Cloud computing carries the promise of numerous benefits (scalability, cost savings, simplicity in management), but concerns about security, privacy, and the ability to traverse cloud and on-premises solutions persist.
And so the debate continues. But just recently I saw a news item cross my desk about a company called UNIT4 that offers a hybrid cloud computing model for it's ERP and Financials solutions.
UNIT4's value proposition is not the typical cloud proposition. Rather, UNIT4's benefit to customers is a hybrid computing platform that allows customers to use a mix of on-premises, private cloud, and public cloud applications. It is designed for businesses facing regular change, such as mergers and acquisitions, that have a need for a dynamic platform.
Still a little confused? Here are a few answers from Ton Dobbe, UNIT4's vice president of marketing, about the solution.
Reinholz: What are the dangers/risks/disadvantages of going ‘all or nothing’ in the cloud?
Dobbe: One of the mistakes that technology providers have made with cloud computing is attempting to shoehorn/convince all technology buyer/user types that there is only one right path to cloud computing...depending upon what they have available. The fact is that cloud solutions must be mapped to a wide variety of factors to be effective:
- the type of application
- the breadth of the application suite
- the maturing of the application (i.e., newer technologies and products require more frequent upgrades and modifications)
- the specific requirements of that industry/market
- the pace of change within the company/organization
There is no one right answer to the best cloud solution. UNIT4 focuses on a fast growing niche market labeled Businesses Living In Change.
Reinholz: Can you explain Businesses Living In Change a little more?
Dobbe: This market represents a horizontal slice across many vertical markets, and is characterized by frenetic levels of business change. For example, organizations in this niche:
- Reorganize more than others
- Acquire (or merge) more than others
- Are pressured by new compliance rules and governmental reform more than others
- Are more pressured by meeting the expectations of external stakeholders than others
- Are dealing with organizational growth more often than others
Such organizations obviously want to have the benefits of cloud computing, but without the concerns of not knowing where their data resides, if they can ever move out of the cloud, or if they are going to be restricted in terms of how radically they can address business change as an organization.
This latter argument is a key one. The ability for an organization to address business change not related to the technology side (i.e. how an application is delivered, where it is located, or who is managing it), but to the architecture side of the business applications. Agility is about design; it is not a function or a technology issue. Cloud-based applications indeed offer technical flexibility (scale up/down, no update/upgrade hassle, etc.) but are restricted to the level of change an organization can make. The biggest argument is the multi-tenancy argument (i.e., a single application is run on a single infrastructure, serving high-volumes of customers). There are obvious limitations connected to this. The benefit offered is one of sharing and standardization. Radical change or heavy customer specific configuration are counter-productive in such an environment for the vendor.
Reinholz: Explain what a hybrid, virtualized cloud computing model looks like, and its benefits.
Dobbe: A hybrid, virtualized computing platform bundles the two key areas:
- A physical platform in which on-premises applications, private cloud applications, and public cloud applications are working in a seamless manner across the following: business applications, Office applications, collaboration, connectivity, and security.
- A service that provides simplicity (i.e., one single point of contact; one set of terms and conditions; aligned service levels across the full spectrum of the contract; central provisioning; central reporting; end-user support; and a central telephony, e-mail, and self-service portal).
The benefits of this approach are that customers can obtain the benefits of the cloud (cut infrastructure costs, speed deployment of software), while eliminating the negatives (customer data not being mingled with other data, flexibility in deciding the most appropriate delivery model, retain control of data, and continue to address business change rapidly).
Do you see the value of a solution such as UNIT4's? Do you think your business qualifies as a Business Living In Change? And do you think a similar, hybrid approach could work with other IT-related systems?
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