For CIOs, Clouds Are The Fourth Column - InformationWeek
02:56 PM
Alistair Croll
Alistair Croll

For CIOs, Clouds Are The Fourth Column

Clouds are transforming IT; that's not news. But regardless of your cloud computing agenda, clouds are already affecting your IT plans, because they give IT executives a cudgel with which to bludgeon traditional software and infrastructure providers.

Clouds are transforming IT; that's not news. But regardless of your cloud computing agenda, clouds are already affecting your IT plans, because they give IT executives a cudgel with which to bludgeon traditional software and infrastructure providers.Every IT decision of any real consequence starts with a shortlist of three competing offerings. One of them is usually the incumbent provider -- Cisco, IBM, EMC, Microsoft, and so on. Along with this incumbent are a couple of alternate providers. Sometimes these providers are simply "column fodder" designed to rein in the incumbent; but many IT companies have built healthy businesses by being the alternate.

It's time for a fourth column: a cloud-based offering. That means every Request for Proposals that a company issues must have a cloud-based option, regardless of whether the company actually plans to adopt clouds. Here's why.

Clouds set the upper bar. A cloud-based solution is often cheaper than hosted software. That's because it's not as customized, and can amortize costs across many buyers. As such, it's a good "high watermark" for any IT project. Clouds act as a sanity check on pricing.

Clouds make the "basic feature" set apparent. Cloud-based offerings, particularly SaaS applications, are based on mass production. They offer 80% of the features one might want, for 20% of the cost. This is how cloud vendors achieve economies of scale -- they don't do a lot of customization, and where they do, it's usually a set of tools and scripting that let you tailor it yourself.

This means the cloud offering shows you what the core features are. They make it clear what's an extra, and what's "table stakes." Then it's up to the vendors in the first three columns to prove that they're worth the premium pricing because of their special features.

Clouds force true cost accounting. Enterprise software pricing is confusing -- sometimes intentionally so. It's often tacked on to the price of a CPU, or a computer. There are add-ons, installation fees, per-seat licenses, and more. It can be hard to compare offerings cleanly. Then there's the storage, networking, security, and processor power needed to run those offerings.

A cloud, on the other hand, has a relatively simple pricing model. There aren't hidden costs. Despite's famous "no software" logo, they're really all about no hardware. Because clouds are specific to users or usage, it's easier to charge costs back to individuals or departments. By including a cloud vendor in a competitive comparison, you force a true assessment of costs across all participants, and surface the hidden costs of software you run on your own.

Cloud pricing is easy to get. Cloud providers have a very different sales strategy from enterprise software. They seldom have direct sales teams; instead, they rely on word of mouth and easy trials to get adopted. That means they don't guard their pricing jealously, since they have a one-size-fits-all mentality.

Clouds are all about self-service IT access, and their sales and marketing processes are also more self-service. As a result, it's easier to get numbers and details for the fourth column: just visit their website.

Make clouds the fourth column. Even if you believe you'll never use a cloud computing platform (you Luddite, you!) you need to treat a cloud offering as a fourth column when evaluating any IT solution. You'll be better armed, and more likely to discover hidden costs.

Alistair Croll is principal analyst with Bitcurrent and conference chair of TechWeb's Cloud Connect 2010 conference.

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
How Enterprises Are Attacking the IT Security Enterprise
How Enterprises Are Attacking the IT Security Enterprise
To learn more about what organizations are doing to tackle attacks and threats we surveyed a group of 300 IT and infosec professionals to find out what their biggest IT security challenges are and what they're doing to defend against today's threats. Download the report to see what they're saying.
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
2017 State of IT Report
In today's technology-driven world, "innovation" has become a basic expectation. IT leaders are tasked with making technical magic, improving customer experience, and boosting the bottom line -- yet often without any increase to the IT budget. How are organizations striking the balance between new initiatives and cost control? Download our report to learn about the biggest challenges and how savvy IT executives are overcoming them.
Twitter Feed
Sponsored Live Streaming Video
Everything You've Been Told About Mobility Is Wrong
Attend this video symposium with Sean Wisdom, Global Director of Mobility Solutions, and learn about how you can harness powerful new products to mobilize your business potential.
Flash Poll