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playdohThis sponsored post is produced by Pete Johnson, Senior Director of Cloud Platform Evangelism at ProfitBricks

We were told cloud was flexible, like sculpting with Play-Doh, but lately it’s been becoming more and more rigid, like trying to sculpt with Legos.

She’s 11 years old now, but when my daughter was very little, she liked to sculpt things out of Play-Doh.  Dogs, princesses, castles — the kinds of things little girls are interested in.  I loved Legos when I was that age, but no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t get her into them.

After a while, I finally realized my daughter liked Play-Doh because you can make curves.  You can change surface texture.  If you have blue and yellow, you can make green.  It’s flexible.  It changes to fit your needs.


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With Legos, the pieces are always the shape you are given and they are usually rectangles that only fit together at straight angles.  You can’t make green out of blue and yellow since a blue 2×4 piece is always a blue 2×4 piece.  The bricks are rigid and don’t change into what you need them to be.

Cloud services are becoming more and more like Legos and less like the Play-Doh we were promised.

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), for example, is supposed to be attractive because it offers hourly billing that allows businesses to better match usage when compared to alternatives like managed services, which historically bill out per month or per year.  Sometime in the last 6 years, you’ve probably seen the very convincing graph below to demonstrate this principle:


But if this is true true, why do most IaaS providers offer their best prices with something called “reserved instances,” which means you lock in a price with a 1-3 year contract?  Incidentally, if you read the fine print you will learn that you pay for this instance whether you use it or not.

How is that any different than the managed hosting we had before?

Software as a Service (SaaS) vendors have increasingly done the same thing.  Many of them only offer quarterly or annual contracts for blocks of 25 users, which isn’t exactly matching demand, is it?  When you have 17 employees using a marketing SaaS product, you want to pay for 17 employees using the marketing SaaS product and when you have 26 employees you don’t want to pay for 50.

The IaaS products themselves haven’t, for the most part, improved to give us better flexibility either.  On the chance that you have a memory intensive application and  want a server with 1 CPU but 8 GB RAM, you are out of luck.  1 CPU and 1 GB RAM or 4 CPU and 8 GB RAM are your choices, take them or leave them.

So what can you do about it?  Demand more flexibility.  The promise of the cloud is to match your cost with your usage.  Remind your vendors of that — ultimately with your spend — and reward those that give you the flexibility you deserve.  Otherwise, cloud runs the risk of turning back into managed services.  And who wants that?

Pete is a 20-year IT veteran with a passion for utilizing cloud to solve complex problems flexibly.  @nerdguru on Twitter, he is active in social media, trade shows, and meet ups nationwide. 

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