Confusing Value Propositions: Cloud Platforms and Hosted Applications
When a service provider is in the business of selling computing resources – like bandwidth, processors and memory, and disk storage – it makes a lot of sense to also leverage the value of software products and systems which drive consumption of computing resources. In short, they market and sell software that runs on the platform in order to get folks to buy the platform, no different from selling desktop and server software in order to sell the hardware to run it. It’s just that these days the hardware and networking components are often referred to as the “platform” or maybe “the cloud”.
Let’s face it… cloud computing platforms are just no fun if there’s nothing to run on them, and a hard drive has little value when there isn’t anything stored on it. Once there is something there – an application, data… something – then the part has actual value in terms of driving revenue. This is the difficulty and the basis for confusing value propositions when it comes to offering and delivering services in the form of a hosting platform. Once again: platforms are just no fun if there’s nothing to run on them. Is the value is really about the applications, not the platform? Or is the value in the platform, because it’s necessary for running the applications?
The truth is that both are essential parts of the entire “solution”, and the value of how the solution is packaged and offered is purely up to the purchaser to determine in terms of applicability to the business. When it comes to hosted application offerings for businesses, there isn’t a single one-size-fits-all approach that will work. Sometimes people want to purchase from different vendors and put their own solutions together, and sometimes folks want turnkey delivery of whatever they need. Even channel partners and value-added resellers are finding that, with diminishing margins and aggressive competition prevalent in the market, removing the time-consuming aspects of solution delivery becomes paramount to achieving some level of profitability on the work.
What this means is that providers are looking for ways to increase the overall value and usability of their solutions, and when it comes to platform services there are only two directions to look: automation to support self-service, and application software delivery to drive consumption and usage on the hosting platform.
So now we’re back to the applications again. There’s no way to avoid them, but there’s no great way for platform companies to engage with them, either. Working with business application software is sometimes complicated, often annoying, and can be exceptionally time-consuming and resource intensive. And there are few licensing models which make it really easy for hosts and ISVs (Independent Software Vendors) to work together. Then, of course, there is the desire for exclusivity on one side or the other.
Software companies don’t generally want to select a single platform provider for their software for a very simple reason: they don’t want to limit their potential user base. Now that Windows platform is available just about anywhere – on local computers, on mobile devices, from platform and infrastructure hosting providers – how does the ISV make a decision on a single delivery channel or model or provider?
Some lean towards working with hosting providers to create branded, point-deliveries of the application. Too often, however, this approach removes the ability for customers to benefit from other applications or integrations, eliminating some of the value of the solution and certainly curtailing benefits for integrating partners of the ISV.
Host it themselves? The last thing most software developers want is to be responsible for hosting and maintaining some other guys’ software products; they have enough to worry about with their own offerings. If the solution is standalone, maybe this approach works. But there are few solutions made for the desktop which don’t have some strange integration point with MS Office apps, Adobe reader, Internet browsers or other things prevalent on the user desktop.
There isn’t any proven or easy path for software developers, IT suppliers or small business customers looking to create mobility and managed subscription service around desktop and server applications, and there is likely never going to be a single story line that all will follow. This is among the reasons for the popularity of the “hybrid” cloud approach and growing importance of managed application hosting and ISV-authorized delivery models. Yet even key providers in those areas have a tough time really communicating what they do in a way that is meaningful to the buyer. Are they selling a platform, applications, or both? Folks in the industry know the jargon and how to use it, and are often skilled at adjusting their language in order to obfuscate or confuse certain sticky issues regarding software licensing in the cloud and other similar aspects of hosting. It’s no wonder that many customers remain confused as to what, exactly, they’re being asked to buy, and where the lines of flexibility and responsibility are drawn.
The applications justify the platform, and there are possibly multiple platform approaches to delivering the app. It is a confusing situation for business buyers of IT as well as for their resellers and suppliers, and the increasing number of options for how businesses approach purchasing and using information technology makes it unlikely that the process will become as simple as some suggest.