When considering a Microsoft Project solution, many customers perceive that there are only two deployment options from which to choose - Microsoft's Project Online cloud or an on-premise deployment of Project Server 2013.
They further believe that the only way to get a customized solution that delivers an optimal fit to their needs and business processes is to build such a solution in-house.
This perception is reinforced by the fact that a shared multitenant cloud, also known as a "public cloud" such as Project Online doesn't support the degree of customization typically demanded by most enterprises.
In reality, there are a number of cloud choices available to enterprise clients seeking a solution tuned to their business. Known as "private clouds," these solutions deliver the combined advantages of a public cloud and an on-premise deployment. A private cloud can be implemented in various ways, including a hybrid cloud solution, enabling the IT/business decision makers to define the level of internal IT resources and support that will be allocated to the deployment and ongoing management of the solution.
For nearly a decade, Project Hosts has been assisting enterprise customers and government agencies with their private cloud and hybrid cloud solutions. Project Hosts' deployment platforms, called "custom clouds," give Pcubed clients the advantages of both a private cloud and a public cloud. In this article, Scott Chapman, president and co-founder of Project Hosts summarizes the core attributes and advantages of a private cloud for Microsoft's latest project and portfolio management (PPM) release - Project Server 2013.
Advantages of All Clouds
Over the past five years, the growth and popularity of cloud-based enterprise applications has been accelerating. Recently published reports highlight between 20 to 30 percent per year growth in the adoption of cloud computing applications, or software as a service. By 2014, it is expected that more than half of all enterprise workloads will be processed in the cloud.
Many business executives attribute the growth in cloud adoption to the following:
- Clouds can be implemented very quickly - initial set-up/configuration and ongoing provisioning for new users can be done in much less time, with much less effort.
- Clouds enable scarce IT resources to be deployed "where needed most" - depending on the type of cloud utilized, internal IT resources can be dramatically minimized and allocated to internal projects that directly drive revenue and income.
- Clouds are more reliable and scalable - unlike on-premise deployments, many clouds are hosted in Tier-1 datacenters and are architected to be massively scalable and offer world-class availability, security, and disaster recovery/business continuity services.
- Clouds are extremely cost-effective - clouds offer flexible licensing plans, require no long-term contract lock-ins, provide a scalable what-you-need, when-you-need-it approach, and require virtually no internal IT staff allocations for support or ongoing maintenance.
What Sets Each Type of Cloud Apart
A private cloud is a type of cloud in which physical or virtual servers are dedicated to a single enterprise customer. Private clouds deliver all of the benefits highlighted above, plus the advantages of enterprise level customizations that result in more successful deployments. Hybrid clouds are a type of private cloud configuration. Hybrid solutions enable a private cloud to access and integrate data from applications, services, or tools that are in servers at other locations. Partnering with Pcubed, Project Hosts works with clients to integrate the following four key areas of customization: application extensions, business intelligence, on-premise integration, and custom security. Let's explore each.
Tightly Integrated Applications
The first key to a highly successful PPM solution is that it must be intuitive for its users to facilitate quick adoption. This often means the solution must be integrated with industry- or function-specific PPM add-on applications. Since private clouds support full-trust tightly integrated applications in addition to the light-weight loosely coupled apps supported by standard public clouds, the range and scope of applications available for private clouds is far greater.
Several hosted PPM customers with Pcubed are manufacturers that use PPM to develop new products. These customers use PTC's Windchill PPMLink as a part of their deployment to ensure that their project management processes are tightly integrated with their product lifecycle management processes.
As another example, many healthcare customers have numerous software development projects underway for instituting electronic medical records or insurance payment processing. They need to have Microsoft Team Foundation Server (or a similar tool) linked to PPM in order to keep project tasks in sync with more granular development tasks and source code control. In other cases, Pcubed develops industry or functional apps directly for a customer to match their particular business processes, and these custom apps require integration into the PPM platform.
This kind of tight integration with "full trust apps" is not currently available for public cloud solutions, but it is the norm for private cloud solutions.
Integration with Onsite Systems
The second key to PPM success is that the PPM solution must save users time. This often means that it must support back-end integration with on-premise systems so that users are not forced to enter data twice. This is typically where hybrid clouds are needed.
Even after creating a PPM private cloud and adding applications to it, most large enterprises also need to integrate into other line-of-business or accounting systems that may be located in their corporate data center or elsewhere.
For example, companies using the timesheet functionality of PPM do not want their users to have to fill out two timesheets - one for their cloud PPM system and another one for their on-premise accounting system. These systems need to talk to each other, so users can fill out a single timesheet. This is often facilitated through a site-to-site VPN combined with a tool like Pcubed's DeliveryHub.
Full Business Intelligence
The third key to a successful PPM solution is that the system must provide useful information quickly. Whereas public clouds can only access databases through a relatively slow web protocol called OData, Private Clouds provide the Full Business Intelligence capabilities of SQL Server and SharePoint Enterprise, making use of much faster direct database calls.
As a project management organization grows, it becomes increasingly important to be able to extract information that can be acted on (the business intelligence or BI) from the significant amount of data collected. Over the last several years, Microsoft SQL Server has greatly expanded its information processing, analysis, and reporting capabilities, to the point where Gartner now ranks Microsoft as the leader in BI. Key SQL Server tools such as Reporting Services (SSRS) and Analysis Services (SSAS or OLAP) unite with SharePoint tools such as Dashboard Designer and SharePoint-based PowerPivot to provide an extremely powerful BI platform. None of the tools mentioned above are available in standard PPM public cloud solutions, but they're available options in private clouds.
Microsoft's Project Online Cloud supports Excel Services for reporting (including Excel-based PowerPivot running on a user's PC), but only when the data is accessed using the OData protocol. OData is a new protocol that has been designed in order to allow users to access parts of a database via https. One disadvantage of OData is that it is significantly slower (10-100 times slower) than accessing databases directly via SQL calls (as can be done in private clouds). For enterprises with a medium to large amount of project and resource data, the public cloud restriction to only access databases via OData will mean that users will have to face very long wait times for reports to populate with new data. Enterprises that would like to use the full power of the leading BI tools on the market today can achieve this requirement by choosing a private cloud or a hybrid cloud configuration.
The fourth key to PPM success is to meet a customer's specific security requirements. Whereas standard clouds are limited in the security they can offer, private clouds can accommodate custom security requirements that ensure that the solution completely complies with an organization's policies.
Some organizations are OK with hosting their data in a cloud as long as the cloud provider has industry-recognized security certifications such as ISO 27001. However, some entities require more, such as dedicated servers, encryption of data "at rest," access restrictions to limited IP ranges, and custom password policies. These enhanced security requirements are only possible within private clouds.
Building Your Private Cloud
A Microsoft-based PPM cloud-based service, although presented as a simple construct, is actually a highly sophisticated and specialized computing environment that is comprised of a complex array of hardware, storage, applications, systems software, networking, and many other elements. The accompanying graphic highlights three distinct layers that comprise a cloud platform.
Within these layers resides the Microsoft Project Server 2013 environment and any applications or custom code necessary for a private cloud solution. The software-as-a-service (SaaS) layer is supported by platform software such as SQL Server, SharePoint workflow, and more than 15 underlying system services in the platform-as-a-service (PaaS) layer. Underneath it all is the Infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) layer, which includes the hardware, storage, networking, and other physical components. In order to deliver a reliable 24x7 cloud experience to users, this multiplicity of software and hardware must be seamlessly integrated and managed by a highly trained IT team that possesses the innate knowledge and expertise to do so.
Enterprise IT organizations that choose to build their own private cloud must make a large and ongoing investment in managing the core hardware infrastructure, even if procured as a service. More importantly, they must develop the advanced IT expertise to configure and manage the system and application software necessary to create the PaaS and SaaS layers. Alternatively, enterprises can partner with Project Hosts and Pcubed, which work together to specify, design, build, and configure the entire solution and provide on-going management and support. The result is a custom-tuned cloud that:
- Delivers a solution architecture that meets an enterprise client's needs;
- Is highly integrated with existing systems and processes;
- Supports the required applications and custom code;
- Delivers the customized business intelligence and reporting tools; and
- Is highly secure, scalable and reliable.
Choosing the optimal Project Server cloud depends on your unique business and technology requirements. While many businesses may be satisfied with Microsoft's new Project Online offering, others will seek a more customized Project experience that is tuned for their business and users.