I recently presented at the Springboard Research Cloud Seminar in Sydney on the benefits of Cloud Computing and the types of business management insights and efficiencies that Cloud-based applications like NetSuite OneWorld can bring to global companies. There, just as at Oracle OpenWorld a week later and any number of similar events that have been held around the world in recent months, the question 'what exactly is Cloud Computing?' was asked and how can you tell the difference between real cloud vs. fake cloud.
While vendors targeting the largest enterprises argue over whether or not the cloud is in a box, or over the advantages of private vs. public cloud - neither of which discussions are of particular interest to smaller companies - the situation in the mid-market application space is perhaps even more confusing. Unfortunately, cutting through the marketing rhetoric is not always easy as the responses you get from vendors largely depend on what they have in their product portfolio to offer you today.
The problem is that many vendors, caught by surprise to the growing trend towards cloud-based (or Software-as-a-Service) applications, are scrambling to keep their offerings relevant, taking old client-server applications and putting together a hosted solution where they, or more frequently their partners, run the servers in their data center. Taken at face value it seems like a great deal - they are taking away your need to worry about IT issues, deploying the same application you are used to in an outsourced data center and giving you access to it over the internet, perhaps utilizing a third party client app to display the data to you on your pc in your office. They will tell you this approach provides you with all the benefits of the Cloud, that it will save you money and allow you to focus on running your business. The truth, though, is quite different.
Applications like Great Plains, or Microsoft Dynamics Great Plains as it is now known, or Sage Line 50 were initially developed in the early 90s as client-server applications and are fundamentally not architected to operate in the cloud or take advantage of the internet in the same way that true Cloud Computing solutions are. The founder of Chef's Toolbox, an Australian company that uses NetSuite OneWorld to run their business across 3 countries, joined Zach Nelson on stage at our Business Cloud event in Sydney recently to tell the story of how they attempted to deploy Microsoft Dynamics Great Plains in the 'cloud', how the performance was terrible and how the functionality it provided was just too limited and inflexible to handle the needs of their business. Not only was the deployment a drain on their time and resources, they weren't able to achieve accurate and timely reporting and rather than helping them run the business it was proving to be a distraction.
To be fair, their problem wasn't entirely related to the fake cloud situation; the Chef's Toolbox team were looking to rely on what is ostensibly just an accounting application to run their fast growing and evolving business on - something that it simply is not intended to do. Their next thought was to bring the application back in-house where they could run it on their own servers - with the intention of addressing the performance problem with hardware and VPN upgrades - and have more flexibility in customizing the implementation and integrating it with other applications using their own team of developers. As you can probably imagine, the hardware investment alone was going to run into 6 digits, with no guarantee that they would then be able to address the business management needs. The drain on their resources and business growth opportunities was immeasurable. Fortunately for Chef's Toolbox, their senior management decided there had to be a better way and initiated the search for an alternate solution whereupon they came across NetSuite OneWorld. Sadly, this story is far from being unique.
At NetSuite not only do we believe that it is far better for us to manage the complex IT systems that underpin a modern business than those businesses themselves but that a true, scalable multi-tenant Cloud Computing business management solution should free up resources to focus on improving the running the business itself; helping you to service and delight your customers. True Cloud Computing exposes your business to the Internet so that you can utilize it to empower your employees, reach and communicate with your customers, suppliers and partners because that's where they spend much of their time these days and connect the various parts of your business together to increase efficiency of operation and real-time visibility into key performance metrics so you can make sound decisions. And true Cloud Computing provides the scalability and flexibility of configuration and customization to fit the needs of your business without the fear of being version locked, which in turn means that your business system can evolve and grow as your business does. In short, true Cloud Computing provides you with a platform and the freedom to innovate without worrying about whether your business systems can support your ideas.
Whenever I come across an example of a fake cloud approach I refer to it is a 'Wolf in Cloud's Clothing'; not because it evokes a cute image of a wild animal wrapping itself in a fluffy outfit but, rather, because if you're not careful such an implementation in your business can quickly devour your resources, your responsiveness to rapidly evolving market conditions, your ability to meet your customers needs and, importantly, your ability to take your business where it needs to go.
So, beware the Wolf in Cloud's Clothing - make sure you know what is actually being deployed in the cloud and how it will meet the needs of your business today and in the future.