Going to the Mall to Buy Some Cloud

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Mark Thiele is executive VP of Data Center Tech at Switch, the operator of the SuperNAP data center in Las Vegas. Thiele blogs at SwitchScribe and at Data Center Pulse, where he is also president and founder. He can be found on Twitter at @mthiele10.

Mark Thiele, SwitchMARK THIELE
Switch

In the perfect world,  you would push any workload that your applications and business teams can dream up into “the cloud.” Unfortunately, the vast majority of cloud buyers today are largely in the dark about how to compare the capabilities and benefits of one cloud against the other. In many cases, they aren’t even sure what questions they should ask of the provider. What’s needed is something akin to a “one stop shopping” cloud marketplace or mall provider. This “mall” would give the buyer quick access to multiple cloud options with tools to compare everything from pricing, and sizing options to location.

Why is a Marketplace or Mall Approach So Important?

If you go back to the original intent of a marketplace, it was not just about multiple choices from a single vendor (like Amazon Web Services) but a plethora of choices from an array of vendors just like you’d find in a farmers market or a modern mall. An open marketplace must be independent from the providers and create a democratized model of access and purchasing for the buyer.

The vast majority of cloud buyers aren’t Zynga, Netflix, or eBay, They’re small, medium to large (SML) businesses with dozens to hundreds of applications. Each of these applications is likely running on 10 servers or less. These buyers don’t have a large team that can go out and spend days, weeks, or months investigating the “best” cloud option.

In the Zynga example, the scale of the application justifies significant upfront research and investigation. As a smaller team, you need to be able to make fairly quick buying decisions for relatively small amounts of cloud capacity. Any significant investigation and research effort could blow the value equation entirely. Since you’re not investing weeks determining the I/O performance consistency of one cloud vs. the next, having a comparison tool can really come in handy. If you’re only making a small monthly investment, the best approach is the one that gets you what you really need in a very short period and at low risk.

Key Players

There are several startups with very large big brothers that are building solutions to support a commodities type market for cloud buyers. This commodities market with things like hedging and futures will likely be useful for the large buyers who have application environments that are characterized by large variances in their scale (significant elasticity). In this commodities type market the two big primary leaders are 6Fusion & Zimory.

On the SML businesses side, where you’re looking to buy a few hundred instances or less, the best solution I’ve seen is Computenext. It’s also true that Computenext is focused on enterprise or B2B type workloads.

What a Marketplace Platform Can Provide

A marketplace approach to cloud capacity acquisition gives IT teams the ability to recognize the nuances that make the right selection of resources important. Without the marketplace, IT staff are much more likely to accept with pragmatism the fact that they don’t have the time to invest in being sure. And so goes the beginning of pragmatic decisions, the bane of IT teams everywhere.

Making solid, quick decisions that don’t hamstring your operations teams, hurt performance or lock you in to the wrong solutions is critical to becoming the agile organization we all want to be. We all want to be the agile organization that can respond quickly to business needs while maintaining a better mix of “keep the lights on” expense versus “innovation” investment.

Making a Cloud Selection

Today there are tools available that will allow you to select from multiple clouds based on a wide range of requirements. Choices include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Size of instance
  • Time increment of charge
  • O/S Support
  • Virtualization platform choice
  • Cloud management platform
  • Scale up versus out options
  • I/O performance options
  • Guarantees of performance
  • Disk size
  • Geo-Distribution
  • Location
  • Latency
  • Prices across the board
  • Search options
  • Exit options
  • Among others…

The above list is just a taste, a good taste but still just some of the options you might need to review, compare and utilize before you put a sensitive production workload in the cloud. Imagine trying to create spreadsheets with comparisons of cloud capabilities, and then maintain it (guilty). This type of manual review is exactly what small teams can’t afford to do and with the speed of change in this market it will only get harder to maintain accuracy.

What a Cloud Mall Does Not Do

The cloud mall doesn’t change the fact that you need to have a clear understanding of what your company’s applications require to provide the appropriate price, performance, and risk mitigation. With anything worth buying, it’s worth being clear about what you need, before you go shopping. The last thing you should do is show up at the mall hoping the stores there will provide you with an answer. If you take the wrong approach you’re likely to come home with that sweater that doesn’t fit well and that you’ll never wear.

Customer Requirements for the Success of the Cloud Market

We’re nowhere near being in a spot where all the clouds in the mall are “one-size-fits-all,” and we likely won’t be for many years to come. In the mean time we need to have tools that help us navigate the store fronts and selections so that we can fill our closets with the compute capabilities that fit our businesses perfectly or at least well enough to keep us in the game.

Industry Perspectives is a content channel at Data Center Knowledge highlighting thought leadership in the data center arena. See our guidelines and submission process for information on participating. View previously published Industry Perspectives in our Knowledge Library.

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