Do Cloud-Delivered Services Present a Viable Alternative to Buying New Tools?

Service providers are now delivering services through the cloud that claim to provide a better alternative to the traditional model of buying management tools. Mark Swanston, IOS manager at GlassHouse Technologies (UK), asks: is this trend a solution in search of a problem or could it address a real market need?

It’s hard to argue against the need for new management tools for IT infrastructures. Businesses are more dependent than ever on IT, not only for availability but for acceptable performance. In the past this wasn’t a big deal – most of our assets were underutilised and there was a much lower level of interdependence. However, in the present world of virtualised estates, the target is 60%-80% utilisation of servers and departments are stacking multiple key applications on a smaller number of physical devices than ever before.

With the dependence, complexity and greater need for managed and measured performance we can’t depend on our old tools. We need better technical data to avoid performance issues and better business data to optimise purchases and focus resources.

While there is a need, there is also a stigma attached to management tool purchases. Historically, these purchases have fallen short of expectations, leading the ignominious category of “shelfware”. In most shelfware diagnoses, the culprit isn’t bad software – it’s usually a combination of inability to implement the management tool, no plan to keep the tool up-to-date as the infrastructure changes, and lack of skills to interpret the information the tool delivers.

So while executives see the need for better data, they also have the preconception that the skill sets needed both for implementation and ongoing usage are rare. Many are unwilling to bet that “this time will be different” and that their internal teams will successfully select, implement and use new management tools.

Given this common scenario, cloud-delivered services could well offer enterprises a reasonable alternative to traditional tool purchase scenarios. Services of this nature often combine a series of benefits that make them compelling, such as:

• Cloud delivery – this model reduces or eliminates upfront capital expenditures, minimises implementation risk, and delivers value more quickly than traditional tools that are locally installed.

• Subscription pricing – monthly pricing allows cost to be spread across the life of the service, again reducing the upfront investment.

• Ongoing management expertise – possibly the most compelling piece of the puzzle is when ongoing support and management expertise is bundled with the service. In this scenario, enterprises benefit not only from a smooth, rapid implementation, but they get the value of the provider’s expertise in extracting value from the data the system generates over the life of the service.

In addition to these specific benefits, this model reduces the risk of selecting an inappropriate product. This is because the provider is committed to helping the enterprise interpret the data from the product over the life of the service and have an intrinsic interest in avoiding mismatched needs.

The risk of tool implementation is also negated, since the tool will have been running for some time and it’s usually a matter of installing data collectors in the data centre to get going. Again, since the provider is part of the ongoing team, its knowledge helps drive implementation quickly to data production and interpretation.

While risks are reduced in the cloud-delivered services model, benefits are also increased. The time to Return on Investment (ROI) is reduced by lower upfront costs and simpler implementations, while the size of ROI can be dramatically increased using the provider’s expertise in data interpretation and using its advice to drive continuous improvement.

In summary, cloud-delivered services represent an exciting alternative to traditional IT management tool purchases. At a time when IT shops need management tools more than ever, this refreshing approach reduces the need to keep scarce management tool expertise in house, provides a financially advantageous delivery model and ensures enterprises have a quality tool and an experienced practitioner in a single service.