Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Processes in the cloud

Amazon, in its new incarnation as cloud computing provider, has announced that its EC2 service will have the ability to run Microsoft Windows Server or SQL Server before the end of the year. Why does this matter?

Companies are under pressure to deliver applications for a better total cost of ownership than ever. This isn't just a matter of cheaper software and less sys admins to support it. Already we see the importance of virtualization, helping reduce the cost and increase the flexibility of corporate server rooms, at least for the products that certify themselves to run under products such as VMWare. Side this with the new 'green' push of Intel, AMD, Sun, etc - to show a reduced cost of electricity powering and cooling the masses of servers that are still required, and the complexity of organizing server rooms to do so. According to Sun, 25% of IT budgets is consumed by energy costs.

So why not just save the valuable office space that server rooms have expanded to overtake, the power costs, complex network wiring, and the cost and risk of knowing how to, and actually doing this infrastructure stuff well? Just deploy your applications to the 'cloud', make sure you have a powerful and fault-tolerant Internet connection, and away you go.

Does this work for your critical business processes, perhaps run by a business process management (BPM), enterprise content management (ECM) or traditional imaging and workflow solution? AIIM talks about SaaS for ECM, and adds some nice commentary on the key tests for an organization selecting a SaaS solution: does SaaS meet the tests of speed, functionality, cost, flexibility and suitability?

Since BPM should be about running your differentiated processes, the cookie cutter approach to cost effective SaaS solutions may not be appealing. But when you have the ability to build exactly your solution and run it in the cloud on a common Windows operating system and database, BPM might become viable without complex infrastructure requirements (at least those that your boss can see).

A post from the Improving New Account Opening blog


Anonymous said...

A minority of mainstream BPM vendors are on Microsoft server platforms: you can see a list of Microsoft ones in my post summarizing the Forrester report on BPMS. At least one of the Java-based BPM vendors, BEA (prior to the Oracle acquisition), has installed their server successfully on EC2 some months ago.

Although there are savings to be had by deploying a commercial BPMS on EC2, there are a number of issues to consider:

1. Many of the BPMS vendors do not have licensing agreements that adequately cover the EC2 platform.

2. Support for that platform from the vendors will be spotty (at best), particularly in cases where you want to create a farm of virtual servers as your requirements grow.

3. A huge part of the cost of a BPMS implementation is in the software and professional services, not the hardware and infrastructure, so this may not reduce the costs as much as expected.

Phil Ayres said...

Sandy, great points, especially on where the cost of BPM implementations really are.

Also, your thoughts on the split between Java and Microsoft technologies is one that I can relate to. It can be an attribute that a vendor uses to define itself, which often offers zero value to end users, but a great source of stress to the software developers caught in the battle between the technologies.

As for licensing of products in the cloud, largely this is about a willingness of a vendor to take the time to understand what is a fair deal for them and their customers. That said, if a vendor offers CPU based licensing, I can see that the Amazon model could take some thought.

Certainly from my perspective as a product manager that has been through this type of though process for VMWare and similar virtualization technologies, licensing and supporting a product deployed in the cloud should be fairly easy. I'm lucky enough to work with a product that has scalability on server farms designed into it from its conception, so common software constraints are not an issue. How often is it you can say that software makes your life easier?!