Strategic CIO // IT Strategy
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4/28/2010
08:47 AM
Chris Murphy
Chris Murphy
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Global CIO: Microsoft Vs. VMware-Salesforce Shows Cloud's Biggest Value

Cutting cost isn't no. 1.

Here's what's most important about cloud computing: Speed.

VMware and Salesforce just took a major-league swing at Microsoft's cloud computing platform with their new partnership, VMforce. More details below, but the net effect is that VMware and Salesforce are trying to make it much faster and easier for a developer to write sophisticated Java applications for businesses, and for companies to get that software up and running inside Salesforce's data centers.

Microsoft sees exactly this same speed advantage coming from its Azure cloud. Developers using Azure will still write what the software functionally does, but they'll use Azure APIs to get features that today take a great deal of programming and configuration skill, like automatically increasing server capacity if demand for an application spikes.

CIOs will (often) get cost savings from cloud computing efforts. Cloud initiatives won't get in the door without cutting costs. But it's speed that offers the greatest strategic opportunity to CIOs, because that's IT's biggest credibility gap today. Business units have an idea, and they feel IT can't move fast enough from concept to pilot to production.

Today, cloud computing usually means software as a service, and with SaaS, too, it's speed that tops the list of advantages, a hair ahead of cost savings, our research finds. Microsoft Azure and the new VMware/Salesforce hookup focus on platform as a service, promising both a development environment and infrastructure online. If, in the coming months and years, these companies deliver the flexible, on demand, pre-built computing resources they promise, it'll do even more to help close the IT credibility gap when it comes to speed.

Here's an excerpt from Charles Babcock's blog post about the VMware-Salesforce partnership. He quotes SpringSource founder Rod Johnson, since VMware's acquisition of SpringSource makes the deal possible. Force.com is Salesforce's existing online development platform.

The Force.com platform, says Rod Johnson, founder of the Spring open source project and now general manager of the SpringSource unit of VMware, supplies security measures that Java programmers used to have to put into Spring applications themselves. Force.com provides scalability and high availability to a new Spring application, characteristics that used to require highly specialized knowledge and programming skills on the part of the Java programmer. Force.com will provide full text search, reporting, and powerful analytics, without the programmer adding anything further. Database services will just work, he pointed out.

Bob Muglia, president of Microsoft's server and tools business, in a recent interview with InformationWeek (before the Salesforce/VMware announcement) unequivocally said that speed will be the biggest benefit companies get from Azure. They will save money, he says, but speed will be the biggest game changer. He offers the example of business continuity, which is both expensive and complicated technically to bring to an application today. "Business continuity eventually will be a check box in Windows Azure," he said. "... Business continuity isn't a check box for anyone today. It is a boatload of work, and it's expensive as hell." So the future Muglia describes saves companies money, but even more powerful is a new programming approach where things like scalability and failover are tapped as automated cloud services. Says Muglia:

The piece that I think is ultimately most important … is the applications model and the new way of building applications. We're saying what does it mean to build an application in the future? What can we do in the way applications are written to make it easier to come to market faster, and scale from a small usage to whatever they need?

Speed has been a big part of the appeal for Amazon's cloud-based infrastructure as a service, as well. While it may take weeks for a company's internal IT department to get a new server ordered and installed, they can get capacity online from Amazon in minutes.

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Companies will save time on the infrastructure front by using cloud computing, since they won't have to buy and provision their own virtual servers, says Muglia. "But the real speed improvement has to be done at the application level, because that's the thing that takes the most time," he says. Provisioning servers might take days or weeks. Writing an application can take six to 18 months, he says.

Cloud computing is at the earliest days of delivering on all it promises. Much of what Microsoft wants to do with Azure isn't ready for enterprise scale yet, even for aggressive early adopters. The VMware/Salesforce pact was just announced. Even with Amazon's infrastructure as a service, prototypes are the usual enterprise use, not production systems. And that might continue to be a common case for big companies--prototype in the cloud, run a system long-term in-house.

CIOs are thinking hard about where cloud fits into their IT strategies. They're running the numbers, and may not always see cost savings that make it worth the risk and disruption. Yet speed, not dollars, might prove to be the most important metric to consider.

Global CIO small globe Chris Murphy is editor of InformationWeek.

To find out more about Chris Murphy, please visit his page.

For more Global CIO perspectives, check out Global CIO.

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