One of the overlooked drivers of cloud adoption is the tightly integrated, I call it pre-integrated, ecosystem you get when you choose the right provider.
Because cloud environments are generally homogenous and consistent within their own boundaries -- and this is true for IaaS, PaaS and SaaS -- and because they are tightly controlled by the provider, the cloud provider is in a position to pre-integrate other systems, components and apps to the infrastructure (or the application, in the case of SaaS).
In traditional IT, integration is one of the most complex, painful and costly processes. A pre-integrated ecosystem allows making these integrations simply by flipping a switch.
My first exposure to the concept of pre-integration was in January of 2006, when Salesforce.com launched the AppExchange. This was more than two years before Apple launched the AppStore, mind you. And the idea wasn't fully baked yet, but it was certainly an "a-ha" moment. And it goes to the heart of what's so revolutionary about cloud computing.
Today, for example, you can with a few clicks of a button, integrate between Salesforce.com's CRM app and Google Adwords, Marketo, LinkedIn, VerticalResponse, Zendesk and hundreds of other applications. Again, with traditional on-premise CRM such integrations would have been an expensive and lengthy proposition.
But a pre-integrated ecosystem doesn't only apply to SaaS. It also works well with PaaS and IaaS clouds.
The first chance I got to implement the concept was with the Heroku founders, James, Adam and Orion, in early 2009 with the Add-Ons that can be added to any app a user developed and runs on the Heroku PaaS. A perfect example of pre-integration at Heroku was New Relic, which is Application Performance Managemet (APM) as-a-Service. You basically get New Relic APM capabilities with a click of a button. In the on-premise world, implemeting an enterprise-grade APM (Wiley, for example) takes months of professional services to implement.
In Infrastructure-as-a-Service, there are many examples of a pre-integrated ecosystem particularly around AWS and the OpenStack framework. In particular there are many management and monitoring tools that have pre-integrated with these two cloud platforms, but other software categories as well.
Daisy-Chaining Cloud Services
The notion of pre-integration can be taken even further.
When I hosted the cloud track at QCon 2010, one of the speakers was Thor Muller, CTO & Co-Founder of GetSatisfaction, and in his presentation he introduced me to a phrase I've been using ever since: "daisy-chaining services".
My favorite example, one from SaaS for small business, involves daisy-chaining Bidsketch, Freshbooks, Highrise and RightSignature.
Bidsketch is a SaaS product for creating and sending proposals. It lets an individual or company create a proposal and share it with a prospective client who can then log in and view the proposal on Bidsketch, make comments and changed and ultimately approve the proposal. As all of this happens, Bidsketch automatically updates the events in the Highrise (CRM) entry for that client ("Proposal sent", Proposal approved", etc.).
Once the proposal is approved, Bidsketch then activates another service: RightSignature, which is used for electronic, online signatures. Both sides can sign the approved proposal, and this fact is updated in Biksketch: proposal signed. In turn, Bidsketch, again updates the Highrise CRM system. Bidsketch can then automatically create an invoice in the Freshbooks invoicing service -- and Freshbooks will then update Highrise that an invoice was sent, payment was received, etc.
What Does This Mean for Cloud Customers?
Customers are increasingly becoming aware of the importance of ecosystems of cloud services -- and specifically of the value of pre-integration.
I was recently asked to recommend a CRM system to one of the startups I am on the advisory board of. As much as I dislike the complexity and poor peformance of Salesforce.com, I had no choice but to tell them it's the only way for them to go -- for the simple reason that it's the only CRM SaaS offering that is guaranteed to be pre-integrated not only with every app they need today, but also with ones they will need in the future, which may not even exist yet.
Case in point, when Totango -- another company I am an advisor to -- recently launched its customer engagement SaaS offering (an emerging category, see David Skok's post), it immediately started with support for SFDC. And you can safely assume that any other startup that launches a product that could benefit from integration with CRM, will first support Salesforce (or Highrise if it's targeting SMBs).
In summary, the breadth and depth of ecosystems is becoming a critical factor in how customers choose which cloud services to bet their business on.
I'm hoping to write a separate post on what this means to startups and other cloud services providers. Suffice it to say for now, it's something you should be thinking about...