Global Class Computing
By Richard Sands on Sep 17, 2008
I attended Gartner’s Web Innovation Summit in LA last week. Like most such events I found I spent some of the time wondering what it all had to do with me, some of the time wondering what on earth they guy on stage was talking about, but thankfully spending quite a lot of the time thinking “hey, now that’s an interesting idea”.
One of the ideas that resonated with me was the concept of Global Class computing, much of which came from a conversation with Dave Cearly of Gartner. Global Class computing is another categorization of computing service just as Departmental and Enterprise class computing were before. I’ve spent most of my career in Enterprise class computing and I’m convinced of it’s benefits. It offers (or should offer) a robust platform for computing services together with a stringent set of practices for managing that platform. Done correctly it should offer world class standards of performance and availability. So what do we need Global Class computing for?
First we need to look at what Global Class computing is intended for, which is Cloud Computing and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). At least according to Gartner these constitute a revolution in computing, and there's a lot of people lining up to agree with them. The fundamental difference being that you do not own, install and manage your IT resources yourself, instead someone else does this for you, and you subscribe to services to access these resources. The examples closest to my heart right now are the Social CRM products I’m working on. These are typical SaaS products, to use them you just sign up, point your browser at them, and go. No need to install anything.
But SaaS and cloud computing still need to have all the traditional IT resources somewhere, there still needs to be a data center with fans whirring and racks of faceless servers running databases and applications. There also still needs to be the processes and people to look after these. However there are also new challenges placed on those IT resources. To run hosted services you need to work on the basis that:
• Your users could be anywhere, anytime
There are no barriers to use of the service
• You have no control over your users or how they access your service
You can’t rely on your IT department to provide a standard PC that you run on.
• Everything is delivered over the internet
You can't guarantee network performance
• You should assume you’re operating in a hostile environment
Your users’ systems could host viruses.
Any system exposed over the internet is subject to attack
• Your delivery must be massively elastic and scalable.
If you’re successful then you’re liable to experience rapid growth,
which you must immediately be able to accommodate.
And these factors make up the core components of Global Class computing. For me they encompass many of the issues I've been facing as a SaaS supplier. It's really about providing a quality service without control. You're no longer in control of who uses your services, where they do it from, and how they do it.
One thing it took me a while to recognize is that Global Class computing is not a level "above" Enterprise class the way Enterprise class is "above" Departmental class. Indeed in some ways Global class is below Enterprise class. For example an Enterprise class deployment will typically aim for "Four nines" (99.99%) or "Five nines" (99.999%) availability, whereas cloud vendors often only offer "Two nines" (99%) availability. This is probably because they have usually come from companies such as Amazon & Google which have been focused on providing services to consumers. It seems the rules learned for Enterprise Computing in terms of the value of process and procedures, rules which came out of the mainframe world, need to be re-learned by each IT generation. I remember the client-server wave going through the same learning curve.
Global Class computing is focused on a different objective to Enterprise Class. It focuses on more flexible services as opposed to the rigor that is required for Enterprise Class. And this is what leaped out at me. I believe in the value of SaaS and cloud computing, and that it offers great potential to Enterprise IT. I believe that Global Class computing exists and is necessary for this to be successful. But if a company is going to trust the provision of their IT services to a cloud or other SaaS platform they're not going to give up on the benefits of Enterprise Class computing that they're used to. They need that sweet spot where they get the flexibility of Global Class with the rigor of Enterprise Class. This is where anyone hoping to sell SaaS or cloud computing to the Enterprise need to be.