Cloud IaaS feature sets and target buyers

As I noted previously, cloud IaaS is a lot more than just self-service VMs. As service providers strive to differentiate themselves from one another, they enter a software-development rat race centered around “what other features can we add to make our cloud more useful to customers”.

However, cloud IaaS providers today have to deal with two different constituencies — developers (developers are the face of business buyers) and IT Operations. These two groups have different priorities and needs, and sometimes even different use cases for the cloud.

IaaS providers may be inclined to cater heavily towards one group or the other, and selectively add features that are critical to the other group, in order to ease buying frictions. Others may decide to try to appeal to both — a strategy likely to be available only to those with a lot of engineering resources at their disposal. Over time (years), there will be convergence in the market, as all providers reach a certain degree of feature parity on the critical bits, and then differentiation will be on smaller bits of creeping featurism.

Take a feature like role-based access control (RBAC). For the needs of a typical business buyer — where the developers are running the show on a project basis — RBAC is mostly a matter of roles on the development team, likely in a fairly minimalistic way, but fine-grained security may be desired on API keys so that any script’s access to the API is strictly limited to just what that script needs to do. For IT Operations, though, RBAC needs tend to get blown out into full-fledged lab management — having to manage a large population of users (many of them individual developers) who need access to their own pools of infrastructure and who want to be segregated from one another.

Some providers like to think of the business buyer vs. IT Operations buyer split as a “new applications” vs. “legacy applications” split instead. I think there’s an element of truth to that, but it’s often articulated as “commodity components that you can self-assemble if you’re smart enough to know how to architect for the cloud” vs. “expensive enterprise-class gear providing a safe familiar environment”. This latter distinction will become less and less relevant as an increasing number of providers offer multi-tiered infrastructure at different price points within the same cloud. Similarly, the “new vs. legacy apps” distinction will fade with feature-set convergence — a broad-appeal cloud IaaS offering should be able to support either type of workload.

But the buying constituencies themselves will remain split. The business and IT will continue to have different priorities, despite the best efforts of IT to try to align itself closer to what the business needs.

Posted on December 2, 2011, in Infrastructure and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

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