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Cross-ocean clouds gain despite millisecond delays

Japan's AIG Edison says cloud computing benefits outweigh latency issues that come with using Salesforce.com's U.S. data center

March 1, 2011 06:00 AM ET

Computerworld - Just over a year ago, Tohru Futami, CIO and managing director at AIG Edison Life Insurance Co. in Japan, knew that his company needed to upgrade its core applications -- the systems were seven years old and often didn't let the back office and the sales staff share information in a timely manner. Furthermore, some of the company's processes were still paper-based.

Futami said the company's main options were to rewrite all of the applications or to move to the cloud and run hosted software. Spreadsheet calculations convinced the firm to try the latter option.

The calculations estimated that an in-house rewriting of the AIG Edison's applications would take about 30 months, while the company could move to Salesforce.com Inc.'s cloud platform in just 10 months. The research also indicated that the cost of the cloud technology would be only about one-third of the cost of any other option.

Futami said the key consideration for AIG Edison officials from the start was to complete the project as quickly as possible. "To improve customer services, a system improvement was a must," he said.

The decision of whether to move to the cloud via Salesforce.com's hosted CRM offering was complicated early on because the hosted software resides in a data center on the West Coast of the United States, 5,000 miles from AIG Edison's Tokyo headquarters. The distance raised concerns about network latency, and officials also wondered about the legal and regulatory issues involved in such a setup.

Nevertheless, AIG Edison did decide to turn to the cloud, and work on running the company's new core applications on Salesforce.com computers in San Francisco began last January. Today, the system is available for use by several million AIG Edison customers, millions of prospects, some 3,000 employees and 15,000 insurance brokers and resellers. The hosted applications handle complex tasks such as generating insurance quotes and running simulations to assess coverage needs.

Futami said that early on in the process, a key concern was whether a cloud-based system could provide the same level of performance as AIG Edison's conventional system.

The company undertook the project with the help of Appirio Inc., a San Francisco-based firm that helps businesses set up cloud platforms. Appirio helped architect and tune the system to provide "almost the same level of response time" as the conventional system, said Futami.

Network latency, particularly for complex services delivered around the world, can be an issue if users feel response times are too slow. The laws of physics will always prevail, but latency concerns don't appear to be curtailing adoption of software-as-a-service (SaaS) offerings.

For instance, FleetMatics, a private Dublin-based company that provides hosted GPS tracking services, has been able to provide service to a rapidly growing U.S. customer base even though its system was hosted exclusively in a data center in Ireland until December. The company recently raised $68 million in funding.

FleetMatics customers can watch vehicles move around on large flat screens as GPS data is continuously updated. FleetMatics CTO Peter Mitchell said customers hadn't said that they perceived the response time from Ireland as a negative. Nonetheless, when the company opened a data center in Denver in December, immediately "there was a perception that the system was now lightning fast," he added.

Mitchell said he believes SaaS providers in Europe have no problem providing services to customers in the U.S. FleetMatics opened its Denver data center as part of an effort to develop a global disaster recovery model, as well expand services. The company has begun testing latency times to India from Dublin and the U.S., he added.

Last fall, Salesforce.com announced plans to open a data center in Japan in the second half of this year. Japan is Salesforce's fastest growing market outside of the U.S., according to company spokesman Joseph Schmidt, who said that when the Japan data center opens, "our customers will benefit from the speed and peace of mind that come with having their data close to home."



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