Imagine you are at an ice cream parlor. You want a peanut butter chocolate chip sundae with brownies. It’s your own special concoction, but the shop only sells vanilla. Frustrated, you go across the street and are surprised to only find vanilla there as well. You argue with the clerk, and he assures you he’ll do his best to give you what you want, but you can tell it will be a while before he can deliver.
This is the dilemma CIOs are encountering as they take their businesses to the cloud. CIOs are used to choosing their own platforms and hardware, and they don’t understand why they should put their data in the hands of a third party. Here’s why you should though: “The reason we can save money in cloud computing is because we’ve gone to a standardization, an automation, and things are prescribed a bit more,” said John Engates, a CTO with the cloud service provider Rackspace. “That’s a challenge for a CIO who’s had carte-blanche in choosing everything.”
But Thomas Trappler, an instructor at UCLA on cloud computing, says that the switch between a technically managed solution and a contractually managed solution doesn’t have to be a massive paradigm shift. One of Trappler’s students asked him what he should and shouldn’t ask for from a cloud provider, and Trappler answered, “The only things you shouldn’t ask for are the things you don’t need.”
His belief is that although cloud vendors are currently evolving their questionnaires and standards to avoid individual audits and create standards across the industry, it’s important for the client to speak up to specify their needs. “What’s the business criticality? What’s the client’s pain point? Could you make due for a couple of days or does your business come to a grinding halt,” Trappler asked.
Specifying these factors rather than attempting to customize the cloud into your own data center, platform and hardware will better prepare you in deciding if you should be a “DIY customer” paying for data as you go or a long term customer with a consistent infrastructure that needs management.
“The number one thing I tell them: Clearly define your expectations and try and live within them,” says Thomas Straun, the CIO for the Army Aviation Center Federal Credit Union. “Later on it’s okay to come back to the service provider and say, ‘How have you enhanced your service in any way that we can enhance X, Y and Z.’”
In Straun’s business, he’s not just looking for flexibility; he’s seeking a cultural understanding. “How can the cloud provider become more of a partner with us and really consider our pain, their pain? The evolution of that relationship is more important to us than the technology that they provide, because the technology is going to continue to evolve. That’s just the nature of the beast, because if it doesn’t, you’ll be forced to leave them no matter what your relationship is with them,” Straun said.
“The cloud is relatively plain vanilla,” Engates said. “There are one or two providers with one or two service offerings. They look pretty much the same.” But where enterprises find the most value is in seeing how specific service offerings become tailored to an industry. How is the cloud best serving the private sector? How about banking or healthcare?
If we go all the way back to that ice cream shop, what that clerk can offer you are various toppings for your sundae. He can give you sprinkles, nuts, hot fudge and strawberries. It’s just right for you, but it’s the same flavor for everyone.
The cloud is the same. It will get to the point where the operational costs of PaaS will be low and the platform supported by the cloud will be able to accomplish all that the IT organization has written it to do. But for now, a company should not be asking how the cloud can match your existing internal infrastructure but how it can match your needs.
Hear more about cloud computing and the risk factors you should consider when signing a contract with a cloud provider in our show “Cloud Computing – The Hidden Costs and Risks.”