head in the clouds

Why Keeping Your Head in the Cloud is a Good Thing

Best practices on operating a global cloud data center from a veteran IT operations executive

This article originally appeared on Telecom Reseller, here.Scott Welch

by Scott Welch, EVP of Cloud Operations, Five9

As cloud technologies continue to flourish and replace older, on-premises solutions, it is important for cloud vendors to recognize the necessity of ensuring smooth and seamless operations. When companies trust their cloud vendor to shoulder the responsibility of running their enterprise applications, the expectation is that the vendor can do it better than the business can do themselves. This means cloud vendors need to have the right team, technology, process and procedures in place to provide continuous access and meet service level agreements.

To succeed in the cloud, vendors must have solid operational processes based on best practices. The most critical processes is change management. There is a direct correlation between the maturity of the change management processes and the service availability numbers. It is equally important to learn from mistakes, and ensure that processes evolve to avoid errors made in the past.

Since the change management process is implemented and maintained by the technology operations team, it is critical to have a strong team of “A” players with the right technical skills, as well as a service-oriented attitude. A positive, service-oriented attitude and work ethic can be more important than technical aptitude because of what that brings to the organization. Of course staff need to be technically capable, but the real differentiator is a service-oriented attitude.

The team also needs to be accountable. It must know the technology, own the actions, and control the outcome. And, the executive staff needs to trust the “A Team” to truly take each project into their hands and see it through from start to finish. One way to help build confidence among the team and executives is to run regular drills. These are a recreation of real world scenarios that give the operations team an opportunity to respond to a variety of issues — everything from a full-scale outage to degradation of service. Similar to the military, playing war games only increases a soldier’s competency in a real battle situation.

Finally, as a cloud service provider it is crucial to keep the customers top of mind. Understand the customer’s hierarchy of needs; similar to Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs where the value of life increases as you move up the pyramid, the key levels of the customer hierarchy of needs get increasingly more critical as you move up the pyramid. First, the most basic need is service availability. The next level is urgency, which means if there are issues, approach them urgently as if you can’t breathe (but don’t panic). The next level up the pyramid is accountability, which means vendors tell the customer what they will do, do it as promised and be accountable for the outcome. The next level is transparency, which is straightforward open communication to customers. This is essential to success, as customers have trusted cloud vendors with a critical component of their business. At the tip of the pyramid are the features vendors provide as part of the service. It’s only after a vendor delivers every level of the pyramid that customer can really gain value from the application and features offered.

As a service provider with a cloud delivery model, it’s important to recognize that you are dealing with hardware, software and humans. All three will fail at some point in their lifecycle. The difference is the delivery of fault tolerance architecture with appropriate mitigation plans that reduce, minimize or eliminate customer impact when they fail.

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