Bad apples threaten small-business cloud adoption

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Cloud providers often trade transparency for simplicity -- perhaps at the ultimate cost of their customers' trust

If you ask 10 people charged with IT at a small business to name their primary concern about going to the cloud, you're bound to find a lack of trust is dominant. After all, it's difficult for smaller organizations without great depth in IT to trust what they cannot see. At the same time, this group also wants IT to be simple, uncomplicated, and ideally, not their problem any more.

That dichotomy leads to an interesting challenge for cloud service providers trying to market to this growing segment. From what I've seen, most providers tend to lean toward simplifying their pitch and hiding as much of the complexity in cloud services as possible. The fewer questions you open up, the easier it is to sell.

However, there's one enormous drawback of this approach: The customers aren't forced to develop basic fluency with the services they're using -- and it's all too easy for your clients to develop inaccurate expectations around performance and reliability. Worse, an uninformed customer is unlikely to be able to separate the well-run cloud services from the fly-by-night operators common in any emerging market.

An understandable reaction might be to suggest that customers not fluent with cloud services should stick to the big, known providers who (one hopes) won't rip them off or lead them astray. However, these smaller businesses are precisely the organizations the big providers -- Amazon Web Services, for example -- aren't well-suited for. Amazon and its peers simply expose too much technical complexity. Typically, smaller providers that either act as a front end for larger clouds or run their own can provide the care and feeding needed by smaller businesses, especially those with limited or no IT staff.

Sadly, it takes just a few of these providers to give the cloud a bad name and ruin it for everyone. Whether due to financial instability, inexperience, or actual malfeasance, a small number of cloud hosting companies are the source of a large share of the horror stories you hear passed around. I recently had an opportunity to see how much trouble an undereducated, overtrusting customer can get into when lined up with an incompetent service provider.

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