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Why cloud complaints are causing contract churn

Posted on 31 May 2011 at 14:47

Forget the propaganda being peddled by the "experts", cloud computing isn't ready to take over the world just yet, argues Steve Cassidy

Spending too much time around pundits is a potentially toxic activity that requires an antidote, which is something I learned at a recent conference.

Sit at round-table discussions and seminars among the cloud fraternity for long enough and you’ll end up believing that moving email into the cloud is a “done deal” that requires no further discussion.

One of the liveliest presentations at the Parallels Summit, a retreat for cloud and hosting wonks, reworked an old but widely accepted metaphor about electricity generation – cloud computing is seen as conveying the same economic and business benefits that the switch from DC to AC electricity supply provided at the end of the 19th century (although, to be fair, they did actually admit that the last DC power supply in the USA wasn’t turned off until 2007).

Sit at cloud seminars long enough and you’ll end up believing that moving email into the cloud is a “done deal” that requires no further discussion

The antidote I needed to all this mega-propaganda on the subject of cloud email was waiting for me on the way home on the Gatwick Express, the minute I plugged in my mobile 3G dongle.

Two separate clients of mine were having painful, show-stopping problems with their new-fangled, allegedly “cloud-based” email systems.

Born churner

Of these two problem scenarios waiting in my inbox, one was rather more genuinely cloud-orientated than the other, and is therefore simpler to understand and dismiss.

It falls under the general heading of “churn” – a topic that had most exercised (or amused) participants at this hosting provider round-table session at the Parallels Summit, Orlando, which I attended back in February.

Hosting providers will always experience some degree of churn, a concept you can apply to any portfolio of customers – namely, that percentage of your customers who will go away each year through no fault of your own.

The round-table group – who seemed, to me, to be a pretty hands-on bunch, included heavy hitters from Intuit, AT&T and Open-Xchange – agreed that churn was just one of those things you had to live with.

It certainly could arise from shortcomings in your customer support, or it could just be that some people are “born churners”. That would appear to be an apt description for the first of my troubled clients, who has gone through three different Managed Exchange providers in 18 months, which is pretty scary.

Any reason to move

Although it might be refreshing to see real-world evidence of the portability of cloud data in a small business, it’s equally worrying to witness that nitpicking consumers can always find some reason to move, accepting all the interruptions in service and loss of continuity in customer contact (to their customers, that is, not the customers of the managed service) that entails.

The email I received from them was typically huffy, starting from “it’s just not good enough” and following it up with the now traditional sop that “you may have been right, that Managed Exchange is not for us”.

They say this every time there’s the slightest outage at their managed provider, and it’s difficult to figure out exactly who that provider is, since all too often there’s no real relationship between the guy who sold them the service and the company that runs the rack of VMs that contain their Exchange data.

What’s worse, none of their providers has ever yet proposed a method of administering a mere slap on the wrist, so their only recourse is to cancel the contract completely.

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User comments

I think some sort of incentive to continue to provide a service has to exist in commercial hosting. An end of year payment seems like a good idea.

There's so little stopping hosts just deciding to cut off the service after they've taken the fee.

By steviesteveo12 on 7 Jun 2011

What all of this has to do with the moniker?

In the context of the Exchange, most of the time "Cloud" is just a moniker for [good|bad] old hosted Exchange service.

PS: Have you thought of moving your customers to Google Apps?

By dbjdbj on 9 Jun 2011

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Steve Cassidy

Steve Cassidy

Steve is a networks expert and a contributing editor to PC Pro for more years than he cares to remember. He mixes network technologies, particularly wide-area communications and thin-client computing, with human resources consultancy.

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