I was in a Cloud Computing conference a week back and had the chance to interact with multiple CIOs and top decision makers in the Indian market space. A common reference that kept reverberating, despite the jazzy presentations and the free pens, usb drives, books was:
Cloud is great, but I won’t bet too much on it.
Maybe it works in the US, here [India] it won’t fly!!
Aah, that’s all hype. No substance. (My personal favourite)
The level of scepticism surrounding Cloud Computing is stifling. I mean, a little apprehension about a new [??] concept is understandable, but a whole community of decision makers expressing collective disbelief in a concept is a rather serious indicator of trouble. Cloud Computing Service Providers had better sit up and take notice of this scepticism.
I have to admit that the kind of marketing muscle put behind this concept of cloud computing is mind boggling. Everyone from industry experts to IT product vendors, IT services providers to Industry Research Agencies seem to have an opinion about how Cloud Computing is redefining business as we know it. The trouble is, these opinions, while being individually thought provoking, end up often being contradictory when taken together.
At the receiving end of this confusion is the customer, who is honestly searching for the business edge that he believes IT can provide, but the clarity of which remains completely elusive to him.
No clear definition: One of the primary reasons of the attitude towards a powerful concept such as Cloud Computing is that it is not defined clearly enough. Today, if you were to ask the marketplace for a definition, chances are the definitions would be as varied as the number of products available in the market. The result: Confusion, total and absolute. And what you don’t understand, you do not venture into.
No clear adoption methodology: Even when you get Cloud Computing defined clearly in terms of its applicability to the organization, the larger hurdle that most customers fear is the implementation. Most of the time, customers have made medium to large investments in IT capacity and their biggest fear is whether they would have to junk all that investment to get onto the cloud. The other fear is the kind of complexity and skill requirement that would be needed for moving to the cloud.
No clear pricing logic: If one were to analyse the pricing mechanisms for various cloud computing business models, two main models emerge: the subscription model, where you sign up for a service for a period of time, and the pay per use model, where you pay for the service as per the time or amount you use. It can’t be concluded that one model is better than the other, but the pricing issues for customers run deeper than how service providers bill them. Customers fear how costly the whole migration to cloud computing is going to be, in terms of upfront investment as well as recurring costs. That’s not including the fact that they will have to revamp their internal support teams to work with the new models of IT Service delivery.
No clear stand on data security: While most Cloud Computing service providers take security issues with a all encompassing “We’ve-got-it-covered” stance, it is very evident, from a potential customer perspective, of the deliberate and very visible attempt to downplay genuine security concerns. Most of the time, queries about security are answered by jargon filled replies about complex data encryption techniques and security devices.
Addressing the confusion:
There is only one solution to dispelling the darkness around cloud computing and that involves service providers, Product OEMs, IT Consultants and IT Industry Experts to exhibit jargon-free honesty about Cloud Computing. While the potential for Cloud Computing to address real pain areas within IT is huge, there are certain pain areas that Cloud Computing just does not apply to. It is necessary that Cloud Computing providers be absolutely honest about not just the possibilities but more importantly, the limitations of the cloud.
The following pointers might help customers and service providers engage more meaningfully about Cloud Computing:
Relevant Definition: The first step to addressing the confusion about cloud computing would be to define it meaningfully. I believe that the most relevant definition for cloud computing would be in terms of the solution to the customer’s specific problem. Case in point: What makes better sense while introducing a Software as a Service based CRM package to a customer struggling with managing his salesforce and customers:
An online SaaS CRM package that absolutely revolutionizes the way you interact with customers, utilizing the latest virtualization, grid computing, PHP, Ruby on Rails………..
A web based portal that is easily accessible from anywhere and allows you to share customer intelligence easily within your sales team, providing a central point of information, resources and data to help the salesforce effectively interact with customers.
- Which one have you heard? Which one would you like to hear??
Clear Adoption Methodology: While the noise about the benefits and salient features of Cloud Computing are well know, the plethora of terminology invented around the concept is rather unnerving. It is essential for service providers to ensure customers have complete visibility about the components and implementation of the specific Cloud Computing solution. The customer needs to know in precise detail, among other things:
what changes they will have to make in their existing systems and processes
how complex the migration to the cloud would be
What are the possible issues / problems / risks associated before, during and after the migration
Possible impact on business during and immediately following the period of migration
TCO, not just Pricing: Cloud computing providers have been extremely careful about their pricing strategies, knowing fully well that the price of their services will be the most important factor to get customers to migrate to the cloud. After all, that was exactly what got the Outsourcing boom going, wasn’t it?? But in the post recession scenario, cost is at the very top of the list of priorities for every CIO. Most often, Cost seems to be the list. Stakeholders and decision-makers are increasingly being forced to trade state-of-the-art for most-bang-for-the-buck. In such a scenario, plain pricing incentives just would not cut it. Cloud computing vendors need to strongly and with clarity, demonstrate the monetary benefits of cloud adoption. The ability to classify and quantify costs, real or indirect as well as returns, real or long-term, will establish the vendor/provider as an expert in the services he delivers and build credibility for the service provider.
Clarity about security limitations: As a friend of mine in the Information Security field would say, nothing’s safe in IT. The truth of the matter is, anything put on a public network like the Internet is not safe. There is always, always a finite limit to what the best security measures can protect. So, cloud computing consumers must be discerning about the information they migrate to the cloud. Confidential data like Customer records, payroll, financial data, strategic plans should be kept under the organization’s control. Public data like websites, marketing material, customer interaction applications can be migrated to the cloud readily and would probably end up saving both resources and money for the organization.
Cloud service providers would end up building a lot of credibility by being honest about the limitations of the cloud in terms of security. When a customer’s genuine security concerns are met with a condescending attitude like “Our cloud is completely safe”, without any solid evidence, it can put off a potential customer very very quickly. It is advisable for cloud providers to guide the customer through solutions which address his specific concerns, honestly laying down the pros and cons of all offered solutions.
In conclusion, cloud computing offers a large array of benefits for enterprises wanting to introduce a competitive edge in their information architecture. However, addressing the scepticism about cloud computing would take a generous mix of honesty and customization to part the clouds, so as to speak.