30 April 2013

Auto-Update = Auto-Outage

There are two kinds of clouds; multi-tenant and multi-instance.  The first has multiple partitioned businesses operating within the same application instance while the second essentially moves premises equipment offsite either in a company-owned or 3rd-party data center.  Salesforce.com and Microsoft Office 365 are multi-tenant while Cisco HCS and Interactive Intelligence are multi-instance.

One of the key messages from cloud suppliers is the speed and automation of application upgrades.  The dirge goes that customers who still have Lucent’s red coffee stain logo on their phones really, really want upgrades if only they weren’t so darn hard and costly. Enter the cloud to whisk away their problems without IT lifting a finger.

And chaos ensues.

If you use a smartphone, you have an inkling of the problem.  Does a week pass without application update notices? No. What do you do? Either lazily set yourself for auto-update or manually update when the screen notices get too annoying.  In the smartphone world this is mostly OK because individual apps don’t really interact with each other – Robot Unicorn Attack and Virtual Dentist don’t share data. The exception being when there’s an operating system update. Some apps crash because their developers didn’t build the connection in time.  When this happens, users lose functionality until it gets fixed.

Version Control is Important for Business Continuity

Communications applications already touch and share data with many applications from differing vendors; a number that grows daily.  What happens when an application update breaks the data-sharing bridge?  It stops working.  Businesses using multi-tenant cloud services have less control when it comes to updates. As the marketing spiel goes, it just happens, automatically.  If a business has a home-grown application tied into a cloud service, they’re begging for a major outage.

Those using multi-instance applications, whether public or private cloud, have more control as to when updates are rolled out. Their applications are essentially islands offering complete control.  Businesses need to test ecosystem interoperability before releasing updates into the wild.

Uncontrolled Mobility

Mobile communications applications further increase the risk.  If you want Cisco Jabber, WebEx or Avaya Flare, you visit the Apple or Android stores, not the vendor or IT.  If there’s an update, it comes from Apple, not corporate IT.  Cisco tried to deal with this with Cius (RIP) by allowing customers to setup their own private app store that was controlled by IT. Cisco could do that because it owned the hardware, operating system and application portal.  But with increasing numbers of users providing their own personal device for business use, that control is largely gone.

Consider this your canary in the cloud mine.

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