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Cloud computing is one of the most innovative technologies of our time. The growth of Cloud Connect is testimonial to this phenomenon and I’m looking forward to my speaking engagement there at the Cloud Performance Summit.

The cloud model offers many benefits including access to new applications, on-demand resources and lower costs. These are valuable to all users. Yet, most of the discussions are centered on the technical underpinnings such as auto-scaling, load balancing, virtualization, APIs and firewalls that only IT users understand. This is surprising because Gartner research[i] shows that on an average only 6 percent of employees are IT users. For the cloud model to deliver its full potential, businesses should focus on the needs of other 94% of users – the functional users.

In other words, the cloud has to become usable for functional users. Let’s discuss what’s required to make that happen.

Who are functional users and how does the cloud model impact them?

Functional users in any business are end-users like you and me. They are professionals that work with customers to create products and services, and modify them to match changing business conditions. They include consultants, sales engineers, business analysts, application developers, test engineers and training managers.

A cloud model brings new levels of productivity for these users:

· Developers can create multiple parallel work streams without resource constraints

· Test engineers can run functional, performance and load tests simultaneously

· Sales engineers can engage prospects with compelling demos without lugging laptops around

· Training managers can avoid travel, teach remote students and provide hands-on learning

In our work with hundreds of customers at Skytap, we have learned that for a cloud solution to be effective, it needs to meet a few “must have” requirements.

What are the key usability and control requirements for the cloud?

1. No application rewrites – Users want their existing applications to leverage the cloud model but do not want to wait for IT to rewrite them to fit the cloud.

2. No delays – Users want current purchasing, set-up and configuration delays to vanish. They love the central tenet of the cloud model – the cloud is ready to go when you are.

3. On-demand scalability – Users like the idea of scaling up and down based on business conditions. Users no longer buy into the idea of “let’s build it big and hope we use it all”.

4. Pay as you go - Gone are days of big upfront capital expenses. In general, users want to consume IT resources just as they do cell phone, cable and electricity. Pay for usage is surely becoming the most prevalent model for the future.

5. Visibility and control – Usability needs to be matched with the reality of running a business. Cloud leaders need visibility and control to manage the cloud usage without impacting user adoption.

Tips for selecting the right cloud solution

Selecting a cloud solution that balances usability and cloud management features is the key to success. The cloud model allows users to test drive a solution to assure that their specific needs are met. During the ‘test drive,’ users should ask (and get convincing answers for) the following:

Self-service solution – Are functional users empowered to create, manage and run their own cloud instances? How much training is required to get started?

Scalability – Does the cloud solution scale up and down easily? Can users export and scale existing environments?

Projects, Groups and Roles – Is the solution compatible for users to work in groups? Can users organize their cloud resources by project, manage user groups and limit access by role?

Publish and collaborate – Is it easy for users to invite other team members and collaborate? Can they granularly control member access?

Audit, reporting and chargebacks – Does the solution provide complete visibility into cloud operations? Can you align cloud usage to business outcomes and accurately allocate costs (chargeback) if necessary?

By asking and answering these questions, cloud users can be sure the solution meets the usability needs of functional users, and at the same time, is aligned with business goals. With the right solution, the cloud can deliver the tremendous IT agility, business productivity and user satisfaction to any business.


[i] Gartner – IT Metrics: IT Spending and Staffing Report, 2011

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