2012: The year cloud computing took a bite out of IT

As new public cloud plays leap in and the private cloud slowly evolves, we're on the brink of a shift to cloud computing for critical business workloads

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Oracle leaps into SaaS
The second biggest cloud news of the year was that Oracle finally decided to jump in. The Oracle Cloud will eventually include a full range of enterprise SaaS (software as a service) applications -- including ERP -- along with a Java PaaS offering. There is some debate, however, over whether Oracle Cloud deserves the "cloud" label at all.

According to Oracle, its SaaS applications are not multitenanted in order to address enterprise concerns about the security of shared infrastructure. Unlike the usual SaaS model, each customer gets its own application instance and will be able to control (within the range of a year) when application upgrades occur. Critics say that's more like hosting than the cloud and will make application management difficult at scale; others say that if the SaaS user experience is the same, who cares?

Either way, Oracle joins legions of providers offering every conceivable Web application. Workday, the SaaS HR and ERP provider that boasts the founder of PeopleSoft as its co-CEO, went public in 2012. And cloud collaboration of every possible stripe exploded, from enterprise social networking plays to new file-sharing competition for Dropbox and Box. One of the most interesting plays, a cloud repository and versioning platform for "social coding" known as GitHub, nabbed a whopping $100 million investment from ultrahip venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz.

But SaaS -- in fact, all of the cloud -- suffers from a number of drawbacks. Businesspeople may be sick of waiting for IT, but the prospect of users subscribing to whatever SaaS applications they want sets off alarms for both IT and business management. How do you control the spend? How do you keep company data from being exposed accidentally? When employees leave, how do you even know what they've subscribed to so that you can shut down access?

But the genie is already at least halfway out of the bottle. We're at the point when just about every company of significant size has fired up an IaaS account for dev and test or contracted with a SaaS provider because it made more sense than deploying a certain app on premises or filing some detailed request to the ops guys in the data center.

The slow ascent of the private cloud
Basically, private cloud software is a management stack you deploy on top of a virtualized infrastructure. Today, the main private cloud objective is to manage large virtual server farms with an agility that was once exclusive to public cloud providers.

But the private cloud's virtualization management extends to storage as well as network virtualization, the latter a cutting-edge area that enables administrators to deploy multiple, secure virtual networks on top of a single physical network infrastructure.

Part of what all this technology is intended to enable is self-service, so that business stakeholders can provision their own applications and resources. Another important component is chargeback: With pooled resources, you need a way to allocate costs throughout the organization.

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