"Storm of the Century... Perfect Storm... Catastrophic Event... All descriptions of Hurricane Sandy right? Not exactly. They are quotes from the media describing Hurricane Irene and Katrina. To be sure, hurricane Sandy will take is place among the most costly hurricanes, but the point is that hurricanes are a fact of life and occur every year and yet companies seem to be "caught off guard" and "are taken by surprise" every year. When that "caught off guard" company is delivering your business's mission critical communications, well, that's something to talk about.
One of the benefits of moving your communications infrastructure to the cloud is the fact that you are no longer responsible for managing and maintaining that infrastructure, your cloud service provider is. They are supposed to be the experts and have the resources and experience to deliver your communications much more reliable than you could do on your own! While this might be true in theory, in the real world of "Sandy" events, it is far from the truth and in many cases can severely impact your business to the point of putting you out of business.
The problem comes down to the fact that there are a lot of moving parts to delivering a cloud service and not all cloud service providers have the real knowledge or experience to deliver the service in an ultra-reliable manner. As can be seen in the diagram below, there are 5 major components that impact the reliability and availability of cloud services:
Let's start in the upper left corner with "Management Philosophy". You might ask "What does Management Philosophy have anything to do with reliability and availability?" Well, a company focused solely on short term profits or quantity over quality might not spend the necessary time or money to make sure reliable operations are obtained and maintained. You see this every day in the retail business.... Nordstroms versus Walmart. Both are successful, but which one goes the extra mile for you? Corporate philosophy matters and when it comes to delivering your corporate communications, do you want Nordstroms or Walmart doing it?
Let's move on to "Operational Methodology". Wow, sounds like a grad school class! Well in some respects it is. Having sound processes, procedures and methods can mean the difference between an outage every month or every other year! It also can mean the difference between any particular outage lasting hours versus seconds or minutes. When you combine the worst case of both number of outages and length of outage, you can be down for a long long time. Pro-active monitoring, repetitive "firedrills" to keep prepared in case of an emergency, and clear, defined, written procedures and escalation paths are all key to an operational methodology that minimizes both outage frequency and outage period. When the vendor has a heads up of an impending disaster (like hurricane Sandy, which was reported on for days as being the worst storm to hit the east coast), are there procedures in place to pro-actively ensure the full operation continues through the event? This might include moving users from one data center to another in a safer location. These are the kind of preventative methodology that separates an ultra-reliable cloud provider from the rest of the pack.
Next is "Software". This is actually the WEAKEST LINK in the whole system, no matter which vendor you choose! Systems today are large and complex and contain thousands of lines of code. Invariable, new releases will fix old bugs but introduce new ones. Is it hopeless? No, there are many things a vendor can and must do to reduce production bugs and minimize outages due to software. The most important thing is to "own" the software! A service provider that is also the technology provider and owns the software will be able to directly test and QA the software and respond to bugs faster and with more accuracy than a service provider that licenses the technology from someone else. Owning the software can reduce outage times from hours to minutes. Secondly, multi-level pre-testing at scale must be done to ensure most bugs are found and eliminated before reaching production. And thirdly, the software must be kept up to date. Running on old versions of software guarantees a higher probability of hitting a bug.
The "Data Center" is next and what is probably most talked about by your vendor. They might say "we're fully redundant" and beat their chest as if that were the most important component to their reliability and availability. Unfortunately, they have missed the boat completely in even understanding reliability and availability. It has NOTHING to do with the most reliable component in the system, it has EVERYTHING to do with the LEAST reliable component in the system, which we have already identified as "Software". In fact, today, most vendors datacenter's are redundant such that any single hardware component failure is completely masked and doesn't impact reliability/availability at all. However, there is one important aspect to the data center even today: location! If their datacenter is located in an area that is prone to natural disasters (like hurricanes and floods) then the vendor is asking for trouble and you are going to be the recipient of that trouble!
Finally, there is "Connectivity" which is actually the second weakest link right behind Software. While IP connectivity has gotten a lot better in the past couple of years, it still remains one of the highest failure rate items in cloud deployment. Again, a well designed cloud deployment can mitigate many of the connectivity issues. Dual connections on different carriers with a load balancing router can reduce connectivity failures. Cloud vendors that proactively monitor carrier networks and can switch upon detection of a carrier problem will provide the most reliable operations.
So how is PanTerra different from other cloud vendors? Well, that's the $64,000 question. I'll give you the $1M answer:
As you can see, PanTerra understands what really contributes to reliability and availability and has developed a complete approach to address each and every component in the system. PanTerra understands that the solution is only as good as the weakest link, thus we are constantly driving to improve the reliability of all components in the system. The results speak for themselves as PanTerra has maintained virtually a 99.999% uptime for its customers over the past 2 years. While we are not perfect, we are committed to our quest for that perfect reliability number in the sky!
The damage and havoc Sandy brought to the east coast was devastating and our hearts and prayers go out to all those affected by the storm.
If you read my last blog (a while ago!), then you're probably going to scratch your head when you read this one! My last blog extolled the virtues of horizontal vendors that only focus on a piece of the solution as opposed to providing the whole vertical solution. I gave examples of AT&T and others trying to "do too much" and ending up not doing anything well. I still stand by that assertion for many vendors, especially those vendors have an underlying weakness in providing a strong horizontal solution and thus use the vertical solution approach to lock a customer in.
So then why has PanTerra Networks just announced SentraCloud, a fully managed, end-to-end, complete Unified Cloud IT Service solution? The definition of a vertical solution! Well, the key to PanTerra's new solution is the fact that we built a world class horizontal cloud IT service solution first and then layered a world class fully managed solution on top of it! Adding fully managed bandwidth and on-premises equipment to our award-winning fully managed WorldSmart cloud IT service is a logical extension for many enterprises that want to outsource their whole IT infrastructure to an expert. With a strong foundation in high reliable cloud IT services, we provide an even greater value proposition for enterprises.
Managing the complete end to end solution for an enterprise frees up critical resources that can be refocused on core competencies that can ultimately give an enterprise a competitive edge in the market. And it futureproofs the whole IT infrastructure, not just the services themselves, but the equipment and bandwidth associated with delivering and using the service. This is key to infrastructure cost and complexity reduction.
PanTerra Networks will offer both self-managed and fully managed unified cloud IT service solutions so that enterprises can choose which solution best fits their needs and will even support migration from self-managed to fully managed in the future if the need arises. With PanTerra, enterprises can have the best of both worlds! Check out PanTerra's newly announced SentraCloud, fully managed Unified Cloud IT Service solution today!
Consolidation is a good thing.... if done properly. Of course if not, watch out! When you consolidate horizontally in the market, that can build economies of scale and efficiencies, however, if you try to consolidate vertically, trying to create a "single vendor vertical eco-system", that can lead to disaster. And that disaster ends up not just for the company but for all the customers left "holding the bag"!
Need an example? Remember when the phone company was the single vendor solution for ALL your communications. If you wanted phone service, you called AT&T. If you wanted Internet Service, you called AT&T. If you wanted Mobile service, you called AT&T. How's that working for you lately??? Have any dropped calls on your mobile phone lately? Looked at your phone or internet bill lately? Maybe you're paying too much? Trying to be a single vertical vendor to al your customers is a daunting and virtually impossible task these days.
Many times, vendors have to choose between features and reliable service, not a particularly palatable choice when presented to the end customer. In fact, when a communications vendor tries to be the "single vertical solution provider" to their customer, it is the customer that ends up "holding the bag" and that bag typically doesn't smell very good!
Again let's look at some recent industry "vertical" consolidation. Recently some of the carriers have announced that they are getting into the cloud communications services business. They want to deliver "one stop shop" bandwidth and communications services to their customers. Now that sounds really great on the surface.... but let's take a closer look. Typically that means as a customer, you must deploy using that carrier's bandwidth solution which may or may not be the most economical or even reliable bandwidth at all your company locations. It also means the communications services they are selling you are running in their datacenters which are primarily serviced by their bandwidth. But that sounds good doesn't it? Well, what happens with their datacenter or bandwidth has a major problem (which unfortunately can happen often)? What happens, is that those services (which are critical to you as a customer) will go down! and won't come back up until the carrier fixes the problem. Yep, you are dependent on one company to get your communications services back up and running.
Now let's look at horizontally consolidated eco-system, where each vendor specializes in delivering a particular part of the complete solution: communications services vendors, datacenter vendors, bandwidth carrier vendors, last-mile providers. In this eco-system, each vendors will be an expert in their area and will typically interconnect with multiple vendors both downstream and upstream in their eco-system. A cloud unified communications service provider (like PanTerra) will run multiple datacenters (from several vendors) which are connected to multiple bandwidth carriers equally. This "agnostic" approach ensures reliable operation even if one or more of the carriers or datacenters goes down. This is a key pillar in the architecture of reliable cloud communications: agnostic relationships in the vertical eco-system
So when faced with selecting the best cloud unified communications service, ask yourself "To be agnostic, or not to be agnostic?" and choose and agnostic approach such as PanTerra's WorldSmart Cloud-based Unified Communications Solution to get the most reliable solution available.
Consumer free apps are the bain of my existence. My iPhone is littered with them. There's something primal that is triggered in my DNA when I hear the word FREE. I think of two things: 1) It must be something that is useless or 2) It must be timelocked so I'll have to upgrade to keep using it! Yes, in fact all my free apps to date fall into these two categories! You might say I was jaded in my perception of what a free app was all about.
Well, leave it to PanTerra to turn my world upside down! They've introduced an exciting new Business to Customer (B2C) UC application that's free!!! and available instantly. So what is it? Well, it's a basic version of their WorldSmart Unified Communications application specifically targeted at potential, new and existing customers, clients, vendors and partners of current WorldSmart businesses, to provide better communications and access.
Some of TryUC's cool features include:
I say "WOW"! You get all that functionality for Free??? Instantly??? Now that's amazing... and certainly NOT useless! Think of the possibilities:
CLOSE MORE SALES. Give TryUC to prospective customers and clients for free. And there isn't ANY software for them to download so it's more secure and they can be confident no malware is being downloaded to their computer. They can see your real-time presence and communicate with you through voice, IM, SMS, conference and desktop sharing! All with a click of the mouse. If they have a quick question, they can just securely IM you. With such instant connections, you will become the default go to company for them and that means more business and more sales!
INCREASE CUSTOMER SATISFACTION. Are your customers churning because they wait in your call queue to get to a support representative too long? This grates me more than anything. It's like "you bought it, now we can ignore you!". Well, if you customers have TryUC, they have multiple ways to connect to you, not just waiting in a call queue. Many times, it's a quick question and IM is a great channel. Or maybe a quick desktop share to show the problem can save tons of time! TryUC can increase customer satisfaction while lowering overall support costs.
BE MORE PRODUCTIVE. You have WorldSmart inside your company and you see the benefits of faster communications and more productivity. Why not extend that productivity to your customers, clients, prospects, vendors and partners. How often are you wasting time playing phone tag? or email tag? I used to do it all the time, but with TryUC, you can cut that wasted time in half or less.
So there has to be a catch right? It's time locked right??? NOPE. No timelock here. There's a limit as to how many invitations you can send???? NOPE, send them to ALL your customers, prospects, clients, vendors, and partners. TryUC is a revolutionary B2C UC app that's free... instantly! Check it out here
Regularly, I scan the web for new and interesting technologies, products and services. Like the Apple iPad just recently introduced. As always, I am amazed at the product genius of Steve Jobs. He knows how to leverage his position in the industry and strength of followers into something that is larger than life. Apple does not "own" the desktop or laptop markets, yet the iPad is positioned to "re-define both". It is already crowned the "multi-media" device of the century and yet is doesn't even run one of the industry's most broadly deployed website multi-media applications: Adobe Flash. Any other company (including Microsoft and Google) would have been lambasted for introducing such a product, but Apple, love them or hate them, it able to pull it off with only a modicum amount of critique. I admire Jobs and his company for knowing, controlling and harnessing their influence in the industry.
What is perplexing to me, is the number of companies that try to "imitate" this influence game without "the influence"! Especially in our industry: communications. I see it everyday as I peruse websites that make wild claims to have "Unified Communications" solutions, and even "cloud-based Unified Communications". Both as the "holy grail" to which companies aspire to and customers are starting to learn about. Yes, the benefits to customers are enormous: elimination of on-premises hardware and software, lower monthly expenses, faster response to customers and clients, and higher levels of productivity. BUT, you have to deliver these benefits through actual Unification of Communications! No one in our industry has the "Apple" influence such that they can deliver a solution with "significant holes" and expect the masses to follow with unwavering faith. Plastering unified communications all over a website isn't the same as delivering unified communications! It's more like being a Sheep in Wolves' Clothing. Or as someone (or multiple people) said last year, "You can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig!"
Come'on people, I'll admit it, we're not Apple (yet). No one in our industry is (even though some "sheep in wolves' clothing" companies would try to lead you to believe they are). We must and do deliver Unified Communications in its entirety so that you can reap the benefits of Unified Communications in its entirety. Click here to check it out for yourself!
This past week, I found myself in a different city every day on the east coast talking with channel partners and customers. What a great experience! Meeting people that are passionate, driven and excited about new solutions that will help them in their daily lives is what it's all about. What was even more exciting was the fact that we were announcing our latest generation of WorldSmart, our fully cloud-based Unified Communications platform. With WorldSmart, we are the industry's first cloud-based UC provider to deliver a 100% browser-based UC client experience too!
WorldSmart Browser-based Desktop
I got a chance to "eat our own dog food" as I met with each of the customers and partners and showed them that with just an internet connection and a browser, I essentially "brought my desktop" with me. I brought up all my contacts, send emails, checked on the real-time status of everyone in the company (even those in India!), chatted with a couple people and listened to a voicemail from another person.... all without leaving WorldSmart! I got one word from all the customers and partners... Cool!
WorldSmart Browser-based Desktop
With WorldSmart, all your communications are stored up in the cloud. Nothing resides on your desktop and there is NO software to install, maintain or upgrade. What a concept. I can check on old IMs or review prior recorded calls all from the comfort of my browser. It really hit home on this trip how powerful WorldSmart really is.
I've always said technology for technologies sake doesn't make sense. I'm excited to validate that WorldSmart is ushering in a new age of communications. You might say PanTerra has "re-invented communications" with WorldSmart. Check WorldSmart out today!
The other day, I found myself at the pharmacy gazing at down the Cold remedies aisle trying to find something to deal with the winter onslaught of a cold/flu. As I gazed upon the plethora of "solutions" to my aching pains and symptoms, it dawned on me that dealing with my pains was very analogous to MMEs dealing with their communications aches and pains as they try to unify them into a productive and cost effective solution.
I listed my symptoms: runny nose, sore throat, sinus pain, sneezing and chest congestion. There was a time when I would be scooping up 3 or 4 separate medications, empty out my wallet at the cash register (can you believe how expensive this stuff is???), and go home and wonder why I had to take 4 different medications to feel better! On top of that, after taking the 4th medication, some of the pains and symptoms never went away! One would almost think it was a conspiracy to get you to spend money.
Of course as with any market that is large and open, competition always wins out and the consumer eventually wins. This win comes in the form of the all powerful "multi-symptom" cold/flu/pain medication! These medications attach all your symptoms in unison and thus you only have to take the one medication to feel better. Aaaah, and the other benefits include lightness on the wallet, less time spent taking the medication and faster relief of all the symptoms. Of course there will be some that claim victory in attacking each symptom individually with individual medications, but I've never seen the common sense to that approach for me.
Funny how analogous my pains are to the aches and pains for unifying your communications services. List them all out: you have 4 messaging systems (email, voicemail, IM and text messaging), faxing, PBX services, conferencing services, collaboration services, ACD services, and the list goes on. What are the top aches and pains in today's MME world? Well funny you should ask, Siemens did a study of just that! And they found the following are the top pain points for MMEs:
Now, the industry to date has address many of these pains with individual solutions/medications! Wow, that's a lot of medication. Trouble is, MMEs don't have the time, energy and money to deal with these challenges in that manner.
Luckily, along comes cloud-based Unified Communications to the rescue, integrating all your communications services together to deliver the right communications to you where ever you are instantly. Bam, that takes care of issues 1-6 in one shot. Multi-symptom pain meets multi-symptom relief. If you haven't taken a look at how cloud-based Unified Communications can address your pains, check it out today!
I have been in the high tech world for practically all my life, yes, I built a geiger counter in 5th grade for a science project. I was so proud of the crate sized contraption as it clicked loudly when you brought your night glowing watch near the geiger tube. Of course, years later, I realized how obsolete my project was with the evolution of miniature electronics. You can detect radioactive particles now with something smaller than a postage stamp! Indeed, the term "technology marches on" can be seen in everything from cell phones to computers.
But the thing about it is we, as consumers, spend a lot of money and time just going with the flow and "upgrading" our technology as if we're on an endless treadmill. If you're a business that leverages that model in the products you sell, that might be a good thing. However, if you're on the other end of that adage, constantly faced with upgrading your infrastructure just to get the services and features you "expect", that can be a very bad thing. It can cost you BIG bucks, not just because you're paying for all these upgrades, but typically because you're paying a PREMIUM typically because the vendor asks for more when they introduce new technology, to cover their costs of rolling out that new technology to you!
In the past, it used to be that owning a hard asset, like a server or PBX or fax machine was a good thing. You paid once for it (well, except for that pesky annual support contract!), it worked, it was in your possession and things didn't change very much so you just kept what works! Times are a change'in. In the 21st century, the second you purchase something, more than likely, it's obsolete. So then you go through mental torture of living with missing features and services so that you can justify the purchase until you can't take it anymore and you finally bite the bullet and pay the vendor even more money to upgrade to the newer model. And by the way, a newer more costly support contract too!
But there is a silver lining in the clouds up there! In fact, that metaphor is more reality than you think. Yes, technology is moving to the clouds with Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). In this model, services are delivered from the "Internet Cloud" through industry standard connectivity to industry standard interfaces like your IP phone and PC. What a great concept, the asset you purchase no longer really contains the service you want, the service is contained and delivered from a reliable service provider. Which means that as new features and services are developed (that old technology marches on mantra), they can be instantly delivered to you through the existing assets you have.... NO MORE PAINFUL AND COSTLY UPGRADES. Upgrades become as simple as clicking on a check box for a new service.
Delivering SaaS services through the cloud is a fundamental game changer for businesses today. No longer do you have to plan for asset obsolescence in your infrastructure. Operational costs are reduced, CAPEX expenditures are virtually eliminated and the productivity of your employees is increased. In essence, cloud-based SaaS providers, like PanTerra Networks, can "FutureProof" your communications infrastructure. If you've been reaching for the stars without any luck, try reaching for the clouds and check out your nearest SaaS service provider soon!
I calculated my CO2 emissions, or infamous carbon footprint, the other day. I emit 22 TONs of CO2 per year!, which is below the average in the US! That's amazing! 22 tons. Some of that tonnage is because I'm an electronics "collector" and have many many boxes in my home of electronics. Of course I don't use them all very often, but they sit there sucking energy, costing me money and contributing to my 22 tons of CO2.
I can't help but think about how much more emissions are occurring at work! In fact businesses are the main contributor to carbon emissions around the world. Lights are left on, computers are left on, networks are left on, everything is left on. So what can be done? Well, there's a simple answer.... UNPLUG THE MACHINES!
That's right, all those machines that mostly sit idle, expending energy: email servers, PBXs, Voice Mail Servers, Messaging servers, Conference Servers, Call Recording Servers. They all can be replaced with the new energy efficient approach of Software-As-A-Service (SaaS), which delivers services over a broadband connection on-demand in a pay-as-you-go basis. With SaaS, all those idling, inefficient premised-based servers are replaced by "green" efficient servers in the cloud that are maintained at optimal capacity and operation by a team of specialists. Per user carbon emissions are reduced significantly since nothing sits idle.
Cloud-based SaaS Services reduce carbon emissions by:
The more services you convert to SaaS, the more "green" you become and the more you "naturally" offset your carbon footprint. At PanTerra Networks, we have significantly reduced our carbon footprint since we run all of our services as SaaS services. I've always wondered... if you reduce your footprint, does that mean you have a smaller shoe size?
The holiday season has come and gone and if you're like me and my family, you got "slightly" more austere gifts as a sobering reminder that we are indeed in challenging times. But it is these challenging times that defines companies and people. How we react to the challenge and what we do to hit it head on, that's when great companies shine. This is no time for wimps!
Case in point is PanTerra Networks. We have build our business around Software-As-A-Service, a business model that saves customers money every month, virtually eliminates upfront CAPEX expenses, and obliterates product obsolescence by delivering future-proof on-demand services. A perfect example of this future-proof capability is the recently introduced "UNIFIED PRESENCE" features which I think will revolutionize how we manage our time and how much of "our time" is spent on "managing our tools". There are three components to the Unified Presence feature:
All three are incredibly exciting. I should know, I've been using them for some time (benefits of being a beta tester!).
Let's start with MobileCall. This feature allows you to receive (or make) a call through PanTerra's virtual PBX and once connected, transparently move the call to another phone WITHOUT dropping the caller or the caller knowing what happened. Think of the possibilities. Have you ever taken a call on your office phone and felt "tethered" to the cord as you're late for your next off-site meeting? Now you can transparently move the call from your desk phone to your cell phone without breaking the conversation! Or did you ever take a call on your cell phone and reach your home (which has bad reception) and struggle to talk? Now you can transparently move the call to your home office phone in a snap! MobileCall allows your calls to truly adapt to your presence!
Now then, what is MobileMessage? Well, it allows you to route your messages that come in on one messaging system, like email or IM, and re-route them to another (or multiple) messaging system automatically based on your presence! Imagine an important IM coming in to you while you're away form your desk and having it automatically re-routed to your cell phone via an SMS message! Or having it re-routed to an email, showing up on your blackberry. And the cool thing? When you reply, your reply message gets automatically converted back to the sender's original messaging system! Now that's cool. All of this happens AUTOMATICALLY based on your presence!
Lastly, wouldn't you love to have your IM status change automatically when you're on the phone? Not just your softphone, but your desk phone too? Well, you have it now with WorldSmart! WorldSmart automatically updates your presence when you're on your desk phone or softphone. Once again, WorldSmart uses presence to make your life easier and make connecting with customers more efficient and productive. Now that's a present of Presence!
Seems like these days small and medium sized businesses are all the rage and in the news. Take "Joe" the plumber. For those that don't know Joe, you can read about him, well, just about anywhere! Joe represents all the small and medium sized businesses trying to get ahead by working hard and saving everywhere they can. They are especially concerned about having their money "taken" from them without any value in return or through what they might perceive as "schemes" to look them into payments, thus enacting the "slow extraction of their hard earned money". Yes times are tough for Joe, especially if Joe has to buy capital equipment for his business. Getting credit right now is all but impossible and using hard earned cash for large ticket capital purchases is a tough justification. What Joe needs is a better way of doing business so that Joe can concentrate on what Joe does best.... fixing the pipes!
So let's help Joe out. First of all, what is the single most important way to improve Joe's business? How about making him more productive and efficient while cutting his costs and eliminating expensive capital equipment purchases? That's exactly what a communications Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solution can do for Joe. Getting rid of his antiquated 20th century PBX/key system which causes him to lose business because it can't route incoming calls to his cell phone when he's on a job is a start. Replacing it with a no up-front cost SaaS solution that can "find" Joe and always connect his customers to him will increase revenue. Add a secure IM network with his plumbing vendors and partners so that he can instantly find out about parts availability across all his vendors while still on the phone with a customer, and he's really liking SaaS because it's allowing him to be more productive and responsive to his customers. Joe's really getting the hang of "unified communications SaaS" now! He's getting daring as he creates a plumbing solution diagram and "shares" it instantly with another plumber friend to get his input on the layout and costs before submitting it to his customer. Wow, Joe is really grooving now. He is actually moving his business into the 21st century with unified communications SaaS and he's saving money while doing it.
Ah but Joe's no dummy. He's looking for the catch! He gets all the benefits of a no up-front cost, integrated, productivity enhancing unified communications solution? There must be some kind of long term contract! 3 year lock in! That's what most of these communications vendors want right? Well, Joe's right that most old fashion communications companies fall back to the "contract lock-in" to extract their pound of flesh from Joe. But, Joe didn't become successful just picking any old vendor to work with. Joe knows that the best vendors will deliver great solutions and earn his business not through lock-in contracts, but through great service and continuous innovation which will elicit Joe to continue with the service. So what is Joe's "punch down list" for the ideal communications solution for his business? Here it is:
Can Joe really get all these things in a single vendor? Click here and find out!
"Cloud Computing", "Software As A Service", "Application Service Provider", "Client-Server", the terminology goes on and on. Technology loves its terminology and acronyms. We create a new term every time the old one seems to need a facelift. Well, that would be the slightly cynical view at least. Luckily there are many good industry analysts out there to example these terms in common understandable terms, like Jeff Kaplan of THINKstrategies who is a strategic consultant with significant experience in the computing industry and its trends. He recently wrote about all these above mentioned computing terms in his blog.
Without repeating, I thought I'd give my two cents on all these terms. May of these terms have historical roots that provided the basis for their younger siblings. Take for example "client-server", which I would call the "father" of Software As A Service (SaaS). In the 80's with the advent of the "Personal Computing", software was empowered to create and deliver "individual productivity applications" like the spreadsheet and the word processor. It was a glorious time for personal computing. The only problem was that corporate computing or "non-personal productivity" was left in the dust. Until the concept of "Client-Server" was create. Put a personal computing front on a corporate application (like HR or Sales). The front end ran on the PC and the "back end" ran on the trusted mainframe in the datacenter. In my humble opinion, this was the forefather of the concept of SaaS (with some of the player roles changed).
Now fast forward to the 90's and the technology that would change the world: The Internet, and more specifically global IP communications. With a standardized protocol to communicate between computing and people, new opportunities were created. This is the time when "Application Service Provider (ASP)" came into existence. You see Client-Server was reserved for the fortune 100 who had huge datacenters and massive budgets to run Oracle and SyBase (now Microsoft). But what about the rest of us? Well, the industry evolved and up sprouted "independent datacenters" with Internet/IP connectivity. They ran Oracle and SyBase and they managed the datacenter. They "rented" these applications to companies that could put their databases on them and gain the benefits that the larger companies had up till then. Thus ASP followed Client-Server breaking out the back end datacenter from an internally managed environment into an externally provided datacenter.
OK, half way there! Now fast forward to the 21st century. IP communications is ubiquitous and reliable. This ushers in the era of Globalization. With globalization comes opportunity and challenge. The opportunity is the significant increase in market and customers. The challenge is global competition. Global competition means that operating costs become normalized to the lowest common denominator around the world. Operating inefficiencies and ineffective business models become exposed. One of these inefficiencies is how companies manage and deliver support services throughout their company. The old model was to purchase capital equipment (servers, telecom equipment, etc), purchase expensive software licenses and hire large IT staff to manage it all. Unfortunately, that's so 20th century!
Fortunately, the computer industry once again has evolved to provide a better solution, but is it "Cloud Computing" or "Software As A Service (SaaS)"? Well, the answer is "It's Both!". Sound like a cop out? Well, let me explain. Cloud Computing is the infrastructure or overall architecture term to describe the outsourcing of the backend datacenter to an external third party. This third party typically provides tremendous scaleability, support for open standards and high levels of reliability. With Cloud Computing, companies do not have to invest in expensive and capital intensive datacenters and equally important, can deliver services in a more globally scalable manner.
Now if Cloud computing is the new infrastructure/architecture for computing, then Software As A Service (SaaS) is the delivery mechanism (or model) of applications that utilize the Cloud Computing infrastructure. Thus SaaS runs on top of Cloud Computing to deliver the application. What's interesting is that Cloud Computing could use ASP or even Client-Server to deliver the application as well. So in that sense, Cloud Computing is broader than SaaS. As Companies take advantage of SaaS to deliver cloud-based services, they will benefit from the most optimal way of running their business, making them globally competitive. Cloud-based flexibility, elimination of up front capital costs, elimination of software obsolescence, increased productivity and optimization for multi-location globalization are all benefits of the SaaS model. So if you hear "ASP", "Client-Server", "SaaS" or "Cloud Computing", while there are nuance differences in the terms, know that they all provide benefits in optimizing the delivery of services for your company.
It's interesting to see how markets and companies evolve. When something new and "good" comes out, everyone wants it and many companies rush to give "the people" what they want. SaaS is a good example of this phenomenon. SaaS, or Software As A Service, became a hit once IP connectivity became inexpensive, ubiquitous and more reliable (that's another blog topic!). Companies such as Salesforce.com, Webex and Websidestory build huge businesses around delivering that one SaaS service they developed.
As markets mature, however, one tends not to be enough. And in fact in the SaaS marketplace, the very nature of SaaS is that you can deliver services more rapidly and on demand. The very nature of SaaS means that you have to evolve and adapts. Hence the evolution of next generation "Multi-Service" SaaS companies. These companies, like Netsuite, Revenue Science and PanTerra, take SaaS to the next level. By creating a truly scalable multi-service SaaS platform, these companies can offer what fist generation SaaS companies cannot: a one stop shop for most if not all your services. This takes SaaS to the next level, significantly reducing TCO, administration, support, maintenance while increasing productivity and allowing businesses to focus on what is important to them: their customers. Many services on demand, completely integrated, just the way you want them... now that's a better idea.
It's amazing to me how some businesses optimize their value proposition story when they sell to their end customers and then turn around and blindly purchase the cheapest products from their vendors in order to save money. While these companies may save a few dollars, it doesn't make much sense in many situations and generally causes long term harm to a company.
Now, to be sure, I'm not saying "throw caution to the wind". Actually, being well informed and knowledgeable is the key to making the right decisions about what services and products you need to optimize your business. In today's challenging business world, those companies that leverage innovative solutions can propel their businesses beyond their competition. The proverbial "competitive edge" is measured in both human resource as well as optimized operations. I've seen many instances where an employee armed with advanced communication services (mobile email, desktop sharing, etc...) beat out their competition armed with inexpensive basic communication services (desktop email). Indeed, sometimes spending a few dollars, not only makes more sense, it also makes more dollars.
As the saying goes, "You gain perspective with time". This was re-enforced by the marketing people at Oldsmobile when they coined the phrase "This is not your father's Oldsmobile". It had even more meaning since they WERE Oldsmobile, trying to sell you another Oldsmobile. In the end, the saying stuck in people's minds and Oldsmobile did change and as a result they sold more cars. What does that have to do with communications? Well, communications is changing as well and with time, the industry is gaining perspective too. It wasn't long ago, with the telecommunications act and deregulation of the old phone company (AT&T) that a whole new ball game emerged: Voice Over IP (VOIP). It had a great ring to it. Rolled off your tongue with a certain twang and a whole new industry was born. Indeed, VOIP was the promised land for many who rushed out to build VOIP companies. But wait, where would they get the technology? They didn't have it so they went looking for it. And they found it in two places: Old iron companies that build old fashion PBXs and bolted an internet IP connection to them and claimed "victory" and old fashion software licensing switch companies that wanted to sell you software so you could build your own telephone company.
Since VOIP was so new, many of these companies rushed to the market with either big iron internet capable PBXs or tried to build their own switches with software technology licensed from a technology provider. Unfortunately, two things happened on the way to the ball, the only value people saw in VOIP was cheaper rates and since these providers of VOIP didn't own the technology, they couldn't innovate and add value. They were stuck with a commodity product and no way to add value. What does that spell? Disaster. When you add to the fact that many of these VOIP providers were under funded, you get a marketplace full of tombstones. We'll call this era the "Oldsmobiles of the past".
So why is PanTerra different? First of all, we're NOT a VOIP provider. VOIP is just a way to get cheaper service (you see we agree with you!). Second, we didn't build the company around the "old" technology others have used. We built a next generation Multi-Service SaaS platform. SaaS stands for Software As A Service and it's the most innovative way to deliver services to customers. With SaaS you don't have to buy hardware or software assets that are immediately obsolete the minute you buy them. With SaaS you get only what you need when you need it. Now many of the walking dead VOIP providers have seen the light and advertise them as SaaS providers now, but remember that nagging little problem...they don't own their technology so it's had to change something you don't own. And the true power of PanTerra is in its ability to deliver multiple SaaS services in an integrated suite with common administration, billing and support. That's the true power of PanTerra's WorldSmart solution. So kick the tires, take a test drive, 'cause this is NOT your father's VOIP provider!