Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Strip Down Cloud: the basics of cloud provision

Let me set my stall out: I really think that "in the cloud" is not a term created by IT professionals, or even marketing teams.  I think it is a term created by the archetypal technophobe businessman who doesn't want to be bothered by the details of IT, and just wants a service delivered - and doesn't care how.  He* wants it like a phone contract - something that can be tailored to the number of minutes, the number of texts - and can be flexible to move with his business.

All this stuff about what the cloud really is - is really just guff.  Take for example self-service.  This business guy doesn't care about self-service.  In fact, it would be perfect if somebody else could do it for him.  He wants a way of managing the contract himself - but he doesn't want to administer the service himself.  If his business volumes go up - he wants to adjust the contract, so he has the capacity to support his business.  If the volumes go down, likewise - the alignment with his business needs is what's important to him.

Take virtualization technology.  This is a means to an end, it provides the rapid provisioning that this business guy really wants.  But he doesn't care about virtualization.  He cares about rapid response.  If he orders more minutes on his phone contract; he wants the minutes instantly (although he might be satisfied to wait until the end of the monthly billing period).  The same thing is true with his IT cloud.  He wants to adjust his contract - and then wants to see rapid implementation of the changes.  But it could be a horde of magic goblins for all he cares.  

The only things this guy cares about are the quality of service he is receiving, the cost of the service, and the ability to flexibly manage this service.  Just like his phone contract -- if the quality is no good, he will cancel it and move to a provider with better performance.  If the cost is too high, he will move to a more competitive provider.  And the flexibility in the contract will allow him to do that (although phone contracts often have a lock-in term; but of course if the businessman was designing the terms, then it wouldn't).

So what are the essentials of the cloud, from a technologists point of view?
  1. the ability to measure and manage a quality of service.  A provider who values customer service (and many would argue that customer service is the cornerstone of a successful selling organisation) will proactively manage service levels and ensure that the cloud customer is getting the service levels that they need - and that they are contracted to.  For this, we would recommend not only some level of service assurance monitoring but also some risk avoidance through predictive analytics; typically found in a capacity planning process.  In addition, where service levels are set either contractually or through expectation, some form of management of performance against those service levels - business service insight - will be imperative.
  2. the ability to manage cost and capacity effectively.  Given that an unsatisfied customer may change contracts freely or at will - and that the cloud marketplace is a competitive one, cost is the second important factor in a customer's investment decision.  Cost in a cloud environment is borne mainly through infrastructure operations, and ties together elements like facilities, management, power/cooling, and capital costs.  Uptime institute published a very good paper on this recently (click here).  Equally though the price that is charged to the customer must either equate to the cost (in an internal private cloud charged as a cost center) or exceed the cost (as a profit center in a  business) and be derived from the cost of the allocated capacity.  
  3. the ability for a customer to flexibly manage their contract.  There must be an easy way for the customer to change their service.  Increasingly tech-savvy customers demand portals by which they can manage their own service levels.  A self-service portal is often the lowest cost way of providing this capability.  However the cloud does not mandate a portal, in fact a call-center can provide the same facility.  Most of the time I manage my phone contract is through a call center; and the benefit is that my provider gets the chance to sell me something new every time..!
  4. the ability to rapidly deploy any changes to a customer's service.  The cheapest and quickest way of doing this is likely through usage of virtualization technology, where existing and unused capacity can be allocated to a customer.  New technologies are emerging here all the time, around storage and network capacity as well as compute capacity.  Hybrid cloud providers are using third-party capacity to extend their capability quickly and leverage existing data center space. 

*He could be a *She too; and probably is

No comments: