Tech Support Forecast: Partly Cloudy

Moving a company into cloud computing changes a lot more than just where the servers happen to be located. For instance, tech support might move out the door as well.

In some cases, tech support workers may still have their desks, but they will nolonger be their company’s go-to guys when a problem develops. Instead,they will have to talk to their own go-to guys at cloud central — orperhaps be replaced by an engineer at the cloud serviceprovider’s location.

Think about the domino effect when you consider thesescenarios: When the folks in accounting fail to get that file to open,who’re they going to call? When the head of the HR departmentneeds to access every single email a recently fired employee sent andreceived over the last two months, whose number does the clerk dialfirst? When the CEO gets the the old BSODfor the third time this year, who gets sent to the top floor to make the problem go away?

Cloud technology is changing the rules. It is also changing thetraditional roles of tech support workers. Sometimes, enterprise tech supportno longer has to know how everything in the company’scomputer system works. The hardware and software don’t all liveinside the office building’s walls. Much of this new cloud technologyis actually hosted outside.

“Moving to the clouds should be an empowering thing for tech supporton the enterprise level,” Michael Sutton, vice president of security research at Zscaler Labs, told TechNewsWorld. “It should free up IT staff to deal with moreproactive tasks instead of security and logs. For example, one of thekey jobs for IT workers is log consolidation. They spend a lot of timewriting scripts. With cloud computing, they don’t have to do that.”

New Marching Orders

As applications and the servers that host them migrate tothe cloud, a new set of priorities is emerging for tech support companies.Tech support firms now have to become cloud management experts. Theyalso have to adjust their technical support focus to utilize more-consolidated management techniques and resource allocation models, according toGerry Libertelli, president and CEO of ReadyTechs, a digital infrastructure services firm.

“Centrally managed groups of technical support workers become moreefficient if they don’t have to visit the on-site operations of thecustomer,” Libertelli told TechNewsWorld. “However, if the technical support company does not changeits training and resource-allocation focus, they will not realize thebenefits of centralized cloud operations, and thus [will] not be able tocompete as cost metrics become more constrained.”

A new mix is now required to manage technical support resources whilesupporting cloud-based operations. Those providing the tech support haveto adopt a data center/call center approach to client support, explained Libertelli. At the same time, clients must be conditioned toexpect different results and different problems when working withcloud-based systems.

“Telecom slowness, shared resource consumption and back-end disk IOPS become the new ghosts in the machine,” Libertelli noted. “High-touch client support andtrouble recognition techniques must be used aggressively whenintegrating new clients into a cloud-based environment.”

War Stories

That complex process does not always work as expected. When itfalls short, enterprises may have unpleasant and inefficientexperiences. Consider a foggy cloud-support incident suffered atvirtualization platform security and compliance firm HyTrust.

One of the company’s critical applications was hosted in the cloud.Officials there started seeing some undesirable behavior: Email messages werebouncing back to senders. Normally, an enterprise tech supportpro would have investigated, reached out to the appropriateinternal IT person, and resolved the problem in less than an hour,explained Hemma Prafullchandra, chief security architect at HyTrust.

With the application running in the cloud, the provider’s tech supportperson still has to investigate, reach out to the internal IT person,and narrow the problem statement until it’s clear, she noted. Then, the cloudprovider needs to take action to resolve the problem.In this case, though, the email messages were bouncing because the cloudprovider had been blacklisted — not HyTrust itself.

“An issue ticket was filed, and the tech support person and the ITperson had to just wait to get it resolved. Basically, all thetroubleshooting still has to be done if you want an expeditedresolution, but the actual fix is no longer in your control,”Prafullchandra told TechNewsWorld.

New Expectations

From an infrastructure and provider perspective, cloud computingrequires more-rigid tech support standards due to the flexibilityand diversity offered in the cloud. In general, tech support needsare the same or more demanding on both sides of the cloud, accordingto Rick Cameron, head of customer support services at ITinfrastructure consulting and services firm GlassHouse.

What is happening in the tech-service space is that the line ofdemarcation has moved. End-users are responsible for much less than they were before, “and this is the way they want it,” Cameron explained.

“End-users now view working in theclouds as being serviced by a utility company. People want electricitybut just want to plug in and let the [electric] company take care ofeverything else,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Apt Analogy

The popular attitude is that the clouds should just take care of it. That trend isjust as evident with GlassHouse’s own customers as with its techproviders. They come to GlassHouse to have their systems handled as outsourcedservices, Cameron said.

As the push to the cloudcontinues, providers are under growing pressure to handle thesupport.

“So, now the cloud providers are starting to partner with serviceproviders to manage the integration of the enterprise into theclouds,” noted Cameron.

Cloudy Conceptions

Several misconceptions about tech support are making their own migration to the cloud. One is that tech expertise requires a highlevel of control and even physical contact with all parts of an ITinfrastructure.

“That doesn’t always have to be the case,” said Andres Kohn, global solutionsmanager at SaaS email infrastructure provider Proofpoint.

“While there is lesscontrol of the application itself, the cloud can enable highervisibility into the cloud with better customer support and usability,” he told TechNewsWorld.”As a result, tech support should ideally run more efficiently, and anyissues can be resolved much quicker.”

Some IT professionals even view the emergence of cloudapplications as a threat to their jobs. Those concerns, however, are usually unfounded, according to Kohn.

Thecloud can never replace the human aspect of troubleshooting; thus, noneed exists for IT to fight the loss of some control when it is beingreplaced with visibility and usability, he reasoned.

Transition Time

Cloud computing may need something like three to five years to be fullyadopted, and a big part of an IT department’s role during this period isto pave the way for the migration, according to Dave Rice, founder andCEO of TrueCloud, a Web-based enterprise resourceplanning (ERP) firm.

“As far as migrating to the cloud, IT can help the company performmore efficiently. IT will be able to finally concentrate on helpingthe business to get more out of its software products. IT can do anenormous amount of good,” Rice told TechNewsWorld.

IT departments may eventually morph, taking on a new role as processingofficials, he believes. Rather than worrying aboutthe technology, IT workers will be able to focus on helping thecompany gain leverage and increase utilization.

“IT tends to see how all the pieces fit together,” Rice said. “It is a horizontalprocess. Individual departments don’t see this whole operation. It isa unique perspective.”

SaaSy Impact

Another factor to consider is the impact on traditional tech supportcaused by the rapid growth of SaaS. As more and more applications move to thecloud, quality of service trends upward due to better serviceavailability and redundant infrastructure, according to Kohn.

Quality SaaS providers invest more resources into building andmaintaining a bulletproof service delivery environment than mostcompanies can afford to maintain on their own. This improved quality of service andavailability reduces the number of calls to tech support due toservice interruptions. Tech support can benefit from more-sophisticated monitoring and alerting tools that provide bettervisibility into the health and status of an application or user’ssituation.

In this scenario, tech support jobs can become more virtual, Kohnnoted. The job can be done from a remote location, enabling access tobetter and less expensive talent.

“This does not mean that tech support can all be offshored, whichfaces issues of language, accent and technical expertise,” Kohn said. “What it doesmean is that the tech support staffing model is opened to allow thebest talent to be brought on board in smaller towns or with workerslooking to telecommute.”

1 Comment

  • Have introduced cloud computing to the school where I work. This has given the school more control over IT, therefore saving a considerable AM ount of money on IT support. In fact, the group most anti our change has been our IT provider!

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