I never go to see horror movies at our local movieplex theaters. After all, why should I? As an IT professional, I come across enough real-life horror stories that I don't need any fictitious ones if I want to have my blood curdled.
A few months ago, Business Insider published one such IT horror story. And, of course, it concerns the cloud. Isn't that what ghosts and spirits look like -- eerie, formless cloud-shaped masses of glowing nothingness?
What can go wrong?
In the Business Insider story, the CEO of a healthcare startup tells how Google one day shut off access to their entire cloud infrastructure without even a "Boo!" to warn them of what was coming down. Well, actually there was a warning of sorts but it was cryptic: Google said the customer seemed to be involved in "intrusion attempts against a third-party" and warned the customer they had three days to stop doing this or else. Three days later the customer's Google Cloud account was suspended and the customer suddenly had no access to any of their business applications or data. Yikes!
The customer tried various support options but to no avail, so he wrote a blog post about his problem and started tweeting about it. Somehow Google got wind of the customer's tweets (What do the Google Cloud support folks do all day? Check Facebook and Twitter?) and someone at Google ended up contacting him and restoring access to his company's account. Whew!
But still, it must have been a nightmare. How can businesses that rely on the cloud avoid such things from happening?
Know your risk tolerance
The first thing to consider is that moving your applications and data into the cloud entails a certain amount of risk. The advantages of cloud computing are well-known and can include increased business agility, greater mobility, and more predictable (and often reduced) costs. But there are disadvantages, too, such as less control over your IT assets, potential availability issues such as when your Internet connection goes down, and the fact that you may be utterly at the mercy of an external locus of support.
How much risk to your business can you tolerate by the unlikely but possible occurrence of any of these negative scenarios? Will your business be able to survive if your cloud services or data are inaccessible for several days? Do the cost savings and other advantages of cloud computing outweigh the potential downside of such black swan events happening? Only you as a business owner or CEO can make the judgment call concerning these matters. But to avoid even considering them is foolish.
Don't jump on the bandwagon of a particular cloud-service provider just because everyone else seems to be doing this. Instead, shop around and look for the best deal possible. Be sure to include in your considerations, however, the nature and kinds of support that the cloud company provides to their customers. Do they offer any form of live support? Is there a phone number you can call in an emergency? Do they offer online chat with support personnel? What's the typical wait time for initiating a chat session with support?
Be sure to also read the cloud company's terms of service carefully. And if necessary ask any questions you may have regarding your support questions via email so you have a paper trail you can use later on if needed.
And don't just restrict your shopping around to the biggest players in the cloud-services market. Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Rackspace are all big names with broad offerings, and they're likely to be around for a while. Smaller players in the cloud game might be more transitory, but they can often offer services that can be better tailored to meet the specific needs of your business.
Smaller cloud providers are also likely to be more eager to please, especially with regard to offering you more personalized support options than the typical "click Submit to request a support ticket" option that's hidden on some obscure page of a large provider's website. Just be aware that smaller fish usually end up getting swallowed by bigger fish, so there's a risk factor to consider in going with a smaller cloud provider -- which may balance out with the "frustration factor" of trying to work with large providers.
Big customers usually get the lion's share of attention from cloud-service providers. Money talks, in other words. Free cloud services aren't worth the money you pay for them. If you want to get good support during an emergency, be ready to pay for it.
If you're a big enough customer you may be able to get a support contact assigned to your account by name. If you can do this, be sure to nurture and build your relationship with your support contact. Account managers generally have lots on the go and are under a lot of pressure from higher ups in the management food chain, so it's easy for them to forget you even existed if they haven't heard from you in a while.
If you're not a big customer, what can you do to get your cloud company's respect and attention? Act big. Have the manner and attitude of a big customer. Talk the way they talk and walk the way they walk. One of the classic "success maxims" is "Think Big" and this can often work if you approach it the right way. "Fake it 'till you make it" is another way of saying this, but it only works if you have the confidence that you can "stand and deliver" when "the rubber hits the road." I know this all sounds like a bunch of malarkey, but if you posture yourself as big and know you can consistently deliver on your posture, you can often gain ground you might never think was possible for your business.
One of the takeaways that the CEO of the Business Insider story gained from his nightmarish experience is that it might be best not to keep all your eggs in the same basket. In other words, don't just rely completely upon a single cloud-services company. Consider utilizing (and paying for) two cloud companies, at least for certain types of cloud services your business may need.
For example, if you decide to go with Microsoft Azure cloud as your main provider for hosting your application workloads and business data, you might also want to consider keeping an extra copy of your data safely archived away in Amazon Glacier in case you suddenly need it.
Scream and shout
Finally, if everything suddenly goes south and your cloud provider isn't hearing you -- or you can't even find their ears, or maybe they don't even have any ears -- then try doing what the CEO in the Business Insider article did. Write a blog post telling how frustrated you are, then tweet the link to your post frequently and loudly. Maybe the support team for your provider is listening to someone on the social media spectrum. If they have any integrity at all, they'll be concerned about the potential impact your (justified) complaining might incur upon the success of their own business and will act quickly to try and address your problem.
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