Business Workloads and the Secret Metadata

Cloud Workloads

Do you feel you know your cloud workloads well? Remember when those applications were running locally? You knew every quirk and cared for every surge. Now, they are in the cloud, and everything is different. Sometimes it feels like you barely know them at all.

You’re right

In many ways it’s like the difference between owning a car – complete with maintenance, odd behaviors, and that sentimental mark on the dashboard – and taking public transportation. When is the cheapest time to ride the train? How much gas is in the airplane? Is that bus usually on time? Sure, you’re not out there maintaining a fleet and managing baggage, but you also have far less information about the transportation you’re using.

But, the bus company – and the cloud company – know a great deal more, of course. They must to run their businesses.

Just as it would be much easier to use the bus, plane or train if you had a better sense for when they are likely to run late, how they charge for tickets, and what accidents they have had lately, cloud users are impacted – both financially and operationally – by secret cloud metadata.

Cloud metadata is information about your cloud workloads. This can run the gamut from performance data to billing information to compliance and security data. It’s information that is perpetually churned out of the cloud environment, but rarely reaches the cloud user.

Findings from a recent global study conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of iland showed that across the board, companies were suffering from a lack of data about their cloud, and that 100 percent of respondents felt financially or operationally impacted. Further, this may be driving negative sentiments about cloud providers, as many respondents agreed with statements like, “I am just another account – my cloud provider doesn’t know me or my company,” and, “If I were a bigger customer, my cloud providers would care more about my success.”

The survey wasn’t given to just any cloud user. Respondents hailed from around the globe, with one-third each in the United States, United Kingdom and Singapore. Most were IT executives, and all had recent direct engagement with their cloud providers.

In fact, these respondents, 70 percent of whom had been using cloud for over a year, were typically customers of multiple clouds. These folks are discerning buyers with great experience. Their experience was that compliance, transparency and support are critical cloud challenges.

Complying with Compliance

Compliance in cloud workloads, not unlike car ownership, is both about maintenance and routine audits. 72 percent (197 respondents) were bound by compliance requirements, and of those, 55 percent found it challenging to implement the controls needed to fulfill those requirements. That’s like not being able to perform an oil change on your own car.

About half had trouble getting documentation of the compliance status of their own workloads and/or the cloud provider’s platform. Without those documents, audits become onerous. Imagine needing to prove that you took eco-friendly transport for your trip to New York, but couldn’t get any data from your airline. It would make you more likely to drive your hybrid and skip the flight entirely.

Transparency Isn’t Clear

Transparency posed similar challenges. Lacking in performance, billing, security, and other data, companies found they had unexpected bills or line items (36 percent), resources paid for but not used (39 percent), reporting challenges (41 percent) and performance issues or outages (43 percent).

Clearly, the operator of the train knows how tickets are priced and can tell you where your reservations are. But if the end user cannot access the data or if that data is presented in a way that isn’t actionable or easily consumed, then the user is left with little upon which to base their operational decisions.

Many cloud vendors opt to provide access to unlimited reams of data, which, theoretically, could be imported into a tool and analyzed in detail – by which time, the window for rapid decision making would have past. The survey respondents seem to be moving forward with new cloud purchase decisions that prioritize transparency (39%), evaluating the native management tools of their provider for data, analytics and alerting.

Support Could Be More Supportive

Finally, support was cited as a challenge, as it often is with reasonably new technologies. Each problem identified seemed to impact 1in 5 respondents – from issues with the expertise of the support personnel to disappointment with response times – rendering half of respondents unsatisfied with support, in general.

The fact that well over half of these global IT leaders said support was hindering cloud growth was particularly troubling. Typically, support isn’t needed for boring, repetitive tasks, like spinning up yet another web server or development VM. Support is engaged when new, innovative, challenging things are attempted. So, if cloud growth slows due to a weak partnership between provider and user, we can assume it will take a toll on cloud-based innovation. That is a tragic outcome.

Customers can test-drive support as much as they can test-drive a car. While no airline or bus company will give you a free ride to Tulsa to ascertain whether their service is tolerable, cloud vendors do typically offer test-drive or proof-of-concept periods. Customers can avail themselves of access to support and onboarding resources during that period and evaluate whether the manner, knowledge, and responsiveness meet their needs.

So where does this leave the cloud user? Often, trying to make the most of the flexibility of cloud infrastructure, but without the data to optimize costs and performance. Now that they know data is missing, cloud users can scrutinize cloud providers from the outset.

Since cloud vendors have the data, users should ask:

  • Can I speak with your compliance experts? Can you share the compliance documentation on your data centers?
  • What are your target support times? Can I test support as part of my proof-of-concept?
  • Where can I see detailed performance data on each workload? How long is that granular information available? Is similar billing data available?
  • What do the native management tools for this cloud look like – and how are they evolving to meet all these information needs?

Cloud providers have this information. It’s up to users to ask for it – or find a provider who freely shares it, knowing that it is the right thing for their users.

By Lilac Schoenbeck

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