Cloud Computing and HR

cloud-computing

Yes another trend post, there might be a few more as I get my head across all that has happened in the last year or so.

Cloud Computing has been gaining momentum over the last few years, in HR it is getting some significant airtime and how could it not with the success of cloud vendors such as Workday, Rypple now Work.com part of Salesforce and Taleo now part of Oracle. However I want to look a bit further as what makes up cloud computing not really looking at at vendors, benefits or pitfalls (these could be later posts).

In simple terms Cloud Computing is basically off-premise computing, essentially where you, the customer, do not have the computing environment located physically in your offices. In reality things are far more complex than this. I first talked about Cloud Computing 4 years ago since then the industry has continued to develop its definition of cloud computing and now we seem to have a common understand and framework around the topic.

Essentially there are three relevant “flavours” of cloud computing each operating at a different level in the technology ecosystem. First Infrastructure as a service (IaaS), then Platform as a service (PaaS) and finally Software as a service (SaaS) (there are two additional layers around the network and communications infrastructure but do not really influence the application landscape).

What is IaaS? At a basic level this is where a vendor provides you a virtual server to deliver a specific application usually a web site. Essentially all of my web sites and applications run on a IaaS model provided by Rackspace Cloud. Rackspace provide me with a virtual server and I do the rest, install software, complete maintenance and upgrades. Other examples of IaaS include Amazon EC2, DynDNS and Joyent. There tend to be two types of IaaS; public and private. As part of an HR technology strategy public IaaS would usually only be included when it’s part of a broader organizational-wide IT strategy to use public IaaS.

Today most corporate IT environments have been virtualised onto a private IaaS model. This change has impacted us from a HR technology perspective as it has significantly reduced the lead time in getting new servers for projects.  Now most HR technology projects have a portion of IaaS in them, even if it is private. The benefit; gone are the days when a 8-12 week lead time is needed to have a new server ordered, delivered and commissioned by the IT department, most servers can now be delivered in a matter of hours. Another benefit is scalability, need more “grunt”? Need more memory? Need more disk space? Most can easily be added by the flick of a switch. For public IaaS offerings the service is usually delivered on a utility basis ie based on how much you use.

PaaS is when a cloud provider delivers a computing platform where applications and services can be built on top of, resulting in developers being able to focus on building cool software solutions instead of worrying about managing the hardware, operating system and databases. Example PaaS providers include Google App Engine, Force.com and Windows Azure Compute. We are starting to see a number of HR offerings being delivered on top of these platforms, specifically on the Force.com platform where you can access full-functioning HR systems, recruitment solutions and learning management systems along with smaller apps that can site onto of Salesforce to providing LinkedIn information as part of the sales process.

Finally SaaS is the layer in which most people interact with Cloud Computing. Here the provider offers their application to you the user across a network, usually the Internet, and you do not need to worry about installing and running the application on your own computers or those of IaaS providers. Most of the time you gain access to the software via a subscription model, but not always. It is at the SaaS level we see the most impact on HR Technology Strategy. Today you can run your entire HR Systems environment “in the cloud” through solutions such as Workday, SAP (Cloud Global Payroll and Employee Central), Oracle Fusion to just a specific HR process using one of the vast range of point solutions.

In Australia we also have a huge marketplace of SaaS vendors covering the whole spectrum of HR and Payroll management including long time players such as PageUpPeople, NGA.net, Northgate Arinso and newer vendors like Recruitloop, Sherpa or murmur. If you are an Australian business looking at cloud computing for HR there is no reason you should not be able to find a solution to suit your requirements and most likely that solution will be Australian made.

The biggest issue with SaaS is there are so many vendors to choose from, do you look towards a full service offering or just point solutions? Do you go with global vendors or local vendors? This is where you need a clear strategy around your HR technology program and how it aligns with your not just your HR strategy but also IT and business. Cloud computing offers significant ROI when deployed for the right reason to support clear business objectives.

In summary from an HR perspective we are seeing cloud computing infiltrate at the bottom layer through private-IaaS and at the top layer through SaaS. If you do not have some form of cloud computing in your HR technology landscape today you will in the very near future.

Cloud/Grid/Utility Computing what is it & must you have it?

Today I want to discuss the latest hype in the HR technology space, Cloud/Grid/Utility Computing. Now the terms utility computing and grid computing have been around for a while now, however cloud computing is areasonable new term.

First up they are not the same thing! They can be related but they are not the same.

Let me start with utility computing. According to Wikipedia the first real reference of utility computing goes back to 1961!

If computers of the kind I have advocated become the computers of the future, then computing may someday be organized as a public utility just as the telephone system is a public utility… The computer utility could become the basis of a new and important industry. – John McCarthy, MIT Centennial in 1961

So utility computing is:
  • Pre-packaged resources
  • Low or no initial cost for hardware
  • Typically rented
  • Rapid growth of capacity
  • Always on like electricity or water

Grid computing on the other hand is completely different:

  • Applying the resources of many computers in a network to a single problem at the same time
  • A form of distributed computing
  • Usually based on open standards
  • High levels of reliability

Finally we get to cloud computing, again from Wikipedia we get this quote:

According to a 2008  paper published by IEEE Internet Computing “Cloud Computing is a paradigm in which information is permanently stored in servers on the Internet and cached temporarily on clients that include desktops, entertainment centers, table computers, notebooks, wall computers, handhelds, sensors, monitors, etc.”

So attributes of cloud computing are:

  • Customer do not own the infrastructure
  • Access is usually based on rental
  • Can be based on the utilitiy model
  • Delivered as a service with data stored in the cloud

Now this is very confusing as how do all these terms different from “Software as a Service” (SaaS) or Application Service Provider (ASP) models for software delivery?

I see things in a rather simple fashion. To some degree ASP has become SaaS with some addtional features, which is now moving towardds cloud computing but not always as there are other pieces to cloud computing. All can be done with a grid or utility model again not always. Now some technology architects will disagree with this simplified model but I feel it works.

Marketing folks will repackaging existing tools to use the new buzz words. For example Taleo back in September at Taleo World annouced “The Talent Grid, built on Taleo’s on-demand application platform, will deliver the infrastructure and resources to power organizations’ future talent needs”. Based on the press release it is not a grid computing model but using the name gives the average person the wrong sort of messages. They are certainly moving towards a cloud model but if they are not really doing grid are they really doing cloud or is it just marketing? To be honest I have not seen the details of all their products so I cannot answer the question.

I would suggest Taleo are not doing cloud 100%. Why? Review these 15 items by James Governor from MonkChips to get the general idea, some are a bit tongue in cheek but should give you a starting point.

If you peel back the label and its says “Grid” or “OGSA” underneath… its not a cloud.

If you need to send a 40 page requirements document to the vendor then… it is not cloud.

If you can’t buy it on your personal credit card… it is not a cloud

If they are trying to sell you hardware… its not a cloud.

If there is no API… its not a cloud.

If you need to rearchitect your systems for it… Its not a cloud.

If it takes more than ten minutes to provision… its not a cloud.

If you can’t deprovision in less than ten minutes… its not a cloud.

If you know where the machines are… its not a cloud.

If there is a consultant in the room… its not a cloud.

If you need to specify the number of machines you want upfront… its not a cloud.

If it only runs one operating system… its not a cloud.

If you can’t connect to it from your own machine… its not a cloud.

If you need to install software to use it… its not a cloud.

If you own all the hardware… its not a cloud.

Am I wrong? Thoughts, comments?