What is the ‘cloud’?
The term ‘cloud’ is often used to mean a number of different things. We define the cloud as server resource which is:
Centralised application deployment to clients and servers at all customers, minimising deployment costs both for vendor and customer.
- Scalable on-demand
To permit new collaboration partners and meet data exchange requirements.
Spread across multiple hardware platforms to minimise risk.
Limited to enterprise customers with appropriate provisions for data security.
Uncontended, multi-tenant but single use.
This clearly differentiates this usage of ‘cloud’ from other solutions that may be some or none of the above.
Getting to the right architecture
We believe that our use of the cloud gives us two key advantages; immediate, seamless external collaboration and low Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). We can’t get these advantages from a solely on-premise solution.
Given our need to interface with a wide range of enterprise systems we require some sort of on-premise component; an entirely cloud-based solution is inappropriate and undesirable for these reasons:
- I/O requirements will be unsustainable, or
- Customer will have to move substantial quantities of enterprise data to the cloud, relinquishing control, or
- Vendor servers will have to be included into the enterprise network through VPN, thus transferring enterprise data outside physical control.
So we’ve arrived at a ‘hybrid-cloud’ model, where the best of both on-premise and cloud worlds is in play:
- An on-premise component which connects to enterprise systems, authenticates users, aggregates and serves data and manages communications to the cloud servers.
- A cloud component which permits centralised delivery of client and server updates and manages communications with external users and on-premise servers.
(There’s a more detailed architecture diagram here.)
Advantage #1: External Collaboration
A cloud component facilitates the exchange of data between organisations without the need for email. Not only does this reduce the risk of data being distributed outside the intended audience, but it increases the speed of data exchange with third parties – an essential property.
This in turn reduces the amount of end-user data manipulation required, reducing duplication and increasing the relevance of the data. Instead of exchanging mere snapshots of information, users can share real-time data.
Advantage #2: Total Cost of Ownership
The cloud component allows central management of updates and new features, giving the platform all the benefits of a cloud based, device independent, software-as-a-service implementation:
- Low cost of deployment, particularly reducing initial capital expenditure.
- Fast deployment through browsers only.
- Reduction in reliance on local IT infrastructure.
It also allows us to deliver some advantages that either a solely on-premise or cloud-based solution could not deliver:
- Applications and data should stay local; the OIC solution should not mandate that these are moved to the cloud.
- Given the need to interface with back end solutions, on-premise server components should be brought up to date with new functionality and defect fixes automatically.
Therefore this SaaS model differs from the convention; it can be thought of as SaaS+.
We think it’s important that any software deployed on-premise is built on a standard application stack, i.e., an operating system, database management system, middleware and web server that is common and well understood. The risks of deploying proprietary platforms are well understood; expertise may become hard to find, integrating into the rest of the IT architecture can be difficult and it can be hard to exit from the solution.
Therefore the logical path for the on-premise component has been to build on Microsoft Windows 2008 Server R2, which incorporates the IIS web server; it’s stable, secure and easy for an organisation to manage as part of the existing infrastructure. It also securely integrates into most enterprise IT infrastructures using Windows Integrated Authentication.
Key Design Criteria
When designing the platform we had the following key criteria in mind:
- No line of business data should be persisted outside the corporate network.
- No corporate data is transmitted outside the corporate network unless external users are specifically authorized to access it.
- Corporate data should be provided to end-users in real-time on demand, i.e., without caching.
- Design for the thinnest possible client; smallest footprint, lowest cost – ideally through standard browsers without reliance on plug-ins.
We believe that if a platform is good enough – in fact, if it’s genuinely a platform at all – it should be easy to prove it’s value with little effort. A small pilot deployment should show how a platform:
- Adapts to your business processes and end-user requirements without requiring significant development work or configuration.
- Delivers significant business benefit even from a deployment to a niche business function or limited number of users.
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