Managing Expectations about Cloud Service Providers

There is no longer any doubt that the future of computing is heading to the clouds. Of course, some have noted that the future of computing looks a lot like its past. As Glenn Donovan blogged, what we now call cloud computing is awfully similar to what we used to call time sharing, in the case of what we now call infrastructure as a service (IaaS) and platform as a service (PaaS), and what we used to call service bureaus, in the case of what we now call software as a service (SaaS).

Donovan also noted, however, cloud computing is more than another new label on an old idea because the public Internet, and the near-ubiquity of high-speed connectivity options available to access it, has created a new kind of market for these services. Then and now, these computing models, Donovan explained, have “two kinds of buyers, predominantly. The first were time- or simplicity-driven buyers who could be convinced they would get value more quickly, with less complexity/risk by just consuming software rather than running it themselves. The second were essentially arbitraging computing costs, running their applications where it was the cheapest.”

Gartner identified the cloud as a strategic technology trend for 2015, with the convergence of cloud and mobile computing continuing to promote the growth of centrally coordinated applications that can be delivered to any mobile device. Vice President and Gartner Fellow David Cearley explained the “cloud is the new style of elastically scalable, self-service computing, and both internal and external applications will be built on this new style. While network and bandwidth costs may continue to favor apps that use the intelligence and storage of the client device effectively, coordination and management will be based in the cloud.”

This is great news for the cloud service providers and managed service providers that organizations, perhaps especially small and midsized businesses, look to for IaaS and PaaS offerings providing instant infrastructure, compute power, and development tools as well as SaaS offerings providing ready-to-use business applications. This also fuels great expectations that need to be managed.

One of the expectations to be managed, as Donovan pointed out, is that most cloud service providers do not enable companies to do things they could not do with on-premise software, but rather it’s about cost reduction and simplicity. “Consequently,” Donovan explained, “the motivation for these choices really isn’t about doing things better. Many businesses need to do more than reduce IT costs. They also need to deliver better value to the business.” While cheap, fast, and simple, as the cloud is often marketed, does deliver value to the business, Donovan asked, “if your current architecture and platforms aren’t delivering the agility you want on-premise, why would propagating the same kind of technology in the cloud give your company greater agility? The real opportunity in the cloud is to adopt new architectures by accessing them wholesale, instead of building them yourselves. You may not be able to build your field of dreams architecture on-premise, but maybe by selecting a cloud provider who has already done so you could leverage new, more agile platforms, in addition to reducing cost. In this way, the cloud presents a strategic opportunity for architects that may not come along again for some time.”

Another set of expectations to be managed revolves around the evolving legal and regulatory cloudscape. “Cloud computing contracts are often full of traps for the unsuspecting customer,” legal expert Joe Stanganelli blogged, “traps that can compromise data and expose said customer to fines, lawsuits, and other problems. Fortunately, these problems can be easily guarded against using a little knowledge and insistent vigilance.” Stanganelli offered a few recommendations. For one, especially if your organization operates in a highly regulated sector (e.g., healthcare), ask the cloud provider if their services have passed an independent audit of relevant regulatory protocols. On a related note, be sure to ask the cloud provider if their services are compliant with data protection laws, which vary across countries or regions. “This can be especially problematic, and create legal uncertainty,” Stanganelli explained, “when cloud customers don’t know where their hosted data lives. One solution to this cloud problem, strangely enough, is: More cloud. Highly scaled-up enterprise cloud platforms can conveniently shuffle data such that all data privacy needs can be met internationally.” Perhaps most important of all, Stanganelli stressed that everything should be negotiable with cloud service providers, especially when it comes to data security and data privacy requirements.

With the forecast for 2015 and beyond set to full cloud ahead for businesses of all sizes, be sure to manage your expectations as well as you expect cloud service providers and managed service providers to manage the services they provide you.

This post was brought to you by IBM for Midsize Business and opinions are my own. To read more on this topic, visit IBM’s Midsize Insider. Dedicated to providing businesses with expertise, solutions and tools that are specific to small and midsized companies, the Midsize Business program provides businesses with the materials and knowledge they need to become engines of a smarter planet.