Personality Matters – Development in the Cloud
By Leslie Sachs

Developing software in the cloud involves working with people who are likely in a different location and employed by an entirely different company. These folks may have very different priorities than you do – and getting what you need may be quite a challenge at times. Development in the Cloud likely involves working in an environment where you do not always have full control of the resources you need. You may feel that you are the customer and deserve priority service. But the reality is that interfacing with all of the stakeholders in a cloud-based development environment presents unique challenges. Your ‘people skills’ may very well determine whether or not you get what you need when you need it. Read on if you would like to be more effective when developing in the Cloud.

Control of Resources

Development in the Cloud has a number of challenges, but none more apparent than the obvious loss of control over essential resources. Development in the cloud involves relying upon another entity and the services that they provide. This may turn out great for you, or it may be the worst decision of your career. One issue to address early on is how you feel about having to rely upon others for essential resources and its implicit loss of control. This situation may result in some stress and, at times, considerable anxiety, for technology managers who are responsible for the reliability of their companies’ systems.

Anxiety in the Cloud

Seasoned IT professionals know all too well that bad things happen. Systems can crash or have other serious outages that can threaten your profitability. When you have control over your resources, you usually have a stronger sense of security. With the loss of control, you may experience anxiety. As a manager, you need to assess both your, and upper management’s, tolerance for risk. Risk is not inherently bad. But risk needs to be identified and then mitigated as best as is practical. One way to do that is to establish a Service-level Agreement (SLA).

Setting the SLA

The prudent manager doing development in the cloud will examine closely the Service-level Agreements that govern the terms of the Cloud-based resources upon which that team depends. One may have to choose, however, between working with a large established service provider and a smaller company, willing to work harder for your business. This is where you need to be a savvy consumer and technology guru, too. If you’re thinking that ironing out all of these terms is going to be easy, then think again. The one thing that you can be certain about, though, is that communication is key.

Communication as Key

Make sure that you establish an effective communications plan to support your Cloud development effort, including announcing outages and service interruptions. [1] You should consider the established communications practices of your service provider within the context of the culture of your organization. Alignment of communication styles is essential here. Plan to not only receive communications, but to process, filter and then distribute essential information to all of your stakeholders. Remember, also, that even weekend outages may impact the productivity of your developers. The worst part is that you may not have a specific dedicated resource at the service provider with whom to partner.

Faceless and Nameless Partners

Many large Cloud-based providers have well-established service organizations, but you as a manager need to consider how you feel about working with partners who you do not know and may never actually meet. The faceless and nameless support person may be just fine for some people especially if they do a great job. But you need to consider how you will feel if you cannot reach a specific person in charge when there is a problem impacting your system. This may seem like a non-issue if you are the customer. Or is it?

Customer Focus

If you are paying a service provider then you will most likely be expecting to be treated as a customer. Some Internet Service Providers (ISPs) may have excellent service while others may act like they are a utility with an absolute monopoly. At CM Best Practices Consulting, we’ve had some experiences with ISPs who provided horrible service resulting in an unreliable platform supporting the website for our book on Configuration Management Best Practices. Poor service aside, there are certainly advantages to considering cloud services as a utility.

Cloud as a Utility

When you need more electricity, most of us just assume that the Electric Company will provide as much as we need. So the cloud as a utility certainly has some advantages. If you need to scale up and add another hundred developers, giving each one a virtual image on a server farm can be as easy as providing your credit card number. However, knowing that additional resources are there for the asking, does have its own special risk of failing to plan for the resources that you need. You still need to plan strategically.

Planning and Cost

Planning and cost can be as dangerous as running up bills on your credit card. In fact, they may actually be on your credit card. From a personality perspective, you should consider whether or not using Cloud-based services is just a convenient excuse to avoid having to plan out the amount of resources you really need. This approach can get expensive and ultimately impact the success of your project. Development in the cloud does not mean that you have to stay in the cloud. In fact, sometimes cloud-based development is just a short-term solution to respond to either a seasonal need or a temporary shortage. You should always consider whether or not it is time to get out of the clouds.

Bringing it Back In-house

Many Cloud-based development efforts are extremely successful. Others are not. Ultimately, smart technology professionals always consider their Plan-B. If you find that you are awake at night thinking about all of the time lost due to challenges in the Cloud, then you may want to consider bringing the development back in from the Cloud. Just keep in mind that every approach has its risks and you probably cannot implement a couple hundred development, test or production servers overnight, either. Many managers actually use a hybrid approach of having some servers in-house, supplemented by a virtual farm via a cloud-based service provider. Having your core servers in-house may be your long term goal anyway. Smart managers consider what works best from each of these perspectives.

Conclusion
Being pragmatic in the Cloud means that you engage in any technology effort while keeping both eyes open to the risks and potential advantages of each approach. Cloud-based development has some unique challenges and may not be the right choice for everyone. You need to consider how these issues fit with you and your organization when making the choice to develop in the cloud.

References
[1] Aiello, Robert and Leslie Sachs. Configuration Management Best Practices: Practical Methods that Work in the Real World. Addison-Wesley, 2010, p. 155.