Why E-Commerce Needs A New Vision Of The Cloud
Small e-commerce stores were one of the original cloud success stories. For boutique online retail stores, Software-as-a-Service was a perfect fit. Retailers could deploy a store for their business without the headaches typically associated with building or managing a complex e-commerce application.
But despite its success with micro-retailers, the cloud story has been less happy for larger e-commerce stores.
Mid-sized and large e-commerce retailers demand a level of control over their stores that traditional SaaS e-commerce providers are unable to accommodate. When retailers are entirely reliant on the smooth functioning of their hosting infrastructure and millions of dollars are at stake, they are understandably reluctant to put their faith in a platform into which they have no insight.
At the other end of the cloud spectrum, plain-old infrastructure-as-a-service doesn’t cut the mustard either. The trend across most verticals has been to outsource infrastructure management, and for good reason. Retailers are great at selling and crafting desirable shopping experiences, but designing high-availability, performance optimized, secure, and scalable infrastructure platforms isn’t where their energy should be focused. Fitting together the ideal retail platform from the lego blocks provided by BWS and the like is not ideal for an organization whose core competence is retail.
The ideal cloud platform occupies the middle ground between a tightly locked-down (and locked-in) SaaS platform and a protean IaaS platform. As a thought experiment, let’s imagine what the perfect e-commerce cloud would look like.
Most importantly, the ideal e-commerce cloud platform would be optimized from the start for a popular e-commerce application like Magento. We’re all familiar with the cloud’s major benefit: infrastructure can be deployed in seconds or minutes, but what’s the good of deploying infrastructure on-demand if it takes hours to configure it for optimal e-commerce performance and security? Retailers don’t want basic servers they can deploy in seconds, they want complete e-commerce hosting environments, designed for security and PCI-compliance, and ready to scale.
The importance of PCI-compliance shouldn’t be underestimated here. One of the major reasons that larger e-commerce merchants have been suspicious of cloud platforms is that they’re unable to guarantee the security and privacy of user payment details on multi-tenant public cloud environments.
The next most important feature of our ideal cloud would be scaling without migration — and migration without lock-in. Retail is often a seasonal business with highly variable traffic loads. Elegant scaling of an e-commerce environment is hard to manage, as shown by Apple’s frequent inability to keep its store responsive during periods of peak interest. Our ideal cloud platform would provide an out-of-the-box modular scaling experience suitable for e-commerce. I stress modular because e-commerce works best in clustered environments where web servers, file servers, and database servers can be scaled independently. Modularity also allows fine grained load-balancing between components of the cluster, which is essential for optimal performance.
In the previous paragraph I mentioned “without lock-in” because retailers are wary of being tied to any particular platform. Migration should never be required to scale, but if the retailer chooses to migrate to a new platform, it shouldn’t be difficult and that means a minimum of proprietary software in the stack.
When we get a cloud platform with all of these features, designed specifically to support the needs of larger e-commerce retail stores without forcing retailers to compromise, we’ll begin to see an enthusiastic take-up of cloud technology from a sector that has traditionally been wary of migrating lock, stock, and barrel into the cloud.
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