Another 2e2 collapse is possible, but don't let customers fear the cloud

Cloud isn't be all and end all - it's just another product in your portfolio

Just about everybody’s moved to the cloud by now, you’ll probably have read. Every marketing blurb, technologist's blog and other accounts are based around the idea that the cloud argument has been held and won. Cloud is a good thing and the corporate world knows it.

All of which is something of a worry if you’re a channel partner looking to sell cloud “solutions” into a corporate environment. Or, indeed, to an SME. The fact is that cloud 'solutions' are still only one of the 'solutions' available on the market, and they’re in danger of joining so many other ideas as a corporate buzzword that fails actually to mean anything to a lot of clients.

This is frustrating because unlike a lot of previous industry buzzwords, “cloud” really has a lot to offer. The business world is certainly waking up to this; just about every prospect or channel partner we talk to is engaged in it in some way. It’s certainly something every channel partner has to have as a key part of their strategy, and to offer as an option.

Where we part company with the hype, though, is in the idea that it’s delivering everything to everybody. Put simply, it’s not – and it was never supposed to. Cloud should never be marketed as a one size fits all answer to every IT problem – and there are people out there pushing it as precisely that.

There can in fact be a number of reasons that cloud isn’t the right “solution” to a given issue. It’s vital to be reassured that your data is secure; just having it “in the cloud somewhere” is no guarantee. Some data may simply be too trivial – you don’t need every memo reminding the office manager to refresh the coffee supply duplicated on a remote site.

Risk is actually a core concept in cloud technology and the switched-on channel partner can add a lot of value to a contract in having some knowledge of it. There are misconceptions about it all over the market.

Cloud technology may or may not be secure. Many users, particularly in the smaller business sector, buy on price and can be surprised that their “cloud” is simply someone else’s data centre, which could be located anywhere from Fort Knox to a leaky shed in Tooting.

People often consider they are taken care of in terms of backup if they opt for a cloud solution. They might be, but once again, if they’ve bought purely on price, they may not be. Of course, their computers can fall over harmlessly but if the cloud provider isn’t backed up or doesn’t have some sort of failover plan in place, there is no backup.

There has already been one major failure in the UK cloud market, 2e2; most customers had their data back but the risk of this happening again in a rapidly moving marketplace is considerable.

The benefits are many, of course. As long as backup is taken care of by the cloud provider the solution is more or less bullet proof – you can have an earthquake at your office and your data and applications will be safe. Upgrading hardware becomes a very rare necessity. Upgrades can happen without the pain of a corporate roll-out, people can scale down and up at will in terms of computing power (and with virtualization added they can even scale up and down, in terms of desktops) at will. The technology departments are getting the message; the end user community doesn’t care as long as it’s getting its “solutions” delivered in the most efficient manner possible.

It becomes possible to test ideas efficiently. The theory “what if we had a dedicated server for function X” is possible to test on a large scale for a few hours very cost effectively and it is easy to shut down if it isn’t working, without ending up with a lot of unwanted hardware. One of our customers said he liked the cloud because it allowed him to “fail fast and fail cheap” – not that he fails a lot, but experimentation and innovation becomes a lot less of a risk once a good cloud partnership is in place.

This is where the channel can start to add real value. The level of input and advice needed to get the right element of cloud, private, public or hybrid, input on the sort of innovation open to and appropriate for a client, assurances on backup and security, all of these represent opportunity to the reseller and value to the end client.

The IT industry has, let’s be honest, left a trail of buzzwords and apparent “solutions” to everything in its wake. Some delivered well, others less so. “Unix” was one in its various flavours, “ASP” was another and “Millennium compliant” just makes us shudder with hindsight.

Cloud, deployed intelligently, has a great deal to recommend it, but those people who assume the discussion has already taken place, the argument already been won, are kidding themselves. ®

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