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Mission-Critical Apps Continue To Descend From The Clouds

There's a lot of interesting scenarios these days around the intersection of software-as-a-service (SaaS) and content management. Thanks to companies like Google, Salesforce.com, and Amazon, cloud-based computing is no longer some mythical, business-led, revolutionary approach to accessing technology. Everyday, mission-critical applications are being neatly packaged and delivered to business users regardless of time, place, or device.
There's a lot of interesting scenarios these days around the intersection of software-as-a-service (SaaS) and content management. Thanks to companies like Google, Salesforce.com, and Amazon, cloud-based computing is no longer some mythical, business-led, revolutionary approach to accessing technology. Everyday, mission-critical applications are being neatly packaged and delivered to business users regardless of time, place, or device.These same vendors also argue that they're the ones driving the innovation taking place around the periphery of enterprise 2.0. They'll tell you the traditional guys are old-fashioned and can't crank out the product road maps as fast. It's pretty simple; use the Web to deliver made-to-order software, focus on innovation, and make it affordable.

One company in the crosshairs of cloud computing is KnowledgeTree, the South African outfit that wants to bring industrial-strength document management to business users everywhere. Recently it announced all of its document management expertise will be delivered from the "cloud," capabilities that come courtesy of Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2), the Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3), and rPath's Linux-based virtual appliances.

Daniel Chalef, COO of KnowledgeTree, told InformationWeek recently about its decision to utilize Amazon's computing and Web services infrastructure to deliver its open source platform.

"One of the reasons we leverage Amazon is that it allows us to use our single tenant architecture to build a megaapplicance from multiple Amazon instances," explained Chalef. He says that's a big advantage as it allows them to provide highly granular access to computing horsepower, giving its clients pay-as-you-go usage of Amazon's machine time and storage.

Chalef says the economies of scale were hard to ignore when considering how KnowledgeTree Live would be delivered. The other key criteria it had to have was the ability to deliver both on-premise and on-demand versions of its software. But according to Chalef, most KnowledgTree clients are choosing the SaaS route, with some of SaaS's usual suspects like lack of IT resources and compliance driving the demand.

Chalef also spoke about its community, a key component that drives much of the innovation when vendors take their applications to open source environments. According to Chalef, the KnowledgeTree community numbers more than 14,000 and current Sourcefourge.net downloads of its application are close to 20,000 per month.

That level of Web exposure, says Chalef, has been instrumental in helping it continue to innovate. With a vibrant user and developer community maturing, it can focus on releasing major upgrades and improving the user experience, something Chalef refers to as the "ergonomics" of managing documents.

The latest ergonomic upgrades include drag-and-drop capabilities to Microsoft's Office suite and a Windows desktop "hot folder" that allows users to synchronize documents to the KnowledgeTreeLive repository by faxing, scanning, or saving.

Other notable developments include linkage to Zoho's Web Office infrastructure and the release of KnowledgeTreeLive's Web Service application programming interfaces, a move that will certainly help anxious developers expose the core application to the wild world of mashups.

In fact, Chalef says, more than 60 community-led projects have produced mashups ranging from integration with SugarCRM to a tighter handshake with Drupal, one of the Web's most popular Web-application frameworks. And you can expect more soon, stemming from KnowledgeTree's involvement in the OpenSolutions Alliance.

While I'm not ready to proclaim companies like KnowledgeTree and SpringCM will ever bring the big boys to their collective knees, I can see chinks in the armor.