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Posts tagged ‘Microsoft Azure’

Clouding IKEA Style! Design the Price Tag First.

We developers, and an industry, should start to rethink how we start designing our Cloud Services. The customer centric design is old news. SaaS entrepreneur Rainer Stropek, whom I met in Berlin, said wisely: “Do pricing like IKEA! First design the price tag.”

The decision to purchase your service should be almost subconscious for the customer.

While working in my startup Sopima I have learned that there are three reasons for this. I will discuss these findings in TechDays 2011 so please come and listen – you can also ask me questions, for example via Twitter: tweet your questions and comments to me in advance @anttimakkonen and I’ll try to answer you. But now let’s go back to business. Read on how to make the price tag your first priority.

Reason number 1

You will not win your battle for customers by being the nicest and prettiest service of its kind in the minds of the Internet dwellers. Because of Cloud Services like Amazon (IaaS) and Windows Azure (PaaS) there’s more competition on your way and with a speed you are not accustomed to. It is really easy to put up a service once you bypass the initial learning curve of any Cloud provider. Most of the problems you will face when building your service are not technical. Customers are not interested in what technical solutions you have mastered. They want a polished service experience that does the basic stuff extremely well.

Reason number 2

The decision to purchase your service should be almost subconscious for the customer. Customers that are lured into the web page of your service need to understand what the service is and what the cost is, in a short time before they leave the page. Otherwise you just paid for a lead that is not going to transform to a customer.

In software design this means that you need to design the billing of your product in a way that the customer understands what he or she is getting. For example, do not make him pay for upload/download bandwidth but instead the total size of stored files per month. Keep rates simple not complex. You need to work a little extra to calculate what a customer normally needs. Do not force customers do that calculation. In addition, customers do not like surprises in their bills. Lots of SaaS entrepreneurs prefer to sell prepaid credits or similar to get commitment, and some money fast. In my experience it is easier to purchase “packets”, but don’t overdo the number of options. Calculating costs and prices takes us further to the next reason.

Reason number 3

Computing resources and scalability are no longer major investment decisions. You just order what computing resources you need and you can easily cancel that order when you are done with it. Basically you can run as bad code in the cloud as you wallet can stand and your service will still scale. 🙂

In the age of Cloud Computing you need to direct your attention to what cloud service provider is charging you and minimize that cost. After you have made your service stateless, the cost is the only limitation to scale your service up. You need to optimize and monitor your cost structure – and sometimes even make ‘strange’ design decisions, if that helps you to pull your Cloud costs down. This is even more important if your service revenue streams are dispersed and the profit margins are lean.

As a final thought I’d like to say

Consider billing as an integral part of your service. Do not make customer reconsider his purchase on every obscure bill you send. Especially if you are making a subscription service, do not implement your own billing! Trust the professionals and consider using some of the readymade services like these:

PS. I found these tools that will help you on estimating, monitoring and minimizing Azure costs.

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Can You Trust Your Own Servers?

Yes, it's ugly, but it's my own!

I wrote this post originally to my company blog.

Can I trust Cloud Services? A very common question nowadays. In my opinion the question in the headline is as relevant. Very often cloud services are seen as only a potential risk, and the benefits are forgotten. The company data is kept tightly in in-premise servers, with a perfect control. A common thought goes like this: Cloud is a dangerous place and my own servers are safe, of course. Wrong. Your own server is your own server. Cloud is cloud. Let me explain.

Let me compare these two ways in the contract management context, on-premise servers and practices to cloud offerings. Is your organization sending contract drafts and contracts via unencrypted e-mail to your business partners? How are your contracts protected, both physically and technically? Who can see the contents of agreements? I dare to claim that the current cloud services solve most of these problems.

TOP3 Cloud Service Myths

Myth 1. On the Internet there is always someone attacking the Cloud. Therefore, the cloud is a threat.

Maybe. But I’d like to ask you if your servers are connected to the Internet? If so, welcome to the club. I hope you have done something about it. Additionally, I would like to say that the firewall is not a sufficient answer to this. If the server is not online, so what the heck it’s worth for ‘in the closet’? The organization must be able to utilize the stored information, as the Gigabytes will not bring any benefits to you, only the utilization of it will. One more thing: when using the Cloud Services, the administrators are monitoring the traffic and continuously checking out the logs, in order to find alarming signs. Who is monitoring your log?

Myth 2. When using Cloud Services, someone else may have access to my data. Therefore, the Cloud is dangerous.

As if hiding the in the corner of your server room would be safe. Wrong. The fact is that if you hide your wallet in your backyard it is not as safe as it is to put the safe in a bank. The expired user access combined with shared user ID’s increase the number of people who see your information if they wish to. Can you be sure about the accuracy of the user rights and access in your organization? When it comes to Cloud Services there is an automatic check point for this every month when the invoice comes.

Proper user rights management together with Cloud Services brings a better physical security: who is responsible for the costs if someone steals your servers? Naturally it is a good idea to check whether the servers of your Cloud Host are really safe. On your way to find answers to this question, check out Pasi Mäkinen’s article in Tietoviikko (in Finnish).

Myth 3. When the Internet is down, the Cloud Services may be down too, for hours. Therefore, the Cloud is not reliable.

If the Internet is down, are your own services still available to your customers, and to you? When using Cloud Services it is not likely that you get any compensation for that lost time, but do you if you have everything on your own servers? Most probably not, and on top of that, a true trade-off, is that someone (or many persons) in your organization is forced to stop the productive work and start to solve the IT service problems and correcting the situation. Costs a lot.

Don't hide your head in sand. Look up to the clouds.

My point, you just cannot say that your own server is more secure. Way too simple.

In case I’m proven wrong, you can truly be very proud, having such a well-managed environment with a reasonable cost. On the other hand I’d like to ask you if this is the key task that adds value to your business. What if you used a part of the time and energy you use for the internal data security efforts to a development of a new business idea?

Finally, a word of warning. The Cloud is not the safest environment in the world, but I would argue that it is much safer than most of the internally tuned Extranets are.

I’d like to challenge you to investigate the Online Security promise of Microsoft Azure and compare it to your data security practices. You might be surprised. And I cannot promise that it will be a positive surprise.

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