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Cloud or Smoke Screen? - How to Tell the Difference

Malcolm Ross, Senior Vice President, Product Strategy, Appian
July 27, 2012

Ah, the cloud. How abused of a term you have become over the past 10 years. Originally the term "Cloud" evolved from IT network diagrams where engineers would just draw a big cloud shaped bubble to represent a network, whether internal, external, etc. Now it represents more than just a network diagram, but a new philosophy for the development, management, upgrading, and distribution of software. Unfortunately "Cloud" has also become one of the most abused buzz words in enterprise IT, ushering in a stampede of cloud-washing smoke screens by every old legacy software company.

Clouds can come in many forms, but behind the scenes they embody properties that are unique to modern software delivery techniques, such as:

    • Fast and Easy Online Access

    • Low to Zero IT Maintenance

    • Elastic scalability that grows with your needs

    • Agile development and continuous release of new features

    • No upgrade pains

But whether the offering is labeled a Public Cloud, Private Cloud, Hybrid Cloud, or Community Cloud, there are certain vendor behaviors that customers have come to expect that separate the true cloud offerings from the smoke screens. A few smoke screen detector tips include:

    • No Free Trials - If the system is fast and easy to access, always on, multi-tenant, and an easily maintained cloud platform, why would free trials not be provided? If a vendor is not offering free cloud trials, it is the first indicator that behind the scenes, they are just starting up the smoke machine to mask an old cumbersome software solution.

    • Desktop Requirements- Cloud customers don't want downloads and when fake cloud vendors have client desktop requirements that include Active X / OCX plug-ins, require old browser platforms, or worst of all, ask you to lower your browser or software security settings, it is a clear indicator that the vendor is simply masking a platform based on 1990's / early 2000's development approaches and not using modern web frameworks.

    • Onerous Bandwidth Throttling - Storage limits on cloud environments are relatively typical and bandwidth throttles are not unheard of. We get 10GB for free with GMail, 18GB free storage and 20GB per day free bandwidth on DropBox, and even has a 1GB per day bandwidth throttle. But when you see something like a 0.5 GB bandwidth restriction per month, (yes PER MONTH!!! for a pay service)alarm bells should start sounding. With modern enterprise solutions taking increasing advantage of more rich media capture like photos, videos, and voice recordings from mobile devices, many organizations can find employees easily exceeding small monthly bandwidth allocations. The primary reason for a onerous restriction like this is due to the cloud vendor's inability to elastically scale network capacity toaccommodateyour enterprise.

    • Version Numbers - Have you ever wondered what version of Google, Facebook, or Dropbox you use? Of course not, you just use it. There certainly are version numbers behind every piece of cloud software, but it is not front and center and sometimes it is only referenced by the developers of the cloud platform itself. Fake cloud vendors often still lead with version numbers in their marketing and FAQs. It is a sign of a lack of maturity in a software company's agile development capabilities and possible inability to seamlessly add new features to their cloud systems without a major upgrade cost to their customers.

For companies like Appian, it is frustrating to see legacy software vendors dilute the true innovation in software delivery coming from cloud vendors through bad development practices and marketing confusion. Cloud centric software companies are not just providing their software as an online service, but rethinking the entire process in which software is developed, managed, upgraded, and distributed. These innovations will empower cloud customers to spend less on IT, more on true technology innovation, and ensure their software investments don't grow stale andnoncompetitive over time.

As a customer, be sure to look into what you are truly buying. Is it a true, agile, and innovative cloud offering, or just a old legacy system with a smoke screen?

Malcolm Ross

Vice President of Product Marketing

Malcolm Ross