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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Cloudsourcing

Cloudsourcing is the combination of Cloud Computing and Outsourcing. Individually, they are impacting how Enterprise Architecture is practiced; together they form a driving force for evolution of the practice.


The lexicon of Cloud Computing is rapidly evolving. Perhaps the most significant, yet nascent Cloud trend is the rise of Platform as a Service (PaaS). While traditional cloud offerings focus on infrastructure or basic office applications in The Cloud, PaaS vendors such as Salesforce, Amazon and Google offer a Cloud-based development and hosting platform. While these vary significantly according to purpose, they all feature tools that can rapidly develop, deploy and manage Cloud applications from anywhere via the Internet with a minimum of traditional coding. Consider the impact of this trend.


As enterprises move larger portions of their application stack to PaaS, they become less concerned about managing specific technology products and hardware environments because technology is now abstracted from the code and configuration. They also become less obsessed with the number of applications as a driver of Total Cost of Ownership (TCO), since cost is not based on traditional hardware, software and development maintenance costs.


Offshoring is not new. Many organizations are on their second round of it. Even though most EAs have experience with offshore outsourcing, many EA practices have not adapted to it. The drivers here are a time zone and language barrier that increase the importance of institutional knowledge and documented standards.


Considering these, Cloudsourcing has the following impacts on how we practice EA.
  • It shifts the focus towards the business and away from technology.
  • It elevates the importance of application fungibility and decreases that of complexity as the primary TCO driver.
  • It increases the importance of documentation and standards.
  • It increases the importance of integration through services.
Cloudsourcing shifts the focus of EA towards the business


Many EA practices are still pure technology plays, focusing strategies and standards for the efficient management of technology and the delivery of enterprise-classapplications.
In a fully Cloudsourced enterprise, IT neither owns the hardware, selects technologies or manages the human resourced needed. EA practices that remain focused on technology will have less and less to do; practices that shift toward the business will be more free to add value by considering how best to design the enterprise for success, where technology plays a part but it not the focus.


Cloudsourcing elevates the importance of application fungibility as the primary TCO driver


Fungibility is "the property of a good or a commodity whose individual units are capable of mutual substitution." - Wikipedia.


When applied to IT, it refers to the ability of an application to move in and out of technology systems or processes and is a major concern of organizations considering the move to cloud applications. Because it is early stage, no standards exist for Cloud applications, therefore moving an application from one platform to another is impossible without a complete rewrite.
As a counter example, the J2EE suite of programming standards ensures that an application can port from one J2EE-compliant platform to another. No such standard exist for Cloud Applications. The concern is for early Cloud adopters is vendor lock-in; as the ultimate pricing models for Cloud services have not stabilized - nobody is sure exactly what the TCO will be.
Considered in the context of an outsourced environment, fungible applications can be more easily maintained by various off shore providers because they are designed in a standard fashion.


Cloudsourcing increases the importance of documentation and standards


Cloudsourcing means that off-shore resources are both providing infrastructure services and developing applications on a Cloud Platform. Realities of outsourcing are language and time zone barriers. While infrastructure services are likely to have help desk operations on US time, application development teams are likely not. Standardization of IT delivery, management and architecture processes through documentation will become increasingly important tools to help overcome these obstacles.


Documentation and standards is also important for Cloud applications as they improve fungibility.


Cloudsourcing increases the importance of integration through services


A challenge for PaaS applications is security for an enterprise's data assets. Most organizations are not, and may never be comfortable with vital corporate data living in the Cloud.
For this reason, an important component of any PaaS strategy is integration with data managed through indigenous technology.  Cloud vendors offer solutions claiming conformance with web standards, however many choices remain. Enterprises that have a mature SOA will be at an advantage in easily integrating Cloud applications into their environment while retaining vital data in-house.


Take together, what do these mean for Enterprise Architecture and the organizations that rely on the practice? In a fully Cloudsourced organization of the future, technology-focused EA teams may go away as their primary mission of ensuring the integrity and cost effectiveness of the technology environment will diminish in importance. In order to be effective, focus must shift to business strategy and governance, ensuring applications meet requirements and data is both available and secure.


Application architecture no longer focuses non-functional requirements for performance as these are guaranteed by Cloud Providers or specified in outsourcing contracts. Rather, it must focus on the fungibility of application components and of applications as a whole; evaluating TCO in a totally new cost model.


The net effect of Cloudsourcing - a brave new world.


EA teams that focus on business architecture, strategy and governance will be increasingly important as organizations will continue to grapple with the question, "How do I best expend resources to further the organizations goals". We EAs must focus on answering that question, regardless of the technology.

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Brian has 21 years of engineering and technology leadership including 12 years as an IT professional. As an Enterprise Architect, Brian has been a leader in establishing Enterprise Architecture Practices in both the Financial Services and Defense industries. He has led the development and implementation of information management strategies, established architecture governance processes, and led multimillion dollar, multiyear program teams. In addition, Brian has extensive experience with web interoperability and data exchange standards established by the W3C and OASIS.