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The Advent of the Cloud

Mobile applications – combined with cloud – will blow a hole through the business side of the monitoring and analytics markets

The Internet is going through a major transformation, shifting from the "Internet as application" to the "Internet as data provisioning system," and from fixed to mobile platforms like smart phones and tablets. It's nothing short of a revolution. Traditional forms of web analytics and web performance monitoring are being rendered obsolete. The concepts of "page load" or "visit" or "visitor" are quickly disappearing. Sites are rapidly becoming service-oriented providers of data to hungry mobile applications and it is already throwing a monkey wrench into management tools, transforming the way that the industry will need to think about user behavior and service levels.

The current over-emphasis on cloud technology has obscured an even larger and more important shift - the shift away from "Internet as application" to "Internet as data provisioning system."

The tech industry has always suffered from pendulum swings and this is no different. In the '80s, people used thin-client terminals to access centralized applications hosted on mainframes or mini-frames. In the '90s, the industry shifted to fat clients in the form of desktop applications that offered a richer and more compelling user experience. This most recent decade saw a swing back to thin clients as browser-based interfaces took over. This allowed applications to move back onto centralized servers for easier maintenance and management. That same desire has driven the current rise in virtualization and clouds, which have allowed for the explosion of SaaS, PaaS and IaaS providers such as Salesforce, Amazon, Rackspace and Terremark.

However, we now have to contend with another significant shift - the move to mobile platforms like smart phones and tablets. This will combine with the move toward cloud technology to create a sudden reversal in the pendulum.

Apple, Google, and their competitors have completely transformed the application landscape by providing touch-based mobile platforms that are extremely compelling. Smartphone ownership is currently at 34% and is expected to hit 49% by 2013. Online shopping has exploded, averaging about 60% across all age groups (the lowest level was 48% for people over age 66). Mobile technology paired with a more compelling experience will push those numbers even higher. Touch-based phones and tablets are doing to the browser what desktops did to the remote terminal by offering an interactive experience that far surpasses existing paradigms. At the same time, the mobility of these platforms allows them to provide the same "ubiquitous access" promise that made browsers so popular with the public in the first place.

Most important, the applications being built for these platforms are using standard Internet protocols to transfer data back and forth between servers and mobile devices, transforming the web into a "data cloud." Classic examples include the iPhone applications for email, weather, stock quotes, Google Maps, YouTube, and iTunes - all very rich interfaces that use Internet protocols offered by major web properties or enterprise applications. Major corporations such as Oracle, Salesforce, Cisco and Workday have already recognized the advantages, publishing their own mobile applications.

Apple's online AppStore currently contains 300,000+ applications, including over 9,500 business apps. In addition, Apple is actively fostering a community of enterprise application developers. Meanwhile, Google has released the Android platform, offering it to a worldwide community of developers as an open platform. Their application count is reported to be as high as 50,000.

The dramatic rise in native mobile applications - ones that are not based on a browser interface - will shift the load on enterprise sites towards their public APIs and away from their traditional web pages. This problem was first highlighted by mashups - web applications that made heavy use of remote APIs to integrate data from different sources into a unique on-line experience. Mobile applications will replace mashups with a richer experience while driving even heavier use of remote APIs.

This represents the same problem as web services - the traffic patterns and behavior simply do not conform to the traditional model. There are no "pages," simply sporadic data calls. There is no concept of the start or end of a visit, nor is there a clear path on which you can define a funnel for analytics. Just as the cloud is wreaking havoc with traditional operations-style monitoring, mobile applications - combined with the cloud - will blow a huge hole through the business side of the monitoring and analytics markets.

The monitoring industry is going to have to adapt very quickly in order to be properly positioned ahead of this tsunami. The industry as a whole will need to create a new model to fit this emerging pattern. More important, business owners will need to adjust their thinking and look at monitoring, analytics, capacity planning and SLA management strategies to make sure that they are prepared for this wave.

More Stories By Jonathan Ginter

Jonathan Ginter is the Senior Director of Engineering for the TrueSight product line from Coradiant. Jonathan has 20 years of rich experience as a developer, architect and product manager for a variety of applications, including web-based apps, embedded solutions and command-and-control systems. He contributes frequent articles to Coradiant’s web performance blog.

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