Cloud concerns – tie-in

One of the major attractions of the Cloud for vendors is that it ties in customers, providing a reasonably consistent revenue stream. It is an effective anti-competitive strategy. There are various technical and other methods that can be used to ensure that it’s difficult or even impossible for customers to jump ship. While that’s all very nice for vendors, it’s not such a wonderful thing for customers.

Let’s say you’re a CAD Manager who persuades your company to use a great new SaaS service and Cloud storage. Let’s assume it performs well, is secure, has 100% uptime and offers functionality that is not available with standalone software. Your company is pleased with all this and uses it increasingly over several years, eventually moving completely into the Cloud. A good news story, right?

Well, maybe. There are a few things that could go wrong. Very wrong. Wrong enough to get you fired. Most of these things have multiple precedents, some of them quite recent. They are realistic concerns and it’s not really plausible for anyone with any knowledge of the past to argue that they won’t happen in the future. I have grouped these concerns into five categories:

  1. Impermanence. The vendor stops providing the service. There are many possible reasons for this happening. Computing is full of product failures and withdrawals. Autodesk alone has such a long history of dead products and orphaned customers, that it would be a major undertaking just to document them all. If the product’s not making money, it’s unlikely to have a future. The vendor itself could go down the tubes. Computing history is littered with the corpses of once-dominant companies. Because there is a chain of dependencies in a typical Cloud solution, there are several potential points of corporate failure. Maybe Autodesk doesn’t go down, but Amazon does, or Citrix. One day, your software just isn’t there any more. What now?
  2. Price ramping. Once you and enough of your fellow customers are tied in, there is nothing to prevent the vendor from racking up the prices. Autodesk has already done this kind of thing with upgrade pricing and Subscription, so it’s not as if it’s an unlikely scenario. If the boil-a-frog-slowly approach is used and you’re the frog being boiled, you’re better off not being tied down when you decide it’s time to get out of the water.
  3. Unwelcome terms and conditions. The terms and conditions under which you operate are often in the Cloud themselves and can be changed by the vendor without you having any say in the matter. What if one day your company lawyer spots a clause has been added that is totally outrageous (even more than normal, I mean) and there is no way your company can possibly continue to operate under those conditions? Good luck trying to negotiate your way out of that one from a position of weakness.
  4. Unwelcome technical changes. I intend to cover the issue of as-you-go upgrades more fully later, but let’s say the vendor introduces a new feature that seriously impacts your ability to use the software productively. No off switch is provided. Sound familiar? It happens to standalone software. It will happen to your SaaS choice, too.
  5. Ignoreware. Your once-fashionable product stops being The New Black. The vendor decides to concentrate its resources in other areas to attract new customers rather than the ones it has already tied up. While your SaaS product continues to be provided, it is put into maintenance mode and nothing useful is added to it. As the rest of the computing world moves on, your SaaS product does not. Holes start to appear that make your life difficult or impossible. Again, Autodesk history is replete with examples of this kind of thing.

If you’re using standalone software and any of the above occurs, it’s probably a pretty big deal, but you can work around it in the short term by simply continuing to use the product that works. You can keep doing this into the medium term, perhaps for several years. Sure, if Autodesk goes down you’ll find that you can no longer authorise new installations or transfer software from one computer to another. But you’ll have some breathing space. You’ll still have all your data, bang up to date. You’ll be able to continue working productively while you look around for an alternative.

If you’ve deeply committed your company to a Cloud solution and the SaaS hits the fan, it’s more than a big deal. It’s a disaster. It could kill your company. It could kill your career. As a computer once asked me, “Do you really want to do this?”

4 comments to Cloud concerns – tie-in

  • Dave Ault

    Corporate lack of ethics plays a very big part in this. The premise of cloud computing is lockin and steady if not increasing cash flow by eliminating customer choices for all the reasons you have stated. The idea that companies who do this to improve their bottom line without at the same time giving users ironclad guarantees as to service, longevity, costs and security backed by making users whole for damages proves there is no good will towards users. It is all about using the latest set of marketing buzz words to promote an MBA CPA’s dream of forced cash flow and data hostages. Remember these are the same companies that do their best to make translations between various flavors of cad difficult at best in order to make the bother of changing to new and better to difficult. So the cloud will make them benevolent and considering of their users for the first time?

    The devil is in the details and anyone who ventures past an autonmous install of a cad program on their own PC or LAN does so with considerable future loss of cost containment, security and confidentiality of intellectual property. These cloud promoting companies know this and thats why there are no ironclad guarantees. When deceit is at the heart of this and these companies knowingly present EULA’s this way how can a responsible company even consider placing themselves in jeapordy by buying into this?

    There are plenty of people who use older versions of software they have permanent seats of and do just fine in business as it is all they need. The cloud would destroy this and many other choices cad users make and place all the marbles in the hands of unethical known liars. Sorry, but when you act like these cloud proponents do this is the best label I can give them judging them by their actions and not their empty promises.

  • ralphg

    Well, one good thing about running software on the cloud. It obviates the need for Windows and OS X on desktop computers, and so all those computers can now run Linux.

  • I’m gonna start my own standalone Clown-Based service. Every time one of my subscribers clicks on the Bozo icon a transaction fee of 0.2040816326530612¢ is transferred into my French West Indies based coffers. I could automate the Clown to prevent repetitive stress on the clicker, but that would be wrong.

    In return, my clients will be thrilled with the knowledge that since I don’t host their files, provide software, or upgrades, or service packs, or any services at all – they’ll lose nothing except that measly fifth of a cent. As often as they like.

    No price changes, no down-time, no terms, no conditions, no empty promises, no (secondary) thieving, and no nagging about a missed or late payment.

    The Clown is all about the users. Instant response at any hour, anywhere in the known universe.

    “Click the Clown” and we all win.

  • R. Paul Waddington

    Fencing with words: Great outline Steve.

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