Innovation, Technology, and Life in the Cloud

George Watt

There’s No Free Lunch at the Cloud Buffet!

Consumption styles can dramatically impact cloud benefits

What do cloud service consumption patterns have in common with the way people approach all-you-can-eat restaurant buffets? During a recent discussion of some of the challenges I faced as a cloud provider, it occurred to me there are more similarities than you might expect.

Let’s Eat!

When dining at buffet-style restaurants, I have observed a few common, though very different consumption styles. For example, some diners return from their initial visit to the buffet with a minimal amount of food on their plate; usually less than they know they will consume. This provides these “samplers” with the opportunity to determine what they like (“the most appropriate services” – OK “servings”), and gauge their hunger level (“capacity requirements”) prior to “committing” to a complete meal. Often these people behave the same way throughout subsequent visits to the buffet. Their meal usually ends with an empty plate.

Others will arrive at the table following their first visit with a heaped plate of food. This group of “beeliners” takes exactly what they will eat (or eats exactly what they take), and also usually ends their meal with an empty plate. Though sometimes they admit they had a larger portion of something they were not very fond of than they would have liked, and/or that they would have liked to have more of something they enjoyed. These consumers often complete their meal at around the same time as the first group; both having acquired more or less exactly what they required.

“Anything worth doing is worth overdoing.” – Mick Jagger

Another style of diner will demonstrate an amazing knowledge of physics and engineering and arrive with a work of modern architecture on their plate that would impress Frank Gehry. These “sculptors” will often remark that they know they have way more than they can eat, “but who cares, it’s not costing any more, right?” And this person will often leave a fairly substantial amount of food uneaten; sometimes leaving food from more than one trip. This can be exacerbated if the buffet is free. In fact a free buffet can result in a larger percentage of diners consuming in this style.

Cloud Imitates Life

We saw very similar styles of consumption by our cloud consumers. Cloud “samplers” took advantage of the cloud’s ability to rapidly provision to get started quickly, try new things and, in some cases, fail fast; and then committed to a strategy and scaled appropriately via the cloud’s elastic capabilities.

Cloud “beeliners” committed to a solution early. The cloud served these teams well in that it let them scale appropriately (either upward or downward in capacity) as the service matured, and it let them fail fast and commit to a new strategy when they needed to.

Cloud “sculptors” consumed resources carelessly, in some cases acquiring cloud resources “in case they needed them”, stuffing metaphoric dinner rolls in their pockets. Sometimes they forgot they had the resources (a phenomenon often referred to as a “zombie” server or service).

Keep in mind that even some “free” services start billing when capacity, usage, or time limits are exceeded. This equivalent of taking more than you need from the buffet is widespread and often only discovered when the Finance team receives a bill from a cloud provider. You can be sure your controller will be just as upset as the restaurateur whose food was wasted (though the restaurateur likely cannot influence your career as directly).

Think this isn’t an issue if you’re running your own private cloud? Wrong. It can be quite prevalent in private clouds when there is no form of chargeback or show-back in place. The bottom line is resources are consumed and no value is delivered to the business in return.

This phenomenon can result in a dramatic reduction in the benefits cloud services can bring to an organization, or even complete destruction of the cloud economics in the worst of cases. Thus, organizations must be intentional and take action to:

  • “Read the fine print” and understand the cost of private and public services
  • Educate employees and make them aware of these issues
  • Implement good governance and guidelines
  • Reward and recognize “good cloud citizens” and positive role models
  • Ensure awareness of your policy for acquisition of external cloud services
  • Establish good visibility into resource consumption so you can…
  • Ensure your resources are applied to initiatives that drive business value

These are just a few of the things that can be done in order to ensure your buffet remains viable. What are some of the other items you believe are keys to success? Do you know of other consumption styles? Please let us know via the comments area.

“Buffet” photo courtesy of stock.xchng.

This article is cross-posted at Cloud Storm Chasers.

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This site contains articles regarding entrepreneurship, innovation, and the practical aspects of deploying, providing, managing, and using cloud computing, and other technologies. I also share my thoughts and experiences related to consumer driven IT, social media, management issues, and about what some refer to as “soft skills”.

All works copyright 2009 – 2019 George Watt – All rights reserved.

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