Cloud Application Services - A new IT currency


Posted on: Jul 07, 2016 by John Davenport

An IT department’s life is more complex than it used to be.

Not so very long ago life was more straight-forward. Applications that were not developed in-house were bought outright from vendors. They were run on platforms controlled by the organisation, either directly or via a hosting arrangement. External services were only utilised in a very limited fashion whilst change was infrequent and involved significant downtime. Integration was a problem but largely an in-house one.

Increasingly this is not the case and the perimeter is hard to find let alone police in any way. Business departments consume multiple applications, as services, direct from the cloud in a way that is virtually invisible to an IT department. Employees bring their own devices already loaded with their preferred tools. Applications that are not consumed directly, as-a-service, are provided in a myriad of ways; collectively referred to as Hybrid IT. This covers public IaaS, public PaaS, private cloud and the full spectrum of ‘traditional’ from virtualisation platforms that have not been ‘cloudified’ through to mainframes. Change is relentless and there is less and less toleration of downtime whilst an application is deployed.

In short, the role of an IT department is changing - from providing and controlling to a blend of consulting, brokering and assurance with an ever dwindling element of in-house IT provision. There is a constant need to manage the continuum of old world and new, but the focus going forward is on application services – understanding each of their SLAs and integrating them. Industry analyst reports show that SaaS is bigger than IaaS/PaaS in both size and growth. For instance:

SaaS needs something to run on of course, and there is that old world to think of, so mechanisms to operate Hybrid IT are very important.

SaaS and PaaS will dominate

I believe that, for organisations that do not see IT as their core business, eventually almost everything that isn’t a clear differentiator for an organisation will be SaaS. Almost everything else will not only use PaaS but will be moved between PaaS providers to chase the best deal; rather like the way we currently move our car insurance. Large organisations, even ones that are not in the IT space, may even become PaaS providers themselves – rather like selling on your excess electricity from a property’s solar panels.

A change to an IT department’s focus

Applications can be categorised as either (a) running on organisation-controlled infrastructure, possibly including a private cloud, or (b) consumed as a service from some kind of shared cloud. The balance of usage is moving inexorably towards (b) and this necessitates a shift in focus - from infrastructure services to application services. This means new approaches and governance; paying particular attention to these key areas:

  1. Federated identity management – avoiding the problems and inefficiencies of users having multiple sets of identity credentials.  Identity management, and single-sign on efforts, now need to extend to applications consumed in SaaS form.
  2. Application to application communication – SLA-aware integration across the extended enterprise and API management to create and manage interfaces to access an organisation’s services.
  3. SaaS Management – on-boarding and off-boarding of services and the master data management necessary.
  4. End to end business process orchestration – managing business processes that not only span multiple clouds but perhaps swap cloud services in and out based on availability or other criteria.
  5. Hybrid IT management – selection, deployment and management of infrastructure and platform services for anything that is not consumed direct from the cloud in SaaS form.

Cloud Application Services, not Infrastructure services

Going forward business is looking at its IT function more for services relating to the cloud hosting of applications than for infrastructure provision. These services include advice on which cloud offerings to use, brokering of these offerings, assurance and risk management – particularly around choosing, on and off boarding, integrating and securing across multiple cloud providers. Infrastructure is becoming a commodity, but there is a new IT currency, and that is cloud application services.

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About John Davenport

Chief Architect - Financial Services
John has worked in IT for nearly 30 years and specialises in looking at things from an application portfolio perspective. He started his career developing large scale monitoring and control systems for the utility industries before moving into architecture roles in the financial services industry and for public sector. John has held a variety of lead architect and design authority roles in which he has been setting strategy, optimising application portfolios and establishing solution governance. Recently he has concentrated on digital solutions for financial services covering the use of hybrid cloud, robotic process automation, compliance and digital customer experience.

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