Tuesday, 13 July 2010

AppStores: Future of Enterprise Computing

Smart mobile phones such as Blackberry and Iphone introduced a user friendly approach to browse, select and download a variety of useful – free or otherwise. Now a similar model seems to be on the way for large enterprises, thanks to some recent development in cloud computing especially in the SaaS segment.
What is an Appstore?
In simple terms, an appstore is like a supermarket for applications. You enter one, browse around at intuitively stacked up apps, search for apps or perhaps seek help of online staff to help you pick an application that suits your need.
Just like in a supermarket, you can expect to see promotions of “features” applications, bargains, buyer guides and may be in future, price comparisons. That’s perhaps is a farfetched idea for now – in IT comparison of any two product seems to be similar to comparing apples with oranges.
Just like in the realworld, there is likely to be “buy readymade” or DIY appstores. As their names imply, you may buy what is on offer in the former model and build your own in the latter case. ASDA, M&S are analogous to the former and B&Q, IKEA to the latter.
What types of appstores can we expect?
Several types, actually. But I would say that there would be one appstore within each ‘buying environment’. So, within a large enterprise, there would be a global/regional appstores. Special consortiums of companies such as EADS and mega brands such as Virgin could have their own internal appstores. The Government will have its own appstores – some of them, such as defence, ring fenced for extra security. And, there will be many in the public domain. Major SaaS provider is likely to have one for each industry vertical.
How does an Appstore application work?
There could be a mixture of methods in the way these appstore applications work. Many are likely to run in a cloud based environment – such as a private cloud within the enterprise – or on trusted clouds hosted by SaaS providers.
As the inter-cloud-interfacing APIs and application interoperability matures, there will be applications hosted in one environment or cloud safely and reliably working with applications on other environments or clouds.
It is also possible to imagine meta-appstores which provide just an outer wrapper to other appstores.
Who fills and Appstore and How?
This is an ordinary looking extraordinary question. In the case of large enterprises, procurement department would control the appstore from commercial perspective. There is likely to be a “selection committee” which validates application characters in test environments against arguably tough entry criteria which would involve more non functional characteristics such as reliability, scalability, availability etc.
Vendor maintained appstores will be filled by vendors and their partners.
The process of stacking an appstore in this case is likely to be haphazard – with only a few applications being strategic from vendor perspective.
Enterprise appstores are filled largely based on business requirements.
How to choose applications from appstores?
It is neither an art nor a science. But careful consideration of techno-commercial properties of an application is needed. Certain applications may need ‘subscription’ to a service that runs elsewhere; an application, especially those chosen from a public source may be unreliable and potentially dangerous. Common sense and consultation are the two key things that should guide a user.
DIY Appstores
Some SaaS providers have developed appstores from which you can pick and choose software and service components and build your own situational business application – just like the way you work with Lego pieces. Some service providers like Cordys claim that a simple situational application could be assembled and published in under ten minutes! There would be no need for traditional software design or programming, but thorough testing is always a necessity.
Such applications could help meeting dynamic business requirements and promote agility, innovation at unprecedented low costs.
On the flipside, it could lead to proliferation of uncontrolled business applications over time within the enterprise. Staff turnover, poor configuration management and knowledge management practices will only add to the problem. To remedy this situation, the enterprise must strengthen application reuse and knowledge management practices.

In summary, appstores being in a new dimension into enterprise computing. They help providing an intuitive, controlled, on demand provisioning of IT. Customisable, componentised, DIY appstores bring agile, code free, DIY computing to the enterprise at a risk of application proliferation. They don’t simplify the enterprise IT architecture just yet. But they provide an interesting twist to IT delivery.

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