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Cloud-Prem Software: New App Deployment Model Blends Best of Both Worlds

The best of both SaaS and on-premises deployments without the limitations of either

A leading cloud analyst recently told me that there are exactly two ways to operate software: Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and on-premises. He said, "Either they run in the cloud and someone else takes full responsibility for the underlying physical infrastructure and system management (SaaS); or they run on your own equipment and you operate it yourself (on-prem)."

I said, "Not so fast."

To be sure, there are models where some of the administration is outsourced, such as shared hosting or managed services. But these approaches still leave the financial and management burden with the customer, so they are merely variants of on-premises application deployment.

The public Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) model blurs the distinction between SaaS and on-premises. With IaaS, a company can remove itself completely from the financial and management aspects of operating the physical infrastructure for an application. Computation, communication, and storage are purchased "by the drink," and are generally provided in virtualized form. However, the systems management burden still falls on the customer when IaaS is used directly. A system administrator still must provision the virtual machines, configure them, deploy the application and, on an ongoing basis, back up, monitor, upgrade and generally manage the deployment.

I call this "cloud-premises." An intermediate option between SaaS and on-premises, this is how IaaS is most commonly used today. However, this type of cloud-premises deployment represents a sort of "unstable equilibrium." Because a virtual machine can be manipulated as easily as a data structure, and system administration tasks can be automated, the use of dev-ops methods and tools can asymptotically approach the ease of use and financial predictability of SaaS, without surrendering the flexibility and control of on-premises deployments.

For complex custom, many-role applications, services like RightScale and Kaavo, enable developers to organize and script application deployments, making them repeatable and manageable. While these deployments may still require the skills of a system administrator, those efforts are largely front-loaded and the application can be subsequently managed by application developers.

For applications with a more standard three- or four-tier architecture, solutions like Standing Cloud can automate a cloud-premises deployment, and even the developers don't really need to deal with it. Research firm The 451 Group calls this approach "auto-ops;" I call it "Server PaaS" (and wrote about it at length in a previous article). With Server PaaS, the customer has largely unfettered access to the server configuration, control over the timing of upgrades, and direct access to backups and data. But all of the painful details of system administration, including best practices security and performance tuning, are seamlessly automated and built into the system.

"Cloud-prem" is a genuinely new application deployment model, and when used with the latest tools and methods, it can offer the best of both SaaS and on-premises deployments without the limitations of either.

I was even able to get that analyst a little excited about it.

More Stories By Dave Jilk

Dave Jilk has an extensive business and technical background in both the software industry and the Internet. He currently serves as CEO of Standing Cloud, Inc., a Boulder-based provider of cloud-based application management solutions that he cofounded in 2009.

Dave is a serial software entrepreneur who also founded Wideforce Systems, a service similar to and pre-dating Amazon Mechanical Turk; and eCortex, a University of Colorado licensee that builds neural network brain models for defense and intelligence research programs. He was also CEO of Xaffire, Inc., a developer of web application management software; an Associate Partner at SOFTBANK Venture Capital (now Mobius); and CEO of GO Software, Inc.

Dave earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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