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                                    Showing posts with label PaaS. Show all posts
                                    Showing posts with label PaaS. Show all posts

                                    Wednesday, August 28, 2019

                                    The Use and Misuse of PaaS

                                    One of the key advantages of modern cloud systems is that they often come with rapid development platforms that allow the vendor, partners, and even customers to build extensions and customizations to the system without affecting the underlying code or architecture of the base system. These are generally known as Platform as a Service (PaaS).

                                    Examples include the Salesforce Lightning (formerly Force.com) platform, the SuiteCloud platform of Oracle’s NetSuite, Acumatica’s xRP platform, Sage Intacct’s Platform Services, Microsoft’s Power Platform, and many others.

                                    However, as with so many good things in life, PaaS can be used and abused.

                                    Read the rest of this post on the Strativa blog:
                                    The Use and Misuse of Platform as a Service 

                                    Tuesday, January 28, 2014

                                    Plex's Growth Strategy: Glass Half Full

                                    Those interested in cloud ERP know that Plex was the first provider to offer a cloud-only manufacturing system. Yet Plex has had nowhere near the growth of other cloud enterprise system providers, such as NetSuite. SAP receives a lot of criticism for only having sold 1,000 or so customers its Business ByDesign system--but ByD has only been in general distribution for three or four years. Yet Plex, which launched its cloud offering over 10 years ago, has fewer than 500 customers.What's wrong with this picture?

                                    Last year, encouraged by Plex's new private equity owners, CEO Jason Blessing and his management team formulated a growth strategy, which they presented at the Plex user conference. Afterwards, I outlined what I thought Plex needed to do to execute on it.

                                    Following up now half a year later, Jason circled back to give me another briefing, and it was a good opportunity also to see what progress Plex was making. Here is my take: 
                                    1. Management changes are part of the growth plan. Plex this week announced the appointment of Don Clarke as its new CFO. He appears to be a great candidate for the job. He comes most recently from Eloqua, a leading marketing cloud vendor, where he oversaw Eloqua's growth to nearly $100M in annual revenue, its initial public offering, and its eventual sale to Oracle last year, which put Clarke out of a job.

                                      I joked with Jason that Oracle's acquisition strategy has been serving Plex well in terms of recruiting, as several of Plex's top management team have come from companies that Oracle acquired: Heidi Melin, Plex's CMO, also came from Eloqua, Karl Ederle, VP of Product Management spent time at Taleo, which Oracle acquired in April 2012, and Jason himself came from Taleo.

                                      If Plex's growth strategy is successful, there is likely to be an IPO in Plex's future. Clarke's experience in taking Eloqua public will serve Plex well.
                                       
                                    2. Plex added 59 new customers in 2013, bringing its customer count to "nearly 400." As mentioned earlier, in my view, the total customer count is well below where it should for a decade-old cloud provider. Jason compares it favorably with the 500 or so customer count for Workday, overlooking the fact that Workday launched in late 2006 and that its typical customer is several times larger than Plex's.

                                      Still, Plex's growth in 2013 represents a 15% increase in its customer base and signals that its growth strategy is beginning to take hold.

                                      The new customer count includes some accounts that are larger than Plex has sold to in the past, such as Caterpillar, which is running Plex in a two-tier model for some smaller plants. In my previous post, I outlined some of the functionality improvements that Plex would need to make to better serve these large customers, and there are signs that these enhancements are underway.
                                       
                                    3. Plex doubled its sales force last year. This, no doubt, is behind the uptick in new customer sales. The new sales headcount is serving primarily to expand the geographic coverage outside of Plex's traditional Great Lakes concentration to the South and also to the West Coast. (As part of the expansion, Plex opened a Southern California sales office, which happens to be a short walk from my office near the John Wayne Airport.) There are also increased sales to organizations outside North America, another hopeful sign.
                                       
                                    4. Plex's industry focus remains in three industry sectors: motor vehicles, food and beverage, and aerospace and defense. In my view, this is probably the greatest constraint to Plex's growth strategy. Short-term, having more feet on the street and expanding geographically are low-hanging fruit. But at some point, there will be diminishing returns. Manufacturing contains dozens of sub-sectors, many of which are adjacent to Plex's existing markets. It is not a big jump to build out support and sell into these sub-sectors. We discussed a couple of these, and hopefully, Plex's product management team will have the bandwidth to address them.
                                       
                                    5. Plex's platform remains a weak spot. Most cloud systems today provide a platform for customer enhancements and development of complementary functionality. For example, Salesforce.com offers Salesforce1, a mature platform-as-a-service (PaaS) capability that has spawned an entire ecosystem of partners. NetSuite, likewise, has its SuiteCloud platform.  Although Plex has the beginnings of such a platform, it is still limited to use by Plex's own development team and a few carefully-vetted partners. Jason knows this is a need, and hopefully we will see more progress in this area. 
                                    There is a lot to admire about Plex. Of the few cloud-only ERP providers that are addressing the manufacturing sector, Plex has the most complete footprint of functionality, rivaling mature on-premise manufacturing systems. In addition, customer satisfaction is readily apparent when I speak to installed customers, both new and old. Hopefully, Plex will build on these strengths and see growth accelerate.

                                    There is a Plex 2013 year-end recap available on the Plex website.

                                    Update: And right on cue, Dennis Howlett has done an on-camera interview with Jason Blessing about Plex's 2014 strategy. He also comments on Plex's approach to SaaS pricing. 

                                    Related Posts

                                    Plex Software and Its Mandate for Growth
                                    The Simplicity and Agility of Zero-Upgrades in Cloud ERP
                                    Plex Online: Pure SaaS for Manufacturing

                                    Sunday, September 23, 2012

                                    SAP's Emerging Cloud Platform Strategy

                                    I participated last week in two days of SAP briefings with a group of about 15 bloggers. Part of the time was devoted to explaining SAP's evolving cloud strategy, which I will attempt to summarize in this post. 

                                    Keep in mind that what I'm sharing here is not SAP's own messaging around its cloud strategy. Rather, it is my interpretation of where SAP is going and what it needs to do to be successful.

                                    SAP Has a Proliferation of Cloud Assets

                                    Over the past few years, SAP has been at work rolling out a number of cloud services. The most well-known is Business ByDesign (ByD), a full-suite ERP system, written from the ground up for software-as-a-service (SaaS). This was an enormous development effort, and it went through two development iterations until 2011, when it was ready to scale in production. SAP now has over 1,000 customers running ByD.  

                                    Following initial delivery of ByD, SAP also began rolling out its line-of-business applications. These were built on the ByD cloud platform to meet the needs of specific business functions, such as sales force automation (Sales OnDemand) and expense reporting (Travel OnDemand). There are others, also.

                                    Then in 2011, SAP acquired SuccessFactors, a well-respected cloud-only HRMS vendor. This greatly increased SAP's stature as a SaaS provider, but it also added another set of cloud assets and executive leadership to the mix. Further adding to the complexity: SAP is in process of acquiring Ariba, the venerable provider of supplier networking services.

                                    From Cloud Applications to a Cloud Platform

                                    In my view, the current situation has led to a number of problems. First, SAP's cloud portfolio is largely a collection of unrelated systems, and several different cloud platforms. There has been no common architecture, and no integrated product roadmap.

                                    Second, the rest of SAP's product porfolio is not standing still. Specifically, SAP has been making large investments in its in-memory database technology (HANA), and it has acquired and developed an impressive array of mobility applications and mobility platforms. All of these products have cloud-delivery aspects. 

                                    Third, SAP lacks a single extensible cloud development environment. (ByD does have a PaaS capability, for partners only, but it is limited to ByD.) Customers and partners don't just want cloud apps, they want the ability to extend those apps and build new applications that can interoperate with them. In other words, they want PaaS (platform-as-a-service) in addition to SaaS.

                                    SAP's emerging cloud strategy addresses all of these issues: it embraces all of SAP's existing applications as well as its database and mobility platforms, and it gives customers and partners a development environment to build upon and extend these services.

                                    Here are key aspects of SAP's cloud strategy, as I see them:
                                    1. Everything as a Service. Behind the scenes, SAP has been rearchitecting its SaaS offerings to be delivered as web services. For example, it has broken up ByD functionality into 32 "honeycombs," so that no two of them share a common database. Rather they communicate via messaging. SAP has taken the same approach with its line-of-business applications.  In fact, all of SAP cloud applications will be deployed as web services, including its mobility and database offerings. I have to believe this also includes SuccessFactors. SAP will now be able to sell individual modules (e.g. Finance), or a complete suite, or combinations in between.
                                       
                                    2. Platform-as-a-Service. SAP has built a PaaS capability, now referred to as the SAP Netweaver Cloud (earlier code-names included JPass, Neo, and Project River.) It is intended as a multi-language/multi-framework platform. It is primarily a Java-platform, but its open nature also allows development in a variety of other languages, such as Spring and Ruby. Furthermore, it allows developers to access all of the SAP cloud applications, database services, and mobility services that are now accessible via web services (see point #1).  It even allows applications to access SAP on-premises systems such as SAP ECC, CRM, and HCM. Conceivably, therefore, the Netweaver Cloud could be used for customizations/extensions of SAP on-premises systems that have been traditionally done with ABAP coding.
                                       
                                    3. Ecosystem. The SAP Netweaver Cloud can be used internally by customers or their system integrators, and it also can be also used by third-party developers to build new applications for sale on the SAP Store. This facilitates the growth of SAP's developer ecosystem.
                                    The Netweaver Cloud runs in SAP's own data centers (including those gained through the acquisition of SuccessFactors). There are a number of other features, such as identity services and document services, which I won't go into in this post.

                                    The Pluses and the Minuses

                                    There are several things I like about SAP's emerging cloud strategy.
                                    1. Integration. SAP's is finally integrating all of its cloud assets into a single platform. If successful, nearly anything SAP delivers should be available and accessible through Netweaver Cloud.
                                       
                                    2. Openness. Netweaver Cloud does not use a proprietary language, like Salesforce.com's APEX. Use of public development languages, such as Java and Ruby, facilitates adoption by developers and also works against lock-in to a single platform. Likewise, the PaaS makes use of open source projects from Apache and Eclipse, which should further facilitate adoption by developers. 
                                       
                                    3. Availability. Netweaver Cloud has already been released to customers, and it is scheduled for general availability at the end of this month. A free 90 day trial is already being offered. This puts SAP out ahead of Oracle, whose Oracle Public Cloud is still in controlled availability (though hopefully there will be announcements at Oracle's Open World conference next month).  
                                    On the other hand, there are some aspects that give me concern.
                                    1. Will Customers Understand It? The cloud-only providers have one great advantage: simplicity. Everything Salesforce.com builds is on its Force.com platform. Likewise, enterprise cloud leaders such as NetSuite and Workday grew up with single platforms. Their platforms are relatively easy to explain and easy to understand. SAP, on the other hand, has a variety of on-premises and cloud systems. Furthermore, it has built or acquired a variety of database products and mobility applications and platforms. The SAP cloud platform must now deal with all of these products. It's not easy to explain, as witnessed by the difficulty SAP's own team had in communicating it with our group of tech bloggers. If the bloggers struggle with understanding it, what hope does SAP have to make the message clear to customers or prospects?
                                       
                                    2. Will Developers Adopt It? Developers are a key to success in cloud systems, just as they are in mobility applications. Salesforce.com already has a large and enthusiastic ecosystem of developers for its Force.com platform. Microsoft has an enormous ecosystem of development partners, for whom Microsoft's cloud platform (Azure) is more-or-less an incremental step in using existing Microsoft development tools. Will SAP's current population of partners readily embrace Netweaver Cloud, or will they be content to continue development in the SAP tools they have been using for years? 
                                       
                                    3. Is SAP Too Late? Salesforce.com's PaaS was first introduced in 2006 (I wrote about it at the time, here). NetSuite has had CloudSuite for years. Microsoft has already rolled out and continues to refine its Azure PaaS. SAP is only now rolling out Netweaver Cloud. Though SAP denies this, I do believe that its cloud development efforts in recent years have taken a back seat to its database and mobility development efforts. So now, SAP is playing catch-up. SAP has a lot of work to do to be perceived as a cloud leader.
                                    Regarding that last point, on the other hand, my research at Computer Economics shows that PaaS is a technology that is still in the early adopter phase. Most organizations are still buying individual SaaS applications and have not yet made a strategic commitment to cloud computing as a platform. They have hybrid systems: some on-premises, and some in the cloud. Of course, there are exceptions: these are the early adopters that embrace cloud computing not only for SaaS applications but for PaaS as a development strategy. Nevertheless, the majority have not yet seen the vision. Therefore, if SAP can quickly make its cloud strategy clear and deliver working product, it may still have a shot at being a major player.

                                    Here are some reports from other bloggers who were at this event:
                                    Disclosure: SAP paid for part of my travel expenses to this event. 

                                    Related Posts

                                    SAP in Transition on Mobile, Cloud, and In-Memory Computing
                                    SAP innovating with cloud, mobile and in-memory computing
                                    Salesforce.com to allow customization of its hosted service 

                                    Monday, July 30, 2012

                                    2012 Technology Trends: Call for Survey Respondents

                                    Over at Computer Economics, we've now launched our 2012 Technology Trends survey, and we're looking for qualified IT executives to take a 15-minute survey about their technology investment plans.

                                    What's in it for you? If you complete the survey, we'll send you a complete copy of the final report (a $995 value).


                                    In this year's survey we're asking about your organization's adoption and experience with 13 technologies:
                                    • ERP
                                    • Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
                                    • Supply Chain Management
                                    • Human Resources Management Systems (HRMS)
                                    • Data Warehouse/BI
                                    • Social Business/Collaboration Systems
                                    • Legacy System Renewal
                                    • Software as a Service (SaaS)
                                    • Public Cloud Infrastructure (IaaS)
                                    • Platform as a Service (PaaS)
                                    • Unified Communications
                                    • Desktop Virtualization
                                    • Tablet Computers. 
                                    Want to know more? See a summary of the final report from last year.

                                    Sunday, November 06, 2011

                                    Cutting Through the Fog of Cloud Computing Definitions

                                    In recent years, the term "cloud computing" has been used and abused by vendors and their marketing groups to denote just about anything the vendor offers other than on-premise systems. Analysts too have piled on, each offering their own definition of cloud computing. This 2009 Wall Street Journal article outlined the confusion. The result has been fruitless arguments over what is "true cloud" or "false cloud," as in the recent tit-for-tat speeches by Larry Ellison and Marc Benioff during Oracle Open World.

                                    Such debates are likely to continue, but now there is at least one official source for the definition of cloud computing. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), an arm of the US Department of Commerce, has now published The NIST Definition of Cloud Computing. Though other standards bodies may (or may already have) published their own definitions, NIST carries particular weight as it is often referenced in U.S. governmental procurement. The NIST definition is vendor-agnostic and buyer-centric.

                                    The NIST Definition

                                    The NIST document is short--the body of the document comprises just three pages, with the definition itself taking up less than two pages. In it, the authors describe the essential characteristics, service models, and deployment models for cloud computing.
                                    • The five essential characteristics are: on-demand service, broad network access, resource pooling, rapid elasticity, and measured service.
                                    • They go on to then list three service models, which should be already familiar to most observers: software as a service (SaaS), platform as a service (PaaS), and infrastructure as a service (IaaS).
                                    • Finally, they list four possible deployment models for cloud computing: private cloud, community cloud, public cloud, and hybrid cloud.
                                    In my mind, the section that is most useful for distinguishing what is or is not cloud computing is the first one, the "essential characteristics." So, let me quote NIST directly (emphasis mine).
                                    Essential characteristics:
                                    • On-demand self-service. A consumer can unilaterally provision computing capabilities, such as server time and network storage, as needed automatically without requiring human interaction with each service provider.

                                    • Broad network access. Capabilities are available over the network and accessed through standard mechanisms that promote use by heterogeneous thin or thick client platforms (e.g., mobile phones, tablets, laptops, and workstations).

                                    • Resource pooling. The provider’s computing resources are pooled to serve multiple consumers using a multi-tenant model, with different physical and virtual resources dynamically assigned and reassigned according to consumer demand. There is a sense of location independence in that the customer generally has no control or knowledge over the exact location of the provided resources but may be able to specify location at a higher level of abstraction (e.g., country, state, or datacenter). Examples of resources include storage, processing, memory, and network bandwidth.

                                    • Rapid elasticity. Capabilities can be elastically provisioned and released, in some cases automatically, to scale rapidly outward and inward commensurate with demand. To the consumer, the capabilities available for provisioning often appear to be unlimited and can be appropriated in any quantity at any time.

                                    • Measured service. Cloud systems automatically control and optimize resource use by leveraging a metering capability at some level of abstraction appropriate to the type of service (e.g., storage, processing, bandwidth, and active user accounts). Resource usage can be monitored, controlled, and reported, providing transparency for both the provider and consumer of the utilized service.
                                    Keep these key points in mind.

                                    Cutting Through the Ellison/Benioff Fog

                                    So, let's apply these characteristics to what Larry Ellison and Marc Benioff each describe as cloud computing. In my opinion, both are right and both are wrong.

                                    Benioff's service, Salesforce.com, certainly meets the NIST definition of cloud computing, both in its CRM application, which meets NIST's definition of SaaS, and in its Force.com offering, which meets the definition of PaaS. He is also correct in criticizing the labeling of Oracle's Exalogic hardware as a "cloud in a box." By my reading of NIST's essential characteristics, one could construct a cloud service using Oracle's hardware, but the hardware itself should not be considered a cloud.

                                    But if Benioff is referring to Oracle's newly announced Public Cloud Services as a "false cloud," he is wrong. Oracle's Public Cloud Services certainly meet the NIST definition of cloud computing. But it is primarily an IaaS offering, similar to Amazon's EC2. Assuming that Oracle will offer development capabilities on top of its Public Cloud Service, those would be PaaS, and if it chooses to run applications on top of its Public Cloud Service, such as Oracle CRM On-Demand, those would be SaaS.

                                    On the other hand, Ellison is wrong to label Salesforce.com's PaaS offering as a "false cloud." Ellision's argument is that Force.com utilizes proprietary extensions to Java and other programming languages, which make it difficult to migrate applications to other cloud providers. But there is nothing in the NIST definition of cloud computing that requires interoperability between different cloud service providers, as desirable as that may be. Ellison is simply turning what he sees as a disadvantage of Benioff's cloud into an argument that it is by definition not a cloud.

                                    Cutting Through the Application Hosting Fog

                                    The NIST definition is also useful for cutting through vendor marketing efforts to label anything they do off-premise as cloud computing. In particular, application vendors that simply host their on-premise solutions in their own, or partner, data centers should not be labeling those as cloud computing. In particular, simple hosting of an application does not qualify as cloud computing because it lacks the essential characteristics (see bolded sections in the quoted definition above).

                                    With a hosted application, the customer generally cannot "unilaterally provision computing capabilities, such as server time and network storage, as needed automatically without requiring human interaction." In addition, with a hosted application there is generally no "sense of location independence." Rather, the customer usually knows the data center and may even know the data center, cage, or rack in which his hosted application resides, even if the application is hosted on a virtual server. Finally, with a hosted application, computing resources generally cannot be "elastically provisioned and released, in some cases automatically, to scale rapidly outward and inward commensurate with demand." Rather, the customer must negotiate provision of additional computing resources.

                                    Notice also that the NIST definition does not mention anything about how cloud services are contracted. Some vendors point to subscription pricing as evidence of their hosted applications being cloud offerings. According to NIST, how the customer pays for the service has no bearing as to whether the service is cloud computing. It could be subscription pricing, it could be a perpetual license, or it could be something else.

                                    The marketing hype and confusion over cloud computing will no doubt continue. But at least now NIST offers a reasonable and objective definition.

                                    Related posts

                                    Salesforce.com: more than an itty-bitty application
                                    The inexorable dominance of cloud computing
                                    Lawson's cloud services: good start, but no SaaS
                                    A game-changing play in enterprise software

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