Why you should be bothered by SOC

by admin on October 20, 2009

in Cloud Computing/SaaS

In recent days David Terrar has been getting a tad cross with me (see comments) about the use of SOC (saas/on-demand/cloud.) He doesn’t see the need for another acronym and he’s right that it might need explaining. But delivering another explanation for tech terms is not why I use the term when discussing the new breed of applications. It’s very simple.

The tech industry loves its buzzwords. They are an attempt to describe the fashion of the day in such a way that people will latch on to them as a marketing concept. In the eyes of marketers it matters very little whether the concept is meaningful provided it promotes their agenda and sounds ‘cool.’ That’s not always the case but is a reasonable generalization. In recent years, there has been a tendency to go over the top at times. A great example is the trend to label anything vaguely new (and not so new if it suits marketing) with a 2.0 suffix. It’s tragic.

When it comes to SOC terms, we’ve moved in rapid succession from one to another even though saas and cloud computing for instance mean different things with on-demand sitting somewhere vaguely in between. Hardly anyone has noticed nor for that matter understands. Those who do take umbrage. Hence Richard Messik’s admonishment to the Softworld cloud computing platform panel, articulated in his own blog post and captured on this video. So why does it matter?

Saas describes software delivered as a service. It is the ‘service’ element that should be the distinguishing factor. Hence the rise of all things aaS in the last few years with that service distinction baked into what is on offer. That made some reasonable sense because it often describes a fairly easy to understand consumption model that among other things is subscription based. It is for that reason that Phil Wainewright draws a careful distinction between Saas and SoSaas, a trap many vendors have fallen into.

Then we pulled in the notion of on-demand where applications could be switched on and off very much like a tap. Again it fits the subscription model and more especially the monthly no strings approach that many vendors have adopted. So far so good. Enter cloud computing.

This is a different concept to Saas and on-demand though it shares at least some general characteristics. Check out the Wikipedia definition:

Cloud computing is the provision of dynamically scalable and often virtualised resources as a service over the Internet on a utility basis.[1][2] Users need not have knowledge of, expertise in, or control over the technology infrastructure in the “cloud” that supports them.[3] Cloud computing services often provide common business applications online that are accessed from a web browser, while the software and data are stored on the servers.

At one level this sounds very similar to Saas but we’ve seen plenty of arguments about for instance public and private clouds plus the more recent introduction of hybrid clouds. If you’re falling asleep then I’m not surprised. This is the stuff of tech debates the industry relishes in but which are often unhelpful to customers who just want to ‘get things done.’ To heap confusion upon confusion, Ismail Ghalimi offers yet another definition that includes a set of look up points.

For buyers looking at applications, the problem of understanding is a bit more nuanced. If you talk to Salesforce.com for instance, they’ll tell you they’re offering services such as their CRM service but also a cloud platform. It’s the platform which helps them distinguish and upon which services like FinancialForce.com is built. That’s fairly straightforward. But when the whole applications business merrily uses the same term when individual vendors do not offer any sort of platform then you’re back to head scratching time. Aren’t you?

It is this conflating of terms to suit marketing to which I am drawing attention and why I am using SOC. Because who the heck can tell anymore even though the distinctions are important to understanding what you’re buying into? David knows only too well the problems associated with this form of marketing. Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle said at a recent Churchill Club meeting in referring to this issue and the fashion nature of the industry: “It’s like Chanel; last year it’s fuchsia, this year puce.”

‘Cloud’ sounds way more sexy (and cuddly) than Saas and I have to wonder whether on-demand ever really mattered. On that last point, I’m sure David will agree. If we’re going down yet another path in the field of alphabet soup then can we please have something that makes direct and simple business sense to buyers and not something that panders to the marketing moment. Because of one thing I am 100% sure – confuse the customer and they will walk away. I think that’s called SOCkin’ it to yah ;)

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Esteban Kolsky October 20, 2009 at 10:05 am

Bravo Dennis,

Not to nitpick, but none of the terms are used well anyways – so I am going with SOC going forward as a great concept: call it what you may, the concept is that it ain't yours, and you can use it.

Thanks for a very well written blog on a topic that has bothered me quite

David Terrar October 20, 2009 at 10:19 am

I'm glad to have sparked the SOC debate….

Here's the thing. We've always had terminology from Utility Computing, to bureau to ASP to SaaS that we've had to wade through. You are so right to bring up Phil's SoSaaS, and in my opinion a number of the providers used the On Demand term to mask the fact that they were SoSaaS rather than SaaS. So we agree the alphabet soup of jargon is counter productive, and yet another thing that drags us in to talking technology, when we should be talking business.

The Wikipedia definition of Cloud Computing makes good reading. It goes on to explain that Cloud is subdivided in to 3 categories:

Infrastructure as a Service (like Amazon EC2)
Platform as a Service (like Force.com)
Software as a Service (like FreeAgent Central)

If you look at recent white papers from SunGard's latest kick aaS campaign, to the newsletter for the upcoming Cloud Computing World Forum this week, to Microsoft's Cloud Computing for Dummies book put together by our mates at Freeform Dynamics, you will see the same explanation. As an industry we need to coalesce around some acceppted terms we can define, and drop things like On Demand.

I agree with just about everything you say in this post, except that adding SOC as yet another acronym clouds the issue.

Dennis Howlett October 20, 2009 at 10:25 am

You really meant that David – 'clouds the issue' – ROFL !!

Nit: conveniently forgetting private, public, hybrid in the wikipedia explanation and also the ongoing fights among tech buffs?

Seriously – job no.1 for EuroCloud?

David Terrar October 20, 2009 at 10:32 am

Sorry – couldn't resist "clouds the issue" :)

Your SOC term doesn't encompass the private, public, hybrid combinations, whereas the Cloud term makes those aspects more easy to explain. To me that adds weight to my argument that the Cloud (SaaS/PaaS/IaaS) terminology covers the ground better.

Agree completely about EuroCloud helping cut through this.

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