Accpac in the Cloud
It used to be that running in the cloud (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cloud_computing) meant using a generic SaaS based web application, but now a days technology advances have offered many choices beyond this basic option. Virtualization technologies have advanced in leaps and bounds. Hosted solutions providers now offer many innovative options based on both regular and virtualized solutions. Plus the capabilities of SaaS web applications have improved quite a bit. Today Accpac has several cloud based solutions available and in the future we will have a full spectrum of solutions. Combining Terminal Services or Citrix with Virtualization is now a very powerful method of economically hosting enterprise applications. It is at the point where you can host your Windows based Enterprise application in the cloud and access it from an iPad (by running the Citrix client application http://www.citrix.com/English/NE/news/news.asp?newsID=1864354).
In some ways this wealth of riches has led to some confusion. There are so many options on how to deploy an application that it gets quite difficult to wade through all the choices and all the various claims being made by various hosting and application vendors. This blog post will attempt to outline the main choices and trade-offs, along with pointing out the various places that Sage ERP Accpac plays now and will play in the future.
The cloud usually means that a client is running an application on a remote server via the Internet. There are many ways this can be achieved. Many of the options come down to who owns what (you or the vendor) and what type of application is being talked about (Windows or Web based). However the following are the 4 main categories.
- Hosted Server. Server is owned by customer and maintained in a central data center but accessed via the Internet. This is usually a Windows based application and the customer owns everything (server and software), but is outsourcing the physical care of the server and often other services like backup. A typical company in this area is Rackspace (http://www.rackspace.com/index.php).
- Shared Virtual Server. A server farm is owned by the data center vendor and the client owns virtual server images that run on that farm. Here the customer owns the software (usually Windows based), but the data center owns the hardware. Typical of this is the Amazon EC2 service (http://aws.amazon.com/ec2/).
- Single Tenant SaaS. Vendor owns servers and images. Runs each client in their own image (whether virtual or multiple processes). Here the application is usually Windows based (but often we see web based applications here also). AccpacOnline is a good example of this.
- Multi-tenant SaaS. Vendor owns everything, client runs within a shared image or process (usually distributed over many servers).Here the application is always a Web application.
Any of these could be running web applications or desktop applications, but we highlight the most common cases above. The costs and who pays them is different in each situation and there are pros and cons to each. The differences between these are often blurred as companies offer hybrid solutions. Also some vendors try to define a category exactly as they implement it and claim anyone that does it differently is incorrect, but like anything there are always many choices.
So why are customers demanding cloud based solutions rather than just buying software and installing it on premise? Below are some of the goals that clients are trying to achieve:
- Save costs by not having a data center. Save on requiring extra air conditioning, backup power supplies, hard disk backup and space. Save on routine maintenance like performing backups.
- Save capital equipment costs by not purchasing hardware which devalues quickly and needs to be replaced often. Have fixed constant monthly expense instead.
- Save capital software purchase expenses. Don’t want large up-front purchase, would rather pay much smaller monthly fee. Even if this is more expensive over x years, doesn’t require initial outlay. (Some on-premise software can now be “rented” as another solution to this).
- Save HR expenses by not needing to hire IT staff to run and manage corporate hardware and software.
- Don’t have to perform software installation or maintenance.
- Ability to access their applications safely and securely from anywhere in the world whether through laptops or other mobile devices.
- Desire to use a modern web-based application which has the ease of use of Facebook or Amazon.
When considering cloud solutions there are a number of problems that are usually cited that clients try to avoid:
- Lack of customization in cloud offerings.
- Lack of ability to use/integrate other software.
- Lack of owner ship of data. Lack of ability to get their data. What happens if the cloud vendor goes out of business?
- Security concerns, how safe and private is their data?
All solutions have an answer to these; customers just have to determine if those answers are sufficient, cost effective and achievable.
To be fair, many vendors are pushing cloud solutions quite strongly, and this isn’t for purely altruistic reasons. What are the vendors trying to achieve? Below are the goals that vendors are trying to achieve:
- Obtain a more steady cash flow. Steady subscription revenue, rather than relying on less frequent large purchases. Easier for financial planning and more recession proof.
- Obtain access to a larger market by being able to server the world from a single location.
- Can organize so only need to support one version of the software, reducing costs. Similarly you only need to support one hardware/operating system environment.
- Can have more direct contact with customers since you are sharing an operating environment – more control of ECE (Extraordinary Customer Experience).
- For hosting only vendors that aren’t software vendors as well, then this is their entire business, so of course they are selling it as hard as they can.
Sage ERP Accpac in the Cloud
Now let’s look at the options for Accpac in the cloud. At the beginning of this article we looked at four cloud categories, now we’ll look into how Accpac serves these four categories.
- Anyone can do category 1. This is basically just installing an on-premise application like Sage ERP Accpac 5.6A on a terminal server and then physically moving that server to a hosting provider for care and feeding. Then clients access the server either using RDP or Citrix client.
- This option is very similar to category 2, except rather than install on a physical server you install your software into a virtual image either provided or specified by the hosting vendor. Then you transfer this image to the vendor who runs and maintains it. If the vendor is associated with Sage or Accpac already, they may provide a virtual environment with Accpac already installed.
- Both Accpac and SageCRM have operated single tenant SaaS environments for some time with www.accpaconline.com and www.sagecrm.com. Accpac operates the desktop version of Accpac in a SaaS manner using Citrix to manage things, but each client runs in their own separate server memory space when running. SageCRM is web based but requires a unique instance of SageCRM running for each customer. Here you pay by the month, can run VBA macros, Microsoft Office and a selection of ISV products.
- Sage ERP Accpac 6.x has better multi-tenancy support than the current AccpacOnline because all clients run in the same server processes and share the same server memory. The goal is that once we have moved all the accounting screens to be true web based screens (after 6.1A), then we can deploy them as a SaaS solution. As part of the development of the infrastructure of Accpac 6.x, we ensured we plumbed in the support for a multi-tenanted deployment of this type. Once we enter this world we will be a try true web based application that doesn’t require Terminal Server, Citrix or Virtualization Technologies to run. It will be a modern web based application that you can run either on-premise or as a true SaaS web application.
It used to be that a big competitive advantage of a true web based SaaS solution was a much lower cost by being able to run far more users per server. However with all the advances in Virtualization Technology and Terminal Server/Citrix a lot of this gap has been narrowed, making solutions of this type very cost competitive.
As we can see Accpac already has many options for cloud deployment that achieves many of the customer’s goals in considering a cloud application. Then in the future we go beyond this to offer a true Web Based SaaS solution. As these technologies progress the TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) will come down as we can host more users per server. For clients it becomes easier to get customized solutions in the cloud with all the attendant cost savings, including better usability and accessibility.