The paybacks from designing a strong IT architecture can now be enjoyed by more than the enterprises that build them. Increasingly, enterprises are reaping the fruits of modern IT architectures that their software-as-a-service (SaaS) and cloud providers have developed.
Think of it as a multiplier effect of IT modernization -- everyone using the services benefits. In essence, by building good applications and infrastructure, SaaS providers are providing more than standalone applications and services -- they are delivering business agility through integration as a service but without having to upgrade your data center.
By using a unified SaaS service as a way to achieve integration across many far-flung services and processes, the so-called "cloud of clouds" principle can be achieved early. This drives down complexity and cost. It allows enterprises to exploit cloud productivity benefits without building a cloud, and to integrate via cloud advancements without mastering cloud-level integrations.
To learn more about IT architectural best practices at a SaaS provider can achieve these added benefits for the users now -- at greatly reduced total costs and little or no capital outlays -- I recently examined the experiences and approaches of Workday, a human capital management (HCM) SaaS provider. Listen as Stan Swete, CTO of Workday, explains how advanced SaaS providers be an effective core to reach and obtain cloud computing business benefits early and meaningfully.
Here are some excerpts:
It's our belief that enterprise applications have driven a lot of success and a lot of value in enterprises, but that success and value has come at a very, very high cost. Essentially the systems come down to being very hard to use, hard to change, and hard to integrate.
At Workday ... we started our company with a lot of background in what had gone before in terms of architectures to support enterprise resource planning (ERP). ... [We knew] what worked and what didn't work so well with previous client-server architectures.
From the beginning, we thought about a system that would be able to deal natively with producing Web services to get data out of and back into the application and would treat the conversation with other systems as a first-class conversation, just like the conversation with individual users.
In IT today, people are in a difficult spot. They have complex environments. The complexity has grown for a variety of reasons. Everyone sees the opportunity to modernize and to improve efficiencies, but how do you do that in the midst of a complex environment that is constraining just how aggressive you can be?
If you have a SaaS provider like Workday, or someone who's able to take a clean approach, ... instead of having to deal with the complexity of managing all the multiple instances and different architectures you might have, you can use the unified SaaS service as a way to achieve some integration and cut costs. ... Today, it's all about cost.
We have the religion of service-oriented architecture (SOA), and firmly believe that the right way for us to tie into other systems in the cloud and other systems on-premise of our customers is via SOA and an embrace of Web services. We embrace that and we think to some extent that it can accelerate SOA adoption within enterprises. They all see the appeal of newer SOA architectures ... [but] they have the whole other set of architectures that they've got to be concerned about maintaining.
We think the rigidity in these architectures comes from the fact that you've got a complex logic layer. ... Millions of lines of code, in most cases, are backing the logic layer of enterprise systems. That layer has a complex conversation with the relational database, which also has its own complex structure -- typically thousands of relational tables to model all of the data.
We decided to take an entirely new approach in this area and embrace an approach that leveraged the concept of encapsulating data with some of the logic into an object. ... At Workday, the primary logic server is what we call our Object Management Server. It's a transaction processing system, but it's entirely based on an object graph, and that is just a class structure that represents not only the application and its data, but also the methods that process on that data.
The important difference is that we have that layer and we don't have a correspondingly complex and changing data layer. We have a persistent data store that is a simplified version of a relational database that can persist changes that happen from the object layer. ... It's an unchanging relational schema that can persist, even as we make changes up in the object layer.
[Furthermore] we have some of the transformational and delivery options in multiple formats available to us in our data center, so that the Workday applications can generate Web services. Beyond that, we can transform those Web services into other data formats that might be more meaningful to legacy applications or the other applications we need to tie to. We did a lot of work in that area and came up with the need to embrace Web services and embed in an enterprise service bus (ESB).
When you combine the architecture we talked about with the SaaS delivery model ... There are definitely benefits for the customers that we're serving and, frankly, we think that in the approach there are tons of benefits for us, as a vendor, to take cost out of what we're doing and pass those savings on to our customers.
... If you combine that architecture with a cloud-based approach or delivery of SaaS, you get what we at Workday call "hosted integration" or "integration on demand." ... We take the ESB and package up integration so that it can be reused across a wide set of customers.
Built-in business intelligence, as we call it, is also absolutely an advantage of our offering. ... Having an object model that allows us to link more data attributes together than a classical relational database to establish relationship is a lot lighter weight than having to build the foreign key into another table. We're able to cross-link a lot of information that we're tracking inside the object model that we have, and so we're able to offer unusually rich reporting to the customers.
Our transactional application is facilitating multi-dimensional analysis without the need to have to take the data, off load it into an OLAP cube, and then, by a third-party tool, query that cube. ... [This] information can be more interesting to the people who are not just back-office human resources professionals, but maybe managers who wanted to get information about their workforce. That is all built into the application, and that's the level of increased business intelligence we're delivering today.
There is just a large world of opportunity to expand into. ... We're growing to provide business intelligence without the need to buy third-party tools to do it.
[Additionally] you're going to have people who want to use your application without getting into the pages that your application actually renders. Mobile is a great example of that. We absolutely see widening out access to Workday on the mobile devices.
We've been very quickly able to extend the business-process framework that we have ... so that approvals that are done within that framework can now be completely processed on a mobile device. We’ve picked the iPhone as the first starting point and we'll be expanding out to other devices. ... There is a lot of information that is currently presented well within Workday, but it could be presented just as well within a gadget and someone else's portal.
We're able to mark-up a subset of our data and have that appear in a native client on the iPhone that you can get on the App Store, just like you get any other iPhone application. Then, with security, you're just utilizing a native app, which is acting on Workday data. We use that for manager approvals, the management of to-do lists, and for enterprise search of the workforce. That's been a successful example of leveraging this modern architecture. We didn't have to go in and rewrite our applications.
[There are] new options for enterprises to look at in terms of offloading some of the applications that they're trying to support in their existing environment. It's a vehicle for consolidating some of the complexity that you have into a single instance that can be managed globally if you have architected globally, as Workday has done.
We talked about a lot of the value of leveraging new technology to deliver enterprise applications in a new way and then combining that with doing it from the cloud. That combination is going to profoundly change things going forward.
If you think about the combination of modern architectures and cloud-based modern architectures, what will happen when two vendors that have taken that similar approach start to partner in terms of integrated business processing is that the bar will get raised significantly for how tight that integration can become, how well supported it can be, and how it can functionally grow itself forward, without causing high cost and complexity to the consuming enterprise that's using both sides.
As I look in the future, I think enterprises will see an ecosystem of their major application providers be cloud-based and be more cohesive than a like group of on-premise vendors. Instead of having a collection of different architectures and different vendors all in their data center, what they will see is an integrated service from the set of providers that are integrating with Web services in the cloud.
It allows for a lot more integrated processes.