Blog post

Cloud Computing: Through a Glass, Darkly

By Tom Bittman | February 09, 2010 | 4 Comments


Do cloud computing providers understand customer requirements? Do customers understand their requirements? No and no, and this is a problem.

Today, most cloud computing providers offer one-size-fits-all services – with few options or service level alternatives. As the market matures, there will be thousands of providers, each trying to differentiate by focusing on specific market needs, and offering service level alternatives and options to attract specific types of customers. chickenclouds

This sounds great, except service providers don’t really know what options the market needs, and perhaps more importantly, potential customers don’t always understand their service level requirements.

Service providers will figure this out by experimenting, and making adjustments as they go. Some of these adjustments will be hard and expensive to make (and retrofit). Some providers will simply fail. The customers will figure this all out by getting burned.

No doubt, there are many service needs that can be fulfilled just fine by one-size-fits-all services – go for it. But the next stage of cloud computing use – more varied, business-critical services – will require something more.

A key to success for cloud computing is getting the interface right, and getting the service requirements right. The interface defines the service offering in detail for the customer, and the service options link directly to automation behind the interface. Building this automation isn’t easy – and many providers will focus on specific market needs rather then create a huge array of options. If success requires new options, that means new automation, and that might require fundamental architecture changes. Providers who guess right on market requirements before they build their service offering will have a definite advantage over those who need to make a (perhaps costly) mid-course correction.

Enterprise IT organizations building private cloud services will have a different issue. Do they limit their offerings to their service catalog alone, or do they allow exceptions and special requests – which will add overhead and cost? A key to their success is spending time early in the design process understanding current and future enterprise requirements, and ensuring their architecture gives them enough flexibility to adjust as needed. Bottom line – understand your customer and their service needs, first!

But the real danger is to cloud computing customers – especially those bypassing enterprise IT to use an apparently attractive cloud service. In most cases, they’re used to an enterprise IT provider who reacts to custom requests and changes in requirements. There is someone to talk to. There are often implicit “service level” requirements that enterprise IT handles without the customer even knowing – like disaster recovery, security, regulatory compliance, availability, legal requirements/risk. Enterprise IT often over-provisions services for users – giving them more than they asked for. Don’t expect that from a cloud service provider. Failure to understand your own requirements might lead you to choose the wrong provider, increase your costs, or any number of scarier problems. Bottom line, fully understand your service level needs before you take the leap.

Even if enterprises don’t expect to use many cloud services for years, now is the time to start re-shaping the relationship between IT and the business. Build rich, detailed service level agreements. Make explicit those things that are provided implicitly. Prepare for the time when external cloud service providers will be a viable choice. A center of competency for cloudsourcing within the enterprise (or outside service broker help) is a good idea.

Thanks to Doug Savage for allowing me to use his excellent cartoon – if you’ve got a minute, take a look at his site – very funny stuff!

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  • Martin Reti says:

    congrats! This is a fine and clear summation of the various hinderances cloud computing has to overcome in the business area, especially for enterprise customers (MNCs).
    Those customers will demand the services they know from their traditional outsourcing partners or internal IT departments.
    An original one size fits all cloud approach won´t help those customers – in most cases. I wonder how much will be left of this original cloud features when assigned to real business (perhaps business critical) purposes.
    I assume providers have to combine traditional outsourcing achievements and the opportunities of the cloud era to find an adequate fusion of both worlds that fits to enterprise customers´ demands.

  • Martin Reti says:

    p.s.: I also like this cartoon 😉

  • Steve says:

    Thanks for the article. Good points and I enjoyed the comic. There are a few cloud providers offering custom solutions though, Carpathia Hosting for example. Come 2/23 there will be a big announcement that will support this claim even more.

  • Tom, great point about how companies need to clearly define their service requirements and understand how they can best work with cloud service providers. We think that enterprises, especially medium-to-large companies need to work with a new class of partners to make the most of the cloud. This new class of providers, of which we are one, will focus on smoothing the path to the cloud. Our objective is to help enterprises with the entire lifecycle of cloud adoption – from building a business-case driven roadmap to the cloud, to migration services, to custom development services, to on-going support services, to products that connect and extend cloud applications. As you point out, the combination of a comprehensive set of solutions that abstract away the complexity of managing cloud platforms is what is needed to drive enterprise cloud adoption. This is exactly what we aspire as companies move toward an increasingly “cloudsourced” IT environment. (more here