What Staples Can Teach The Cloud About Simplicity

Author

Robert Jenkins

October 10, 2014

Guest author Robert Jenkins is CEO of CloudSigma, a public-cloud “infrastructure as a service” provider.

In 2003, the office supply chain store Staples launched the advertising campaign “that was easy.” The campaign featured a red “easy” button workers could press to instantly organize their offices—an icon that even today has a special place on millions of workers’ desks.

Staples’ success acts as a good reminder for other industries, especially those in the cloud sector. Unfortunately, cloud providers have made their services unnecessarily challenging for both users and developers by imposing limitations on server setup, programming languages and operating systems.

Staples “Easy Button” (Video)

There’s no reason that cloud providers can’t also “think simple” when it comes to the tools used for developing their infrastructure. For smaller, more agile providers that rely on innovation to outshine market giants like Amazon and Microsoft, this goes beyond a matter of user convenience.

Offering both developers and customers the tools they need to get their cloud deployments up and running faster, or to adapt to changing user demands in real time, could make a big impact. There are no shortage of these kinds of tools and tips out there. But, which ones are worth cloud providers’ investment, both for themselves and for their customers?

Bringing Apps Up to Speed

The cloud has become an ideal environment for high-performing applications and companies with complex, varying workloads. Yet 30 percent of organizations name performance as a primary challenge in the cloud. This is often caused by an organization’s inability to see their applications and server infrastructure, which leaves them unaware of performance issues until user complaints begin to roll in.

See also: IT’s Losing Battle Against Cloud Adoption

At that point, companies not only have disgruntled customers on their hands, they also still have to identify the root cause of the problem. Without any kind of intelligent monitoring tool, companies have no choice but to blindly search for the issue. This is a cumbersome process that adds another layer of complexity and delays.

Intelligent monitoring tools such as those offered by New Relic let public-cloud providers offer performance data and server-health information directly to their customers. These can dramatically speed up the process of identifying problems and bottlenecks deep within the cloud stack. Everybody benefits when companies spend less time fixing problems in the cloud.

Acting on What Users Actually Need

Regardless of the industry, tracking user behavior is critical to improving your company’s service. Domino’s Pizza, for example, made it a point of improving its recipe after learning that customers thought their pizza tasted bad. The result? Store sales grew 14.3 percent in the following quarter alone.

See also: Why The Cloud You Want Is Not The Cloud You Deserve

The cloud industry is no different, although for providers with a global presence and hundreds (or thousands!) of customers, this is much easier said than done. Web analytics can help.

Using a service like Mixpanel, cloud providers can monitor user activity from one interface. This eliminates the cumbersome task of monitoring certain geographic zones and hiring dedicated personnel to do it. Mixpanel can even track individual activity to see which services customers are using—and how.

This kind of intel allows a provider to adapt their services as needed and divert development teams to improving the features that customers actually care about.

Speaking a Different Language

A cloud provider’s DevOps team—that is, the engineers and IT specialists in charge of feature development, quality testing, maintenance releases and more—is its bread and butter. So you’d definitely expect them to have the tools that will make their job as easy and efficient as possible.

See also: DevOps—The Future Of DIY IT?

Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case, especially when it comes to large providers who are set in their ways. Oftentimes, these industry giants mandate programming languages across the board for both their own developers and those of their customers. This restricts developers who are most productive when they’re able to use the configuration-management utilities that are best suited for particular tasks.

Ansible and Salt, for instance, are great at automating many configuration and deployment tasks. Alternatively, tools such as ClusterSSH allow simultaneous control of multiple SSH sessions, making it easier to work with when it comes to managing a small number of servers. So both providers and their users benefit when DevOps teams have free rein when it comes to programming languages and configuration management.  

In that same vein, permitting a developer to use a software application like tmux that allows for a session to be started at the office and finished hours later from home makes their lives that much easier. As a result, developers become more productive and the customer reaps the rewards.

While programming languages and application monitoring tools are significantly more complicated than Staples’ red ‘easy button,’ the same principle applies. Granting employees and customers the tools to make their jobs easier comes full circle—both in the form of customer and employee satisfaction. Inevitably, this will amount to more widespread cloud adoption and accelerated innovation.

Photo by Eric Hauser 

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