Cloud

The Art of Enterprise Agility: Scale Down, Ramp Up with a Software Appliance

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There’s much discussion about agility in the enterprise software space. Sales need to be fast, development cycles need to be short and companies need to create revenue quickly to secure cash in uncertain economic times. The tight sales environment is the same this year as in other recent market cycles, but the tools have changed.

One solution for efficient and cost-effective application deployment is a software appliance. An appliance is a pre-configured combination of an application, middleware and operating system integrated into a single image and tailored to run on industry-standard hardware. Not only are software appliances revolutionizing the way software is packaged and delivered, they are the quickest path to reducing sales friction and accelerating the time to value.

More importantly, appliances also open new market opportunities for companies looking to embrace the benefits of cloud computing. With an appliance, ISVs can build fast, agile and flexible applications that they can quickly move to private or public clouds so they can expand their IT horizons and get a feel for the future of enterprise IT. It is the best way to deliver value to customers, while freeing them from the burden of managing an entire software stack.

In today’s business world, that’s huge, says Richard Ptak, an IT analyst and managing partner with Amherst, N.H.-based Ptak Noel & Associates LLC. “In this economic environment, you have to always be scrambling to try to be more productive. In the last few years, the difficult global economy has left enterprises with short staffs. Plus these things have been frustrated by a lack of investment dollars and a reluctance to spend.”

A software executive’s key challenges

An ISV must master aggressive project schedules, distributed teams and multiple deployment targets across a variety of hardware and software platforms from the data center to the cloud. In addition, the development/deployment scenario is complex. Many ISVs attribute up to 50 percent of their support call volume to installation and configuration of their software.

Cloud computing adds additional complexity to the process. ISVs have already invested heavily in building on-premise applications but still need to modernize to a new technology platform. New cloud or SaaS targets can require large up-front investments for re-architecting and configuration to transform from a software developer to service provider. This increases not only the cost of development, but also the costs of supporting and certifying different deployment platforms for physical, virtual and cloud environments.

And what that means, Ptak says, is that IT tools that add value, speed, flexibility and productivity can be a developer’s best friend.

Automate and simplify for business success

Appliances are built through a Web-based tool such as SUSE’s SUSE Studio, which adds value to enterprises that are once again seeing growth, increasing revenue and higher customer demand. Web-based tools like SUSE Studio allow developers inside your organization to quickly custom assemble and build the specific applications they need. They can log in, review lists of pre-built components and literally click buttons to select just what they want and need for their projects. When the components are chosen, they can click a “build” button to finalize the custom application, then can put it through a “test drive” to be sure it works as desired before using it.

Imagine – instead of having to build an application for various virtual environments, you just change the virtual environment target with a couple of clicks without changes the whole application stack.

Need to include an Apache Web Server component? Check.

Need to use a database to hold the collected data? Check.

Need it to be flexible enough to run on the Amazon EC2 cloud today or on a Rackspace cloud tomorrow? Check.

Need to quickly and easily change any of those selections later? Check.

By only including the core components that you need for a project, you can leave out the excess that can cause bloated applications, security vulnerabilities and future problems.

A nimble bridge to the cloud

And as valuable as flexibility is today, the greater promise of such application-building tools is that they can make it much simpler for an ISV to move to enter new markets like cloud computing.

With such a platform, ISVs can build, try, experiment and instantly rebuild nascent applications, all in minutes, giving them immense flexibility and agility at far lower costs than traditional application development. All of that experimentation and testing can be done on the cloud where needed changes can be done at once, then redeployed on the cloud. It’s fast application building without fear or hassle.

It’s essentially a bridge to the public cloud, which for some developers and executives, particularly those who are not in the trenches, can be a much more welcoming way to explore this new and still-evolving terrain with less fear of the unknown.

For a company’s financial bottom line, that’s a great way to create a significant improvement in time-to-market and time-to-profit in uncertain business conditions.

While expanding these business capabilities among your developers, the use of such application-building tools doesn’t mean that you’re giving up your existing development processes.

The art of agility

That’s the kind of agility and flexibility that’s critical in today’s ultra-competitive business environment. For the ISV, this is a mission-critical issue – unhappy customers don’t buy software. And the cost of support can be up to half of the cost of goods sold. In addition, customers don’t want to pay excessive amounts for support and it may make the decision to buy cost-prohibitive. With stiffer competition for fewer dollars, the ISV needs to generate revenue. Furthermore, the complexity and resource-intensive nature of implementing and supporting enterprise software often prevents smaller customers from even considering purchasing certain applications.

Meanwhile, the definitions of applications are changing. No longer does every application need to be started from scratch to solve a business need.

Instead, custom applications can be assembled from quality, off-the-shelf components by anyone in a business organization to fulfill their own needs, quickly, reliably and inexpensively today.

The people who require the applications can now be an integral and valued part of the process.

Needed applications can now be built in minutes, hours or days, rather than in weeks, months or quarters.

And just as important, the custom-built, pre-configured and quality-tested applications that result can be deployed easily and quickly to offices around the world or onto cloud servers in an instant, furthering their value around the globe.

This is the art of enterprise agility.

Sabine Soellheim is a senior solution marketing manager at SUSE, a leading provider of enterprise Linux solutions that increase agility, reduce cost and manage complexity in dynamic environments. Established in 2009, the SUSE Appliance Program contains 180,000 users that have built over 900,000 appliances worldwide. For more information about the SUSE Appliance Program, visit http://www.suse.com/partners/isv/appliance/ or email ssoellheim@suse.com.

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