I’ve been in a lot of meetings that begin with some executive saying, “We’re trying to figure out how to move to the cloud. How do we do that?” Sounds like there should be a simple answer, doesn’t it? In fact, the answer is fairly simple; it’s the question that’s complex. What does it mean to “move to the cloud”? Well, that depends . . . .
Let’s assume we’re talking about a traditional Siebel CRM application. There are six different ways you could move it to the cloud.
- Move the Siebel application you own, including the underlying software (database, middleware, operations management) and the computers and storage it uses, to a new data-center cloud service. With the cost of power per kilowatt hour varying by as much as 10:1, and the quality of modern data centers, this may improve both the quality of service you receive from the application and the cost of delivering it to your business users all by itself.
- Leave your Siebel application just as it is but manage it using the next generation of operations-management cloud services, such as Postini, Arcot, New Relic, Service-Now, and CloudKick, among others. Whether that means managing the security, availability, performance, problems, or changes to the application, you could reduce the cost and improve the quality of service just by using these cloud services.
- Move it to CRM OnDemand. Today many traditional software companies, like Oracle and JDA software, have built businesses dedicated to managing the software they build. The one question I would ask the provider before subscribing to its application cloud service is, “How many times have you done an upgrade from release 1 to release 2?” If the answer is once, don’t waste any more time with that provider: it means it’s not putting enough of the right investment into its key software-management processes.
- Move the application and its underlying software to a compute and storage cloud-services provider, such as Amazon or Microsoft. In this model, it’s still your application, but you pay only according to your usage. Use it a little, you pay a little. Use it a lot, you pay a lot. Of course you need to make sure you have enough capacity to run the applications and that your security requirements are being met by the providers, but new services from companies as large as Rackspace and as small as Layered Technologies can both reduce your cost and improve the quality of service.
- Replace your Siebel CRM with a business-application cloud service. In the CRM space, the most obvious replacement would be salesforce.com, but cloud services from Microsoft and NetSuite may be able to satisfy your needs. In this scenario, you’ve decided to end the life of your Siebel application and instead receive your CRM software from a new provider that will also manage the application’s security, availability, and performance, as well as address any problems and changes in the underlying software and hardware the application depends upon. There are many applications that are only delivered as cloud services.
- Implement your own CRM application with a software-development cloud service. Perhaps your needs are so unique that it makes sense to build a CRM application from scratch rather than buying and customizing one everyone else uses. Perhaps your software developers could build it on an open-source CRM application and then run it on a compute and storage cloud service, or they could use next-generation software-development services such as Microsoft Azure or Google AppEngine.
So the next time someone on your executive team starts talking about moving to the cloud, you can now ask, “What do you mean?”
Timothy Chou teaches cloud computing at Stanford University. He is the former president of Oracle On Demand and the author of Cloud: Seven Clear Business Models.