The cloud is hiccuping its way forward for lack of buy-in by vendors. You wouldn't necessarily know that from the pat and parceled messaging that places blame for slow cloud adoption on the timidity of buyers.

Buyers are skeptical, and have good reason to stay so until cloud vendors put some skin in the game.

For the moment, it is the vendors that are most fearful of the cloud. You can see that clearly in the typical service level agreement (SLA). If vendors were as fully confident in the cloud as they claim to be, the SLA would be public and straightforward and the shared responsibility between buyer and vendor would be clearly evident with lines cleanly drawn.

Pam Baker has written hundreds of articles in leading technology, business and finance publications. She has also authored several analytical studies on technology, eight books and an award-winning documentary on paper-making. She is a member of the National Press Club (NPC), Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and the Internet Press Guild (IPG). She can be reached at bakercom1@gmail.com and on Twitter at @bakercom1.


But that is not the way things stand now.

 

The very beginning of the process is fraught with secrecy and threat. A signature is required on a non-disclosure agreement before the contents of the SLA are revealed. The threat of legal action prevents discussion of a single word within. Keep in mind that the typical SLA does not contain proprietary information of a patentable sort or details surrounding intellectual property. It's just an agreement that says "we provide this and here's what we'll do to make things right if something goes wrong."

Why, then, is it necessary to make the SLA document secret since it is merely a warranty of sorts? Nearly every other industry uses its services and warranties as a brand differentiator. You need only to watch a car commercial on television to see an example - free maintenance, extended 'bumper to bumper' warranties, guaranteed trade-in values, etc. Yet, you do not typically see such promotions of service warranties with cloud vendors with the one possible exception of Google Apps..

Secret SLAs

Why, then, do cloud vendors lean heavily towards secrecy when it comes to their service level agreements?

Because the contents of the SLA typically guarantee nothing of value. Indeed they are harmful in that they transpose all risk to the buyer/user. The most you will find is a promise pertaining to uptime but even that is hedged with weird measuring calculations that will always render the vendor blameless.

Further, server uptime is not the same thing as an end-user application speed and availability guarantee and therefore meaningless to enterprises. Without a guarantee that provisioning will be speedy to meet peak demands and another warranting that end-user delivery will be steady and predictable - plus a bevy of solid metrics to measure those by - the SLA is nothing but a guarantee of profits to the vendor at the expense of the buyer.

Until the cloud industry matures and vendors make it evident that they truly do have skin in the game, enterprises are generally better off going with a hosted version, where SLAs are more meaningful and advantageous, or in building private clouds. Either way, passing on anything secret in the public sphere is a good defensive play.