BBC IT chief warns cloud buyers of complicated SLAs, standards and vendor lock-in

The BBC’s head of IT Strategy and Policy, Paul Boyns, today warned businesses considering purchasing cloud services of concerns around immaturity of standards, vendor lock-in and contract management.

Speaking at the Cloud Computing World Forum in London today, Boyns highlighted that cloud computing interests the BBC, due to its high demands for flexible infrastructure. He described that storage for BBC HD Drama alone equates to 317 terabytes per annum.

However, the BBC has a number of different content divisions, providing content across a number of formats, which means that storage for the organisation is in region of a number of petabytes.

Despite the benefits that cloud could bring to the BBC, in terms of flexibility and on-demand compute power, Boyns warned that the market is still immature in many respects.

“One thing to consider is what I call ‘nesting’. A Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) offering you might be able to go out and buy may actually be relying on Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) being provided by another vendor,” said Byons.

He added: “When you go up the stack further, a Software-as-a-Service (Saas) offering you buy may actually be doing the same thing. So you then have a service level agreement (SLA) with a SaaS provider, which has an underpinning operational level agreement with a PaaS provider, and then another level down with an IaaS provider.”

“How confident can you be that your provider of the SaaS product, which may be a small vendor, understands the implications of those layered SLAs?”

Byons also warns against standards in the cloud computing market, particularly workload, interfaces and data standards, which he describes as ‘difficult’ and ‘tricky’. He suggests that organisations need to be wary of ending up in a situation whereby they are locked into a particular vendor’s services.

“If you look at some of the key facets of cloud computing standards, they are not particularly mature. They are behind the times and they are always going to be behind the times,” he said.

He added: “What we are seeing is that the vendors are moving faster than the standards bodies. What this results in is vendors are putting their own standards out there – vendor specific standards – in order to get certification. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but before you buy into a vendor standard, just think about what open standards are being developed.”

“You may decide that you are happy to buy into a particular cloud vendor and you may decide that you aren’t particularly worried about moving that service out if you are comfortable with the reliability being offered. But that’s going to be the trade off.”

Byons’ final warning to attendees regarding cloud was around the complexity of contracts. He suggested that the cloud market may be more flexible but not necessarily easier to manage.

“Contracts are another pain-point for a lot of organisations,” he said.

“Traditionally, technology departments have not been brilliant at managing contracts and services, and the one thing you certainly do with cloud is add more contracts and services. Are you really ready for that?”

The BBC revealed in February that it had a major server outage that lasted for over two days last month, affecting television programme post-production in its new MediaCity premises in Salford. The problems occurred on Friday 20 January, and were not solved until the Monday morning.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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