The cloud may have many benefits but for the moment simplicity is not necessarily one of them.
From contracts, to licensing and payments, CIOs — even enthusiastic adopters of the utility model — remain pragmatic about the management of cloud services and their potential to cause grief.
"The complexities we get into on licensing models make me want to weep sometimes," Essex County Council CIO David Wilde told the recent Cloud World Forum in London.
"The market has still got a long, long way to go to commoditise its own products sets, make more sense of its licensing, get over the fact that actually in future — and cloud is driving this — it will no longer be about a corporate-based licensing," he said.
His organisation delivers services for at least half a dozen other public agencies but cloud licences currently make it difficult to set up such arrangements.
"And I don't understand why: it's all public sector and it's bodies, and I can count them up. Does it matter whether it's us or somebody employed in Basildon Hospital?" Wilde said.
He said in a number of ways the cloud already offers many of the right features but issues remain that need to be worked through.
"I've quadrupled the size of my technical design authority — my CTO function — because while it's there, it's complicated. Cloud does not simplify; it complicates," Wilde said.
However, despite those complications, the benefits that can be achieved at enterprise level make the effort worthwhile.
"We're investing heavily in technical design architects and we're investing less in programmers because what we're looking to do is to understand fully the complexity of those landscapes so that we can maximise their use," Wilde said.
Hillingdon Council CIO Steve Palmer said his organisation had gone through the first phase of cloud adoption in mid-2012 with a migration from Novell GroupWise to Google cloud-based email and calendar and some pilots with Google Docs.
The licensing for that part of Palmer's technology portfolio took 15 minutes because of the simplicity of the process.
"It's one thing for one set of licences covering absolutely everything. There are no interdependencies with other products or whatever else," Palmer said.
"There's a real lesson for the industry here. If you really want to engage us, be more flexible and clear with your licensing models, which are designed sometimes to make it impenetrable to the point of impossibility."
With the traditional licensing model, Palmer had to employ at least one person — and probably nearer one and a half — who had a licensing specialism, to make sure his organisation stayed on the right side of the law.
"Multiply that by 400 in the British Isles [the number of UK local authorities], it's an awful lot of money. I'd sooner spend that on frontline services and supporting elderly people who need care than having licensing experts," Palmer said.
Paul Boyns, head of infrastructure strategy and architecture at the BBC, said the added overhead that comes with cloud services is also often partly attributable to the number of providers involved.
"You've got to deal with probably more vendors. That means more contract management. There's the service management of more vendors than you might already have been dealing with," Boyns said.
"And actually different cloud vendors can have billing mechanisms that are quite different from each other. So, how can we simplify that? There are organisations out there that can help with that."
He said the BBC is not necessarily going to use cloud brokerages itself but all the options need to be investigated to simplify cloud arrangements.
"It's trying to work out, 'Well, if these are value-adds that are going to make life easier for the business leaders, then how do we start to present those to those business leaders?', again with a view of making the right thing easier to do," Boyns said.
When Hillingdon Council CIO Steve Palmer decided that the cloud offered some of the answers to the problems of an aging and unsustainable IT infrastructure, he was pragmatic about the then state of the technology and frameworks on offer.
"We had a belief that the cloud was just about ready — but in some areas only," Palmer said. "[It was] not as fully developed as we would like to see it and I think that's still the case today."
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