Customizing the Cloud for Coaches (and Others)

Imagine if creating software were 100 times faster, easier and cheaper. What would this mean for our future?

Matt Soldo, WG’07, posed this question to a group of software designers, educators and technology professionals during the Wharton Web Conference. Soldo’s answer lies in a quote from science-fiction writer William Gibson: “The future is already here—it’s just not very evenly distributed.”

Soldo is the director of product management at Heroku, a cloud application platform. Heroku—along with Microsoft Azure, Google App Engine and others—is a “platform-as-a-service,” or PaaS, which allows software developers to host applications online and forego hardware, databases and physical visits to a data center. PaaS has enabled developers to create software in a matter of days, where the old method would require weeks.

Software developers are driven to Heroku and other PaaS offerings because of the increased convenience and reduced cost. But PaaS is not the only productivity multiplier; infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS), such as Amazon Web Services, and software-as-a-service (SaaS), such as Gmail, also offer developers increased productivity. Soldo estimated that using one of these three services can multiply productivity between two and five times. He also argued that using multiple services compounds additional productivity, resulting in an increase in productivity between eight and 125 times.

As-a-service products have also made new applications possible. Soldo pointed to the Unilever Foundation’s joint venture with Facebook: Waterworks. This application would have been too costly and time consuming before PaaS, IaaS and SaaS.

“This is an application that you could not have built five years ago,” Soldo said.

Because of lower costs and additional ease and quickness, the development and maintenance of software has now moved out of the exclusive hands of the traditional IT department. At the same time, Soldo said, as marketing departments take on some of the responsibility of building software in larger corporations, individuals and small organizations that were previously unable to create and maintain software are now able to do so. Soldo noted that this has resulted in the creation of hyperniche companies—including Swimtopia, which is a targeted application to assist swim coaches.

Swim coaches—and anyone else targeted by app developers—must love the ability to harness the power of the cloud from their everyday mobile and computing devices.

The Wharton Web Conference brings together programmers, designers and other IT professionals in higher education who are concerned about improving the experience for their users. This year’s event took place on July 10 on the Philadelphia campus.

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