A couple of recent surveys have identified that the cloud, from a user's perspective, has some potentially serious shortcomings, and there does seem to be a common cause - the relationship between Cloud Service Providers (CSPs) and their customers.
This is, perhaps, hardly surprising as the cloud is a new step for every user, and an equally new step for the CSPs, even if they have considerable experience as managed service providers. And the 'proof' of the problem is in the nature of the relationship issues.
At the bottom line the key problem is communication, and not just an inability to talk but a deeper problem inherent with any new technology: lack of knowledge on both sides of what constitutes important information that the other should know about, and a good deal of uncertainty about what are the right questions to ask, or what the answers actually mean.
This is made more complicated by the fact that the cloud changes the fundamental relationship between the two. This is no longer the straightforward vendor:customer transaction, where the former sells something useful (hopefully) and the latter buys it with the expectation of gaining some added value to their business.
The relationship between customer and CSP now has to be a long term partnership that grows, shrinks and shifts in emphasis as markets change and develop. This means customers have to be prepared to reveal far more about their business and long term plans than they ever would have done before. By the same token, CSPs need to be far more open about service level problems, resource planning and the rest - information they would never normally reveal to a customer.
Perhaps one of the worrying factors is that many of these questions were being asked some time ago. Some 18 months ago, at the annual Summit held by Parallels (now known as Odin), it was clear that the company's CEO, Birger Steen, was aware that the emerging CSPs were lacking in understanding about the marketplace. It was a common complaint by users, then, that the only help CSPs could offer growing businesses was to sell them more resources rather than additional management tools and services, let alone communicate advice and consultation.
Steen understood that more was needed. As a response, the company started offering a range of support programs to help channel partners, and especially the traditional VAR and SI communities, understand how to move into the cloud and exploit their existing expertise in vertical market sectors.
This continuing weakness is one of the key reasons, of course, behind the development of the CIO Advisory Service by Bloor Research, which is designed specifically to help CIOs - and their CSP partners - identify the questions that are important to them in migrating to the cloud, and help pin down what the answers mean.
It is also why Bloor Research has just entered a new partnership with the Cloud Industry Forum (CIF) to jointly develop a series of online and face-to-face courses targeting businesses moving to the cloud for the first time.
One of the two surveys was in fact sponsored by the CIF. The other was sponsored by Cloud service management tools specialist, Iland, along with support from Cisco.
The CIF survey polled 250 senior IT and business decision-makers in public and private sectors on their experiences in migrating to the cloud, and found that for many the transition had not been straightforward. In fact only 10% said the process could not have been improved.
A third of them indicated the CSP could have offered better initial support, with 38% finding the complexity of migration difficult. The specific issue of data sovereignty was a further problem for 30%.
Even before the migration process started, 27% experienced contractual obstacles such as clarity of liability. A more understandable issue was that, during migration, 28% encountered an initial loss in employee productivity.
This does lay some responsibilities at the door of the users. As the CEO of CIF, Alex Hilton, observed, providing help here could make individuals in the user community more attractive to future employers.
"It is important that users have sufficient knowledge about Cloud services to ensure that the services rolled out can support business objectives - 35% of respondents felt that they lacked the skills necessary to do this, which is one of the reasons why we've launched our Individual Membership Programme, allowing them to become more valued to their businesses and enhance their credentials in the labour market."
It is certainly the case that end users need to have a good understanding of their current business - both in terms of markets and business processes - as well as very clear ideas on the future direction of the business, and the processes that will be needed to make it happen.
But it is also something that the CSPs have to face up to. By providing cloud services they are taking over the implementation, running and delivery of information and business processes on behalf of a customer. This is no longer selling a product and running away.
The Iland/Cisco sponsored survey, the implications of which are covered in more detail by Applications Development and Governance Practice Leader, David Norfolk here, was primarily designed to show the areas where new cloud users felt that the CSPs were letting them down, as well as where those new users needed better education in advance of getting too deep into using cloud services.
One of the key areas of poor communication was the availability and transparency of important operational metadata from CSPs. Its availability was seen as incomplete by 44% of the respondents, while 43% felt that historical data was lacking, and 33% felt the same about billing and cost data. Indeed, 36% reporting unexpected bills or line items and 39% being charged for resources that are not used. There were also complaints about the problems of reporting to user management on costs and performance, with 43% reporting unexpected performance problems or outages.
That change of relationship from vendor:customer to partnership was evident in the finding that 39% of users felt that their CSP did not 'know me or my company'. There is an underlying step that cloud users need to take here, and that is to establish whether the CSP they are targeting really does understand their business. When selling a service that is intended to support the business over the long haul it can be a crucial factor.
On the other side of that coin, however, the survey showed that 31% of respondents felt they would have a better relationship with CSPs if they had the ability to talk to a person on the phone. That would lead to better architectural support (41%) and faster response times to help requests (47%).
Much of this can be excused as inevitable. It is a by-product of businesses taking that first step into a new form of service delivery provided by equally unsure service providers. Be that as it may, it is still a situation that does need to be resolved. This is why Bloor is now partnering with the Cloud Industry Forum and setting up its own CIO advisory service on cloud migration.