Selling the Infrastructure Cloud

The wave of infrastructure conferences in late June, including Structure, made me realize that we are settling in to cloud deployment models. Public, private, virtualized, you name it, there’s a degree of consensus as to how this will play out on the infrastructure side.

But now cloud computing vendors need to go from selling ideas to selling products and services, and that means end users will be need to spend significant amounts of money beyond experiments with a handful of machine images. However, the sales models to get cloud computing spending up significantly are far from fully understood.

In the spirit of seeing more cloud computing services introduced and consumed, I’ll offer a few propositions for selling the cloud. This includes vendors looking to reach a broader customer base, and cloud consumers aiming to adopt more services within their organization.

For cloud computing vendors:

Ensure a seamless and human-free process to try your service. The frictionless sales cycle is often synonymous with cloud computing. Allow customers to go from website visit to trial to initial adoption without having to play email or phone tag with a sales representative. This increases your product footprint and builds a coalition of early adopters.

Don’t expect that a self-service trial process alone leads to sales. While a free trial might help satisfy customer curiosity and get a single user onboard, it isn’t likely to lead to the kind of large-scale recurring revenue that businesses need to sustain themselves. The trials build the database of leads, and filter serious from experimental users, but any sizable infrastructure decision is a group process, and that requires more from the company hoping to make the sale.

Embrace the channel. As Derrick Harris noted in “Why Everyone Wins When Cloud Computing Meets the Channel”, the match seems to work for all parties. “Resellers get in on a hot market without making huge investments, cloud providers increase the visibility and attractiveness of their offerings, and end users get cheaper IT without having to learn the intricacies of developing or managing applications to run in the cloud.”

For cloud customers:

Pick applications and workloads with few dependencies. These are the most cloud capable options because there are fewer people involved and fewer touch points within a company … hence quicker decision making and more flexibility. Backups are often a great way to test cloud offerings because they can be run and tested in parallel with existing processes and do not directly impact end-user experiences.

Build quick and compelling use cases. Showcase small wins that help get colleagues on board with cloud offerings. Outline the time and money saved by adopting new processes versus the old. Use anecdotes people will remember in addition to dollars saved. Projects that commission, use and decommission a set of cloud server instances for a one-time process are a great use case that trounce the alternative of physical provisioning. Similarly, moving snapshots of storage volumes to the cloud combines off-site backup with zero upfront capital expenses — hard to achieve in the non-cloud world.

Show that cloud choices are part of an ecosystem. When choosing a cloud service and promoting it within your company, be sure to have examples of other cloud providers who offer a similar service. This emphasizes category momentum and helps skeptics get over concerns about single sourcing. This does not remove the stickiness, or potential lock-in, of going with a single vendor, but it does alleviate some of the apprehension.

Cloud computing is no longer an idea, but is a reality that companies are using today. Now it is time for vendors to make the technology more consumable, and for consumers to adopt cloud services in more parts of their organization.