While some of us have been busy sweating our taxes, the brunt of attention shifted to San Francisco this week where Salesforce.com and Google to publicly consummate their infatuation. Specifically, it’s with Google apps, which is being hyped as the Great White Hope against Microsoft Office as an on demand alternative. Specifically, Google Apps, Gmail, Calendar, and Google Talk will be integrated to the Salesforce.com platform, with the add-on being available to subscribers for as little as $50/per user annually. By contrast, Microsoft Office Live is far less along in its evolution and for now is perceived as more afterthought.
In spite of the odd-couplish qualities (Salesforce’s over-the-top marketing vs. Google’s Zen approach), the pairing makes sense for one basic reason – neither is Microsoft (thy enemy of thy enemy). And it adds a key pillar in Salesforce’s PaaS (platform-as-a-service) strategy, which is to become the de facto enterprise desktop and back office platform. Of course, there’s one critical little hurdle, Josh Greenbaum has been pointing out over the past year, which is that Google’s licensing terms are not exactly enterprise-friendly: specifically, Google gains worldwide license to reproduce your content for the purpose of promoting its services. What it illustrates is that, for its enterprise aspirations, Google is still very oriented towards a consumer-focused business model.
But such legal distractions are but a sideshow – Google could easily afford a smart enough lawyer to adjust its licensing if it could concentrate itself for a moment away from its sling everything up at the wall strategy. The challenge is that Google is still very much the hyperactive precocious child who has yet to get directed: he or she could either grow up to be rocket scientist, poet, or simply somebody who gets rich stuffing merchant fliers around the neighborhood.
Whether Google gets serious about the enterprise market or not, and whether you want your application future to live inside Mark Benioff’s wall garden or not, there’s no question that cloud computing has become more than passing fad.
While this does not portend an immediate mass migration, it points to the inevitability that enterprise computing must increasingly embrace the cloud. Not necessarily for everything (it will depend on the organization), but with finite budgets and resources, IT must, to paraphrase Geoffrey Moore, reexamine what exactly is its core, while dispensing with the context (supporting activities). While Mark Benioff splashes the “No Software” logo around, if you strip out the hype, it’s a matter for IT to not decide, not necessarily to outsource, but instead to decide where it makes sense to let somebody else run the infrastructure.
Dana Gardner, in a rambling post today, asked and volunteered some answers on how the cloud and so-called webby apps (apps that use basic web technologies, nothing fancy) might become part of SOA. In other words, do you really need to go through WS-religion and elaborate enterprise architecture exercises when there might be some services available in the cloud that are ripe for the picking?
Of course, if you really want to get religious, there’s the debate over whether what Dion Hinchcliffe and others have termed Web-Oriented Architectures (WOA), which they claim is a more doable alternative to SOA. “The left-hand turn that Web services took early on in the Internet story (circa 1999-2000) with SOAP, WSDL, UDDI, and WS-I Basic Profile turned out to be definitely not the right answer for the vast majority of integration scenarios,” Hinchcliffe wrote. In other words, while SOA has a finite set of well-defined endpoints, WOA is just the opposite: they consist of resources with assigned endpoints that can be located by search engines rather than UDDI registries; are accessed using RESTful approaches via HTTP rather than SOAP; and use service contracts that are implicit, rather than formally spelled out in a WSDL web service description.
Regardless of whether you are embracing SOA or WOA, Gardner explains that there is no free lunch to integration if you take the cloud seriously. Because much of this is happening outside the firewall, you’ll have to establish clear data governance policies to set rules of engagement and permissible use.
Gardner then ventures over to the precipice by declaring, “Perhaps it’s time to fully divorce data from applications, and wed it all instead to people and groups, guided by roles and permissions, and therefore no longer co-located with applications or even enterprises.” He drills down further, discussing the reality that data is growing more portable than ever, blurring the line between public and internal (private) clouds, and speculates about the organizational ramifications of all this. It’s the opening to a much larger discussion.
But for now, we’ll review the first of a couple interesting plays at virtualizing data services from the cloud. We had a chance to speak with Dave Linthicum, who recently took over as CEO of StrikeIron, a five year-old 25-30 person firm offering an online marketplace of data services that’s out in the cloud. The occasion is that this quarter, the company did what few others in the software business have done: grow its customer base 20%. We’d term the venture SOA without the religion, which is especially apt since Linthicum has not been terribly sanguine of late over prospects for top-down enterprise architectural SOA approaches.
Instead, StrikeIron offers a marketplace data services. Say you’d like to qualify customers for your CRM application or you want to feed demand data to your suppliers. Instead of hooking up to Dun & Bradstreet or your suppliers yourself, you get access to a syndicated feed from D&B (or other commercial sources), or you get a feed published yourself. You still have to perform some integration on your end. Unlike Grand Central Communications an ill-fated predecessor that Linthicum was previously associated with, StrikeIron is not masquerading as a self-contained enterprise integration hub. But at least you’re not looking at extensive enterprise architecture exercises. And priced using the subscription model, that eliminates the bulk of upfront design and architectural costs normally associated with SOA implementation.
In that sense, StrikeIron is an answer to WOA critics who contend that web services took a left hand turn towards complexity. Next week (after the NDA expires), we’ll spotlight a provider from the WOA side who gives their response.