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David vs Goliath – is cloud computing the new slingshot?


In a guest post, Atlassian’s Sarah Goff-Dupont discusses how budding startups can get the edge over their much bigger rivals with some simple steps…

In a guest post,  Atlassian’s Sarah Goff-Dupont discusses how budding startups can get the edge over their much bigger rivals with some simple steps…

That software is everywhere is so commonly accepted that it hardly needs repeating. (Oops, I just did anyway.) Take for example, Getaround. To consumers, it’s a marketplace where the car-having and the car-needing come together to work out short-term rentals mano a mano. But the people at GetAround aren’t running a car rental company. They’re running a software company. And a small one, at that. They, along with loads of other small firms and start-ups, are competing against giants in their fields. Established, mature, enterprise-type companies that not only have market share, but the capital and cash resources that come with it, too. We’ll call them ‘Goliath’.

So what’s a young David-like up-start to do, armed only with a brilliant idea, raw talent and a willingness to put in long hours? How do they deliver quickly, and on a shoe-string budget? They reach for the slingshot in their back pocket: cloud-based development.

If there’s one lesson you couldn’t miss from our recent tech boom/bust cycles, it’s that burn rate matters. So it’s no surprise to see small new firms embrace the lean philosophy. And we’re now at a point where that philosophy can extend to software development tools of all stripes. Issues trackers, build servers, code repositories, even IDEs are now available as pay-as-you-go services.

“The maturity of open source software development tools alongside the low cost and high availability of cloud-based services have combined to level the playing field and change the technology industry forever,” agreed Neil Butler, director and owner of Clearvision, a leading software change and configuration management consultancy based in the UK. “Small companies already had bright ideas, focus and innovation but now they’re taking on established giants by rapidly producing high quality software solutions that are immediately available to a global audience.”

Instead of spending tens of thousands on hardware to host your code, you can pay a much smaller amount each month for online repository hosting — anywhere from $0 to $200, depending on the size of your team. GitHub has become the darling of the open source development community for this reason, while businesses are gravitating toward Atlassian’s own Bitbucket for the free private repositories. The same is true for less technical teams, too. Instead of buying perpetual licenses for collaboration software like a private wiki, you can use an online service that offers the same content and user management capabilities. The savings are realized right away, allowing companies to budget more for staff and product development. 

“We’ve seen our customers reduce their overall cost of development by 10 to 25 percent, not to mention the fact that they are bringing the product to market faster and generating higher revenue as customers are able to access the service immediately,” continued Neil.

Using tools offered up in the cloud also encourages agility. Because hosted development tools shelter their users from the sys-admin burden (installation, upgrades, etc), users can focus on getting their product to market, then responding to customers’ needs quickly. And platform-as-a-service providers like Heroku, Amazon Web Services or MS Azure make it possible to spin up environments in a few minutes, for just a few pennies an hour. The feasibility of giving each developer a full environment to deploy and test their changes means more innovation and fewer defects. 

And speaking of developers, you may have noticed that companies are struggling to fill all their openings. (Got a friend laid off from a manufacturing gig? Get them into programming classes now.) Cloud-based development tools give you the freedom to look beyond your local area for candidates. No need for them to be near a corporate network. They just log in to the tools online, and go. So managers get to hire the right person for the job. Period.

At the extreme end of the spectrum, some companies are even choosing to forego a central office altogether. Cloud-based tools allow them to work together even when they’re not in the same room… which makes leasing a room in the first place less important. Another cost-saving coup.

There are many providers of hosted development tools and other complimentary cloud-based services that teams of any size can get started with. Atlassian OnDemand offers a full suite of development and collaboration tools; Hosted Projects and WushNet have similar offerings. Cloud9 can round out your collection with a browser-based IDE. Amazon Web ServicesHerokuLinode, and Microsoft’s Azure all offer on-demand servers and infrastructure services.

The promise of controlled costs, higher product quality and greater staffing flexibility make cloud-based development a compelling option for small firms.  The next few years will provide a fascinating spectators’ sport as they build rocks to put in their new slingshots, pull back, take aim, and… pow.

Image courtesy of lovelihood

Sarah has been working in software for over 10 years as a tester, automated test engineer, scrum master and now as a marketer for development tools. As a champion of Agile development and automation, she loves talking to developers about their triumphs and their frustrations, then blending those insights with her own experience and sharing it. It's all about making life easier for the nerds.

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