It’s Time for a Tiered System for Cloud Providers

I don’t know why my great revelations seem to only come to me at elevations greater than 20,000 feet, but here is part two in my series of high-altitude blog posts.

The flight attendant just provided me with my three in-flight dining options – peanuts, pretzels or cookies. I immediately choose the peanuts and I as I tear them open, I notice a warning message that states “Caution: This product was packaged in a facility that processes peanuts.” They must be kidding right? Have we really gotten to the point where we need have peanut warnings on peanuts?

So that got me thinking of what other crazy, obvious warning labels could be coming next??  Then it came to me, “Caution: The Cloud service that you are buying contains a network.”
I mean that’s the case, right?? The Cloud always includes the network…Or does it?

I think back to the very first AT&T meeting I ever attended nearly 18 years ago and how it started with some subject matter expert stepping up to a brand-spanking new whiteboard technology and drawing a bunch of buildings – some representing client premises, some were call centers, central offices – all with a single line connecting it to a cloud smack dab in the center of the board.

Back then the CLOUD was introduced to represent the complex collection of hardware and software, people and processes that were in place all over the map.  The pieces were working together behind the scenes to seamlessly deliver dial tone or toll-free or private line or other network service that you may have been considering.

Its only purpose was to simplify the discussion, so that everyone could focus on the business solution at hand, without getting pulled into the weeds.  Very few customers ever really wanted to know how capacity planning, Erlang theory or FASTAR* really worked – they just wanted to know that it was there and that it was working.  So the first Cloud was born – and with one simple stroke of a Dry Erase marker, we now have a universally agreed upon way to depict all of the things that make up a network.  It rose to instant stardom and even found a home alongside the square and circle in the toolbars of most drawing and word processing software packages.

However, now it seems, to me anyway, that this representation may have gone too far and that we are losing sight of the fact there IS a complex set of physical infrastructure underlying today’s Cloud solutions and that this infrastructure is more critical than ever. The Cloud symbol may be the same from provider to provider, but it’s what’s behind that symbol that is the real differentiator.  That should be as much a part of your decision in choosing a Cloud services provider as the functionality that they promise to your end users or business.

Although drawing a Cloud is simple, delivering the highly-available, secure and on-demand capacity it represents is no easy task and something that shouldn’t be oversimplified.  Just look at the list of outages, breaches and other incidents that have plagued many of the early Cloud entrants to date. It seems that a true Cloud provider must have visibility, control and responsibility over the infrastructure that is delivering their functionality, otherwise what can they really commit to?

A Modest Suggestion

To address this, I suggest it may be time for a tiered Cloud standard like we have for ISPs and data centers? This would be something that quickly calls out exactly how much skin a provider actually has in the game. Instead of having to guess from their website or sift through shifty marketing materials to find out what a provider is actually delivering, we would have a quick rating system that could be displayed on a provider’s site.  I suggest  something like:

Cloud Provider Classification Tiers
Class 1 Provider owns/operates the network, data center, infrastructure and application.
Class 2 Provider does NOT own/operate the network. Provider owns/operates the data center, infrastructure and application.
Class 3 Provider does NOT own/operate the network or data center. Provider owns/operates the infrastructure platform and application/service only.
Class 4 Provider does NOT own/operate the network, data center, or infrastructure platform. Provider owns/operates the application/service only.
Class 5 Provider is a reseller.

Of course there would be a lot more detail, metrics and criteria that would go into each tier, but you get the general idea.   Then, the next time you step up to the whiteboard, you could draw the usual cloud. Only this time it could be further clarified by adding a 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 in the center, like shown below.

“Why, you might ask, do I care about this as a consumer?  Well, it is all about truth in advertising.  You deserve to know what you’re getting when you purchase a service — particularly one as important as Cloud Computing.  If someone is only a reseller, they might have lower prices, but are they as reliable?  Do you need a full service (5 cloud rating) for a minor task?  By having a rating system like the one I’m suggesting, you, as the consumer, will know what you’re getting before you buy.”

Let me know what you think. Please leave your comments below.
The Networking Exchange Blog Team About NEB Team