November 21, 2014

Hybrid Washing: What’s Real; What’s Not?

By Steve Prentice

Hybrid Washing

It is a well-known fact in the business of marketing a product that to get a customer’s attention you must do one or all of the following:

  • first make it clear that without this product a customer stands to lose out somehow;
  • second make it clear this product is better than anything that has preceded it;
  • third, make it clear that this product will save money, make money or make the customer somehow more attractive;
  • fourth, make it clear that this product is better than any competitors’ products;
  • fifth, make it clear that if the customer does not buy now, the opportunity will pass them by; and
  • sixth, make it appear that your product is actually new and improved, even if it isn’t.

This last item might be the most troubling of all, since it tends to take a customer’s credulity along for a ride. Terms such as “green,” “no trans-fats,” “better mileage,” “calorie-reduced,” or “redesigned from the ground up,” lead customers to believe what they truly want to believe, regardless of actual details.

This phenomenon is not restricted to consumer goods; it also exists in the cloud industry, where confusion over terms such as public cloud, private cloud, hybrid cloud and managed cloud, clash with customers’ inherent fears over security, data loss and uptime, inside of which less scrupulous IT vendors can operate without challenge.

CloudWashing

In the bricks and mortar world, an intentional misrepresentation of a product by glossing up the exterior is often called whitewashing, and subsequently that same activity in the virtual world has been given the term cloudwashing.

The term hybrid, for example, has become the catch-all term that many vendors use to persuade customers that their data will move between private and public clouds seamlessly, but according to many in the cloud business, it just doesn’t happen like that. Simply re-branding an existing service by slapping the term “cloud” or “hybrid” in front of it is not close enough.

Understanding Terminologies

It is important that IT professionals get their terminologies straight, when contemplating a move to the cloud. Many times, what appears to be a move to the cloud turns out to be simply outsourcing to another storage company. To truly be cloud based, there must be multi-tenant architecture, virtualization and scalability, so that the client can capitalize on the use of a dynamic system that moves and flexes with the company’s particular needs. Multi-tenancy means you are one of many customers sharing the up-to-date resources of a cloud provider.

Terence Ngai, Head of Cloud Delivery Management at Hewlett-Packard, agrees. “No wonder customers are confused,” he states, “many vendors in the cloud market are deliberately applying terms like ‘hybrid’ and ‘open’ loosely to describe their offerings. When you read the fine prints of their collaterals, you might find different definitions of the terms they use. Some vendors will describe their On-Premises and off-premises offerings as hybrid while they are completely isolated with no interoperability between those offerings. Customers cannot have one service running on-premises talking to or exchange data with another service off-premises. Some vendors claim interoperability between their offerings as long as you use their technology stack only. How flexible is that?

Ngai adds, “The true definition of hybrid is having multiple service delivery models working together as if they are one environment that delivers application interoperability and portability, while supporting multi-vendor technologies. That is how customers can realize the true benefits of hybrid IT – agility, flexibility and no vendor lock-in.”

For a customer to attain true “hybrid cloud,” a good deal of work has to be done, and the right technology has to be installed. There needs to be full cooperation between the on-premises and off-premises systems, and beyond the technology, there must also be clear policies established as to what data goes where.

Sadly, hybrid washing and cloudwashing continue to exist, but just like any other venture, whether commercial or even between individual people, it is very easy for someone who wants to sell something to say what needs to be said in order to make the sale. In the business of cloud technology a great many terms come and go and get intertwined. Ultimately a customer must do the research to seek out vendors and suppliers who can be trusted and who can prove they can be trusted. And on top of that, there must always be a layer of caveat emptor – let the buyer beware.

This post is sponsored by the Enterprise CIO Forum and HP’s Make It Matter.

By Steve Prentice

Steve Prentice

Steve Prentice is a project manager, writer, speaker and expert on productivity in the workplace, specifically the juncture where people and technology intersect. He is a senior writer for CloudTweaks.
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