How Fast Should ISVs Be Moving to the Cloud?
According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, "by 2020 most people will access software applications online and share and access information through the use of remote server networks." In other words, within the next decade, most software users will gradually be moving to the cloud.
This naturally raises the question, "How quickly should software vendors be moving their products to the cloud (or, to be more precise, offering said products 'as a service')?" I've already stressed that the answer to that question depends on the specific needs and pressures of your business (and if you are in the enterprise software business, the need to move quickly may not be all that pressing, as it turns out).
Still, no matter how quickly you want to develop and release 'as-a-service' versions of your software, it can't happen over night. This is the case not only for technical reasons - selecting a platform, developing infrastructure, and redesigning or optimizing code takes time - but also for business reasons. After all, the 'as-a-service' model necessarily brings with it different revenue schemes, different pricing structures, and often different customers (many ISVs develop SaaS offerings as a way to go after SMBs who couldn't afford or lack the infrastructure for their primary offerings).
Regardless of how much or little time it might take, "moving to the cloud" isn't an all-or-nothing proposition. The good news is that you can maintain your current business and continue to serve your current clients (who are in all likelihood buying, installing, configuring, and running software in the old-fashioned way) while experimenting with other delivery options.
The better news is that such experimentation may actually change the way you develop software forever. This notion was brought home to me via a article by Shreekanth Joshi called, "Implications of Cloud Computing for ISVs." In this extremely pithy piece, Joshi raised the possibility that as-a-service products could, among other things, "have built-in hooks for monitoring customer usage." These hooks would provide "instant data" allowing product managers "to determine if certain features have more traction, as compared to others" thus allowing for better product planning and "a more customer-friendly product roadmap."
Maybe I'm hopelessly naive, but this idea struck me as one of the more revolutionary implications of cloud computing for software design. Imagine being able to close the loop between requirements gathering and observed user behavior. Not only that, imagine being able to do this as part of the rapid (bordering on continuous) release cycles associated with SaaS development. Now imagine (and this is the really big idea) a fluidly responsive software product that would adapt to user needs in realtime.
If that's what moving to the cloud would allow ISVs to create, then I would say they can't get there fast enough.
Image Credit: net efekt - Licensed via creative commons.
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