Top 3 Trends in Cloud and Enterprise Apps in 2013

Ill-conceived cloud strategies are bringing companies to their knees, and mobile app upstarts are overthrowing the rules of the game for IT. Are you ready to go beyond the hype and get ROI from cloud, mobility, and Web apps?

In 2012, as the tech industry experienced a resurgence in business, the hype reached an all-time high. Go to the cloud! Ditch the PC for a tablet! Are your apps mobilized? Big data, too, was all over the blogosphere, as nearly every vendor on the planet announced how their products and services would drive analytical miracles.

In 2013, the rubber will hit the road for CIOs and IT departments. They need to figure out how to make all of these new tools and services work together to help their companies be agile and operate more intelligently -- because if they don't, competitors will. In our view, hybrid cloud will come out on top, "mobile first" will change app dev requirements, and big data needs to move away from infrastructure development to smart, user applications.

Prediction #1: Hybrid IT infrastructures will rule the day

Companies need to wake up and better understand the cloud. They are betting their business on the public cloud, yet we keep seeing outages -- and this is only the tip of the iceberg. Business leaders need a better education about where the cloud fits into their business and IT strategy before diving in.

We are seeing the emergence of hybrid IT as the preferred cloud architecture. Most companies are employing 100 percent cloud/hosted or 100 percent on-premise data center, but the hybrid solution can be the best of both worlds because it manages risk more appropriately for different applications and requirements. Enterprises are learning that the cloud is good for many activities but it is not a panacea and does not absolve them of their responsibility for ensuring great customer service through great application performance or security considerations.

Hybrid architectures are especially important for midsize and large enterprises because they already have both internal and external services working well and just need to weld them together. This is where it can get tricky, because although the cloud should deliver agility and, if possible, reduce costs, too often it creates islands of compute resources that do not interact seamlessly. Therefore, IT Band-Aids are used just to stitch components together. The CIO has to think about the unification of everything they do with the infrastructure, including security, management, development, and deployment of new code and applications.

Enterprises will need a multi-service provider solution with policies dictating how each provider handles workloads, according to business requirements. Unfortunately, business leaders are making decisions to go to the cloud without all the necessary information, which means decisions are random and disconnected from business needs and goals. IT needs availability and performance metrics delivered by the provider, which are key indicators to ensure user experience matches expectations.

The other problem is that enterprises have management practices and tools that only deal with parts of the infrastructure; with hybrid IT, you need technologies and strategies that cross all service providers and technology layers.

Prediction #2: Developers will adopt Mobile First and join the era of zero downtime maintenance

Developers should not be designing applications for PCs and Web sites but for the mobile device first because that's where users are spending more of their time. This "Mobile First" approach creates some new requirements for design and infrastructure so that users can access your apps anywhere, anytime, and with nearly 100 percent uptime.

If I use a favorite app on my iPhone, such as Twitter, Facebook, or Linkedin, I expect it to always be there. Mobile First is pushing vendors into the requirement of zero maintenance time, which can be a hurdle for many vendors today. Traditional apps were built with maintenance windows of every two weeks. Salesforce.com, for instance, is down for scheduled maintenance regularly on the weekends. They can get away with it because of their market dominance, but not for long. Modern apps must be built to support 100 percent availability, and scheduled maintenance will become a thing of the past. Updates need to run behind the scenes and not disrupt users.

If you look at Netflix and other modern app providers, that is exactly what they do. They are rolling out changes constantly. If they're doing their jobs correctly, we users will never see the impact of those changes. If an enterprise is relying on external service providers, such as Rackspace, they need the same methodology. There are always exceptions, of course, such as if the app is never and will never be used overnight or on the weekend.

Still, zero downtime maintenance is becoming a best practice and developers should design the app to work this way from the start. The average consumer and information worker doesn't have patience any longer. Mobile has meant that we expect apps to be available 24x7.

Prediction #3: Big data becomes useful to the business

People talk about big data as if it's some amazing, massive trend, but there aren't many solutions available yet for the end user. Where are the apps that use big data to influence business decisions and results?

In 2013, we'll begin to see the emergence of apps that are reinventing existing -- or creating new -- solutions by using big data to think about those problems in a very different way. Consider financial apps. This season, the San Francisco Giants deployed a variable pricing system that analyzes the attractiveness of each upcoming game and changes the price according to the predicted demand.

Uber is a classic example of a service using big data. When you use it during busy times to find a private car and driver, the cost of your ride is higher. I can see variable pricing appearing in many industries, such as restaurants. If I am willing to eat dinner at 5 PM, when no one else wants to, shouldn't it be cheaper? If I want to eat at the peak time at 7 PM, shouldn't I be willing to pay more for it? This model can maximize revenues for the company while making the service available to more people.

As another example, the holiday season is when the year's "hot products" will sell out quickly. Shouldn't the retailer be able to predict the demand of that hot product so that it never sells out for those who really want it and who may be willing to pay top dollar for it at the last minute? Big data apps can help companies plan for such scenarios.

The Impact for CIOs

What does this all mean for CIOs? They need to start thinking about how they can make practical use of this flexible, scalable and high-performing infrastructure they are presumably building for big data. How can they optimally prepare their infrastructure and their workforce for the advent of these real-time analytical applications that shape and drive user experience? Once the applications become available, the companies that can take advantage of them quickly will come out ahead of their competitors.

Gary Read, CEO and president of Boundary, previously served as CEO of Nimsoft, where he grew the business from zero to over $100M in bookings and 300 people. Prior to Nimsoft, Gary held executive positions at BMC Software, Riversoft, and Boole and Babbage. He can be reached at gary@boundary.com.
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