Global e-Commerce in the Cloud

Global e-Commerce in the Cloud

Original posted by Robert Koornneef on Thu, Sep 29, 2011

While flying at 10,000 feet recently, I tried to structure the overwhelming stream of information on cloud computing. After gathering information at several webinars and seminars regarding cloud computing and its impact on (IT) organizations, I noticed that there is still confusion on cloud solutions and their role in e-commerce.

Based on my observations, there are three different points of view on cloud computing:

Cloud views

  1. Those that are on cloud nine, who believe that cloud computing is the medicine for all IT issues
    (mostly business/sales that identified opportunities to deliver new services from the cloud instead of their internal IT organization).
  2. Those that have lost visibility due to the lack of standardization and increased complexity
    (IT management /CIO, who in reality have their heads in the clouds and have lost sight).
  3. Those that view cloud computing as just another IT environment (mostly IT staff that are worrying about the complexity of managing an extra environment).

The question is: Who is right?

Cloud defined?
As there is no clear uniform definition of what cloud solutions are, it is difficult to understand what cloud computing really means.

Cloud solutions can vary from traditional/virtualized data centers to public cloud solutions.  There are also private clouds, local clouds and other cloud varieties. I even noticed that existing SAAS (software as a service) solutions have been transformed/renamed to cloud solutions.

Suited for all?
It seems like IT is urgently seeking another revolution and cloud computing is at the center of it all. According to leading information technology research and advisory firms, cloud computing is the number one focus area and it seems to be at the top of the priority list of every CIO. The most excitement can be found in the public cloud. This is probably the environment where most of the new cloud business will be done. Organizations that are not hosted by old legacy environments are best suited to quickly adopt and move to cloud computing solutions to take advantage of all the possibilities  that cloud computing has to offer.

So, what to do if you already have systems in place?
Treat cloud computing as any technology change from an architecture perspective for all roles.  What does this mean?

  • Business/Sales
    Make cloud computing part of business innovation.  This can be an opening to quickly introduce new services. When a new service is needed, the availability of cloud solutions offers an additional perspective to the -make or buy- decision. Nevertheless, those kinds of decisions have to be made in line with the business architecture. Before creating a cloud strategy, you will first need to understand your business strategy, and then determine the role technology must play in your organization. The cloud strategy will be much less about platforms or technical decisions and linked more to the innovation of business processes and, for example, your business process outsourcing (BPO) strategy.
  • IT management/CIO
    With the enormous growth of (so called) cloud solutions and missing uniformity it can be difficult to find the best-suited solution. Will all cloud players that are in the market still exist after two years and have you bet on the wrong horse? If you have tuned your solution on a cloud solution will it be easy to move to another vendor/solution? The reality is that there is not one type of cloud. The lack of a single standard makes integration more difficult than creating a hyperlink on a webpage. Most likely, connections between different services/systems need to be forged manually. For example, synchronizing user login details across multiple platforms is not that easy. As e-commerce solutions consist of multiple services running on several (cloud) platforms, it will be a significant task.Besides a technical implementation there are several items that have to be dealt with:- Data classification/ Patriot act / PCI
    – Licenses (SaaS/ Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)/ Platform as a Service (PaaS)
    – Virtual solutions
    – Legacy platforms
    – Vendor lock- in
    – Ensuring knowledge/information
    – Legislation

    To manage cloud solutions in a controlled manner, it is best to add those solutions to the normal technology roadmap as one of the options. Don’t forget that in order to move applications to the cloud, they must be virtualized. From that perspective, virtualization of the IT environment must be set to priority one on the CIO innovation agenda.

  • IT teams
    In order to get accustomed to the possibilities and boundaries of cloud computing, it should be added to the sandbox/portfolio.  IT specialists have identified that adding a cloud computing solution may also mean adding another environment that needs to be connected and managed. They are mostly worried about the extended complexity of managing an extra virtual environment. Although cloud computing has its advantages, the risk is there that when the set-up is not done under steering of the IT architecture team, the complexity will increase and the possible benefits will not be achieved.

When cloud probably isn’t the right solution

  • Services that store/process sensitive data: customer information, credit card data
  • Many independent/loosely coupled applications, as the need for data integration and processing speed of data can be problematic
  • Services/solutions that require a high standard of control/audit and accountability
  • (3rd party) services/solutions, which do not support virtualization or are not cloud proof (including license strategy )
  • Services which require a lot of customization.

When cloud is likely an “easy” solution

  • Software development and test environments
  • Short-term, high-performance need, e.g. e-commerce solutions which have to deal with regular “unpredictable” bursting (new product release) or with “predictable” bursting (end-of month sale)
  • Temporary solutions: For example, a recall solution, a campaign-related web service, to facilitate a company which requires a temporary environment with little or no need to be integrated and contains no sensitive data
  • Any content delivery network (CDN) services that, inherent in its functionality, is best in the cloud and outside of the organization, like download functionality and/or public video hosting

How to start
As mentioned in one of my earlier blogs, it is almost crucial to make sure that business strategy and IT architecture are aligned and that based on the desired outcome, an innovation portfolio/roadmap will be defined. Cloud solutions must absolutely be a part of it, as well as common sense.

So, as far as the question of  who is right?

They all are.