The lines between cloud providers and cloud consumers keep getting fuzzier every day. Many enterprises are engaged in both offering services through their own clouds, as well as subscribing to cloud services from public providers. To meet the consumption side of the equation, there is now a mega-industry of public cloud service providers that are aggressively competing for this online market. Vendors within this mega-industry are overwhelming customers with a bewildering assortment of pricing plans and service level agreements.
A new study from Enterprise Management Associates (EMA) finds market confusion abounds. The survey of 415 executives finds a great deal of interest in the cloud, but at the same time, confusion about options and services. For many organizations, clouds represent an entirely new platform, the EMA report, underwritten by iland, states. Many executives admit they lack the expertise to oversee and understand pricing models and operational metrics, and relayed a feeling of “just making it up as we go along.”
The average enterprise in the survey subscribes to the services of at least three cloud vendors, EMA analyst Dennis Drogseth said in a webcast related to the EMA study. The reason companies are hedging their bets across numerous vendors, he surmises is because “cloud is still an experiment… people are looking to optimize their resources with cloud, many are not sure what that means yet. They’re still exploring and looking for that fit.” Another factor is departmental-level fragmentation — parts of the business subscribe to the cloud for their own reasons, such as development, data storage or continuity.
The cloud market is a highly fluid one as well, EMA finds. “When asked about their future cloud strategies, almost 60% indicate an interest in adding cloud vendors and 25% plan to switch vendors. Another 20% plan to eliminate cloud providers due primarily to security, cost, compliance, or complexity issues.”
Pricing is one of the greatest sources of discontent with cloud services — not necessarily because they are too high, but because pricing models are too confusing. Vendors’ innovative pricing models often end up looking like the exotic financial instruments created by financial services firms, says Lilac Schoenbeck, VP of product management and marketing for iland, who joined Drogseth in the webcast. “While all of this innovation is happening, people that might be paying the price of this math is customers,” she says. “Pricing can be very confusing or tricky in the cloud…. there’s been a great deal of innovation on the vendors for pricing models. But at the end of the end of the day the cloud customers are sort of stuck in the mud with this mess.”
Along with pricing confusion, cloud-consuming enterprises are often surprised — to the downside — by performance issues (cited by 38%). Issues with “noisy neighbors” who drag down cloud provider server performance. Annoyance with lack of vendor support crops up just as frequently — executives were not aware that the monthly or annual subscription they purchased did not include full support. “The realities of cloud support contracts often take customers by surprise,” the EMA report states. “Simple email or ticketing support may only be available to customers at lower tiers. Customers purchasing higher-end support may still have difficulty getting access to adequate levels of hands-on expertise.”
The learning curve is often steeper than expected, and vendors just aren’t willing to do a lot of hand-holding. An enterprise cloud engagement brings with it a lot of complexity, says Drogseth. “Some of the marketing around cloud has suggested that it’s as easy as waving a magic wand, which isn’t the case. Performance is very much a shared requirement between the cloud provider and the IT service team.”
The EMA report points to four things cloud customers are increasingly demanding from the vendor community:
1) Transparent pricing: Confusion over the assortment of pricing models “inevitably lead to challenges communicating pricing to management, estimating costs and making sound investment decisions,” says EMA. “The clearer the pricing model of the cloud platform, the more likely the cost objectives will be met.”
2) Ease of management: “Accept that cloud represents a new platform for IT to manage and select a cloud that eases that transition – whether by presenting familiar metrics, easy-to-use portal environments, or shareable reporting.”
3) Support: “The cost and quality of support, as well as the medium by which it is delivered (ticketing system, email, phone), can significantly hamper or accelerate cloud success. Consider the support model and its pricing when making a cloud selection.”
4) Services: Understand your own strengths and limitations first, EMA advises. “Survey respondents were remarkably self-aware in identifying areas where their in-house expertise fell short. With an honest assessment in hand, cloud vendors can be evaluated on the basis of their service offerings, from disaster recovery to onboarding.”
The bottom line is that despite its name, cloud computing doesn’t magically happen in the sky — it comes from a someone’s server somewhere. It requires proactive management. Cloud services “must be selected, workloads must be migrated and usage must be tracked,” says EMA. “Not unlike other complex IT systems, these cloud infrastructures must be monitored and managed. Capacity and performance management continue to be paramount, as the cloud’s much-touted ‘easy scalability’ depends on a watchful eye identifying and correcting problems.”
This is good advice for cloud consumers, and it is also something for organizations rendering cloud services to others to keep in mind as well. Even if you aren’t charging for the service you’re putting out there, you need to make it a positive experience for your end users.