Why a Cloud Trade Organization is a Good Idea (If Done Right)

Cloud computing is the most important thing going in information technology. If you don’t believe me, ask Gartner. This week, the analyst firm named cloud computing the top strategic technology for 2010. But if cloud computing is so important, why do surveys show so few companies looking to take advantage of it, especially in the short term? The problem might lie in misinformation, and the answer might lie in a cloud computing trade organization.

This idea has been proposed before, most vocally by Enomaly CEO Reuven Cohen, and most recently in response to the formation of European organization EuroCloud. In North America, such an organization might be best suited to answer criticisms (legitimate or unfounded) on an industry-wide level and to promote cloud and SaaS best practices. For newbie cloud customers, as an example, a trade organization could serve as a centralized information source of how to leverage the cloud before those customers decide with whom to leverage the cloud.

Case in Point: SaaS Reality Check

SaaS, actually, is a particularly interesting case study in the need for information. The Avanade survey mentioned above shows U.S. SaaS adoption at an incredible 62 percent (as opposed to 10 percent for cloud computing), with most of those respondents running more than one application as a service and looking to increase uptake in the next year.

However, if one believes Rob DeSisto’s presentation at this week’s Gartner Symposium/ITxpo, these eager SaaS users might be blissfully ignorant about what they’re in for. If they haven’t done their homework, they could be missing out on a lot of the cost and resource efficiencies possible — and may well be staring down some real operational problems down the line.

In theory, a trade organization could provide SaaS-seeking customers free advice on how to avoid any potential problems, without forcing customers to either pay an analyst firm, wait for these pearls of wisdom to emerge from annual conferences or rely on vendors with, let’s just say, less-than-altruistic motives. If Mr. DeSisto’s presentation is questionably accurate, a trade organization could publicly rebut his contentions with its own vendor-agnostic information and advice.

Two Questions that Must Be Answered

However, while it’s easy enough to point out areas where a trade organization could contribute to the cloud discussion, other issues are might prove more difficult to address. There are two questions, in particular, that need to be answered before any organization could get off the ground and actually be taken seriously by customers:

1. To what degree should a trade organization focus on customers’ best interests instead of providers’ best interests? Cloud computing has been presented as a customer-centric solution, in terms of overcoming both operational inefficiencies and inflexible licensing models. Should a trade organization, then, consider adopting Ray Wang’s new SaaS Bill of Rights and/or a previously proposed cloud computing Bill of Rights? Nobody’s expecting altruism, but an organization too focused on vendors’ best interests might lead to the conclusion that the new guard is the same as the old guard.

2. What is the proper balance between competition and unity? Competition-wise, a line would need to be drawn between promoting healthy competition among providers and promoting cloud computing as a whole. For example, HP CEO Mark Hurd this week insinuated that cloud computing is terribly unsecure except, of course, for HP’s service offerings. A cloud trade organization would have to define boundaries that permit competition among providers while reining in comments that make customers question the greater cloud computing paradigm. Would comments like Mr. Hurd’s be acceptable? If not, what’s the penalty?

It’s anybody’s guess whether such an organization actually will materialize outside the already-thriving standards space. Cloud and SaaS providers need to consider the future of their industry and the degree to which presenting a unified front could affect it.  But if cloud computing is going to live up to its hype, getting everyone moving in the same direction publicly, even if not necessarily in a straight line, can’t hurt.

Question of the week

How, if at all, would the cloud-computing industry benefit from a trade organization?
Relevant analyst in SaaS
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