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Delivering Business Innovation with Application Management A presentation at the O’Reilly Velocity Conference

A few weeks ago at the O’Reilly Velocity conference, Komal Mangtani, who heads up engineering for our Application Management business, and I co-presented VMware’s point-of-view on how applications need to be managed in the cloud era and how you can leverage the cloud to drive business agility and operational efficiency for your IT organization. Our presentation can be viewed here.

Velocity attracts many cutting edge, “New Age” companies as well as big, established players. Attendees are mainly system administrators but there’s also a large contingent of developers and operation teams.

Komal and I kicked off our presentation by walking through a number of examples of how business and IT innovation have been accelerating over the past few decades. We made the following case to the audience:  not only is the speed of innovation accelerating, but it’s fundamentally changing the way applications need to be built, deployed and managed.

As we analyzed these examples, it was clear to everyone that software is the key element driving innovation today. Marc Andreessen made this very point last year when he wrote in the Wall Street Journal that every company is a software company. It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in – Manufacturing, Telecom, Financial Services, Pharmaceuticals – what you’re doing is powered by software.

Just a few short years ago, IT was a business enabler; today, IT is the business. While most business and IT executives recognize this truism, many of them are unsatisfied with their innovation performance. The key reason is that the innovation delivery chain suffers from a split personality disorder:  developers want to innovate with abandon, while operations teams want a very stable environment with tight control. For ages developers have been seeking ways to improve their software development lifecycle, moving from waterfall to agile and scrum methodologies in order to get their latest and greatest code rolled into production as quickly as possible. Operations teams, however, have put in strict rules to slow down that process in order to maintain control and avoid outages. With these two forces pulling in opposite directions, innovation can’t thrive and IT developers and operations teams – and, more importantly, the business – suffer.

One of the latest trends that is closely tied to rapid innovation and execution is the adoption of Platform as a Service (PaaS). Admittedly, PaaS is an over-hyped concept, but in general PaaS does indeed simplify the development process and enable ongoing innovation. However, it’s still a maturing approach and many solutions in the market lack significant enterprise features while threatening to create vendor lock-in.  In fact, one of the core distinctions VMware’s “Cloud Foundry” has delivered is openness with respect to where the application can get deployed, in recognition to the lock-in challenge.

In our talk, Komal and I differentiated between various types of PaaS. Although we use the word PaaS very commonly now, the industry has recognized that there is more than one PaaS. There is aPaaS  (Application PaaS)– where solutions like Google AppEngine, force.com, Intuit serve as examples and there is iPaas (Integration PaaS) –  examples include IBM CastIron and Informatica Cloud Services.

Some PaaS solutions are built exclusively to users for a specific SaaS application like NetSuite BOS while others are independent like LongJump or Relational Networks. And so, we highlighted that when talking / exploring PaaS, make sure you understand the full context and extensibility of each of these offerings.

The reality, however, is that it’s still early days for PaaS adoption and most business applications do not, and will not run on PaaS in the near future. The industry generally agrees that PaaS will be the application platform of the cloud era and a very different developer experience, one where they can focus on core development and not environmental details. Hence, the driver for PaaS, the ability to deliver applications faster to market, needs to be balanced and tackled per project as it is still not a one size fits all.

The $64,000 Question (for those of you who remember that iconic game show) is, what is? The answer lies in understanding the nature of the challenge.

In order to enable innovation today and to make an impact on your business, you need to be able to set up new environments quickly. You need to be able to service millions of users around the clock. You need to be able to develop new capabilities in an agile manner and apply these changes on an ongoing basis. The evolution of IaaS has made getting infrastructure up and running in minutes a reality. At the same time, agile development has had a huge impact on making newly developed software available much more quickly. The challenge today is to get that newly developed software up and running on the instantly available infrastructure in a controlled manner while maintaining agreed service levels.

In my next post, I’ll walk you through how the VMware Application Management Suite addresses this challenge, and how you can deliver innovation for your business by bridging your development and operations teams to achieve agile operations.