Maximize IT: As-A-Service and the Cloud

by Kevin Squires
Kevin Squires is Vice President, Business Technology for the Econo-Rack Group of companies (Konstant, RediRack, Econo-Rack, Technirack.)
Kevin Squires is Vice President, Business
Technology for the Econo-Rack Group of companies
(Konstant, RediRack, Econo-Rack, Technirack.)

I have had quite a few non-tech people ask me the same question over and over: “What is ‘as-a-service’?” That is usually followed immediately by “What is this ‘cloud’ I keep hearing about?”

So, for those of you nodding your head right now, this column is just for you.

Simply stated, “as-a-service”, referred to in this article as AAS is a service that is specific and usually uses the Internet as a delivery mechanism. If you do online banking, it’s a “service” you access via the Internet. So, in today’s nomenclature, you could call it BaaS, “Banking-as-a-Service” that you access in the cloud (via the Internet.)

Wait! Can it be that simple? Yes, it is. Us IT people like to give acronyms or cute little names to everything; it adds to the mystery of things and makes us feel important. “You simply use it as a SaaS offering in the cloud.” We don’t do it on purpose. It’s just some common flaw in our IT brains.

So why is AAS attractive? Easy. All of the expenses for the service (eg hardware, software, IT personnel, development, disaster recovery, testing, maintenance, upgrades, etc) are absorbed and provided by the service provider. This means all the headaches around maintaining and growing a service or application are theirs. You don’t need IT resources to run and maintain it.

Ok, that’s great, but you must have to pay for the provider having to buy and maintain everything, right? Well, yes and no. Usually, the price is very reasonable for the solution you are getting. In fact, when you compare it against doing it yourself (an “on premises”) solution, the price is very attractive and is often the selling point.

Ok, so wait a minute, someone else has to buy and maintain everything so there isn’t anything you have to do, you access it from the Internet and it’s cheaper? There must be a catch.

There is a catch. You never actually own the solution. It is based on a subscription model, so as long as you pay (usually annual fees,) you have access to the service. That isn’t really a downside since the cost of buying or developing an application, procuring the hardware, maintaining everything and absorbing the risk is usually a higher cost than the service.

Also, economies of scale allow the service provider to provide top-notch technology that would normally be out of reach for most organizations due to cost. A good example of this is security. The “cloud” service providers can afford to implement a very robust security environment that will cover all clients and will generally far surpass what we can all individually implement. This economy of scale upside extends to almost every other facet of the application infrastructure.

“Ok, that’s great, but my company is different and we like things presented to our employees in a certain way and have unique processes.”

You’ll be happy to know there are companies who will work with your organization and your service provider to customize the service even further so that it meshes with your organization seamlessly. This can be anything from cosmetic enhancements and additional functionality to integration with your financial and/or enterprise software. The result is typically a transparent solution with the desired functionality that looks and acts home grown.

You need to actively manage the partnership with your service provider as you would any other. Ensure you adequately address the following:
• Service Level Agreements (SLAs): what is the time frame, by criticality, for resolving issues—and what are the ramifications if those are missed?
• Data: Do not assume you own the data! Make sure you have it in writing that the data belongs to your organization and that there is a plan in place to access your data should the vendor close shop.

The beautiful thing about AAS is because it requires only an Internet connection, you can access it from almost anywhere. The bad thing about AAS is that it requires an Internet connection. If it goes down, you go down. However, most reputable AAS providers have an “offline” mode for this exact scenario. The offline mode will allow you to keep working and synchronize your data when an Internet connection is re-established.

It never ceases to amaze me how old things become new again. Years ago we had the mainframe and the terminal access to the centralized applications. We then moved to the decentralized model for many years with the personal computer. Now, with AAS and “the cloud” we have basically moved back to the mainframe model, hailing it as the latest and greatest new thing.

I better go look for that black fedora I wore in the 80’s; it may be worth something!