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6/20/2011
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Cloud Bill Shock: New SMB Service Fights Back

UptimeCloud aims to help users turn cloud savings hype into reality with real-time cost monitoring, analysis, and prediction tools.

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For small and midsize businesses, it's become the siren call of the cloud: Only pay for what you use. Deploy enterprise-grade applications with no capital expenditure. Save money.

But how can SMBs--or any organization, for that matter--control costs if they don't know what they're spending until they get the bill at the end of the month? On Tuesday, Uptime Software will roll out its answer: UptimeCloud, a service that aims to help SMBs turn the cloud cost hype into actual bottom-line results.

Much is made of the security and availability of cloud services, but Uptime's executives want costs to be top of mind, too--rather than assuming automatic savings.

Indeed, Forrester analyst Jean-Pierre Garbani notes a growing focus on IT financial management, but said that today's tools only analyze the past rather than including the present and future.

"They give you an idea of how much you're spending, but it's always after the fact," Garbani said in an interview. "Here, we have a big differentiator, which is: I can manage my consumption in real-time."

That's crucial to SMBs that want to embrace hosted services but are wary of getting stuck with unexpected costs. Uptime Software CEO Phil Didaskalou said SMBs should indeed be skeptical: Visibility into usage--and the corresponding costs--exists only in hindsight, with no vendors offering real-time visibility. Then the bill arrives in the mail.

"That end-of-month shock is a major problem," Didaskalou said in an interview. "Who is better poised to get into the cloud faster than the SMB market? They want to do it, but what holds them back are these surprises. When they overblow their budget, it's embarrassing."

UptimeCloud hopes to solve the problem with a mix of real-time monitoring, analysis, and prediction tools. On the monitoring front, the service will use live data pulled directly from the vendor--based on the customer's account credentials--to show actual spending. Costs can be viewed as a sum total or broken out by a variety of criteria such as application, project, department, or user. Didaskalou gave as an example use-case a retail client that wants to flex its IT resources into the cloud to support a short-term, heavy-traffic promotion.

"After that promotion's over, you want to see how much you just spent on that cloud burst," Didaskalou said. "Today, you can't do that because no vendors will give you that information. We're going to make that available through a few point-and-clicks."

Delivered online (of course), UptimeCloud will launch in public beta with support for just one vendor, but it's a big one: Amazon Web Services. Uptime's product development roadmap includes other providers and platforms such as Rackspace, GoGrid, OpenStack, and others.

By analyzing current and historical data, UptimeCloud plans to provide reliable predictions of future spending displayed by day, week, month, year, or custom date ranges. It will also offer automatic recommendations on cost savings.

In terms of capacity planning and analysis, the service will call out forgotten, zombie, and little-used cloud instances to help eliminate waste. It will likewise identify traffic jams and highlight overloaded cloud services.

Pricing for UptimeCloud is to be determined. Uptime executives said they'll use the beta period to work with customers on coming up with a reasonable structure, likely to be a small percentage of total cloud spending rather than a fixed price. Forrester's Garbani thinks that's the right way to go; SMB budgets are more likely to be priced out by a fixed-cost model.

"It has got to be a fraction of the cost that they are showing to their customer," Garbani said. "There has to be some level of proportionality."

You can't afford to keep operating without redundancy for critical systems--but business units must prioritize before IT begins implementation. Also in the new, all-digital InformationWeek SMB supplement: Avoid the direct-attached storage trap. Download it now. (Free registration required.)

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