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“Will you tell me about the cloud?”

January 18, 2011

“Sure, there’s one right there, and it’s full of gas and water molecules.” The look from the passenger side was a hybrid between bemusement and annoyance, the latter most evident. “No, Christine, Lou and I were talking about it at dinner the other night and I want to know more. Are there investment opportunities? What about VMware? Christine said it’s all about the cloud.”

Wow. “The Cloud.” Where to begin? Joyce and I had plenty of time on our long drive back from dropping her son for his second university semester in the Green Mountain state and some x-country skiing, so I just started rambling along our rural route. The conversation went something like this:

Me: “Well, the cloud is an analogy for the internet, so any time you send an email, chat or do a web search you’re accessing it. You know how I suggested GoogleApps for working with Office docs on your new Mac? GoogleApps are a cloud version of Microsoft Office.”
Joyce: “What about VMWare?”
Me: “You’re really stuck on VMWare…”
Joyce: “That’s because Lou works for EMC.”
Me: “VMWare isn’t the cloud, but it helps organizations fully leverage their hardware assets, and that’s very important to companies providing cloud services. Sorry, that sounded very markety. Let’s say a company made a great decision to invest in Kronos and they decided to deploy it in their data center. The Kronos application might require only 20% of the processor, memory and storage of a typical server, so 80% of that server computing power would be unused. The VMWare software allows the customer to partition the physical server into multiple “virtual” servers, all with access to all the processor, memory and storage of the server hardware. So the Kronos app could reside on one virtual server and other apps could be on other virtual servers within the one physical computer. For performance reasons, you don’t want to be maxing out your hardware completely, so VMware manages those resources and will utilize other physical servers in your datacenter when the applications get busy and need more processing, memory or storage. For companies providing applications via the cloud, it’s incredibly important for them to efficiently use hardware resources to keep their costs down.” (I’m sure there were “ah’s” and “um’s” in there, but that was the gist of it.)
Joyce: “What about SaaS?”
Me: “Salesforce.com is probably the most well known example of a SaaS company. SaaS stands for ‘Software as a Service’ and basically delivers a software application over the internet. Technically, I think SaaS also implies ‘multitenancy,’ meaning many customers access the same software via virtual servers partitioned across multiple physical servers.
Joyce: “Like tenants in an apartment accessing the same infrastructure for water, heat and electricity?”
Me: “Yes. However…”
Me: “When our customers ask if we do SaaS, we start asking our own questions and usually find their desire for ‘SaaS’ comes down to 3 elements:

  1. How to pay? Buy traditional licenses or rent application use monthly like a utility?
  2. How to deploy? In customer’s own data-center or hosted elsewhere?
  3. How to manage? IT staff manages the application or outsource those tasks?

For us, ‘Multitenancy” is rarely part of customer inquiry about SaaS. In our case, we can provide any mix of those 3 options for customers. It’s all still about solving the customer’s business problem.”

I looked over at a tired, napping girlfriend. I think she checked out at “multitenancy.”

I tapped her arm. A small crease of a smile reflected dashboard light.

Joyce: “I was just resting my eyes.”

The cloud. It’s pretty exciting.

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