Clearing the Fog with Cloud-Based ITSM – Part 2

By: Absolute Team | 2/7/2013

HTML 5, Open Standards and Mobility

HTML5 brings a significant number of features to web applications that were only possible in desktop applications in the past. This includes native support for drawing on the browser canvas itself, which allows users to design interactive workflows, draw charts natively on the page and even create requests using drag and drop. There are few limits to this new technology and what it will do for your business.

Further extending support for open standards extends ITSM reach not only into new cloud platforms but also new storage engines. In the case of Absolute Service, this includes support for all major databases as before as well as new distributed databases such as Google BigTable, Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) and Apache HBase (Hadoop). This shift will allow managed service providers to offer an enterprise service desk, on their architecture of choice, along with other services being delivered to their customers. With the shift to mobile computing platforms such as the iPhone, Android and iPad as well as Google’s new web-based operating system, ITSM is available from any device at any time. Couple this unique user interactivity with the ability to deploy on any server or cloud platform such as Google Apps, Amazon EC2 etc, and you have a scalable ITIL Service Management platform for the future.

Integration is everything

Enterprises currently faced with the challenge of integrating and extending their investments in sophisticated business applications such as ERP, CRM and Service Desk, are increasingly turning to cloud computing and web services. As a result, many businesses looking to better leverage their IT assets and provide their organizations with the agility needed to stay competitive in today’s economy are now web service enabling their IT infrastructure while moving it into private and public clouds. The ultimate goal of these efforts is to increase enterprise efficiency, improve customer satisfaction and increase profitability. Most organizations have complex IT environments consisting of disparate legacy systems, applications, processes, and data sources, which typically interact by a maze of interconnections that are poorly documented and expensive to maintain. These include applications such as enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer relationship management (CRM), supply chain management (SCM), and portals.

The need for IT systems to communicate within an organization led to the evolution of enterprise application integration (EAI). EAI is the process of creating an integrated infrastructure for linking disparate systems, applications, and data sources across the corporate enterprise. While companies have been using EAI solutions with great success independently of Web services and SOA, these solutions take on a much more significant and valuable role when they are plugged into Cloud based computing with a Web services infrastructure. With the right EAI solution, organizations are able to extend their “legacy” systems (any system that does not support web services natively) into the new millennium.

According to Gartner Research[m1] , service and support processes such as incident management have become commoditized within service management tools. This being the case it is no longer necessary to invest in building basic functions when implementing a service management application. Time and effort should be spent ensuring the service and support tool is an active application on the network.

When sales people are chatting to a client while accessing the customer details within the CRM tool, they should be able to log a service request within the service management tool without leaving the CRM tool interface. An accounts person who receives payment for a service contract should be able to update the customer’s contract within the service management tool through the accounts package. Similarly, change requests can be seamlessly created from other applications through a simple web services call or even inline Widgets.

Architecture matters

The underpinnings of the ITSM application make a huge difference when deploying and connectivity is within the cloud. Multi-tiered application design is so important, whereby the different parts of the application can be independently scaled. In a multi-tiered design, there is normally a minimum of three layers, although there can be more. This is why it is often referred to as an nTier application design. This normally consists of the client (often a web browser, or thick client application in the case of legacy applications), business tier (application server) and data tier (database storage). In modern design patterns such as Absolute Service we also have a web tier for a more distributed topology.

So why is this important for cloud computing? What does this all mean practically? Effectively it means that as the number of users increases, applications like Absolute Service are able to scale out each of these layers based on the traffic volume. We can tune each layer for optimum performance and separate each layer across the cloud onto their own servers as necessary. This is simply not possible in a single-tiered environment.

Absolute Service also provides ORM (Object Relation Mapping) abstraction at many levels. This provides access to data through multiple levels of caching. Commonly used objects within the application are reused, so there is no need to do a round trip back to the database. Instead the objects are retrieved directly from memory and are also shared between concurrent user sessions. This means that the more people that use the application, the faster the perceived response, as it is likely that the data already persists in memory.

The ORM layer within applications like Absolute Service provides an added benefit in that it allows the user to plug into different database or cloud storage systems as technologies change. This unique capability means that solutions like Absolute Service can extend the value and lifecycle of the product. The ability to adapt quickly to technology changes or even cloud service providers is simplified when all you have to do is replace the ORM layer.

Ask your vendors how they approach security, availability, scalability and integrations. Make sure they have an architecture that allows for future capabilities or changes (future proof). The cloud isn’t ‘transformative’ or a ‘paradigm shift’, it is the next step in an ever evolving business process. Don’t worry, next year there will be another Hype cycle with the latest and greatest. Like anything else, the cloud should be utilized because it can assist with aligning IT with the business, not just because it is the latest trend.

With the increasing cost pressures and economic downturns, organizations are looking for ways to ease the burden of installing, implementing and managing large software projects. However, it is important to understand what the different offerings provide. While there has been a significant amount of hype surrounding SaaS in the last few years, these discussions have been predominantly focused around the pure-play SaaS solutions, what we call the SaaS 2.0 model (hosted only). These solutions have often failed to deliver in the ease-of-use and level of integration required in the large enterprises. Focusing on SaaS 3.0, or the hybrid approach, you must recognize that larger installations require more than a simple hosted environment. Early approaches focused on providing SaaS using legacy client server systems. We have seen many failed attempts offering SaaS using a combination of client server software, VPN tunnels, Citrix servers, and even WebEx based access. These approaches to SaaS have all but vanished from the landscape. They essentially provide limited access to the system via the web, usually providing some sort of client portal at best and exposing less than 10% functionality of the software. This is still goes on today using .NET applications, ActiveX controls and Flash. It isn’t transformational or a paradigm shift in thinking, it just requires thinking through the design and aligning it with the business objectives.

A survey by Gartner Inc found that, among users and prospects of SaaS solutions in 333 enterprises in the US and the UK, the apparent acceptance of SaaS as a viable model has not entirely translated into satisfied users of SaaS. Vendors of these on demand solutions will point out that a large percentage of respondents will maintain their current levels. 

The Hybrid SaaS model provides various choices, from a full installation, through to a plug and play hardware appliance. These solutions sit within the enterprise and allow more seamless integration and scalability within your environment.

 This model is suited to larger enterprises, with a large number of technicians and end users, typically with multiple points of integration that require sub-second response times.


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