As A Service (Part 1)

As A Service (Part 1)

Providing a service is certainly not new to human culture. As the joke goes, the roots can be traced back to one of the worlds oldest professions, but that is a topic for a different day.

In the technology world, “as a service” refers to the ability to provide a demand based solution to a user, regardless of geographic or organizational separation of the provider and consumer. A quick look at Wikipedia or Google reveals the many types offered; Infrastructure, Platform, Software and Data. What I have challenged my friend Clint Oram with is answering whether Platform as a service (PaaS);  a category of cloud computing services that provides a computing platform and a solution stack as a service, is real. And, if if real what exactly is it? For example, is PaaS really just another name for Cloud? For the Internet? Let’s dig in a bit.

Clint Oram (Founder and CTO of SugarCRM) and I go back a few years in the CRM space. We have had many discussions over the years, debates and to be clear, while we agree in many areas, we each have our own opinions. Here are a few questions posed to Clint, a few weeks ago. My philosophy is that what businesses really need is a way to make the Cloud more intelligent; to become platforms that talk to each other, with context (new, hard and a work in progress). From a customer perspective, the best systems, or likely systems that can help are CRM systems.

MJL: Clint, what role does the concept of PaaS play in the current marketplace for Software Applications?

PaaS certainly does play a critical role in building apps in the cloud.  All modern Web application design leverage a platform at the core. When I think of a platform, I envision the building blocks necessary to build solutions.  Yesterday, those building blocks were simply web enabled languages, like .Net, Java, C, PERL even one of my favorites; PHP.  But, languages as the building blocks are limited in scope when building large scale, web-based applications. The LAMP stack, as an example extends the capability of PHP with scalability, elasticity, service orientation (SOA) and true web-enablement. 

This is where SOA has come in to bring those building blocks forward, delivering on the vision of building blocks as services.  Today, it would be unwise to consider building an application without leveraging a series of Web services, from loosely coupled services liking mapping or data quality services to tightly coupled services like relational database or elastic storage services.  And most importantly, application developers are increasingly leveraging services that they don’t own or maintain, but rather lease or subscribe too;which provides huge flexibility here.  This is how you build scalable Web apps today.  And I call those application building blocks delivered as Web services, Platform-as-a-Service.

[My thoughts here are that the true value of PaaS is pretty darn close to being an application, questioning what the real need for a platform independent from a application is to end users]

MJL: Clint, My background, similar to yours is grounded in the CRM space. We share ideas, agree, disagree but both of us seem to believe that CRM has evolved and is even more critical to the modern company then ever before. OK, here is the question... How important is it for a modern CRM application to be more than just a data repository and light workflow for sales people?

One of my favorite topics, and something you know I am passionate about. The first generation of CRM applications were all about systems of record, tracking core customer demographic and transactional information. However, the very design of these applications focused on providing value to managers, not the person who used the system on a daily basis. Certainly, the application helped sales reps and customer service reps to be more organized, but the applications rarely told them [bingo!] anything that they didn’t already know about the customer. CRM has been too much about tracking customer information and financial that gives managers insight into the business. Something you and I have talked about many times over the years, and I believe it is time to change it.

[Agreed. Systems need to become smarter, context aware and built with the needs of the end-user front and center]