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As we are now all in the cusp of the new marketing wave that is Cloud Computing and Hosted Services. I’m seeing fairly worrying trends that are going to impact the end user of these services, particularly in Small and Mid-market companies. Don’t get me wrong I fully appreciate the benefits of hosted and cloud based services – a large percentage of our business lies in this area. I’m just getting a little frustrated seeing what can bring real and measurable business benefits when implemented correctly just crow barred and deployed without proper analysis by greedy pure profit focused IT outfits.
I’m in no way saying that all hosted service providers are putting their customers at risk as they are not. There is however a significant and growing number of providers that are creating serious issues for their own customers and ultimately the industry as a whole, particularly in the hosted desktop area.
The main issue issues I’m seeing are:-
IT as a commodity - So many IT service companies and similar IT shops are just selling hosted services, particularly hosted desktop services as a one size fits all solution. Many are reselling services without any thoughts on how it will serve the customer in the longer-term, i.e. how they will integrate other software and services now and in the future. Also many are selling services without undertaking proper analysis before implementation and leaving the customer with a solution that doesn’t work for them. At the end of the day when you are just chasing profit margin then something has to pay for that increased margin- payment typically comes in the form of reduced resilience, service or security.
Inadequate infrastructure & Skills - To setup hosted services that perform well, are secure and resilient is a very expensive exercise. It’s also expensive to run in terms of monthly overhead, due to all of the high-end services required and in particular the costs of employing experienced and qualified personnel. It’s not too difficult to setup a low-level hosted infrastructure to provide services to customers on a shoe-string without the necessary levels of protection and service. It does however take a significant amount of technical experience and skills, operations experience and money to do properly.
Security concerns - To keep systems secure is expensive and can be a little cumbersome to manage within day-to-day operations because it’s all about details, policies and processes. It’s easy to cut corners on security budget and to not work to recommended best practices and frameworks. This is down-right dangerous and the likely breaches in security will damage the industry and the goodwill built up.
Disaster Recovery - Backing up data to a separate data centre is not the same as having a real DR solution in place. Many providers are selling their services on the fact they backup to another data centre. This maybe protecting data is it protecting operations. In the unlikely event that they lost the data centre it could take days if not longer to get systems up and data restored. To keep operations running in the event of a disaster then they should be specifying high-availability and replication solutions between data centres.
The above list is not exhaustive and just a quick brain-dump but it does give you an idea of some of the problem areas. I’ll put something together over the next few weeks that is a bit more comprehensive with questions to ask a potential provider.
I understand that it’s all new for the customer but never be afraid to ask any question. If you don’t understand the answer then ask them to rephrase it and even better to put it in writing. I always like to hear claims and do enjoy asking difficult questions so feel free to send them to me to look over for you