Sunday, December 16, 2007

Trends: The Rise and Emergence of Appliances

2008 Trends Heralds A World Beyond SaaS

As the year begins to wrap up, I am already beginning to read the first rounds of predictions for technology trends for next year. Flowing from analysts, reporters, and industry pundits, among the first I caught yesterday listed in the top 10 industry trends for 2008 was increased adoption of functions (in this case security) delivered via the software as a service model. SaaS, as more commonly and easily referred to, has been red hot for a number of years and now is commonly believed to be the delivery model of choice for small and medium sized enterprises. I certainly don’t dispute the value of its ease of use and deployment benefits, nor the lower upfront licensing threshold that makes SaaS an attractive solution. However, SaaS is not the industry’s panacea for medium enterprises software adoption needs, principally because it is not a good solution to address certain functions. A case in point is in the management space. There are numerous management functions you simply cannot do over a WAN. The protocols are just not supported. Coupled with real issues around network latency and security, makes doing general purpose system management through a traditional SaaS model just not a good idea.

For Some Scenarios, Appliances Deliver The Same Benefits as SaaS Without the Long Term Costs

So how do you still get the ease of use and simplicity of deployment that SaaS delivers but for a function like systems management? You pull out a page from our short technology historical past—and I would argue our historical future too: you look to the appliance form factor. In full disclosure, my view is colored; I now work for a company, KACE, which delivers its product via an appliance. That said, I was also on the front lines of delivering early CRM and ERP applications via a SaaS model and have had ample time and experience to compare the two.

There’s a lot of truth in the statement: the biggest skeptic is the biggest convert. Indeed, I have found my religion in the appliance. It offers the ease of use and simplicity of deployment that SaaS does (slap it in the rack and turn it on), but operates within an organization’s network allowing you do everything needed to manage your IT environment securely and at blistering speed. And from the cost angle, more and more reports are being published about the real costs of subscription based pricing which while attractive up front, oftentimes proves more costly in the longer term.

Today's Perimeter Based Appliances Expand Beyond Yesterday's Purpose Built Approaches

My conversion to the appliance has been gradual. Like many in the industry and especially those coming primarily from enterprise software, my recollection of appliances dates back to the late 90’s when big enterprise players like IBM, Oracle, HP, and others were pre-installing their software on Dell or their own hardware and shipping a so called “appliance.” These “appliances” were really just pre-installed and configured servers and that was the limit of their value; it saved a sys admin a day of work getting a new server up and running. But today’s appliances are much, much more. For starters they really shouldn’t be called simply “appliances.” They are “purpose built appliances:” built from the ground up with a specific function and way of operating in mind and optimized for such. They take the black box approach to solving a problem where everything that is needed (database, OS, reporting software, etc) is built into the application, as well as all hardware required, and optimized for its specific function. The result: an all in one approach which in most cases simply needs to be plugged in.

Perimeter-based appliances have seen widespread adoption already. These are appliances that generally sit at the edge of a network and don’t require a lot of administrative interaction. Firewalls are great examples of such. There is, however, a whole new generation of appliances that could be classified as server application appliances. These have become core to the data center and are being used by administrators on a daily basis. Companies like IronPort (now Cisco), KACE, and Cast Iron are all great examples of such and have rapidly carved out a place for themselves within their respective functions of security, systems management, and EAI. This new generation of appliances is also finding a sweet spot among the customers whom they serve. While the companies mentioned above may have started out targeting different customer segments and sizes (and some still do), they have seen strong adoption by medium-sized enterprises. The reasons for this are the same reasons SaaS has succeeded; they offer a model of simplicity that is easy to deploy, comprehensive in nature, and cost effective. For the medium enterprise which is oftentimes resource constrained and lacks the expertise and know how to take on complicated software deployments, the simplicity of the appliance approach is ideal.

The bottom line for users

CUSTOMER TESTIMONY IN SYSTEMS MANAGEMENT APPLIANCES PROVIDES A POSITIVE PROOF POINT

My own conversion to the appliance was made complete when we held our user conference last month and I had the opportunity to speak with numerous customers about how they are using their systems management appliances. It literally blew me away. The customers love the appliance model! Mostly medium-sized companies ranging from schools districts, state and local entities, to financial service providers and manufacturing concerns, I heard the same statements repeated again and again:

  • “I love the appliance form factor.”
  • “I love the simplicity.”
  • “I love the design of the system.”
  • “I love the comprehensive nature of your offering.”
With more than 15 years of software industry experience under my belt, I can count on one hand how many times I have heard the word “love” to describe products I’ve worked on. In two days, I heard it, at least, two dozen times. When you hear a chord that resonates, you just know it works. I walked away from the user conference knowing the appliance model is here to stay and more than likely, poised to take off.

If you want to learn more about server application appliances and how they compare to SaaS, check out this white paper. It requires a registration, but is a good one.

(The personal contents in this blog do not reflect the opinions, ideas, thoughts, points of view, and any other potential attribution of my current, past, or future employers.)
Copyrighted 2007 by Wynn White / R Wang/ Software Insiders Point of View. All rights reserved

2 comments:

Anna said...

Thanks for highlighting the emerging and actively used technologies and the players all set to grab the market..I just wanna add the instance of web conferencing ...its soon to take place of IMs . I too start giving more weight age to my www.rhubcom.com over skype and other tools as this will be the global trend soon over text IMs.

jay paul said...

Really nice post, you got great blog and Thank you for sharing This excellently written content. Waiting for next one.

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