June 3, 2011

Wanted: Working Vaporware

MERGE User Conference

Nick Poole (left) and Tony Smith (right).

The cloud is a concept no ISV or IT department can avoid these days. Perforce and its customers are no exception.

“I’ve been with Perforce for 11 years. For most of that time you could count on one hand the number of requests we got for a managed solution,” said Tony Smith, Perforce's European technical director, responsible for the UK engineering team developing cloud solutions. “Now days they’re coming thick and fast. People are much more willing to adopt the Software-as-a-Service model, thanks to the success of companies like Workday and Salesforce. Perforce-as-a-Service is coming to an Internet near you.”

“‘Cloud’ is, shall we say, not exactly the most well defined term in the world,” said Slashdot and Sourceforge alum Jeff Bates, now heading Perforce’s cloud and Ecosystem initiatives. “There are lots of different ways they describe their interest. To some it means Perforce is hosted at their company, but we’re somehow doing the maintenance – but we’ve offered that for years, it’s P4Admin. Others want private cloud, or are interested in cloud bursting that may or may not be related to Perforce at all.”

One thing’s clear: “Is this a fad? Probably not. Given the cost savings and the ease, it’s here to stay,” said Bates during his presentation with Smith at the Perforce 2011 User Conference. But it’s not something any of Perforce’s very large customers appear to be clamoring for. According to Smith, the intellectual property risks are simply too great, and the need to add utility pricing to their Perforce installation isn’t required either. Further, a cloud offering could not support a 4,000-user installation.

“Our cloud machine is best for handling a few hundred users, two- to three hundred,” said Smith. “It has to do with the latency of the disk I/O.”

So who wants to work with (working) vaporware? Small companies, and startups, Perforce is finding, seem to have few compunctions about IP in the cloud. And they may be unable to get venture capital for their own data centers – indeed, the expectation is that they’d use the cloud.

And from an ISV standpoint, Perforce is in an enviable position: They don’t need to be in the cloud, but they can begin to test the skies with such things as the free Amazon Machine Images they currently have available for customers on EC2.  Smith is assiduously watching Netflix and others deal with availability hiccups as he envisions a broader cloud launch. Also, a fully managed, SaaS Perforce option “means you are not going to be working with whatever bug tracker you want,” said Bates, who asked the audience for help in determining what tools would need to be shrink-wrapped with Perforce-as-a-Service. Another option would be to “erase the geography problem,” he said. Cloud-based storage could avoid the latency of file-transfer between China and California, for example.

Even more interesting, however, is the potential for a Perforce platform play. And that’s one that resonates with customers. One, who works for a well known SaaS but declined to be named, said a PaaS from Perforce appealed to him and other cloud vendors as a NoSQL option, and as an indicator of the company’s growing influence.

The Ecosystem and cloud offerings announced at the User Conference overlap, in fact, when it comes to an amorphous, as-yet-unnamed, Sourceforge-like platform play where customers could extend Perforce, using its APIs, and potentially make the “version everything” concept a reality, said Bates.

Ultimately, said Smith, “A key pillar is reliability. We can’t do this with an unstable product. You can’t have 30 or so tech support people support 380,000 licensed users and have the best support in the industry without a reliable product to begin with. If we do a hosted solution, that reliability will be huge success.”