When people think of the cloud, they often picture SaaS platforms such as salesforce.com, or Workday. Or they think of PaaS platforms such as AWS, Azure or force.com. Some think of virtual machines such as Docker Containers, or Linux/Windows VMs on Rackspace or Azure. The problem that is missing from this picture is the ability to easily move your unique business processes to the cloud using any of these technologies. With SaaS you must adopt your business processes to those already built into the platform, or risk heavy customization that wastes the reason for buying a platform in the first place –e.g. the pre-built processes and automation. With PaaS the tools provided are not built around automating business processes, but instead are built around hosting virtual servers such as databases, application servers, web servers, and other types of special-built services hosted on virtual servers. Only after configuring lots of PaaS technologies can you start hand coding your business processes.
However, something new in cloud architectures is visible on the horizon, yet most people have not yet noticed the potential of this architectural change on global businesses automation. I’m talking about Server-less computing.
A core new tenant of server-less computing is the ability to kickoff cloud automation processes based on events. This is not just about kicking off starting a new virtual server, or kicking off a data upload to your PaaS environment. That is thinking too small, and not leveraging true server-less architectures. Instead think about all the events that drive a business, and therefore drive all business processes. Let’s just list a small sampling of what kicks off business processes:
- Inbound/outbound phone call or answer
- Chat message received or sent to/from a customer
- Email received from a customer
- Sensor sending in a data packet
- Status changing on an Account, Customer Record, etc.
- User identification, whether via password verification, facial recognition, etc.
- Social Media events such as a Like, a Follow, or a Share
- Rest API generated event from an external system
As you probably noticed, this small sample clearly illuminates that events drive most all business processes. One would think that IT architectures, whether cloud based or on-premise, would simply enable listening for events and then taking action, whether discrete, or in a transaction. As we all know, modern IT architectures do not make this simple, but rather technologically complex, requiring knowledge of many different technologies just to enable the simplest of business processes. But, with server-less computing, we have the underlying architecture, finally, to truly build systems to run our businesses that are built from-the-ground-up to listen and respond to events, and then run simple code to take action. This architecture is inherently more scalable, re-useable, and completely aligned with how our business processes happen in the real-world.
Both AWS and Azure (and others, but they are the biggest) have the beginnings of architectural solutions to enable the building of event based systems on their server-less cloud computing offerings. Sadly, few organizations are taking advantage of these new services, and fewer still understand the architectural ramifications that will allow them to build responsive, business process aligned systems for the future. These new server-less computing environments do not yet support the small set of events I even described above, but they do already support many of the most popular event types (e.g. sensor data packet arrival, status change in database field, new customer database record, REST API event from any external system, etc.) Even better, innovative startups are starting to close these gaps, and building solutions on top of AWS/Azure to allow a broader set of events to kick off your server-less solutions (see AWS Lambda publishers). Other startups are re-architecting old technologies for server-less computing, thereby enabling their customers to buy just those processes and events they need for their business process. More impressive, some product solutions now being built on top of AWS/Azure are also managing transactions across multiple events, such as when a dialog needs to occur with multiple questions and answers sent/received from your Amazon Echo (see ThingLogix Foundry product).
I can imagine a future where new business processes are designed based on what events kick off the business process, what other events the business process itself subsequently kicks off, and what outcomes we expect from each component of the business process. All of this will be easily automated on top of a server-less computing environment in which you don’t worry about virtual servers, dockers, web or app servers, and many other things. You instead worry about automating the business process in the most efficient manner that effectively manages the transformation of data from the event to the outcome desired by the business process. Once companies, and their IT architects, wrap their heads around this concept, that is when you will truly start seeing the next evolution of cloud computing…and, as usual, the early adopters will use this to build solutions that better meet their customer business process demands, while also using these architectures to be more nimble, get more re-use, waste less time/money on non-business process automation (e.g. managing virtual servers), and generally move faster than their competition…which is always a good thing!