What is the meaning of "Cloud for the Enterprise"?
What is the meaning of “Cloud for the Enterprise”, or its synonym “Enterprise Cloud”? The terms is used often, mostly as a throw away phrase. What is different about Cloud Computing which is “Enterprise” in nature, and that which is not? The phrase also comes up frequently in the discussions around “Enterprise Cloud adoption”.
This has been a topic that I have been wrestling with in the back of my mind over the last month, probably due to me starting my new role at Amazon Web Services this past week, specifically to work within the Enterprise customers. Therefore over the break I have really been considering, what on earth is “Cloud for the Enterprise”?
In thinking “Cloud for the Enterprise” there are three areas that we need to consider. Who is the enterprise, what are their applications and what are their requirements.
Who is the Enterprise?
What do we mean when we are referring to the Enterprise?
The term Enterprise can sometimes refer to simply being commercial in nature. For example you will often hear people discussing services such as DropBox being for consumers. Where as alternative services, such as Huddle or Syncplicty, are characterized as being for the Enterprise. Likewise some companies also have different editions or service levels of their Cloud services. For example Crashplan have consumer, business and enterprise editions.
In our understanding then we need to acknowledge firstly that the phrase is referring to Cloud services which are targeted to business use and not the consumer space.
Next the term Enterprise can often refer to the size of the business, where size either equates to the number of employees or the dollar value of turnover. Typical the business sizes are broken into categories of Small, Medium and Enterprise. Often the Small and Medium are joined to form a category Small-Medium Business (SMB) or Small-Medium Enterprise (SME). Whilst there are no standard on the splits especially across countries, typically if you have less than 500 employees you are a SME. These cutoffs are the stuff that Sales people loose sleep over as they have a big impact on their territories. If you are interested to know the number of businesses of different employee sizes in the US, they can easily be found in the census data tables.
Therefore in our understanding we want to acknowledge that we are discussing large scale entities. Yes, small and medium enterprises can and are consumers of Cloud services, however I believe when we hear the term “Cloud for the Enterprise” we are not discussing them.
To summarize our first area; when we discuss “Cloud for the Enterprise” we are discussing:
- Business rather than consumer based services.
- Where that business is large, typically 500 or more employees.
What are Enterprise applications?
The second area that we should be thinking about in “Cloud for the Enterprise” is Enterprise applications or Enterprise software. Often when the phrase is used, it is attempting to make a distinction in the nature of the application workloads. I believe that the reference is to the breadth and the nature of Enterprise applications.
In the business world there is usually a differentiation when things become “Enterprise” in nature. Anecdotally the most obvious is that the price tag has extra zeros on the end. I think that Mark McDonald stated what this means really well.
People talk about the ‘enterprise’ all the time, particularly in IT. There are enterprise solutions, enterprise architecture, enterprise portals, enterprise security, etc. In this context the term enterprise is more often meant to mean all encompassing, across business units or geographies, the whole of our business operations.This breadth aspect of the “Enterprise” attribute, particularly in IT is very helpful. We know that there is great adoption of Cloud services within businesses that are Enterprise in size. Many of these deployments have not been concerned with finding Cloud services that are labeled as Enterprise in nature. We have all heard the stories of Cloud deployments that were skunk works funded through a corporate credit card. Likewise there have been significant deployments which have been blessed by or even driven by IT, but they have remained as isolated deployments, special projects, or have been given approval to live outside of the normal regime.
My perception is that when we are discussing “Cloud for the Enterprise” we are also talking about deployments and solutions that are broad. Where the usage is the normal rather than the unknown or the exception. Where the use case runs across the breadth of the business and not for isolated solutions.
Enterprise applications are software that is used to run the business rather than software used by an individual. So whilst a user might use Microsoft Excel to track and manage business functions it is not typically viewed as an Enterprise “application”. A helpful definition from Wikipedia is
Enterprise application software is application software that performs business functions such as order processing, procurement, production scheduling, customer information management, energy management, and accounting. It is typically hosted on servers and provides simultaneous services to a large number of users, typically over a computer network. This is in contrast to a single-user application that is executed on a user's personal computer and serves only one user at a time.Given the nature of these systems they are usually large and complex, much of the business process is integrated and intertwined to the application. It is typically expensive and time consuming to implement or change from one application to another. These are the critical application that the whole business relies on to generate its revenue and service its customers.
Many Enterprise applications, due to their legacy have certain architectures. Often these architectures are very different from the new paradigm that is Cloud computing. Traditional Enterprise applications are often (but not always):
- Scale up rather than scale out
- Have specific requirements in hardware and software compatibility
- Mandate specific and consistent performance from underlying infrastructure
- Are intolerant of failure in any underlying infrastructure and rely on the high availability of all components
It is a hyper exaggeration but a characterization could be made that modern Cloud applications are scale out, distributed systems built on Open Source Operating Systems and software, such as Linux. Enterprise applications on the other hand, are scale up, monolithic systems built on proprietary Operating Systems and software such as that from Microsoft or Oracle.
Enterprise applications, even leaving aside the way they are architected, are often sitting in a different class from others within the business. These are your “bet the business” workloads.
To summarize our second area; when we discuss “Cloud for the Enterprise” we are discussing:
- Where the solution has breadth and depth across the business rather than being an exception.
- Critical application that the whole business relies on to generate its revenue and service its customers.
- Often the applications are based on a traditional rather than cloud architecture.
What are the requirements of an Enterprise?
The third area of consideration is that of Enterprise requirements. Because we are dealing with much larger businesses and the workloads are critical in nature the requirements placed on the service are different.
Requirements are an area where there will be great variation across different businesses and different applications. Even without introducing Cloud computing into the mix there is great variance in business maturity, execution and industry regulation. For example a business in the financial services industry is more regulated and manages data of greater sensitivity and risk, than a business in the media industry.
However there will be requirements that are shared across Enterprise solutions. The list of requirements below outlines my starting thoughts, but I am sure these will grow as others provide some valuable insight.
Enterprise requirements for Cloud, include:
- Data sovereignty - there will be more concern over the geographical storage of data.
- Private networking – whilst many may interface to the public Internet there will be a dominance of deployment onto private networks, integrated with corporate wide area networks.
- Authentication, authorization and accounting (AAA) - with more staff and larger deployments sophisticated access controls and tracking is required, often integrated to existing systems.
- Security – including third party certifications, which validate procedures and policies that the Cloud provider claims to be operating.
- Detailed billing - which can also be interfaced for analysis and chargeback.
- Reference cases and best practices - a propensity to not be the first at adoption and that best practices and deployment guidelines are readily available.
- Support services - that can sustain the service levels the Enterprise is required to deliver to the business for the applications.
- Maturity in feature set - as the use cases are border and diversity across the business needs to accommodate the greatest amount of consolidation.
- Application vendor support - where the Cloud provider and vendor have worked together to test functionality and that cross company support arrangements are in place to resolve incidents in a timely manner.
- Maturity of the Cloud provider - that is of sufficient size to engage with large business and meet their unique needs.
Ultimately it will be customers to define for the industry what “Cloud for the Enterprise” means. As Cloud practitioners and as an industry we should be clear in our usage of terms and what they mean. We should not be Enterprise Cloud Washing, taking any Cloud and throwing an “Enterprise” label on it. When we are discussing Cloud for the Enterprise, we want to know what that generally means, as well as what it does not mean. Most importantly we want to understand what might make it different.
“Cloud for the Enterprise” is for large business, for those strategic services that support the key functions of the business operations. The service will deliver to the requirements demanded by these entities and workloads.
Appreciate your comments and contribution.
P.S. As always, remember the views expressed are my own person ones and do not assert the view of my current or past employers.
P.P.S. This is my starting position. I don’t think I have locked it all down yet. Over the next weeks I expect to have some great conversations with some really smart people at work who I am sure will have some golden nuggets on the topic. Just like a meeting I had many years ago with Kunjal Trivedi whilst he was at Cisco; his insight in Cloud way back then gave me many epiphany moments, which I milked for insight for years. Also there was some discussion of this topic on a recent SpeakingInTech podcast.