Event report: POCC session on cloud apps for your startup

This is a live-blog of the Pune Open Coffee Club session on use of cloud apps for your business. Since this is being typed as the session is in progress, it might be a bit incoherent and not completely well-structured, and there are no links.

Pune Open Coffee Club is an informal group for all those interested in Pune's startup ecosystem. As of this writing, it has more than 2700 members. Click on the image to get all PuneTech articles related to the Pune Open Coffee Club

This session is being run as a panel discussion. Santosh Dawara is the moderator. Panelists are:

  • Dhananjay Nene, Independent Software Architect/Consultant
  • Markus Hegi, CEO of CoLayer
  • Nitin Bhide, Co-founder of BootstarpToday, a cloud apps provider
  • Basant Rajan, CEO of Coriolis, which makes the Colama virtual machine management software
  • Anthony Hsiao, Founder of Sapna Solutions

The session started with an argument over the defintion of cloud, SaaS, etc., which I found very boring and will not capture here.

Later, Anthony gave a list of cloud apps used by Sapna Solutions:

  • Google apps for email, calendaring, documents
  • GitHub for code
  • Basecamp for project management
  • JobScore for recruitment (handles job listings on your website, and the database of applicants, etc.)
  • GreyTip (Indian software for HR management)

Question: Should cloud providers be in the same country?
Answer: you don’t really have a choice. There are no really good cloud providers in India. So it will be outside.

Question: Are customers ready to put their sensitive data on the cloud?
Audience comment: Ashish Belagali has a startup that provides recruitment software. They can provide it as installable software, and also as a hosted, could app. However, they’ve found that most customers are not interested in the cloud app. They are worried about two things: a) The software will be unavailable if internet is not available, and b) The data is outside the company premises.

Point by Nitin Bhide of BootstrapToday: Any cloud provider will take security of your data very seriously. Because, if they screw this up even once, they’ll go out of business right away. Also, as far as theft of data is concerned, it can happen even within your own premises, by your own employees.

Comment 1: Yes, the above argument makes logical sense. But most human beings are not logical, and can have an irrational fear and will defend their choice.

Comment 2: This fear is not irrational. There are valid reasons to be unhappy about having your sensitive data in the cloud.

Comment 3: Another reason why this fear is not irrational is to do with CYA: cover-your-ass. If you put data in the cloud and something goes wrong, you will be blamed. If you put the data locally and something goes wrong, you can claim that you did everything that was expected of you. As long as CYA exists (especially in enterprises), this will be a major argument against the cloud.

Question: Does anybody use accounting packages in the cloud?
Answer: No. Most people prefer to stick to Tally, because of its compliance with Indian laws (or at least its compliance with Indian CAs). There doesn’t seem to be any online alternative that’s good enough.

At this point there was a longish discussion about the availability and uptime of the cloud services. Points made:

  • Cloud app providers have lots of redundancies and lots of backups to ensure that there is no downtime
  • However, there are enough instances of even world-class providers having downtime
  • Also, most of them claim redundancies, but give no guarnatees or SLAs, and even if they do give an SLA, you’re too small a player to enforce the SLA.
  • Also remember, that in the Indian context, downtime of the last mile of your internet will result in downtime of your app
  • Point to remember is that an app going down it not the real problem. The real problem is recovery time. How long does it take before it comes back up? Look at that before choosing upon your app.
  • It would be great if there was a reputation service for all cloud apps, which gives statistics on availability, downtime, performance etc. There isn’t right now, and that is a problem.
  • Remember, there is an economic cost of cloud apps that you will incur due to downtime, but also remember that there are definite economic savings too. For many startups the savings outweigh the potential costs. But you need to look into this for yourself.

Question: What kind of cost savings can a startup get by going to the cloud?

Nobody had concrete answers, but general points made:

  • Can you really afford to pay a system administrator who is competent, and who can administer a mail server, a file server, a this, and a that? There were some people who said that while admins are expensive in the US, they are not that expensive in India. However, more people felt that this would be expensive.
  • All significant large cloud services cost a very tiny fraction of what it would cost to do it yourself.
  • It is not a question of cost. As a startup, with my limited team, I wouldn’t have time to do this.

Basant Rajan points out that so far the discussion has been about either something that is in the cloud, or it is something that you do entirely yourself. These are not the only options. There is a third option – called managed services, or captive clouds. He points out that there is a Pune company called Mithi software that offers a whole bunch of useful services that they manage, on their machines, in your premises.

Question: What about compatibility between your apps? If the recruitment app needs to talk to your HR app are you in trouble?
Answer: The good ones already talk to each other. But yes, if you are not careful, you could run into trouble.

Some Pune startups who are providing cloud based apps:

Pune startup BootstrapToday provides an all-in-one solution in the cloud for development:

  • Source code control (using SVN). All the rest of these services are home grown.
  • Wiki pages
  • Bug tracking
  • Project management
  • Time Tracking (coming soon)
  • Project Tracking (coming soon)

Pune startup Acism has developed an in-house tool for collaboration and project communication which they are making available to others.

Pune startup CoLayer has been around for a long time, and has a product for better collaboration within an enterprise. It is like Google Wave, but has been around for longer, and is still around (while Wave is not).

Pune startup Colama offers private clouds based on virtualization technology. They are currently focusing on software labs in educational institutions as customers. But this technology can also be used to create grids and private clouds for development, testing and training.

Recommendations for cloud apps:

General recommendation: if you’re not using Google Apps, you must. Mail, Documents (i.e. Office equivalent functionality), Calendar.

Bug Tracking: Jira (very good app, but expensive), Pivotal Tracker (only for those familiar with agile, suggested by @dnene), Lighthouse App (suggested by: @anthonyhsiao), Mantis.

Project Management: ActiveCollab (self hostable), DeskAway, SugarCRM on Google Apps (very good CRM, very good integration with Google Apps, has a learning curve).

For hosting your own cloud (i.e. bunch of servers with load balancing etc.): Rackspace Cloud is good but expensive. Amazon Web Services is cost effective, but has a learning curve.

Unfortunately, due to time constraints, this part of the session got truncated. Hopefully we’ll have some more time in the end to pick this up again.

IndicThreads conference pass giveaway

IndicThreads will give a free pass to their Cloud Computing conference that is scheduled for 20/21 August to the best blog or tweet either about this POCC event, or about Cloud Computing in general. The pass is normally worth Rs. 8500. To enter, tweets and blogs should be brought to the attention of @indicthreads on twitter, or conf@rightrix.com. This PuneTech blog is not eligible for the free pass (because I already have a pass), so the field is still open 🙂

3 thoughts on “Event report: POCC session on cloud apps for your startup

  1. people fear for the cloud, because not always is it that the leak of information is acknowledged to its owner. The fear is not irrational. For such highly sensitive data, couldn’t there be encryption which is decrypted only at the client side?

    So your company shares the same database hosted on someone else’s cloud, with a relief from trust issues.

  2. We use XERO quite happily with regards to Accounting software, etc! Other SaaS apps we use: Tomsplanner.com, notableapp.com, Pivotaltracker.com, freshbooks.com, amongst others.

    Anthony

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