What does a vendor really mean when they say they cloud?

  • 24-Feb-2014

One of the attributes that we evaluate in most of our vendor evaluation reports is "Cloud Services."

By “Cloud Services,” we mean to what extent can a particular solution get deployed in a cloud, by you, the vendor, or a third party. It's actually not always a simple proposition, but as enterprises seek to decrease infrastructure spending and free up IT resources, the cloud has risen to the forefront on many agendas.

Definitions of cloud vary and at the very outset, you'll want to distinguish between Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), and Software as a Service (Saas). Beyond that, when a vendor says they “do cloud,” it could mean a variety of things:

  1. The vendor certifies its software for installing in virtualized environments. Many vendors now offer versions of their software that can be installed in a virtualization environment such as VMWare. Other virualization environments such as Oracle’s VirtualBox are not that popular though and sometimes all the modules/features don’t work in a virtualized environment.
     
  2. The vendor or one of its partners offer managed hosting on a traditional version of the software in a datacenter somewhere. You still have control over customizing, extending, and upgrading the software; really, they're just replacing your hardware and network connections with theirs. We could debate whether this is truly “cloud,” but it may be useful.
     
  3. The vendor or one of its partners offers to host your software -- such as document management instances in a public cloud service, like Rackspace, Amazon, or Azure. You'll find many variants here. You could host your document management application on-premise, but take advantage of cloud elasticity for your content delivery infrastructure, to support global delivery or spikes in activity. Alternatively, you could split your storage between an on-premise setup and a cloud-based setup. The vendor (or their partner) may or may not manage your relationship with the cloud provider. The vendor may or may not convert its one-time license fee into a monthly subscription model. As always, you will need to pay more money to the cloud vendor to achieve greater levels of redundancy, reliability, and global dispersion. Also, don't forget the cost and hassle of VPN connections to your cloud instances.

    As above, you are still running “traditional software” as a dedicated instance and are responsible for whatever changes you make to the application, unless the vendor includes that as a managed service. Note that not all on-premise solutions will work in the cloud today.
     
  4. The vendor has built a multi-tenant, SaaS solution from the ground up. You'll find only a few serious SaaS options in the document and records management marketplace.
     

Nevertheless, be wary of hosting companies or other vendor partners that take on-premise software and convert it to multi-tenancy to sell as a shared service to more customers; this frequently does not end well.

We'll have more to say about different cloud related aspects in future blog posts as well as evaluations.

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