After moving hundreds of companies onto public cloud computing solutions, we at Appirio are in a great position to observe the best of the leading cloud vendors – what makes them great, and what inspires such intense customer loyalty.
Appirio sees these vendors on many levels. Of course, we are partners with cloud leaders, and fellow evangelists in the marketplace of ideas. But as Appirio’s CIO, I also see them as providers of technology to run our own IT. We run our business on Salsforce, Workday, Google Apps, and Amazon Web Services, among others, and we believe our internal technology is as good as any company’s, at a lower cost, with a faster pace of innovation.
Here’s what I see as the “best of the best” – the things that make me glad to be in this business and excited to help our customers transform the way they look at technology.
1. From Salesforce.com – instant provisioning
The official definition of cloud computing from the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) lists, as its very first “essential characteristic” of cloud computing, the notion of on-demand self-service:
“A consumer can unilaterally provision computing capabilities, such as server time and network storage, as needed automatically without requiring human interaction with each service’s provider.”
Disappointingly, many cloud vendors still require us to navigate our way past pushy sales reps and wait on a support department to activate a tenant, even if it’s just for development or trial purposes. By contrast, Salesforce has set the enviable standard by permitting any curious user, anywhere, to instantly provision a fully functional “Developer Edition” org, with no expiration date and no onerous limitations. These developer orgs have been the secret to Force.com’s wide acceptance among developers, and a key to the rapid innovation we see on Force.com development projects.
Salesforce makes it just as easy for existing customers to quickly create replicas of their production orgs as “sandboxes,” for testing or development work. By doing so, they achieve the full promise of on-demand computing, achieving something that would be nearly unimaginable using on-premise software. (Imagine trying to provision a “developer copy” of SAP in five minutes or less? How about 5 weeks? 5 months?)
2. From Workday – laser focus on enterprise
Dave Duffield and Anil Bhusri started Workday with a pretty unique objective for a startup – to serve the world’s largest enterprises, as a replacement for the on-premise Peoplesoft systems that Duffield is so closely associated with.
I’m not sure how many other startup founders could have pulled off such a daunting feat. The typical pattern seems to be to start small, aim at the consumer or perhaps the small and medium business (SMB), and build over time. But human capital management (HCM) and financials are fundamentally different at the enterprise level, and they set about building a next-generation Peoplesoft for the cloud computing era. I recall one of their early publicly available design documents, which proudly touted their multi-tenant architecture and object-oriented database as core strengths.
Workday has gone on to capture the hearts and minds of many CIOs not with fancy sales tactics, but with a compelling product, a commitment to true public cloud computing, and a deeply rooted belief in the model’s superiority to legacy on-premise software. No founding team could have more credibility than the team that brought Peoplesoft to the market a generation ago.
Our own employees see the real Workday difference every day – simply by the fact that they actually use the system! Workday has transformed HRIS from an “expert system” with arcane user interfaces suitable only for HR clerks, to a modern, flexible web-based application designed from the outset to be useful to every employee and manager in a company.
3. From Google Apps – no more limits
I had a most unforgettable sales call a few years back, when visiting with a CIO and his direct reports to talk about how Google Apps could replace their Microsoft Exchange messaging infrastructure. The CIO had suggested I load my slides (yes, in PowerPoint form…) onto his laptop since it was already connected to the projector. As I displayed a slide explaining that each user – not each company, but each individual user – gets a 25GB mailbox in Gmail, the CIO’s computer suddenly displayed a pop-up message from, of all systems, Outlook. And the pop-up said something to the effect of, “You can no longer receive mail since your mailbox is full.”
I could not have timed or orchestrated a better demonstration. I think his mailbox capacity was around 100MB or so. The groans around the room told me this pop-up was not uncommon. And I know that even today, many companies’ internal Exchange servers limit mailboxes to some ridiculously small capacity, even as storage costs have plummeted and cloud vendors routinely provide massive online storage for pennies. This perfectly illustrates the inability of on-premise technology – the hardware dependencies, the long refresh cycles, the painful upgrades – to keep up with public cloud technology.
Google grants its apps users all sorts of storage capacity for documents, videos, sites pages, chat logs, and other corporate data. Massive storage isn’t an expensive add-on – it’s an inherent part of the service, along with super-fast search (would you expect anything less from Google?). And it seems like every week or two Google rolls out some new service for Google Apps users to take advantage of. Planning for the next Exchange upgrade cycle now seems like an unconscionable act of disregard for your own employees’ productivity.
4. From Amazon Web Services – staggering innovation
For pace of innovation, no vendor can top Amazon Web Services (AWS). AWS is the modern-day Thomas Edison, cranking out inventions quicker than most people can even imagine them. Just review their What’s New page for the past month or so:
- Aug. 3 – AWS Direct Connect, for creating a direct network connection from its physical server farms to your data center, bypassing the public internet for increased bandwidth and decreased network costs.
- Aug. 3 – Virtual Private Cloud (a 2010 innovation) moves from beta to general availability, allowing creation of a virtual network that operates inside your corporate network.
- Aug. 8 – AWS Cloud Formation template composition, for reusable building blocks of cloud stacks.
- Aug. 15 – AWS Tooklit for Eclipse 2.0, which incorporates AWS Explorer, multiple AWS account suport, and AWS Elastic Beanstalk debugging into a single tool.
- Aug. 16 – AWS GovCloud, a special AWS region with additional security certificatins, designed for use by U.S. government agencies.
- Aug. 18 – Spot instances for Elastic MapReduce.
- Aug. 22 – ElastiCache, a cloud-based in-memory caching service, protocol-compliant with Memcached.
And that’s just one month!
The current fad, whereby vendors with a stake in the status quo market for on-premise server technology create enough FUD to conflate “private cloud” with “public cloud” and make the choice seem like a minor distinction, is revealed as a false promise by considering the impossibility of on-premise vendors keeping up with AWS’s pace of innovation. And remember, Amazon isn’t only releasing these new services, they are making them immediately available to all existing AWS customers – no need to wait for upgrade cycles, budget season, or steering committees.
5. From Salesforce, Workday, Google, and Amazon – delivering on the promise of the public cloud
At Appirio, we’ve partnered with the true public cloud leaders across CRM, HCM and financials, messaging and collaboration, platform-as-a-service, and infrastructure-as-a-service. We believe these are the essential building blocks for fundamentally transforming IT from a data center-centric model to an on-demand cloud model. The academic and economic arguments alone for this shift are enough to make for a compelling business case. But what makes it an open-and-shut case is the demonstrated market success of the leading vendors – salesforce.com, Workday, Google, and Amazon. Each has shown that the enterprise is ready for public cloud computing, that it works at global scale, that productivity gains are real, that once you head down this road, there’s no turning back. Once your employees, your business analysts, your developers, and your IT administrators get a taste for the public cloud, they won’t let you turn back.