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ServiceNow wants to be the cloud for IT

Many enterprise IT shops may be reluctant to jump head first into cloud computing. After all, there are a variety of concerns that come with using the cloud, from security to integrations with existing systems, and perhaps most scary: What the cloud will mean for your IT job.

But cloud services are being used within organizations with or without the blessing of IT. ServiceNow has a solution for this dichotomy, a sort of onboarding process to get IT comfortable with using the cloud, while enabling functionality to business end users. ServiceNow says what better department to start with using the cloud than IT itself. IT shops get a first-hand look at how the cloud is used, what it's good for and what it's not.   

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ServiceNow has targeted IT service management applications as the first stop for off-loading apps to its cloud. Based on ITIL best practices, the platform provides a way for IT to manage incident reporting and response, change requests and troubleshooting.

But recently the company is moving to support other broader IT functions like IT operations management and regulatory and compliance issues in ServiceNow's cloud platform. It's even expanding into use cases for not IT-business units within an enterprise to use the cloud, such as creating customized workflow apps in a simple process that doesn't require coding.

The idea is for ServiceNow to be the single console where IT managers and business units consolidate their applications into a platform that spans across the organization. ServiceNow isn't going to replace SalesForce.com, or other big-time enterprise apps, its executives say, but it can help simplify the dozens, hundreds or sometimes thousands of apps used by business units.

ServiceNow seems to be catching on. Revenues for the company have more than doubled year-over-year, and this week at its customer conference, Knowledge '13 in Las Vegas, the company attracted almost double the number of users from last year, up to 3,800. It also rolled out a few major enhancements to its offerings that are meant to give IT greater control in becoming a broker of cloud services and for organizations to use the ServiceNow cloud to build customized applications. Announcements included:

ServiceNow Cloud Provisioning

This new feature allows end users to self-provision cloud resources on multiple types of clouds, including both Amazon Web Service's Elastic Compute Cloud, and VMware-powered clouds, while having it be controlled by IT. Users can request and provision from a catalog of cloud-based resources that is established by IT. Central IT shops can customize parameters of use, such as how long a resource, such as a virtual machine, is active and what type of information about the VM's use is saved.

The provisioning tool sits on top of a tool like VMware vCenter, which actually handles the under-the-covers VM provisioning through its hypervisor. The cloud provisioning tool is meant to sit above that software as a way to manage multiple cloud resources, and user functionality through a single management console. IT is no longer an inhibitor to cloud use by the company, but a broker.  

Application creator

One of the other main features of ServiceNow's cloud is the ability to create customized applications on the platform. Initial iterations of this were geared towards IT workers, who could create apps to manage a range of tasks. One app could automate the setup process for onboarding a new employee, for example. ServiceNow's App Creator, launched this week, aims to make that process of creating customized apps easy for anyone in the business.

It uses information already in the ServiceNow cloud to create databases, tables, charts, graphs and workflows. These can then be adjusted and rearranged, populated with new information or selectively deleted to create new workflow automation apps. It doesn't require the ability to code, but there are options to program in JavaScript.

ServiceNow says more than 1,000 apps have already been created by IT pros using its cloud. At the conference this week ServiceNow highlighted Target, which created an app within ServiceNow's cloud that directs customer service requests in its stores directly to the person best suited to handle the problem. "This is not an app core to IT, it's for retail satisfaction management," says ServiceNow CTO Arne Josefsberg. Many of these line of business apps are similar to apps IT departments would create: There's a problem, so a workflow is created to manage the resolution. These apps can automate that process. As another example, GE used the platform to manage its field personnel doing service calls on wind turbines, Josefsberg says.

ServiceNow iPad app

Through a new HTML5 application, IT workers can now control their IT services through a touch-screen-enabled app. Basically, anything that can be done through the ServiceNow web portal can now be done through the iPad app.

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The moves are part of a broader transformation at ServiceNow during the past few years. The company, which was founded in 2004 and is based in San Diego, has been refining its strategy and brought on a new executive team. Frank Slootman, a former VC executive whose company Data Domain was purchased by EMC, was brought on as ServiceNow's new CEO in 2011, along with a handful of other top-level executives who migrated from EMC as well. Attempting to build up its cloud chops, that same year ServiceNow added Josefsberg, the former GM of Microsoft Azure's infrastructure. Alan Leinwand, the former infrastructure chief at Zynga, who helped build one of the most advanced hybrid clouds at the time, recently came on board to ServiceNow as well.

The cloud is an enormous opportunity for many businesses, Josefsberg says, but the tools for IT departments to truly get a handle of how it can be rolled out across the enterprise have not yet been readily available. That's what ServiceNow is trying to change.  

Network World senior writer Brandon Butler covers cloud computing and social collaboration. He can be reached at BButler@nww.com and found on Twitter at @BButlerNWW.


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