While many enterprises are still wrestling with the problems of cloud computing and whether they should make the jump, a small number of companies are providing stepping stones to the cloud that can make the transition less painful -- Alfresco and its hybrid model is one of them. Alfresoco’s Director of Cloud Services David Gildeh sat down with us last week to explain what this is all about.

There is reason the spotlight has fallen on Alfresco recently. It has announced that it will looking to launch an IPO later this year, or sometime next year, and in anticipation of that IPO, it has appointed a new CEO and expanded its presence in the US.

Alfresco’s US Progress

And it is the hybrid model or cloud computing that is building its reputation within the US. Just to be clear, hybrid cloud computing offers enterprises the possibility of having both on-premises computing and cloud computing present in the enterprise to meet its business goals.

This should be an obvious model, but Gildeh says, it seems that in the US, it has not really developed in the way it could. Only last week, for example, it held its third annual Content.gov event which had as its keynote speaker Beth Noveck, the US Deputy Chief of Technology, as well as representatives from the FDA and the US patent office. The thinking behind this was to discuss how public and federal bodies can become more collaborative and transparent based on a set of open innovation standards within non-proprietary IT environments, at the behest of President Obama, who has made this a policy plank.

Hybrid, Agile Computing

Alfresco’s interest in this is obvious not only because of the large number of public sector clients it has, but also because the hybrid model sits well with this ambition.shutterstock_98210885.jpg

While many might argue that the real reason behind this is because of apparent cost savings of taking the cloud route, Gildeh points out that there are other reasons, not least of which is agility.

With agile systems, enterprises can provision new services to deal with a particular problem, or undertake a particular task, and have that task or problem resolved quickly and without having to spend valuable IT resources.

…It is giving enterprises the agility of cloud, so they can go off and creates new business case uses like B2B collaboration, pushing mobile devices outside the firewall, enabling them use interactive content, and even using the cloud as a hub to connect up cloud services. Some enterprises are also using it as a repository for content to connect up different applications," Glideh said.

If it is as clearly advantageous, or even economical as this, then why is there reluctance to take to it in the first place.

Cloud Computing Barriers

The problem, he says, is that enterprises cannot put everything in the cloud from a technical point of view because many cloud providers don’t have the ability to customize their offerings, or integrate with existing on-premise systems.

Neither can many of them tie into the regulatory frameworks that a given enterprise may be subject to. The result, despite the advantages of cloud computing, many companies still need a significant on-premises presence.

Cloud v Hybrid Computing

This is not going to change any time soon. According to Gildeh, Alfresco could hypothetically become a pure cloud company, but it’s not going to be looking at this for at least ten years.The reason for this, he says, is significant and reflects where enterprises are at the moment. Enterprises may be ready to use the cloud, but they are nowhere near ready enough to move all their content there.

Any vendor then,  will have to work with that situation for those ten years -- and probably longer -- if it is to continue to work the market:

… There is no doubt that companies want to move to the cloud and I have no doubt that in the future they will move completely to the cloud. But for really large enterprises -- the kind of enterprise that we deal with -- it’s just not viable right now... they need that strategic stepping stone that is hybrid computing into the cloud…”

Why Hybrid?

One of the reasons for the popularity of the hybrid system is that it covers all bases. While most enterprises need an on-premise hub that connects their systems, they also need to be able to connect to cloud applications. There are three elements required, and the hybrid architecture covers all three.

Firstly, you have a secure cloud hub outside the firewall that comes with cloud computing applications like Salesforce, or Net Suite, or any of the other cloud applications. Secondly, inside the firewall you have your on-premises enterprise applications like SAP or Jive, or any other ECM application. And then there is a third element, which consists of a secure bridge between the two enabling the exchange of information between the cloud and the enterprise.

Hybrid Regulation

Hybrid also fits global regulatory models much better, Gilden says. As legal frameworks around privacy or data storage become stricter, the possibilities of storing data in the cloud and on-premises become increasingly attractive.

Most US companies, for example, feel a lot better about keeping their data on US soil despite things like the Safe harbor regulations which limit responsibility and liability under law, as long as the company performed its actions in good faith or in compliance with defined standards.

As a result, US companies with a global presence and offices outside of the US find it cumbersome to share company information to branches that are not actually located in the US. With hybrid, they can keep the information in the US, and also enable outlying offices access that information too.

Hybrid User Experience

With hybrid systems, you essentially have the same user experience on both sides of the firewall. However, for the information that companies want to ensure stays on the enterprise side of the firewall, there are tight restrictions that can be applied. The key to it, though, is having the same user experience on both sides of the firewall.

If the user experience is not the same on both sides of the firewall, users will want to access their content through mobile or on the go. What happens is that they upload material from the enterprise side to the cloud side and you end up with security issues with content getting moved back and forth."

Alfresco, Hybrid, US

As to why the US market is taking to Alfresco’s hybrid system and why he thinks it will do well in the future, Gildeh believes Alfresco is one of only a very small number of operators that are offering hybrid possibilities (both EMC and Microsoft have noises about it with an EMC launch of a hybrid offering on the way).

The problem, he says, in the US is that, to date, most companies are using either one side or the other and have not developed both sides sufficiently to offer truly hybrid systems.

…some vendors may do on-premises very well but not the cloud. The problem is that the do a really good job of managing content on premises, but can’t do it in the cloud; they can’t do things like extranets, they can’t do things like mobile …likewise, with the cloud vendors -- they might do cloud really well but they just can’t do it in on-premises.."

Hybrid Regulatory Frameworks

The final issue around bring hybrid computing into the US is that of regulation. While the perception form Europe may be that the US is a highly regulated environment and difficult to work in, Gildeh says the contrary.

He says Europe, with its numerous different borders and geographically specific regulatory regimes, as well as its European-wide regimes, is making it much tougher to operate in. Yes, there are tough regulations in many verticals in the US, but if you are operating outside of those regimes, they don’t impact your business as they would in Europe where regulations are more likely to hit numerous different verticals.

While European countries cite the US Patriot Act, which enables the government to gather enterprise information if it is deemed necessary for national security, as an example of how the US government can impact on business and business information, many European countries have agreements in place with the US enabling the government access information anyway. In any case, Gildeh says, regulatory regimes can add to the appeal of hybrid computing.

With companies that are operating in China, for example, there are very tight regulations about what information can leave Chinese territories. If a company operates inside China and outside China, where information is tightly controlled, it is relatively easy to restrict what information leaves the country, but give outside offices access through hybrid computing.

The exact date, month or even year of Alfresco’s IPO has yet to be announced but it will be in the next two years. Between now and then, it will be building its presence in the US with a strong emphasis on hybrid computing which should gain considerable traction.

Image Courtesy of Raywoo (Shutterstock)