Businesses may be ready for cloud - but the lack of transparency is limiting how useful it is to them

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By Dante Orsini, SVP iland.

Despite common perceptions, cutting costs isn't the primary reason businesses are choosing cloud these days. The other major advantages are the agility and scalability cloud brings, enabling organisations to quickly respond to business demand. The combination of benefits is driving both IT and lines of business to rely on cloud to serve as a foundation for innovation and enablement.

But the advantages of cloud cannot be fully harnessed if transparency into the environments is compromised. Clouds that limit visibility result in significant operational and financial issues, including performance problems or outages, challenges reporting to management, and unexpected bills. In fact, challenges with transparency restrict 63% of organizations from growing their cloud usage. That's according to a recent global survey conducted by Forrester Consulting that we commissioned. The survey sought insights from 275 IT executives and decision makers who are experienced cloud customers.

When it comes to data about cloud environments, what are organisations looking for from their providers? Clearly security and compliance information is important. Worryingly, 39% of those surveyed said they lacked security data and 47% said they lacked compliance data. Not surprisingly, the majority said they needed on-demand access to necessary reports to make compliance and audit processes easier.

That said, on-demand reporting technology only goes so far, and many respondents wanted suggestions and/or support from experts on staff at the cloud provider. In light of evolving security risks and corporate compliance concerns – especially as lines of business adopt cloud without IT involvement – cloud providers need to simplify the process for ensuring advanced security and compliance in the cloud, not get in the way.

Beyond security and compliance, performance information, historical information and clear details about costs and upcoming bills are also key. Without this, businesses find it hard to plan for or meet the needs of their end users. It also makes it extremely difficult to budget properly.

Just like with their own servers, organisations need to understand the performance of a cloud service to get the most from it, whether that means making sure resources are running properly, anticipating potential issues or preventing wasteful "zombie virtual machines." Due to a lack of transparency from their cloud providers, more than a third of the respondents in the survey ended up with bills they hadn't expected and 39% found they were paying for resources they weren't actually using.

Cloud customers can use data to make better purchasing decisions. Clear information from a cloud provider will help companies discover where they need more resources, or even where they can regain capacity and maximise their spend.

Once again though, beyond the on-demand data, customers require solid support to ensure they are getting what they need from cloud. In the survey, 60% of respondents said that problems with support were restricting their plans to increase their usage of cloud. Issues like slow response times, lack of human support, lack of expertise of the support personnel and higher-than-expected support costs started with the onboarding process and only continued. Aside from preventing customers from reaping the benefits of cloud, these issues leave businesses feeling that they're seen more as a source of revenue than as a valued cloud customer.

When it comes down to it, cloud customers should not settle for cloud services that limit visibility into the cloud environments. Compromises in transparency mean sacrifices to very agility, scalability and cost benefits that drive organisations to cloud in the first place. And beyond transparency, customers should not underestimate the human element of cloud. A cloud provider's customer support plays a huge role in speeding return on cloud investment, and ultimately, in determining success and failure of a cloud initiative.

As the Forrester study states, "Whether you are a first-time cloud user or looking to grow your cloud portfolio, our research shows that your chances of success are greater with a trusted cloud provider at your side — one that gives you the technology and experts to solve your challenges."

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