Run an expensive software system in house, run a cheaper hybrid cloud solution, or use a low-cost public cloud solution and risk going to jail? Which one would you choose?
The right answer, or at least the answer that PerspecSys founder Terry Woloszyn would like you to give, is the hybrid cloud solution. And perhaps that's not surprising: The Canada-based company is banking that privacy, residency and security (PRS) regulations will make the use of public cloud based services impossible for many companies.
Its flagship product, PerspecSys PRS Server, hybridizes popular public cloud software services -- Salesforce.com is the only one offered currently -- so that companies can use the service while keeping all their data in-house. That way they can take responsibility for their own data and not worry about where and how a public cloud provider may be storing it. With this, they get most of the benefits of a public cloud solution, without the risk of inadvertently breaking regulations and ending up behind bars.
"This is the way the market is going," said Woloszyn. "Eventually all public cloud vendors will offer a hybrid platform, although that is probably 15 years away, or other companies like us will hybridize their services for them."
A PerspecSys customer can run a database -- pretty much any database it wants -- and PRS Server uses this to store the data that would normally be sent to Salesforce.com. The product then sends Salesforce.com a random token that stands in for each entry in the user's database. Hence, no real data is in the cloud. Data is tokenized on a field by field basis (non-sensitive data doesn't have to be tokenized at all), and all the functionality of Salesforce.com is preserved: Advanced search features, including wild card searching, still continue to work, for example.
It then doesn't matter if Salesforce.com decides to move the data it is storing on your behalf to another part of the world -- potentially in breach of some data regulation to which you are subject -- because it is not real data. The tokens may have been moved, but the underlying data remains safely in your database, in the location you choose, and subject to the controls that you impose on it.
In terms of PRS, this hybridization is a neat solution that sidesteps all kinds of problems. "Normally Saleforce.com data resides in California, and if you are a Swiss bank your data has to stay in Switzerland. That means you can't use Salesforce.com," says Woloszyn. "But with this hybridization you can because your data never leaves your country."
Of course, there are drawbacks to the solution, and one of them is that although you are paying for a public cloud service, must still run and manage a database in house to use the service. There's also a question of added latency, as data is tokenized and detokenized, although Woloszyn says that since its PRS Server does an element of caching it can actually make using a cloud service faster rather than slower. Even when data is not cached, large amounts of real data can be tokenized with a small token, so less data actually goes back and forth over the wire between you and the service provider.
There's also the small matter of paying PerspecSys for its software. The way its business model works is by offering adapters for specific services like Salesforce.com, which it charges for on a per user basis in the same way as the underlying service. "To use our Salesforce.com adapter you will end paying a premium of about 35 percent of the cost of using Salesforce.com," says Woloszyn. "We think a 35 percent premium on the public cloud service cost is cheap for a hybrid solution."
In the future, it will be interesting to see if cloud service providers like Salesforce.com do offer their own hybridized services, or if companies like PerspecSys end up offering solutions that hybridize any public cloud service you want to use. A one-stop shop approach sounds enticing, but what if you need a two- or three-stop shop approach to cover all the cloud services you want to hybridize. That could turn into a database-driven nightmare.
Still, for the moment, if the alternatives are paying eight times more to run a similar system in house, or using a cloud service without hybridization and risking going to jail, then a 35 percent "hybridization surcharge" sounds attractive.
Paul Rubens is a journalist based in Marlow on Thames, England. He has been programming, tinkering and generally sitting in front of computer screens since his first encounter with a DEC PDP-11 in 1979.