Ask the IT Consultant

May 14 2010   3:00AM GMT

Evaluating Cloud Computing Services – Part 1

Beth Cohen Beth Cohen Profile: Beth Cohen

Question:  With over 3000 products available in the cloud already, is there any way to classify them so that I can evaluate the services that fit my needs without going crazy?

OK, we get it.  Cloud computing is big – really big.  In the interest of clearing away the massive amounts of vendor hype, here is a simple formula for sorting out the vast array of available — over 3000 at last count — and emerging cloud services.  In general, cloud services can be classified into five broad categories:

  • Consumer Grade
  • Small Business Grade
  • Mid-sized Business Grade
  • Enterprise Grade
  • Private Cloud

Part 1 will cover consumer and small business grade products.  Part 2 will discuss products that are more suited to the more sophisticated requirements of the mid-sized and larger enterprise customer.

Consumer Grade – This represents by far the largest segment of the currently available services in terms of usage.  Close to 100% of all consumers are using some kind of cloud services, if you count email.  These products can easily be characterized by their extremely low price, little or no support, and limited customization.  They are designed for automated delivery of relatively simple vertical services with broad appeal to the mass market; the fast food of the IT world if you will.  Some examples of consumer grades products are webmail (Gmail, Hotmail), on-line backup (Mozy, Carbonite), photo sharing ( Flickr, iStock), and some web-based office productivity products (Google Docs, Office Live).

Small Business Grade – This category is growing by leaps and bounds.  However, the quality of the services, support and price vary wildly.  Again these services are pitched as low price alternatives, but they are focused on the business market rather than the consumer.   Many of the thousands of offerings are SaaS enabled applications that were formerly sold as in-house standalone server based systems that are being converted to cloud offerings to capitalize on the attractive subscription pricing model.  While some available services have broad appeal to any small business, like virtual file servers (Nasuni), database systems (Oracle), web hosting (Rackspace), accounting services (Intuit), payroll (ADP), HR management (Capterra), and sales force automation (Salesforce.som, Sales Metric), many of the products are extremely focused on their particular narrow vertical niche, anything from organizational membership management software (Wild Apricot, NetForum), facilities management applications (Maintenance Connection), to medical billing collections services (Athena Health, AllScripts).  If there is a small business application, then more than likely someone has made it available on the cloud.  While the price is attractive for a small business, the per seat model doesn’t scale well.  The biggest issue with many of these services is the lack of any customization and the mostly self help support.

About the Author

Beth Cohen, Luth Computer Specialists, Inc.

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