azure take on things, in which Azure delivers PaaS – Platform as a Service. Think of IaaS as your physical servers, all connected with nothing on them, and think of PaaS as physical servers, but running the server OS. Essentially Azure is the operating
system for the “cloud”.

Unfortunately, “cloud” is a very broad and “loose” description, so organisations must understand what type of “cloud” they are leveraging or buying into.

 

Expectations…

First off, let’s remember that the “Cloud” isn’t a solution, it’s just another platform. As a company you didn’t purchase Microsoft Windows Sever and expect it to solve all your IT needs did you? The “cloud” is a platform, nothing more, and yet as a platform it has capabilities that just aren’t available anywhere else.

Convenience, or something more?

Some argue that Cloud can be seen as IT convenience, which is true to an extent. If you view the cloud as nothing more than convenience, then you will no doubt also argue that the cloud makes far more sense to small organisations, as opposed to mature companies that have invested heavily in data centres – effectively providing them with cloud like capabilities. In many cases this is
very true, I myself have written posts illustrating reasons why the “cloud” is not applicable to some companies or IT solutions. Yet, “cloud” is more than just convenience, it’s about scalability, availability, reduced administration and reduced IT overheads. If you are a mature organisation, then no doubt your data centre will be specified to meet your maximum demands placed on it, as it
has to. For most of the time this means you have a lot of “spare capacity” and in effect, are wasting money. With the “cloud” and especially PaaS, you only pay for what capacity you need at that time. So you can quickly scale to meet demand peeks, but when you have little demand, your costs decrease as you lose that spare capacity.

We also have to look at capabilities here, using “cloud” based solutions we have a real option for continuous connected availability across a range of devices. We can share “state” between devices etc which makes it far easier to jump right back into work, where I was, even when I swap from my work PC to my work tablet or laptop at home, heck even to my Phone.

 

Security

This is a big issue, and unfortunately many security concerns are simply invalid. The cloud doesn’t mean open access to all! However, in some cases, compliance and regulatory demands mean you cannot jump to certain cloud providers or solutions. For example, for compliance you may well need to keep your data stored in your geographic location, so you can’t have it physically residing in the US when your company and the owners of the data are in the UK. That will include your data back too. So, you need to be aware just what your cloud provider is doing with your data / files, and make
sure they can meet your compliance needs.

 

Cloud based solutions

The big problem why organisations are disappointed with the “cloud” is the actual applications, their capabilities and user experiences. To be blunt, most cloud based “apps” pale when compared to traditional desktop based applications. Why is that? Well it’s mainly down to implementation of the software application, nothing really to do with the “cloud” as a platform.

Most “cloud” solutions are fully in the cloud, so essentially you access them through a browser. This is a massive problem and hindrance, and for business, web applications just don’t meet the needs. I don’t care what anyone says; running software in a browser is ok for only a handful of solutions – not for everything. Some of the problems with web based applications are listed below, and these are real problems and cause for disappointment with cloud based solutions at the moment:

  1. Integration – how do you integrate multiple solutions? How do you integrate a cloud solution with standard desktop bound solution?
  2. Customisation – do you really have an option to have your software customised to your needs? Again probably not, as the solution is there for “all – in the cloud”, not just you
  3. Cross platform – HTML 5 is what keeps getting mentioned, but the issues still remain about how it performs within different browsers. In addition, think a bit wider. Does HTML based apps really deliver what you want cross platform? Think “cross devices”, how can you get the best user experience across multiple devices and their operating systems. Think PC, Mac, Windows Phone, iPhone, Android, Tablets, Laptops, XP, Win 7 etc
  4. Asynchronous – many web based apps aren’t really Asynchronous, which means your user experience can suffer, especially when you are making round trips to the cloud and back (same problem applies to basic websites that are implemented poorly)
  5. Data Extract – what is available, does it meet your needs, and whats the user experience here
  6. Synchronisation – Can you synchronise between devices and return to your application in the same state?
  7. Backup – what backups and formats can you get?
  8. Application upgrades – will you be charged for upgrades?
  9. Service Level Agreements – just what agreements can you get in place?

 

Improving the cloud experience…

So I have spent some time highlighting why organisation may well feel disappointed with the “cloud”, but now I want to point out how cloud providers and more importantly, software vendors, can replace disappointment with real excitement…

First off, your “Cloud” provider, you need to choose carefully, make sure you understand what they are providing (IaaS, PaaS, SaaS capabilities) and then understand what they do to meet you compliance needs. Take into consideration what you want to deliver via the “Cloud” – does your desired solution even work in the cloud or on a particular cloud platform?

I personally recommend the Microsoft Azure platform, simply because it delivers far more than just typical PaaS, it delivers brilliant development tools, application capabilities and synchronisation capabilities (it is also tied in pretty tightly with the up-coming releases of Windows 8 and Windows Server 8 – keep that in mind).

Windows 8 leverages Cloud capabilities heavily (Microsoft's Azure)

Windows 8 leverages Cloud capabilities heavily (Microsoft's Azure)

Secondly, and most importantly, choose “cloud” solutions that leverage your devices – so that’s your actual PC, Mac, Phone etc…The big change is how we use the “cloud”, moving away from a single UI within the browser to an actual “application” solves so so sooooo many of the issues highlighted. So what do I mean?

Cloud based applications need not run in the “cloud”, they need only be distributed or leverage cloud services, data and content. So the application is installed and runs on the device, accessing cloud services, data and content. When we move to this model, you see how usability, experience, and capabilities all drastically increase. So:

  1. Integration – This is made a lot easier, real application integration can take place, be that using cloud services in another application, or actually sharing data on your device between applications (this can be taken further with Windows 8 and the use of contracts and charms)
  2. Customisation – Customising applications for a client is made a lot simpler, it becomes something that is in essence, not that different to customisation of typical desktop in house applications today
  3. Cross platform – well the iPhone has shown us that using platform specific technologies deliver the best user experience. Would you rather use the iPhone app for that, or trundle off to the website. You will use the app. So this is no different, deliver “Apps” for the desired platforms and HTML 5 for platforms where you will not support apps. (Remember, that you are not maintaining multiple versions of solution code, rather multiple front ends, nothing more)
  4. Asynchronous – Running typical applications allows developers to really use asynchronous capabilities within their solutions, improving performance and the user experience, not to mention
    dodging the browser time out issues
  5. Synchronisation – with apps you can leverage the cloud to then store your synchronisation data, which makes it possible to synchronise your applications across all your devices in real time
  6. Upgrades – these are made easier, even for customers who run highly customised applications

 

Quick finish…

Essentially, disappointment in the “cloud” is actually disappointment caused by “cloud” expectations being wrong, choosing the wrong cloud provider, or using cloud solutions that are limited, limited because they are stuck in a browser…With time, we will see greater understanding of what cloud providers actually provide, greater understanding of IaaS vs PaaS and we will see software providers delivering “apps” as opposed to just browser based solutions.

See the cloud as a platform, nothing more, and choose solutions based on their capabilities for meeting your business requirements. Good cloud based solutions, that leverage apps, will not only meet your expectations, but will offer you more features, more functions, less administration and ultimately run at a cheaper cost for you…

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HTML 5, Flash, Silverlight, The Cloud…The future is here?

8 11 2010

I.T. seems to be at one of those cross-roads in terms of how people use software, where they use it, and how and where they choose to store their data.

There has been a lot in the press regarding HTML 5 and I have posted some thoughts on this in the past. There has been equally as much speculation as to the future of technologies such as Flash and Silveright and whether they are now redundant technologies as HTML 5 moves closer. In addition to these, rather large discussions, we are also talking about moving content and software away from traditional servers and PCs, and handing control over to the “Cloud” and “SkyDrives” etc…

So this post is looking at indicators of where we may all end up based on feedback I have received from businesses, the general public, phone professionals and my own thoughts…

HTML 5

This is the easiest one to start with really. HTML 5 will be here, at some point. Many say a lot sooner than I personally believe and many (as there always are) saying this will change everything (which it won’t at all). What HTML 5 will do, is simply to replace the need for browser plug-in to enrich a users web experience to an extent. For example, we will no longer typically use Flash or Silverlight to just stream video, give our website some pretty animations etc etc. Some will argue that’s a good thing, and if you are a purist (in terms of open environments, using only HTML to deliver content) then yes it is. For Video and animations, yes it is a good thing…

However, there are big problems with the whole architecture and the way HTML and the web in general works. The problem here is the web browser. When the web was conceived, the browser was simply an application that displayed some content, it wasn’t to be used as an environment in which processing can occur. But, we are here, and the browser is used to run “script” and to initiate communication between the client and the webserver…HTML sets out standards, but, with everything, with multiple choices (in terms of browesers here) you get different results. No matter what standards are in place, web browsers handle, and will handle the same HTML and even script differently to each other. This is a horrendous state of affairs, meaning that the same website has “allowances” for multiple browsers. This isn’t good…From an end users point of view, “who cares”, but from a development, maintenance and cost point of view, this is not acceptable really. Even if the browsers did handle it all the same (or got very close), testing would still need to be made on each browser platform, and for every time a new browser is released / updated. But this is where we will still be with HTML 5, don’t listen to any marketing hype or to any so called “experts” on this….This is simply the facts….HTML 5 will not change the web for us at all…

Silverlight and Flash

HTML 5 will have a big impact on Flash I believe, after all sites that utilise flash do so to enrich the website. HTML 5 will do this, and unfortunately for Flash, developers will adopt this and leverage it before they look at Flash. So where can Flash go? Well there are still many things Flash can offer that HTML 5 won’t be able to, or at least won’t be able to offer consistently across all browsers. Because of this I see Flash filling small gaps that HTML 5 leaves (the same applies to Silverlight). I do think though Flash will see a massive reduction its use on the web, but will maintain its use for presentations, short movies, and games.

Silverlight is a little different. I have never really seen Silverlight as a pure web technology, and those out there who keep comparing it to Flash or HTML 5 obviously know nothing about Silverlight. Sure Silverlight can give you animation online, deliver RIAs, stream movies etc (all that Flash and HTML 5 can do), but Silverlight has a lot more to offer. The architecture behind Silverlight I feel is spot on. It mixes both the worlds of Desktop and Web seamlessly, effectively delivering desktop applications (with all their power) via the internet for installation, communication and maintenance. This is very different to HTML 5. Because of this, developers will use Silverlight for business applications, for RIAs that need to do more (integrate, carry out complex functions etc) and all without the reliance on the browser or server doing processing jobs. This reduces testing and ensures a single code base (and that’s how it should be). In addition, you get frequent updates, and full support from Microsoft, which again are good things for real developers…

There has been some confusion as of late (mainly in the media and Microsoft haters) as to the value of Silverlight to Microsoft and the fact that it is also used on the new Windows Mobile & platform. Let’s get this clear, Microsoft will concentrate more now on HTML 5 as HTML 5 is a big online technology, and it needs to keep up with others. So this is no surprise. However, Silverlight is and will remain a core development platform for the web, RIAs, Out of browser applications and experiences (which it does now). Sure the Silverlight team will also now work more on its Mobile use and adoption, and that’s because they need too. So all we are talking about is prioritisation of the progression of Silverlight. This is clear from reading up on Silverlight, looking at Microsofts future plans and listening to what is said rather than reading between lines when a press release comes from Microsoft…Silverlight will become increasingly more important to Microsoft in the future, as more developers realise that they can use a single platform to code for the web, the desktop and mobile devices…

Cloud computing, SaaS and SkyDrives

I mention SkyDrives here as that is what Microsoft terms your cloud computing storage space with Windows Live and on your windows mobile 7 phone.

I think in the past couple of weeks, I have had more feedback than ever before on the cloud and its use, from both businesses and the general public.

So let’s look at businesses. Businesses cannot move everything over to the cloud, it’s as simple as that. There are savings to be made via the cloud for business, but it has to ensure that it can move those applications and content to the cloud. That it doesn’t already have a cheaper alternative, that it can trust the cloud providers security measures etc 100% and that there is a way to port to other providers in the future. All in all, business is still wary of this and why shouldn’t they be. I see businesses embracing the cloud and SaaS for smaller elements of their operation, ones that do not require so much compliance and that are not that critical to the organisation. This is not a bad thing, rather it is a good thing, the cloud here allowing IT to provide better solutions to the business at lower costs. I don’t believe the increased popularity of the cloud will translate to vast amounts of an organisations data or services being moved to the cloud. Rather the cloud becoming another IT implementation option.

So what of individuals. Well only last week I posted that individuals may well be the big winners of cloud computing. But even here, individuals are more sceptical of cloud based services. It seems that keeping some photos online, music and videos is fine. But when it comes to more personal documentation, you cannot beat a good hard drive or storage device at home. Because of this, I don’t see the masses adopting cloud computing and sky drives….Google may want us all to use the Cloud for software and storage, but the simple fact is, we like control over everything. If our data and content is only in the cloud, then we feel vulnerable, not just to theft, hackers or work colleagues finding things out etc, but also to cloud providers themselves. Let’s face it; Google has an appalling record on data protection and our privacy.

So what is the right usage for individuals? Well Microsoft though I feel has pitched it correctly. Providing 25Gb of space in a sky drive to windows live users (perhaps a little too small really). This is enough space for most people, sure it could be larger to allow us to synch a lot more content, especially music and videos. But it’s a good start. I also love the fact that my Windows Mobile 7 phone provides options to just take a picture and have it stored in my skydrive and not on the device. But, I still have enough space on the device to cart around with me a certain level of music, pictures etc etc. (No doubt this amount of storage will grow). So it’s a nice blend, one I personally am comfortable with, and one most people I speak too are comfortable with…

Conclusion, if any?

It seems in IT, too many marketing companies, experts etc provide to much hype. Everything is also “brilliant” or “rubbish and a fail”. It’s either 100% the way of the future or 0%…There is never any middle ground, and it is the middle ground which actually is where we are heading, in terms of our web usage, devices, online services and storage…And there is nothing wrong with that at all…