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Cloud = Speed, or, How to do cloud marketing

I’ve sat through, probably, 100’s of presentations, talks, papers, and marketing on cloud at this point: it’s been several years now. There’s a huge variety in the marketing messages, pitches, and explanations for what cloud computing is and why you, dear CIO (or are you?), should spend time and money on us for your Cloud Experience.

After all this time I’ve come up with a theory for cloud marketing: cloud is speed. Everything else supports that simple, clear message, and anything else is distraction and marketing-bloat.

Pardon me as I get hyperbolic to explore the theory here – I explicitly call it a “theory” because I don’t think it’s 100% solid and it definitely doesn’t apply across the board…but let’s pretend for awhile that it does.

Cloud marketing tactics

If you accept the theory that cloud is speed (which we’ll explore below), that means several things for your cloud marketing:

  • You start by telling your audience that once they start using cloud, they’ll be able to do apply IT to business (make money, more than likely) faster.
  • That speed means not only that you can pursue opportunities (another word for “money”) faster, but that you can fail faster and thus, “fail towards success” (or “iterate”). If failure is “cheap,” you can use it as a way to learn what success is.
  • The point of doing all this cloud stuff is to make things faster: if we can’t prove to you (with past case studies and projected mumbo-jumbo) that our technology makes your IT service/software delivery faster, we’re doing the wrong marketing.
  • You have to build enough trust to have the audience ask for more – you’ve got the gain the benefit of the doubt for a very doubtful message. More than likely, no one is going to believe you: every wave of IT has promised to make things more “agile,” cheaper, and faster. If it worked, why are we here with all this opportunity to speed things up? (Never mind Jevon’s Paradox for now.)

Of course, if you’re of the “every great argument needs an enemy” mindset, that implies another straw-man you need to depict.

The problem with IT is that it’s slow

In order to buy more IT, you must connivence people there’s a problem, and that it can be solved with what you have to sell. Here, the problem is that traditional IT – “legacy” if you want to be aggressive – is slow by nature. There’s nothing you can do to fix it by addressing the symptoms, you have to change the core sickness. To put it another way, “cloud dusting” won’t work: you’ll end up with the same boat-anchor of IT with just a different management layer on-top.

This is a point Randy Bias makes relentlessly, and rightfully so. Him and the CloudScalling folks have been wiggling-up a more nuanced, pragmatic argument that exposes the costs of the “legacy cloud” vs. the (my words) “real cloud” that’s worth checking out.

Again, racing to the simple message: cloud is speed. How fast does it take to deploy a new release, IT service, and patch, provision a new box, and so on with your “traditional” setup? How fast does cloud allow you to do it? If a marketer doesn’t immediately prove that cloud is not just faster, but dramatically faster, the whole thing is off.

You want something like this chart from Puppet Labs:

Once you speed up IT, you make more money

Slow IT means the business has to move slower, both missing out on opportunities in hand and missing out on the option to spend time developing new opportunities. If I, as a business, can try out a bunch of different little things quickly and cheaply (see below), I’m not “trapped” in my current shakles of success: “that new idea is all fine and well, but do you have any idea how long it’d take to build it up to even try it out? It takes 4 weeks and $100,000 just to keep them to add a new field to our order form!”

We’ve used the term “business/IT alignment” in this industry a lot over the past few decades. It sounds awesome, and powerful, and like big bonuses: the CEO actually depends on me to help make money…and it works! Business/IT alignment has meant many things when it comes down to the details. Here, it means one thing: speed. By using cloud (the marketing message goes), we can actually respond fast enough to be valuable to the business.

Does this hold water? A survey from Appirio last Fall seems to answer “yes,” at least, you know, among the people who answered:

Have these expectations been realized in actual results? Cloud adopters report that they have. More than 80% of companies that have adopted cloud applications and platforms say that they are now able to respond faster to the business and achieve business objectives. They’ve also found these solutions easier to deploy and cheaper to maintain. The cloud has helped change IT’s role in the business—70% of adopters say that IT is now seen as a business enabler and 77% say that cloud solutions have changed the way they run their business.

(What’s novel about the Appirio survey is that they asked people who’ve already been using cloud stuff, not just what people are “planning” on doing, which most cloud surveys ask – it’s worth submitting yourself to Appirio lead-gen funnel to get the PDF.)

What about cost?

EC2 means anyone with a $10 bill can rent a 10-machine cluster with 1TB of distributed storage for 8 hours. @mrflip

Costs are a type of friction that slows things down. Having lower costs is table stakes, and if your cloud offering isn’t at least affordable, it’s going to take longer to catch on. Once something is cheap, I can do more of it, more frequently, meaning I can try out more things, explore more options, and – yup – move faster.

If I can spin up a super computer in hours rather than months (or minutes!) for thousands rather than millions, I can achieve a huge amount of speed because I can do more, at lower cost, more frequently. Lowering costs for the sake of lowering costs is only valuable for IT when there’s nothing new gained with the new technology. “Commoditized” IT is what fits here: x86 boxes, email without Enterprise 2.0 bells and whistles, backup software. As a counter example, notice how Apple is able to build up brand to not do that: also notice how “closed” their whole brand ecosystem is.

Controlling costs, then, is something that support speed. If cloud was the same price as traditional IT, or more expensive, it would slow down the rate you could use it (unless you have unlimited budget, e.g., spies, scientists, and other past customers of super-computers).

(There’s a sub-argument to be made that lower costs “democratized” the technology, like open source did the Java application servers and middle-ware, and later software development in general. But, at this high-level, that’s details for further discussion.)

Building trust so you can get to the boring stuff

The most important thing you need to do for cloud marketing is to make people actually believe you. The goal is to get the benefit of the doubt enough to be asked to speak for a few more hours on the topic. The stretch goal, if you’re a public cloud thing is to get people to trust you enough to sign up for the service, for example, to try the Opscode Platform trial, do some “Hello world!”ing on Heroku, putter around on GitHub, or just mess about in EC2. Sadly, most people with high dollar cloud stuff to market don’t have that luxury as they’re selling private clouds, which require, you know, the usual PoCs and such, if only in hardware acquisition and network/security setup. Appliances can go a long way here, of course. But, back to that first goal: being asked back to further educate the prospect.

While cloud gasbags like myself may bore of the whole “what is a cloud” talk, when I talk with the cloud marketers in the trenches, that’s a whole lot of what people want. What exactly does your vision of the cloud mean and how does it apply to me? And let’s be frank, if you, a high paid marketer are involved, you need to sell big-ticket, transformative projects, not tiny things (marketing to the masses is an entirely different set of tactics). This isn’t a cynical, “a sucker is born every minute” take, it’s realizing that if IT is to be a core asset for business, it’s going to be a big deal. The Big Switch hasn’t happened just yet.

How can you build this trust? First, focus on what’s different this time. Explain what has changed technologically to make this speed with cloud possible. Again: “agility” is something IT is supposed to do and everything laughs at. Here are some stock, “what’s different this time”‘s:

  • New options are available: Amazon, Rackspace, GoGrid, and all the other public clouds are new, different ways to run IT. They’re fundamentally different: we’re not just installing magic software on-top of it, the way you manage the hardware, the datacenters, the network, etc. is different.
  • Moore’s law has delivered: infrastructure is cheaper and faster (and somehow outpacing Jevon’s Paradox, I guess – though certainly not on my desktop!)
  • Once you move to this new model and change the way you develop and manage applications, you can start doing things differently like Frequent Functionality (delivering smaller chunks more often), observing user behavior (a million one way mirrors), and other useful killer features.
  • Thanks to consumer web apps and the iPhone-led renaissance in smart phones, people don’t expect IT to suck as much. It’s the old “if Facebook can do it so easily, why can’t the IT department.” This trend is important, because it means there’s demand for IT to suck less – put another way, they have a reason to change – put another way: rouge IT is a very real competition, see that ticker symbol CRM.

There’s more, of course: but to win the benefit of the doubt, you have to explain why it’s different this time, why it will work. All you want to achieve is getting asked back for more and if you can make them believe that cloud is speed, they might just ask for further discussion. And, it of course helps to no end if there’s plenty of examples, but you don’t always have that luxury.

Everything else

Obviously, there’s more details, but I want to keep the theory simple: cloud is speed. Once you go down that rat-hole, the other valuable things like dev/ops, the types of applications you drive on-top of cloud, how you change your deliver model, and where your offerings fits in on the SaaS/PaaS/IaaS burger all come next. The biggest argument of all is over public vs. private. The idea that you need private has all but won, with “security” and special snow-flake concerns weighing too heavily on decision maker’s minds.

But all those things come from what you, the marketer, is actually trying to sell beyond simply speeding things up.

(Here’s some more details and rat-holes in lovely mind map form for those who want to dig deeper.)

Disclosure: Puppet Labs, Opscode, and others mentioned above or relevant are clients. See the RedMonk client list.

Categories: Cloud, Marketing.

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Comment Feed

8 Responses

  1. Nice blog – I'd write more if I had time! Need some cloud perhaps?

    joncollinsJune 3, 2011 @ 9:13 am
  2. I like your argument. But I think the cloud market is mature enough today that cloud marketers need to think beyond simply proving the benefits/viability of cloud versus traditional IT. They need to actively start differentiating their solutions from each other. So it's not simply, "You should try cloud because it's faster than traditional IT" — it's "You should try my cloud because it's faster than my competitor's cloud." Unfortunately, "faster" isn't much better than "cheaper" as a solid means of differentiation among competitors of any stripe, cloud or otherwise… in fact, "faster" paints cloud as a largely commodity consideration… which is probably something the cloud vendors will want to avoid in the short term.

  3. Great post! Thank you.

    fk6400August 3, 2011 @ 10:48 pm

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