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Solicitations for Cloud Computing Need to Reflect Cloud Reality


by James Townsend

For several years the information technology industry has been migrating from traditional on premises deployment of software in the data center to cloud computing hosted by industry leaders such as Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure.  Solicitations for new software often fail to reflect the reality of cloud computing.

Here are some of the ways that solicitations (also called tenders and requests for proposals) miss the mark:

  1. Asking for hardware requirements.  Cloud solutions do not require server hardware, but often the solicitation includes hardware questions and specifications. 
  2. Unrealistic availability goals. Availability of servers is usually stated in terms of the percentage of uptime. Some solicitations call for 99.999% uptime.  This amounts to a bit over 5 minutes downtime in a year.  The total availability of a system is calculated as the product of all the availability service level agreements (SLAs) of its constituent elements.  AWS and Microsoft offer different SLAs for their services, the most common of which are 99.95% uptime.  If your solution relies on three such services which are dependent on one another, the total uptime SLA would be 99.95 x 99.95 x 99.95 or 99.85%.  A higher availability may be achieved through additional levels of redundancy and failover, but at a significant cost that is not warranted for the majority of business systems. 
  3. Unrealistic performance goals. Some solicitations call for performance goals such as no function requiring more than x second to execute.  These are often overly broad and difficult to test or implement.  Some functions inherently require more time than a few seconds, such as reporting, integrations, and data exports.
  4. Traditional pricing models. One of the ways that cloud computing can save an organization money is that you are billed based on actual utilization of computing resources such as processing, network, and storage.  Your bill will be different from one month to the next depending on the actual load.  It may not be possible to predict the billing accurately, especially for a new system or one for which historical usage has not been tracked.  Similarly, cloud software is usually billed based on monthly subscriptions rather than perpetual licensing models.  
  5. Security procedures. Cloud providers are the world's leaders in security, and invest far more in protecting their assets than any of their customers.  While AWS and Microsoft meet and exceed industry certifications, some solicitations call for outdated processes which customers may be using for their data centers, or ask questions which only make sense for data center deployments. 
If your organization wants cloud computing, or is open to cloud or on premises solutions, you must adopt the language and approach of the cloud in your solicitations.  Performance and pricing goals should be flexible and open enough to allow a cloud bid.  Otherwise it will be difficult to evaluate proposals and you may end stuck with your status quo solution and architecture. 

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