Vendors push the 'private instance on a public cloud' proposition

Customers want private cloud offerings, and Alfresco with its content management system on AWS is doing what they ask

Vendors push the 'private instance on a public cloud' proposition
Credit: ©IDG Communications, Inc. Photo contributed by Matthew Mikaelian

A decade or so ago, a few visionaries decided that a new way of delivering technology was valuable. Pioneers at both the software end of the spectrum (Salesforce and NetSuite) and the infrastructure end (Amazon Web Services) came up with solutions that, rather than being delivered on premises, could be consumed on-demand and via the internet. While it seems natural enough now, back in the day this was a revolutionary concept.

And unsurprisingly, the way people have reacted to this “cloud thing” has changed over time. I have sat in many conference keynote sessions where industry leaders told of the risks, the utter devastation, that would occur should cloud actually reach an adoption tipping point. Much doubt was cast on the model, and customers were advised to keep with the status quo.

Over time, however, this message has changed as cloud computing, in its various guises, has risen on a seemingly endless ascendency to become the normal way of doing business. Now the message seems to be that the cloud can deliver real benefits, for sure, but that to do cloud safely requires a particular kind of architecture.

Alfresco on AWS

A case in point is Alfresco, which today announced that its content management solution is now available on AWS. But rather than the usual multi-tenant public cloud offering, Alfresco is offering itself up as a single-tenant, managed services sitting within an AWS Virtual Private Cloud (VPC). The pitch here is that the offering offers a kind of best of both worlds: a robust content-centric platform allowing users to collaborate on business-critical content, all with the network isolation and security of a dedicated AWS VPC and without the dedicated internal resources for ongoing Alfresco and AWS management.

The offering, which is now available on an early-access basis, comes in a few flavors: either fully managed by Alfresco or available for customers to design, deploy and maintain under their own steam and leveraging the experience—by way of templates and quick start guides—that Alfresco has of running its platform on AWS.

Alfresco has historically been used on top of AWS, and increasingly this is the case with customers leveraging AWS as their Alfresco location. So, this move could be seen as a way of snagging more customers, but ones who have particular requirements around data and tenant isolations.

“As security demands increase at the same time that data center costs rise, customers are looking for virtual private clouds to reduce costs and better secure critical business information. Large and regulated companies want airtight control of their mission-critical files, which can be over half the files in an organization, but without the hassle of huge data centers,” said John Newton, CTO and founder of Alfresco.

Of course, the question needs to be asked as to whether this concern around public cloud versus virtually private cloud is a legitimate one. The answer to that question, I guess, comes down to the old adage that the customer is always right. Whether they really need that isolation is somewhat irrelevant if they’re adamant that they want it.

One customer that decided VPC was important is a good case study of the Alfresco-on-top-of-VPC offering: the United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) of Greater Chicago. The organization leverages Alfresco on AWS to provide service to 176,000 people in Chicago. Using Alfresco, the UCP and hundreds of other affiliates can deliver digital books to children and manage more than 11,000 files, including K-12 textbooks, interactive online exams, medical resources, videos and counseling information.

“The Alfresco platform has the horsepower to help us manage a wide variety of digital content that we couldn’t anticipate otherwise in today’s rapidly changing technology environment,” said Steve Clements, director of program technologies for the United Cerebral Palsy Seguin of Greater Chicago. “Alfresco on Amazon has transformed the act of content management to a scalable business function and helps us achieve true document management in the cloud.”

Of course, my answer to that would be that there is little aggregate benefit to doing it within VPC but, as I said, a customer’s perception is always right even if it is (in my view) wrong.

My POV

This is a short-term opportunity. While VPC certainly fulfills a requirement that some (many?) customers have, over time these customers’ situations will change. And between a growing realization and an increasing situation of a regulatory framework that takes into account the public cloud, the need for this sort of offering will reduce.

In the meantime, while I don’t totally love that it is needed, the fact remains that it is. Customers are demanding private offerings, and Alfresco is just doing what they ask.

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