How to Make the Cloud Enterprise-Ready: It's the Support, Stupid!
It is hard to provide robust support services when the primary value proposition of your SaaS or IaaS solutions is their commodity pricing. Cynics would suggest that "you get what you pay for." This uneasiness even extends into the channel. Many VARs and integrators are hesitant to recommend cloud services to their customers, because the channel companies are not confident about the support they will get.
Whenever people debate the enterprise-readiness of cloud computing, the discussion usually centers on reliability, security, compliance and integration questions. However, underlying these important concerns is an even more fundamental issue that keeps most IT and business decision-makers up at night: customer support.
The truth is that a growing number of enterprises are very comfortable swapping out their legacy applications for Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions because the leading vendors in this segment of the cloud computing industry have mature support capabilities that give corporate decision-makers confidence the vendors will not only help them deploy their solutions but also quickly respond to problems if they arise.
Yet, despite the fact that the success of SaaS is primarily responsible for spawning the growth of today's Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) offerings, some of the major players still don't fully understand what it means to provide enterprise-quality support to their customers.
Fear of the High, Dry Spot
Ever try to find a 1-800 number to call about a support issue regarding Amazon Web Services or Google Apps? Good luck!
Instead, these and other public cloud vendors generally provide limited online training, little or no telephone support, and only cursory information when service disruptions occur. Of course, it is hard to provide robust support services when the primary value proposition of your SaaS or IaaS solutions is their commodity pricing.
So, cynics would suggest that "you get what you pay for." Yet, today's commodity cloud services are not giving many IT or business decision-makers much reason to pursue cloud computing alternatives, because they are afraid of being left high and dry if problems occur with their services.
This uneasiness even extends into the channel. Many VARs and integrators are hesitant to recommend cloud services to their customers, because the channel companies are not confident about the support they will get from the cloud vendors.
Of course, a growing number of cloud companies are more than happy to provide formal support services to those who are willing to pay extra.
As a result, most enterprises are only willing to experiment with today's IaaS alternatives to address their test/dev, cyclical demand or other isolated operational requirements.
Companies Will Select Support
This same pattern is also beginning to arise among channel organizations, such as VARs and SIs, that want to leverage various IaaS offerings but have been burned by cloud vendors who failed to properly notify them when service delivery issues affected their end-users. These channel companies can't afford to be at the mercy of cloud vendors that jeopardize the trust of their customers.
These support issues have encouraged many enterprises to shy away from commodity-priced public cloud services and explore private cloud alternatives, even though they are sacrificing many of the economic and operational benefits of the cloud as a consequence.
Some companies, such as Rackspace and OpSource, are attempting to differentiate themselves in the market by accentuating their support capabilities. And, many of the established vendors, such as IBM and Microsoft, are also emphasizing their support services to gain a foothold in the cloud market.
I expect quality support to become a key criteria for selection as the cloud computing market matures.
Jeff Kaplan is the managing director of THINKstrategies and founder of the SaaS Showplace. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.