Moving to the cloud – hype or reality
Cloud is the new buzzword. There’s a lot to it, including a lot of hype. I can’t help of thinking back to my early days of grad school when I had to read Fad Surfing in the Boardroom which describes essentially how grown men that run companies act just like teenagers running out to get the new Air Jordans or LeBron James Nikes. There’s no shortage of people and companies running out trying to get in the cloud. Virtually every web company is now advertising some form of a Cloud based product.
Software as a service and cloud based services are nothing new. The allure is that you don’t have to have an IT department, you don’t have to spend a fortune on hardware and you don’t have to spend a fortune maintaining your IT Assets. Cloud advocates and sales people will tout the fact they have data centers that can survive a nuclear blast and everything but a zombie apocalypse. They tout underground data centers with armed guards, highly skilled staff, encrypted data and strict policies and procedures that keep employees from looking at your data and they tout redundant backbones. And they typically promise it pretty cheap. Well, if all of that was completely true and there weren’t other factors, using the Cloud would seem like a no-brainer.
It’s true that most data centers have redundancy but there’s this. Without rubbing anyone’s nose in it, more than a few people with unbreakable backbones found out their backbones were made of balsa wood the first time they got challenged. If you have a long enough of a memory, you’ll recall 9/11 and how fragile much of this bullet proof infrastructure was (in fact, I believe Savvis was one of the only companies that was actually able to keep things running). Sure that was over 10 years ago and things have gotten better, but Squirrels remain one of the biggest problems for network and power outages. Most data centers can manage a paramilitary attack, but not a family of squirrels.
But physical security isn’t what worries most people. I’ve been in countless presentations where people were pitching cloud based hosting. And in most cases, the sales people were rather condescending or at least ‘full of themselves’ when it came to how secure and redundant their data centers were. One was arrogant enough to tell a CTO “I realize you’re one of those people that need the emotional comfort blanket of having your data hosted in-house, but there was a time you were scared to leave the house without your blanket and pacifier – now you barely remember them, the same will happen here.” (Condescending to people may work for some sales pitches, it failed miserably this time). Most people aren’t worried about paramilitary militias or zombies, they’re more worried about leverage. They don’t like your service, have a billing dispute or some other problem and you have all their data. That isn’t a negotiating position most people ever want to be in . And while most people won’t bring it up in front of sales reps, ask most CTO or CIO’s one on one and they’ll cite this as the biggest concern they have (or at least one of them).
The other major concern is that all the Service Level agreements in the world don’t carry with them the same feeling of control that being able to call up a subordinate does. Generally speaking, you promote people you trust b/c of competence and integrity.
Will you have that same level of trust with some guy on the other end of the phone you never met? Maybe, maybe not. It really depends and depends on large part on past experience. Sadly, you only have to be wrong once for it to be a big problem. It’s very easy to find false comfort in the promises of service level agreements and things working well b/c they haven’t been battle tested. The worst time to find out there are serious problems and vulnerabilities is when there’s a disaster and people need your product the most. And that’s been how people have found out the bad news in more than a few cases. But in the case of your employee, his future depends on getting your system back up. His livelihood and next paycheck depend on it. If you’re one of thousands of customers at a big cloud company, they may or may not care. Your employee is likely to take a more hands on approach, take a seeing is believing approach and practice disaster recovery (let’s hope she does anyway).
It may seem that this is an anti-cloud screed and that’s certainly not the case. There’s a lot of benefits to moving to the cloud. Take CRM Online. In a few minutes you can be up and running, with Click Dimensions installed and users can be working in the system about 30 minutes after signing up. You can even try it up front for 30 days first. The price is quite reasonable too and if you’re a doctor’s office or smaller company without a big IT staff, the CRM Online option is hard to write off. We personally use CRM Online and have had a very good experience with it. We’re using SharePoint online and it’s been seamless. We’re using Office 365 and I personally was very skeptical about it at first but have become it’s biggest advocate – to say I love it would be a complete understatement. Take Salesforce.com as another example. Their growth has been explosive to say the least. They have quite a few happy customers and growth rates anyone would be jealous of. And a big part is their whole “No Software” mantra. Just like Microsoft CRM Online, they handle all the setup and maintenance. They handle security. They handle upgrades. And issues like cross-browser compatibility that plague application developers are non-issues for uses of Microsoft CRM Online
The point however is that there’s a lot of hype and a lot of tangible benefit surrounding the Cloud. Choices made about this issue shouldn’t be made lightly and shouldn’t be made without a lot of weighing the pros and cons. Whichever approach you favor, make sure you have someone aggressively play Devil’s advocate in your discussion and really think it through.
And when you’re done, make sure you read this.
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