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Visibility Access: A Key Differentiator Among Cloud Providers

A lot of hosting providers spend a great deal of time creating user-friendly interfaces for clients to access their infrastructure environments.  Savvis, for example, has a great customer relations tool. With these dashboards, cloud providers’ clients can log in, and feel like they have a large amount of control over their environment. The reality is, unfortunately, they do not. These interfaces present the ability for the client organization to have only a modicum of control, and this limited access is the only access clients have. Clients can’t directly access servers, load balancers, monitoring and ticketing systems. “Access” is presented in a convenient all-in-one dashboard, which, though designed for ease of use, actually limits how much control a client can realistically achieve over their own environment.

With these dummy interfaces, the mentality going in to their construction is to make them so simple that anyone can use it. What you get when you mix these over-simplified, high streamlined interfaces with a client company is a cultural and behavior set that believes the nuance and degree of detail and mastery such infrastructure options require is unnecessary.

So who is using these interfaces? For the all-in-one interfaces, you get the range of users, from the utterly non-technical LOB leader (executives) or functionaries of the LOB, all the way to technical staff. However, herein lies an inherent issue. Different groups with different needs are using the same interface. The tool cannot support all groups; otherwise these groups wouldn’t be divergent. Cloud isn’t like spandex shirt – one size cannot fit all. These interfaces manage the primary relationship with the cloud provider from a technical end, so allowing it to appeal to non-technical users presents a cognitive and functional dissonance.

Some providers do understand the nuance that varies between business unit need. They can provide the very user friendly versions to clients who want a simplified, streamlined interface experience. Meanwhile they also provide the deeply detailed and highly technical interfaces for the monitoring systems, with direct access to monitors, load balancers, servers and even cloud virtual machines. Part of what determines a good visibility system is all the technical access you need along with a strong ticketing system. Robust interfaces will provide aspects that appeal to the executive and business level needs more than simply providing a user friendly cloud interface: billing systems for example.

A good cloud partner will have taken the time to create the right interface for the right groups for the right tool. To be very user-friendly about it, they will create an all-in-one portal so that clientele won’t have to remember many different URLs, but will have access to the numerous dashboards for controlling the environment. Some clients want that simplified interface. Other clients, being more technical, want to know what precisely is going on in their cloud.

While the all-in-one dashboard looks slick, it often becomes a method for the cloud provider to be less than transparent into what’s happening in a client’s environments or what access they have to provision new resources. Some providers have even gone so far is to expose APIs to clients that would supposedly enable them to spin up a virtual machine. But when the client received the email saying the virtual machine was ready 4 hours later, what had really occurred was a team would be creating a new physical server on a rack – not the virtual machine they ordered and paid for. Such practices are in fact not cloud.

So what’s the balance? When a business decides to outsource their cloud, they do agree to cede a certain amount of control. On the other hand, a good cloud provider will always provide access and visibility. The approach that the more mature hosting companies take is setting expectation: having a defined set of roles, procedures, responsibilities for both parties. They won’t give any false illusions to the client past want is agreed upon in formal documentation. SLAs are part of this, as are business associates agreements, MSAs and the contract. But the real determination comes when both the cloud provider and the client realize that the actions they take against the infrastructure goals of the cloud solution are rooted in the shared purpose of achieving maximum performance. Mature hosting providers will be able to be comfortable saying “we are here to help, but when you need us to get out of the way, we are able to do that.”

Further, the mature hosting provider won’t strip any access or control away from the client. Instead they will rely on the client to request some control. For instance, if a client wants root access, a mature cloud partner provides it. If they want to be able to spin up and down servers at will, that’s fine too.

So why do some companies provide the illusion of control? It comes down to perception. The immature, or less nimble hosting provider will take the mentality of the client needs to be controlled. Whether this is rooted in fear or simply inexperience in the notion of partnership is unclear. Perhaps it reveals a level of shortsightedness for those cloud providers. The more mature providers and experienced hosting providers take the approach of matching client expectations, accounting for problems as well as successes and the need that both parties be supportive to one another in the process of achieving the shared goal – maintaining a highly functional infrastructure that drives innovation.

By Jake Gardner

Posted on November 19, 2012 in Cloud Computing Industry, Cloud Perspectives

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