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Turn 'server huggers' onto cloud adoption: Be a partner, not a seller

IT managers like control, and this proclivity is a barrier to cloud adoption. Overcome this barrier by showing customers how outsourcing servers can, in fact, be empowering.

IT managers like a fiefdom to control, and this proclivity is a barrier to cloud adoption. Cloud providers should recognize and overcome this barrier by showing that outsourcing servers doesn't disenfranchise IT managers; on the contrary, it empowers them. This approach enables cloud providers to become strategic partners, rather than easily-replaceable purveyors of commodity cloud services.

"IT likes to maintain control over infrastructure and have something to see and touch, and to feel like they are in command of it even though they are not," said Jeff Kaplan, founder and managing director of cloud consulting company THINKstrategies.

Unfortunately, unlike many aspects of cloud services, building and maintaining trust cannot be automated; it requires humans.

The fear of losing control to the cloud can turn IT managers into diehard "server huggers" who resist cloud adoption, Kaplan said. Server huggers -- the techie version of "tree huggers," the term for staunch environmentalists -- are afraid to let their servers (or their jobs) be outsourced to the cloud.

"Too often, cloud service providers do not address those personal concerns," he said. "They want to convince IT that their cloud services have speeds and feeds to match what they have on premises. That's the easy part, [but] they need to do more to put those anxieties to bed."

What can you, as a cloud provider, do to loosen an IT manager's grip on physical servers to encourage cloud adoption? And how can you allay IT professionals' fears that his or her status will diminish without a tangible empire to oversee? The key is to become a trusted partner -- not just a purveyor of technology -- and help IT managers recognize the opportunity to focus on more strategically important work rather than the tactical minutia involved in managing boxes.

Building a reservoir of trust to encourage a reluctant IT manager to willingly relinquish hands-on control of IT infrastructure requires a personal touch. Cloud providers must gain that trust through long-term relationships, personal contact and continuous support, according to Patrick Baillie, CEO and co-founder of Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) provider CloudSigma.

"Our clients are not on their own," Baillie said. "We help them plan their migrations, advise them about how to deploy to the cloud and advise them on best practices [for cloud adoption]. For more complicated deployments, we provide staff and resources to help clients understand the issues and benefits of migrating to the cloud."

Want to up cloud adoption? Report on performance metrics

Unfortunately, unlike many aspects of cloud services, building and maintaining trust cannot be automated; it requires humans. It also involves implementing processes to ensure that the performance of a given cloud service meets the needs of each client's business.

Many IaaS providers measure cloud performance by monitoring and reporting CPU usage and uptime, but Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Software as a Service (SaaS) providers can provide customers with many more performance metrics. Sharing this data will deepen a customer's trust in the service provider's ability to deliver the performance the enterprise needs -- and ultimately improve the likelihood of increased cloud adoption.

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Rather than posing a threat to an IT manager's role, cloud providers will be well served if they convince IT managers that outsourcing servers to a cloud provider can free them from managerial minutia and elevate them to a more strategic position within their organizations.

"Our fanatical support does not replace your IT team, but [it] frees you up to do more valuable work," said Josh Odom, director of product and software engineering at Rackspace. "IT teams are very stretched, and if we can take on the burden to manage the infrastructure, that is a great partnership. We think that offering an exceptional business experience lowers fear of the unknown when you have another company manage your IT needs."

The ability to port applications from one cloud provider to another also is important to alleviate concerns about service provider lock-in, Odem said. Rackspace addresses this by using open application programming interfaces (APIs) built using OpenStack.

Improve cloud adoption by sharing analytics

But simply painting a pretty picture of a better tomorrow will not make skeptical IT managers comfortable enough to let physical servers slip from their clutches. THINKstrategies' Kaplan proposed that the best way for cloud providers to encourage cloud adoption and put IT managers' fears to bed is to facilitate peer interaction. Trust is fostered when customers share their experiences -- assuming, of course, that the experiences are positive.

Cloud providers may also add value to their role by actively encouraging customers to share best practices and IT performance benchmarks with each other, Kaplan said.

"Almost every IT performance metric and classic benchmark statistic should be gathered and made available across communities of IT users," he said. "Good cloud [providers] are capturing user data continuously, which provides a treasure trove of unprecedented analytics insights. This data can be sliced, diced, and published in a way that benefits users and does not violate [privacy] rules."

Rebecca Wetzel is a principal with NetForecast and also is president of the marketing consulting firm, Wetzel Consulting LLC. She provides data communications industry insight and helps vendors and service providers develop successful marketing strategies.

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