In-Depth

Cloud Conversions: Software Vendors Transforming into Service Providers

The cloud is putting pressure on traditional software companies to redefine their focus to a service-oriented business model.

The savviest software vendors are always the first to invent new categories, solve the biggest and most complex problems and, now, transition their wares to the cloud.

Look at a typical shop. Where there used to be rows of servers, each with a different application or tool, now there are racks filled with blade servers, which may or may not be virtualized. And within those blade servers you'll find apps and tools of every sort: messaging, security, OSes and management -- software of every color and category made by dozens of software suppliers.

Over the next several years those wares may very well shrink. Not that you won't need them. Just as virtualization reduces the need for physical servers, the cloud reduces -- and in some instances eliminates -- the need for physical hosts. Key software vendors aligned with the Microsoft ecosystem are very much ahead of this curve.

These software providers are working on two major initiatives: moving their existing wares to the cloud; and bringing in new, built-from-scratch tools and offering them as a service. Here's a look at how some key vendors are transitioning their traditional software to embrace the cloud model.

Viewfinity Privilege Management as a Service
Viewfinity Inc. now does privilege management as a service with the simply and aptly named Viewfinity Privilege Management. The company sees technical advantages to the cloud approach.

"Most on-premises tools are delivered as a GPO [Group Policy Object] snap-in, or the privileges are managed through scripts in Active Directory," explains Leonid Shtilman, CEO of Viewfinity. "Due to our cloud-hosted platform model, we're able to more easily support multiple Active Directory forests/domains from a single console and mobile and non-domain end users. The customer also has the ability to run reports and propagate policies in real time," Shtilman adds.

Another advantage: Client machines don't need to be attached to the network or part of the Active Directory domain for policies to be activated. "As soon as the PC connects to the Internet, Viewfinity delivers the policies and rules established by the IT administrator. Once delivered, all policies continue to be enforced even while working offline," Shtilman says.

For customers, moving to cloud-based identity management is meant to be easy, the company argues. "As a solution provider, we can easily transition customers who are using an existing privilege-management solution -- usually a GPO snap-in-based implementation -- because we provide the entire infrastructure. We simply import their existing policies using an XML format into our solution and deploy our agent onto the endpoints. This can be done via their existing deployment software package via MSI [Microsoft Installer] packaging, or we offer several deployment options -- including via e-mail," explains Shtilman.


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The Acronis Backup & Recovery login screen to set up an online storage archive.

Symantec Boosts E-Mail Archiving with Enterprise Vault.cloud
Symantec Enterprise Vault.cloud started out as an on-premises e-mail archiving tool called Symantec Enterprise Vault. The cloud-based version, which initially was called Email Archiving.cloud, lets end users get at their archived mail whether they're sitting in front of their inbox, using a Web browser or holding a smartphone.

Once set up, archives are automatic and unlimited. Here's the pitch for IT: In many or most shops, mail quotas are set up because the servers can't handle all of the mail. Up to 10MB comes in daily per person, some researchers say. Users hate this and enforcing quotas is no fun. Worse, end users store important mail in personal folders -- not exactly secure and not exactly what a compliance officer wants to hear.

Even worse, many times these end users can't find what they're looking for and hound the help desk looking for answers. That's what Enterprise Vault.cloud is built for. The cloud version means IT doesn't have to administer the software in-house. Also, it can mean that IT can mix and match.

"The single biggest differentiator is the delivery model -- in the cloud or on-premises, whichever best meets our customers' needs. In some instances, our customers opt for a hybrid model," says Amy Dugdale, senior manager of product marketing at Symantec Corp.

Acronis Backup & Recovery Platform Extends Cloud Storage
Backup purveyor Acronis International GmbH is making a major move to the cloud both as a vendor and an end user. "Acronis Backup & Recovery Platform with cloud storage is essentially the same tool as the on-premises backup and recovery solution, except that it performs the backup job to a staging location," explains Alex Sukennik, Acronis senior director of global cloud services. "Then, once the job is complete and the server resources are free, the backup job residing in the staging location begins to copy to the cloud location."

Sukennik sees the advantage, as the tool "executes a single dual-destination backup job. It uses a backup Internet channel to move data to the cloud, and it eliminates a long maintenance window and frees up server resources for use by the entire user community."

Sukennik, as he describes the Acronis approach, clearly thinks like an IT professional as he spells out the challenge. "We knew we needed to rethink our backup strategy when our large and growing maintenance window would no longer allow us to maintain a full backup," he says. "Initially we decided we would prioritize the data that we needed to back up, and while this created smaller jobs, we still had the issue of taking those individual jobs and making them work within the maintenance window."

The cloud solved that problem. "With Acronis Backup & Recovery Platform with cloud storage, we were able to eliminate the additional maintenance resources of having to back up to external local media and then physically ship it off-site," Sukennik says. "Instead, we could use staging and send the data to a secure off-site datacenter location using a dual-destination job for all our backups. We were able to finish the backups within far more reasonable maintenance windows, as we backed up locally fast, and then sent the backups off-site overnight using our Internet line in conjunction with our regular Internet pipe."

The Acronis strategy is to have cloud and on-premises products work together. "All Acronis products have access to both local backups and the Acronis cloud off-site destination for backup and storage," says Sukennik. "In fact, from one central console, we can manage both local and off-site backups for our entire global hybrid environment, including VMware, Microsoft and Linux servers."

The cloud tools have been well received, he claims. "Customers see the value because they have tangible results: smaller maintenance windows and new server resources freed back to the users. They like the fact that, with the Acronis platform, they can simply enable all the agents they want a la carte, giving them a customizable and comprehensive backup and recovery solution, with the ability to do destination backups both locally and to the cloud," says Sukennik.

The cloud changes the way storage is implemented and managed, and alters its fundamental economics. "With a cloud-based backup solution, it's no longer necessary to have a long, drawn-out process for sending disks or tapes off-site," he says. "A backup should be a commodity, and an activity that doesn't require a highly skilled or paid resource. Using a dual-destination backup eliminates the traditional process involved in sending data off-site, and provides off-site backup reporting for disaster recovery and data protection. This lowers the cost of doing a backup, as there's no more need to buy hardware and physically manage backups outside the company."

Like the other vendors interviewed for this article, expect more cloud offerings from Acronis. "We're trying to eliminate as much hardware management as possible," Sukennik says. "Doing backup jobs in the middle of the night or weekend to tapes or disk drives, and managing a vendor to send off-site, doesn't seem to provide more productivity and is definitely not cost-effective."

Centrify DirectControl Manages Mobile Devices
Centrify Corp. is one of a small handful of companies that use Windows Servers as a base to manage other platforms such as Linux, Unix and the Mac. The company in now taking a similar approach to managing mobile devices, in this case using Active Directory and Group Policy to manage not just Windows-based mobile devices, but Apple and Android devices as well.

While that all sounds well and good, the real beauty is it's deployed in the cloud. Here's how Centrify describes it: "First-generation mobile device-management [MDM] products require stand-alone infrastructure deployed within the enterprise," says Frank Cabri, VP of marketing at Centrify. "In order to enable enrollment, self-service and policy enforcement for mobile devices, both employee and corporate owned, organizations are forced to make network and firewall configuration changes for mobile devices to communicate with the on-premises MDM infrastructure. Given that mobility demands secure access to corporate resources from mobile operator and Wi-Fi networks, a cloud-based model for mobile device security and management leveraging existing on-premises infrastructure is becoming the preferred option for more organizations."

Centrify can do via the cloud what once required connectivity to a corporate network. "Centrify's approach uses a cloud-based service to enable trusted over-the-air enrollment, security and management of mobile devices in Active Directory -- even if the devices aren't connected to the corporate network," Cabri says. "A proxy ensures administrative actions on Active Directory are securely communicated to the cloud service and on to the user's mobile device. This eliminates the need for complex new infrastructures or intrusive changes to corporate networks and firewalls."

Metalogix Migration Manager for SharePoint Online
Metalogix Migration Manager for SharePoint was originally designed to move data from one on-premises SharePoint instance to another. The cloud changed all that. The product can still move data from server to server. But it can also now move it from server to cloud, and support hybrid server/cloud environments.

While simple to describe, a lot of work is required under the covers. "We needed to make sure that our methods and underlying code were compatible with what Microsoft mandated. Passing their performance and security framework for their cloud environments is testament to our success in this area, but we also needed to ensure that our products were going to be fit for purpose," says Steve Marsh, product marketing manager at Metalogix Software Corp. "We worked with a number of both Metalogix and Microsoft customers who were evaluating the cloud offering of SharePoint to ensure that the functionality of our solution fit with their objectives for moving to SharePoint Online."

For customers, the migration to the cloud should be easy. "The process is broadly similar to moving from one on-premises version of SharePoint to a different version or instance. There are some limitations with what Microsoft will allow in their cloud deployments of SharePoint, but the restrictions tend to be various customizations that are no longer required due to new functionality that's available in the cloud platform," says Marsh. "A lot of the time that's the biggest problem with moving to a cloud instance of SharePoint. A lot of people will just take what they currently have on-premises and try to move it all to the cloud as it is, rather than evaluating what their current deployment actually does and, more importantly, what they need their cloud deployment to do. That's where we excel with our ability to reorganize and restructure SharePoint for their current business needs rather than lifting, shifting and repeating the mistakes of a previous SharePoint implementation."

AvePoint DocAve Provides Cloud Migrations
It's no secret that many SharePoint installs are moving to the cloud. Let's face it: In many cases SharePoint is a tactical deploy, a quick-and-dirty operation. A team of folks needs to gather on a project, so the app needs to be up fast and docs moved right away. Who needs to buy a server, load the software and get the licenses, and then build the app? Why not let a hosting provider do all or most of the work? That's just one reason to run SharePoint in the cloud.

But whether your SharePoint is online or not, the 11-year-old AvePoint Inc. says your SharePoint content migration can be. The company's tool, which runs on-premises or off, already had a Web interface, so the learning curve for customers going for the in-house-to-cloud version is relatively nil.

DocAve is all about moving SharePoint content from one place to another, whether it's documents, schedules, sites or entire collections of sites, all while keeping version histories, layout, security and metadata intact. This data can be moved when the systems are down -- or can be done live -- and works with on-premises SharePoint as well as Office 365, allowing for the support of hybrid SharePoint environments.

AvePoint Product Manager Shyam Oza says DocAve is based on a manager-agent relationship for enterprise scaling and performance. "We were able to easily make the move to Windows Azure virtual machines," Oza says, referring to the forthcoming Microsoft Infrastructure as a Service implementation of Windows Azure.

To make the transition, AvePoint provides migration services for the entire on-premises SharePoint farm to Office 365 -- or IT pros can move content to the cloud using DocAve Content Manager, according to Oza. "Users simply map their source and destination, pick from a few optimizations and filters based on their preferences, and can then launch the move or schedule it to run at a convenient time," Oza says.

Oza says AvePoint will be rolling out more cloud tools: "We're currently working on Windows Azure-hosted applications for the SharePoint 2013 Marketplace, and have plans for further enhancing our current platform with a suite of reporting and compliance solutions for Office 365."

GFI Cloud Targets SMBs
The last big GFI Software news was the acquisition of Sunbelt Software out of Clearwater, Fla. Sunbelt was bought in large measure for Vipre, an antivirus and anti-malware tool. Former Sunbelt CEO Alex Eckelberry always called Vipre the Porsche of antivirus software. It doesn't have every feature -- instead, it's lean, mean and assuredly high- performance. I thought this was CEO hype until I asked Eckelberry's customers. They agreed, and said some antivirus software was bloated but Vipre wasn't.

GFI had a product line of its own, long before Sunbelt, which included GFI LanGuard (software that offers network security) and Network Server Monitor. In July, the company launched GFI Cloud. The initial release includes GFI Vipre Business Online, consisting of antivirus, server, and workstation monitoring and management, and asset management largely through cloud versions of Vipre and Network Server Monitor.

The cloud-based service, aimed at small and midsize businesses that don't have the infrastructure to provide meaningful security, lets admins monitor their networks and optimize system and PC configurations.

In a future release, the company will add the functionality of its GFI LanGuard product, which will enable the automation of patching and vulnerability assessments using the GFI Cloud Web portal.

Condusiv V-locity 3 Defrags Cloud Servers
Condusiv Technologies Corp., formerly Diskeeper, is all about disk defragmentation. Well, the company used to be all about disk defragmentation, and its products are still mostly about disk defragmentation. But now the larger message is optimization. So what on earth does this have to do with the cloud?

Bear with me a bit, because this is important. The cloud works so beautifully because of its use of virtualization. The public cloud -- the Internet -- is really one big virtual computer based on millions of machines and hundreds and hundreds of thousands of virtualized servers in farms around the world. If disk fragmentation is bad on one standalone server, how bad is it when multiplied across millions of machines and hundreds and hundreds of thousands of virtualized servers in farms around the world?

V-locity 3, according to Condusiv, stops virtual disk fragmentation before it even starts. Not available as a service, it's software worth noting because the result should be a faster public cloud -- and a snappier private cloud, should you choose to build one.

Flexera Taps Amazon to Address Cost
Flexera Software LLC might be better known for the name of one of its most popular products -- InstallShield.

The company also has license-compliance software, and here the company saw that the cloud presents a unique problem. When you create a VM, it isn't virtually free. A VM is really the same as a physical machine, so software can have a cost depending on what it is you're creating. And if you create a VM and move it to the cloud, this can likewise have a cost.

Flexera, working with Amazon Web Services LLC, is applying FlexNet Operations and FlexNet Publisher to address the issue. You can use the software as an application developer or an IT pro to help insure that software isn't used on VMs in the cloud when it shouldn't be.

And the company has another trick for enterprises: FlexNet Manager Suite helps enterprises figure out how much all this cloud software is going to cost -- and, through asset management, helps make sure what is used in the cloud is license-compliant.

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