Channel Watch

Trust in the Cloud

Partners inevitably put their credibility on the line when cloud offerings go offline.

As the industry drifts inexorably toward its cloud future, high-profile outages provide occasional reminders of the fragility of all this interconnectedness.

The year 2009 was full of major Internet- and network-service flameouts. Microsoft Hotmail had problems in August, and the Microsoft Bing search engine went down briefly in December. Gmail and other Google cloud applications were down in May. A lightning strike brought down the Amazon EC2 cloud platform in June, and a botnet and power failure in the same week in December brought the service down twice. BlackBerry users demanded refunds after a pair of major interruptions in December. Twitter users found their thumbs idled when the service went offline in August and again in October.

This is far from an exhaustive list of outages for 2009, and 2010 is sure to bring many, many more. It's also no reason to avoid the cloud. The utility of the cloud is too great, and the public and business appetite too large, for outages that represent less than an occasional annoyance to dissuade users from building connected services into their personal and work lives.

But, of course, if you represent vendors' cloud offerings to the customers who trust you, it's your credibility that's on the line when the systems go offline. You already know it's your responsibility to prepare your customers for the possibility of outages and create what contingency plans you can. That's easy enough with high-profile vendors like Microsoft, Amazon and Google.

But more and more often, smaller vendors are looking to you to sell their cloud offerings to the customers who trust you. And your credibility is more comingled with the vendor's when it's an obscure outfit that the customer never would have tried without your word.

How do you know if a vendor's cloud offering is going to make you look responsible and competent in an outage or trash your reputation? There's almost no way to tell without going through an outage (and any vendor that tells you their offering doesn't go down is blowing smoke).

To me, what matters is a vendor's attitude when you ask about outages as you're considering representing their services. A good cloud partner should be prepared to go into detail about outages they've had -- how long they lasted, how they communicated with their partners and customers, how their technical team responded, what the root cause was, what policies they changed after each event and what they did to make things right with customers.

As with so many things in the channel, it all comes down to trust. The more honest a cloud vendor is with you about past failings, the more likely it is that future failings -- and they will happen -- will be manageable, not catastrophic, for your customer relationships.

Tell me how you come to trust the vendors and partners you work with. I'm at sbekker@rcpmag.com.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.