ERP and Cloud Computing: Delivering a Virtual Feast

Lawson Software shows how cloud computing, virtualization and innovative management tools can loosen up ERP's infamous inflexibility.
Scaling Up With Virtual Appliances

Lawson is targeting businesses with revenues in the $50 million to $250 million range that typically do not have the IT function required to run ERP systems. This is somewhat below the company's "sweet spot" of organizations with $250 to $750 million in revenues, according to Jeff Comport, senior vice president of Lawson Product Management.

"We are looking at the high-function, high-fit market where you have multiple hundreds of customers," Comport said. "We want to be compared to traditional, on-premises application deployment, not limited SaaS commodity business processes for sales contact management or expense management."

At CUE, Lawson announced the availability of Lawson Internal Cloud Services, a companion to the External Cloud Services, for private clouds and the implementation of virtualization and grid computing for on-premise deployments. For both External and Internal Services, virtualization is the difference maker. Lawson is implementing virtual appliances, which offer pre-built and configured packages that include the operating system, third-party tools and Lawson applications, designed to run on virtualized infrastructures such as VMware. Oracle, SAP and other application vendors are working with the concept of virtual appliances as well.

SmartOffice, Lawson's user interface and workspace is an example of an application that can be packaged as a virtual appliance. SmartOffice is where users interact with tools for business intelligence, collaboration and more. Licensed Lawson customers can download virtual appliances and drag and drop them onto their virtualized platforms. This is done through Lawson's "Cloud Console" administrative tool, through which customers can manage multiple virtual appliances. "The appliance will then boot and be ready," said Jean-Marc Debaud, Lawson's chief platform officer. Once downloaded, virtual appliances can be customized; however, Debaud said that Lawson is working on expanding capabilities for modification in future releases.

By providing a single point of management for working with all virtual appliances, the Cloud Console is critical to Lawson's desire to steer clear of the debate about saas and the use of a multi-tenancy model. This model allows saas vendors to gain economies of scale by using shared hardware and software instances to support multiple clients.

"Whether you are multi-tenant or not is the wrong question," said Comport. "The right question is: Do you have a single point of management?" Through the management of virtualized appliances via the Console, Comport says that Lawson can provide the quality of uniqueness that an organization would have with a single-instance, premise implementation. The Cloud Console provides a single view that is "unique to your business."

Lawson is showing how cloud computing, virtualization and innovative management tools can help loosen up ERP's infamous inflexibility. These developments will allow organizations to move closer to the goal of letting business requirements and strategies guide decisions about the size and make-up of enterprise applications.

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