Wednesday 25 April 2018

Working with and around the Cloud Kool-Aid

The last year and a half have certainly had their challenges. I've been on a road of both discovery and of recovery after an accident in November of 2016 (blog post).

Most certainly one of the discoveries is the amount of tolerance for fluff, especially marketing fluff, has been greatly reduced. Time is precious, even more so when one's faculties can be limited by head injury. :S

Microsoft's Cloud Message

It was during one of the last feedback sessions at MVP Summit 2018 that a startling realization came about: There's still anger, and to some degree bitterness, towards Microsoft and the cloud messaging of the last ten to twelve years. My session at SMBNation 2012 had some glimpses into that anger and struggle about our business and its direction.

After the MVP Summit 2018 session, when discussing it with a Microsoft employee that I greatly respect, his response to my apology for the glimpse into my anger and bitterness was, "You have nothing to apologize for". That affirmation brought a lot home.

One realization is this: The messaging from Microsoft, and others, around Cloud has not changed. Not. One. Bit.

That messaging started out oh so many years ago as, "Your I.T. Pro Business is going to die. Get over it" to paraphrase Microsoft's message to change business models or else when BPOS was launched.

The messaging was "successful" to some degree as the number of I.T. Pro consultants and small businesses that hung up their guns during that first four to six year period was substantial.

And yet, it wasn't as much of the SMB focused Microsoft Partner network basically left Cloud sales off the table when dealing with their clients.

Today, the content of the message and to some degree the method of delivering the message may be somewhat masked but it is still the same: Cloud or die.

At this last MVP Summit yet another realization came when listening to a fellow MVP and some Blue Badges (Microsoft employees) discussing various things around Cloud and Windows. It had never occurred to me to consider that the pain we were feeling out on the street would also be had within Microsoft and to some degree other vendors adopting a Cloud service.

The recent internal shuffle in Microsoft really brought that home.

On-Premises, Hybrid, and/or Cloud

We have a lot of Open Value Agreements in place to license our client's on-premises solution sets.

Quite a few of them came up for renewal this spring. Our supplier Microsoft licensing contact, and the contractor (v-) that kept calling, were trying to push us into Cloud Solution Provider (CSP) for all of our client's licensing.

Much of what was said in those calls was:

  • Clients get so much more in features
  • Clients get access anywhere
  • Clients are so much more agile.
  • Blah, blah, blah
  • Fluff, fluff, fluff

The Cloud Kool-Aid was being poured out by the decalitre. ;)

So, our response was, "Let's about our Small Business Solution (SBS)" and it's great features and benefits and how our clients have full features both on-premises, via the Internet, or anything in-between. And, oh, it's location and device agnostic. We can also run it on-premises or in someone else's Cloud.

That usually led to some sort of stunned silence on the other end of the phone.

It's as if the on-premises story has somehow been forgotten or folks have developed selective amnesia around it.

What's neat though is that our on-premises highly available solutions are selling really well especially for folks that want cloud-like resilience for their own business.

That being said, there _is_ a place for Cloud.

As a rule, Cloud is a great way to extend on-premises resources for companies that experience severe business swings such as construction companies that have slowdowns due to winter. The on-premises solution set can run the business through the quieter months then things get scaled-up during summer in the Cloud. In this case the Cloud spend is equitable.

Business Principled Clarity

There are two very clear realities for today's I.T. Pro and SMB/SME I.T. Business:

  1. On-Premises is not going away
  2. Building a business around Cloud is possible but difficult

The on-premises story is not going to change. One can repeat the Cloud message over and over and to some degree it becomes "truth". That's an old adage. However, the realities on the ground remain ... despite the messaging.

Okay, so maybe in the smaller 10 or less seat business where an all-in for Cloud may make sense (make sure to add all of those bills up and be sitting when doing so!).

That being said, our smallest High Availability client is 15 seats with a disaggregate converged cluster. That was before our Storage Spaces Direct Kepler-47 was finalized as that solution starts at a third of the cost.

For the on-premises story there are two primary principles operating here:

  1. The client wants to own it
  2. The client wants full control over their data and its access

Cloud vendors are not obligated, and in many cases can't say anything, when law enforcement shows up to either snoop or even, in some cases, to remove the vendor's physical server systems.

Many businesses are very conscious of this fact. Plus, many governments have a deep reach into other countries as the newly minted, as of this writing, EU privacy laws seem to be demonstrating.

Now, as far as building a business around another's Cloud offerings there are two ways that we see that happening with some success:

  1. Know a Cloud Vendor's products through and through
  2. Build a MSP (Managed Service Provider) business supporting endpoints

The first seems to be really big right now. There's a lot of I.T. companies out there selling cloud with no idea of how to put it all together. The companies that do know how to put it all together are growing in leaps and bounds.

The MSP method is, and has been, a way to keep that monthly income going. But, don't count on it being there for too much longer as _all_ Cloud vendors are looking to kill the managed endpoint in some way.

Our Direction

So, where do we fit in all of this?

Well, our business strategy has been pretty straightforward:

  1. Keep developing and providing cloud-like services on-premises with cloud-like resilient solutions for our clients
  2. Hybrid our on-premises solutions with Cloud when the need is there
  3. Continue to help clients get the most out of their Cloud services
  4. Cultivate our partnerships with SMB/SME I.T. organizations needing HA Solutions

We have managed to re-work our business model over the last five to ten years and we've been quite successful at it. Though, it is still a work in progress and probably will remain so given the nature of our industry.

We're pretty sure we will remain successful at it as we continue to put a lot of thought and energy into building and keeping our clients and contractors happy.

Ultimately, that goal has not changed in all of the years we've been in business.

We small to medium I.T. shops have the edge over every other I.T. provider out there.

"How is that?", you might ask.

Well, we _know_ how to run a small to medium business and all of the good and bad that comes with it.

That translates into great products and services to our fellow SMB/SME business clients. It really is that easy.

The hard part is staying on top of all of the knowledge churn happening in our field today.


Finally, as far as the anger, and to some degree bitterness, goes: Time. It will take time before it is fully dealt with.

In the mean time ...

A friend of mine, Tim Barrett did this comic many years ago (image credit to


The comic definitely puts an image to the Cloud messaging and its results. :)

Let's continue to build our dreams doing what we love to do.

Have a fantastic day and thanks for reading!

Philip Elder
Microsoft High Availability MVP
Co-Author: SBS 2008 Blueprint Book
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