Whatever happened to the promised revolution? The hope was that there would be a mass exodus from expensive packaged software to a Web-based share-in-scaled-economies approach. Hope still remains and it’s being found in emerging technologies and a new class of IT vendors.
When you google for details on the latest craze in the news, buy a literary classic from Amazon or place a bid on eBay, you’re engaging technology that not only processes your request, but that also underlies a dramatic shift in the way IT is being bought and consumed.
And this isn’t just a rehash of the old and pretty much defunct ASP (application service provider) play; rather it’s a play on the concept of computing openness — in this case open-source software and open Web services protocols.
During the dot-com bubble, many people believed the browser would become the common interface into a wide spectrum of applications and processes, including accounting, collaboration and HR. But those first forays into Web-based application delivery provided little mass value. Now the likes of Google, Amazon, eBay, GrandCentral and salesforce.com are breathing new life into an all but defunct model of providing applications over the Web.
The ASP model is reborn with a new and much larger story than the original “software through the browser” plot. “Open,” “utility” and “platform” are added to the lexicon and the Web becomes the low-cost infrastructure for hosting and connecting software vendor solutions together — and more importantly, connecting software functionality directly into where a business needs it.
A key stumbling block on the way towards adoption of a Web-based model is a general lack of openness to the idea that less can actually be more. The switch in thinking needed (to recognize the “goodness” of less in-house IT) is to consider functionality first.
Google, eBay and Amazon are opening up access to their Web-based platforms for anyone to use — and to use in ways which were never before conceived. A small chain of pawn shops runs its inventory off eBay’s auction platform without any notable IT infrastructure of its own. Another business has customers buying and selling books from its own branded Web site, and Amazon.com is doing all the heavy lifting in the background.
These Web platform players aren’t going it alone. Under the covers of Google, for example, is an infrastructure powered by Linux — the point is that low-cost open-source software is adding economic impetus in support of a migration to Web-based platforms in as significant a way as are open Web services protocols.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Sun Microsystems is building out utility computing facilities, based on open-source and open protocols, to host software vendor offerings for access over the Web. This model removes the need for organizations using this software to operate, manage, support, secure and otherwise cover the cost of infrastructure attributable to this software — when all they really want is business-supporting functionality. In a Web-based platform environment, CIOs, IT and business managers need to start viewing IT from a radically different perspective.
Taking advantage of software as a service (SaaS) and computing power as a “pay-by-the-drink” utility requires thinking less about the ownership of IT infrastructure and more about delivering functionality and information to end-users within a business context. Getting to a point where more than negligible amounts of today’s IT is delivered through a sort of IT service provider — whether it’s Google, maybe Sun, maybe IBM or a new breed of players altogether — entails figuring out where there is readiness for a new approach.