Tuesday, March 31, 2009


The trick is in what one emphasizes. We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves happy. The amount of work is the same.
-- Carlos Castaneda

Monday, March 30, 2009

Understanding Cloud Computing: The Bottom Line for Publishers - Part 4

It is well understood that technology is complicated and expensive and that publishers increasingly rely on technology to achieve business goals; but few publishers would claim that technology is one of their core competencies. Publishers have traditionally been forced to choose between accepting the complexity and expense of operating an in-house fulfillment system and outsourcing fulfillment operations, and all supporting technology, to a full-service bureau.

Unfortunately, neither in-house nor full-service options allow publishers to fully take advantage of new technologies that could help them diversify channels and revenue generating activities. Operating an in-house fulfillment system requires a significant commitment of capital investment, operating expense, and specialized IT staff to manage ever-increasing complexity. Outsourcing to a typical full-service bureau just transfers the problem to another organization that is focused on fulfillment operations, rather than technology, giving the publisher no benefits but less control.

The advent of cloud computing, and specifically Software as a Service (SaaS), offers publishers an alternative to operating legacy, in-house fulfillment systems or outsourcing fulfillment operations to a legacy service bureau.

A leading-edge audience management solution should be:
  • Designed from the beginning to be delivered as a service
  • Be available either as a self-service application or through a full-service bureau
  • Offer application programming interfaces based on standards like SOAP
  • Be purely browser-based – nothin’ but net
Self-service or full-service, publishers can get the best of all worlds by taking advantage of SaaS audience management solutions: simplicity of operations, and control over systems and finances.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Understanding Cloud Computing: The Benefits and Risks - Part 3

So far, we’ve identified what Cloud computing is and broken it down into four categories: Services, Infrastructure as a Service, Platform as a Service, and Software as a Service. We've also explored some specific examples of commercial services in each category.

The key benefits of cloud computing include:
  • Improved financial control releases capital to invest in revenue-generating initiatives:
    • No capital investment
    • Lower up-front expenses
    • Ability to scale capacity and expenses up or down, based on current demand
  • Simplified operations:
    • No need to manage technology infrastructure or the staff to take care of it – zero IT footprint
    • Frequent, painless upgrades to continuously enhance functionality
    • Secure access from any computer with a Web browser and Internet connectivity
While its benefits are extremely compelling, cloud computing also presents some new risks. Perhaps the most obvious risk is the potential loss of control over IT, specifically: security, reliability, and vendor lock-in. To mitigate the security and reliability risks, look for vendors with active compliance programs, who are willing to to enter into contractual service level agreements that offer credits for unscheduled outages.

Vendor lock-in is actually no different between cloud-based services and in-house systems, since the majority of attributes that make a solution hard to replace are at the application level, which are equivalent between cloud-based and in-house systems, rather than at the infrastructure level. For example, in both cloud and in-house cases, historical data would need to be migrated, application integration would need to be examined, and end-users would need to be re-trained.

Another risk is the potential limitation to the ability to customize the application and integrate it with other applications. To mitigate these risks, look for solutions that were designed from the beginning to be delivered as a service, offering standards-based application programming interfaces (APIs), like Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP), for integration with other applications.

APIs, however, do not always provide a way to truly customize a cloud-based solution, as is typical for an in-house solution, where clients can have direct access to develop custom functionality on the underlying database. The reality is that this form of in-house system customization might provide a little added control over API-level integration, but that control comes at the expense of exponentially increased costs and complexity and slower upgrade cycles, which delays the introduction of new functionality. On the other hand, integration using standards-based APIs provides significant control over functionality without sacrificing control over cost and complexity.

Here’s the bottom line: Cloud services allow clients to both simplify operations and improve control over finances. Risks related to vendor lock-in and limited ability to customize are more a matter of perception than practice. Any remaining risks can be easily mitigated with sound solution selection and vendor management.

Stay tuned for the next and final installment of this series, which will cover what cloud computing means to publishers.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Understanding Cloud Computing: Categories of Services - Part 2

Let’s review.

Companies like Amazon.com, Google, and Salesforce.com are known for offering software solutions to consumers and businesses under a service-based deployment model. This means that the vendor both develops the software and manages the infrastructure to run it, offering customers lower up-front expenses, no capital investment, and the opportunity to scale expenses up or down, based on demand. These are all examples of Software as a Service (SaaS) offerings.

SaaS, it turns out, is a category of cloud computing service. According to a recent article in IEEE Computer, there are four categories of cloud computing services:
  • Services
    • Amazon.com is probably the best known example, here – these are basic technology building blocks like storage, database, and queue services.
    • Usage is billed based on service-specific metrics; for instance, Amazon's S3 storage service costs $0.15/GB of storage per month, plus $0.10/GB transfer in, $0.17/GB transfer out, $0.01/1,000 write operations, $0.01/10,000 read operations, and no minimum charges.
  • Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)
    • Amazon.com's EC2, or Elastic Compute Cloud, is probably the best known example, here - these are virtual server instances, with full administrative access and the ability to configure network services like firewalls.
    • You can sign up, configure a virtual server (or a farm of servers) that run on Amazon’s infrastructure, use them as-needed, and pay by the hour. Pricing ranges from $0.10 - $1.20 per server per hour, depending on class of server and type of operating system.
  • Platform as a Service (PaaS)
    • Both Salesforce.com and Google offer PaaS solutions, which are cloud-based frameworks that allow developers to build and deliver their own applications.
    • The Google App Engine platform supports application development in the open-source Python programming language; Salesforce.com developed a proprietary programming language for building applications on their Force.com platform.
    • Google App Engine is free, up to published quotas, as long as you don't use Google's Checkout payment service. According to Google, these quotas allow you to "serve a reasonably efficient application around 5 million page views per month, completely free."
    • If you exceed your quotas or use Google Checkout, you are charged usage rates of $0.10/CPU hour, $0.15/GB/month storage, $0.10/GB incoming bandwidth, $0.10/GB outgoing bandwidth, and $0.0001/email message recipient. Google also allows you to configure the platform to not exceed a specified budget amount.
  • Software as a Service (SaaS)
    • Salesforce.com is probably the best known example of SaaS - it is a Customer Relationship Management application, delivered as a service. Google's GMail and Docs are also examples of SaaS. These are full applications, delivered as a service.
    • Most SaaS offerings share the following characteristics:
      • Vendor manages infrastructure and software that can efficiently scale to meet peak usage across clients
      • Vendor allows client IT shops to maintain control using Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) that are based on standards such as SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol)
      • Vendor implements client by setting up an account. This starts billing at a minimum rate.
      • Billing increases or decreases based on service-specific metrics like the number of user accounts activated, the number of transactions processed, a share of revenue earned, or the number of API calls made.
      • Committing to fixed fee agreements can provide price stability for both client and vendor.
      • Data migration from legacy platforms and integration support are professional services, billed at an hourly or project rate.
We’ll post part three and four shortly to give an in depth look at the benefits and challenges of Cloud Computing.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Understanding Cloud Computing: What is It? - Part 1

As you probably know, in the world of technology marketing, terminology doesn’t just evolve, it seems to get turned on its head overnight, every night. One of the more recent changes in terminology was the introduction of the term, “Cloud Computing.”

This is the first of a four-part series on Cloud Computing.

IDC expects IT spending on cloud computing services to grow from $16 billion in 2008 to $42 billion by 2012, or 27% CAGR. Given the state of the economy, this prediction, alone, is worth some investigation. So what is cloud computing and why should you care about it (even if you aren't an IT professional)? What solutions are available for audience management, marketing, circulation, and fulfillment professionals?

If you have heard about cloud computing, it was probably in the context of companies like Amazon.com, Google, and Salesforce.com. Each of these companies is known for offering software solutions to consumers and businesses under a service-based deployment model. This means that the vendor both develops the software and manages the infrastructure to run it, offering customers lower up-front expenses, no capital investment, and the opportunity to scale expenses up or down, based on demand.

Amazon.com offers consumers broad online shopping experiences and other online retailers a service-based e-commerce platform. Google offers consumers and businesses a wide range of services including search, Web analytics, email, and productivity applications. Salesforce.com is best known for it's sales force automation and CRM services. These are all examples of a category of cloud computing solutions known as Software as a Service (SaaS, typically pronounced 'saas').

In fact, there are now a multitude of companies of all sizes that offer high-quality, Web 2.0 products as cloud-based services. I'll cover a few of those companies and products in part two of our series, Understanding Cloud Computing: Categories of Services - Part 2.