SHI’s customers shape the product: The financial features of the SHI Cloud

 In Cloud

In my last post, I shared how our customers are contributing to our improvements of the SHI Cloud. SHI has put a process in place that ensures that every single customer that comes into our cloud gets one-on-one attention with us regarding what they want to achieve, what the SHI Cloud can and cannot support, and gives us feedback on how to improve or extend our service.

The first feature on our tour: Giving customers visibility and control over their expenses in the SHI Cloud.

The most common worry we see from customers is the concern that the use of the cloud is “getting out of control.” They come to us with examples of how those within their own organizations (developers or application groups) go to Amazon or another retail cloud provider and spend too much company money on cloud resources. Once or twice might not be such a not a big deal. But all across the enterprise? Those little charges are starting to add up to a significant amount of money.

Out-of-control spending is an easy problem to identify. But it’s not as easy to know what to do about it. Our conversations with clients have helped us recognize very early on that we needed to address two issues in solving this problem. One issue was obviously that our cloud needed an efficient system to monitor spending — including setting alerts for spending thresholds — and support the people within IT who define budgets with a mechanism to impose some sort of governance over spending.

The other side of this issue is to identify the reason that developers and the application groups are “going rogue,” or running off to work with Amazon. It’s because they need IT resources right now that their IT department might not be in a position to give them. And by the time IT goes through the traditional approval cycle to acquire and deploy the resource, the window of opportunity for the new application has passed. Developers are rightfully frustrated with that paradigm, so they go to the cloud. Then it’s off and running from there.

There are two things that need to happen in order to reach a solution. First, the SHI Cloud must provide IT with the tools it needs to manage finances. Next, IT needs to have some ability to give their internal customers the resources they need — in a timely fashion — so that they don’t run off and overspend. The solution to the financial problem is not just the tools to manage the finances in the cloud — it’s actually delivering a cloud that gives IT financial control, while also quickly providing resources to the people who currently feel they have to go elsewhere to get anything done.

Remember, the SHI Cloud is designed to work as an extension of the customer’s own network, so resources from our cloud are interchangeable with resources on the customer’s own network. IT is now able to include the SHI Cloud as part of its internal pool of resources that it can utilize. On the other hand, other cloud providers are an external resource outside of IT’s control, so there are no economies of scale for IT to engage these providers instead of having the individuals do it.

Because it is so tightly integrated with the customer’s network, the SHI Cloud becomes part of customers’ day-to-day environment. Our virtual machines are incorporated into their own internal application architectures and development environments. They can impose their own policies and procedures around these resources. SHI provides IT with a portal, and IT can configure the portal so that their internal users and departments can go in and pick the resources they need out of a catalog that IT has the ability to control. IT populates the catalog with the types of virtual machine images people will need, all set up and ready to go.

The departments can get the resources they need immediately, but the whole process is governed by the guidelines that IT management sets up. But, we also give IT the option to hand over more control to developers and application teams to define their own catalogs. The decision is in IT management’s hands. This puts IT in control, yet it also gives users the flexibility and elasticity they need, which was the reason they were going to the retail cloud providers in the first place.

The financial management system we’ve built into the SHI Cloud is a robust chargeback billing solution, similar to the tools enterprises use for internal chargeback. IT management can now see the trending and the spending, it can set thresholds for spending, and it can get alerts when those thresholds are being approached or exceeded.

One example of responding to customer requirements is the recent addition of authorization workflows to our development road map, so that customers can map their own internal approval policies in to our cloud. This is great example of how our customers are helping us improve the SHI Cloud, because this authorization workflow solution is completely based on our collaboration with customers.

We could roll out a generic solution around workflow, but we would risk putting out something so general that it won’t satisfy any unique requirements from customers. So, we’ve been talking with customers to get as much feedback as we can. Our goal is to deliver a solution that is flexible enough to allow customers to map their unique processes into it.

Building a feature that is flexible enough to accommodate the diverse needs of customers is a challenging problem to solve, and the only way to solve it is to interact with the customers to figure out the breadth of use cases that need to be addressed.

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