By Scott Johnston – (2017)

As a culture, we are entering an era where our core business processes will not only be executed in the cloud, but be exposed to enable seamless integration with our business partners and marketplaces. This transition may be difficult at first to conceive, and not without challenge to engineer and migrate, yet to grow competitively and maintain strategic advantage it should be part of any future business plans. Engaging our customers in new ways will require not only a shift in strategy, but also technology. It’s a great time to be in business.

A bit of history on how we got to the Cloud:

When I started in the IT industry, data centers still had reel-to-reel tape drives and massive mainframes. These were the glory days of the 1st Platform – Mainframes. Data processing was what it was all about. Networks and PC’s were newcomers, email and the commercial internet as we know it today were in their infancy. These were the days when Cobol and Assembler were the ‘must know’ technologies and if you didn’t know how to debug a dump then you weren’t going to get far in the industry. Dumb terminals (green screens) were used as rudimentary system interfaces with little capability apart from adjusting contrast and brightness. Reports were generated overnight on massive dot-matrix line printers.

But things were changing. DOS/VSE begat MVS (Multiple Virtual System) and mainframe databases became capable of supporting relational models. New languages were introduced to make programming easier and more adaptable. Yet still the processing power was all within the big box mainframe, with the exception of some mini-computers.

Then major advancements in network communications, hardware, and software made possible the leap to the 2nd Platform – Client/Server systems. With Unix variants as the workhorse operating systems, and Sybase or Oracle databases, new applications running on workstations and PC’s were now being written to split the processing between the back end server and client desktops. The evolution was not complete until Microsoft Servers and SQL databases became part of the equation with the Windows OS and new visual development environments empowering the business users. Traditional IT departments were overcome with the need for massive transformation in order to support a competitive business advantage. Open source software combined with the internet to open the boundaries of the traditional IT/IS department, with the addition of Java and intranet business applications to the mix.

Packaged software vendors alleviated some of the development burden yet often extensive configuration, or in-house built custom applications were needed to ensure support for specific business functions. Traditional waterfall project development gave way to more agile and rapid application development techniques. IT became part of the strategic business direction instead of just back end support.

This was the birth of data-warehouses and advanced business intelligence reporting. Analyzing information to enable strategic advantage in the marketplace. Yet throughout the growth and expansion of the 2nd Platform, for the most part the organization owned and controlled it’s own computing resources.

Now we find ourselves in the midst of the transition to the 3rd Platform – where Cloud Computing, Social Networking, and Big Data all combine to provide a computing environment that will become as trans-formative to our business processes as client/server was to mainframes. Our development environment and methods have evolved in order to support this transformation, with an abundance of new platforms, languages, tools and extensions. But are you ready to cast off your data center and trust the cloud? I’ve been asking myself this question and in reviewing the technology stack Microsoft has put together with its Azure cloud platform, and I think we are now closer than ever.