Monday, August 1, 2011

Episode 11: No, the answer is not 'Cloud'.

In the last week I've had some really interesting conversations about Cloud Computing with some acquaintences of mine. While a good portion focussed on the technical aspects such as the 'true' public cloud, what is perceived as public cloud, & the reality of public cloud actually really being private clouds, there was an aspect of the conversation that kept coming back up; market perception, marketing & of course, those all important sales numbers.

When I think of my own experience in selling cloud solutions to various people whether they were guys starting up a web-based business or cloud-services business, or media companies, or even large multinational businesses who were brave enough to jump into the Cloud, alot of the time the USP was the fact it was 'Cloud' & all that goes with that; scalability, utility resourcing/billing, resiliency etc etc.. That was all fine & good when it was solutions that were going head to head against traditional infrastructure-based solutions.

But, right now we're right at the cusp with a Cloud revolution already underway. The stories of 'I went Cloud, & my business went stratospheric also' while few & far between, do exist. But, we're now at the stage where 'Cloud' is no longer really acceptable as a USP. Nor is the ideal of 'Something-As-A-Service'. Something provided as a 'Cloud' must be a solution that gives a better quality of life as an end result.

A good example of how quality of life is almost of absolute paramount importance is 'Office365'. In Ireland, Microsoft are pushing this like crazy with radio advertisements etc., of how you too can have your office in the Cloud (I realise this is something I covered in a blog in June, but I'll not labour on this point too much). Microsoft Office is the most widely used piece of Officeware right across the Globe whether it's home users, business users or students. In short, it's been a stalwart product for the Redmondians. It does exactly what you need at every level of user from basic to power user alike.

Now, the argument for Office365 is compelling; no longer worry about keeping your office software up-to-date, access your office software & documents anywhere & so on. They tell you front & centre with the marketing it's office in the cloud. Now that's all very well, but how does the quality of life of moving from say a desktop office license to Office365 work for a basic, low end user of Office? The quality of life is practically non-existent if they move to Office365 from a desktop license of Office.

In trying to be clever, Redmond totally missed the point of why Google Docs is successful, & that the Googleplexians have absolutely nothing to fear, & why they are more likely to convert people from desktop versions of Microsoft Office to Google Docs. Microsoft made their product ridiculously difficult to use, totally unintuitive, & giving users as a result a total disimprovement in their quality of life. The pricing model is difficult to get to grips with & small businesses are going to be 'living on a prayer' when it comes to support (online forum support will not make Bob from SmallBusiness Ltd 'feel the love').

It just looks more like Balmer signed off on a project for the sake of it being a Microsoft contribution to the growing Cloud market in a desperate attempt to try keep up with more agile, inspired & user savvy solution providers out there. In essence, cloud for clouds-sake. If big guys like Microsoft are getting this so blatently wrong, then the odds are very rich that smaller companies with an eye on some of the change off the lower end of that big USD$150bn market valuation too are heading for a rude awakening.

I think the example of Microsoft Office365 as 'businesses embracing the cloud' is a really poor example. The numbers of businesses placing their e-mail with Google's G-mail, or people using SalesForce, or the business adoption rates for Apple's iPad & ultimately their use of iTunes' Cloud services are far more telling, but they're not 'sexy stories' that sell magazines, or business news section, or Cloud monthly periodicles online or in paperform.

The truth here really is Cloud in its integration & deployment should be almost anonymous or go un-noticed. That is the absolute true point to & of cloud computing; scaleable, easy deployment without any impact on the end user or them noticing. I mean, yes there are the self-agrandising press-releases of 'Hey, we went cloud, we're awesome & now our customers are awesome too!'. That's par for the course, & shouldn't be mistaken for an indicator for success, or an indication for the existence of a Cloud solution making people's lives better.

For some people Cloud is part of a solution, or not even a solution at all, as the problem with Cloud is that at a certain point in your scaling, the cost becomes absolutely prohibitive, & the technological ability to scale becomes a joint issue of technological & fiscal prohibition. Cloud adoption must be about more than a solution for now to a business, it must be about how it will serve the business now, next week, next month, next year & even in the next five years.

Moving platforms is expensive, costly, is fraught with many things that can hurt your business. If you're trying to shave costs right now, ask yourself what are the costs to get off the platform you're moving to, & what are the lock-ins to your growth using it. Saving cents that ultimately costs you dollars or euros later is not good economy. Do not be bullied into going cloud because the 'sales guy says so'. Sometimes the sales guy just wants to 'A.B.C.' (Always Be Closing), & knows the longer term revenue from you on their platform is more important to him than to your business. Solutions must be the square peg for the square hole, not a sphere that happens to also fit that hole.