Even At NASA, CIOs Get Practical On Cloud

Workday's SaaS lineup catches the eye of even conservative IT chiefs, while NASA builds an app store for scientists, and RIM moves MDM off premise. That's no hype.
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It's easy to believe, after three or four years of unmitigated hype, that the IT industry is completely cloudified. But reality is always a buzz-kill. CIOs are attuned, but cautious, choosing to dabble in Software-as-a-Service experiments, largely with CRM (read: or new offerings (like talent management from a company such as SuccessFactors), and building test environments for development efforts using Amazon and Rackspace infrastructure services. But beneath the crazy thrum of the hype, a new drumbeat loudens.

InformationWeek's Rob Preston paints Steve Phillips, the CIO of $26.5 billion Avnet as a more conservative IT chief. Phillips is skeptical on the ROI of infrastructure services, and thinks Microsoft Office 365 and offerings are too expensive. And yet he's just made a big bet on the high-flying Workday, and is rolling out the HR software to 7,000 employees, with a potential global rollout behind that. It wasn't the cost savings that turned Phillips and his team, but the power and features of the software.

New cloud models seem to emerge each month. NASA, a long-time believer in cloud experimentation and deployment with its vaunted Nebula cloud computing offering just announced that it is creating the equivalent of a cloud storefront, or an app store for scientists, according to InformationWeek's Nick Hoover. Punch in a few details about the application, storage needs, and other variables, Hoover explains, and the system suggests a range of services.

While IT shops are moving carefully, asking hard questions about ROI and security, the vendor landscape has turned into the Wild West. Pure-bred cloud players like Workday and have made gargantuan inroads into the traditional customer base of the likes of SAP, Oracle, and Microsoft.

Each has responded, including Oracle's most recent acquisition of RightNow, shortly after Oracle CEO Larry Ellison's entertaining public scrape with CEO Marc Benioff. As InformationWeek's Doug Henschen characterized the acquisition: "Why does Oracle need RightNow other than to buy customers and get in rival's face?"

Last week, SAP co-CEO Bill McDermott was in the InformationWeek offices talking about a forthcoming SAP Cloud--and not just the current Business ByDesign, Streamworks collaboration software, and BusinessObjects BI On Demand, but something much bigger; something that McDermott said would make SAP's $127 million cloud revenue look like a rounding error.

Moving big, established software to the cloud may not be trivial, but it seems rather obvious, and that trend will continue and grow. But the cloud is creating brand-new opportunities elsewhere. Without much fanfare, Research In Motion last week announced BlackBerry Business Cloud, which will begin serving Office 365 Microsoft Exchange. BlackBerry customers can provision Office 365 through RIM, and those customers can then take advantage of many of the company's BES-like services (it is essentially a subset of BES services, much like BES Express).

Viewed as a one-off service, it may seem only mildly attractive. Previously, Microsoft offered a similar service by hosting BES, but this was never a long-term solution, RIM SVP of Enterprise Software Peter Devenyi told InformationWeek.

But as RIM begins to support more Office 365 functions, like Lync and Sharepoint, for instance, and perhaps other similar cloud offerings, BlackBerry Business Cloud starts to look like a new model for provisioning, managing, and securing mobile application access. No more BES on premises.

RIM's acquisition of Ubitexx back in May signaled the company's recognition of an increasingly heterogenous mobile enterprise scenario--one no longer dominated by BlackBerry smartphones. Soon BlackBerry shops, which have now had to accommodate the influx of iPhones and Android phones, will be able to employ new services to manage all of these devices just like they manage BlackBerry devices now, but through a single management console.

Now take that entire model to the cloud, where a host of applications can be provisioned to a variety of device types.

That sure is one soothing drumbeat.

Fritz Nelson is the editorial director for InformationWeek and the Executive Producer of TechWebTV. Fritz writes about startups and established companies alike, but likes to exploit multiple forms of media into his writing.

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