The New Cloud Business Model – Fake Support

I’ve noticed a growing tend over the last year with companies that are providing exciting new enterprise software, the promise of support and no chance of being able to deliver on it.  And unfortunately, for consumers trying to sort through all the new offerings out there, it can sometimes be difficult to separate all the marketing glitz and glamour from the reality.  With OpenShift, Red Hat is able to stand behind the software that it distributes – they have deep expertise in every layer of the stack.  Given that, it frustrates me when I see others claim the same model without the expertise – that approach is just taking advantage of customers who don’t do their homework before buying.

Let’s think about what would happen if more industries took this same approach – the medical profession for example.  Imagine what the conversation might be after your yearly check-up.

Doctor: Well, I’ve got some good news and some bad news.  The good news is that you still look okay.  The bad news is that the is something going on under the surface that you are going to want to figure out.

You: Okay… what exactly do you mean by ‘under the surface’?  Also, when you say that ‘I’ will need to figure this out, what do you mean?

Doctor: I mean something is going on underneath your skin.  What happens under there is basically a mystery to us – it’s not something we support.  That said, whatever is going on probably needs to be fixed so you’ll want to find someone that can do that.  We could try but we really don’t have any better odds than you in fixing the problem…

If a conversation like this is so unacceptable in other disciplines, why do we so readily accept it in software?  Let’s take Platform as a Service (PaaS) for example.  PaaS is platform positioned to be the core application foundation in your company.  It is tightly integrated with both the operating system (OS) and your application platforms.  Those that say otherwise are either dreaming or trying to deceive you.  That tight integration is what lets the PaaS platform do things so that you don’t have to.  But many of the PaaS vendors in the market have limited experience across the OS and the application stacks.  In almost all cases, the PaaS providers are going to have to rely on a separate company for the operating system distribution.  In many cases, they are going to have to do the same for the application stacks.

What are these companies going to do when their customers hit issues in area outside of the core PaaS software?  Most of these guys aren’t active in the open source versions of the software so I doubt they are going to do the fixes themselves.  Don’t let them give you the ‘power of open source software’ unless they are involved enough to influence those changes.  Maybe they will proceed with the same awkward conversation as the above example…

Now, maybe these providers have the ability to support all the things they promise.  Maybe they have all the connections in the open source projects to maintain stable distributions themselves.  This is what Red Hat does but I don’t see too many others doing the same.  At a minimum, you should check because you might end up buying a product from a company whose business models is based on you not making that call for help…

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IT Cloud Myths around Dynamic Demand (or the lack thereof….)

Today I read a great article that compared the adoption of cloud in IT to the adoption of open source.  In a nutshell, cloud is being resisted by IT groups much like open source used to be resisted.  Given my role on OpenShift and having been at Red Hat for several years, I’ve seen both forms of this resistance in the field.  In this post, I’ll try and debunk one of the most common IT dismissals of utilizing cloud:

I don’t have dynamic demand – cloud won’t help me

That is a tricky defense tactic because many people in IT believe it to be true.  To dispel this myth, I find it best to break demand into external and internal demand.

It is fairly easy to tell whether your company has dynamic external demand.  That usually boils down to whether or not you have seasonal demand (e.g. retail sites and Black Friday) or event driven demand (e.g. Superbowl ad).  Companies with seasonal or spiky production demand have an obvious use case for the elasticity of cloud but that is only half the story.

However, while relatively few companies have dynamic external demand, the vast majority of IT shops have an unknown dynamic demand internally: their own consumers and development teams.  But when first asked, they often believe this not to be the case.  The conversation usually goes this way:

Question: Are you giving your users all the resources they think they need?

Answer: No.  They always ask for more than they need and we don’t have the capacity.  The initial requests just aren’t reasonable.

Question: Is the process for getting resources easy or self-service or does it require a ton of justification and cost?

Answer: We have to make the process tough.  If we gave users what they asked for, we’d go broke!

Question: Do your users ever give back unused resources or do they try and hold on to them forever?

Answer: That’s just it – they never give anything back!  They would keep it forever if we didn’t watch them like hawks and claw it all back…

At that point, this is the question that often makes them re-think their initial assumption about not having dynamic demand internally:

Question: If you gave users everything they wanted and were able to recoup those resources when they weren’t used, would you have dynamic demand?

Answer: (long pause) Yeah…. I guess we would.  (long pause) Haven’t thought about it that way before…

I’ve had this same conversation play out time and time again.  Most of the guys on the IT side aren’t knowingly being malicious, but they have built a protective system over the course of years and have lost sight of what their users actually need.  They think that they are protecting users from themselves whereas in reality, they are eliminating themselves as a credible service provider.  Under-served users will just go directly to the public cloud providers and work around IT entirely.  This has been happening with SaaS offerings such as Salesforce.com for years and the behavior will be no different with public cloud providers.

IT organizations that embrace these changes will more likely end up being a strategic partner with their users.  By leveraging cloud technologies instead of rejecting them, they can revolutionize the way they provide compute resources to their users and combine that with the valuable corporate data they already have.  Having worked in IT, I think this is underlying desire of many IT shops.  Unfortunately, the processes they have built for themselves are often working against that desire without them even knowing.  Those that will survive will need to change and change fast to maintain relevance.