The highest common denominator


Stephen Morse is the Vice President of Sales Engineering for Salesforce.com in the Asia Pacific region.

A few months back, I was engaged in a very insightful CIO round table in Australia discussing with over a dozen industry executives how the state of IT has been changed forever. High on the agenda was a chat about the rise of cloud computing as in the face of a new IT reality where organisations must be prepared to do more with less — and better — than ever before.

The most exciting thing — from my perspective — to come from these discussions was the dawning realization that a public cloud computing solution delivers the highest common denominator of benefits.

Now I am not talking about math fractions — I am speaking of the direct opposite of the common phrase ‘lowest common denominator.’ When you think about it, a customer’s solution is only as good as its current status and suffers from the limitations of that release — until such time as money is spent to upgrade or patch it.

The highest common denominator is the concept that all consumers of a technology will automatically receive the benefit of every enhancement automatically — offering new opportunities to do more — while driving down cost through improved rationalization and capabilities. This directly applies to true, multi-tenant, public cloud computing solutions.

Let’s take a quick pause to define multi-tenancy, because it’s an important part of this concept. It is in essence the rigorous application of shared infrastructure and software services across multiple tenants or customers.

I like to use the analogy of a large modern office building, filled with many different tenants, who all share common infrastructure such as elevators, security, and fire-proofing, but will all have customized their offices in different ways.

A single-tenant system (which also defines most ‘private’ cloud offerings), is a situation where every tenant has their own office building and share nothing.

In the multi-tenant office building, improvements such as shiny new tiles for the pool or an upgraded alarm system are immediately available to all occupants. In a single tenant building, improvements can only be realized by one resident.

The same theory applies to an enterprise cloud, where all customers gain immediate access to the benefits throughout the entire life-cycle of ownership. In essence — with multi-tenancy — you get the highest common denominator; with single tenancy, you get the lowest.

During our talks, the panel of CIOs found there were a number of dimensions that were important about the highest common denominator in enabling future success:

1 – Quality

This one came as an epiphany to the entire group — myself included. Google and Salesforce.com were both stated as examples where minor issues were identified and solved permanently, for every user, in minutes. As opposed to legacy on-premise issues that could only be fixed through patching — which can take a significantly longer time and never reaches everyone.

2 – Security

Always a point of marked debate for IT decision makers, the discussion here resulted in a revelation for some and a confirmation for others. In simple terms, the highest common denominator of security means that all customers automatically enjoy the cumulative features and robustness of security from every customer audit, penetration test, or enhanced feature delivered to meet the most rigorous requirements.

For example, if a multi-tenant cloud offering has received SAS70 Type II or ISO:27001 certification, every customer receives its benefit; the same for features like global secure workstations, VPNs, 128 bit encryption, SSO, SOX compliance, auditing, field security, ip range restrictions, etc.

The misconception about the lack of security for co-mingled data from different organizations in a multi-tenant cloud was also put to rest. Just as your bank, your telco, your government, and every vendor that you work with stores your data securely alongside that of other individuals, the multi-tenant system applies this same expertise, but with even more security mechanisms in place to ensure integrity.

3 – Integration

It was generally concluded that integration consumes an inordinate amount of CIO time and money. When examined through the highest common denominator of the cloud, integration capabilities once again looked positively game-changing. The minute that any integration mechanism, of any type or method, is proven against a rigorously published API that needs to meet the common standards of all of its customers, it is instantly available. The API must be standard, with backward compatibility, ensuring every past integration will not break, and enabling new protocols and methods for the future.

4 – Innovation

Everyone knew this was the case, but when viewed through the highest common denominator lens, the level of innovation almost caused a moment of awed silence. The beauty of this is that as cloud vendors grow — and customer demands along with it — the speed of innovation will only accelerate, providing even more advantages to those that take it seriously, and increase the danger to those choosing to stay in legacy IT cycles.

The list goes on…

The conversation spanned a number of other highest common denominator elements which I won’t go into here, but will mention for the record: deployment, flexibility, scalability, availability, performance, upgrades, and green computing. There are more yet to be discussed.

The CIO council was one of the most provocative and insightful events I have participated in a long time, and we all left the round table significantly more empowered with the concept of the highest common denominator. This concept is the proof point that cloud computing is the most important transformational IT trend in the future, which will enable IT organizations and business to achieve more with less — and better — in the times ahead.

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