The realist's guide to cloud services and what they're good for

SaaS, PaaS, IaaS -- cloud computing comes in many flavors. Here's how to tell which one best fits your business

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Assessment: For SaaS products with high up-front integration needs, the outcome is questionable. Beyond SaaS being disruptive, once IT has to get involved, the CFO is more likely to look at the overall economics of the decision.

SaaS is and will be a winner for applications with limited initial integration requirements. Once a package is entrenched, IT will almost certainly have to integrate it later on, but that doesn't matter.

Platform as a service
PaaS has been the cloud's orphan stepchild, but that seems to be changing. Assembling, maintaining and administering a modern n-tier development/test/production environment is, shall we say, a nontrivial task -- unless IT signs up with a PaaS vendor, at which point it becomes someone else's problem.

Customer vs. consumer: The CIO and IT management are the customer. App dev and IT ops are the consumers. Organizationally, they're the same.

Affordability: Political affordability doesn't end up in PaaS's favor. PaaS is opex, making the CIO the wallet. CIOs often prefer capex, because that makes the capex committee the wallet -- the cost no longer comes out of the IT budget, which is attractive to your average CIO.

As for PaaS's actual affordability, the financial analysis probably depends on how the person doing the analysis wants things to come out, and solving for the preferred answer won't even require much ingenuity.

Disruption: Right now, PaaS is disruptive in two or three respects, depending on which vendor you choose:

  • Extending management tools to your PaaS environment isn't yet a solved problem, especially with respect to identity management tools like Active Directory.
  • Integrating PaaS-housed data and business logic with existing production systems is even messier than when everything is inside the data center -- no messier than with SaaS, but in the case of PaaS, where IT is the customer, integration is what's expected.
  • Many PaaS vendors offer proprietary development environments. That's disruptive for reasons too obvious to mention.

Assessment: PaaS is, sadly, a dicey proposition. It's politically less affordable than owned platforms and sufficiently disruptive that, except for capital-starved startups, it has a steep hill to climb.

Infrastructure as a service
IaaS is the least interesting cloud variant. It's where IT can rent virtual hardware, so instead of buying enough capacity to handle peak processing loads, IT can rent only as much capacity as it needs right now -- handy when processing loads vary seasonally or are unpredictable and spikey.

Customer vs. consumer: As with PaaS, the CIO, IT management, and app dev and IT ops.

Affordability: See PaaS. The politics go one way, the financial analysis might or might not go the other way, depending on who has control of the spreadsheet.

Disruption: Take the first two bullets listed for PaaS. Add the absolute requirement that, by contract, each IaaS vendor must guarantee all storage must be provisioned in the same data center as its processors, linked at wire speeds. You really don't want database accesses to cross the continent at MPLS or slower data rates and latencies.

Analysis: For startups planning to use IaaS as the most modern approach to data center outsourcing, it is (or can be) a winner. For stand-alone applications that need no integration and limited management, IaaS can also be a winner, especially when processing loads aren't predictable. As an extension of an extensive installed base of applications running inside a preexisting data center? Questionable.

Taking it home
The problem with overhyped technologies like the cloud is that they're touted as panaceas that will solve all of the computing world's problems, which means those who are skeptical must be chumps.

This chump predicts that the cloud will have a place. It's a much smaller place than what you've been reading, but a place nonetheless.

This story, "The realist's guide to cloud services and what they're good for," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Bob Lewis' Advice Line blog on InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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