View from the top: Don’t let cloud hype distract from business

Service providers spy a gold rush and have responded with an array of cloud definitions, platforms and services. Robin Cockayne, CEO of Revera, says decision makers must ask the right questions to cut through the hype.

The ‘t’ in IT is fast disappearing as organisations adopt cloud services to recast information management and access. Service providers spy a gold rush and have responded with an array of cloud definitions, platforms and services. Robin Cockayne, CEO of cloud services provider Revera, says decision makers must ask the right questions to cut through the hype.

Like the so-called dotcom land grab of the early 2000s, the appetite for apps without IT, and information on every device, is driving a cloud services boom. Providers of all shapes and sizes are staking their claims. But the needs and processing loads of individual workplaces require uniquely configured cloud platforms and performance specifications. How does one go about architecting the right cloud model?

Simple made complex

“A cloud is simply an easy way to connect to the things you need – end of story. And not all of that is provided by internet, in the same way not all shopping is online,” says Cockayne. “In some ways, the current hype is similar to the dotcom days, much of which led people down a cul de sac.

“Our industry’s penchant for spraying about techno fairy dust is alienating customers,” says Cockayne. “Sure, there are different cloud formats that deserve special names and attention, but too often buyers of cloud services are forced to wrestle with a second language two steps removed from business.

“The conversation must start with business needs. We can only say what we’ve done for others, and how and why our cloud services worked for them. It’s not a technical conversation,” says Cockayne. “It’s incumbent on organisations to evaluate themselves and understand business objectives, sensitivities, and appetite for loosening their grip on traditional IT. Most consultants and vendors push their own agendas ... ‘no, you’re not ready for cloud – allow us to lead the way’ or ‘you need public cloud, the compute is cheap,’ and then they conveniently forget to mention storage conditions and rates,” he says. “How does this sort of talk address business needs?”

Better questions, better answers

Cockayne says organisations must question their operating divisions in order to build a picture of short and medium term objectives and success criteria. “Answers to these questions point to the right cloud formats,” he says. “Where is the main focus? Mobilising a workforce to do more in the field? Consolidating the backend to streamline workflow? Or doing more with less, say, reducing the cost per licence from five dollars to three dollars?”

Broader cultural factors relating to financial transparency and business risk also come in to play, says Cockayne. “Do you need your cloud provider to jump to the demands of a CFO who wants to allocate costs to specific users, projects, and track consumption on a day-to-day basis?

“And if you’re worried about direct control and data access, certain international clouds will make you nervous. That doesn’t necessarily eliminate them from the consideration list, but it may influence the location of data replication and cloud backup services,” he says. “If a cheap public cloud ticks all the boxes, are you prepared to carry the risks? Perhaps those risks are acceptable with the addition of local replication and backup. You can build a solution a number of different ways,” he says.

Forget about technology

“The challenges aren’t technological,” says Cockayne. Business requirements must shape information strategies, which in turn determine acceptable risk, data access criteria, disaster recovery objectives, and fiscal transparency.”

He says buyers must be clear about what they want to achieve and how they want to pay for it. “Everything else is the service provider’s problem. We’ve been asking these questions since Revera started working with large companies, who asked us to forecast their needs. Many were reluctant to divulge the size and shape of their technology needs for fear of alerting competitors to future projects. Instead we probed them about business – number of branches, staff levels, hours of business and so forth, which provided enough clues to spec up the technology to keep them in business,” says Cockayne. “Selling cloud services is no different. It’s just that too many salespeople are so fascinated by their own technology that they’ve forgotten to lift their head above the fog and focus on what really matters – what customers really need.”

date_range 16 May 2014